I spent a long time in the Erotic Romance Writer Closet. I hated to tell anyone what I was writing, not because I was ashamed of it – I love writing erotica and erotic romance – but because I know how people judge.
Not you guys, of course. If you’re here, you’re probably not the judgey type. Nothing worse than being judgmental about who’s being judgmental, is there?
Anyway, I’m writing in the open these days, albeit cautiously. (I do still have to be discreet with my day job, since I’m in a conservative industry in a conservative part of the country.) Most people have been very good to me, and I’m grateful to have met such wonderful folks. But some people do still have their preconceived notions about what I do.
I’m used to that. I hear the same old things about romance and erotica all the time. Some of it’s just against the genre at large – it’s not intelligent, it’s for bored and frustrated women with no lives, it’s the source of everything that’s wrong with relationships. Some of it’s personal. I want to say for the record, again, that I’ve written things I’ve never done and would never do, even if you said, “Please please please pretty please with sugar on top and I promise I’m not videotaping.” Some of it is more subtle. You know, the frosty reception one gets from people who want to know when I’m going to write a “real” book.
All of this goes with the job. I used to hear most of the judgmental stuff from outsiders, people who don’t read much of anything or people who will read anything but romance. Some folks haven’t read romance in 25 years or so, when the field was very, very different. I get it. I think of myself as an ambassador for the genre, not an evangelist, so if non-readers have whatever preconceptions about romance, I will stand up for myself and my chosen field, but I’m not going to try to convert them.
Readers are different, though. I feel the need to reach out to a judgmental reader. A reader with a misconception about romance may just need a romance that better suits her needs. A reader who thinks erotica is all sex, no emotion might need an erotic romance with a higher supply of heart and heat. The reader who thinks BDSM is all about abuse may just need guidance to a better BDSM romance. Readers are naturally curious. Part of my job as ambassador is to have a grasp of the terrain.
The most disturbing brand of judgment has a surprising source. It comes from other writers. Yesterday, I read an internet post from a romance writer who described Romantica as “a feminist’s worst nightmare” and equated it to the bodice-rippers of the 1970s and 1980s. A few hours later, I saw a romance writer take a similarly spirited swipe at the sweet romances. It’s really discouraging to see that. I just don’t think there’s any excuse for that sort of prejudice on the part of writers. A preference is one thing; a preference is based on knowledge of what something is. Prejudice is based on perception, but not knowledge.
I’m not immune. I had my own little ideas about historical romance until I heard Joey W. Hill say that Kathleen Woodiwiss’s Ashes in the Wind was on her keeper shelf. It was as if she gave me permission to check out historicals. When I read Deanna Raybourn and Tasha Alexander in preparation for the Virginia Festival of the Book, well, I was delighted to find out how wrong I was about the whole subgenre. Smart, independent heroines, bucking society’s expectations for them – you know, they sound like my heroines.
My job as a writer’s pretty complicated. Sure, I have to write the books, and that’s a big deal. But I also feel responsible for helping readers get better immersed in their fictional worlds. I’d love to be a part of their reading lives, certainly, but I find it just as gratifying to help them find other books that will suit them as well as, or better than, mine will. To do that, I have to have a decent grasp on what else is out there, but if I can’t manage that, I cannot retreat to prejudice. I keep inspirational next to historical next to BDSM romances in my library. Why shouldn’t my reader want to do the same?
**Alexa Day promises not to spend two years finishing her next book (her first book, ILLICIT IMPULSE, is available right now!). You can keep her honest by following her on Twitter, liking her on Facebook, or keeping up with her blog at www.alexaday.net. All you have to do is send frequent but gentle reminders that she ought to be working. She’ll take the hint.