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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

...But you look so normal?

Not too long ago I was at a friend's framing shop. I had stopped in to say hello and catch up, but seeing as she was busy, I told her I would come back another time. Needless to say, she asked me to stay, saying she'd only be a minute finishing up with a client that had come in from New York City to have some custom work done.

We all got chatting, and my friend mentioned that I was an author, and had been successful with recent book signings at a few local Barnes & Nobles. The look on the client's face was nothing short of incredulous. It wasn't because she had read my work and couldn't believe I had scored book signings at such a big chain, nor was it because I was a small pubbed was because she couldn't believe I was an author at all. And her reason?

"But you look SO normal!

She simply couldn't wrap her head around the idea that someone with talent could walk around without being pierced, tattooed, or sporting mutli-colored neon hair.

"That's certainly not what we see walking around the city?" she said staring at me like I was some sort of anomoly. I half expected her to turn me round and ask me to open my mouth so she could examine my teeth.

I politely told her that while those things may very well be the "costume de rigueur" of people who consider themselves creative, true creativity lies in how one dresses the mind, not the body. And while fashion choices may be an outward show of a creative mind, it certainly ISN'T a pre-requisite for one.

Now I'm no stranger to the stranger types...I hold an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, and have my fair share of friends who choose to dress as such, but that doesn't automatically make them more creative or talented than anyone else. Sadly, in my opinion, it almost makes them cliché, a stereotype of just the thing they are trying to rage against.

For Romance Writer's the stereotype is even sadder. When most people think of us, it's usually the image of a lonely woman sitting in a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, conjuring lovers and adventure in her imagination. In other words, one step away from being the neighborhood cat lady. If that description just made you go "eeewww", then you get it. Thankfully, for most of us that image is far from accurate, and the same goes for the people who read our work.

On one of the Amazon forums, a woman once described what we write as 'white noise', what she reads to dumb down her mind after a busy day. While I don't mind the idea of our genre being escapist, I do mind the stereotype that it's somehow less than, and to say that it's something one reads to "dumb down a mind' is insulting to those of us who work so hard at our craft.

Stereotypes are hurtful and wrong... especially when they bleed into your personal space.

Marianne Morea


  1. I deal with stereotypes all of the time. When your a scientist, people assume that you're a cold unfeeling logic robot. At one point I was explaining my research to a new acquaintance (she asked) and her first response was--"Oh, I don't believe in that sort of thing. I'm a church goer, after all. That's where I find my answers." The implication being that I, as a researcher, am a godless heathen.

    And as for that "white noise" comment...Yes, I use romance and fantasy to escape and relax. But I find that they can be mentally stimulating. The best authors sneak in a few curious facts or thought provoking ideas with the romance and adventure.

  2. Fairypenguin,

    It's amazing how stereotypes manage to slither their way in regardless of who and what you are, but the feeling of "are you kidding me?" when you're on the receiving end is universal.

    Romance is by it's very nature an escapist genre. It's fantasy. Period. What I took offense to was the implication that anyone could write it, that it was somehow less than as a genre and that writers didn't have to "master the mechanics" of the craft in order to create their work.

    Like with any art form, it all begins with raw talent. But if you don't hone your skills and master the rules of application (style not withstanding), you never master the art itself.

  3. I understand the stereotyping. Not only do I write but I also do Tarot readings, Astrological and Numerological charts. I'm labeled "weird", "crazy", "off the wall" and sometimes "evil".

    Every writer lives withing their minds. Writing is that way to get it out just so we can seem "normal" . . . at least I used to think that way. Now I say: "Define normal."

  4. I've elected to embrace my wierdness - in my own way. It doesn't involve purple hair, piercings or tattoos - which the Senior Partner at my law firm really appreciates. Like Marianne says, if you only embrace your unique characteristics by being like a group of others - you're just dancing to the beat of someone else's drum.

    I hate the way romance gets labeled. Back before the rise of indie publishing (Vive La Revolution) - one of my books was rejected by a romance agent because it was too "literary" and would make people think too much. (A literary agent rejected it because it had too much sexual content and would make literary readers "uncomfortable.")

    We should all rebel against labels, boxes and pigeonholes. Instead of trying to define love so that it fits in the nice little boxes, let's celebrate that love is bigger and broader than any attempt to limit it.

    BTW - the rejected book was "Brotherly Love" and my message about celebrating love without trying to limit it was the book's message that the romance agent thought was too "deep" or "complicated" for romance readers!

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