My Dirty Little Secret

We all have one.  That guilty pleasure, that little hidden bad girl/boy, that thing that you love but are too embarrassed to confess that you love.  Well, I’ve decided to hide no longer.  I’m going to stand up and proclaim loud and proud that I LOVE reading and writing Romance.

I have to admit that I denied this for a long time.  Romance stories get the rough end of the stick – people love to hate them.  Romance as a genre is often sneered at and thought to be formulaic and of a less value than other works of literature and yet it is one of the most popular selling genres.  It seems to me that I am not the only one with this dirty little secret…here are some statistics:

  • Of the 10 million books sold each year in the UK, over seven million are romance novels
  • A Mills & Boon book is sold in the UK every 3 seconds
  • In 2008, romance was the top performing category on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists
  • Romance fiction was the largest share of the consumer market in 2008 at 13.5 percent (source: Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2009 )
  • 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008 (source: RWA Reader Survey)

(statistics from Romance Writers of Australia website)

I read a lot of romance books as a teen and then graduated to more adult books (Jackie Collins) but then I stopped reading for a long time.  When I found my way back to reading, I turned my nose up at romance and read serious books aka… Crime & Mysteries (Patricia Cornwell, Sue Grafton, James Patterson), Military and Political thrillers (Dale Brown, Tom Clancy), and Fantasy (Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Peter V. Brett, Trudi Canavan, Kevin Hearne, Robert Jordan, Jennifer Fallon).  I then got into Young Adult fiction (Cassandra Clare, Maria V. Snyder) via a recommendation by a friend.  I rarely read outside these genres and for a long time would only read Fantasy or Paranormal.

And then someone bought me a Nora Roberts book for my birthday.

If you’ve ever read a romance book then you know that Nora is a juggernaut in the genre.  Her catalog of work is beyond impressive and when you add to that those she writes under J.D. Robb it makes the mind bogle.

What happened when I read that first Nora Roberts novel was I fell back in love with Romance, but it became a secret love of mine.  If anybody asked what I was reading, I would be very vague about it and it was about this time that I discovered iBooks.  What that meant was that I could read all the romance titles I wanted and not have to show the book cover to anyone.  I could happily sit in a cafe and read without people knowing I was reading romance.  Sadly, I was embarrassed that I loved them so much and I devoured them hungrily.  I can’t even begin to name the authors I have read since because the list would be far too long.

Even when I started writing my own novels, I added a caveat whenever I spoke to someone about them.  I would say things like, “Oh I know they’re not going to win a Pulitzer Prize or anything” and “I’m not expecting to write a best seller”.  And although these were and are true statements, I said them as an excuse for the genre.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my motivation for writing romance and thinking about how, as an author, I shouldn’t be embarrassed about it.  I have come to the conclusion that the romance genre shouldn’t be so stigmatised and by me, a romance author, buying into it, I am doing myself and all other romance writers a disservice.  The fact is I love romance – reading it and writing it and I shouldn’t be embarrassed to say so.

I fundamentally believe that we use stories to help shape our world; we use them to help cope with pain and loss, to explain the unexplainable and to help us feel good.  Man-kind has been telling stories from the get-go and although the method has changed, stories are still alive and well.  And it’s not just books.  Movies, video games, documentaries, television, news, magazines, gossip…all these use story telling to get their idea across.  We use stories to communicate life lessons and I, for one, have learned a lot through books.

In my younger years, the innocent puppy love romances that I read (Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High the most notable) in some small way helped me navigate those awkward early teenage years.  Even now I have noticed that the romance books I read are trying to teach me something – how to love again after being hurt, learning to trust again, the importance of being true to yourself, knowing how and when to compromise – and they are done in such a way as to be gentle with me, lead me there with subtle hints and allow me to learn through a personal revelation.

Romance is also FUN to read and to write.  It is a bit of escapism for me, letting my mind forget, just for a little while, the stress and pressure of my own life.  I can get caught up in the antics of the characters, ride their highs and lows and know that at the end everything will work out and that gives me a little ray of hope that everything in my life will work out too.

So, if you, like me, have been hiding your addiction to romance under a bushel, then I say it is time to let that light shine.  Own your dirty little secret and let the world know that you love Romance!

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