I’m always happy when historical romance authors are guests on my blog. And I’ve got a really good one on today–she’s Elise Rome, and she writes lush and lovely Victorian romances. Elise has written a very, very interesting blog about some of the things she’s learned since she starting writing romance novels, and how she creates her heroines.
Take it away, Elise!
Thanks so much to Vanessa for welcoming me back on the blog! As I count down to the release of my first book as Elise Rome (THE SINNING HOUR, due out late June), I realized that I wanted to share a self-discovery I’ve made since becoming a romance writer.
In the past I never thought of myself as being a feminist. Raised in East Texas, there was a definite bias against the word. In my mind, feminists were loud, brash, rude—and yes, even braless; the opposite of my mother, who was hard-working, quiet, respectful toward others (and always wore a bra). Women’s rights never concerned me much growing up, probably because the issue had a “been there, done that” feel to it. I was born after the suffrage movement, after women wearing pants in public became normal, and grew up during a time when it was status quo for women to work rather than stay at home raising children. I didn’t understand what else there was to fight for, and it often seemed that women who were termed “feminists” were people who just liked to stir up trouble by making a big deal out of nothing.
Ignorant, I know. I don’t think there’s any better word for it.
Two things happened when I began writing romance, though. One, I became part of an international community where women (for the most part) write love stories for women (again, for the most part). If any group of people could rightly be called feminists, it’s romance readers and writers… and yet, despite the stereotype I grew up believing, they’re some of the nicest, most generous, caring people I know. Through them, I’ve learned that being a feminist is something to be proud of. Modern romance espouses the idea that men and women should have equal footing in intimate relationships and, in turn, in every other arena where men and women interact. I’ve learned that being a feminist doesn’t mean that I want to beat down men or show myself to be superior to them; it means that I insist on being treated with the same respect and right of personhood that every human being should expect.
Part of my understanding of what feminism means and who I am as a feminist came from my participation in the romance community, and there are hundreds of fellow romance lovers to whom I am grateful as a result.
The second part, however, came from the actual writing of romance novels. As I hinted above, I think my entire (erroneous) perception of feminism can be attributed to social stereotyping. In truth, I think I’ve been a feminist all along. This truth continues to emerge in the heroines I write. Since I write historical romance novels—currently set in Victorian England, and soon also in the 1920s—my heroines have even less rights and privileges than we do today. Yet despite these boundaries, I’ve always been drawn to write heroines who refuse to settle for what’s expected of them; they know they are worth more, they know they deserve more. They want more, and they go after it, even if there are disastrous consequences to bear.
When I began toying with the idea of a new series, my first thought wasn’t how I could promote feminism by giving five heroines a chance at complete independence in a time when other women were constrained by the wills of their fathers, brothers, husbands, and other male relatives. No, I began with who the heroines were individually—both internally and externally—the type of respective heroes they each should have, and a general premise for their love stories. Then, at the end, I finally put together the idea of the women knowing one another because they’re all co-owners of a gaming hell.
To be honest, I don’t think I would have come up with that idea if I’d started by asking myself for a great hook for a new romance series. As a writer, to me every story begins with individual characterization. But once the idea evolved and the premise came of five women owning a gaming hell together, it resonated with me as a reader. And that’s when I realized how well the label “feminist” truly fits me; I want to read and write about strong women (this also helps me understand why Scarlett O’Hara has always been a particular favorite of mine).
Some may be beautiful, some may be plain; some may be rocket-scientist smart, some may be of average intelligence; all of them are vulnerable in one way or another, but that doesn’t mean they’re inferior because of their gender, just that they’re human. Most importantly, each heroine either knows who she is or discovers who she is through the course of the book, and while they may all long for an intimate, meaningful relationship with the hero of their dreams, they would never see themselves as unworthy or incomplete because they’re not attached to a man.
Yes, I’ve finally discovered what a feminist is, and what being a feminist means. It’s opened my eyes to see how much prejudice against women still exists, and it enrages me when I hear that a woman is raped every 26 seconds in South Africa, when I wonder why there is any rape at all.
Upon this realization, I’m more proud than ever to be a part of the romance community where we give hope to women who, possibly unlike our heroines, aren’t able to be strong at this very moment…but who grow more cognizant of their inner strength with each happily-ever-after ending.
The world that scoffs at the romance genre does so because they believe it’s all about sex and women who are dependent on men; they have no idea that while a committed relationship between two equal and loving partners is essential to our HEAs, a woman who will fight for herself with self-possession and intelligence is just as important.
Obviously, they’ve never met one of my heroines.
Elise Rome has never forgiven Margaret Mitchell for making her fall in love with Scarlett and Rhett in Gone with the Wind and then not giving them a happy ending. She likes to think that she makes up for this injustice with each romance novel she writes. When she isn’t telling stories about sexy, headstrong heroes and intelligent, independent heroines, Elise stays busy chasing after her two young daughters, semi-attempting to do housework, and hiking in the beautiful foothills of Colorado.
THE SINNING HOUR is Elise’s first book in her new Victorian Unmaskedseries, in which five masked women claim their independence by creating the most exclusive gaming hell in London. The book is scheduled to be published in late June 2012.
What does the romance genre mean to you as a female reader or writer? One random commenter will win a digital copy of THE SINNING HOUR upon its release.
Vanessa, here. Thanks so much for visiting with us today, Elise, and for writing such a thoughtful blog! Now, readers, have at it. What does the romance genre mean to you? One person who comments will win a copy of Elise’s upcoming release.