Men read my books.
You heard me. MEN READ MY BOOKS.
“Yes,” you might say, “but, you know…” *whispers* “they’re gay men.”
So? They are men. Some of them are ex-law enforcement, some of them are teachers. Some of them are accountants–but they are men. They enjoy seeing people they can identify with in my stories, and they read them without shame. To say that gay men reading my books is different than straight men reading my books is to imply that gay men aren’t real men and gay people aren’t real people, and I think we just fought a bloody civil rights battle to prove that this just ain’t fuckin’ so.
So, real men read my books.
My books are romance. Not porn. Not erotica. Romance.
I’ve written entire articles on why my books aren’t porn– I take exception to that, and not because I frown on porn, (own lots!) but because romance serves an entire other function, and we’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s just be clear– my books are romance, and men read them, and so do women.
Women are probably 70% of my audience.
They also enjoy seeing people they can identify with in my stories. When Deep of the Sound was released, I got letters from mothers who had to deal with their mentally disabled children, and daughters who watched their parents suffer through Alzheimer’s. I’ve gotten letters from people who embraced Naef and his deep woundings about his appearance and letters from people who watched Mackey rise from a shitty apartment building and triumphed in ways that they felt all too deeply.
My books are romance books and women and men enjoy them.
I don’t write smut, I write character driven stories which also have (often complex) plots in which the romantic elements are the strongest part of the narrative.
In some ways I’m lucky.
Maybe it’s because I have two men on the cover and men read my books, but I don’t have to put up with any of the crap that the M/F romance writers put up with. Yeah, sure, I lost my job because my DO was made up of homophobic assholes who were so afraid of the gay that they couldn’t actually bother to read what they tried to prosecute me for, but, by golly, they took that gay shit seriously, didn’t they?
See, when I was just writing “trashy vampire romance” and there was a girl doing most of the narration, that wasn’t serious– that was just, you know, housewife porn. I mean, even I used that term, before I gained a backbone and some self-esteem and started sticking up for the people who read my fiction by sticking up for myself. But it was laughable, right? I mean the men in my department certainly got a laugh out of it–oh, yeah, I remember that, crystal fucking clear.
So yes– I have to put up with homophobic bigoted fuckheads doing their homophobic bigoted fuckheaded dumbassery, the kind where they put both thumbs up their sphincters and pretend they don’t like that shit, but I knew about that going in. You have to face those morons down or the world won’t change, right?
But I had forgotten about the other bigoted fuckheads, the ones I used to put up with in the staff room, the ones who used to seriously make my life hell with their baseless hatred. I mean, I remember sobbing once, uncontrollably, not able to catch my breath, because I couldn’t figure out why they should hate me so badly for having an opinion. I had to leave that job before I realized that yes–it really was because I was female. I’d managed to consign those bigoted fuckheads to that long ago staffroom, convince myself that they really did just exist right there, in my memories of feeling helpless and angry and sick, right up until the NPR thing happened.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled to be on that list. I mean, it almost made up for not getting the RITA, because, I mean… *flails* Have you SEEN that list?
Look at those names? Look at them!
Those are some awesome kickass writers there, and some awesome kickass women.
And then, down in the comments, there is some awesome, terrifying ignorance about who writes romance and who reads romance, and I have to tell you, I get that same helpless sick rage reading those comments that I felt walking into my staff room when my department head was doing a satiric reading of Wounded in front of twenty people, while the teacher’s wife who brought the book sat, tearful and embarrassed, and begging me to forgive her for even bringing the book to show me that she’d read it.
Yes, those men think romance is ridiculous. They think it’s sad, for fat housewives, and that if they had intelligence at all these women would read real literature, and wasn’t it just like a woman to think books like this were important enough to make a list about when really, we all know why women read romance, it’s so they can get off, and Jesus, why should a woman be proud of that.
Immature, emotionally stunted, limp-dicked fuckers.
And also terribly undereducated about the nature of romance.
I mean, hello– taught English Lit here. Remember? King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table? Gawain and the Green Knight? Pride and Prejudice, Romeo and Juliet, The Importance of Being Ernest, The Scarlet Letter, The Tempest, The Great Gatsby, Farewell to Arms and holy shit do I really need to go on?
