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RomanceAugust 3, 2008

I have had a revelation. I have had a revelation that I might have had in part before, but I didn't GET it until this weekend. This amazing weekend.

People, I am a romance writer. And that is a fine, good thing to be. I am no longer semi-quasi-just-a-little-bit ashamed of that.

Isn't it awful that I was a little bit ashamed before? I'm embarrassed and a little ashamed NOW, thinking of how I went into the Romance Writers of America conference. I was excited about it, yes, but there was a small, cheap part of myself that reserved the right to mock. I wondered how many gold puff-paint tee-shirts I'd see. How many sweatshirts covered in applique animals. I'd heard about the Ritas/Golden Hearts awards night, and I wanted to see housewives dressed up in ball gowns. I reserved the right to send mockalicious text messages to friends.

If I'm totally, completely honest (and this isn't pretty, my darling readers, be patient with me), there was a small part of me that looked down on these women, and that same part looked down on myself for attending. (Not a big part: I WAS really excited to attend.) But in my head I thought, romance, schmomance, what about literary ideals? Had the attendees checked all literary tradition at the door? Was I going to have to do that?

What a jackass.

My mind was blown at the conference. BLOWN. I met a gajillion really, really, really smart women. Beautiful women. Together women. Women who had already worked all of this out and were kind enough to talk to me and help me while I struggled to overcome my prejudice. They were patient and sweet and SO SMART. (Hello, Ravelry sockgirl Sara -- thank you for explaining to me what urban fantasy was!)

I have an analogy for all of this. When a lesbian first comes out, generally, she's very stupidly excited. Picture a young woman moving to San Francisco and finding out that IT'S OKAY TO LIKE GIRLS! Oh, my god, YOU DO, TOO! ISN'T THIS GREAT? DID YOU KNOW THAT WOMEN ARE GREAT? THERE ARE BOOKS, DID YOU KNOW THERE ARE BOOKS? I CAN WEAR THIS? I'M SO EXCITED!!! There are a lot of capital letters and excited hoorays, and the lesbians who already get it smile and nod and support that new gal as she finds out that it's all good, the water's just fine out here, and no one is doing anything wrong: in fact, they're all doing it just right.

I think I was that person this weekend, the MFA writer coming from a strictly literary tradition finding out that there is so much more to the romance writing industry than I ever knew. You could see it in their faces, the women I spoke to, here's another one. Isn't she cute? She's a new kid, be nice to her.

There was no gold puff-paint or appliqued animals. Just frighteningly smart, nicely dressed, very together women who were sharp as hell. Many of the woman I met had an advanced degree. Or two. And this wasn't because I was actively seeking them out: I just happened to stand next to them in the Starbucks line, sat next to them in seminars, stood in line with them in the bathroom.

Yeah. They'd already figured this out. Romance scholarship is not new, but it's gaining popularity. There's an amazing blog that provides a good jumping-off point called Teach Me Tonight.

But it's more than just that the fact that there is now increased academic interest in the study of romance fiction -- that's not what legitimized romance for me. The women I met legitimized it for me. I want to be one of them. Someday, I want to be on that stage on Saturday night. And I didn't see dowdy women dressed in ballgowns last night, I saw writers who reveled in their deserved spotlight who looked absolutely gorgeous. The inner geek in me arrived early to the hallway where people gathered before the ceremony. I curled up, mostly hidden, in an armchair where I had a direct view of the fountain of women cascading down the escalators. I didn't even knit or try to pretend I wasn't sitting there gawking. I just gawked. They were all writers, anyway. They knew what I was doing. Probably knew it was my first time. Probably could see MFA branded on my forehead as they smiled kindly at me. The inner geek also loved that many of the women with beautiful hair and gorgeous gowns also wore glasses. HOW COOL IS THAT? A geeky, romantic Oscars ceremony!

Best thing ever. I am so proud to be a romance writer. Bring it on!


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Great post -- and good news about the editor pitch! And thanks for the image of smart women in gowns and glasses. :)

This made me smile big.

(also, go read my blog post!)

Genre is so funny. Its a crying shame the literary world gets chopped up like that by publishers-- with the various non-elite classifications of young adult, romance, mystery, etc.
I read way more science fiction than romance, though I assume they are similarly disrespected genres. I've had academic friends flat-out refuse to accept it when I told them that the first four Jonathan Lethem books were classified as science fiction. Heavens forbid that any great modern literary writer couldnt possibly write in genre... or that any genre book could actually be a Great Novel. Its a shame really... good for you for getting over the weird feelings!
You rock, romance writer Rachael.

Good thoughts headed your way!

(any word from Jackie?)

Oy, do I know what you mean about the stereotyping of genre writing -- I used to write mysteries, and it's the same in that community. Amazing, smart, funny, literary people writing excellent stuff, and an entire non-mystery-reading public that thought of us as writing wannabes.
A few years back, I was friends with a bright, funny, interesting woman who wrote romance, but she was so convinced that I (the mystery writer) was looking down my nose at her, she ended our friendship in a snit. Made me sad, because what's sadder than internalized discrimination? I hope for her sake that she was at RWA this year...and that she reaches the same place you did!

