Pen writingBack in September, I was attending the Matera Women’s Fiction Festival and I was at a lecture on self-publishing by romance writers Bella Andre and Tina Folsom.

The talk was informative and inspiring, and the writers shared their experiences controlling their writing careers and their passion for their writing.

When the question and answer session arrived, one woman asked a question I’ve heard variations of over the years of attending writing talks with women authors.

The question, essentially, boils down to: How can you, as a woman author, write silly books like romances that make the rest of us look bad?

I should preface this by saying that I am no fan of the romance genre. However, I have worked with great critique partners who are excellent writers and write romance. I’ve always been honest in telling them I‘m no expert on romance novels, and they’ve always told me they appreciate my feedback as a writer, even one who generally does not read their genre. I’ve also benefitted greatly from their critiques, suggestions and advice.

Romance is not the only genre I don’t generally read. I also tend to avoid fantasy, thrillers, and science fiction.

But I feel that romance novels (and, perhaps, more broadly women’s fiction/commercial fiction) written by women tend to serve as a battle cry for female authors and aspiring female authors who feel that literary fiction is the only way to be taken seriously.

What if the author in question doesn’t wish to write literary fiction?

I can’t help but wonder if successful male authors are asked the same questions. Do writers get up at conferences and ask Stephen King or James Patterson why they don’t write literary fiction? Are those commercial writers held up as examples of authors who ‘make male authors look less intelligent’?

Authors write in the genres that interest them. They write the stories they’re passionate about. We, as readers, should be pleased about their success, even if they write in genres that aren’t what we prefer to read.

As women authors, we would do far better to applaud the success of other women writers rather than grumbling that they’re not writing what “we” deem worthy.

Bella Andre summed it up best at the conference. As an extremely bright and well-spoken woman, with an economics degree from Stanford and a successful writing career she shaped on her own, outside of the traditional world of literary agents and publishing houses, she told the audience she’s writing what she loves and she feels empowered to write anything she wants, and won’t be told what to do by others.

How can you top that?

So applause to all those successful female authors who are writing in genres they’re passionate about, and attracting enthusiastic readers.

Because women authors should be able to write whatever they want.