One of our best-known newspapers wants to do a story for St. Valentine’s Day on romance writers’ bedrooms. Now it is for the Home section, but even so…read the whole entertaining mess at Smart Bitches.

Why do romance writers (and by implication their readers) suffer so in the media? Why are these stereotypes still around? Can we really keep blaming this pink old lady and her dogs? [insert mental pic of Barbara Cartland and her Pekinese here, because Blogger will not let me do the real thing. Thanks]

Here’s my theory. It’s the cult of the storyteller. This is why I find the Cassie Edwards/plagiarism case is so richly ironic. It didn’t matter that Ms. Edwards’s style left something to be desired (to put it mildly) because she was a storyteller. She could spin a tale, tell a story–actually that was debatable–but a lot of people thought so. Somewhere, somehow, a divide developed between those who cared about words and language and those who thought the story mattered the most, when in fact one carries the other.

And now suddenly the words do matter in romance. Unfortunately, they matter because the words in question belonged to someone else.

[mentally insert a fab fairy story illustration here.] The honorable, pre-literate craft of the storyteller relies on the linking catch-phrases–

a year and a day
once upon a time
as I walked out one midsummer morning

they lived happily ever after–

that blend the familiar to the new and unexpected. The mass-market storyteller is allowed, if not encouraged by the industry, to rely on a certain amount of repetition and same-ness; but because storytelling is not a special gather round the fire and eat some more of the mammoth Ug caught occasion, that may result in cliche, staleness, sameness.

So what does this have to do with the lady in pink with the fluffy dogs and diamonds? Why doesn’t romance get respect? It’s not because romance writers are storytellers vs. wordsmiths, or whatever terms you want to use, it’s that romance keeps the divide wide and deep by its insistence that the story is the most important thing, and the only important thing. It is in fact rather like this post where I can’t put the pix in because Blogger is having a bad hair day or something. You know they should be there but they’re not. We know that romance is such a huge market that you can have all sorts of romances and all sorts of writing, but sadly the cliches about the genre and its creators prevail.

It’s a pity it took a drastic case of plagiarism for us to be reminded that the words are important too.