Monday, September 04, 2006

RAGE and the Labor Day long weekend

I was going to write about the nature of reading because I finally managed to get involved in Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norell - Fabulous book that has been collecting dust by my bed because I have the attention span of a may fly. BUT. THEN. FROM OUT OF THE BLUE....

Backstory first...

Labor Day long weekend - a friend of our's is the director of a camp and the camp closes on Labor Day so he invites a group of friends up for the weekend. There are TONS of kids and lots of people who don't know each other but are grateful to get out of the city and watch thier children fight with other children.

You have some friend's from mother's groups, college friends, wives of friends of friends - it's a real mixed bag.

Anyway second night - I am in the process of gulping down my three glasses of wine before I pass out at 10 at night when the kids are all finally gone and the adults can really settle into drinking and making sort of awkward small talk. Discussion of what we do as jobs roll around and I as I always do say "I write trashy romance novels." Because honest to God - I do. They are trashy -- at least what I consider trashy. I write guilty pleasures and I am SO okay with this it's not even funny. In fact -- when converstions like this come up I always feel really good beause 7 out of 10 people WISH they could do this. Two out of ten people could never do it but used to read and love Harlequins or thier mother's did or grandmothers or some other nice association. The 1 out of ten people -- the snobs and jerks who really do look down on this singularly FABULOUS job I have - I actually have never met. Until this weekend. When I think I met about four of them.

Blah blah blah - what do you do - marketing...advertising...trashy romance novels...

And then at the end of the table a man I have never met (but who directs television commercials -- so noble) says "OH! I thought you wrote real books..."

Swear to GOD the air in the room turned to cement. I said "ouch" or something like that and a few friends jumped to my defense and said they are wonderful romance novels and in the end I made some joke and we all laughed and the guy could not make eye contact with me again and his wife said that she'd suggesst my book for thier next book club and I could barely speak for all the anger. I am finally at a point where I make money from my writing. I don't have to go back to work. I have FUN every day doing what I do. But I didn't say any of that.

That was last night and I still am so mad. But I think what I am most mad about is how I couldn't or didn't defend myself and what I do. What I seriously LOVE. Granted I hate confrontation - but what should I have said? Honestly, what zinger could I have zapped him with that would make me feel better?

Romance authors always talk about running into this attitude and I certainly know it's out there - but I have always felt pretty vindicated by the huge chunk of book sales romance constitutes. I have always felt vindicated by the fact that I do not know a single woman who has not read at least one romance novel and truly loved it. And the fact that most people in the world hate thier jobs and wish they could stay at home and work in thier underware making shit up - and I actually get to do that -- that makes me feel pretty good too.

So, why am I still so bugged?
Am I not as in love with my genre as I thought? Am I secretly embarrassed? Or am I just mad that a television commercial director looks down his nose at what I do?



Maureen McGowan said...

Molly, that dude will burn in hell.

Even if you know someone's speaking from ignorance, it doesn't feel good to be belittled.

I always get too defensive in situations like that...

Maybe you could have asked him the title of the last romance novel he'd read and then when he admitted he'd never read one, asked how he had formed such a strong opinion about something he has zero knowledge of.

And just maybe, as funny as it is, you shouldn't open with the trashy line. I used it the first couple of years I was trying to write romance and found it often just added fuel to some people's fire. I think I used it to brush off/hide how important the whole thing was to me... As soon as I started to get serious about getting published, I started to use different phrases. "Entertaining, romantic books for women." When I was doing romance. "Entertaining fast reads for women." Now...

Truth is, I still get defensive.

Maureen McGowan said...

I just read your post again.


Okay. Dude was so projecting his own disappointment onto you. He wishes he was doing feature films and deals with his pain by attacking others.

Molly O'Keefe said...

you know - I think you're right about the "trashy" part. I used to think that if I was self-depricating about it people would feel comfortable asking me about it and we could talk about it and I would be able to get my point across without having to be defensive. Sort of -- I have no allusions about writing literary novels - but I'm a pretty lucky person for getting to do what I do -- But I think it's backfiring on me at this point. Time to be a big girl and take myself seriously.

Yeah, I know - Dude was projecting. He said as much later. But still angry. I really did feel belittled and totally minimalized.

Molly O'Keefe said...

You know the other part about this whole thing - is that I write books that end up being called His Best Friend's Baby - which is a great book. But come on! If I don't get the first laugh...

Maureen McGowan said...

