Fiction writing, avoiding the pitfalls, Living the Writing Life, What writing's all about

Romance Novels–Bad for Women? LOL.

This is a repeat of an earlier published article. I believe it bears repeating. Probably daily.

Bad, bad, bad romance novels

Why are romance novels and romance novelists looked down upon?

It’s easy to dislike something you’ve never tried and difficult to try something you’ve been told you must dislike if you want to be seen as a mature, thinking human being.

People who have never and will never read any novel that could possibly be construed as a romance have a low opinion of them and the novelists who write them because they have chosen to believe others without thinking for themselves. They have likely been told by people they admire that they must have that opinion, and speak it loudly, if they expect to be taken seriously as connoisseurs of the written word.

I once had a Child Psychologist (not a person who dealt with adult human relationships) tell me my books were “damaging” to women because my readers would “develop impossibly high expectations” and “such books are what lead to high divorce rates.” Her message was that women are so weak-minded they can’t differentiate between fantasy and real life. When I asked about the fantasies written by men, she gave her opinion that those books show life more realistically. Uh-huh! Books in the genre of one-man-single-handedly-saves the-world are safer, psychologically speaking, than women reading about romance and love. Of course, if the world-saving hero get to bed six or eight women during the course of a two-hundred-page novel, that’s okay. It’s just “male fantasy.”

I suspect the almost universal belief that all romance novels are “trash” may have been established by a few male professors in the day when certain magazines with pulp paper interiors inside slick covers bearing brightly colored titles containing words like “Romance,” and “Confessions,” and “True” were popular and beloved by many teenagers and young women. If those short “true” accounts were “trash” (they were seldom true, and many were written by men in the forties and fifties, according to statistics I’ve read), then anything to do with romance must also qualify as junk–at least according to the detractors. Luckily, I wasn’t prejudiced when it came to reading books written by men, but many men have a much harder time being seen reading books written by women whether those books are murder mysteries, thrillers, or science fiction.

I grew up and was educated at a time when about fifty percent of my contemporaries (the half of my class with penises) and a fair number of my teachers, insisted on telling me books written by my gender must, by definition, be “bad” or “poorly written” because the characters in them didn’t go in guns blazing or fists flying to settle differences. Books without those elements were boring, not at all “exciting.” If a book dealt with human feelings, human frailties, and if the conflicts could be resolved without death or arrest or both, it had to be “badly written” because those touchy-feely factors scare the hell out of a great many readers. I feel sorry for people who were, and still are, so afraid of their own emotions that reading a romance might make them feel crawly or even cause them to shed a secret tear or two.

Instead of trying to ascertain why they have this strong aversion, such people perpetuate the belief, and speak it loudly from their lofty university pulpits or bar stools, or book-review panels, asserting that most women can’t write “real” books because few women understand the way the kill-or-be-killed world works. For them, there is no such thing as men or women experiencing personal growth throughout the story in which finding love—that is love, not just sex—is the main goal. If a reader cannot accept that a character’s admitting to his or her weaknesses and learning to overcome them makes them stronger, if they cannot accept that redemption is possible, they will never understand the romance genre. Those same people likely consider “redemption” a dirty word unless the novel has at least a thousand pages and takes place in a major theater of war or was written as a result of a war or involves the priesthood of some religious belief.

When some men write what they consider romances, chances are there is no happy ending, and “a lesson has been learned” so the reader will have to think and ponder what the author of the book really meant. If I have to wonder what conclusion I, the reader, should draw, and why I needed to learn that lesson, I consider the book poorly written because the answer is too often pat—as in “infidelity, while it might feel good at the time, is wrong.” As a reader, I want something deeper than that, and I don’t like being told “you’re born, you die, and life’s a bitch.”

So, if you think that’s romance, I’m here to disagree and tell you, “Uh-uh. Nope. No way. Not this reader.” That kind of “romance” doesn’t work for me. I want a woman and a man (or a woman and a woman or a man and a man,) with serious, deep-seated inner struggles that keep them at arms’ length despite their desire to be together. Their problems must be a whole lot more difficult to solve than say, geography or a misunderstanding that could be resolved by an open conversation. Whatever conflict keeps them apart needs to be potent enough to prompt the reader’s question, “What the hell are they going to do?” A good writer of romance novels will solve those problems with common sense, a considerable degree of human psychology, and a lot of caring, without killing anyone or anything. We want our happy endings, because, pal, without that, what we romance writers call, a H.E.A. conclusion, (Happily Ever After) it just ain’t romance.

You don’t like ’em, don’t read ’em, but fucking quit telling the world they are “bad,” and even worse, “bad for women.”


Audible? Laudable!

I just had the most amazing experience–listening to one of my own books narrated by a woman who got all the subtle nuances just right. If I’d been asked to narrate Forbidden Dreams, the story of Shell Landry and Jase O’Keefe, I couldn’t have done it better than Darlene Roberts. Correction–I couldn’t have done it as well as Darlene.

When Jason O’Keefe blows in on a wicked, west-coast storm, bloody and battered and looking oddly familiar, Shell Landry is intrigued but wary. She has good reason for both reactions, the first is the secret she must protect, the second, her instant attraction to him. When he explains that they did meet years ago and far away as children, her wariness grows, turning nearly to panic. Why has he come? What does he know? What will he do if he learns her secret?

Shell has knowledge that must be kept from any stranger, a secret she has held for most of her life, information which, if revealed, could destroy a person she holds very dear. Jase poses a distinct threat to the sanctity of that confidentiality, but when he reveals his reason for coming to her, not by accident as she thought, but because he needs her help, she is torn. If she doesn’t do as he asks, someone else she loves could be harmed. But still, Shell must walk a careful line.

In contrast to Shell’s reticence Jase finds himself unwillingly revealing a great deal about himself as he tries to convince her to do something she clearly feels is wrong. But the need for immediate action is great. It is so urgent that he presses hard, citing reason after reason, all valid, why he needs her assistance. When she finally agrees, Jase knows that should be the end of it. He’s accomplished what he came for. It’s time to leave. But… He’s as intrigued as she was, and more deeply attracted than he thought possible.

When, after providing him with the help he’d come for, Shell learns exactly who and what Jase is, she finally understands the familiarity she sensed in the beginning. It had nothing to do with their distant, childhood connections and his deliberate seduction was a result only of his greed. Feeling betrayed, she breaks off all contact with him. But, had he seduced her, or had they seduced each other? She’s forced to recognize she’d wanted him as much as he wanted her. As her misery grows so do her doubts. Has he actually perpetrated any of the cruelties she suspects him of, or… has he only told the truth, which is what he always claimed? Worse, though, are her doubts about herself.

Who, exactly, has she been protecting all these years? Whose fears have guided her every action? If the answer is “her own”, then she clearly has to admit it because, unless she can forgive him—and herself—for keeping secrets, the love she’s long dreamed of will continue to be forbidden.

To find an audible version of this book go to