I discovered a new writer the other day that I really enjoyed. She writes cozy mysteries, for which I have a sneaking fondness, and I was getting a kick out of hers when I happened upon a passage that made me wonder seriously if I wanted to pick up anything else she’d written. It was a party scene, and one of the guests had been described in a way that made it clear she was a complete moron. She and another guest, a writer, began discussing books they liked. And, of course, the moron turned out to just love romance.
This isn’t the first time I’ve stumbled across a mystery writer taking potshots at romance writers. If a romance author shows up in a mystery, for example, she’s usually a ditz. Sometimes she dresses in peasant outfits or pink chiffon with a picture hat. She almost always wears too much makeup. And, of course, she’s almost always stupid, unless of course she’s the murderer, in which case she’s not stupid but evil.
I’m not sure why mystery writers feel they have to take shots at us. I’ve never seen a mystery writer or reader portrayed negatively in a romance novel (although given the thousands that have been written, there may be some somewhere). Yet some mystery writers seem to take particular delight in unloading on their romance writing sisters.
This is all the more puzzling when you consider that romantic mystery writers (like Carla Neggers or Tami Hoag) have their feet in both camps. It’s not like there’s a hard and fast line between us. Nonetheless, mystery writers apparently feel that romance writers need to be put in their place.
They’re not the only ones who feel that way, either. Phillippa Gregory, the author of The Other Boleyn Girl, and other historical novels, made an offhand comment recently commending a fellow historical writer for being attuned to the time period she was describing, unlike romance writers whom Gregory disdained for being dilettantes. Now I’m sure some writers of historical romances screw things up (so, I’m sure, do historical novelists), but I’m also sure that lots of them are meticulous researchers because I’ve read the descriptions of their research. I’m guessing Gregory’s main complaint is that historical romances concentrate on, well, romance, while Gregory and her fellow historical writers put their interest elsewhere.
The point here, frankly, is that this genre rivalry doesn’t do much for any of us. People who read Eloisa James, like me, aren’t going to drop her just because Phillippa Gregory says historical romance sucks. Mystery writers’ potshots don’t diminish romance writers or romance novels; they just make the mystery writers look petty (and some mystery writers could learn a lot about creating credible relationships by checking out romances).
This whole “my genre’s better than your genre” thing is getting old. After all, many romance readers like me also read in other genres as well. And when I see romance readers and writers being insulted, it makes me a lot less likely to read that particular writer again. Think of it as the literary equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face.