On the first Friday of every month, Novelista Annie Burrows has been sharing a very personal view of what it is like to be a writer. And is dealing with themes in alphabetical order. This month, she's reached R...which stands for Romance!
When I was at the Romance Writers of America conference in New York this summer, one of the highlights, for me, was attending the Harlequin booksigning.
In spite of what anyone may say, Harlequin romances are still incredibly popular, and if you don't believe me, just look at the queue to get in the door.
Sales may be down, but a lot of people were extremely keen to get their hands on the books that were being given away.
I signed and gave away copies of my Waterloo book, A Mistress for Major Bartlett, almost continually for the two hours the event went on.
The only bit of the event I didn't enjoy was when a film crew came along to interview me.
(I'm not alone in that - the other authors ducked behind their stacks of books, then sighed in relief when the crew pounced on me, because I'd been too busy chatting to a fan to notice them sneaking up)
Anyway, they cleared a space round my bit of the table, thrust a microphone at me, and said, in what I felt was a rather challenging manner, "Why do you love romance?"
My mind immediately went as blank as the first sheet of paper in a brand new notebook. After umming and erring for a while, I came up with something inane along the lines of (I think) "What's not to like? Doesn't everything in life mean more when you have someone to share it with?"
The reason I can't recall what I answered then, is because the crew went off into a huddle for a bit, then came back to me and said, "Could you say all that again, only this time look into the camera?"
Silly me, I'd answered the girl who asked the question, not the guy standing over to the side with half a ton of equipment strapped to his shoulder.
Anyway, by this time I was somewhat irritated. Because I still couldn't come up with a clever, witty, answer off the top of my head. And I felt a bit resentful that I had to defend my position as a writer of romance. And as anyone who's ever tried to take a photo of me will confirm, I have an extremely expressive face. So I don't think the second attempt to get a soundbite from me would have been any good either. Not to judge by the tight smiles on their faces as they shuffled away, anyhow.
But now, three months later, I have finally decided what I should have said. (Not that I've been lying awake at night going over and over how stupid I must have looked or anything)
As well as working out why I was annoyed at their slightly contemptuous attitude. As if loving romance was somehow an odd thing for me to do.
All you have to do, I should have said, is to turn on the radio, to hear that love and romance is on just about everyone else's mind too. There may be the occasional song that reaches a top slot in the charts about Medicinal Compound, or digging a hole in the ground, but the vast majority of popular songs are about love and romance. Even the most cynical of news hounds would have to admit that finding a soul mate, that special someone who will understand you, support you, and share all life's trials with you, is extremely important to a lot of people. And that without that special someone, life can feel bleak and pointless.
And nobody goes round asking pop stars why they love romance, and sing about it, do they? It's just accepted. Applauded even. Programmes like the X factor or Pop Idol rely on the fact that huge numbers of young people want to get up on stage and sing about how much they long for the object of their affection to notice them, or to bewail the fact that their heart has been badly broken.
Has anyone gone up to Adele, or Sam Smith, and asked them why they sing about romance? And made them defend their choice to do so? And imply that they would somehow be more worthy if they sang about crime, or the human condition? I don't think so.
So why is writing stories about romance regarded by the press, so often, as being somehow a bit silly, when singing about love and romance is not?
If I could write poetry, or hold a tune in a bucket, maybe I'd be up there singing about how wonderful it is to fall in love, or how badly it hurts when it all goes pear shaped. (Or if I could stand being in front of a camera!) Instead, I write about people going through the entire process of striving to find their happy ever after, in prose.
And what's wrong (to quote Sir Paul McCartney) with that?
If you enjoy reading romance, you can find a Annie's backlist on her website.
Her next book, The Captain's Christmas Bride, will be out in December, and can already be pre-ordered from Amazon