by Sierra Donovan
When I tell people I write romance, the most common response is a knowing:
I can't duplicate the tone here, but you've probably heard it. Loosely translated, it seems to say, "Oh, you write those books."
You know. Bodice rippers.
As an Avalon author, I can add, "Squeaky clean romances." At that, the knowing look usually disappears. Often replaced by one of puzzlement. Because, to those who don't read them, what's a romance if no one's bodice is being ripped?
Whoever coined the term "bodice ripper" must have been pretty proud of himself (and I'd say it was almost certainly a "he"). I'll bet he wishes he had a quarter for every time someone's used the phrase. By now he'd probably be as rich as Rosemary Rogers.
At the time, the term had its place. There was certainly a spate of books in the 1970s that dealt with domineering heroes who, er, impatiently disrobed their leading ladies. Kathleen Woodiwiss' 1972 novel, The Flame and the Flower, is perhaps the archetype, featuring a heroine raped by the man she eventually falls in love with.
Those books aren't so common any more, but no matter. "Bodice ripper" is the lazy journalist's way of pigeonholing an author he or she has almost certainly never read, while sounding clever and cute. Meanwhile, that guy from the '70s is sitting somewhere, hunched over his adding machine, gnashing his teeth over the quarters that could have been his.
How do we fight this?
Do we fight it?
Authors of sweet romance can say something like, "Oh, my characters keep their bodices buttoned." Boldly sensuous authors could say, "My characters don't wear bodices. Or panties either, for that matter." Authors in between might try lines like, "My characters unlace their own bodices." Or, "My heroes unlace my heroine's bodice -- but they do it nicely, and never before page 200."
I Googled the term "bodice ripper" and came away with a heavy heart. The phrase is thrown around now as much as it ever was. Why does it bother me so much? Romances certainly don't lack for readers. In fact, statistics show that in this recession economy, romance sales are up. Clearly, the books are finding their audience. So why not laugh it off?
All disrobing aside, what gets me is the underlying assumption that romances, whatever you call them, are trite books full of laughable, overheated purple prose. I guess what I want people to know, as always, is not to judge a book by the proverbial cover. To realize that there are intelligently written romances out there. I want to be judged for what my books are, not for what they aren't.
Like the disreputable duke in one of the overbaked Regencies of old, I still want respect.