Monday, June 14, 2010


by Mala Bhattacharjee

Clinch covers. Shirtless hunks. Besmirched virgins. Things that heave and quiver. Smut. People hear romance novel and a few specific characteristics crop up. It's a phenomenon that I've not only encountered as a life-long romance reader, but also as a life-long fan of soap operas. You say soap and you garner an eye-roll, and a litany of things that people think make up the medium. Evil twins. People back from the dead. Secret babies. Multiple marriages. Amnesia. All of it is usually imparted with the lofty idea that these few things are the sum total of  Days of our Lives or As the World Turns… and the accompanying idea that anyone who enjoys it all must have a screw loose. Since I now work at Soap Opera Weekly magazine, I guess I must have several screws loose, and that's quite all right by me!

Soaps and romance novels have a lot in common -- and not just that ATWT's Ewa Da Cruz (Vienna) seems to be on the cover of every other book on the shelves these days. Genres geared towards women have long been cause for ridicule, for stigma. While male sports fans are given free license to paint their bare chests and dance around on TV in below freezing temperatures, women get funny looks on the subway for reading a novel with a scantily-clad heroine on the cover or talking about their "stories" at the water cooler. I can't tell you how many times I've actually gotten sympathetic looks when I tell people where I work, with people clicking their tongues and going, "Oh, this means you have to watch soaps every day?"  Why, yes. It does. And guess what?  I happen to like it!   Gasp. The horror.

So, what do you do when people take what you love, what you "do" and treat it like it's radioactive, just because it involves some over-the-top tropes and people falling in love?

Well, if you're me, you launch into a diatribe about how empowering it is for women to have this kind of creative outlet. You point out that romance novels are an expression of female sexuality and sensibility that doesn't really exist anywhere else… and that Kathleen Woodiwiss wrote the infamous and ground-breaking THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER years before The Tudors' Jonathan Rhys-Meyers was even born. (So much for Showtime cornering the market on trashy period drama, hmm?) And you also note that soap operas tackled difficult social issues like passing for white (Carla Gray on One Life to Live), the AIDS crisis (Cindy on All My Children and Robin and Stone on General Hospital) and abortion (Erica on AMC, The Young and the Restless' Ashley) when other TV shows were loath to touch such heavy material. And you say, "It's mine. This genre is for me… and it could be for you, too, if you actually gave it a chance."

Then, you crack open Tessa Dare's ONE DANCE WITH A DUKE, switch on The Bold and the Beautiful, and say…"Screw it!"♥

Mala Bhattacharjee is currently news editor, columnist and blogger for Soap Opera Weekly magazine. While not exactly young or restless, she's working on her first young adult novel. Some day soon she'll have a book out; for now, find her at her blogs at and, or pick up an issue of SOW her weekly column, The Soapbox, and the latest daytime dish!


  1. WOW! What a fabulous job. I'm envious. I'm a soap addict. ABC soaps. Been watching All my Children since Erica was young. And Tad was a cad. Same with General Hospital and One Life to Live. No apologies here. And when people comment against romance -- I just remind them that over 50% of mass market paperbacks sold each year are romance. 'nuf said.

  2. Another response: "Whassa matter? You gotta problem with sex?"

    That shuts them up.

  3. Excellent post! I agree 100%. As a romance reader/writer and a soap fan, I find much to celebrate in both genres, and never apologize for my interest in either.

  4. You've offered up some great new ammo, Mala - so thanks! I have a variety of responses depending on the individual, how much time I have and what mood I'm in. I also like to say "Men prefer magazines with brown paper wrappers over them - at least romances have PLOT." But I'm just as apt to go into a lengthy pronouncement about the fact that there is a romance in just about every book ever written. There is love or passion or sex in novels since time began. And that women write romance novels to empower themselves! And that we must be doing something right because it outsells every other kind of fiction.

    As for the soaps, as a former actress who had the good fortune to work a number of times on Guiding Light, I can tell anyone that it is some of the hardest work around. So there!'

    Thanks for championing romance!

  5. Thanks for reading and for the comments, everyone!

    You know what's been funny to me? Sometimes I'll see resistance towards romance novels from soap fans, or derision for soaps from romance fans, and I really don't get it! Where does that come from, when they serve much the same purpose? Can't we all just get along?

  6. I don't know why fans of either genre would look down on the other either. As you pointed they are both so similar.

    "And you also note that soap operas tackled difficult social issues like passing for white (Carla Gray on One Life to Live), the AIDS crisis (Cindy on All My Children and Robin and Stone on General Hospital) and abortion (Erica on AMC, The Young and the Restless' Ashley)"

    In addition to that they've also tackled the war in Vietnam (AMC) and same-sex relationships and marriage(OLTL, AMC,ATWT and GL)with varying success. Soaps aren't always daring but they used to and sometimes still do tackle things that primetime doesn't do very often and sometimes they do a better job.