Is this a KISSING book?
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Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.

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February 18, 2016

Is this a KISSING book?
Every damn time I see an essay about the romance genre come from outlets which are not primarily focused on romance this is what immediately pops into my head. Because, inevitably, it does not end well.

Let’s agree on some things before I get going: yeah, there are romances with domineering asshole male heroes. There are romances that are, at best, dubious on the subject of consent (response). And yet: this doesn’t mean the entire genre is doomed, doomed, doomed.

But you know what? If you’re going to write an essay about romance and you’re not a regular romance reader, here are a few tips:

  • Find a book published in the last five years to read.  Better yet: ask someone who regularly reads romance to make you some recommendations.  And even better than that: read more than one and read diversely! So many sub-genres and authors to explore! If it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing but don’t go into this venture with a priori assumptions about what you’re going to find in Romancelandia.
  • Go find the online romance communities. There are lots. Read their archives and see if the subject you want to write about has been discussed. Chances are super-good that it has been–and exhaustively. This is a great place for you to start your research into the ~mysterious~ appeal of these books.
  • When you write your article, if it is actually about something else–like, say, rape culture or domineering asshole male heroes (neither of which originated within the romance genre!)–don’t use romance as your framing device. Your issue is not with romance! It is with rape culture or domineering asshole male heroes!
    • A corollary to this is that it’s totally okay to write your way into your essay and sometimes that process means your subject will often change a bit. This is fine! It happens! But when it does, you need to revisit your essay’s structure to make sure it still works.
    • If only one of your six examples can be defined as romance or romance-adjacent, you may also need to re-evaluate your premise that romance novels aren’t your thing and that stories with a particular plot or character element aren’t your thing. This is also fine!
  • Don’t publish it anywhere near Valentine’s Day. For the love of all that is holy, wait until March.
  • If you do screw up and your disdain for an entire genre and its readers–who are not a monolith, who are not just passive consumers (and the fact that you think they are is also insulting and offensive)–comes through, apologize. Without qualification and without implying that the people who are upset are somehow wrong for being upset.

A few other things. If your title implies that you’re going to do a deep dive into how and why tropes work and appeal to readers and viewers, then do that. What I read this morning wasn’t any sort of analysis of how or why the domineering asshole male hero is so prevalent in books, what the appeal is, or really anything apart from the fact that some people don’t like it and believe entire genres to be tainted by the trope and therefore suitable for shitting all over.

I expected better. And that is why a lot of people are upset: we all expected better.

A book recommendation: Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. First published in 1995, it manages to both embrace and subvert the domineering asshole male hero. And it is funny, well-written, and oh so satisfying.

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  1. Muccamukk

    Funny how few articles there are on rapey domineering male asshole heroes in say Lee Childs or other guy novels. Or in Sci-Fi. Or in litfic (oh, god, litfic). Nope. It’s romance’s fault.

  2. Jane Routley

    Which particular articles are you talking about? ( though I’ve got no doubt there are plenty)

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Jane, they’re linked in the post.

  3. azteclady

    May all the goddesses bless you, m’lady, for continuing to fight the good fight.

  4. ajhall1927

    Reader, my dentist does not love me for reading that essay.

    When I read this sentence “(Well, him or Heathcliff, anyway, but I’m happy to say I’ve never seen nor read any version of Wuthering Heights, for I suspect I would not survive the endeavor with full sanity intact.)” I just think I may have damaged my teeth by the sheer force with which I ground them. Wuthering Heights is about two narcissistic dysfunctional people circling each other in a dance of death which manages to drag everyone into its vortex including a poor bugger who only wanted to rent a house for a quiet time in the country. If it had been written by some bloke with a French or Russian name no-one would have dreamt of calling it a romance with a brooding Gothic hero; it’s only the inherent sexism of assuming that a) women only write romance so if it a woman wrote it, that’s what she wrote; and b) romance is inferior because it’s written by women that causes it to get miscategorised in the first place.

  5. Michelle

    Really disappointed in the Book Smugglers. Did you see the tweet implying that people that disagreed with poster are mocking her looks. I mean wth? You post a snide, pretentious guest blog and when people are upset you chide them, and then accuse them of attacking the author due to her looks. Boils down to gee aren’t women stupid, I need to enlighten them.

  6. James Davis Nicoll

    Hey, I used the same clip in today’s review. i bet having read this column is why I thought of it….

    (it had a jerk-ass male love interest. Unlike certain books, NOT MENTIONING VINGE’S SNOW QUEEN HERE, the protagonist clues in that her One True Love BF is a pill before the plot gets much beyond storming the castle of a great and powerful supernatural villain)


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