Sigh. I’ve been dissed again. I write historical novels — and they have romance in them. Even some mild (sweet, they call it) sex. And I get reviews and fan mail that indicate that lots of people, mostly women, but a surprising number of men, admire them. And yet . . .
Heard once more: Romance? That’s trash. I don’t read that stuff. Romance? Pfft. Subtext: I’m smart. I have an education. I’m sophisticated. I don’t read emotional stuff.
And so on. It used to hurt my feelings. Now it just makes me tired. But once more unto the breach, dear friends, in defense of Romance.
I too am educated (have an MA). I too have a high IQ (not Stephen Hawking high, no.) I too am a serious person who raised a family (that’s serious stuff) and taught high school (very serious stuff). And I love to read about people.
A good romance novel — I keep interrupting myself, sorry : yes, there are poorly written, shallow romances, just as there are in any genre (Western, time-travel, sci-fi, fantasy, “literary”) — a good romance novel offers food for the mind as well as for the emotional core of being human. It’s not just about sex and hooking up, not a good novel. It’s about wanting connection, about understanding oneself as well as another person in order to make a connection. It’s about growth. It’s about hope. It’s about learning to care and learning to accept caring. What’s shallow about that? Also, some romances are just plain fun.
If you don’t lead with your emotional self, there’s nothing wrong with that. I recognize lots of people are more cerebral than feeling, though of course all of us are both in differing proportions. But if you are willing to give Romance a chance, have a look at the titles below. I’m listing my favorite romance authors for your consideration.
By the way, I read lots of other stuff too. Just finished a bio of Ivan the Terrible (boy was he terrible), I’m slowly making my way through a bio of John Adams, I read history books of all kinds, I read Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books. I read Louise Penney’s mysteries, Lisa Gardner’s suspense, Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series. I like Howard Bahr and Richard Ford and Susan Straight. I often buy whatever has just been profiled on NPR. And so on.
But back to some of my favorite romance writers. You’ll see I’m partial to the 19th century. So be it. Some are pretty sexy and if that makes you uncomfortable, search for “sweet” or “cozy” romances.
Laura Kinsale, Flowers from the Storm
Sherry Thomas, Delicious
Judith Ivory, The Proposition
Meredith Duran, Fool Me Twice
Joanna Bourne, My Lord and Spymaster (spies!)
Loretta Chase, Lord Perfect
Eloisa James, A Duke of Her Own
Mary Balogh, Slightly Dangerous
Courtney Milan, Unrivaled
For contemporary, I recommend Jennifer Cruise, Bet Me, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Nobody’s Baby But Mine
Okay, I’ll list myself too. I like my books. Gretchen Craig. Start with Always and Forever, or for the newest series, Here Will I Remain. Mine are not as sexy as most of the ones listed, but there is some sexual content.
You don’t have to read Romance. Ever. But if you haven’t read at least one good one, please spare the feelings of all us romantics and stop dissing us. Now if you want to continue dissing us, you got to read one of these books first. (I’m looking at you, David.)
It’s so heartening to hear from you, Elizabeth. Thank you. (Elizabeth is my favorite name; that and Rosemary.)
With my tiny comment, LOL! I actually chose Elizabeth Bell for my pen name, so thank you! I am negotiating “historical fiction with strong romantic elements” in the marketplace right now–my debut novel, also set in the antebellum South, JUST went live on NetGalley! I very much appreciated your ability to write about antebellum and Civil War era Louisiana in all its complexities. I lived in Baton Rouge for a year.