IWSG: Genre Shame
There are many things I love about being a romance writer. I love watching a relationship unfold between the pages of my story. I love considering all the ways love can blossom in inhospitable surroundings.
But the thing I most hate about writing romance is having to tell people that I write romance. People will lean toward me, their eyes sparkling and ask, "So what do you write?" When I tell them my genre, their shoulders pull back, the eyes glaze over and their entire being radiates disappointment. They mutter a vague, "Cooooool" and change the subject. They thought I meant that I was a "real" writer.
I'm going to digress for a moment (because I love a good digression). Have you ever watched the show, The Big Bang Theory? I love that show. The main male characters are three astrophysicists and one engineer named Howard. Howard takes a lot of guff for being the only one without a PhD. They scoff at the idea that his job has value because in the grand scheme of things, he is simply an "Oompa Loompa of science". What's weird about this kind of snobbery is that the disdain is saved for the person who offers the most external value. It's a lot easier to see the value of an engineer because we see what they do, whereas with physicists (especially theoretical physicists) the work is only known and understood by a small and elite group of people.
Wondering where I'm going with this? Well, it's been my experience that the things that are the least accessible to the masses are often treated as having the most value. Any weighty tome, any lofty philosophy. Any physicist with his head in a particle cloud generator. And it's true that sometimes those things are incredibly valuable, but it always sucks to be the one near the bottom of the hierarchy.
For writers, being a literary novelist is gold standard. The denser and more complicated your tome, the less your average person wants to read it, the more certain circles of white tower academics will laud you for your genius. Then you get the worker bees, the folks who write Literary/Genre fiction and from there, more traditional genre fiction: Mystery, Sci-Fi, Fantasy. Now it's true that most genre writers take a load of crap for being too readable, too easily accessible and therefore not as cool as that lofty Literary writers. You would think that the other genre writers would band together and support each other but my experience, even the other genre writers treat romance novelists a bit like the scudge you'd find on the bottom of your shoe after walking across a filthy parking lot in the ghetto. Truly, we are the Howard Wolowitzs of the writing world.
Romance novels account for more than half of all the book sold in the world. How is it that my genre is the most read genre in the world and yet, I sometimes feel ashamed to tell people what genre I write? Well it's because I've been beaten up by everyone over it. I'm not exaggerating to say that people feel free to let loose with the most painfully insensitive words when they find out that I write love stories. Some of the comments/phrases I've received from my friends (most of them repeatedly);
Your silly little love story.
Your cute little novel.
Oh, so you write trashy novels?
Maybe when you are ready you'll write a real book.
Have you ever thought about writing real books?
Do you think you should be spending your time working on something more serious?
Your goofy book.
Oh so you write porn huh?
And these are from people that actually like me. Strangers are nastier. I went to a writer's workshop and I asked a young, strange guy what he wrote and he gave me a detailed list of all the interesting genre combos he dabbled in, like Norse Sci-Fi. Um, what? Okay. He told me he never finished a story but he was working on it. Then, he asked what I wrote and I hesitated because I sensed it was gonna go badly, but I plowed ahead and said, "I write funny romance." He looked me dead in the eye and responded, "Aren't they all funny? I read one and I couldn't stop laughing because it was so stupid."
He said that. Right in my face. I hadn't left the room or turned invisible or anything.
What I should have said, was "Oh yeah butt-wad? Well your genre combinations are nonsensical! That zit on your nose is grossing me out. Also your hair is lank and greasy and I bet you jerk off to that really gross anime with tentacles and stuff." Instead, I said nothing. I laughed it off. Ugh. Even though he is just some weird guy I'll never see again, his attitude really bothered me, and I've found myself becoming shy about telling people my genre. Someone asked me recently what I write and I hesitated, considering whether to say general fiction and save myself the embarrassment of their disinterest.
I said romance. Because fuck it.
It pisses me off that I even have to feel that way. I'm part of a huge collective of people from all walks of life, from all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, who have the same driving desire; to tell the story of how a relationship came to be. How love happened. How can that not be deep and meaningful? Love is the most important facet of our lives. Relationships shape the course of our journey. It is the thing we all chase. More than money. More than fame. To love and be loved in return. Love causes the most pain and pleasure of anything we'll ever experience. It defines us. Encourages us. And sometimes, it breaks us. What is more powerful to write about than that?
So I guess this meandering post is meant to ask my fellow writers (and anyone really) to stop and think. Even if you don't understand the genre someone writes, respect the hard work they put into their craft, which is no less valuable than the work you put into your own.
Quit picking on the Howard Wolowitzs of the world. Don't forget that he became an astronaut. Also he ended up being the first guy in his group to get married and not just to some cute bimbo, but to an awesomely smart woman who makes a ton of money, has huge sweater yams, and probably owns a few romance novels herself.
So...yeah. Heehee, Sweater yams.