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Guest Blogger: Meg Benjamin
Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Genre Rivalry

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.

Meg Benjamin
megbenjamin.com

12 comments to “Guest Blogger: Meg Benjamin”

  1. Nichelle Scott-Williams
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      · August 11th, 2011 at 6:42 am · Link

    I agree with you. Part of the stigma I think is that most people say the romance genre in general is basically a bunch of crock. I remember reading them when I was younger and hiding them, because I didn’t want anyone to ridicule me for reading something they deemed as not truly a credible form of writing. Now I just plain don’t care. I read what I love, no matter the genre. In fact I read more romance and erotica than ever now and peoples negative comments be damned. I am proud of this genre. Thank you for the insight.



  2. Stephanie
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      · August 11th, 2011 at 9:09 am · Link

    Bravo!! Well Said.



  3. Randi Alexander
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      · August 11th, 2011 at 10:14 am · Link

    Good points, Meg. We see romance novels in the NY Times top 10 list, so people buy them. It’s not as if they’re unpopular. I used to be embarrassed that I wrote romance, and would say I wrote fiction. But now, I blurt out, “Cowboy erotic romance” as if it was the hottest thing out there (which it is, IMHO ;-)) We need a Romance Writers’ Pride Day and a march on Washington!!! Thanks for the great blog.



  4. Andrea Lyons
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      · August 11th, 2011 at 11:28 am · Link

    Three cheers Meg for speaking out about dinging romance writers. I mean *really!* The work and thoughtfulness and research and time that goes into creating characters with deep relationship and intimacy personas… this takes some serious smarty pants brains! R E S P E C T for all genres is required. I read A LOT of erotic romance, and LOVE the talent and creativity many authors bring to their work. Thank you for this great blog post! :-D



  5. Delilah Devlin
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      · August 11th, 2011 at 11:46 am · Link

    Amen!



  6. tammy ramey
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      · August 11th, 2011 at 2:48 pm · Link

    i read a lot of books from genre across the board, everything from murder mystry to (my fav.) erotica. Steven King to the Bible to Mistress Delilah Devlin and all the stuff in between and i know that there a tons of great books in all of the genres. so why go around being a b+%$h about someone elses work? Jealousy perhaps? i mean how many romance novels are on the nyc top ten lists? top 100? bestseller lists? etc,etc. how many authors have fans as great as romance reader fans that will stick by them and up for them? hmmm?

    IMHO not many. so i think that most of the time it is plain old i am so frickin jealous that i don’t have that kind of success and loyalty in my fans that i can’t see straight so i am just going to be a snarky bitch about it. LOL!
    i think that if these people want to have that kind of success then they should stop complaining and join the romance revolution! Start writing what the public obviously wants to read “ROMANCE”! :)



  7. Diane Sallans
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      · August 11th, 2011 at 6:41 pm · Link

    Hear! Hear! I love to read romance & I think less of anyone who makes snarky comments. A truly confident person (or author) would not feel the need to put down other writers in order to build themselves up; they should just be gracious.



  8. Jen B.
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      · August 11th, 2011 at 9:19 pm · Link

    Whenever my husband jokes about romance books I remind him that Kim Stanley Robinson had a romance plot in his Mars series. So Ha! I hate the eye rolling people.



  9. Emily Tardy
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      · August 12th, 2011 at 3:12 am · Link

    I’m with you on that. I may love my romance, but that doesn’t mean I do not like other genre’s. Even if a book is not something that I’d normally like, that doesn’t mean I will not like it. If a book is well written, I do not care the genre. I’ll give it a try (That’s how I came about buying The Iliad, read about it in a fav book, and I had to read it). :mrgreen:



  10. Delilah Devlin
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      · August 12th, 2011 at 7:14 am · Link

    Meg! Thanks for being a wonderful guest!



  11. Janet
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      · August 12th, 2011 at 11:02 pm · Link

    I think a lot of the other genre writers don’t understand how much research actually goes into writing romance. Maybe if they started reading romance books they would understand. Not all mystery writers do research, that’s pretty clear in a lot of their books.



  12. Meg Benjamin
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      · August 18th, 2011 at 1:53 pm · Link

    Thanks, y’all, for the terrific comments. I’m just now catching up since I’ve been on the road and out of contact for a while!