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Do Romance Novels Have a Bad Rep?

I recently had a conversation with a casual acquaintance about writing romance books. Let’s call her JB. She was not familiar with the genre, leaning a lot more toward the genre of Netflix/Hulu/You-Name-It-She-Subscribes-to-It. Upon further consideration, my entire conversation with JB didn’t sit well with me.

JB: “I hope kids don’t think they (romance novels) are real.”

KC (perplexed): “Why would kids be reading romance novels?”

JB (after a hesitation): “I guess they wouldn’t.”

KC: “They’re not written for kids. If you’re worried about kids not realizing what’s real, how about Harry Potter?”

JB (considering): “Yeah, I guess no one thinks that’s real.”

KC: “I think readers are smarter than that. They see reality every day, everywhere they look. They know fiction is entertainment. It’s an escape from reality for a bit, same as movies or TV shows. Romance isn’t different from, like, horror. I don’t believe anyone who reads Stephen King’s It would truly believe there’s an evil clown preying on kids underground.”

JB: “Maybe.”

Except she didn’t look convinced. Later, it reminded me of another comment a friend made after reading my first book, Infiltrate. She really liked it, but… “It wouldn’t happen in real life,” she added sheepishly, as though embarrassed to be the one breaking the news to me.

Not real life? That’s kind of the point.

It’s fiction. Life, embellished. Not only that, Infiltrate was straight-up rom-com. Name one rom-com, book or movie, that’s “real life.” Pretty Woman? Not. When Harry Met Sally? Not likely. How about Pride and Prejudice, my personal favorite? Not even in the nineteenth century. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Notebook (not quite rom-com), or Sweet Home Alabama? None of the above. I can’t even come up with one that I can genuinely say, with no tongue-in-cheek, “Yeah, that can totally happen.”

Yet, for some reason, there are those who aren’t fans of the genre who believe romance-readers skip along with flowers in our hair and have hearts made of rose petals for eyes. Do fans of horror stories pack a machete in their pocket? Paranormal fans don’t have a stake strapped to their backs. Readers of thrillers don’t have a will prepared. At least, not because they believe they’ll be murdered in the most gruesome way imaginable while an underpaid detective attempt to figure out the who/what/why.

If we wanted real-life in a book, it wouldn’t be under fiction. Somewhere along the way, lovers of love have attained a rep for being naïve, perhaps. Fanciful. Living in her/his own head.

When I’m reading/writing, I do live in my own head rent-free. No shame. No embarrassment. No subscription required.

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