Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I have a rather unique opportunity next week -- one that suddenly scares me to death! I was contacted a few months ago by the director of the Utah Humanities Council's Festival of the Book, who asked me to be a guest lecturer at the literacy festival, in its seventh year.

At first, I thought, "Sure! No problem. How hard could it be?" But as the date approaches and I've had a look at the lineup of lecturers, I'm doing a big, nervous gulp here. Not only am I the only romance author involved, I'm just about the only author of popular fiction and the pressure suddenly feels enormous.

What do you say to people who would rather be caught naked in a windstorm than have somebody spy them reading a romance novel?

My topic is The Appeal of Romance. I plan to talk about exactly that -- why romance novels make up more than a quarter of all books sold and outsell every other genre.

As I'm preparing my lecture, I've re-read my dog-eared copy of DANGEROUS MEN AND ADVENTUROUS WOMEN, the great book of essays by some of the lionesses of the industry like Jayne Ann Krentz, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Sandra Brown and Elizabeth Lowell. I've also scoured RWA conference keynote addresses from people like Barbara Samuels, Lisa Kleypas and Suzanne Brockmann. All of them have wonderful things tos ay about why are books are so popular around the world.

I don't expect to change anybody's mind but I would at least like to offer lucid, compelling reasons to read romance. And I would love to hear from you! Help me out here ... Please, I'm begging you! What do you love about romance novels? How do I explain the magic and wonder of becoming lost in a beautiful, life-affirming story?

I'm holding a drawing among everybody who responds. Two winners will receive their choice of either a copy of THE COWBOY'S CHRISTMAS MIRACLE, my November book that won't be on shelves for another few weeks, or anything from my backlist.


Minna said...

I love the happy endings and the interaction between the main characters. Besides, why would I want to read FICTION that is depressing? There are quite enough sad stories in real life.

Julie Hilton Steele said...

First, I read a library copy of Dangerous Men and Adventurous women and it was just as dogeared as your copy sounds. Apparently lots of folks are trying to figure that out.

For me personally, I started reading romance after my mother died unexpectedly. I have two masters degrees, a great husband, read really heavy theological works in my previous career, wrote non-fiction, and frankly, my spouse and friends were absolutely horrified! What had happened to me?

I just found I needed an HEA in my reading because life isn't always going to have one. The romance books I read aren't simplistic and half of them have complicated true to life story lines,not simply fantasy. Yep, the other half are pure fantasy but I figure working in an organization focusing on cancer prevention and services, I need fantasy to unwind occasionally.

The interesting thing for me also is the perception that you have to have a less than stellar marriage or relationship to read romance, that you are seeking something you don't have. I kid my husband all the time that romance novels have shown me how good I have it. He was so worried that my expectation level on our relationship would be raised and strained. Instead, I am all the time telling him how well he measures up. Maybe the whole thing is similar to the research that says if you have a good marriage and are widowed, you are more (rather than less) likely to get married again. If you have it good, it is fun to read romance and compare!

Bottom line, it is the HEA in the world full of bad, sad, maddening endings that appeal to me. On days when I want to put my head under the covers and not read the news, I want to read romance. Your books and those of other authors may make me cry but also lift me up, make me smile, sigh, and ultimately, close the last page and say, "ah!"

RaeAnne Thayne said...

Great answers, both of you! That's exactly why I started out writing romance novels. I was a news editor at a daily newspaper and every day had to sift through every single wire story to choose what our local readers would read. Every child molester, every murderer, every war crime, every political scandal. I had to read all of it and it began to wear down my spirit. My salvation was found in the books I read, those wonderful happily ever afters.

Thanks so much for chiming in!

And Julie, I agree. I think there was a study done once that romance readers on the whole have much happier marriages. I'm going to have to look that one up ...

Melissa Mayhue said...

Hi, RaeAnne! First of all, you're such a bright, cheerful lady, I've no doubt you'll do just great with this speech!

Why do I think romance novels are so popular? Because people want to enjoy their down time. We spend our days struggling with real life -- paying bills, trudging off to work, taking care of our homes and children.

The news around us in the real world is more often negative than not, sorely lacking in justice and fairness, and for the most part, all of it is beyond our control.

