One thing the internet has taught us is, if there is a thing, there are fans of that thing. If there are fans of a thing, they will congregate. When fans of a thing congregate, they will talk about the thing they love…and talk about it and talk about it and talk about it. Sometimes, they’ll talk about the person who makes the thing, people involved with making the thing, or set aside special times to talk about the thing either online or in person, even when this involves travel and overnight accommodations. Alternatively, they may begin to make things of their own, that are like and/or inspired by the thing they all love. Then, they can talk about those things, which may, in turn, spark any of the other activities, bringing it all around full circle to fans making things of their own, which then become the things that attract people who like that sort of thing, and, well, you get the picture. Let’s have a closer look.
First off, let’s get our vernacular straight. According to Merriam-Webster, the word “fanatic,” from which “fan” derives, is “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.” Sounds about right. Well, halfway right. Please raise your hand if you have ever been involved in any sort of fandom, in the romance community, or otherwise, where there was absolutely no criticism of anything. Anybody? Anybody? Bueller? (points to anyone who caught that reference.) Exactly. The rest of it, though, we’ll take. While every genre has their devotees, the romance genre can be considered a special breed. Our stories are based on people and relationships, and people being happy in those relationships. This makes for a pretty powerful sisterhood (with enough brothers sprinkled in to make it interesting; men do read romance, too, and some even write it.)
Back in the day (aka before the interwebs were even a thing) romance fans only had a few ways to connect. Bookstores, new or used, libraries and their attendant book sales were natural gathering places, and when Romantic Times magazine was tabloid sized (now, it’s the RT Book Reviews website) That widened the net, allowing romance fans to read more about the lives and creative processes of the authors who wrote those wonderful books. Sometimes, especially when pictures came out of that year’s Romance Writers of America national conference, we’d get to see a glimpse not only of a favorite writer, but several of them, together. Romance writers traveling in packs could be a heady sight for the average reader, tantalized by tidbits of books yet to come, deals sealed, and, most of all, the sense of belonging that the romance community brings.
In those earlier times, if readers wanted to communicate to their favorite writers, they could write them actual paper letters, often in care of their publisher, and more often than not, get a reply. Sometimes, the author would have a newsletter they would mail out to their faithful readers. Maybe there would be a pen pal section in those newsletters, where fans could connect with other fans. Sometimes, there would even be an actual, sanctioned fan club, where readers who joined could get special information, even autographed photos of their favorite writer, personal tidbits and create a community that way.
Ever since there have been books, there have been book groups. Maybe the first thing that comes to mind is the literary sort of book club, where members read the latest bestseller (or feel guilty about not reading the latest bestseller,) but that’s not the only sort. Many chain bookstores have, or have had, reading groups specifically for the romance genre, and, thanks to the internet, there are even groups dedicated to reading the books of individual authors. Individual series? Sure. Individual books? You bet.
Sometimes, the appreciation of a genre, author, series, book, or character, can’t be contained, and fans’ appreciation spills over into inspiration. Maybe it’s a desire to pick images of actors who resemble the reader’s image of favorite characters, or create original art of the same. Maybe, for some, the stories and interaction with the author and other fans leads to a moment of “hey, I want to try that,” and the fan takes their first step into writing something of their own, fueled by their reading, and cheered on by others who love the same sorts of stories.
It doesn’t end there. Those who stick with it may end up with fans of their own, who go on to write their stories, gain their own fans, and so on and so on and so on….
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you have contact with other romance fans? If so, is that in person, by mail, or on the internet? Do you prefer to get together with fans of the genre in general, or get more specific, by genre, author, or series? Have you ever created anything, either in visual media or as a story of your own, inspired by a favorite novel, series, or author? Ever been to a convention or gathering of those who love what you love? If so, pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. If you’re not a fan of being a fan, we’d love to hear about that, too. There’s room at this table for everybody.