by Ruth Logan Herne
“Dare to be different,
Life is so full
Of people who follow
The same push and pull…”
Helen Lowrie Marshall, A Gift So Rare
Like any group of artists, writers tend to be ‘different’. A little ‘out there’. Introspective, fanciful, imaginative. Sometimes downright analytical and chilling. (Joseph Wambaugh, Stephen King.)
We don’t necessarily wear it on our sleeves like the art community. No aprons dotted with splotches of paint, no palette to clean, brushes to soak, the scent of turpentine a daily perfume. We don’t have to care about northern vs. southern exposure, or brightness against shadow. Most of us don’t wear long, flowy gowns and flowers in our hair, with clinking baubles like you see along the sidewalks of the Cape in summertime.
As entertainers of the print industry, we don’t need to produce a show or concert. We have no need to hire a band or create special effects. We live a more cloistered existence at our computer desks or dining room tables, pounding out word images against a backscreen of pale gray Microsoft Word.
Writers are word artists. We tend to look like everyone else. Except for a select few, most of us are unrecognizable outside the world of publishing. We shop, dine, fly, drive, and generally don’t have to worry about being spotted or deluged with fans. (Although occasional would be nice!)
And we are as varied as people can be. Writing is totally non-discriminatory. We’re young, old, fat, slim, bald, black, white, cranky, funny, endearing, bossy… You find the adjective, there’s a writer that fits it.
We also tend to be individualistic. Quirky. Since our craft is such a singular endeavor (us and the keyboard with a Do Not Disturb sign hung on the door), we immerse ourselves in our whimsical world, creating unforgettable characters and evocative stories.
Or, so we hope.
Why, then, in an industry loaded with these rare individuals, these men and women who labor under their own initiative day after day, does the romance industry tend to rubber stamp categories and stories?
I don’t know.
The obvious answer is that it works. If sales figures are any indication, then I have to agree, because romance novels comprise over fifty percent of the gross mass market paperback reading market. The numbers alone are pretty impressive.
But then there comes a time when you can’t tell one from the other, and that’s disconcerting. How often have you picked up what promised to be a good read, gotten to chapter three, and then set it away, certain you’d read the same inane lines at least three times before in other books? Too often. And every genre is guilty of this, from books promising ‘intimate moments’ to novels created for inspirational lines.
Now, granted, fellow writers are a tough audience. We are critical, more in tune with both the mechanics and dynamics of writing than the general public.
But I feel it’s a disservice to that public to sell them short. The same people that loved Nora Roberts initial ventures into romance, still read much of her current writing. LaVyrle Spencer, a favorite of many, created eccentric characters and plots that probably wouldn’t have made it in today’s ‘romance’ section, because she bent the rules. But by bending them, she gave us delicious reads of couples, young and not-so-young, who traveled rocky paths that didn’t follow the general outlines of what we perceive as a romance novel.
To be continued in part two
Ruth Logan Herne loves God, family, country and sometimes dogs. When she’s not hard at work torturing young children, she writes wonderful stories of faith, family, hope and inspiration. She loves chocolate and has discovered Starbucks caramel/mocha frappuccinos. Watch out.