Friday, May 28, 2010

Defending pink wine and bodice rippers

The other night, I went to a dinner party with a 2004 Jardiniére Rosé Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

That’s a complicated way of saying I brought a bottle of pink wine. A damn good wine, but pink nonetheless.

There’s a stereotype associated with pink wines, and it’s not a good one. People think of the sickly-sweet rotgut sold in gallon jugs as “white zinfandel” and think pink=cheap. Unless you’re a starving college student, cheap is not a good thing in wine.

I was recently at Firesteed doing research for LET IT BREATHE, and the tasting room associate lamented this as he poured their fabulous 2008 Pinot Noir Rosé.
A most excellent Rosé.
“Wine critics love it, but the public is reluctant,” he explained. “People see pink and turn up their noses.”

It’s not hard for me to draw a parallel between that and the romance genre.

I’ll proudly tell anyone from my grandma to the paperboy that I write romance. Though most are supportive, I’d be delusional if I said I didn’t see the occasional sneer. It’s a look that suggests I’m either a sexual deviant, an inferior writer, or some combination of the two.

My instinct is to stammer something about how I write quirky romantic comedies that are way different from the stereotypical bodice rippers with Fabio on the cover.

And then I get mad at myself, because so damn what if I wrote bodice rippers? Is there something wrong with that?

Statistically speaking, the romance genre generated $1.37 billion in sales in 2008, and remained the largest share of the consumer market at 13.5 percent (thanks RWA for those stats).

And yet, as the creators of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books noted in their hysterical book BEYOND HEAVING BOSOMS, “romance is easily the most well-hidden literary habit in America. Millions of dollars are spent on romance novels, yet few will admit to reading them.”

I’m not sure what’s behind that. Is it the desire to be seen as intellectual who would never read escapist tripe? Is it the fear of being branded a sexual deviant along with the author?

Or is it something else?

As the recipient of a degree in English Lit, I am qualified not only to serve Happy Meals, but to point out that romance is part of nearly every great work of literature. The Illiad, Hamlet, Don Quixote, Anna Karenina…frankly, you’d have a shorter list if you just tallied up the books without romance (and then skipped them entirely, because really, who wants to read anything without nookie in it?)

While most modern romance novels probably won’t find their way into the literary canon anytime soon, that doesn’t make them any less worthy of respect and admiration. The romance genre is popular, it’s enjoyable, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of – for readers or for writers.

So on that note, I lift my glass of pink wine in a toast to everyone who loves romance. Cheers to all of you – the sexual deviants, the good and bad writers, and anyone who just craves a damn good love story.


Megan Frampton said...

You say exactly what I think (and often say, many glasses of pink wine later) about romance. I rarely get the askance eyebrow, but I am fierce in my defense, and also have an English lit degree.

Cynthia Reese said...

Hear, hear! I hate that knowing wink, wink that I get when people find out I write romances. Let's fight this stereotype!

Megan Frampton said...

. . . And now with twitter and blog response, you might think I am some kind of weird stalker. I am not, promise! Just chatty today.

Linda G. said...

I'll happily raise a glass of pink wine to that! :)

Matthew Delman said...

I've seen this with all fiction that focuses on emotion as the primary driver of the story.

Look at Gothic Romances -- their focus was on creating emotion in the reader, and the literary critics of the day despised it as "escapist tripe."

I see this with sci-fi and fantasy too; people are under the impression that if you write genre fiction in general then you're not a "real writer."

Of course, that's an entirely different rant and one I won't bore with here.

So even as a non-romance writer I will joyfully join you in combating stereotypes about genres. Oh, but you can drink my pink wine for me (I don't like wine in general).

Julie Weathers said...

I'm not much of a wine drinker, though a friend did give me a bottle of Road Kill wine that was pretty danged good.

I like romance. I used to have everything Jude Devereaux wrote. I have erotic and some romance in my books, but they tend to focus more on action. I just like escaping to fantasy lands and, frankly, it's frustrating to read romance and wish there were real men like that.

Anne Gallagher said...

Thank you Tawna for the pink wine. I used to love me a glass of the good stuff. And as far as romance goes, all the people who don't read them are losing out. Who doesn't love a good love story? Who doesn't love sexual tension, especially when it's someone else's? Who doesn't love to travel to a far away place/time/land/era and find a romance along the way? Gawd, remember 'The Love Boat'?

