I was recently approached by a high school student who wanted to interview me for an English project. She was curious about my thoughts on romance novels and the effect they have on men, women, and teens. I found her questions insightful and thought-provoking, so I thought I would share them with you along with my answers. And since I believe so strongly in spreading the love, I’ve put my third contemporary young adult novel, SAVAGE CINDERELLA up for free on Amazon today and tomorrow. For a FREE Kindle download, click here.
-Q: Since women read romance novels, do you think this effects men in a negative way? By men not being able to compare to the characters in the novel?
A: I suppose you could make an argument that it gives readers false expectations, but then that could be said for any type of entertainment venue. Magazines give girls and women false expectations of what is a “normal” body type, television and movie stars give people false expectations of what is beautiful, and so on.
We read to be entertained and to escape the realities of life. It doesn’t mean we can ignore that the realities exist. When you wake up in the morning, the man at your side is not going to look like Fabio—no matter how many Romance novels you read, and you aren’t ever going to look as good as the supermodels on the cover of the magazine. It’s all photoshop and fantasy. It’s not real.
If anything, I think it can help relationships. Men and women have very different attitudes about sex. Typically, men want it more frequently than women, are more affected by visual experience, and don’t need much prompting to get “in the mood.” Women are more in their heads and hearts. We spend so much of our time and energy taking care of others, multi-tasking, and working to support our families, sex and romance is often not a priority. If it can help level the playing field for women to read about romance in order to keep their passion alive and ignite some sparks, I’m sure men would agree it’s of benefit to them. And in fact, I always tell men that if they want to understand women better, a smart guy will read romance novels.
- Q: Some might say that romance novels have a negative effect on women? Do you believe so, why or why not?
A: Quite to the contrary. We all need a break from reality now and then. The world is a stressful place and everyone needs a little escape. Whether it means indulging in some great dark chocolate, a glass of wine, or a steamy romance that gets your heart fluttering, life is meant to be enjoyed. I recommend moderation and balance, but if reading about someone else’s life and love gives you a sense of hope and well-being, then I’m all for it. All work and no play not only make you dull, it can make you tired, sick, and depressed. Romance novels are about falling in love, taking a journey of discovery, and overcoming great obstacles to find happiness. Those are universal themes in stories as far back as cavemen and tribal consciousness. I don’t think we have to worry about women bringing on the apocalypse through reading romance. And it’s calorie free!
I also think that Romance novels have a come a long way in terms of portraying women in a more positive light. There are always exceptions to the rule, but generally, I’m seeing much less of the damsels in distress waiting for Mr. Perfect to come and rescue them. I think most of today’s romances are all about empowering women. Nora Roberts does a great job creating strong heroines and loveable heroes, as do Diana Gabaldon, Kristan Higgins, Eloisa James, and dozens of other fabulous authors. The days of women being treated badly and it being tolerated as acceptable “alpha” male behavior are over. I especially like this concept coming to light in young adult literature.
-Q: Do you think teen romance novels, give teen girls unrealistic expectations?
A: Not at all. Again, I think YA Lit rules here. There are definitely stereo types in books, and not all books are created equal in terms of quality and content, but I think more of today’s YA stories are painting the picture of strong young women who are learning how to “wield their power” and use it for good. I read mostly contemporary YA these days since that’s what I write, but I’m seeing stories that feature your “average” girls and boys going through all the trials, tribulations, and dramas that real life teens go through, and coming out on the other side intact and…dare I say, hopeful?
Even in paranormal and sci-fi/fantasy, there seem to be great lessons to be learned along the way. Character arc (the growth of a character from the beginning to the end of a story) is an essential ingredient in story telling structure. If the writer is any good, the character will learn some valuable lessons and end up better than they were at the beginning of the story. The best characters are flawed and we can usually identify on some level with their conflicts and dilemmas. If a writer has done his/her job, that sense of connection is what makes us care about what happens to our hero and heroine and makes us want to get to that hopeful end. We can usually see ourselves in their shoes and thereby become invested in the outcome. I’m a firm believer in hopefully ever after endings. I get disturbed by tragic and/or ambiguous endings that leave me dissatisfied, but I don’t expect teens to end up getting married at the end of the book. I love the idea of another adventure being just around the corner.
-Q: Do you feel that teen romance novels such as Twilight are too mature for teens? Do you think they set a bad example for teens?
A: I do think that much of what children watch and read these days is too mature for them. Kids are growing up so fast and are exposed to things that would have had my grandmother’s generation setting fire to their books (Vampires and Werewolves as heroes? Really!!) I don’t believe in censorship of any kind, but I do think parents need to be really responsible about what they allow their children to be entertained by. That includes TV, Internet, games, and movies, as well as books. I add to the back of all of my books a 14+ age rating only because of the mature themes. There is no swearing, no overt sexuality (although there are lots of steamy undertones), or anything that a 12 year-old couldn’t read, but I don’t necessarily think that pregnancy, rape, death, or sexual awakening are appropriate topics for young kids.
Having said that, kids are very mature readers these days and are also faced with some pretty harsh realities at very young ages, so maybe it’s not so bad for them to have access to books that might help them to understand better what is happening in their lives. I’m divided on this question and think that parents need to NOT be influenced by all the hype about books and movies like Twilight and The Hunger games, and judge for themselves what their children are mature enough to handle.
Our culture is becoming increasingly violent and I do think it is directly related to the systematic desensitization to violence that comes from watching, hearing, and reading about violent acts. Parents need to protect their kids to some degree. Keeping an open mind and discussing difficult issues with kids is an important part of that process.
The bottom line here is that there are movie ratings of PG13 for a reason. Although some books are already age rated, I think all books should require a rating in this way to give parents some guidance.
My thanks to Krista, my teen interviewer, and to all of you who have downloaded or read SAVAGE CINDERELLA. Reviews would be most welcome and whatever you can do to spread the word about this free promotion would be greatly appreciated!
So what do you all think? Do romance novels have a negative effect on readers?