Sunday, November 7, 2010

Should I Be Embarrassed?

I remember reading a romance novel while on the treadmill at the gym. I got to a steamy scene, then became acutely aware that I was reading it in public. Of course, the people around me didn't know I was at a steamy scene, but they could see the romance novel quality of my book. I was 18ish at the time.

A few years ago I was alone at a restaurant between work meetings. I brought my book, The Lady's Tutor (one of the two erotica I have read). The title and cover were innocuous, so I was not worried about what passerby's might think. I was putting the book back in my purse as I left the restaurant when I noticed that it had "AN EROTIC NOVEL" written across the back cover in bold. Nice. I was a little embarrassed.

During the first example, I was very young and insecure in my right to be a sexual human. There were still a lot of questions and labeling and vulnerabilities. I understand my embarrassment at being perceived to be reading something 'smutty.' Of course, the covers were a little bit ridiculous then, so the perception of smut is more understandable. The covers now are much more elegant (Fabio = then, Eloisa James = now).

BTW, what is Fabio doing to her back? I hope he brought a towel.

As for the second example, well, it is embarrassing that it was embarrassing. I am an adult and I can read what I want to read. As

long as the cover image is not pornographic, it should not offend anyone in a public setting. I should be able to own my reading choices.

I bring this up because I recently read about a writer that was embarrassed to be known as an author of sensual romance. To each, their own, but I just don't get it. I am proud of my writing and I write romance. Unless you are a Shaker, passion is part of romantic love. That, and the passion is just a smidgen of the story. That's right, I said story. Romance novels have stories. Actual plots. Just like any other commercial fiction.

Then again, maybe the concern is that it is commercial fiction and not high literature. Hey, if you're writing something that is marketable and readers respond, CONGRATULATIONS! You are awesome and I envy you. Writing commercial fiction is nothing to sneeze at. Many of the authors I read are educated professionals who were successful in their careers before choosing to write romance. They were drawn into the field for a variety of reasons. There are professors of Shakespearean literature, bio-chemists, TV journalists, former models, and a lot of teachers.

So the question is, why would someone write something they were ashamed of? I'm not talking about using a pen name -- authors choose to do that for a variety of reasons. I'm talking about total embarrassment about the genre they love to create. Does society really judge people's reading and writing choices so harshly? Is there really such a stigma to the romance genre. 20 years ago I would have said yes... but now?

Addendum: In reading blogs this weekend, I came across this blog from Teach me Tonight. It's a great look at the stereotype of both the romance writer and romance reader along with addressing the stigma of romance.


Talei said...

I don't think there's a stigma to the romance genre, its definitely alive and kicking! And nothing to be ashamed of reading or writing it. ;) I do love that 'Desperate Duchesses' dust jacket here! Will be googling that one now.

Bast said...

I don't get embarassed by what I read, but a cover will sometimes embarass me (the actual book not though).

As for your question, I have no idea why someone would write something that embarassed them. That seems so ridiculous to me. If it's something you feel bad about, then I don't think you should be doing it.

And yes, society does judge EVERYTHING that harshly -- reading and writing choices are not exempt. It's sad, but true.

Francine Howarth said...


For me, no embarrassment whatsoever!

I cut my writing teeth on Erotic Romance: I say ER, because all my novels had romance as the central element. They were never just about casual sex, though that too to some extent. BDSM most often featured but never about cruel BDSM, it was more sexual tease and bondage: the hero falling for his mistress re obsessive love or vice-versa!

The reason I prefer writing historical novels is because one can get away with rape/semi rape, which is pretty much taboo in a contemporary novel.

I too am proud of what I write, and no I am not embarrassed to read erotica in public, certainly not ashamed to read romance novels either, but if it's a Mills & Boon with those awful "clinch" covers I do slot them inside of a thriller cover jacket nicked from a book that fell apart from too much reading of. ;)


Erin Kane Spock said...

I made the Eloisa James book a link to her site. I wish I knew what book the Fabio one came from (it's probably the inside cover art).
My sister covers her paperback romances with blank book jackets.
Frankly, I think society should just proud that people are literate and choose to read for pleasure. Maybe my standards are too low. :)

Lindsay Gage Natale said...

Erin, you literally made me laugh out loud with beginning of this post. You are so funny :)

Raquel Byrnes said...

Brought a towel...nice. You are always a source of fun and learning. Hope NaNo is going well for you!
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Kathleen said...

Yes, the towel comment is most excellent. This is your opportunity to break out of your comfort zone. There's nothing wrong with romance, even erotic romance. Heck, True Blood is a big hit and there's a ton of gratuitous sex in that show. (I know cuz I watch it!:)

Unknown said...

I got a Kindle. Now I can read my Bible, a romance novel, or a blood and guts horror story (all of which I enjoy, by the way) without anyone being the wiser. Of course I do share my Amazon account with my middle school son so I guess there is at least one person who could easily figure out what I am reading. He is so lost in the world of books filled with dragons and scorcery that he isn't likely to look into any of my reading habits.......I hope!

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