One of the minor irritants of writing, editing or reading romance is that people who aren’t romance readers make jokes. Well, I say jokes. Usually jokes are defined as ‘things that are funny’, so we may need another word.
I can’t tell you the tedium of the unimaginative rote remark. I probably don’t have to. If you’re very tall, think of ‘How’s the weather up there?’ If you’re carrying a double bass on public transport, it’s doubtless ‘I bet you wish you played the flute!’ If you have a surname that lends itself to tiresome weak jokes and puns, you know the score all too well. (My real surname lends itself to puns and I write romance. This is why I need anger management classes.)
I edited for one of the most famous romance publishers in the world for five years. It got to the point where I refused to tell people my job at parties because the inevitable conversations were so deeply, profoundly, irritatingly, predictably dull.
Dull person: Romance novels?
Me: Yes, that’s right.
Dull person: Like Mills & Boon?
Me: Yes, that’s right.
Dull person: [bodice-ripper; ‘don’t they just give authors a plot and tell them to write it?’; all the same; ‘my granny reads them!’; Barbara Cartland; ‘don’t you want to write real books?’; 50 Shades of Grey; hahaha sex!]
I mean, I get it. Really. Romance is this totally silly genre which is about love and sex, something that no normal person is interested in at all. It’s completely trivial too – why would anyone take a genre seriously when it only makes up 17% of the entire US publishing market? Obviously any genre dominated by women as readers and writers is inherently laughable, because women. And I for one have never understood why you should be expected to look at good examples of something before dismissing it with contempt. I think it’s much better to look at something terrible published in 1974 and base all your theories on that.
Me: You make films?
Film person: Yes…
Me: I saw The Swarm! It was awful! Hahaha, you make films! It’s all hallucinatory giant bee sequences, dreadful dialogue, and random jump-cut nuclear explosions caused by bees, right?!*
* If you haven’t seen The Swarm, take a long weekend and stockpile beer.
I’ve had a lot of these conversations and have every expectation of more, so let’s just get some of it out of the way, shall we?
— Yes, I write romance. In which genres are your books published?
— Yes, I write romance. Yes, it has sex. I’m sorry you find sex so painful and unpleasant to think about. I understand there are some very good creams these days.
— Yes, I write romance. Yes, many romance books are crap. Sturgeon’s Law states that 90% of everything is crap. I think Sturgeon was an optimist.
— Yes, I write romance. Yes, they’re real books. You know what else is real? My royalty cheques.
— Yes, I write romance. Yes, I think I can do something creative that I love and am really pretty good at, and make a living from it. I’m sorry, were you expecting a punchline?
— Yes, I write romance. No, you don’t have to respect that or be courteous about it. Then again, I don’t have to be courteous to you either. Your call.
And no, you don’t have to read my books. But – new rule – if you want to make snide remarks about them with impunity, you have to buy them. Show me a receipt and you can go to town on the hilarious subject of romance novels. As long as you’re aware that you have to pay me to listen to it.
Fed up of it? Join me in the comments!
Think of England is out from Samhain right now. The Magpie Lord is a Romantic Times Top Pick for September! (“The dialogue between the heroes is fun and intense… The building steam combusts into heat that sizzles right off the pages.”)