Sunday, July 3, 2011

We Have a Winner!

I'll have a longer post about this year's RWA National, but this takes precedence.

Academic procession of faculty and graduates             

It's been fashionable for a while to comment on the number of romance writers (and readers) with doctorates, medical degrees, law degrees, and so forth.  I understand the impulse to realign the preconceptions about romance novels away from the bonbon-eating reader and the barely-educated writer.  Smart women read romances and smart women write romances.  (Yes, and men too.)

Unfortunately, there's been a slight whiff of competition in this focus on Ivy League educations and prestigious professorships.  This post should end that competition, because I've met the winner.

Understand, I don't want to squelch the effort to tout our genre as smart books for smart readers -- let's keep that up by all means.  But we can stop pointing to this professor or that lawyer -- impressive credentials are all around us.  If I can find myself chatting with a romance author like Usha, one of 2,000 conference attendees last week, I think we can safely say outstanding professionals are easy to find in RWA's membership.

I met Usha in the waiting area for the agent/editor pitches. She's from India where she grew up reading Mills & Boon romances.  (She won't let her mother throw them away even though Usha now lives in the U.S.)  She's a registered nurse and Ph.D. -- a professor and research scientist at a well-known university where she's working on ways to prevent cancer in high-risk populations.

But wait -- there's more.  Usha writes paranormals because, as she put it, she loves her alpha heroes.  She then told me, "My partner asks me if she has anything to worry about with my heroes, but I've assured her that she has all their best characteristics."

I adore this woman:  She's working to prevent cancer deaths by day and writing about kick-ass heroes by night.  She's gay but her books have straight couples not because of heteronormativity but because she loves alpha heroes the way she loves her partner.  And she's smart, accomplished, has an impressive resume, and generally makes the rest of us advanced-degree types look like wankers.  (Researching ways to prevent cancer - ?  That sure beats anything I've done with my life.)

But before we melt into a puddle of admiration, remember that it's still about the books.  An hour after I met Usha, I met Courtney, a young woman from North Carolina.  Very young -- she was so fresh-faced that I was careful to ask her about "school" because I couldn't entirely be sure whether she'd graduated college or high school.  She starts a course in massage therapy in the fall but is using the summer to write.

Courtney is working on her first novel, a contemporary about a heroine who enters a reality show that's a cross between Hell's Kitchen and Cupcake Wars.  I asked her what happens and Courtney said of her heroine, "She wins."

Well, damn straight she does.  Our heroines win.  Our heroes excite us because of who they are, not just what they can do with their "equipment."  Good books get written by good writers.  And we judge books not by the letters after the author's name but by the power of their stories.

I hope both Usha and Courtney write great books -- because at the end of the day, it's their writing talent that really wins us over.

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