Susan wrote this as a comment on The romance novelist and the guy with a truck from last month.
This post is especially relevant to me. I am a feminist, and here is the great irony in my own life … I have been writing romance novels for 20 years. And I have resisted the stereotypes almost every step of the way. When I began, when “strong” female characters were becoming as common as “damsel” characters, I began with women who dressed in jeans and boots and such. I think I must have had “heroines” who wore skirts and heels, but of course I was basically writing some avatar of myself in both male and female characters, and I stopped wearing skirts and high heels after college (and only wore them before them to special events such as weddings, or to job interviews).
After the first few novels, I increasingly tried to write women who were fully equal to the men, but even in the 90’s there was (and still remains) the expectation that the man will ultimately be the protector/dominant. That expectation became increasingly frustrating to me, to the point that that (along with the expectation of frequent sex scenes) led me to hate the genre. ( I was constantly thinking …. oh, is the heroine “too” strong? Is the hero not strong enough for the readers and my editor?)
I continued to write in it because I am good at love stories and because it’s my sole way of earning money, but trying to buck the system ultimately led to my being let go and losing 3/4 of my income. (I might add that my disinterest in loves scenes is not prudishness; I actually enjoy writing “bondage” type sex–which is only appropriate in some novel settings–but I find average sex scenes rather boring compared to other aspects of building a relationship. And I’ve literally written hundreds of “love” scenes, as they have always been euphemistically called in the genre … though perhaps not now that erotica is so hot.)
Now I have realized that writing romance has almost destroyed my writing soul, and though we will be very tight financially, I will not be writing another romance novel. Instead, I am writing fantasy—my first urban fantasy (based on Norse mythology, set in San Francisco) will be out in July from TOR books. I loved being able to make the woman protagonist earthy and “masculine” in the way I am, not interested in conforming to gender expectations, and as much or more likely to rescue the male protagonist/love interest as the other way around. I loved writing my version of mythical Loki as a pansexual trickster who prefers to embody himself as a man but can as easily appear as a woman, who loves sex, and who messes with everyone sexually and emotionally while not being quite the villain he seems to be.
I guess what I’m getting at is that I have had constant conflicts in my mind and heart over writing in a genre I know most fellow feminists probably despise, trying to hit the right buttons for the readers, and keeping my writer’s soul from withering. It’s been a balancing act that ultimately, after 20 years, hasn’t worked. And yet though I’m not ashamed of most of what I’ve written, I’ve felt ashamed among feminists to admit what I’ve done for a living.
This is all a rambling way of saying (as I finish what I hope will be my last romance novel forever) that I’m sick of boxes, and of feeling ashamed, and yet not fulfilling/able to fulfill genre expectations well enough to continue a career in the field. I have felt bizarrely alone in this way since I began my career and knew I didn’t fit in with most of the other romance novelists I know. Your post , though not specifically on the subject of romance novels in general, just got me going on things I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time.
It has been a very strange, sometimes rewarding, often painful and confusing way of making a living. I hope I can make enough money writing fantasy so that I can continue, since that is what my heart truly loves, and where I don’t have to worry if the main female character is often “stronger” in some way or other than the male. And that the men don’t have to be stereotypically “masculine” or the women “feminine” and the characters can be who they are. (And even so, I know I still fall into gender traps without realizing it. All I can do is try!)