The Case for Romance: A List of Essays

A few weeks ago something happened in my offline life that had me chomping at the bit to defend romance (and my writing of it, of course). BTW, if you know me offline and you ever want to talk to me face to face about how I reconcile being an Episcopal priest and a writer in the genre of romance, I’d be honored. And the coffee’s on me.

The apologia I began to mentally compose would make a sweeping and unimpeachable case for the genre, demonstrating its intelligence, scholarship, feminism, and positive sexuality that empowers women and (in my opinion) makes our whole culture safer by setting the norms of consent and mutuality.

Then I remembered I'm trying to get Not Another Rock Star ARCs out into the hands of reviewers and early readers next week, plus work the day job and be a mom. Suddenly, I recalled lots of brilliant apologists had already written these essays and probably better than I could.

So I asked social media for recommendations instead. Here’s what I heard back (and I’ve included thanks below.)

First off, here’s an amazingly comprehensive list at Socially Scientific Romance, blogger @donnie_clair’s blog.

And now here’s a few articles that I enjoyed, or got me thinking, or made me hopeful:

How Romance Novels ‘Imagine a World in Which Women Can Win’ (Rewire, May 2016)

A review and summary of the documentary Love Between the Covers, which critiques the bias against the genre with industry pros. “Abby Zidle, senior editor at Pocket Books, tells director Laurie Kahn that “the story we’re looking for is one that says, ‘You deserve to have your desires—whether they’re for career, love, or sex—validated.’””

Can You Enjoy Romance Fiction and Be a Feminist? (Aeon, Sept 2015)

Explores female sexual fantasies and their implications. ‘We always have moral panic when it comes to female sexuality. God forbid a woman should know what she wants sexually and it should be different from what a guy wants to do.’ -- author Lilah Pace

DANGEROUS BOOKS FOR GIRLS - The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained

The website for romance author Maya Rodale’s book about the genre. Here I’ve linked to her excerpt, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Fabio.” Hint: we’re talking about a hunky and humorous icon so we DON’T talk about women’s success at writing and empowerment in romance novels.

Beyond Bodice-Rippers: How Romance Novels Came to Embrace Feminism (The Atlantic, March 2013)

Includes quotes by great feminist romance writers about the inherent feminism and its tensions in the romance genre.

History in Color: A Black American Romance Roundtable (The Toast, April 2015)

About the (finally) broadening scope of Historical Romance beyond Regency England, full of hope that, as these more widely representative books are published, the genre’s readership is exposed to a broader view of history and its makers.

Inside the Push for a More Diverse Romance Genre (Jezebel May 2015)

Analysis of the multicultural romance market and its changes.

No Guilt In My Pleasures: How to Critique and Still Enjoy (The Mary Sue, Jan 2015)

“For me this means being more discerning about what kind of musicians I listen to and how they perform and more critical of the kinds of romances I read. I have started tracking authors that I think do a better job than others and reading more of their books, while reading the reviews of any new author thoroughly.”

How Jane Austen Continues to Inspire Romance Authors, (Bookish April 2017)

About the timeless ideas in Austen’s novels, including the celebration of intelligent women, the value of looking beneath appearances, that people can change (even unlikable heroines), and that women have the right to be happy.

How I Learned to Stop Being a Literary Snob and Love Romance (Bookish April 2014)

“Romance being somewhat ignored or dismissed by highbrow society has allowed it to flourish on a very personal level, where authors and readers are not trying to out-snob each other, but they’re really just reaching for this emotional impact that is very powerful when achieved.”

Good Romance: Sex is not Embarrassing (Author Blog, Oct 2012)

An analysis of the Christian Ethics of romance novels by theology doctoral candidate Celia Wolff

Thanks to Ruby Lange, Celia Wolff, JC Lewis, Adele Buck, Colleen Davis for these recommendations!


Writing Space Reboot as Remedy for Imposter Syndrome

I just got home from a short visit with my father who has advanced dementia. I’ve known he was in decline for a while, and I’m the person who’s been responsible for him from all the way across the country. It was a really great visit, and he still recognized me, which may not last for long. I’m full of warm and fuzzy feelings for him and my brother, who I traveled with. We took my dad to his favorite oyster bar in Apalachicola and to his favorite beach, and I know the memories we made will be treasures to me.

In July, when I first realized how severe his memory loss and confusion was getting, I tried to intervene in a dozen ways by calling agencies and nonprofits that support seniors, making plans with home health care providers. Nothing worked out because he resisted, and I didn’t have the legal grounds to force it on him. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: there is a lot of gray area in caring for a senior and whether someone can legally vs. should live alone.

No surprise--this situation caused me some anxiety for the last eight months. It also took a bite out of my time and energy for writing, which is not good. Writing grounds me and gives me joy so I can care for my family and the people in my pastoral care. I was writing Not Another Rock Star, but not with the same momentum I’d written all my other books. And for the first time since I started writing Blood Vine with naive gusto, I stopped feeling like a writer. It was that imposter syndrome I’d heard other authors and other priests discuss, but until then (and I can admit it) I’d been waaaay too arrogant to feel like a fraud! It was, like so many of the things we tells ourselves when we’re hurting, also completely irrational--I was drafting a new book and revising another, I was still writing!

When my father finally got his diagnosis in February and I was able to get him into a nursing home, I felt major grief, but the uncertainty had cleared up and suddenly I found energy for writing again. I binge bought books on the craft, because I craved a reboot--a new infusion of ideas to match my liberated energy. And as I started reading them, I realized I craved a space of my own.

For most of my writing life, my desk has been my lap or whichever table I opened up my computer on. I live in the Bay Area and the square footage of a desk is worth, like, my annual church salary. But we do have a guest room at our house, as well as a pretty constant stream of grandparents staying in it. So I told my husband I was claiming the desk as a writing space when the room is unoccupied. I bought myself a lamp and a bunch of frames, and I hung a wall collage of writing inspiration plus my covers, and randomly, a bright little squid I made in ceramics class with my kids--I think she’s my creativity totem. Can you see her? She's right behind the lamp. 

I LOVE MY NEW SPACE! Such a simple fix, and I feel like a writer sitting there!

One of the books I bought was an Indie published how-to about writing 5K a day. I pretty much knew all the techniques and also that 5K is not the right daily goal for me, but I did get some really helpful strategies. Dictation is one I’ve been trying out, and also micro sprints when you have short stretches of free time. For me, these are simply exercises in keeping up my momentum.

The author also advocates for a tortoise shell enclosure--that is, a dedicated writing space where you only ever write. By never doing other activities, like paying bills or online shopping in that space, you train your brain to focus solely on writing.  Again, this is pretty much impossible for me. I am absolutely going to be doing my father’s paperwork in the new writing space.

But my bike desk is kind of my tortoise shell--I don’t want to drip sweat on my bank statements!  As you can see, it lives in my garage, surrounded by a tortoise shell of junk! With my new found energy I’ve been up and on it at 5am every day. I’m pedaling as I write this post!

It’s never been hard for me to spin and write at the same time, but when my energy was flagging, I didn’t want to do it, so I told myself my brain couldn’t handle it. That was a powerful negative message to myself, and it undercut both my health and my productivity. I hope I remember next time I hit a slump not to trust that kind of self talk.

I’m sure the bike desk isn’t for everyone, but I adore it! After I write a 1K and pedal 15 mi every morning, I feel warmed up and limber. If like me, you wear half a dozen different hats every day and can’t afford to do only one thing at a time, it’s a life saver.