Monday, April 16, 2007

Tigers, Tigers, Burning Bright


Last summer, I guilted and embarrassed family friend and Princeton University prof Bill Gleason into writing a GuestBlog for Romance: By the Blog’s Scholars on Romance Week.” His contribution was such a success that Bill and I thought it might be fun if the RBtheBlog readers’ community hosted for a day Bill’s Princeton U undergrad “American Best Sellers” class.

Bill’s ABS class [About 1/4 shown in photo, left, after watching 1st half of "Gone With the Wind" last night] examines popular works of American literature in their historical contexts, starting with the Puritan era, working through novels like “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Little Women,” “Tarzan of the Apes,” and wrapping up with “Gone With the Wind.”

Consider today’s RBtheBlog event a grand experiment in which romance readers and industry folks get to educate an interested, fairly captive “outside world” audience. These young men and women are newbies to romance fiction.

Please, oh, please be kind and gentle in interpreting their queries, for they’re being courageous in meeting us on our hallowed turf, this safe haven where we talk about romance “like it matters,” and with no apologies to nobody.

As is ever the way here at RBtheBlog, there’s always room for varying thoughtful opinions, but, please, offer them with respect and a cyber-smile.

When you comment, please let us know whether you're one of Bill’s students, or what part you play in the romance community: reader, writer, academic, industry, etc.

Although they’re not reading a romance novel per se, during the unit on “Gone with the Wind,” Bill introduces the romance genre, talks a bit about how varied and influential the genre is today, and has the students read short pieces by Jennifer Crusie and Pamela Regis about romance, especially focusing on the critical myths and biases about the genre.

So, his students would like to start with the question, “Why isn’t ‘Gone With the Wind’ a romance?”

Next, they come up with several intuitive questions that we discuss here and throughout the romance community including:

“What’s your favorite part of a romance novel?” Followed by the old standby we discuss often, one that begs discussion when attempting to define many types of artistic or literary expression, “Do you consider romance novels a form of pornography?”

Students also are interested in knowing, “Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public,” “Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you,” and a terrific one, “Would you rather read about a character who’s the epitome of physical perfection, or someone “normal?”

One of Bill’s students notes that male characters in many of the romances s/he’d read, usually have an almost animalistic sexuality, while the female characters are generally more delicate -- though the heroines are often also strong-willed and intelligent, and appealing to the male for those reasons. "Is this the usual scenario? And what does it mean to have the male played up this way?"

And another student finds in Regency romances that the male is usually more sexually experienced character. S/he wants to know, "is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?"

Wondering whether there’s a construct or form specific to romance novels, one participant wonders whether there “are there other traces of formal elements at play in [romance] novels that might give them greater literary status than the typical mass-produced, formulaic fiction?”

Finally, we’re asked a particularly relevant question in light of the increasing number of male readers of romance, “what’s the appeal of romance to men?”

These are great starting points for today’s class. Let’s have at, professors for a day, and see where our journey takes us! And do take the opportunity to learn as you teach.

Read not to contradict and confute,
nor to believe and take for granted...
but to weigh and consider. -- Francis Bacon

159 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone!
I am a student in Professor Gleason's class. I actually have a question regarding the romance genre. I actually adore reading romance novels (gotta love Charlaine Harris, Laurel K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, Julia Quinn, Janet Evanovich to name just a few of the many I read). I probably read 70-80% romance and 30% sci-fi/fantasy though typically these two genres overlap. But the question I want to ask is how do you define the differences between porn, romance, and erotica. There was an instance when one of my male friends picked up a romance book I had left lying in my room and read a sex scene (it was the Anita Blake series). He automatically assumed I was reading porn because the book had a graphic scene in it. I didn't feel it was porn, I saw it a romance novel that was heavy on the erotic side. Is there even a difference between erotica like say Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty series and traditional romance novels like Lynn Kurland.
Thanks!
-nana

Angel said...

Hello. I'm a reader who's up past her bedtime (it's 2AM here. ugh). I want to answer some of the questions and then hie me off to my bed.

