Sunday, February 07, 2010

Smart Woman: Courtney Milan, debut historical romance author

Courtney Milan: For this post, TJ asked me to provide a biography explaining why I was "smart." I balked. First, anytime anyone ever declares themselves smart, all I can think of is Homer Simpson dancing around, declaring, "I am so smart!" while his house caught fire behind him. Second, I don't think biography ever proves someone is smart. You can have PhDs from every Ivy League school out there and still not be smart, and there are some extremely intelligent people who have never graduated from anything.

Smart isn't a piece of paper. It isn't even several hundred pieces of paper bound according to university rules into a dissertation. You judge smart by how someone acts, what they do, how they make decisions--not by whether they've managed to grab themselves a handful of degrees.

I know this, because I do actually have that handful of degrees, and they didn't stop me from being stupid. For years of my adult life, I shelved my growing collection of romance books spine-in on my shelves so my "smart" friends wouldn't realize I was reading them. I spent money on hefty volumes I didn't want to read, just so they would provide protective coloration when I walked up to the bookstore counter. If someone caught me reading one, I would make excuses--"oh, I just want to see what the masses enjoy."

And these days, I'm so embarrassed to admit that's what I did, because you know what? That was pretty stupid of me. It was stupid to care what other people thought of my reading habits. It was stupid to spend money on books I didn't want to read, just so I could get the ones I really enjoyed. How smart was it to spend so much effort hiding who I was?

That's why I can say unequivocally, smart women read romance. The act of grabbing a romance is socially subversive. It says, "Bookstore clerk, I don't care what you think of my reading tastes." The act of openly displaying one of Those Covers on the subway is one of social defiance: "I don't care whether you think I'm stupid." Reading romance says, "I am not going to bother kowtowing to your foolish preconceptions about me." Reading romance says, "I care about relationships, community, and love, and it is not stupid to think that those things are important."

Bio: Courtney Milan, while not herself smart [Ed. note: sorry for the interruption, but just wanted to remind you she wrote this herself. I think she's brilliant], still managed to bamboozle people into publishing her first book, Proof by Seduction, about a Cambridge-educated scientific lord, and the much, much smarter woman who brings him to his knees. Courtney lives with her dog (who outsmarts her on a daily basis) and her husband (who tries but can never quite manage it). She has a bunch of diplomas moldering in her basement, which happen to be covered with Latin words that declare her smart. The romance novels on her keeper shelf are a lot more fun.


SiNn said...

Inever hid what i read not ever when someone asked me why i read what i did id shrug and say because I like it sometimes at school i would leave my book in mybag not because i was ashamed but because my school was strict on what was permitted durring reading time and such. I graduated and im smart and proud to be one of the smart romance readers

Susan Macatee said...

I have to admit I came to romance late in life, because I also thought romance wasn't a genre that would hold my interest. But I loved science fiction and that genre is as maligned as romance! Of course with sci-fi, you get labeled as a geek, rather than as being dumb.

But I finally did discover romance...not only has it become my favorite genre, but I write it too. I have two published novels, historical and time travel and have written two stories for romance anthologies.

I'm proud to be a romance writer and never ashamed to show I love to read it too!

Brandie N said...

Wow, when I read you post it brought back so many memories. I was the one who was ridiculed about reading junk until I starting telling people it was for research :)

They believed me! It wasn't though...I loved happy endings :)



There's smart and then there's smart. Me, I'm just a smart-ass.

Karen H said...

I have read romance novels for years (seems like eons, really) and whenever someone would ask me what I was reading I would say something like 'just another trashy novel' and let it go at that. But I've changed my own attitude! Now, when someone asks me about my book, I proudly display the cover and say a little something about it such as a book by my favorite author or a debut book by a great new author. I find my more in-depth answer will usually generate a conversation about the book, the author and/or the genre.

The Scarf Princess said...

I used to be worried about letting people know what I read, but as I've gotten older I just don't let it bother me. I've found too many people out there with the same reading preferences to be embarrassed anymore.

Rob Preece/ said...

I so agree. Reading is about enjoyment. I'm sure there is some reward for reading depressing stories where they all die at the end, but for me, if I want to get depressed, I look at my slush pile. Pleasure reading should be a pleasure and well-written romance is always that.

Rob Preece

Jane L said...

When I was reading this topic to my husband, who is a huge support to me as an aspiring author. He laughed, he said, "Honey, if people think you are dumb, because you read and write romance. Your in GREAT company! Because there are thousands of people buying these books, generating millions of dollars into our economy! Go for it!"
Yes! Thanks to all the authors out there who are smart enough to keep going and give us great stories! THANK YOU!

Unknown said...

I love reading romance noval and I am proud of it. I don't mind telling anyone thats what I read. My MIL buys me a book every year at Christmas and I tell her that I won't read it. I tell her I only read trashy romance noval but she never buys them.

Trish Albright said...

Maybe we should have bumper stickers made: Practice Social Defiance: Read Romance! I kind of like it!

TJ Bennett said...

Trish, what a great idea!


chey said...

I never hid what I was reading. If someone asks "Do you read THOSE books?", I always wonder if they've read anything since they got out of school. A lot of the people who want to know say that they themselves are "too busy to read" or "don't like to read". I started answering the questions with "what do you like to read?"

Anonymous said...

Trish, hie thyself to CafePress! I want one!

I confess to using book covers and usually to being too shy to wear my AAR shirts. (From CafePress.) But I will totally put that bumper sticker on my care. -- willaful