Ha! Just don't tell them your titles. THEY AREN'T YOUR FAULT :-)

jennifer echols said...

First of all, Molly, I wanted to introduce myself & say hi. Maureen probably told you I talked her ear off for about an hour at the conference in Atlanta (she was stuck on a bus with me) about how much I loved PENCIL HIM IN!

I come from an extended family of well-educated literary snobs. At a luncheon at my aunt's house about a year and a half ago, the conversation turned to, "What have you been reading lately?" and I was going to announce that I'D FOUND AN AGENT FOR MY ROMANCE NOVEL! But all I got out of my mouth was, "I've been reading a lot of great romance novels because--" when my aunt cut me off with, "Oh, Jennifer, HORRORS!" So I did NOT share with my extended family that I had gotten an agent, or a few months later that I sold a novel, or eventually that my novel was published. Also I did not tell my aunt that I am using her mother's maiden name as my pen name. ;)

As a writer, I don't want to be thrown off my game, so I don't care to go around having an argument with people about why the romance genre is worthwhile, and then go home to stew about that instead of writing. I figure I'm not writing to those people anyway. There are plenty of people who LOVE romance, as we know from our hot market. And the $$$ I got from my deal makes me feel a lot better. :)

Sinead M said...

It's wierd. I'm pretty sure romance is the only genre that has to deal with this.

If we wrote mysteries, no one would look down on us, I think.
Would love to hear from a mystery writer.

It just speaks badly of the people who look down on it and have the bad manners to actually say something....

Molly O'Keefe said...

Jennifer! Maureen did in fact tell me that there was a person out there unknown to me that had read and enjoyed Pencil Him In! Thanks for coming by -- just read the top ten things I don't know about Jennifer Echols on your blog. Hilarious. And I didn't know any of them - though I suspected the lightening.

Regarding the anti-romance world --
I really don't understand why it attracts such derision. They're happy books! They're sweet and funny and fulfill a need that clearly needs to be met for people.

I think the haters are just mad they aren't doing it.
I am glad at least I have always had my family's support - that would be awful!

Jordanne Ford said...

Molly, May the karma gods lash out and nail Dude in the...butt. Commercials? Oh, those are those blips on tv that interupt what we're watching so we can dash off to use the loo, or make tea, or, how's this, pick up our current romance novel and get in a page or two before CSI, or Rockstar or, ahem, ANTM comes back on. Puh-lease, we've got a way better chance of being the next bestseller than he'll have of being another Stephen Speilburg. Nasty man. And so unhappy too, I'll bet.
You've got ever right to be pissed, Molly. I would be too, I'd just not have been nearly as gracious as you. Especially after three glasses of wine.

Maureen McGowan said...

I'm considering blogging about this at some point... but I fear I get too emotional to be rational about it...

I think it's all cuz we're women. Thrillers, sci-fi, horror and hard-boiled mysteries don't get the same respect/attention as literary fiction. But neither do they get the same amount of derision. There's a difference between less respect and derision or dare I say disdain. (And I've heard that cozy mysteries written targeting women get derided within the mystery world in favour of the hard-boiled stuff men write and like to read.)

The entire idea that commercial/popular novels, written with the female population as a target audience, get ghettoized by gender as "women's fiction" and labeled with words like "chick" when they sell better than so called literary fiction... DRIVES ME INSANE.

but I'm in a bad mood today. Should stop ranting in public.

Margaret Moore said...

I, too, am always gobsmacked into silence when somebody's blatantly rude and disrespectful to my face. Which is what that guy was.

And Maureen, I absolutely agree that we're not taken as seriously as other writers because romance is primarily written by women, for women, and - the horror! - it's about emotions.

When people ask me what I do, I tell them I'm a writer first, and what I write second. I think saying "writer" first gets them into a slightly different, more respectful mindset. Doesn't always work, but I think it helps.

What do I do when people are rude and scornful of romance? Well, generally, they just get the ol' stink eye, because as I've said, I'm too shocked and stunned by the blatant rudeness. But also, can anything really beat the "cut direct," the stony stare, the look that says, "You, sir or madam, are beyond ignorant and I shall not waste my time or breath talking to you?" and then walking away?

Wanna know what's fun, though? When my husband and I meet people, and I tell them what I write, they give *him* this really interesting look, as if they're
thinking, "Whooo! You must be some kind of stud." He just smiles very sweetly and says not a word. *G*

Molly O'Keefe said...

yes- the stink eye! I need to work on mine.

