the Latrine

Romance Writers - Lowest of the Low

by Joseph Avery-North

For years, science fiction and fantasy writers were considered the bottom of the barrel but… there’s something worse. Much worse. They produce the paperback equivalent of daytime soap operas. Romance writers. I could call them romance novelists but that’s an insult to novelists everywhere, even the sci-fi/fantasy writers. Besides, I like sci-fi and fantasy so perhaps I should say “but that’s an insult to novelists everywhere, even the mystery and horror writers”.

I can honestly say I’ve never read a romance paperback (Note: I refer to them as paperbacks, not novels because to call them novels would be an insult to novels everywhere, in every language) although they are as readily available as well, anything you can imagine. Walk by a used bookstore. There they are, in the boxes on the ground out in front of the store. The sign “$0.25 or best offer or free; please, take them away so we don’t have to lug them back inside when the store closes” is easily overlooked. (Even the mystery and horror novels command $1.00 minimum. Sci-fi/fantasy novels get at least $2.00.) The poor little unloved romance paperbacks, sitting in their musty cardboard boxes are often mistaken for common rubbish. The only reason they aren’t hauled away as common rubbish by your friendly neighbourhood garbage collector is because these burly unwashed guys have higher standards than you might think. They may pick up leaky bags of diapers, mouldy half-eaten food and other unmentionable, unidentifiable things that smell really, really bad all day long but they will not soil their hands with romance paperbacks. Who can blame them? I can’t. I don’t.

Another common place to find them is in the laundry rooms of senior citizen complexes. You will find roughly 50 romance paperbacks to every Zane Grey novel. There is a reason for this. Zane Grey is cool. Horses and cowboys and Indians and a cowboy’s love for his horse and a horse’s love for his cowboy and an Indian’s love for his horse (and firewater and firesticks and scalps) never go out of style. Old fogies hoard Zane Grey novels. It reminds them of when they lied about their age and joined the cavalry and fought with Custer and then realized Custer didn’t have a prayer and they hightailed it over the border to Mexico for tequila and lolitas and burritos and bad gas and syphilis. Nobody hoards romance paperbacks. Well, that’s not exactly true. There are people who hoard romance paperbacks. They are the poor unfortunates that these romance paperback hacks prey upon. I’m not sure where they fit in to the social order but I do know where they fit into the evolutionary order. Nowhere. Absolutely nowhere.

Who reads these romance paperbacks? We’ve all seen them. They are everywhere. Sitting on buses. Sitting in laundromats. Sitting on buses on their way to laundromats. Sitting in laundromats wondering if their laundry will be done before their transfer expires. They are women. Women of all shapes and sizes and ages and all, fortunately, not actively on the singles market. They are young spinsters and old virgins and they live vicariously through the slightly less than steamy swill on the pages of their precious romance paperbacks. (Have you ever even seen a romance paperback in leather-bound hardcover? Nope. Not worthy of the cow that was sacrificed much like the unworthy cow that’s reading it.) These poor unfortunate victims (I now refrain from calling them women because they are so far removed from the sexual/reproductive game that they may as well be neutered.) dream daily, nightly, mid-afternoonly and before-tea-timely of being the heroine in these silly little stories.

*Sigh* “If only my life were as exciting, passionate, erotic and down-right smutty as that of Lady My-Husband-Was-A-Prince-Who-Died-But-I-Loved-Dearly-So-I-Was-Celibate-And-Lonely-Until-I-Shagged-The Pool-Boy-And-Married-Him-Only-To-Fall-In-Love-With-The-Gardener-Who-I-Had-Secret-Rendezvous’-With-In-The-Pantry nee Gold-digger” they say to themselves.

Oh, my, how their ovaries would quiver with the turn of each page (if they hadn’t already withered away and died from eternal boredom, virginity and inane plotlines).

Who writes this swill? Anybody and their dog. Usually, it’s the dog working under the pen name of their owner. Sometimes, it’s the owner who, in shame, uses their poor innocent pooch’s name as their pen name. Poor pooch. These pooches are invariably poodles. Much maligned poodles. Poor poodles never get a break. Always getting their fur cut in silly puppy pom-poms. Always forced to wear silly knit sweaters and ribbons, regardless of the pooches’ gender. The ribbons are almost always pink, regardless of the pooches’ gender. But, since these poor poodles are almost always neutered (God damn you to HELL Bob Barker, you sick son of a bitch!), gender isn’t much of an issue. After all, it’s not like they will die of shame (although the other dogs laugh at them quite a bit). Like their target audience, they are no longer part of the evolutionary scheme. The human romance writers are usually female. Men do occasionally write romance paperbacks but they do it under a female pen name. Self respecting males, like garbage collectors, don’t want to be seen within a city block of this swill (although money is money if you can get it without your friends knowing where it’s from).

What is the motivation for writing romance? That’s a damn good question. The answer is… well, actually it’s fairly complex and has been plaguing mankind for as long as we’ve had the printed word. It lies somewhere between loneliness, desperation, spite, idiocy, revenge for genital warts and flunking Creative Writing 101. Anybody can write this if they want to. As proof, I will lower my standards into the literary gutter and pen a passionate passage of pleasure:

The rain was cold on Jessica’s skin. Her thin white blouse and cotton skirt clung tightly to her lithe body, her breasts pert, the nipples straining against the fabric. Lord Randal was late yet, despite the cold, the warmth in her loins matched the warmth of her blood pulsing through her veins as she thought longingly of his remembered touch.

Jessica had been Lord Randal’s scullery maid for only two weeks yet to her, it already seemed a life time of intense pleasure. It was on her third night in the mansion that his penetrating gaze told her he wanted her. He whispered to her to meet him in the garden when Lady Randal retired for the evening. That night and each night since, when Lady Randal went to her chambers, Lord Randal would have his customary glass of port before meeting Jessica in the garden maze. The nights were filled with a passion beyond anything she had ever imagined. Painful at first, for she had never been with a man before, but his tenderness that first night when she began to weep won her over and she surrendered willingly to the skillful manoeuvres of his manhood deep inside her every night since.

Tonight, he was late and Jessica wondered what was keeping him. Had she displeased him? Was he tiring of her? Perhaps his eyes were turned towards the new chambermaid? Jessica shivered involuntarily, whether from the cold or from fear of losing his favour she did not know. The rain came down harder and harder, slashing against her flesh as she imagined her Lord finding pleasure in another woman’s embrace and thankfully, the rain washed away the tears that began welling up in her eyes. Just when she thought she could take no more of the lonely waiting, she felt his hands upon her. He had come up from behind her, unheard in the storm, his hands reaching around to cup her breasts as his breath came warm upon her neck, his teeth gently biting into her soft skin.

OK. At this point, I should say that I have a cold. I do. I’m not making this up. I’m sick. I’ve blown so much snot out of my nose tonight that I think my brains are in the pile of soggy Kleenexes in my waste basket. I’m going to go slam my head against the wall until the pain stops. I am ashamed. I hang down my head and wish I had a gas stove instead of an electric one. I think I’ve made my point.

Lovingly yours,

Joseph Avery-North

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