Congratulations to Belinda! She won an ebook copy of A Theory of Love!
Check it out! Author Kate Christie joined us today to talk about the awesome goodness of romance and she’s giving away an ebook because she’s cool like that. Drop a comment below to enter the drawing for A Theory of Love. We’ll draw the winner on Friday, 1/11/2019.
A few years ago, I read an interview with a lesbian author who explained that “good writers” can be filed under general fiction while “other” writers fall under genre fiction like romance. At the time, I assumed my initial annoyance at reading these words would diminish. But even now, when I recall the interview text, I bristle at the assumptions underlying the author’s casual dismissal of genre fiction and her suggestion that lesbian love stories might not be radical or authentic enough.
Part of my irritation comes from the voice at the back of my head—and sometimes at the front—that echoes this writer’s pronouncements about the differences between good fiction and genre fiction. In my graduate writing program, I was the only student who would admit to an interest in popular fiction, and I actually had to argue with my thesis committee about the value of plot and character over “literary” writing. A decade later, I’m a novelist with a dozen titles under my belt, but I still pause whenever someone I’ve just met asks me what I do. To explain that I am a lesbian romance writer is to come out twofold.
As Professor Eva DeMarco, one of the protagonists in my recent romance novel, A Theory of Love, reflects, romance is “the genre most derided by critics and other readers, the lone genre whose audience’s intelligence and ability to separate fantasy from reality [are] regularly maligned. Eva was a trained sociologist and a long-time feminist, and even she had fallen prey to those cultural assumptions.”
Shortly after accepting a position at a university near Seattle, Eva found her Serious Research Interest derailed when her therapist suggested she take up romance reading to distract herself from a series of personal losses. Forced to confront her previously unquestioned bias toward the genre, Eva stumbled on an intriguing new academic topic: societal attitudes toward readers and writers of romantic fiction. The research I describe in the novel is based on real-life surveys of members of Romance Writers of America (RWA). When these primarily straight, mainstream authors tell people they write romance novels, the most common response they receive is open derision and/or some form of the question, “I bet you have to do a lot of research for those sex scenes, am I right?” Reactions like this, the authors report, make them reluctant to confess their chosen genre—no matter how beloved by readers their books might be.
Writing A Theory of Love allowed me to explore one of the issues I face as a novelist: the fact that romance novels are so often dismissed or trivialized while other genres are afforded considerably more respect. Eva and Alexis, my fictional researchers, point out that mystery, science fiction, and fantasy also have specific conventions and restrictions that their authors are expected to adhere to. The main difference? Romantic fiction is generally written by women, published by women, and read by women. Despite the widespread condemnation of romance as “trash,” these novels gross more annually than mystery, sci-fi, and fantasy combined. In other words, women writers and readers pay the bills for the entire publishing industry.
In interviews and at readings, I’ve said that I view writing lesbian romance novels as a consciously political act because the love that dare not speak its name takes center stage. Queer love stories explore the part of LGBTQ life that is most denigrated by the dominant culture: same-sex love and relationships. Romance novels do make up a specific genre with all of the attendant writerly conventions and readerly expectations, the same way a romantic comedy on the big screen follows a particular set of plot points to reach a predictable happily ever after. But predictability and happy endings do not necessarily rule out authenticity. In fact, writing about happy lesbian and bisexual women riding off into the sunset together feels not only authentic to me but also subversive and, yes, radical—especially in our current cultural climate.
Risking the scorn of critics, other writers, family members, and random strangers may not be for the faint of heart. But writing stories that allow queer people to see ourselves positively reflected in the broader culture? Totally worth it.
Kate Christie is the bestselling author of Leaving LA, the Girls of Summer series, and Goldie-award winner In the Company of Women. She is lucky enough to have found her own happily ever after with her wife and their three daughters in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Sign up for Kate’s mailing list (http://eepurl.com/cbTpxz) to receive email notifications of her latest publications, or check out her blog Homodramatica (https://katechristie.wordpress.com/), where she writes about lesbian life, motherhood, and, yes, romantic fiction.