Ever since I discovered the Southern California Digital Library through the Newport Beach Public Library, I’ve been putting El Libro (the name of my Nook) through her paces especially in the romance department.
For about three years I’ve strayed from romance novels, only reading the latest Lisa Kleypas. I just wasn’t into the whole girl-meets-boy-happily-ever-after stories. Instead I devoured historical mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear, Rhys Bowen and Tasha Alexander. But last week when I stumbled upon Julia London’s Secret Lover – a cliched romance title if there ever was one – I downloaded it and was instantly caught up in one of the most daring, emotionally true and unpredictable romances I had read. Her story made me fall in love with romance again and now my Nook screen is steamed up with unbridled passion.
Last month there was a bit of kerfuffle over Jonathan Franzen appearing on the cover of Time magazine. By the way, do you notice that we have the same conversation about the relevance of romance, chick lit and women’s fiction about every four months? I think they should add it to the Farmer’s Almanac so we can prepare our statements in advance to the press. Oh and before I forget, Nora Roberts has been profiled in at least two issues of Time Magazine. So apparently we’re not the Cinderellas we fear we are.
Anyway, if people want to thumb their noses at us, they have every right. But will their sneering cleverness make me ashamed to write what my stories and jump ship to literary fiction? Not a chance. When women’s fiction (and I use that term collectively for romance, chick lit and crossover mystery/romance/strong female protagonist), account for the three-quarters of paperbacks sold in the U.S., as a business person I’m going with the winning team. (Furthermore, if that doesn’t speak to the relevance of women’s fiction, than I don’t what proof will change your mind.)
But the real, more powerful reason why I write titles like Hot Tamara and In Between Men (cliched chick lit titles if I ever saw ‘em) is that I enjoy the exchange I have with the heroine’s journey, whether I’m writing it or reading it. If it’s a story about true love, or a heroine coming to terms with a haunted past, I’ll read it because as women we have a great deal to teach one another and yet, we are also each others worse enemies – anyone who has worked in an office full of women knows what I’m talking about. In my life, a man has never broken my heart as much as a best girlfriend who called quits on our friendship. As an author, the criticisms that sting the most are those that dismiss my books as a trashy Harlequin romance in a trade paperback. There’s nothing wrong with a Harlequin romance – girl, if I could write those I would! – rather, the sting is no different than those bitchy comments you would hate overhear in the ladies room that you’re a big-time loser.
As women, we stand stronger when we support each other. I’ve always made it a practice to email authors I enjoy and then twitter their good news. It’s makes us a tighter-knit community, and hopefully as we do those little kindnesses in our every day lives – i.e. abstaining from criticizing about what the girl in sales wore to work today – we show our girls the very best of women.