Whether or not there should be old people in romance novels could be a matter of opinion. And I’m going to tread lightly here because I don’t want anyone to accuse me of being shallow. My favorite author, Anne Tyler, has written many glowing novels with older people in romantic situations…”The Beginners Goodbye,” and “Back When We Were Grown Ups”…that I’ve loved. I’ve read the latter six times.
But these books aren’t romances. They are literary/mainstream novels with romantic themes, without much sex. People who read books like these don’t necessarily read anything in the romance genre. So knowing how to distinguish between genres comes into play here. In fact, I would bet that many people who read literary/mainstream novels would frown on anything in the romance genre. I’m not making this “genre thing” up. There are reasons why books are classified into genres. One is to keep readers from buying the wrong books. It’s a way for sellers to categorize books to keep things organized in bookshops and on web sites where books are sold. And as authors we need to know this so we don’t look stupid. Shallow, maybe. But stupid, never.
What prompted this post was something I saw about old people in romance novels. Not old people reading romance novels, but old people as characters in romance novels…like the torso in the photo above. Now isn’t THAT image enticing? Don’t you want to run out and buy that romance and crawl under the covers with it? The article actually said romance, not romantic literary fiction, so I’m assuming, based on the information given to me in the article, that the author was talking about books in the romance genre…or in various sub-genres. It could be a case of an author not knowing what he/she is talking about, but I can only go by the information given to me.
When I read the article that seemed to be suggesting there should be more old people in romance novels, I immediately remembered something a publisher once told me. I’d just been contracted to write a novel about two people who had been in a long, lasting relationship and I was looking forward to the possibilities. But the publisher sent me a follow up e-mail…just to be safe and to know we were on the same page…informing me she didn’t want a romance with senior citizens in it. I smiled and replied letting her know she had nothing to worry about. While I do think it’s fascinating to read about older people falling in love in literary fiction, it’s not something I want to read or write about in a romance.
And that’s because romance for me is pure escapism. Especially erotic romance. I know there are kinky web sites for people with fetishes for older people. But I’m not one of them, and I don’t think most people who read romance novels or erotic romance novels want to read about two seventy year olds getting it on. I want escapism. I want to be taken to a place where everyone is young and hot and filled with so much emotion I can’t stop turning the pages.
Frankly, I get sick and tired of listening to people complain about our youth oriented culture as if it’s something new. I haven’t had ice cream in five years and I jog five miles every morning all year long to keep my body in shape, and I get tired of people who sit around and complain about how out of shape they are and how terrible our youth oriented culture is. I’m tired of hearing people complain about rich people as well. I like escapist romance novels with billionaires, not poor people. Leave the poor characters for the painful literary novels, thank you. Cher said it best once, and I paraphrase because I can’t find the exact quote: “I’ve been forty I’ve been fifty; forty was better…I’ve been rich I’ve been poor; rich is better.”
As I said above, I love deep literary novels with older people who fall in love. I read them all the time. I love literary novels with characters that have fundamental flaws that could be anything from obesity to homeliness. I read them all the time, too. But when I’m reading an erotic romance or a pg-rated romance for pure escapism, I don’t want to read about anyone who doesn’t have all their teeth or their hair. I don’t want to read about gay men with old skin, limp dicks, and gray pubes. That’s just wrong. I want my romance characters to be as sexy as I can get them. I want pure escapism to take me away from the political vitriol, the horrors we’re experiencing all over the world, and the criminal acts over which I have no control. And if that makes me shallow, I guess I’ll just have to live with it.