“What’s your favorite part of a romance novel?”

The ongoing give-and-take between the couple. How do they balance their lives? Do they support each other? Do they even know how? Can they learn?

I'm attracted to the genre because of my fascination with one question: is it possible to have a just relationship? How does that work? How does it fall apart, and why?

It's the same thing that draws me to First Contact stories in Science Fiction, I think. I'm fascinated by how separate entities can manage to overcome their differences and work out a mutually benefiting relationship. Or fail at it. How they cast each other as demons or angels or try to see the alien creatures as people.

Considering how culture has universally, though in many different ways and to various degrees, separated and alienated men and women from each other, the story of two creatures from these groups trying to understand each other is very similar.

My ideal Romance story is a Mystery series, actually. The four Harriet Vane books of the Lord Peter Wimsey series. They fit the RWA's requirements of a Romance (main relationship, positive conclusion) and, along the way, they explore class, power, justice, the status of women in the 1930s.

My favorite scene is a an argument in the final book, "Busman's Honeymooon." Peter and Harriet both consider using the emotional leverage they have over each other, but they stop just short. Later, when their heads are clear, they talk it over and decide that they "won't stand for matrimonial blackmail." They'll be fair with each other. But, of course, a decision like that isn't made once. It's made over and over again. And sometimes trust is broken.

That's what fascinates me. The miracle of understanding. The miracle of kindness. How people can reach out through layers of confusion, brain chemistry, cultural programming, the whole mess... and try to be decent to each other because of some indefinable thing called "love."

“Do you consider romance novels a form of pornography?”

No. Romances with graphic sex could probably be used like porn (i.e. someone could pick them up, skip straight to the descriptions of sex and use them to get turned on), but I don't use it that way, so it isn't porn to me.

“Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public,”

Not if the book cover is an awful image of near-naked people looking ridiculous. Otherwise, it doesn't bother me. I'm reading a book titled "Tied to the Tracks" by Rosina Lippi right now with a beautiful, subdued cover and it doesn't shame me at all to take it out in public.

“Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you,”

Some of them do. When they do, it bothers me, yes.

“Would you rather read about a character who’s the epitome of physical perfection, or someone “normal?”

I prefer characters on the normal end of the scale, myself.

"Is this the usual scenario? And what does it mean to have the male played up this way?"

It's a scenario I've seen repeated often enough. For me, it means that I'm going to close the book and find something else to read.

Anna Campbell said...

Hi Nana. Great to meet another romance reader. I write historical romance. The porn/romance question is one I find really interesting. The current state of my thinking on this (it probably will change!) is that people read romance to go through the emotional journey with the hero and the heroine. A love scene in a romance is a major part of that emotional journey and it's an emotional response primarily that the writer is seeking to elicit from the reader. Of course, that emotional response doesn't necessarily exclude graphic descriptions! I think porn is seeking different reactions! Erotica, it seems to me, can fall on either side of this divide. It's an issue of intent and effect rather than style.

Hi, Angel! I adore the Peter Wimsey books too and I'd definitely count those later ones which recount the Peter/Harriet relationship as romances. There's so much style in Sayers's writing, isn't there? Just magic.

Laura Vivanco said...

Hello, I'm a romance reader and an academic.

“Why isn’t ‘Gone With the Wind’ a romance?”

I haven't read GWTW, and that's because I knew that things didn't really turn out right at the end. Of course, you can imagine a happy ending for GWTW if you want, but it's not there in the text. So, being someone who reads romance at least partly for the happy resolution at the end, I didn't want to try GWTW. Romances almost always end with the couple in love and together. It's what the Romance Writers of America call the 'An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending' and it's one of the key elements that makes a romance a romance (as opposed to, for example, romantic fiction, which may or may not have a happy/optimistic ending).

“What’s your favorite part of a romance novel?”

Hmm. Tricky. I like lots of parts, and it does depend on the individual novel. I like it when the hero and heroine show that they understand and love each other. It's the part of the romance that's like Captain Wentworth's letter in Austen's Persuasion and then the discussion which follows it (Chapter 23).

