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Authors make the case for romance at Northwest Passages Book Club

Romance authors, left to right, Katee Robert, Rebecca Zanetti, Lucy Gilmore and Asa Maria Bradley discuss their work Monday during Auntie’s Presents - Galentine’s Day, a Northwest Passages Event held at the Montvale Event Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Romance fiction authors Asa Bradley, Katee Robert, Rebecca Zanetti, and Lucy Gilmore discussed everything from odd fan interactions and common misconceptions about the genre to their individual inspirations and nailing down how to write the perfect romance scene at Monday night’s Northwest Passages Galentine’s Day event.

All Inland Northwest locals, the authors featured are prolific. Robert and Zanetti have had more than 50 books published. And each has a loyal following.

Robert and Zanetti have been featured on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists; both incidentally have also had fans get tattoos of their names.

Despite the loyal and sustaining audience, however, romance fiction has been widely derided and often ignored by critics. Robert explained the tendency in the literary community to dismiss romance fiction outright because “it’s about kissing. Or ‘Oh, it’s just those lady porn books.’”

“But, it’s not all about sex,” Zanetti said. “That’s a small part of it. Sure it’s an important part, but it is in life, too.”

Each of the authors said they have had to deal with a certain stigma that comes with writing romance, but now that their readers have created their own network of criticism, what they affectionately call “Romancelandia,” they no longer worry so much about the opinions of outsiders.

“There are so many other things that get mansplained to me,” Bradley said. “I don’t have the energy.”

A lot of that derision has come from the recent popularity of works like Stephanie Meyers’ “Twilight” and E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” and their critical reception. However, the authors had very few negative thoughts to share about the role of those series in the romance fiction industry overall.

“Having the hindsight of about a decade now, I think they were instrumental in bringing a significant number of adult readers back to reading books,” Robert said. “Is there problematic content? Yeah. But they have (brought) people back to reading.”

Romance readers typically read eight to 10 books on average in a month.

“We’re not competing with other authors,” Zanetti said. “We’re competing with Netflix.”

“So, for better or worse,” Robert said, “(considering) the original content of ‘Fifty Shades of Twilight,’ they have done something really good for our industry and, I would say, for our society as a whole.”

In parting, each of the authors shared a little advice for aspiring romance fiction authors: “Read a lot,” Gilmore said. “There are people that think it would be so easy to write, but … until you read it and love it, I don’t think you can ever successfully write it.”

“Then sit down and start writing,” Zanetti said. “People get a lot of books and join workshops and go for long walks but they never quite sit down and actually start writing.”

“Write a lot,” Bradley said, also explaining that finding a group of writers who work at your level can be invaluable. She recommended joining a local National Writing Month group and finding an editor you can trust to maintain your voice.

“And then finish writing,” Robert said. “That’s the hard part.”