Yesterday a friend shared a link on my Facebook page to a blog that was supposed to be taking a look at a particular hot-button trope in romance: the alphahole (except she called it the sexy douchecanoe, which is definitely a great description of that particular breed of romance hero). The blogger went on to talk about the genre trope and how awful it is (and, it is, because assholes aren’t sexy or heroic), and how she can’t read romance because of the proliferation of alphaholes. She even used books she’d read to back up her reasons for not being able to read romance.
The problem? None of her examples were actually romance novels.
Like I told my friend, as a romance writer and reader I wouldn’t dare talk about tropes in, say, science fiction or fantasy because I’m not particularly well-read in either genre. In fact, my experience with those genres is pretty much limited to required reading from high school and college (1984, Brave New World, and a book we were supposed to read in grad school that I couldn’t read beyond the first chapter).
Here’s the thing: if you’re going to present yourself as an expert on a genre, you better know what the hell you’re talking about. And that goes across the board. Yes, romance gets crapped on A LOT by people who don’t read it. I mean, the things my genre is called…jeebus.
Fiction for desperate housewives.
(yes, old skool romance was given this description for a very valid reason, but the term doesn’t really apply to anything written in the past decade at least)
Porn for women.
(because there’s something wrong with that?)
The list goes on and on.
Listen, I get it–romance isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Science fiction and fantasy aren’t mine, and there are a handful of non-romance authors I can read on a regular basis without being completely disengaged from the story. That’s because romance is my thing. I like happy endings. *shrug*
In grad school, one thing that was discussed heavily was respecting other writers and other genres. Even within the confines of a supportive writer community there were still those who would crap on romance–and then would usually be schooled by a mentor or student on why they shouldn’t crap on someone else’s genre.
Because at the end of the day, we’re all writers.
We’re all readers.
Ultimately what any of us want is to have our stories published and read, and to be able to make a living doing what we love. There’s so much to learn from reading other genres and having an open mind, from talking to other writers and readers of genres not your own. As a romance writer, I learn a lot reading mysteries and thrillers regarding building suspense and pacing. I learn a lot from urban fantasy on world building. From women’s fiction I learn how to dive really, really deep emotionally. Science fiction and fantasy offer opportunities to learn about world building and the importance of research (especially in SF). And for authors of genres other than romance? You can learn character development and writing emotion (because, seriously, those are the things romance brings to the table–not just sexy times).
So to ALL genre writers: please stop shitting on other genres. Sure, other genres may not be your cup of tea, and that’s fine. But please understand that authors of ALL genres deserve at least a modicum of respect for being willing to release their book babies into the wild. Hell, finishing a manuscript is a huge accomplishment–I don’t care if you write middle grade or high fantasy or literary fiction.
My suggestion to anyone who decides to opine about tropes in any genre is to actually read in that genre. And not just one or two books, but LOTS of books. Read a wide selection from different authors, different subgenres, and even different time periods (setting-wise and as pertaining to when they were written so that you get a better idea of the history of the genre and how it’s evolved over time). Talk to readers and writers in that genre, get suggestions on books to read, and talk to them about the things you think you identify about the genre.
Speaking from a romance perspective, romance readers and writers are generally very knowledgeable about our genre–historically and currently–and we’re passionate about the things we love and hate. (Pro tip: there’s actually been a decent backlash in recent years against the alphahole, especially in contemporary romance. Do we like alpha males? Absolutely. But we don’t like them to be asshats on top of that.)
If you’re not particularly well-versed in the world of romance, here are a handful of my favorite romance novels ever, a lot of which are favorites for many other readers.
This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips – This book can actually be a little controversial because of one of the major plot elements at the beginning of the story, but the character growth and ultimate redemption story are what get me every time.
Mine Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas – Most other romance writers say The Devil in Winter (which WAS a fantastic book), but Mine Till Midnight holds a special place in my heart for a myriad of reasons: it was the first Lisa Kleypas I ever read, Amelia and Cam are such fantastic characters, and that cover. I mean, seriously. That cover is why I bought the book (no lie).
One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean – I’m breaking rules here and suggestion the second book in a series, but Philippa and Cross are fantastically geeky together. Plus, Cross is a sexy ginger. There’s definitely that.
Searching for Beautiful by Jennifer Probst – Okay, so I’m breaking the series rule again and suggesting the third book in a series, but if you’ve been hanging around this blog for any amount of time you know how much I adore this book. ADORE I tell you. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and is a perfect example of how to write a sexy, scarred alpha hero without turning him into an asshat. And Gen is a great example of how to write a strong, scarred heroine who reclaims her power.
The Raven and the Rose by Virginia Henley – This is one of those old skool bodice rippers I mentioned earlier. It’s also one of the romance novels I cut my teeth on and read over and over and over again in junior high and high school. I’ll be honest: I doubt I would like it anywhere near as much now as I did back then, but Virginia Henley’s one of the mothers of what became modern-day romance and it’s important to at least have an understanding of where the genre once was as compared to where it is now.
Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James – A heroine with agency and independence and a hero with a biting wit. This is a great example of a romance with two characters who meet, become friends, and then become lovers. Plus, their letters back and forth to one another are fantastic.
Truth or Beard by Penny Reid – No alphaholes here. Just a sexy ginger mechanic and a heroine with a cat that’s constantly trying to kill her. This one’s a great example of what modern contemporary romance is and can be thanks to the power of indie publishing, and there’s a reason why people adore it (spoiler alert: because it’s hilarious and well-written).
November 9 by Colleen Hoover – If you want to get a grip on new adult romance, CoHo is your go-to woman, IMO. Her stories never fail to make me feel all. the. freaking. feels. November 9 is her latest release, and is beautifully written with deep characters that truly evolve over the course of the book.
Outlander by Diana Galbadon – I’m pretty sure no self-respecting list of must-read romances would be without Outlander. I’m honestly not a super-fan like other readers are, but I appreciate it for what it is and what it’s done for my genre. And, y’know, inspiring a TV show that features Sam Heughan in (and out of) a kilt on a regular basis. 😉
So in the interest of generating constructive conversation on this topic: readers and writers–what are YOUR favorite genre tropes?