Condescension, Crosstalk, and why Connie Willis’ Misunderstanding of the Romance Genre is a Deal Breaker for Me


When I first heard about Connie Willis’ book Crosstalk, it sounded like a bunch of fun.

I put it on my wishlist and dropped a bunch of hints that I’d be open to reviewing it even if I had to buy the book myself (which wouldn’t be an issue as even if I get an ARC, I buy the books once they’re released).

Then today, I woke up to see an article on The Verge where she was interviewed about the book and, in one response, managed to miss the entire damn point about romance as a genre and as an aspect of our lives (for those folks who aren’t aromantic) and I decided to save my money. 

After the interviewer asks “But if you value surprises — and your writing suggests you do — what’s the appeal in romantic comedy, the most predictable genre out there in terms of how every story will end?”, Willis goes on this ridiculous and pointless paragraph that basically boils down to her saying that romance in books isn’t real romance.

Let’s look at this messy, messy response that does more to shit all over romance than explain her actual fascination for what she seems to feel is a niche genre:

Romantic comedy is the only genre that explores positive adult relationships that are also fun. I hate romances. They’re all about seduction, or wooing and winning, and conquering and falling, or whatever. That’s very old-fashioned, but it’s not a real relationship. Romantic comedy is about figuring out who other people are, about seeing through people’s facades, working as a team, and learning to trust each other. All the things they’d want you to do if you were in couples’ counseling. Romantic comedy says, “Not only can you do all these things, it can be fun. Plus sex!” Romantic comedies have the ultimate positive relationships.

Everything about her response reads like a MFA student trying to sound smart about something they know nothing about. And considering that I’ve spent this entire week dealing with MFA students who have no idea what they’re talking about with regard to publishing and writing… I’m in no mood to be patient with an actual published adult author who’s trying to pull the same junk.

Willis is an author who has well over a hundred writing credits to her name and a career reaching back into the early seventies. She doesn’t have the excuse of finding herself or fumbling through the genre. She should know better. She should know how unacceptable blanket judgements are (especially on a genre she’s clearly not well-versed in).

But clearly, Willis doesn’t actually read romance novels. She doesn’t do any research on the genre that, in 2013, made up a solid chunk of all published books, brought in over a billion dollars in revenue and is seen as a gateway to reading for many women around the world.

Everything about this response is super condescending and ascribes aspects of the entire genre of romance to romantic comedy, what she views as ” the only genre that explores positive adult relationships that are also fun”.

I’m sorry, but what romance is this lady reading?

Because a) romcoms have typically been awful about showing positive relationships between adults (please look at the actual romcom film genre which is basically nearly all white, full of terrible relationships between terrible people played for humor, and more predictable than a looped gif) and b) all books are about relationships (between people, between adults, between children, between demons).

Let’s be real here: no genre holds the market on positive relationships between anyone. Not SFF, not romcoms, not romance. Nothing.

Now let’s talk about the ridiculous idea that once romance happens between a couple, it’s happened and that the series is done.

Diana Gabaldon actually said this, by the way:

Once the couple [in a romance novel] is married, that’s the end of the story. And in our story, that means we would have stopped at episode seven.

The very fact that that’s come up with other writers who think themselves “above” romance shows that they’re not keeping up with the genre and that they haven’t actually read a romance series beyond a point where they could farm it for the tropes and themes that make their work so beloved.

But like…

Your life doesn’t stop once you fall in love. These authors who act like consummation or weddings end romance are terrible and okay, they’re  almost always married people saying that the story ends once marriage happens.

How sad is that?

And I am so tired of seeing SFF writers barging in to be all “I don’t like romance teehee” as they basically bullshit their way through critiques of the entire genre that wind up dismissing the brilliant work of the people making us fall in love through and with their characters every single book.

Sense and Sensibility illustration from the 19th century.

I’m pissed off at how easily these writers write off the work of romance authors as though they’re not putting out some of the most amazing content out there and crossing across multiple genres as they do it.

And of course, I’m tired of the attitude that “romance alone” isn’t a valid genre despite the fact that some of the earliest stories ever told would fall squarely under the romantic genre.

I’m tired of the Diana Gabaldon/Laurell K Hamilton attitude where romance (and romance readers) don’t matter until it’s profitable – or their publishers stop giving them a choice.

If it looks like romance, sounds like romance, reads like romance – but you refuse to actually call it that because you’re a snob that thinks you’re better than romance – you’re a dick that doesn’t actually deserve the attention or loyalty of romance readers.

Because people like me, people who like romance as a genre and who enjoy the many ways that romance intersects with other genres like Historical Fiction and Fantasy, are gonna drop your book. Because romance writers, many of whom read and write in these genres as they write romance, are going to remember that you trashed their genre and essentially claimed that you could do it better.

If romance isn’t your cup of tea, oh well.

But maybe don’t dismiss the entire genre and condescend towards the people who enjoy it right around when you’ve released your very own romcom…


One thought on “Condescension, Crosstalk, and why Connie Willis’ Misunderstanding of the Romance Genre is a Deal Breaker for Me

  1. I’m not a romance fan and it took me a long time to learn to appreciate it as a genre but it seems I’m good with historical (mostly Victorian) romances. I noticed this kind of snobbery is the same thing that happens to the Horror genre, which is what made me ultimately realize I was treating the romance genre with the disdain people gave me for liking Horror.
    There’s also the same attitude by people who want to write Horror but not call it Horror. Most of the time I consider such endeavors to be a failure. Like all genre writing, you can’t write it well unless you love it.

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