Zoe English said...

Molly, this person is laughable. Trust me. Commercials?? How much joy, other than the Budweiser colts at the Super Bowl, do commercials really give the public? What kind of true service is he performing? As opposed to you, whose books bring real pleasure and richness into people's lives?

I am writing this late at night after having stayed up three hours past my bedtime reading Family at Stake. Many decades ago, I was in the PhD. program at McGill studying Canadian lit. I married a fellow student who has gone on to be an English professor, and I have a daughter about to enter graduate school on the same career path. I still love literature of all kinds, and I can tell you from this somewhat weary and ageing perspective that genre does NOT matter. Telling a good story does. The best storytellers transcend genre, and those lesser souls who feel it their duty to make condescending comments about the "value" of "high art" are only betraying their own ignorance of the true role of stories in our lives. There is room for as many different voices as there are writers in the literary world.

Your novels--or the one I have just read at any rate--are NOT trashy. Romance is just another word for Love, and Love is the kernel of all life. There is a reason the "genre" of romance is so popular, and it has nothing to do with pigeonholing or typing or "trash"--it's because the fundamental tenet and meaning of romance touches something very deep in all of us --the reason we are here, what we are to each other, and how we connect. How our whole lives we strive for happy endings, how hope springs eternal even in our blackest hours.

You live with what you pay attention to, Molly. Let people like that Commercialist float in and out of your life and leave no mark on you. He doesn't deserve your attention, in anger or anything else but a passing pity, and a knowledge that his attempted attack on you -- and anyone else who seeks to belittle or degrade you -- says far more about them than it does about you.

Keep the faith. I wrote "serious" novels for years, all of them thankfully unpublished. Now I'm contemplating switching gears. You can probably guess the direction I'm (gladly) moving in.

And my husband, that old literary scholar, is totally supportive. As is my postmodernist daughter. And all the friends I care about and respect.

Thank you for giving me a wonderful evening. I will take Rachel and Mac and Amanda into my dreams tonight.


Wylie Kinson said...

Here's how my conversations usually go (with men or snobs of either sex):
Me: What do I do? I'm a writer.
Them: Oh, really! How interesting. What kind of stuff do you write?
Me: Sex, mostly.

It's bloody brilliant to see the looks on their faces!! 'Specially the Y chromozoners.

Karitown said...

Loved the sit around in your underwear and make shit up comment. Thanks for the smile and guys like that aren't worth our time or energy.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Wow - I am laughing, inspired, flattered and humbled. Thanks everyone for your posts and "screw him" comments.

Zoe - thank you so much for your kind words - I am powerfully moved by your defense of love stories. You're right. It is why we are here and hoping for happiness and joy is the least trashy thing I can think of. That was amazing.

Josette deBrouwer said...

What a coincidence that I read your blog yesterday, after having had a similar incident with my own mother. I have finalled in the TRW Golden Op contest, so I thought this was a good time to tell my mom about my writing project (that being a MS that I've been working on for more than a year). It was what she didn't say that stung more than what she did. No words of congratulations, no questions about the book at all. What she did say was "Don't use the Thompson or deBrouwer name."
OK< thanks for the pat on the back, mom.
I have held off telling anyone in my family that I am writing a book because I had the sense that no one would take me seriously. Having read your blog, I am more convinced that for some people, writing just isn't good enough -- reading is fine (my mom has read everything at our town library, but doesn't buy books) but you can't make a living writing. So what? I'm not looking for a living, I'm just looking to do something I love -- I'm just looking for happiness.
Hope this helps -- don't let the goof distract you. At least that's what DH told me re:my mom.

Wylie Kinson said...

Oh Josette - You poor thing. That comment from your mother must have been a real slap in the face. On the brightside, you don't have to waste your dedication page!
I was terrified to tell my mother that after years of being an unpublished children's author, I had my first success - selling EROTICA! I sat her down in a Tim Hortons (where I knew she wouldn't get hysterical) and broke the news. My straight-laced, 85 year old mother patted my hand and said "See, if you try hard, you can accomplish anything." I'm still stunned!
Good luck with your book!

Molly O'Keefe said...

Josette! Good luck with your book - which finalled in the TRW Golden Opp contest didn't it!!!

Don't let the goof distract you!!! Words to live by for sure!!

Josette deBrouwer said...

Wylie and Molly,
Thanks for the hand-holding. Wylie, can I borrow your mom sometime?

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