Horseback Kidnappings, Apparently?

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Hillary Clinton said: “The whole romance novel industry is about women being grabbed and thrown on a horse and ridden off into the distance.”

I laughed when I first read that. Then I grumbled. And then I set out to write a post about how unjust that sentiment is. That’s when I fell down a familiar rabbit hole. And bear with me, this subject change is going to give you whiplash…

My last excursion down this particular rabbit hole was a few months ago, and a few months before that, and probably a few months before that. You see, every time I think too hard about how to categorize my novels, I end up Alice-ing my way to the bottom of this particular pit of frustration. Here’s the problem:

I’m a woman. I write stories about women. These women fall in love with men who they ultimately have relationships with.

Romance novel, right?

Wrong, because the RWA (Romance Writers of America) defines romance as stories in which, “the main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work.”

Although there’s a central love story in all of my novels, the stories aren’t about the relationship and trying to make the relationship work. Instead, they’re about young women challenging societal roles and expectations, trying to find a balance between love and duty, and figuring out how and where they fit into their worlds. With a few minor modifications, you could remove the romances from my novels entirely–so they’re not really romances, but that’s how I’ve labeled them and myself as a writer.

So, are my novels “women’s fiction?”

First, I’m not a fan of that term. It’s just a derogatory bypass for literary fiction that’s written by women, and is about women. If a man writes a novel about a woman, even if it focuses on issues that are common to a woman’s experience, it’s categorized as “literary fiction.” If a woman writes it and it centers around a romantic relationship, it’s a romance. If it doesn’t, it’s women’s fiction. If it has a humorous component, it’s ChickLit. Simply because the writer has a vagina and for no other reason.

All right, then. Since my novels take place post-collapse and/or in the far-future and contain elements of fantasy, sci-fi, and dystopian, they fall under the incredibly broad “speculative fiction” umbrella. But so does The Martian, Neverwhere, and The Hobbit–and while there are probably plenty of people who’ve read all three as well as romance (myself included), none of those novels contain a strong romantic element like mine does. Someone looking to read something very similar to one of those books might be disappointed by mine, so, I’m back to square one.

And by the end of it all, I feel like I’ve been thrown onto the back of a horse and kidnapped to some sort of Crazy Land, where book labels do more harm than good. Because maybe if there were better labels, the internet wouldn’t be populated by pieces with titles like, “Is My Book a Romance?” and “How to Know If You’ve Written a Romance or Women’s Fiction.” Maybe if we had better labels, people like Hillary Clinton wouldn’t shy away from books with romance because they assume some sort of aggressive horseback kidnapping is going to take place. Because–that’s not what most romance novels are like, regardless of how they are labeled. And, if novels written by and about women weren’t categorically sidelined as rape fantasies, maybe we wouldn’t need different labels in the first place.

For now, I guess I’ll stick with “speculative romance” and hope that my readers will find me.

3 Comments on “Horseback Kidnappings, Apparently?

  1. You could change your name to George Eliot but that would defeat the whole purpose. Honestly over 100 years ago when Mary Anne Evans changed her name woman are still struggling with this issue.

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