Why I applied to join RWA on Valentine’s Day

Today, I mailed off an application to join the Romance Writers of America. Anybody can join RWA as an “Active” member, so long as you are willing to assert that you are seriously pursuing a career as a romance writer. I wasn’t willing to go quite that far (yet), so I applied as an “Associate”. To do that, you only have to assert either that you are a writer who writes primarily in a different genre, or that you are a person who supports the mission of RWA.

So why did I apply to join RWA?

— I currently belong to SFWA, which I have mixed feelings about. But SFWA is not the only writers’ organization out there. I was recently reminded of this by this post by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I figured it can’t be bad to see what a different writers’ organization is like. Maybe another organization is more professional, more effective, less exhausting, more welcoming… Like I said, I have mixed feelings about SFWA.

— Whenever I see statistics on this kind of thing, romance is always the best-selling genre by far. I would think that any writer interested in making money would want to keep that fact in the back of their minds. Meanwhile, an editor recently accepted one of my stories with a note that said (paraphrasing here): “If I ever get around to editing that SF romance anthology I want to do, this story would be lovely in it.” That comment made me think: HEY I GUESS I CAN WRITE ROMANCE STORIES. THE BEST-SELLING GENRE BY FAR.

— Looking back over my work, I find that I may have actually written enough romance-themed stories already to put together a small collection of SF romance. This is something I am now very interested in doing, but I do have to wait until some exclusivity periods expire first.

— It doesn’t hurt that I’m reading what is arguably a romance novel right now (NOW, VOYAGER by Olive Higgins Prouty) and am loving it. Also, the last book that I read before that I was blown away by was Daphne du Maurier’s REBECCA — which has an awful lot in common with romance novels. So this is not exactly a genre I dislike.

I spent a lot of time in my early twenties being snobbish about science-fiction and fantasy. I eventually got over that by coming in the backdoor, as it were. I was fascinated by the permeability of genre boundaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. How both “serious” and “popular” mainstream writers (people like May Sinclair, William Dean Howells, Henry James, Edith Wharton, E.M. Forster, Jack London, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Robert Louis Stevenson, Thornton Wilder, H.G. Wells, D.H. Lawrence, Arthur Conan Doyle…) alike dipped liberally into the vein of the fantastic.

That fascination has brought me this far–over 40 science-fiction and fantasy stories sold, and this year a story forthcoming in Jonathan Strahan’s best-of-2013 SF/F anthology. Not bad for a guy who wouldn’t even go down the science-fiction aisle at Half Price Books ten years ago. (For the record, I think that attitude of mine ten years ago was both ignorant and stupid.)

I could make a similar and much longer list of writers I respect who dipped even more liberally into what ought to be called romance. All the Victorians, of course — Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë, Anthony Trollope, Wilkie Collins, George Eliot, Alexandre Dumas. Not to mention Fanny Burney, Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, Elizabeth Inchbald, Choderlos de Laclos, and even (forgive me) Samuel Richardson. Then, later, Wharton and James and Doyle and Wells and Lawrence, but also Colette, Max Beerbohm, Willa Cather, John Galsworthy, Arnold Bennett, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, and even Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. And Shakespeare…!

I won’t extend the list. I could go on effectively forever.

Of course, not every writer here looked on romantic relationships in the same way. Their books may have been more or less sophisticated, more or less progressive, more or less problematic… People more knowledgeable than I can argue whether WUTHERING HEIGHTS or THE GREAT GATSBY or ZULEIKA DOBSON are “really and truly” romance novels, as we understand the genre today. (No need to tell me the answers. Such debates about science-fiction and fantasy never much interested me either.)

But very often I put relationships at the center of my stories. Sometimes they’re romantic–more often, they’re not. They’re between strangers or family, rivals or friends. And the story isn’t over until the future direction of the relationship is resolved.

In broad strokes, that’s what I understand the shape of a romance story to be.

So if there’s an audience interested in romantic relationships specifically — well, I think I may be able to write some of those. Not all the time, probably. And not in a way that’s very different from how I write today. I’m not looking to change my strengths or style here — just maybe change my audience a little.

And maybe I won’t be any good at it. Maybe my theories are all wrong. I’m not quitting my day job yet. But at the very least, it seems like something I ought to check out. And so, today I applied to join the RWA.


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One Response to Why I applied to join RWA on Valentine’s Day

  • silviamg says:

    Haha, neat! I’ve also just joined for similar reasons. I do not think myself as a romance writer but I have a lot of short stories about romantic relationships and I my debut novel has a *huge* romantic element. Or, like my agent said, ‘it’s a love story that spans two decades.’ It was bought by Solaris, not a ‘traditional’ romance publisher, but what do I know? It wouldn’t be bad if I learned more about romance, anyway.

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