Romance and Shame

When I told my grandfather that I am writing romance, he made a face and said I should rather write something real, and serious – as if stories concentrating on love and relationships aren’t real and something you shouldn’t waste your time with. It’s an opinion about genre fiction you get to hear all the time, mostly without having asked for it, and it’s so entrenched that I still felt I had to apologize for writing it when I had long realized that those are the stories I’m drawn to, and end up writing over and over again. It’s also the stories I have been reading all my life, so no big surprise there.

I was ashamed of reading romance all my life, too. The cheesy covers sure were no help in lessening the stigma. Each time I got a new one at the railway station kiosk or the supermarket, marked down in price for being remaindered, I fixed my eyes on the floor and avoided to meet anyone’s eyes – especially those of the cashier – at all costs. But the thirst was real, and I needed a new romance novel every few days. I still have them all, cluttering the lower shelves of my bookcases, hidden behind more *respectable* reading material. For some reason I don’t manage to get rid of them. I haven’t bought a new romance book in a while, but that doesn’t mean I don’t pull out some Christina Dodd, Amanda Quick or Eloisa James once in a while and reread my favorites.

Those books made me feel when nothing else could. I found comfort in stories of feisty heroines fighting for their right to love, to live like they wanted, found strength in their defiance, and, let’s be real, I discovered more than one kink between the pages of paperback love. So why should I be ashamed of my love of romance? Why are the words about love and two people finding each other and overcoming their differences and conflicts lesser in worth than other words, lesser even than other genre fiction like Sci Fi or Crime? Sure, not every genre novel is a literary gem, but that doesn’t mean that the genre as a whole is trash. I still think that Anne Golon’s Angélique series is among some of the best books I ever read, and it was marketed as romance for lack of a better label.

Romance novels aren’t just about love and, well, romance, they’re about women, and for women, and that’s probably the thing that makes them *less* than your average fiction written by the average white male dude. Sexism is as strong in publishing as it is as anywhere else – just take a look at Young Adult fiction.

It’s no surprise, I think, that it’s my grandfather criticizing my choices in the stories I write, someone who certainly never even touched a romance novel and judges the genre as a whole by its cover. I found the opinion so deeply ingrained in myself that I defended my writing of romance to a former – male – lecturer from my university with the apologetic words of “Someone has to write it.”

“I know,” he said. He, for his part, is an unapologetic, avid reader of romance.

I’m still working on emancipating myself from prejudice. Now that I accepted my fate, so to speak, accepted that stories about love and overcoming conflict are not only my jam in reading but also the thing I write most passionately about, I had to do some soul-searching, had to face the root of my hesitance and my prejudices and question their origins. Once I became aware of the systemic sexism in the publishing industry and the underlying devaluation of women’s words and stories, I refused to let myself feel ashamed for it any longer.

I’m no longer apologetic of my writing, and I no longer hide the covers of the books I read.

Advertisements

Choice of words

I wrote a lot about the pain of writing so far. That is, perhaps, partly because one of my characters, living in my head, is a dark and sinister bastard who is giving me a hard time right now. Go take a shower.

Ok. This morning, while folding my laundry, I mused over the question why I am blogging in English. I’m writing in German, so am I adressing the wrong audience? Shouldn’t I rather blog in German, to attract an audience that would, someday, perhaps, buy my book? Um, no. First, I’m not blogging to sell a book that isn’t even finished and may never find a publisher. Second: I hardly ever read german blogs, or books in German (unless they’re written in German, that is). I don’t do translations, because there is something lost in every translation. I want  to get the whole package. Don’t get me wrong, I love the German language. And even though I have situations where I know exactly what I want to say, I know exactly the right word, only it’s English in my head and I have to look up a german equipollent, I couldn’t write in any other language. But I read mostly English.

My husband, whom I got A song of Ice and Fire for Christmas 2011, still hasn’t finished the first book, and he never will, because I got the English edition (Imagine, they divided the books into parts for the German market, and one book costs as much as all the paperbacks in English toghether!).  “I’m German,” he said, “and I want to read in German.” I think that’s code for “It’s too difficult for me because I haven’t practised my English since I left school in the nineties.” That’s ok. I’m happy he reads at all (and everytime I mention in front of someone that he does, they go like “Are you sure? Isn’t it possible he just holds the book to, I don’t know, look occupied?” “No, he totally reads.” Although he seems, in the eyes of most people, to come with all the loveable character traits ogres are known for, he is a reader. I wouldn’t let him read my own writing, because he can be very, very judgemental and ogre-ish about it, and he already knows too much of what is going on in my head as it is, and he read eight books written by female authors in his whole life (Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Harry Potter), but, as I said, I’m happy he reads at all.)

Well, considering my affinity to the English language and the fact that I’m mostly conversing in English in the world wide internet, it’s only natural to blog in English. Even though I have to look up a few words now and then. I know them, I’m sure, but they just won’t come out of their drawers. My brain is so cluttered. Just like my apartment.  And it’s convenient to have the Net floating around and offering dictionaries.

Point is: Please forgive me my stupid mistakes and wrong spelled words. I’m deeply thankful that you spend your precious time with me and my incoherent rambling thoughts. Have a nice, sparkling day.

Daring to be a writer

So yesterday, the peeps of Team NaNoWriMo asked on Twitter when we knew we were a writer.

Truth is, I still don’t know. When I was 14 – and that is half a lifetime away now – I decided that I wanted to be a writer. I wrote, I even started my first book. I wrote short stories. One story even involved a love affair of some ordinary girl (me) and a vampire. Gosh, I could be rich by now. But alas. When I grew older, I thought it unrealistic to achieve my goal and really become a writer. I knew I could write, my texts were witty, funny, utterly sarcastic, but I never managed to actually finish a story. When I finished school, I still didn’t know what I could do other than write. I thought about becoming a gardener, a photographer, a tailor. But after my last exams in school I realized I was pregnant. Every dream I ever had came to a halt. And since I didn’t want my daughter to be an only child, I got pregnant again.

Then I had two kids and still no idea what I wanted to be other than a mom. I wrote about my daily adventures with my girls, and this made me realize again what the one thing is I do best. It may not seem that way, since English is not my first language, but I’m really good with words. Written words, anyway. Make me talk in front of real people and I stumble over that slippery puddle of quirky sentences in my head.

So, when I was 25 and my girls both in Kindergarten, I started studying German Language and Literature. Right the first academic told us that we’re wrong here if we wanted to write. I followed through anyway, got my degree with two kids and everything in six semesters like a normal student, and I wasn’t even bad. And although I love books, I love literature, I came to deteste the pretentious academical world.

But that first academic was not totally right with his statement. I learned a few things about writing. Not technique, but how to research and how to endure the bleakest and most stressful times, and those two abilities were the most precious to me. But my final lesson, the one that showed me that I really am a writer came shortly after I finished studying. I submitted a short story to a prose writing contest of my alma mater in coop with a scientific publishing house, and I made third place. My story got published, and so I could call myself a published writer.

The lesson I learned there was that I had to dare to be a writer. The daring part is the most difficult for me. Since I finished studying, I wrote down first drafts for two novels, from beginning to end, and NaNoWriMo helped me a lot there, in showing me that I really could write a book from start to finish. But I haven’t submitted my manuscripts anywhere. I haven’t looked for agents or publishers. Yet. The daring still is the biggest difficulty.

But there is never a challenge so big you can’t get past it. That’s another lesson I took with me from my studies. You may think there’s no possible way you can do this, but you can, if you only dare.