Saturday, June 9, 2012

I Write What I Know

I am a white, thirty-six year old college graduate. I grew up exposed to western culture. I was raised with middle class values and a firm appreciation of capitalism and the possibility of improving my lot in life. I am a heterosexual woman. My father wanted me to go to a good college specifically so I would meet my future husband amongst the throng of young men set on succeeding in life (I was always a little offended by this). This is my basic background. Since people write what they know, I write about white women (exception of Karma) and their heterosexual relationships. Because I am a history major (in my adequate college, already married) and active in Renaissance faires, I feel comfortable writing about the Elizabethan era. I know what it's like to wear a corset, farthingale, bumroll, and forty pound dress. This is my element.

In a recent blog post on Teach Me Tonight, one of the quoted articles addressed the "ethnocentricism, heteronormativity, and cultural imperialism," of mainstream romance genre fiction. I really enjoyed the author's voice in this and did not disagree, given I've never been a proponent of romance novels as a form of feminism. It did, however, make me think about why I made the character and plot choices I do. It's because of who I am and what I find engrossing. Making the assumption that this is true for all authors, and given my 'brand' of character/plot is not outside the mainstream norm (much),  this issue is more about what publisher's choose to put forth versus what is being written or the writers themselves. Since publishers only publish what they think will sell and heterosexual, western cultural values based novels are being put out there, one could assume that people who want these stories are the people buying the books. So then is it the supply that determines romance norms? Or the demand? My local bookstore is in Temecula, California -- yuppie central. There is an itty-bitty shelf for GLBT literature. There is no erotica section. Romance spans three aisles. I have noticed that most titles in my local store involve white protagonists -- again, I assume this is a result of marketing analysis in regard to what sells given Temecula's demographic.

My point here? Publishers are providing what readers want to buy. All readers? No. Most readers? Yes. Are romance authors shoving their values of what is attractive, honorable, sexy, moral, etc... down reader's throats? No, the readers are choosing to swallow it (take that how you will). If indoctrination is happening, than the readers are drinking the Kool-aid . I have drunk this particular Kool-aid hundreds of times and will continue to do so -- but then again, I am the target market.

I write this today because my stories include a message about self worth, about acceptance. I like to think readers would respond to the characters and story and my stories would have a positive impact. I hate to think of my writing as making someone feel worse, make them feel like an outsider looking in, like they were being judged. Then again, chances are excellent that if you are not in the target market for my books (which, for the record, are not published... yet) you won't buy my book, so it will be a non-issue.


dolorah said...

I am a white hetero-sexual female with a college degree, and good paying job, 5 kids, and 3 ex husbands. I find category romance demeaning to myself as an intelligent, independent woman. I am not your target audience.

Yet, the genre sells to many women in pretty much my same cultural circumstances. Go figure.

People like what they like. Sometime, I get tired of apologizing for the fact that I am a well educated white woman living in America. Why is that something to be ashamed of?

Erin, all I can say is you should write about things you are passionate about; what makes sense to you. You will write it well, and one day sell it to the audience it was meant to get to. A writer has to understand and love the worlds they write about in order to sell them to others.

Writing stories about self worth and acceptance seems a good concept to write about. Keep writing those strong, endearing characters. Someday, they will find their market :)


Erin Kane Spock said...

Thank you for your comment. Yeah, people like what they like -- and don't like things with an equal level of randomness. I don't like country music, although that's also my demographic.
For the record, I do not write category romance. I write historical single title. I've only ever read one category romance, so do not have enough experience there to comment. I'm sure many of the norms are similar, though.

5 kids and 3 ex husbands? You've been busy. :)

Ella Gray said...

Very interesting post, Erin. I don't read romance, but I think your analysis pretty much applies to most mainstream genre fiction - I write and read urban fantasy and the same holds true there.

I agree with Donna that all we can really do is write the stories we are passionate about, because it seems like there will always be criticism no matter what. My work has a broader range of female, minority, and GLBT characters, but that doesn't mean that the readers who want that are going to love my writing any more than they would enjoy something without them.

Do what you do best, and hopefully you'll make your readers just as happy as it makes you :)

Erin Kane Spock said...

I do write what I love. I think when you're passionate about something, it shows.
My 2nd book has a gay character. I thought about giving him his own story and have some ideas, but don't think I have enough experience in m/m encounters to write it well. I also can't think of a reasonable happily-ever-after that would relate to modern readers and be feasible in the 1570s.

Susan Kane said...

We write about that which with we are most familiar. For me to make a quantum leap and write about another planet on which the wizard ruler eats dwarves for lunch, and has a harem of donkeys--well, it would be untrue to myself.
Write from within. The reader recognizes honesty.

Jen said...

This is a very interesting topic and one I've studied both in Writing classes and Humanities classes.

But we HAVE to write what we know. Even if we write horror or fantasy or science fiction, we have some degree of research invested in these topics (or a personal ghost story or three) and therefore write what we, through research, know.

I've heard that we need to branch out and write with more diversity. This may be true, but the last thing I want to do is inadvertently misrepresent someone or insult a culture because I don't know it enough...yet.

Looks like I have some more research to do :D

Great post!

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