Yes, those books are considered romances. Well, sometimes they weren’t successful romances, but still– they were genre fiction when they were written. When Eleanor of Aquitane brought that shit over from France, it was a big furry deal, right? Suddenly Kings weren’t just interested in being kings, they also had friends and lovers and flaws and goals and such, right? I’ve said multiple times that the thing that differentiated romantic literature from epic literature was the addition of a personal agenda to the hero’s repertoire. He went from being “A Hero” with no other personality to “A Hero” and “A Husband” and “A Friend”, etc. As our society got more complex, the romantic hero got more complex, and as our genres got more specialized, well, we started to phase that sad ending right the hell out, but let’s not fool ourselves. Any of those stories in which someone with social heft tried to have a personal life while wielding said heft is a romance.
The genre today has a few more rules to it– a happy ever after being one–but that doesn’t change the fact that a hero and a heroine trying to live an important life and forge a relationship in a chaotic rule is the heart of the story. And it’s a really fucking important heart! If we’re not reading romance, what are we reading? Murder mystery? Okay then– who are our victims? ARen’t they people trying to live that core of happiness that you find in a romance novel? Are we reading fantasy? Well, without the sexual element, a whole lot of fantasy revolves around the happiness of the people in power, and yes, my friends, that’s romance. Are we reading epic science fiction? Oh, yes, well, then we are reading on a scope too large to give a shit about the tiny little people copulating in the middle of that planet about to be destroyed, except, hey! Wait a minute! Aren’t those people the core of the tragedy, even times a billion? Are we reading political intrigue, upon which the fate of millions of people depends on the love and political maneuverings of fallible human beings?
Are we reading “literary fiction” in which sex and romance play an important part, but hey, we fuck up the ending so we don’t have to get grouped into the hated “romance genre”? And seriously, who are we kidding when we do that? I’ve written several books with a less than ideal ending, and I’ll fight to the death for the right to call those books romance. Just because the person dies at the end doesn’t mean that his romantic adventures, his personal growth, his impact upon the people he loved has no meaning. In fact, a meaningful emotional life is the hallmark of romance. Romance says, “Yes, love is important! Whether it’s one love of a million lovers, the love of kings or the love of the peasants that the kings destroy, these emotional dramas matter. OUR EMOTIONAL DRAMAS MATTER!”
But nobody says that.
Women apologize for reading it. “Heh heh… just a guilty pleasure. Uh-huh. You know. Escapism, that’s all.”
They hide the covers. “You know, so embarrassing, to have human beings looking beautiful and occupied doing something sexual and healthy and hopefully happy. I mean, if there was blood or missing limbs that would be one thing, but no, can’t celebrate happy couples in public, that implies I’m weak in the head.”
Men sneer at it. “Housewife porn, heh heh heh, let the little women read it, gets ’em all revved up for us, right?”
Romance is 20% of the publishing industry– more if you count things like, hey, romantic fantasy and romantic suspense and detective fiction with a romantic subplot. It is written primarily by women, and the companies that publish it are run primarily by women. Not entirely– there are real men out there who are not ashamed, but yes. There are smart, business savvy women out there who love this genre and make a living writing and editing and publishing and promoting it.
We need to stand up for it.
Yeah, sure, I write gay romance, and gay men are my readers and I treasure the holy hell out of them–and they, in turn, stand up for the women who read this genre too.
But het romance was here first, and there are writers out there of poetry and power who celebrate the individual love story with all of the formidable talent and mastery of the language at their disposal. I remember those sick, hurt, angry moments in my staff room, and wonder if my self-concept would be bigger, or better, if at any time I’d said, “Look, you ignorant bastards, I am writing in a genre that has its roots in every story we teach. Your mockery is no different than the kids’ complaint that ‘It’s too hard to read! It doesn’t pertain to me!’– the fact is, the kids are reluctant to put their minds to anything more involved than comic books because language is not accessible, and you are reluctant to to wrap your teeny tiny pea brains around a world view that doesn’t have a penis.”
I mean, I remember trying to point that out.
I remember getting laughed down.
Well, my staff room was mostly men–and not all of them were admirable men, and I was one of the few women who hadn’t gone running for the other high school just as soon as the spot opened up because I wanted to prove that I was tougher than they were.
I was only one voice in that room.
But I’m not only one voice in this. 20% of the publishing industry– we have louder, stronger voices together than I did alone. We need to stand up for one another. Romance writers–male and female– are poets and visionaries who believe that the human heart is a thing of complexity and beauty.
The people who try to shame us about that need to look at their own hearts, and see why they would hate a thing that celebrates the individual with such passion.
Is it because it’s mostly women doing the celebrating?
Hah! These people claim to be smart– they claim to be intellectuals.
The truth here– the plain truth– is that they have never learned to read.