In The Happily Ever After (Doubleday, Aug.), Steinberg recounts becoming both a fan and a writer of romance novels.
You describe writing your forthcoming romance novel (Searching For Rose, Zebra, August). How did you become interested in the genre?
I went through a divorce a few years ago, and it was a sad, difficult time for me. I’ve always been interested in romance, and I thought, this would be a time to actually learn about love. The [genre’s] rule that, at the end, it has to reach that happy ending—I needed that. Then it seemed if I wanted to take it seriously, I should try to write this stuff. To force myself to find a happy ending.
Part of the draw was the community. It exists in romance in a way that it does almost nowhere else, the lifelong dedication, the people who are completely invested in personal ways—it’s really inspiring. I wanted to learn from that, too. And then as a writer, I always want to explore something that I’m interested in. This is my third memoir, and I see these three books as a unit. In some way they’re repeating stories, but this is the end of this unit, for me. This is exactly how I want it to end.
What do you say, as someone who has a foot in both the literary and the romance world, to those who are dismissive of romance?
At some level, it’s just a simple, misogynist double standard. It’s that historical process of men taking over the novel from women. It’s an entire type of reader, an entire type of author, they’re trying to marginalize. That’s a big part of what the canon is. It’s not like the mainstream and romance is some sort of side stream; romance really is the novel, that’s the mainstream, and the authors of “serious” literature have diverted that towards themselves. Learning that subverted the entire history that I was taught about “real” literature.
What drew you to the Gothic in your fiction?
I like a good, really dark story that just goes all the way down and doesn’t come back. But as a writer, the real challenge was to find the light—find the love, find the connection. It was this amazing challenge personally and in my life as a writer.
What was the pivotal romance novel for you?
Jane doesn’t need my due, but the answer is Jane Austen. Northanger Abbey was a gateway for me. In Austen, I always felt, where is the darkness? In Northanger she let it in more.