Thursday, May 1, 2008

Call Me Madam

After years of procrastinating, I bit the bullet and joined Romance Writers of America. Being a publisher and an author, I felt my career was at the point where I needed to do some networking in order to take the next steps. What those next steps are, I don't know. I joined as an author for a few reasons: 1) voting privileges, and 2) I may not always be a publisher, but I do know I will always be a writer, and would prefer to identify myself as such. I don't plan to always write romance, but I imagine everything I write going forward will have some romantic elements, and the reader base for romance is enormous. So I should always take advantage of it.

So I plunk down my money, get my number and handy Web site login, check out the latest Romance Writers Report, and discover I'm a whore. Well, that wording is a bit strong, but apparently there are kerfluffles in this great big organization that make it to the Letters to the Editor section of the RWR. There are members who don't care much for erotic romance. That's fine, you don't have to like everything. You certainly don't have to read it. This is the RWA, emphasis on A as in America. We have the freedom to choose the books we want to buy. Others places don't have it so good.

That a reader or writer doesn't like erotic romance does not bother me. It is the implication that all erotic romance is plotless, veiled porn in a prettier package, and the inference that all erotic romance authors are classless tramps that irks me. Going by this logic, I'm not only a tramp, but I'm also a pimp, since I publish it. Look, I even have a nice hat.

Having read lots of erotic romance stories, published and potential, I have to disagree with the assessment that all of it was written with one hand. Some readers might challenge my perception of a good story, but when I do read for publication I try to picture the story without the sex to see if it holds up on it own. Yes, the story must have the sexual elements there to be marketable - Phaze is an erotic romance house. This is what the readers want to buy from us. We offer short stories with memorable characters and hot sex, and longer works with memorable characters, hot sex, and good stories. I can cite a number of examples right off the top of my head - books that stand very well on their own if you eliminated or toned down the sex. Robin Slick's books, Jayelle Drewry's two titles with Phaze, everything L.E. Bryce has with us, Sammie Jo Moresca's Smolder and Sarah Winn's For Old Times Sake, both of which were All Romance eBooks Books of the Month. All solid stories. We have many more, too, and as long as readers come to us for more we will give them more.

Now, I do realize reading trends are cyclical. Erotic romance is big right now - companies like Harlequin and Kensington would not have launched erotic imprints if they didn't think they could benefit. Should erotic romance eventually decline, we won't go away. We will merely adapt to what the readers want, and so will the big houses. I, in particular, do not care for many inspirationals. This is not because of the lack of sex, but because many of these books are marketed toward Evangelical or non-denominational audiences. Often I find I don't identify with the stories, so I don't read them as much. I don't go around calling the authors prudes. Once while reading one of Jan Karon's Mitford novels I became miffed when a character inferred that Catholics knew nothing about the Bible. Apparently Jan Karon never met me, or my father, or Scott Hahn. But you know what? It's just a book, I let it go.

In the introduction of one of her novels (either Southern Discomfort or Sudden Death) Rita Mae Brown wrote, "If don't like my book, write your own." I love me some Rita Mae, but to be honest I didn't like Alma Mater. So I took her advice. I wrote Little Flowers, which was also set in Williamsburg, then the two Ash Lake mysteries, then Pithed, then all of the Leigh Ellwood books. I didn't call Rita names, I didn't dismiss her works as crap, I just moved on to read and write books that I enjoy. To be certain, I continue to read her Mrs. Murphy books because I enjoy them.

As readers, you have the choice to read what you wish and not return to what you find disagreeable. If you don't like erotic romance, don't read it. It's that simple, you'll save yourself many headaches. I can't speak for all authors, but I can assure you my feelings will not be hurt. If you would rather read Pithed over Dare Me, that's fine. If you want it the other way around, fine. If you aren't interested in either, fine. If you choose to blog about me or another author in particular, calling me a whore or a hack...yes, I'll be hurt. But why would you expend the energy in doing something like that? How do any of us benefit from negativity?

Life is too damn short to gripe about books. Last night I talked to my father on the phone. He'd come home from the hospital after a life-saving organ transplant. You should have heard the emotion in his voice when it hit him how damn lucky he is to be alive. You think a man in that situation is going to use what precious time he has complaining about the content of books he doesn't like to read?

Well, it appears I may have wandered off topic a bit, but the point (and it's coming) I wish to make is - read what you want. Write what you want. Be happy. If what you write never makes it to print, be happy you wrote it. Be happy that you have the ability to read and enjoy what you like.

I'm off to get a purse to match the hat. Let's see if I can prove later on that not all erotic romances are alike.


Lillian Feisty said...

I still believe being a member of RWA is very good for a romance author's career. I just wish the RWR would stop encouraging these types of prejudicial rants.

Great post!

Kathleen said...

Welcome to RWA, and I mean that sincerely. RWA is a wonderful organization with a very diverse membership. RWA publishes all letters to the editor in the RWR as long as it adheres to the guidelines: a maximum of 350 words, not self-promotional, and not a personal attack. After all, everyone is entitled to their opinion. If RWA decided to print some letters and not others, well, wouldn't that just be another form of censorship? And, as you said, this is America.

One and the Same... said...

Thanks, Kathleen. I look forward to the membership. And yes, we are all welcome to our opinions. While I don't expect the author of the letter in question to be converted to ER, I hope in time it can be shown that ER books do have some merit in the genre.

Jennifer McKenzie said...

Funny, I just made the same point about Inspirationals on Feisty's blog.
This is a great post.