Have you ever been to a local chapter meeting of the Romance Writers of America? Well, thanks to some encouragement from fellow LadyKillers and the inestimable Sophie Littlefield and the Pens Fatales, I have not only attended, but become a member, and my membership is a key part of my growth as a crime writer.
That's right, I said it! My education as a noir writer!
I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but except for the fact that there weren't many men in attendance, my expectations were deliciously subverted.
Here's what I saw:
- Dozens of women who knew the depth and breadth and heights that romance literature can reach. They know subgenres, publishers, markets, length requirements, and plot expectations the way a union plumber knows her pipe fittings--intimately, with detail and imagination.
- Women who shared knowledge about the industry and the craft.
- Women who cooperate and encourage instead of belittle or backstab.
- Women who take incredible pride in their work.
- Women who hold out friendly help to any newbie who wanders by. There's no hazing, just coffee, snacks, and support.
Where have you been all my life, ladies?
Which is not to say that MWA or Sisters in Crime aren't the same way--professionals who encourage anyone to join their ranks, share the joy and the frustration of being a working writer. But there's something really special about the RWA members, especially the San Francisco area chapter. A sort of emotional maturity that perhaps comes with being neglected by critics, if embraced by book buyers. The New York Times may ignore romance novels in their reviews, but they can't ignore them in the bestseller lists.
If you want to learn how to make a relationship jump off the page and drive your plot forward, whatever plot you have, ask a romance writer. If you can't figure out why the romantic element in your book isn't working--ask a romance writer. If you want to know what hard work and perserverence look like in today's modern publishing landscape--just watch the romance writers.
Like science fiction writers, they've been swinging with the tech and industry changes for more than a decade. We have a lot to learn from them, whether we write cozy, noir, or something in between. And my literary fiction friends--they could learn a thing or two about monetizing their efforts, not to mention plot-wrangling and identification-building.
At the last meeting I attended, I felt the need to testify--I've missed my last few self-imposed deadlines; only confession could clear my debt to myself. The meeting room shook with sympathetic laughter when I did. They've all been there. No judgments, but a nod and pat on the arm. And now here I am, back at work on the scariest draft of By The Numbers: the last one before it goes to my readers.
My books may not end with the optimism required by the RWA to qualify as a romance novel, and the plot has much more to do with dead people and missing casino millions than it does with the pursuit of love. But all of my work will be more entertaining, more emotionally vivid, and more interesting for the time I've spent learning from the men and women who write romance.