Romance author Jennifer Ryan loves writing her Montana Men series. What she doesn’t love is the judgmental looks given to writers and readers of romance novels. In this essay, the author of At Wolf Ranch and When It’s Right encourage readers to banish the shame and tell all who judge to git along.
Romance readers love their guilty pleasures. What’s better than sitting down with a cup of tea, cookies, and a book by your favorite author? That’s my perfect weekend. In this hectic world, it’s an indulgence for sure, but well deserved.
It’s always interesting to see people’s reactions when they ask me what I do for a living. If I say I’m a writer, people think it’s cool, interesting, and something they’ve always wanted to do. Inevitably, they ask what I write. When I say romantic suspense, I sometimes get this look, like that’s not an acceptable answer. They haven’t even read one of my books and already they’ve judged me. I blow it off. I don’t mind when someone says I write “guilty pleasures.” They’re obviously missing out on what other readers know: Romance rules! It’s a fundamental of life. Everyone is looking for someone to love and believe in them. Romances are stories that touch people, give them hope, and make them believe in love. The characters aren’t perfect, they’re human. They’re like you and me.
So why do some romance readers feel guilty for reading what they love? What’s so bad about loving a book?
No one snickers when they catch you indulging your chocolate obsession with a Snickers bar for lunch (pun intended). Most say, “I want some of that.” And why wouldn’t they? A Snickers bar is filled with chocolate, caramel, and peanuts—they’re delicious. A romance is filled with so many good things too: Friendship. Overcoming obstacles. A love affair that builds into something lasting. A happy ending to leave you really satisfied. Just like a Snickers bar.
So what makes us hide a romance novel when someone sees us reading? What makes us come up with an appropriate response, or at least a more acceptable one, when someone asks, “What are you reading?”
Maybe you don’t feel guilty, but when you say you’re reading a romance, you see that look on his or her face. You know, the one that says he or she thinks you’re reading porn, or some fantasy that will never come true. Even worse, people sometimes think romances aren’t smart or well written.
But that’s not true at all. Romances are smart and funny and sad and sexy. Yes they have a happy ending, but getting there is a whole lot of ups and downs rooted in life experiences we’ve all been through at one time or another. These are the same kind of struggles everyone faces in their relationships, hoping they can make it last forever. Romances are like a favorite song you hear on the radio that makes you think of that lost love, or the special someone in your life now.
So embrace those happy endings that leave you feeling optimistic. Don’t feel guilty for falling for the guy who finally meets the right girl and will do anything to keep her. Cheer on those lovely ladies who don’t just fall for a hot guy, but put them through their paces to earn their love. The next time someone asks, “What are you reading?” tell them it’s a romance: a book about love and life and possibility.
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Hunted Series and The McBride Series, Jennifer Ryan writes romantic suspense and contemporary small-town romances. Jennifer lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three children. When she isn’t writing a book, she’s reading one. Her obsession with both is often revealed in the state of her home and how late dinner is to the table. When she finally leaves those fictional worlds, you’ll find her in the garden, playing in the dirt and daydreaming about people who live only in her head, until she puts them on paper.