Good for you, Rachel! You're living the dream! And good for you for realizing that romance writing is still the dream.

This is so funny! I work at a restaurant close to the convention center and we hosted a dinner for one of the groups from the RWA. I was wondering before the event if I would see you! And if I would recognize you from your avavtar!

You were expecting, perhaps, something like this:


aaahhh...afge...and not too terribly painful eiether ;0
congrats, sounds like a wonderful wonderful wonderful time. positive thoughts and crossed fingers winging your way..it's just going to be all about hitting the right time/place for you. you've got the talent and the smarts and the self-discipline and drive and support and and and..

Dame Barbara has a lot to answer for.

you're too cute.

I love your post! I'm a romance/science fiction/fantasy reader. I respect the classics but why are the "genres" that I enjoy looked down on? Thanks for the inside view of the RWA members. Wonderful.

Ha, I just came over to say that the bloglines feed I preview you on says you have 911 subscribers. I just found that funny-apropos of your "real job." ;)

Wee! I'm glad I could be of help. I was so happy to meet a knit-world person there. I too suffer from occasional shame/defensiveness about the genre I read/write in, but the conference was super empowering!

I'm so glad for you, and I'm sending good thoughts your way. I'm coming out in my mid forties. I wish I didn't relate so much to that little sense of shame inside about something that is a huge part of who I am. But I'm admitting it and I'm letting it go. If only I wasn't married to a man I really love. It's either a romance plot or a learning curve.

Hey Rachael, I so understand this. I am curled up waiting to read my Debbie Macomber and I write too: comforting tales about friendship, the regeneration of the human heart and towns where everyone knows your name. In seeming opposition to these admissions I also have a PhD, spent years as an academic and was top of my class all the way through some very high standing British universities. Have been following your blog for a little while now, will email you soon. Was wondering what sort of book you would write...hoping against high literary angst. Now I know I am so pleased! And it might have been said before but whatever your creative writing style, your life is your greatest poem; this blog is a jewel.

Although I'm not a writer, I recognise many of my predjudices in your expectations of romance writers. I love Jane Austin, and used to enjoy some of my grandmother's romance novels, but I got turned off in the eighties when all romance novels seemed to be the stock formula, type-cast, cliche ridden harlequin type books (writen by women in pink puffy housecoats no doubt)

If what you are saying about modern women romance authors is true, I may be tempted to get out of my non-fiction rut and give the genre another try.

Thank you for educating me!

Girl, you have said a mouthfull once again. Congrats on learning this lesson major early, you are one smart cookie, it took me 60 years........keep being your fab self!

Rachael - it is so liberating to be who you are! The moments I have realized that this is me and fuck whomever doesn't like it, have been my happiest days. Enjoy!

Eee, I'm so glad you went!

That's cool, man! Yeah, a while back, I realized I was a science-fiction-fantasy writer, and that was sorta a trip for me. It's funny when you make those realizations.

Good thoughts indeed! All of this is great insight and must feel good, but I can't believe you just barely threw in that bit about the editor pitch at the end in parens like that. Like it's not equally as exciting ;)

yay for you! i know what you mean about the jaundiced view of romance writers. sci-fi writers get the same thing. "oh it can't be serious literature. it's just that sci-fi stuff."

hey, good writing is good writing. as you have found out :)

Good Thoughts to you! (I want to read your book)

I'm a mostly genre reader, myself. All that literary stuff - too depressing (there I go, stereotyping away!) for me these days.

Eee - and only by seeing this on my flickr photostream did I realize that I missed my opportunity to introduce you to my friend Lynda (and vice-versa)!!

You say "gold puff paint" and "appliqued animals" like it's a bad thing. What's next? Slamming multi-colored half-glasses hanging from jeweled chains?

Mystified in NYC

So I was hunting around for a sweater on Ravelry and saw your Lush and Lacy and thought to myself, didn't I just meet this woman or see her at RWA, and then I hoped over to your blog and went, well duh! Yes, I did. Congrats on the agent and isn't it great to be a romance writer? Greatest job on earth, bar none. And I too sort of had the same notion when I joined, liked eons ago. Lost that notion really fast. Welcome to the club, girlfriend!

I meant to comment a few days ago when I first saw this. One girl that was my sister's friend and lived two doors down from us grew up to be Suzanne Enoch, a successful romance author! I can tell you, she went through some of the same stuff you did, and I know she didn't necessarily expect to become a romance writer when she grew up. I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed her books - so smart, funny, and OMG racy ;) I think my mom was a tiny bit horrified.

I think you're right - there is a perception or image of what you think a romance writer is, and then there's the reality. These women are so together and self-aware.

I like your lesbian analogy - it's true and a wonderful thing! Very funny of you to put it into words. I'm glad it's the same for romance writing. It comes down to letting go of judgment against ourselves.

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