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Monday, January 11, 2010


In Defense of the Romance Novel

On a recent trip to the library, an acquaintance walked up to me and said, “I heard you write romance novels. Do you really read that stuff?”

Mmm, I mused, how often have I heard that question?

Taking my usual bold stance—on quivering legs—I replied, “Sure, I do. Why not?”

I’ve learned one important thing in my mature years. If I don’t particularly like the question, I’ll ask one of my own. It’ll throw the person off track every time. Well, usually.

“Why not?” my casual friend asked. “Well, for one thing,” she stammered, “they’re…trite, with the same plot in every single book. A learned person wouldn’t waste time on them.”

Of course, by the time I arrived home, my busy brain had made a list of “why I read that stuff, and particularly why I write it.”

Answer Number One: Defending romance novels falls in the same category as defending myself. If I probe for a real answer, the person might say, “A reader of romance usually doesn’t have a life of her own, or a poor love life at best, or she reads to live vicariously through a character.” My reply might be, “Statistics show that 75 million people read at least one romance novel last year. So, you’re saying you know how all these readers feel?”

Answer Number Two: Some romance novels are better than others. True, the first romance novels were written differently from those today, but one might say that about all fiction in general. Advice to my friend-of-the-moment: “Try a romance novel. Begin with a few of the tried and true authors: LaVyrle Spencer (my all-time favorite), Susan Wiggs, Penelope Williamson, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Judith McNaught, Kathleen Eagle, and Karen Robards. Neither you nor anyone else needs to waste time on any bad book. That applies to romance novels, as well.”

Answer Number Three: Perhaps readers and writers of romance are actually readers….period. To my detractor, I might reply: “Oh, by the way, if you’re looking for a good book, you might want to try Guns, Germs, and Steel:The Fates of Societies; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; Plainsong; or The Dust Bowl Years. I highly recommend them.” Would that be tacky of me?

Answer Number Four: A simple statement. Reading and writing romance novels are my inalienable rights under the constitution. After all, this is a free country.

Answer Number Five: I’m easily entertained. When I choose a movie, I do not need to select one that has garnered critically acclaimed praise over the entire globe. The same is true with my reading material.

Answer Number Six: In response to the statement “Romance novels are just fairy tales, stories that never happen in real life.” Maybe, maybe not, but I might reply, “Sometimes, I just like to escape reality.”

I’m not the first writer to pen an article titled “In Defense of the Romance Novel.” I Googled the title and found quite a few. By the time I finished reading several, I realized the question, “You don’t read that stuff, do you?” has been repeated many times.

Thank you, LASR, for the opportunity to write a blog for your guest spot.
Celia Yeary-Proud to be a Romance Author

Celia Yeary is a eighth-generation Texan, and her life revolves around family and friends—and writing. San Marcos has been her home for thirty-five years. She has written three romance novels for a small press, essays for the Texas Co-op Power magazine, and several different topics for her weekly blog. She also writes women’s fiction and hopes a publisher comes along who likes these stories, too.

The author is a former science teacher, graduate of Texas Tech University and Texas State, mother of two, grandmother of three, and wife of a wonderful, supportive Texan. Celia and her husband enjoy traveling, involvement in their church, the community, and the university as retired faculty.
New: Texas Blue, a Western Historical set in Texas. Date of Release: January 29, 2010
The Wild Rose Press


Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Celia,
I hate being caught off-guard like that. And then I wish I had the guts to call snippy people like the woman you described and set her straight once my brain starts working again.

When I get challenged out of the blue like that, my brain freezes. Sometimes I can talk myself out of it right away, but other times I feel like cornered prey.

This is a great topic. And I loved your response about how much romance novels have changed through the years. For instance, when yogurt first came out, I didn't like it. Now I can't imagine going one day without yogurt. And I feel the same way about romance novels.

They are good for the soul.


LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Celia, I love the way you turned it around. Like Maggie, I freeze when caught off-guard and kick myself later for not saying what I should have.

As someone who reads a lot of literary fiction and also reads romance, I'd like to say there's not always a big difference between the two. Figuring out what makes relationships work (or not) is more complicated than people want to admit. Heck, why else is there so much divorce? And why is horror a better respected genre when it's full of dark, sinister events? Do we truly look down on happy endings? Yes, they do happen.

