I’m crunching egg shells over politically correct genre landmines here. I love the romance genre. I love the powerful cultural importance beneath the sneering sentimentality attributed to it, the trope of finding THE SOUL MATE who will love you forever and ever forsaking all others and protecting you and risking his or her life for you and never faltering in his or her desire for you and his or her love for the children you create together and the true and sincere belief that his or her life would be dirt under a roach’s feet without you. I. LOVE. THAT.
Which does not mean I love the stereotypical submissive girly heroine who needs protection and coos and falls over in the hero’s arms, no. I want me some strong Maureen O’Hara to John Wayne in The Quiet Man (yes, I know it has its gender role limitations). I want Kat Hepburn to Bogie in The African Queen. I want Karen Allen as Marion in the first Indiana Jones movie, being a kickass partner to Harrison Ford, before the sequels festered into shrieking arm-candy bimbos and franchise kiddie attractions.
But . . . I’m finding myself lost in a sweet-sexy-hot-erotica-tough-talking-tea-room-Golden-Girls-navel-gazing-renovate the old house-compilation of romance and women’s fiction tropes that are grooved deeper into the soil of commercial pop fiction than tractor ruts in a Georgia garden after a long spring rainy season.
How many morning glory verandas and sulky black-sheep-sons can we describe before old Aunt Lizzy keels the fuck over and lets us get on with something more meaningful? And I don’t mean exchanging Hallmark Card sentiments for the lives of sex gymnasts, or glamour seekers, or the “I’m so messed up” New Adult bad child-men and self-destructive bad girls, nor the pseudo-tough Doc Savage stories of Hollywood style Special Ops heroes and heroines spouting fake military speak as they perform maneuvers even a bad Michael Bay movie would consider over the top.
I’m looking for the authentic stories that actually say something about what’s going on in the world around us. I realize genre fiction of all types is about escapism, not about Messages, but I read so much about authors in genre fiction wanting to be taken more seriously . . . look, I can only speak to the genre I know best. Romance. Excellent authors. Excellent storytelling. But . . . if our stories don’t go deeper than the “she’s empowered for her time, she kicks butt, she makes him respect her,” trope, then they’re just so much finely crafted confetti for the parade toward obscurity. Isn’t there something more substantial to be said than that?
“Social justice story lines” are not your grandma’s panties dressed up as thongs. They’re the difference between offering candy to readers, or offering them a meal.