Tuesday, May 23, 2006

An Oval Peg

Well, I’m back from Florida, where I served on three erotica panels at the Romantic Times Book Lovers National Convention. I was very humbled to share the dais with the likes of Jade Lee, Angela Knight, Emma Holly and Cheyenne McCray, all big names in the industry. RT BookClub invited me to appear on their panels and to this day I’m really not sure why they invited such a novice! I’ve only been writing in this field for two years and am still at the stage where I can’t believe anyone has heard of me. It was a great honor.

Let me start by saying that from the two conventions at which I have appeared in this time, I’ve found romance fans to be the nicest, most enthusiastic and cheerful bunch you would ever want to meet. But at the same time, it’s always a challenge for me to be with this crowd. With my background and life’s history, I’m a much better fit with the Star Wars and D&D bunch that attend GenCon in my hometown of Milwaukee every summer. I can talk Star Trek or X Files with the best of ‘em, but I know nothing about Harlequin or Nora Roberts or any other subject that romance readers eat, sleep and breathe.

Worse even than that, I’ve tried reading a couple of the free books that I’ve received at conventions and I can’t really get past the fourth page of them. But before you conclude that I just don’t like romance, I must interject that my top ten favorite books include Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Gone with the Wind. Likewise, I grew up immersed in the great Broadway shows of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, which are pretty dang romantic. I’m also a big believer in happily-ever-after (or HEA as it is termed in the romance biz). So it’s not like I don’t like the whole boy-meets-girl thing.

Nevertheless, there’s no denying I am a square peg in a round hole. Or maybe an oval peg would be more accurate. I’m a similar shape but I really don’t fit.

I lamented about this once to my publisher and editor, and they assured me there is no “classic romance fan” and that readers of my books were all kinds of people and that was just fine with them. But whenever you write genre fiction, you can’t help but feel the pressure to be like the others who write in that genre. Most of your readers have expectations, including that you have read plenty of other books in the field, that you keep up on the various imprints and series, that you find cover models (like Fabio) attractive and exciting, etc.

I’m afraid I don’t have it in me to be like that. But at the same time, I take solace in the fact that a lot of people, both self-avowed romance fans and readers outside that fold, like what I write. I guess that’s the important thing. And “writing what I write” is me. I write stories about love and sex, about men and women and their most intimate, passionate interactions, and it’s something I love to do.

So I probably won’t be spending a lot of time doing the convention scene, but happily, that will just give this oval peg more time to write.


bainst said...

I totally get how you feel. There is a certain stereotype that people have about women in the military. No matter how enlightened people may be, when they find out that 5'3', 123lbs me is not only in the Army, but that I've served for ten years, it's nothing sort of shock that comes over them. Then they say, "But you're so pretty and little!" What's that suppose to mean? Only "butch girls that are 5'8" or taller can serve their country? I find it really insulting. Don't get me wrong, I am not a woman acting like a man for eight hours or more a day. I am all woman, that tries to act competently as a soldier, a surgical technician(my career field), and most importantly a noncommissioned officer.
But on my off time, I strut my stuff with the best of them on my high heels, dresses, and my hair down right. Not to fit some other person's idea of what a soldier or woman should be, but what is right for me.


Diana Laurence said...

Good for you, Tamar! The important thing is that you're serving America, and thank you for that, you rock. I have a friend whose niece is in the Air Force...she's only 4'10" and graduated top in her class. Good things come in small packages.

Mel said...

Hello Diana, I'm sorry you felt uncomfortable at the Romantic Times Convention. However, if they invited you, it must be 'cause you're good at what you do, right? BTW, what was said on the panels? Did you find the discussions interesting? Did you tend to agree or disagree with what was said? (Sorry about all the questions. I'm really interested...)

While I like to read many different genres, I kind of understand how you feel about Romance. I've felt rather ambivalent about many of the books I've read. Sort of like the stories and characters are okay, but also kind of "meh...", you know? So many of my past reads had great potential, but could (and should) have been so much better! I wonder whether the problem is that some authors depend on what they feel is a tried-and-true formula to write their books? After a while, it almost seems like you've read one, you've read them all. Then there's the editing problem, where there are so many blatant errors (grammar, continuity, details, anachronisms, etc.) that my reading flow is interrupted and enjoyment of the book is considerably lessened. Whether the problem originates with the author, the editor, or both, remains to be seen however. Having read other Romance-themed blogs, it seems that many authors get very defensive about this issue. IMHO, I can't believe that sub-par material is allowed to be published, but it is, probably because it sells anyway.

And between you and me, if what you've tried to read are Harlequins and Nora Roberts, no wonder you didn't get past page four. But that's just my opinion. And there's so much Romance out there that it's difficult to know what's good and what isn't. I usually rely on what Mrs. Giggles and the Smart Bitches have to say when I feel like reading Romance. When I want Romantic erotica, I usually go with an author I've enjoyed before (like vous) or take a chance on something that looks interesting. For some reason, I don't feel as annoyed if the e-books don't measure up to my expectations. Maybe because they're less expensive? I'm not sure. But that's a topic for another day, isn't it?

Anyway, I'm done with my ramblings now. I always look forward to reading your blog - it's always engaging and thought-provoking.

Diana Laurence said...

Thanks, Mel, you are too sweet.

The panels were quite fascinating. We talked a lot about the growing popularity of erotic romance, and also how we deal personally with being authors of it. Pretty impossible to capture three hours of discussion here, but the main thrust I guess was how readers are becoming more and more comfortable with these books, and there are more and more of them available to choose from.

The problem you described with series romance is similar to what I've experienced! I'm not about to bash it though since many of my own readers love that stuff, and reading is like any form of entertainment, it's whatever works for you. But I was surprised to read what you said about quality issues. I knew there was a lot of that in ebooks but it surprised me that it happens with the big houses....hmmm.

I sent Soulful Sex Vols. I & II to Mrs. Giggles, in fact, and she told me last week the review should happen soon. I'm very interested to read what she has to say! "Smart Bitches" was new to me but I checked it out and am very impressed. I think I will send a book to them too--I really like getting feedback from people who don't pull punches.

Thanks for your terrific post!

Jennie said...

Dear Diane,

Welcome home! I'm glad that you had a great convention. I have been reading genre romances since 1992, but I have to say that they have become stale for me lately. It's harder to find romances that attract my attention. I'm not sure why -- but I'm glad that "oval pegs" like you are stretching the boundaries.

Diana Laurence said...

Thanks Jennie! I'm just glad to be living in a time that accommodates more flexibility in book content. Because my stuff doesn't fit any pre-existing molds in the romance genre, in another time I probably would be out of luck...but with the options of small press and self-publishing these days, I can get my work out there for readers looking for something a little different. I feel very lucky!