Invoking the Classics

My family thinks what I do is pretty cool. They’re supportive, proud, and genuinely interested in how stories get made, how they get sold, and what, exactly, I will be doing next. That doesn’t mean they always understand it, though. 

Last week, we went away with the extension of cousins and aunts and uncles I used to travel with when I was younger, and I got the inevitable, 

“So do you ever consider writing other types of books, you know…” 

Real books. 

That’s what that means, and while it comes from a place of genuine love and support and concern for exactly how this writer is going to survive, it does, very quickly, get old. 

But rather than exploring exactly hurtful the idea that what I write, what I’ve joyfully committed my life to doing, isn’t exactly real, I take the easier, more efficient approach, one that, I’ve found, has the best chance of getting down to the nitty, gritty of what I do. 

484px-Jane_Austen_coloured_version“So, actually, we trace the origin of the modern romance novel back to Jane Austen.” 

It’s simple, it’s effective and, best of all, it’s true. Jane Austen’s books were considered progressive from day one, often hidden behind brown paper wrappings and shared between school girls. They discussed the nuances of a society where women’s lives were predetermined from birth, where women’s stories were left unexplored, and where women’s voices were repeatedly silenced and ignored. 

Much as modern romance does today. 

When we take it down to the bolts, to call romance a lesser genre is to denounce Queen Jane, and there are very few academics, snobs, or skeptics in the world who would cut off their nose to spite their face for such a purpose. 

This is not said to be passive-aggressive. I love my family dearly and I’m eternally grateful for the support they’ve shown me from day one. Writing is not an easy life and writing without the support of loved ones is far harder. All this is to say, I hope they can understand, draw the same inspiration and light from what I love to do so much that I do, that they can look at what I’ve accomplished and what I aim for and they can say that this, on its own, is enough. 

There are more than enough think pieces floating around our world explaining why romance is a feminist, female-centric, celebratory genre. I’m sure I’ve written no less than a dozen of them myself. And even though it’s beyond frustrating when academics come to the realization as though we haven’t been shouting it from the rooftops for years, it’s true. 

Romance is for the women of the world who don’t get to hear their stories told nearly enough. It’s for all people whose stories are silenced, it’s a beacon of hope and optimism when things seem really, really bad. 

Last month, at the New York City Romance Writers of America conference, I spoke to a IMG_7145writer who changed my life. I hadn’t meant to cry, in fact, I specifically thought to myself, ‘now would be a good time to do this because I’m feeling good’. I wanted her to know, as I would want someone to tell me if it was true. 

“I just wanted to thank you,” I said, not crying, not yet, “your books got me through the week after my grandfather died. I must have read two or three a day.” I got teary, she got teary, I got more teary. She took a moment and wrote in the book she signed for me ‘thank you for reminding me why we write.” 

People undermine what we do because a very intentional narrative has been crafted for decades. Romance gives women chances, often chances they don’t get in real life, and it gives people hope, often hope they don’t get in real life. 

And hey, if it takes Jane Austen to explain that to the skeptics, well, then I’m happy to oblige. ♥

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