When we finally get a chance to unwind, we look for an escape from all that.

Why are movies like Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean so wildly popular? Because they provide that escape -- in a fantasy setting where good triumphs over evil...just like in a good romance novel!

If you're looking to escape a hectic day filled with problems, to lift your spirit and your mood, the last thing you want is to invest hours in a book only to end up more depressed than you were when you started! That's hardly escapism!

Romance novels guarantee a happy ever after. They take the reader on a journey - emotional, adventurous or even fantastic - but always satisfying at the conclusion.

People want to be entertained and they want to be happy.

A good romance novel does both -- often with an uplifting social message tucked away in the pages of the story.

Besides... what other product can you grab off a shelf at your local grocery store for $6.99 or less that will guarantee you hours of emotional adventure and pleasure while insuring you'll feel better after you use it than when you opened it up? -- All without any nasty side effects!!

~ Melissa

RaeAnne Thayne said...

Melissa, you rock, as usual! Great answer. Are you sure you don't want to come do this for me?!

Phyllis Campbell said...

Hi RaeAnne! This is a great opportunity for you, and for romance writers. When I did my workshop at the League Of Utah Writers, I felt alone, too. There weren't many romance writers in attendance. Maybe five out of 200 people.

Okay, to answer your question... The reason I love reading (writing) romance is because I want to fall in love again. Do you remember when you were dating your husband and those twittering butterflies in your stomach, and those sensual shivers that rushed through your body whenever he touched you? Well, when I read a romance and really get into the story, I fall in love and get those feeling all over again. I enjoy falling in love with the characters. I'm helping them live their lives. I NEED that Happily Ever After!

Not only that, but when I read historical romances, this puts me in a different world, and take me away from my own problems. We all need that no matter who we are - male or female. My husband has told me before he's jealous that I have something to do to get out of the real world. He doesn't. Working with wood (like he does) really doesn't get him out of the real world and take him to another world. But reading romances does that very thing!

Good luck with your lecture, RaeAnne. I know you'll knock them dead...or shake them up. heehee


RaeAnne Thayne said...

I love your answer, Marie! Thanks so much for posting it. I do feel sorry for anybody who can't lose him/herself in a book. My wonderful dh is not much of a fiction reader, though he enjoys reading magazines. But it's definitely not the same experience as immersing yourself in another world for awhile.

Phyllis Campbell said...

I agree with you, RaeAnne. Men have it hard. In my opinion, there should be more men reading romances. We know they want to... heehee

Where I work, I had two guys reading my stories as I was writing them. I'd bring them a chapter, and they'd sneak a read during the day. (yes, they even read the love scenes). When I suggested they have their wives read my stories, they said NO! They knew how their wives would react, I guess. heehee


Jen B said...

Hi RaeAnne!

I saw you speak at last year's NJRW conference and I just wanted to say that you're a great speaker (and that's at least half the battle, imho) so I'm sure you'll do fine.

I like reading romance because I know that by the end of the book, I'll LIKE the main characters.

This doesn't mean they're not flawed, but it does mean they've grown, I'll have had the chance to see them blossom into their best possible selves.

I think the heroines and heroes in romance novels travel much greater character arcs -- something I wish we could all achieve in real life.

I'm sure your speech will be great. Congrats on the honor!

RaeAnne Thayne said...

Hi all

Just had to let you know I had a great time at the Book Festival this weekend. They were all very warm and receptive and kind. I had a pretty good crowd (a lot of men, oddly enough!) and I think my presentation went well. I tried to talk about all the things romance novels are *not* and then talk about what they are, focusing on the sense of empowerment, the wonderful escape they provide for women who often do not one other single thing for themselves all day but read a romance, and the overarching message of hope in our books. I so appreciate everybody's comments. You all helped me focus what I was going to say and I'm immeasurably grateful!


Leon said...

Your talk rocked! You brought out so many good things about contemporary culture's need for optimism, an attitude which is actually just as realistic, if not more so, than the alternative.

RaeAnne Thayne said...

Thanks so much, Leon. You've made my day! I so enjoyed meeting you and the others who attended the workshop and I'm glad you found something uplifting and positive in what I had to say. I agree, life is ugly enough in all its harsh reality. We need softness and brightness and hope too!