f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 11 of Genre – Romance

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Day 11 of Genre – Romance

I think, of all the genres, that romance catches the most flack. There are more generalizations, this is more snobbery, and, in general, more disdain shown toward it and its practitioners. And in my experience the authors seem to feel this quite keenly. Of all the authors I’ve met, the folks who write romance seem the most intent on gaining outside respect and legitimacy and acclaim.

Romance is an enormous category and I’m certain there are readers out there who know far more about it than me, so I’ll only reveal a little of my ignorance. From what I can tell, there are imprints/publishers out there who offer a spectacular variety of romance “lines.” These sub-genres give readers, who tend toward the voracious, an immediate indication of the kind of romance they will be picking up be it: historical, contemporary, steamy, mystery, etc. There’s even a line of Regency romances set in a nine year period of English history when King George III was going insane and his son ruled as Regent in his place. It is a machine designed to meet the precise needs of its readership, who in turn, I assume, are incredibly loyal.

A tour through Romantic Times, an impressive magazine devoted to the field, basically shows an incredible range of fiction. You have “stereotypical” romance novels with pecs and breasts; you have “chick litty” novels; and basically every other combination of romance and subgenre including gothic romance that feature well-endowed vampires and/or werewolves. With what must amount to an incredibly diverse readership, RT includes both reviews of inspirational romance (there are a number of Inspirational Romance lines including Steeple Hill and, confusingly, both Heart Song and Heart Quest) and, just to make me uncomfortable, the occasional illustration of a man’s half-naked arse.

As a category I think it’s faced the abuse it has because A.) There’s absolutely so many books that it’s hard to sort through the pulp to discover the ones with shining stories. B.) We get funny around sex and when a book uses the word “engorged” and/or “throbbing” we tend not to take it seriously. C.) Those covers. D.) Romance and sex are tawdry. Love is noble.

The first three, to be honest, I can’t argue much with. Pure, stereotypical romances are never going to gain wide-readership, nor should they need. There is an audience who likes them, likes their covers, and likes bodices being ripped by page 45. Have at it.

It’s the last complaint that I have issues with. While I think love is certainly noble and worth writing about, it’s the romance that feeds and fuels any story of love. Romance—the pursuit of one heart by another—is perhaps the most fundamental force in existence. It’s so elemental that the very Bible is a romance—God trying to recapture the cheating heart of a stupid, wayward people. The ability to capture that pursuit, in any shape or form, is going to be instinctually relatable to almost every person on earth, especially in the context of the pursuer. We know what it’s like to chase and usually to come up empty handed. There is power in those stories that—if removed from cliché—can perhaps carry as much truth as any fiction out there. Which is why we need to be able to talk about sex as well, because in God’s world sex is the physical embodiment and fulfillment of the chase ended. If we can’t talk about sex (outside the context of erotica) we only tell half the story.

All of which is to say, I’m a fan of romance in its grander schemes and intentions. I think it has huge amounts to offer. And I look not down my nose at those who practice it, in whatever form. Have at your busty maidens and, ummm, endowed men. Write books with titles like Leave it to Cleavage: An Uplifting Tale. Make pears and cherries wicked and slutty. But in the end, look at the archetype for the tale you’re telling. Because it’s grander than anything Harlequin ever conceived and it continues and grows and includes each and every one of us—engorged or not.