All these people could learn something.

Lani Woodland said...

I'll admit that I can't finnish books that have no romance in them. There has to at least be the hope of a romance...

Tony Noland said...

Drink what you like. That way when you spit in the eye of critics, it'll taste good twice.

Elizabeth Ryann said...

I'd even argue that it's MORE difficult to write romance because everyone knows the basic plot: at least two people meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after (or at least for now). Now make it interesting, heartbreaking, and/or compelling. And what's so amazing is, most writers succeed in doing exactly that. And it's really fantastic.

I mean, it's not like Jane Austen is reread so often for the costumes I can't literally see. It's the romance. And it's that same element that's still engaging today, tucked inside all those hilariously neon Fabio covers.


Megan, the pink wine does tend to loosen the tongue a bit, doesn't it? Or the pen, as the case may be.

Cynthia, are we fighting with broken wine bottles? Because I could do some serious damage like that.

Megan, stalk away! In case you missed my April 29 blog post, I'm a proud stalker myself.

Linda G, hey, get your own @#$% wine! I don't share.

Matthew, great point about sci-fi fighting the same sort of stereotype. I hadn't thought of that, but I see the similarities.

Julie, there ARE real men like that. I was lucky enough to marry one :) (insert

Piedmont Writer, the Love Boat! I had almost forgotten about that show. Wonder if I could get it on Netflix?

Lani, I'm with you, even small glimmers of romance in a novel will keep me moving through a book I might otherwise have set aside.

Tony, LOL, I'm totally having that tattooed on my arm.

Elizabeth, great point about the challenge in keeping romance novels fresh and new and interesting despite the foregone conclusion of the happily-ever-after! It's what keeps things challenging for the writers, that's for sure!

Thanks for reading, guys!

Janelle Alexander said...

WTF?!?!? I'm not supposed to like pink wine?!?!? or nookie?!?!? what kind of world is this?!?

;o) Thanks for making me laugh out loud. again. i can't wait to read your ~romance~ books!!! :o)


Janelle Alexander said...

Oh, and I get the same stuff when i say i write young adult fantasy... jackson pearce has a great vlog on the YA stereotype ( & if you visit, check out writer's blok too!)

Dawn Ius said...

I'm giddy to raise a glass of pink bubbly to that along with you. Great post.

Unknown said...

Nothing better than a damn good love story and a big fat glass of wine! Red, white , Pink...I'm SO not picky! (But pinks are usually pretty yummy!)

Anonymous said...

Yes, I get "the look" from people who find out I write romance. If it's a man who asks, they then ask me if there's a lot of sex. If it's a woman who asks, they then start asking me why I'm writing books for "desperately, lonely women". Meh. Yeah, what I write will probably never be considered "literature", but do you realize how many books considered literature suck? So I think I'm okay with writing romance ;)

Matthew MacNish said...

This may sound cheesy (see what I did there? wine and cheese? er - anyway) but I think that was a great analogy.

Pink wine does tend to be - less than stellar but you can't stereotype it all because of that. I'm sure that's true with romance novels true, though I must admit I don't read them. Thanks for opening our eyes and palates Tawna!

Today's guest blogger is THE Elana Johnson!

??? said...

Here, here! I love romance - I write it, I read it, and although I'm not a fan of Fabio, I'm more than happy to buy a book with a naked man or woman in silhouette on the cover (I've got a lot of those)!

Romance is hard to do because it's so character driven. If my characterization sucks, no one is going to read my novel without rolling their eyes. It's just too easy to fall into that comfortable, predictable, slightly unrealistic romance story, and I don't know about other romance fans but I HATE that.

Kwana said...

Love this post. I'm a huge pink wine fan and get tone of crap from it and a fan of and writer of romance and get crap for that too so cheers to you!

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

Hey, I'm proud of my degree in Literature. And I've never served a Happy Meal in my life... ;P

Jinxie G said...

And I'll lift my Moscato and toast right along with you. =)

Great post! I stumbled into writing romance not so long ago. It was inevitable, I suppose, since everything I write has to have some sort of love story attached to it. I'm actually enjoying the freedom it gives me, so I'll see where it takes me.

Kris n' Kels said...

