Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What's in an adjective?

"Once you label me, you negate me."
-- Soren Kierkegaard

What's with the philosophizing, you may ask?

I had a long, delightful conversation with a fellow writer the other day. As we were yakking away about what we're doing, the state of publishing and the world in general, she did something that startled me for a milli-second at the time, but I've been thinking about ever since.

She referred to her romance novels as "novels." No adjective, no qualifier, no label, not the very general "book," but "novel."

I was startled because I don't think I've ever heard a romance writer refer to her work that way, simply as a novel. And I've been thinking about it and wondering, why not? We, and by we, I mean my fellow genre writers, do write novels, after all.

I think there's more to it than just describing the sort of novel I write. I believe there's a subtle stigmatizing afoot. A novel is admirable, literary, worthy of the Pulitzer or Oprah's magic wand o' promotion. A romance novel? Well, that's something else -- and to a lot of people, something a lot less worthy.

Should it be that way? No.

Do I think that's right? No.

Am I ashamed I write romances? Heck no.

I doubt my work will ever be described as "literary" and I won't hold my breath waiting for Oprah to give my book a nod, but I do think my novels are as worthy as some literary novels I've read.

So I'm going to start referring to my published works as novels. Not romance novels. Not historical romance novels. Novels.

Of course, if people want more information, I'll be happy to describe what I'm doing in more detail using those adjectives. But first and foremost, I am writing novels.

And that's what I'm going to call them.


Molly O'Keefe said...

Swear to God Margaret I was just thinking about this! I always say that I write for Harlequin because it makes me feel like I have a job or a boss or something -- but I think it's time to force myself to grow up.

Margaret Moore said...

I hear Twilight Zone music.....

I'll still likely refer to myself as writer, not a novelist. A writer who writes novels. :-)

Molly O'Keefe said...

It's like Rachal Ray defining herself as a cook not a chef... seems sort of silly when I hear her going on about it -- but I think I am beginning to understand...

Kimber Chin said...

Two additional thoughts...

Why don't romance writers name their chapters like "serious" writers do?
(I'm doing this for my second novel)


If we put so much research into each novel, why don't we supply bibliographies?
(In my novels, I have a resource listing).

Margaret Moore said...

Name the chapters? Like Chapter One: David sees Mary? I must not be reading the same sort of books, because I can't remember the last time I saw that, except in kids' books.

Anonymous said...

I need that sofa again. I just outed myself as writing for Harlequin on the AA and C19, and I'm pretty sure the shock is still being felt.

I slipped from being a fellow writer to one of "those" writers. Eyebrows raised, "we are literary, darling", and all of that.

If this were Victorian England, we'd hear the swish of the silk skirts that have just been pulled aside.

Aww, well.


Margaret Moore said...

Alas! Some things never change, and I suspect never will. But that's okay. You can laugh all the way to the bank and get your covers framed while they're still clutching their pearls. :-)