In Defense of Romance

What?  Yes, of course that’s a click-bait title.  It worked, didn’t it?  You’re here, aren’t you?

This is not the type of lice hunting romance I’m in favor of.

There’s been some changes recently to how authors can categorize their works when uploading them on Amazon.  Amazon has implemented the following restriction:  Do not add books from any Romance category to these categories: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Children’s.

(Children’s? Who puts romance in a children’s book? What the hell is wrong with some of you people?)

And of course the butt-hurt has been epic.  A casual scroll through the comments quickly revealed some of the women who write “blended” novels will be putting them in the science fiction and/or fantasy sections rather than the romance section (which is where they probably belong).

But that’s okay.  I don’t get my recommendations for what I read from Amazon very often.  Usually it’s from people whose taste I know aligns with mine.

They want to write and read that stuff, that’s their business, and I have no problem with their doing so.  As long as they don’t scold me for not reading it or invade my space with it, we’ll be fine.

Here’s the type of romance I’m advocating:

2. a novel or other prose narrative depicting heroic or marvelous deeds, pageantry,romantic exploits, etc., usually in a historical or imaginary setting.
3. the colorful world, life, or conditions depicted in such tales.
4. a medieval narrative, originally one in verse and in some Romance dialect, treating of heroic, fantastic, or supernatural events, often in the form of allegory.

In traditional literary terms, a narration of the extraordinary exploits of heroes, often in exotic or mysterious settings...The term romance has also been used for stories of mysterious adventures, not necessarily of heroes. Like the heroic kind of romance, however, these adventure romances usually are set in distant places.

That’s from  You’ll notice that I’m not suggesting what in publishing terms in known as a category romance, where two people (these days “people” can be pretty broadly defined) end up united after struggling to overcome great opposition to their being together.  These stories always have a happy ending, and their emphasis is on the inner emotional lives of the characters.

This is a romantic boat ride I’d be interested in reading about.

The older, some would argue old-fashioned, definition is the one I prefer.  There is swashbuckling.  There is derring-do.  There is adventure, frequently in exotic foreign lands or other planets or realms that never were.  There are heroics.  There is often a damsel, or a beauty to be won, but there doesn’t have to be.  She many times kicks butt without any help while not being portrayed as a man with breasts, but rather retains her femininity. The characters are noble but not perfect.  The hero does manly things with manly men, even if he doesn’t have a square jaw.

Hmm, sounds a lot like pulp fiction, doesn’t it?

There was a series of commercials for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that got a lot of airplay when I was a kid.  They always involved two people, one eating chocolate and the other eating peanut butter, who have a collision.  One says “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter.”  The other says “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate.”  Then they each taste it, like it, and walk off together the best of friends.  The tag line was always Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together.

My kind of romance.

And when it comes to category romance and fantasy or category romance and science fiction, well, um, no. No, they don’t go great together.

To put it bluntly.  I am not interested in the inner emotional lives of women.  Or of men.  Or of space squids.  Or of space raptors, but let’s not go there.  I am interested in action, intrigue, adventure, exotic locales, and a hearty dose of the fantastic.



I realize there are people who disagree with me.  That’s fine.  It’s a free country, and you can be wrong if you want to. I mean, you’re free to read and write what you like. Just don’t force it on me.  And don’t invade my space with it (with space raptors or anything else).

I applaud Amazon for this move.  The people whining about it, boo, hiss.  I don’t mind a love interest as part of the story.  I just don’t want it to be the entire story, or even the central focus of the story.  Writing a romance novel with science fiction or fantasy elements and calling it sf or fantasy is, IMNSHO, dishonest.  And it’s the quickest way I know to guarantee I’ll never buy another book of yours.  Give me old-fashioned romance, with or without a love interest, and you’ve probably got a fan for life.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read what was once called a planetary romance.

13 thoughts on “In Defense of Romance

  1. D.W. Roach

    Finally! Bravo amazon. I too have been “irked” by the perpetual romance novels that seem to dominate the ranking in categories such as “Fantasy” and even “Norse Mythology”. They bundle ten books together and pump them through the amazon vein like a drug. I want to be ranked against peers.

    Great posting! Skal!

    1. Keith West Post author

      I’ve gotten to where I don’t even consider books that look like romance in space/Middle Earth. I consider they way they flood the market to be the literary equivalent of spam.

