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Author Archive: "Candy Tan"

Everything You Thought You Knew about Romance Novels, and Why It’s Wrong

Recently, LA Times columnist Meghan Daum wrote a dismissive article about the romance novel boom. After calling them bodice rippers, she went on to say, "It's so easy to poke fun at contemporary romance novels that there's really no sport in it. The plots, by definition, are formulaic; the prose manages to be at once overwrought and underdeveloped; the covers, well, they're where that famous, flaxen-haired slab of manhood named Fabio got his start."

Our immediate thought was: Actually, it's not easy to poke fun at romance novels. Barbs are funny only if they hit the mark; it ain't funny if it ain't true. Daum's barbs, by and large, don't hit the mark, which is saying something when the target is as big as the romance industry. Like most people who are certain in their unflattering assumptions about the romance genre, Daum has very little experience with it — she is, in fact, a self-professed snob. It's never entirely clear why the snobs are so afraid to try one; is it fueled by the fear that cooties will swarm up their arm and enter their brain, and ...

The Genre Ghetto’s Genre Ghetto: How I Got Here, and Why I Love It

Welcome to the romance ghetto. It's pink. Very, very pink. It's rife with body parts that should never, ever be inflicted with animal metaphors, much less ferret and salmon metaphors. When you reach the welcome sign at the entrance, with its curlicued font and excessive exclamation points, you know you've reached the deepest circle of literary hell, full of unspeakable horrors and Satan gnawing on throbbing heads, rending any hope of good prose apart — not unlike this sentence. And its sole inhabitants are dim, lonely housewives; no matter how smart or accomplished you are, if you're in the ghetto, you're a dim, lonely housewife, and any protestations to the contrary are vain efforts at denying your inner dim, lonely housewife.

In short, this is the genre ghetto's genre ghetto. Even the most rabid Piers Anthony or John Ringo fan can cling to a semblance of dignity and taste by comparison when they say, "Hey, at least I don't read romance novels."

My introduction to the genre was pretty rough, because the first romance novel I read (at the tender age of ten) turned out to be Desire's Blossom by Cassie Edwards, the bad book by which I judge all other bad books.

To be fair, Desire's Blossom only confirmed my opinion that romance novels were stupid and badly-written; I couldn't understand why my sister, who was one of the smartest people I knew, loved reading those awful things. My disdain was visceral and unexamined. Part of it was probably my childhood disgust for mushy stuff, and romances meant nothing if not mushy stuff. The lurid covers didn't help. You know that embarrassment squick you felt when you saw Sarah Palin attempt to mangle her way through interviews, or when you watched Keanu play Don John in Much Ado About Nothing? Yeah, romance novel covers gave me embarrassment squick, except for a whole genre.

For the next several years, I'd sporadically pick up the occasional novel from my sister's collection, partly to see if I'd find a good one, but mostly for the detailed, if sometimes anatomically improbable, sex scenes. (My parents, bless their squeamish hearts, could barely stand to discuss menstruation with me, much less anything involving squidgy bits and the old in-out-in-out, so I resorted to self-help, as it were.) None of the other books were as bad by Desire's Blossom, but that's not saying much — if Desire's Blossom were the reading equivalent of repeated hits to your crotch with a football, the other romances ranged from paper cuts to getting your finger caught in the door. If you'd asked me, between ages 10 and 16, what I thought about romance novels, you would've gotten an earful about how badly written they were, and stupid, and frustrating as all hell because the hero and heroine did nothing but fight all the time before abruptly realizing the antagonism was actually true lurve, which, in my expert pre-pubescent opinion, was a load of crock.

Then when I was sixteen, after a few years of not reading any romance novels, I picked up Judith McNaught's Something Wonderful on a complete whim.

It was a revelation.

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