I concur!!! Every time somebody asks me what my YA book is about, I stumble around trying to tell them without saying it outright...but dammit, it's about faeries! Yeah I said it! *blush* <--- that shouldn't happen, but it does. No one deserves the right to criticize me. At least I'm true to myself. Right? RIGHT?? Lol, thanks for the laugh. And referencing nookie.

<3 Kelsey Leigh

Unknown said...

Nice. I did a blog post on this topic last month. Shame on the lit snobs. Yale University just offered a course on the romance was over enrolled. Here's the link to the Yale Herald article:

Regarding my own writing, I blurt it right out. "I write romance," I say proudly. And then I leave everyone wondering about me. I like that no one ever looks at me the same way again.

Terry Stonecrop said...

That's a nice bottle of wine.

I used to think romance novels were all bodice rippers and ingored them until I recently won and read a mystery, which is also classified as romance by Hank Phillippi Ryan. It was great! I bought another one. Changed my mind. Now I'm looking more seriouly at romance.

Romancemama said...

Thanks. As an unabashed lover of pink (hell, any shade) wine and romances, to me you have said a major mouthful. Love ya!!!~

Anonymous said...

I prance openly down the pavement with my bottle of 'in again' rosé, nose tucked firmly into an indulgent Mills & Boon.


Things are different here in the UK ;)


Janelle, you are more than welcome to love nookie, romance books, and pink wine! Thanks for the link, I'll check it out.

Dawn, bite your tongue, no bubbly allowed! Oddly enough, I've never liked sparkling wine of any kind. Pink wine, yes. Bubbly stuff, blech!

danicaavet, LOL at this: "but do you realize how many books considered literature suck?" Yup, I was a lit major!

Matthew, I'm not sure this link will work in the comments, but this is a great article about pink wines from my region:

Sydnee, great points about the challenges of writing such character-driven novels. It's tough for any author to fine-tune that, but it's especially crucial for romance authors to nail it perfectly (I said "nail it.")

Kwana, embrace the crap, I say!

Elizabeth, you know, I've never served a Happy Meal either, but I feel fully qualified to do so if need be.

Jinxie, I didn't actually set out to write romance either! Funny how you stumble into these things.

Kelsey, you go with your bad self (and your faeries!)

Jeannie, oh I would so KILL to take that class!

Terry, are you coveting the Firesteed rosé or the other one? Both were most excellent! It's funny what gets classified as "romance" sometimes on the bookstore shelves.

Romancemama, love ya, too! Wanna drink wine together?

Xuxana, I'd love to hear more about how the perceptions of romance are different in the UK!

Thanks for reading, guys!

Jamie D. said...

Well I personally think Fabio is gorgeous, and I won't apologize for that. And I love the old bodice ripper covers too - dramatically passionate. Now I feel the need to go read a good historical romance...

Wait, did you just call us sexual deviants? LOL

I tell people (who ask) that I write steamy romance novels. Which tends to make them uncomfortable, and sometimes they even blush (both genders) before they start asking annoying questions. Which makes me feel kind of powerful, actually. ;-)

*raises glass of pink vodka-spiked lemonade*
To Romance!

Claire Dawn said...

I don't think it's got anything to do with escapism. After all, millions readily admit reading Harry Potter and other fantasy novels.

I guess an adult reading romance may think it has an air of desperation or excessive lust about it. I'm not a big fan of the heaving bosom stuff, but I love when romance meets wit and humour, like Bridget Jones. That stuff is great! I can't imagine your books won't be witty and humourous. After all you did ride hone with a baby cabbage!

Kelly Breakey said...

I became a fan of romance novels at a very young age. I grew up with no examples of everlasting love, so for me romance novels fed that need.

As I got older they (romance novels) instilled a sense of entitlement to me. I was not going to settle for Mr. Right Now. No I was going to wait and when Mr. Right (you know Mr. Right FOREVER) showed up I would know him right away. And you know what? I did.

We just celebrated the 19th year of our happy ever after and I have romance novels to thank for that.

What a great post. Thanks for reminding me why I love reading them almost more than I love writing them.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Haha, Actually both pink wines. The rotgut, not so much. ;)

Anonymous said...

I have a box with pink wine in the fridge..And damn proud of it. Who wouldnt want booze on tap?