This September PHS editor Maya Kesh joined Authors Corrina Lawson and Gwenda Bond in Somerville Massachusetts for the Ladies of Comicazi convention. They held a panel about Romance in and the geek culture. Below is Corrina Lawson's summary of events.
5 Romance Novel Myths Busted
I often do outreach about the romance genre in geek circles, as there are so many misconceptions about the genre that it makes geeks reluctant to pick up a romance.
I began my part of the Ladies of Comicazi panel with the awesome Gwenda Bond and Maya Kesh last month in Somerville, Massachusetts with a few facts about the romance genre. I started that way because I’ve discovered there are common “facts” about romance mostly known by non-romance readers.
Corrina(l) Gwenda(m) Maya(r)
Here’s the five of the most common myths and the truth behind them.
Myth: “Those Books” are against feminism.
Fact: Romance is a feminist genre.
Romance genre books are created by women: written, edited, marketed, and read by mostly women. It is also the most popular genre. The romance genre is a $1.08 billion (yes, BILLION) business. It is 34 percent of the entire U.S. fiction market. It has the highest percentage of the genre fiction market, meaning more romance novels are sold than mystery, science fiction, fantasy or horror.
In other words, as bestselling romance author Beverly Jenkins aka the self-proclaimed Slayer of Words, said, “We pay the bills.”
So why do we never hear about the romance genre? I give you one guess. If you guessed it’s because women rule it, you’d be rights. Why, if the New York Times Book Review can feature SF/F or mystery books of interest, do they shun the romance genre? The answer is obvious. It’s even more obvious by the articles they do run, such as the recent one that basically patted women on the head for reading romance,saying it was “basically harmless.” WHAT? (Link. ) I wish I could say this misconception of romance is basically harmless too, but it’s not. It’s all about denigrating what women like and consume. Because girl cooties or something.
For more on the awesome women of romance, I urge you to watch Love Between the Covers, a documentary featuring Jenkins, other romance authors and romance readers.
Myth: It’s about men rescuing women.
Fact: It’s about women becoming their best self and finding the person who adores them for it.
Romance is a genre that places a woman’s concerns front and center. Her growth is the point of the story. By the end, she’s discovered who she is, she’s happy with it, and she also find a life partner who sees her true self and believes that she is awesome.
The most interesting and varied female leads I’ve read lately have been in the romance genre and the heroine often has a entire community of women supporting her. A recent mystery that I reviewed starred a female detective as the lead, and a romance begins with the FBI Agent who is helping with the case. It was about the level of a decent romantic suspense except this mystery received a hardcover release and lots of advance publicity marketing from its publishing company. Because, hey, it’s a SERIOUS book. Meanwhile, there are thousands of good romantic suspense novels out there that handle both the mystery and the romance better than this one.
Corollary to this Myth:
There are no kick-ass, strong women in the romance genre. To that, I say let me introduce you to Eve Dallas, of the In Death series written by J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts. She was a wounded, tough-as-nails heroine long before Jessica Jones. And Eve is by no means alone.
Myth: All of it is like 50 Shades of Grey or Twilight
Fact: Romance encompasses all genres.
While Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey are the romance genre examples usually cited by people who don’t read romance, they are not indicative of the breadth of romance nor are they particularly well-written examples of their romance sub-genres.
50 Shades of Grey is a contemporary BDSM and not a particularly good one. For those looking for good erotic romance, I’ve added a list of recommendations. (Ed note: See below)
Twilight is a romance, yes (and it inspired 50 Shades too), but it belongs to the subgenre called paranormal romance, of which there are many, many books, featuring vampires, shifters, and other paranormal creatures.
There are also so many other subgenres! For example:
Romantic suspense. Contemporary romance. Science Fiction Romance. Historical Romance (of which Regency Romance is the most popular version but also Victorians, Westerns, Napoleonic-era, medieval....) Erotic Romance. Young Adult romance. Romance with Spiritual Elements.
And while I’ve used “heroine” to refer to the lead in a romance genre novel, there are also all genres of LGBTQ romances, from various poly relationships to M/M, to F/F and all the spectrum of the LGBTQ rainbow though, yes, romance needs more books with trans leads.
Basically, if you love a popular genre, romance has a version of it.
Myth: The men are cardboard characters.
Fact: The men are multi-dimensional characters of all occupations/professions.
Yes, the romance genre abounds with vampires and shapeshifters, special forces veterans and those ever-popular billionaires. But you’ll also find lawyers, architects, cartoonists, Dukes, Earls, con men, princes from other worlds, space captains, police officers, FBI agents, firefighters, veterinarians, doctors, forest rangers, archeologists, construction workers, mechanics…The list is endless.
If you loved Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman, that’s a good example of a how a romance hero is handled in the romance genre. The men have agency. They have their owns stories and lives in the books. (I have this theory that men won’t read romance novels because they believe men are portrayed in them like women are portrayed in stories that center on men. In other words, as an appendage.)
