The importance of romance fiction
I am not an optimist by nature. I prefer to call myself a realist, one who is always pleasantly surprised when things turn out well, but who works to manage expectations. My husband tells me that’s the same thing as a pessimist.
(Tomato, to-mah-to, I say.)
That said, I see a benefit to maintaining a positive outlook in the face of difficult situations and trying times, and I strive to maintain a more upbeat mindset than might come naturally. Part of that is because I’m raising small people, and I don’t think doom and gloom mix well with dragons and dreams; another part of it is because I’m a fiction author who writes romance.
As the newest columnist for the Independent, I want to offer some perspective on the romance genre, but I also know my genre is sometimes disregarded or even derided. I don’t want to spend my time with you defending the place of romance in the literary world — much more eloquent authors have already done that well. Instead, I’d like to look at the place romance fiction has in the world at large.
One of the issues romance authors face comes in the form of criticism of our genre as unimportant. When I graduated with my English degree, I would have agreed with this assessment. I knew I wanted to write a book, and I knew I wanted it to be a book that mattered, a book that contributed something to our culture.
I believed — and still do, more than ever — that books have the power to create change in people’s lives, and I wanted to be part of that.
With maturity, I came to learn that romance novels are no exception. If anything, these books have a unique power that others do not, and it has to do with the promise of the romance genre. Every genre makes its readers a promise: Mysteries will be solved, thrillers will…well, thrill, etc.
But for a book to be a romance (as opposed to a love story, or some other kind of book with a romantic element), it must deliver a happy ending. No matter how dark or angsty the book, no matter how twisty and treacherous the path it follows, a romance will always deliver on that promise.
So what is the value of a guaranteed happy ending in today’s world? I asked a friend who now writes romance herself, but who was once a social worker in the DC area, her thoughts on this idea. She told me, “I worked with children and adolescents as a psychiatric social worker trainee, where I witnessed some of the worst of human suffering. At the end of the day, I didn’t want to read something ending in tragedy. I wanted a guaranteed happy ending.”
She wanted a contrast to her reality, and that’s what romance offered.
There are many things in our country and our world to worry about. There’s more than enough darkness and fear to go around. And while other books have their place, romance occupies a uniquely bright and comforting spot against the dark backdrop of reality. Romance is important, because hope and optimism will always be needed — even more so when times are dark and uncertain.
Delancey Stewart is the award-winning author of numerous contemporary romance and chick-lit novels. A former travel writer, personal trainer, and wine-seller, she's happy to have finally discovered what she wants to be when she grows up. Stewart has held a board position with the DC Chapter of Romance Writers of America, and formerly founded the St. Mary's County Chapter of the Maryland Writer's Association. She lives with her husband and two sons in Southern Maryland, where she spends her non-writing time kayaking, socializing, and finding her next favorite wine.