When was the last time anyone watched a movie of any genre that didn't include some type of romance? It's everywhere in our daily lives and yet people roll their eyes about dealing with it in fiction.

Cate Masters said...

Great post, Celia! I may print it out and keep it on hand in case someone asks me! :) Your arguments are spot on. To which I would add, if the person's not familiar with the many genres of romance available now, she needs to update her notion of the romance novel from the archaic stereotype to present day.

sherry said...

I'm not a writer but I love to read romance books and I have a friend who always smarts off when she sees me reading one. If so many people don't read romance then why is it such a major seller and where do all the books go that are published? The same person who always smarts off about my adult romance books read Twilight and loved it. I've not read Twilight but isn't it a young adult paranormal romance. To me romance books aren't just about romance most of them have a lot of suspense and mystery in them. I think that everyone should read at least one romance book before they are aloud to make any kind of comment about them.

Linda Swift said...

Right on, Celia. We shouldn't, but usually do, feel apologetic for writing romance. A male cousin once introduced me to his audience of friends where he was doing a music program as "My cousinn who writes ...those little paperback books." He couldn't even bring himself to say the word "romance." Males usually assume you are writing every love scene from your own experience, too. (Don't we wish!) As book signings, I have been known to tell men who stop by the table that they ought to read romance. Then they'd know what women really like. True, the old fashioned bodice rippers were pretty trite but they were chaste since they were always one man, one woman and no crude words. Ah, those days area gone forever.

Linda Swift said...

Good heavens. Learn to proof BEFORE sending, Linda. "AT book signings" was what I meant to say And "those days ARE gone forever." See, I can spell, I just can't proof.

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Celia, I recently checked out an awards long-list put together by a major romantic fiction group here in the UK. Less than half of the twenty books were tagged at Amazon with 'romance,' and even those that were had several other tags - women's fiction, chick lit, even mainstream or modern fiction! So what's that all about, eh? ;-) I'm also pretty certain that a big bunch of the writers on that list wouldn't describe themselves as 'romance writers' based on how I've seen them publicised in the past. But you know what, that's what they are. I'm beginning to wonder what that definition means, any more.

Personally, I've never been bothered by category - if I've heard good things about the book or the writer or if they've been recommended to me, I'll probably read it regardless of its definition.

As for writing what I write, I tend now to tailor the description depending on who I'm talking to. Romance, oh, boy, you bet, but also women's fiction, relationship stories, love stories, commercial fiction - because I'm fed up of getting that LOOK from people who think I'm 'churning out bodice rippers' and who have no idea what romance novels are really like these days and so dismiss me out of hand on that basis. Just read my stuff, or stuff by any one of the writers on this blog, and if you like it, surely that's all that matters??!!

Romance has changed so much, now it covers such a fabulous spectrum of writers and writing, and it's really exciting. A male writer recently commented on my writing, 'very good, and not too Miils and Boon!' What??? It's not at ALL Mills and Boon, but it's still in the romance category, and I haven't got a single problem with that.

I dunno. Romance does seem to suffer from an underserved reputation, and it's so silly that so many people won't look beyond that. There's definitely a certain kind of story written by a predominantly female writer-ship (though not all, by any means) and mostly read by women (though not just women!) and I know I love them. There's so much out there now, wonderfully traditional or breathtakingly new. Readers are missing out on so much if they go purely by a definition or a category. If the story appeals to you on any level at all, just read it. It's just about good books, isn't it?

Great question, Celia, and one that won't go away for some time, I feel. :)

Jane x

Celia Yeary said...

MAGGIE--you did note, did you not, that I didn't say any of these things to this woman's face? No, I thought of all the things I SHOULD have said. Yes, being caught off guard is not funny--I can't think quickly on my feet. That's why I don't argue with people--I can't think of what to say. So, I always lose. Ce;oa

Celia Yeary said...

LORAINE--I agree with you about the horror novels--and movies. I see no redeeming value in great violence and gore. But then, as I wrote a blog for the Pink Blog--"I'm a natural-born scaredy cat." Thanks for you thoughtful comment. I alwasy enjoy your responses. Celia

Celia Yeary said...

CATE--we should gather all our "for" comments and make a big list. The one I think says plenty is that "it's my right as a free citizen to read what I want. I do not need permission." Thanks for you reply--Celia

Celia Yeary said...

