A few last words before we leave the subject of romantic fiction for a while.
It is in the nature of things that romantic novels appeal mainly to women readers. And for that reason, romantic fiction (a pretty woolly term if ever there was one) is largely despised by the literati.
This arrogant, unpleasant attitude has a long history, at least in English intellectual life. The origins of this contempt for women, and for popular culture generally, have been more than ably chronicled by John Carey, in his book The Intellectuals and the Masses. Carey also presented some of his material in the form of a recent TV documentary.
You and I, however, know better than to sneer at a book simply because it appeals to a group of readers to which we do not belong. Well I do, anyway. If we have any sense at all we know that there are lots of books which have fairly narrow and specialised audiences. Poetry, for instance. Much science fiction. Gay books. And so forth.
One would like to think that most writers would hold the same view. However, what we absorb from the general atmosphere in early life tends to linger in the mind; and I have noticed that, whenever I meet any romantic writers, I am forcibly struck by the fact that they have been brainwashed. For years and years they have been belittled and sneered at, and generally led to believe that romantic fiction is trash, and is (allegedly) infinitely inferior to the real stuff -- i.e. literary fiction.
So often, and so intensely, has this idea been beaten into the heads of romantic novelists that many of them unconsciously believe it to be true. For instance, when I remarked to one writer recently that her latest book could just as easily have been marketed as a literary novel as a romantic one, she took this as such a compliment that tears began to form in her eyes.
Well now, I am always ready, I hope, to compliment a lady, but in this case my remark was not so much a compliment as a comment on the publishing business.
Let us banish this idea of genre inferiority once and for all. (If you need supporting arguments, see chapter 5 of The Truth about Writing, available free online.) And let us remember too that science-fiction writers have been treated in much the same way. But the sf guys (and gals), as far as I can see, have never believed a word of it. Faced with the idea that literary fiction is the real thing, they just snigger back.
Evidence? Try the Ansible newsletter, wherein Dave Langford always quotes some ridiculous, pompous statement which compares sf with lit, unfavourably, and then he proceeds to skewer it for the crap that it is. In the latest Ansible, he quotes Joyce Carol Oates, who is clearly a thinker to be avoided; and Langford also includes several other 'As others see us' paragraphs.
Perhaps some research chemist should develop a monthly antidote of the Ansible kind, and administer it to those who write romantic.