If there’s a romance-related event close to us and we can go, we also definitely want to go. For this reason, when I saw a tweet from Angelina M. Lopez about an author talk at a library in Arlington, I had to go.
Unfortunately, there were a number of different romance-related events this month, from the Baltimore Book Festival to events at three local independent bookstores (One More Page in Arlington, and Loyalty Bookstore and East City Bookshop in Washington, DC, if you’re curious about tracking where these things happen), and I didn’t manage to get to any of them!
Fortunately, Romance 101 with Angelina M. Lopez was really fun, so if that was my big outing this month, we’re all good.
As it happens, those of us who inhabit Romancelandia like to talk about romance, and this evening was no exception. From the moment we walked in, we were talking smut–starting with how hard it can be to find event notifications all in one place! We want to go! We need a place to tell us where to show up! I bet those of us in the DMV are not the only romance lovers in this boat.
But this wasn’t a book chat, it was Romance 101, so we had to get down to business. Lopez and the library had marketed this as “Everything You Didn’t Know You Needed to Know About Romance” so we were talking about the genre, not about writing romance.
In terms of reader credentials, Lopez’s story matches that of many of us–certainly all three of us at The Smut Report–as she started reading romance at around about middle school age and never looked back. But Lopez is also an author–her first book, Lush Money, published in October–and has been a member of RWA since 2000. She has the inside scoop. Most importantly, she was passionate about the subject matter, and that makes a huge impact at any talk.
As she began, Lopez focused on the self-care aspect of reading romance. While all art forms deal with love, only Romance “allows the readers to steep themselves in that emotion,” giving us the opportunity to repeat the experience of feeling the emotions of first love (or best love! Lopez noted) with each book.
At its heart, “Romance is making the promise that you will feel good at the end of the book,” Lopez said. Spot on. That’s exactly what it’s doing, and that’s why we get so annoyed when Nicholas Sparks gets shelved as romance. It doesn’t matter how magical the love story was if one of the protagonists ends up dead at the end of the book. It’s also why some of us are not okay with a Happily For Now ending to a romance.
Because we were talking Romance 101, we covered all the essential components of the genre, from sub-genres to sex to where the genre is going.
Here were our takeaways:
The class would like to know where the mid-century romances are. I asked Instagram for astronaut romance recommendations after attending an Apollo 11 commemoration on the National Mall earlier this year and got crickets. Earlier this year, I purchased Let It Shine, a novella by Alyssa Cole set in 1961. What else have we got? If you’re a romance author looking for some inspiration, try here. People are getting interested.
Tropes have a negative connotation in the wider world, but not in romance. For a few minutes we discussed our favorite and least favorite tropes, and readers get really excited about this. Lopez made the point that in romance the trope isn’t bad because it’s something that is a component of the HEA we’re looking for. We seek out certain tropes because they are a more refined drilling down of what comforts us as readers. Of course, while readers seek out tropes for comfort, authors might seek them out so they can play with them, turning them upside down and inside out, like Lopez did in her book about a self-made alpha billionaire–who is a woman.
E-publishing and self-publishing paved the way for the growth of diverse authors and characters in traditional publishing. When many of us started reading romance, the protagonists were almost exclusively a white, cisgender, heterosexual man and woman, living in a white world. Traditional publishing didn’t go in for characters and environments that reflected the real world, but e-publishing allowed authors to write about characters that reflected what the world actually looks like. Now the genre is hungry for stories about protagonists with all kinds of backgrounds–race, gender identity, sexual orientation, you name it–and writers are delivering. Where demand exists, traditional publishing follows, and romance is becoming more diverse and inclusive not only in e-publishing but also in traditional publishing.
Sex and sexual chemistry is an essential part of the romance budding between protagonists, but it’s also the part of romance that’s most derided. What romance lover hasn’t been embarrassed to own the genre at some point because of fear of mockery? E-readers allow us to read anonymously on public transit these days, but how often do we see someone holding a clinch cover in public? As readers, we all like different heat levels in our smut (you may have noticed that just on this site), and we seek out books that fit those desires. We see the value in the sexual relationship between our protagonists. And yet the “smutty” and “dirty” connotation remains pervasive. (You’ll notice we use both of those words in our banner, and it’s intentional.)
It’s also important to respect the sex. Old school clinch covers from smut published from the 70s to the 90s make some folks cringe–and tend to be what non-romance readers focus on when a romance reader mentions the genre. (Example–I was at a work offsite, and we went around the table saying what our dream job would be if we could do absolutely anything, and I said I’d write romance novels, and the woman sitting next to me said, “What? Like bodice rippers?” To which I replied, of course, “YES!”) But romance is a reflection of the time it portrays AND the time it’s written, and Lopez pointed out that, while it might be really difficult for modern readers to go back to those old school romances, they were written at a time when the social expectation was “good girls say no.” These books were a product of their time, and the heroines reflect that. But now, with the social changes that have occurred in the past couple of years due to the behavior of the president and the #MeToo movement, expectations have changed. Readers are asking for–and authors are carefully writing–clear consent. We want our HEAs to be empowering and satisfying, and that means that protagonists are talking about what they want on the page before they hit the sheets.
The short of it is, reading romance is a form of self care. With the myriad combinations of sub-genres and tropes and heat levels, there’s probably some smut out there for everyone. Find what you like and revel in it, because we all deserve the emotional satisfaction of a HEA.