SHERRY--you made some excellent points. Others who criticize one genre may be guilty of reading something we might think is a waste of time. It goes both ways, doesn't it? I think most romance readers do read a variety--I know I do, but when I want something I know I'll like--I choose a romance. Celia

Celia Yeary said...

LINDA--prople act funny when they learn you're romance author. Most don't quite know what to say. Almost to a person, the question I've had to answer was, "Do you write under your own name?" That one always gets me. they naturally assume every romance is filled with sex and bedroom scenes. You know what? I don't even read those. I have to have a story, some adventure along with my romance. Celia

Celia Yeary said...

JANE--your comments are quite interesting. I'm just learning how many ways any book can be categorized, such as you describe about romances. I know an author who writes 6th grade girls' chapter books. The books are set in the Nineteenth Century. But Amazon placed them under "History books" instead of YA fiction." She's tried to get it changed--but with no success. I really enjoy your thoughtful answers. Celia

Tanya Hanson said...

Great post, Celia. I and all my family are very proud of what I do. I've got pix of my hubby reading my book poolside at a fancy resort hotel last summer! Yay. For the idiots, well, fortunately I haven't run into many of those.

I love happy endings and I'm frankly just tired of much of today's cynicism.

I was horrified in the recent Country Living magazine, which I've subscribed to for generations, featuring a cute bookcovering you can use to "hide your Harlequin romance" from view in public. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I've got a heated letter to pen on my To-Do-List.

Thanks for the great post.
P.s. Are you going to the retreat in Bandera?


Linda LaRoque said...

Great post, Celia. One thing that people forget is that the romance genre is relatively new. For example, if Gone With the Wind came out today it'd probably be labeled mainstream with romantic elements. How many other widely read books would be the same.

Romance is a type of relationship and relationships are the most important aspects of our lives. If we can't form meaningful relationships, we'll not get along in society.

I too read to escape, not because I have a miserable life because I don't, but for new adventures. It's a way to experience different cultures, time periods, countries, or make believe worlds. On occasion I read something literary, but not often. I read my share of educational materials while going to school.

I think many people who criticize romance are just uniformed. They repeat opinions of others rather than reading a few romance novels and making their own judgements.

Debra St. John said...

Hi Celia,

Great post. I need to keep all of those responses in the back of my mind the next time someone asks ME that question. It's bound to happen again soon.

You are much more lady-like about it, too. I'm always tempted to say. "Well, here's the romance book that I wrote, why don't you read mine, and I'll read something YOU wrote."

LeslieJane said...

I too think I am going to print out the list of reasons, and memorize them to respond to anyone who "snears" at my reading choice. And if you get that list of more responses, I too think I will print it out. If it is so "bad" to read, why does it account for around 50% (or is it more?) of all paperbacks sold?

Since I am not currently taking college classes, I read for enjoyment, and I an NOT going to appologize for my choice of reading material. At least I read, which is better than a lot of people you see. And what are those people who are reading non-romance books actually reading, great literary works, or the latest murder mystery or thriller? Romances have strong heroines we can all emulate, good plots, and I can often learn something about different places, cultures, histories, and even some science.

More Power to the Romance Novels (and the novelists)!

Celia Yeary said...

TANYA--you know? I've seen those covers, too. Irritates me so much. And your sweet husband? Mine, too. He bought my book, had me autograph it like everyone else, read it, actually loved it and gave me wonderful complements--you can't go wrong with a man like that. Thanks for stopping by--Celia

Celia Yeary said...

LINDA--I agree with everything you said. Basically, I think people believe they are being "learn-ed", very much above the rest of us. I don't care if people don't want to read romance novels--they just needn't tell me--it makes them seem defensive, doesn't it? Celia

Celia Yeary said...

DEBRA--LADYLIKE? Probably. I always hear my mother's voice in my head: "Now, Celia Ann, don't be tacky." That meant to be nice, and well...ladylike. Celia

Celia Yeary said...

Leslie Jane--When I tell people what I write--if they ask--I say it right out--"I am a romance author." You can see all kinds of emotions flashing across their faces--when you think about it, it's funny. All they can think of is that I write about sex--isn't that the truth? I go on to explain I write 1800's Texas romance with a lot of adventure and excitement--then they say, "Ohhhh, that's sounds good." They sort of feel relieved. Celia

Cheryl said...