  2. Bryce

    It’s a good thing I read this, because I was going to ask you to review my category romance about a Martian semi-sentient chicken who has a midlife crisis and starts dating a space-accountant with mother attachment issues. Most of the plot happens in the chicken’s therapist’s office. The DNA science in it is all worked out so I think it qualifies as hard sf.

  3. deuce

    Good stuff, Keith! “Romance” as a fiction category is definitely its own thing. You can start from the “high” end like Austen and then go all the way to Meyer, but it is still there to fulfill a certain task. It is the feminine equivalent of male erotica/porn.

    This “hybrid” baloney is laughable. An ice cream cone that’s half vanilla ice cream and half koala dung is not a “vanilla-eucalyptus” cone, it is a koala dung cone. From what I hear, Offutt worked some decent adventure into some of his porn. STILL PORN. Certain expectations/goals are there from the outset in both “romance” and porn. It’s not hard to spot a “hybrid”.

    Posting “romance” where it doesn’t belong isn’t going to sell romance books, it’s only going to make the search functions at Amazon perpetually unusable.

    1. Matthew

      Deuce have you ever actually read Austen? Her books were Comedies of Manners as much as romances.

      Of course, Romeo and Juliet is about the futility of the cycle of revenge. Jane Eyre is a gothic thriller. There’s always been hybrid romances. Those are the ones that stand the test of time. Because romance by itself is the most boring thing on the planet to read about.

    2. deuce

      I’m not sure you understood me. “Hybrid” Romance is just Romance. Just like “Hybrid” Porn is still porn at the end of the day. Go read SPACE RAPTOR BUTT INVASION. Still porn. Not SF. Go read ALIEN CONQUEST:

      Still romance. Not SF.

      Are the “Twilight” books horror because they have werewolves and vampires? Romance.

      There are no “hybrids”. Just different subcategories of romance.

  4. Woelf Dietrich

    At 14 I didn’t like reading romance. I’m 45 now and I still don’t like reading romance. I still read adventure and action and fantasy. I still read about heroism and glory and honor, and yes, even love. Note I said love and not romance. The only difference to my 14-year-old self is I now also read historical fiction.

    1. Keith West Post author

      You are correct when you say there is a difference between romance and love, a huge difference. Category romances have spoiled the use of the word “romance” from its original meaning, which was what I cribbed from, tales of exotic adventure, often involving some aspect of the fantastic as well as a love interest. I think your choice of words is perfect: “heroism and glory and honor, and yes, even love”. Those are the things that inspire me and make me want to be a better man. That’s what I’m drawn to in my fiction. That’s what I’m drawn to in my religious beliefs. After, what is the story of Jesus about but the ultimate hero making the ultimate sacrifice as an act of ultimate love?

      I read about those things when I was fourteen and I read about them now, when I’m…more than fourteen. I would read historical fiction when I was fourteen. What I wouldn’t read then (because my brother did, and anything your brother likes can’t be good, amiright?) that I’ll read now is westerns. I even tried reading a romance anthology a couple of years ago. Wasn’t quite my thing.

      1. Woelf Dietrich

        Indeed, but I have to add that I read westerns as a kid. I loved westerns with L’Amour’s stories being the standout for me because they embodied virtues my dad instilled in me. My dad introduced me to REH and ERB and a bunch of other authors. David Gemmell’s books are also examples of true warriors driven by personal codes of honor and duty.

        There are love interests and there are love stories but they are subplots and do not take up much word space. If done right, hey flow smoothly with the rest of the narrative and you have an emotionally charged action piece. A year or two ago I tried to read one of Nicholas Sparks’ books to test his voice as a writer and see why people loved his stories. I could not finish the book. I am SO the wrong target market.

        Religiously, I agree with Jesus making the ultimate selfless sacrifice. I was brought up in a very strict Christian home (had to go to Sunday school every Sunday after church, etc.). Today I am not so religiously strict though I am not an atheist. I’m better described as a wayward rebel who has conversations with God every now and again.

        1. Keith West Post author

          My reaction to westerns was pretty much stubborn teenager attitude because my brother was a big L’Amour fan. I’ve since come to appreciate his work. You’re spot-on about the love interest adding depth to the story. Everything I’ve heard about Sparks convinces me I’m not his target either. You have just strengthened that conviction. My father was the pastor, so I attended pretty much every time the door was open. I’m still actively involved in a local congregation, although not as much as when I was younger and single.


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