But…also….so what if the men slide into fantasy sometimes? (Though they always tend to be accomplished and smart.)
What the heck is wrong with reading a book where the billionaire decides that the best person to listen to, to change their life for…is the heroine. What’s wrong with a book in which the uber-powerful alpha vampire realizes that they’d go down on their knees to make the heroine happy?
What the heck is wrong with a women’s fantasy about all these uber-powerful beings accepting women as their equal partner? And what the hell is wrong with a female fantasy of one or more hot dudes who decide that she’s the sexiest and most desirable person in the world?
Zilch. Zero. Absolutely nothing.
Myth: All romance novels have either Fabio and or Man-Titty Covers
Fact: Fabio has been retired for years. As for those chesticle covers…it’s complicated.
Fabio has been retired for decades. I’ve no idea why his myth persists except certain segments of society (straight men?) like to snigger at women who like to look at totally ripped men. Or maybe they want to make fun of Fabio’s accent. Whatever.
Every genre has its shorthand with covers. SF has its spaceships, fantasy has its elves and castles and people with swords. Horror has its demons and various evil clowns.
Romance shorthand is sometimes hot men to signal, yes, sex might happen in the book. Sometimes not, however, depending on genre. Contemporary romance tends to feature all sorts of covers from flowers to dogs to shoes and houses and beaches. Historical romance covers are trending to those gorgeous dresses. Paranormal romance sometimes has hot men with swords or psychic smoke. But sometimes they have women as well. Sometimes there’s a clinch with the two (or more) leads, sometimes not.
From a marketing perspective, a hot dude on the cover will signal “aha, romance novel” to readers who love it. I was looking over two new possible covers for a fantasy romance of mine recently and went with this pose below, rather than one of her wielding the sword. Why? Because the pose I chose signals that probably there will be sexytimes in the book. The other would signal simply “fantasy.”
When you pick up any genre novel, the cover is made to signal “this is what you can expect.” Men are usually not the objects of sexual gaze in the rest of literature because men run the rest of the publishing business and they don’t like being posed for maximum hotness---but, of course, they are quick to sexualize women on any genre cover, sometimes mixing female sexuality with violence in a way that’s…not so good.
If you’re upset with men sexualized on romance covers, I want you to look at all kinds of advertising and then come back and tell me why you’re not offended at the overtly sexualized women (and teenage girls) in practically all other media. I suspect it’s because you’re used to that and not used to seeing men this way.
So, in short, the chesticle/hot men covers? They’re subverting societal expectations.
In conclusion: Subverting societal expectations is exactly what the romance genre does. Women can, and are, anything they want to be in the romance genre. And the men they love adore them for it.
The best example of a perfect romance outside the romance novel genre? The most famous and long-running superhero romance: Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Because Lois does everything Clark does, except without powers. She’s his hero. And he adores her for it.
Corrina's Erotic Book Recommendations:
Powder of Sin by Kate Rothwell
The wealthy heiress has a grand old sexy time, especially with the brooding detective.
The Gentleman’s Keeper by Summer Devon
A male/male Victorian romance, a gay twist on the master-servant romance.
Ménage by Emma Holly
Yes, as the title promises, a women involved with two men, who are also involved with each other. It’s the intense emotions that carry this one. BDSM elements
Even Odds (Slices of Pi Book 1) by Elia Winters
Geeky meets kinky! She runs a gaming company. He’s an artist and animator. Sex games ensue.
Wait for It by M. O’Keefe
Yes, a housewife with three kids is the heroine.
Naughty Bits by Joey Hill
Heroine runs a lingerie shop, the hero is the owner of the local hardware store. BDSM.
Betting on Both by Sheryl Nantus
A three-way male/female/male relationship where the heroine runs a hotel, one of the heroes is her former military bodyguard and the other the very hot hotel manager.
FIT #1 by Rebekah Weatherspoon
She’s a less than slender Food Channel executive. He’s the trainer she hires to improve her fitness. And then it moves to sexual fitness…
Hot Head by Damon Suede
A male/male novel featuring two NYC firefighters. Nuff said.
The Quantum Series by Marie Force
Movie star meets teacher. Love ensues. BDSM elements
Crash Into You by Roni Loren
A female cop goes undercover as a submissive at a BDSM club, with a man from her past she might not be able to trust.
Science Fiction Romance:
Releasing Rage (Cyborg Sizzle) by Cynthia Sax
Yep, this has one super-hot cyborg hero
Star Series Box Set by Susan Grant
Grant, an Air Force Academy grad and a commercial pilot, is one of the pioneers of science fiction romance. Here are three of them, bundled with a prequel. Hot sexy alien princes….
Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, and the author of the Amazon bestselling steampunk romantic mystery, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.To find out more you can find Corrina at her Website on Tumblr and Twitter
What do you think of romance in geek culture? Let us know in the comments or by using #ComicBookLove on Social Media to become part of the #PHS community's discussion on this subject.