Better late than never! Here I am! LOL When people ask me "Do you READ that stuff?" I say, "You mean you DON'T?"LOL My brother-in-law is an atty., and one of the ladies in his office saw that he had my book, Fire Eyes, on his desk. She said, "OH, that's the one about the marshal in Indian Territory, and ..." proceeding to tell him about the story in great detail, adding at the end, "But I don't read that stuff. My mother-in-law does. She told me about it." LOLLO I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a lot of people who read romance novels that just keep it beer in a brown paper bag. Just remember--you don't have to explain yourself to ANYONE. You're not asking them to explain themselves to YOU. Kill them with kindness, Celia, but don't get blood on your white gloves. LOLLOL Seriously, I'm sure you handled it well, and the good thing is, you'll be prepared the next time around. Another one of my favorite lines is "Well, you can't please everyone, so you have to please yourself." (Remember that line from Ricky Nelson's "Garden Party"?) Great post. I love the points you made.

Monya Clayton said...

Everyone has pretty much covered the ground! Would just like to add I live in a small town and most people simply know me as 'the writer'. Though I'm not the only one; we have an active local writers group. BUT a perfectly nice man once said to me incredulously, "You write THOSE THINGS?"

My only catty wish is that some of them would try to write a book themselves...


StephB said...

Celia, great topic and food for thought. I pretty much agreed with everything you said. In a way, reading a romance is like having a dirty little secret - 75 million people read them but would all 75 million tell you they do? More out there read them than admit it. That aside, I have one more reason for you - HOPE.

Romance offers hope and a lot of people are looking for hope in their lives. Especially now.


Loretta C. Rogers said...

Celia, sure wish I'd read your article--yesterday. I was invited to speak to a women's group (yesterday). After the moderator introduced me, the first thing out of a woman's mouth, was she didn't read romance novels because they were smut. This, of course, started the rhetoric from the other twenty-three women. I really had to swallow my temper and pull on my professionalism, but began by telling them this 'true' story: At the physical therapist office, the woman sitting beside me was reading a romance novel. When the therapist called her in, she said, "take her (meaning me)because I want to finish this chapter." The therapist said it would interrupt the schedule because I had a different therapist. The woman, very politely said, "Listen, I'm eighty years old. Viagra doesn't work for my husband, and reading romance is cheaper than having an affair." Then she added, that her husband had never made love to her the way it was done in the books. I wanted to bend double with laughter, but I didn't. That was the ice-breaker for my talk about what I write and why I write it.

Celia Yeary said...

LORETTA--oh, my gosh! You had me laughing! I think any woman in her 80s can do anything she wants to. The viagra thing cracked me up! I'm glad you told that story to the women. I was amazed how many books I sold to my church friends--would you believe 60? And several of those were bought by men--saying,"Of, course, I don't read these novels, but my wife does." Then, he'd come back at church the next Sunday and whisper how much he liked the book. Very up-tight, straight-laced women bought it and told me how much they liked the book--usually it kept them up at night to finish it. Thanks--Celia

Celia Yeary said...

STEPH--thanks for the suggestion. I think "hope" is a wonderful addition to the list, because romance novels are just that--hopeful--and usually for more characters than just the hero and heroine. Celia

Celia Yeary said...

MONYA--isn't that the way of things. Writing romance books aren't that easy to write--if you want to get something published, that is. Yeah, I'd like to see some of those people write one, too. Celia

Mona Risk said...

Hi Celia-- I often get this question. I smile and say, hey if you believe in love, you need to read my books, and if you don't like love, believe me you'll learn a few things. I will make you visit foreign countries. I will relax and entertain you. You can't go wrong. If you are a prude skip chapter nine (or six. I said those things while laughing or smiling. And I concluded, it's not easy to write romance novels.You need to have talent and inspiration.

Keena Kincaid said...

Hi, Celia. I'm chiming in late here...I always remind people that Shakespeare wrote romances. :-)

Celia Yeary said...

MONA AND KEENA--thanks for reading and expressing your opinions. I think the best response, as you say, is to smile and say something funny. I don't think becoming defensive ever serves any purpose. Like I usually say, well, yes, romance, you know, 1800's Texas, with a lot of adventure and excitement. Every time, and I mean every single time, the person says, "Ahhh, that sounds great." I sold alot of books that way. Celia

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Tanya Hanson said...

Hear, hear, Celia. I've always been proud of what I read...and what I write.

Excellent blog.