When I tell people I write romance novels, I get myriad responses. By far, the ones I find most offensive, (and I promise there are many offensive ones) are those people who ask,
Do you ever want to write real books?
Yeah. I do want to write real books. That’s why I write romance novels.
Romance novels have been an important part of my life long before I realized I was a feminist and wanted to see women in starring roles in the stories that I read. They were contraband stories I borrowed from the library and picked up at used book sales. They were sticky-noted and passed around under the desks in middle school. They were how I made some of my best friends and they are now how I tell some of my best stories. (And also how I make some of my best friends because the romance community is amazing.)
This is the answer I wish I could give when people ask me why romance?
They Help Us Through Grief
When I lost my grandfather last September, I relied on romance novels to get me through. They were my lifeline during days of chaos and high-emotions and a million people coming through the house. I read one of two books a day, reaching for them when the world outside got too loud and my internal thoughts got too sad. And when I finally emerged from my romance cocoon, I was able to do what had to be done.
They Tell Our Stories
I didn’t fully understand why I loved romance novels so much when I first started reading them, but I know now that they are the one genre that truly tells women’s stories. It’s a not-insignificant facet of our fight for inclusion and fair representation in media and culture and they have been part of the rebellion since the days of Austen and the Bronte sisters. As a feminist, I would be remiss to skip over romance.
They Create Friendships
Even if I didn’t write romance, I would still count some of my closest friends as romance readers. We gush and coo over our favorite authors, throw books we love at each other and freak out over new releases.
We are the women who collectively have standards for our partners, who share dreams of romance around the world and right next door. Romance is a massive genre, it would only make sense that we bond over.
They Teach Us New Things
People love to scoff at the idea that romance can be educational, but that’s because people love to scoff at women. Not that I have to prove anything, but I have dozens of examples of what romance has taught me over the years. Alyssa’s Cole’s books have given narrative to black women who served as spies during the Civil War. Eloisa James has me reading Shakespeare (and understanding it.) I have bought the works of Byron, researched royal lineages and learned about women who served as doctors, entrepreneurs, and board game designers. And, of course, we get the insight of stories beyond our own and that is never wasted.
They Help Us Set Standards
Those who claim that romance creates unrealistic expectations are the same people who believe that all women orgasm from penetrative sex. The standards for love that romance novels set should be the standards set by the world. Communication between partners. Respect for what each other says and feels. Support for your career, your education, and your choices. They give us a road map as to what we should all expect from our relationships.
They Allow For Escape
Even if everything is going right in the world and your personal life (and has that ever happened ever) we still need a few moments a day to turn off our own thoughts and escape into a world of glittering estates, of pirate ships, of universities and ranches and TV sets.
Our books are a way to refuel when life gets hard, to find strength when the going gets rough, and to feel inspired when the motivation runs low. There is no shame in joy for the sake of joy.
Romance is not merely a stepping stone for me to find my foothold in the professional writing world. I did not choose this genre because it will make me wealthy or because it is easier to break into. Romance is a part of who I am, an intrinsic factor in creating the woman and artist I am today. It helped me to understand relationships with the partners, the friends, and the family I have in my life. It showed me hundreds of stories of women succeeding, despite real-life problems, and it helped me through the most challenging times of my life.
Romance reflects and influences daily life in big ways and in small. Often times, the mirror image is so subtle we don’t even see it. But it is there, the way we communicate. The way we love. The way we live our lives.
Find me a book more real than that.