“Do you consider romance novels a form of pornography?”

The short answer is 'no'. For the longer answer as to why it's 'no', see here, which is a bit of a 'here's an answer I prepared earlier sort of reply ;-)

“Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public,”

I don't tend to read in public because when I'm in public I'm usually busy, but I used to be embarrassed about taking them out of the library. I got over that. And those were fairly tame covers. In the UK we mostly have just the Mills & Boon romances (US Harlequins) and those covers aren't the sort with flowers and women popping out of their bodices clinging to men whose shirts are falling off. It was just the stigma of being seen reading a romance. Like I said, I got over that.

“Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you,”

Well, some possibly do, but I'd tend to put that down to bad characterisation. And yes, it bothers me. Characters in a romance should always be three-dimensional individuals with unique personalities.

“Would you rather read about a character who’s the epitome of physical perfection, or someone “normal?”

I don't really care what the characters look like as long as they love each other. Cyrano de Bergerac has a huge nose but I don't think the reader can help but fall a little bit in love with him for his brain (though the story itself, if it were a novel, would be 'romantic' rather than 'romance', as it's got an unhappy ending).

male characters in many of the romances [...] have an almost animalistic sexuality, while the female characters are generally more delicate -- though the heroines are often also strong-willed and intelligent, and appealing to the male for those reasons. "Is this the usual scenario? And what does it mean to have the male played up this way?"

I think this sometimes has something to do with ideas about male sexuality more generally. There's the myth that men think about sex every xxx seconds, for example, and that men don't discriminate as much in their sexual choices as women do. So I suspect that romances that portray men that way are sometimes trying to come to terms with those particular concepts about male sexuality. I don't believe those myths - I think there's a lot of variation and men being compared to animals does sometimes worry me because it can come across as sexist, implying that men aren't really in control of themselves, they're not rational when it comes to sex, they're just driven by their hormones and a particular body-part. On the other hand, comparisons between men and powerful animals such as panthers and wolves can just be a way to appreciate the beauty of the male body - the muscular strength, for example, the 'feline grace' with which the hero moves etc. And I'm fine with that - that's an author using a metaphor for visual comparison.

I haven't come across many romances in which the females have 'delicate' sexualities. They're usually not quite so strong physically, but that doesn't mean they're weak. Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels is a good example of a huge, strong hero paired with a heroine who looks very delicate. Dain worries he might be able to break her. But at one point she shoots him (not fatally, or it wouldn't be a romance) and she has a libido just as active as his.

So, to conclude this rather long answer, I think you have to go on a case by case basis to work out what the metaphors/descriptions are saying in the context of each individual romance.

in Regency romances [...] the male is usually more sexually experienced character. [...] "is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?"

Yes, I think so. It does make more sense for women to have less experience in a historical setting, particularly if the woman was unmarried. That said, one can get the impression that there's sometimes a bit of a double-standard going on in some romances, even contemporary ones. Again, it depends on the author. If the hero is very experienced (and there are actually some romances with virgin heroes) and the heroine is still a virgin, then I want the author to give me a good reason why this is the case (e.g. the heroine has strong religious beliefs, or she'd be 'ruined' if she wasn't a virgin, or something). And if she's a virgin in a contemporary but hasn't even got a clue about her own anatomy or doesn't know what an orgasm is, I'm not going to believe that story one little bit, because she'd have had to have spent the past twenty or thirty ears of her life in a media black-out. ;-) But the really clueless heroines who don't know that sort of thing are generally in historicals, where it makes more sense.

“are there other traces of formal elements at play in [romance] novels that might give them greater literary status than the typical mass-produced, formulaic fiction?”

I think there are some romance novels which deserve to be given greater respect and value because they're well-written texts which work on a number of levels (e.g. theme, characterisation, plot, imagery).

“what’s the appeal of romance to men?”

I'm not sure one can generalise. Men wrote most of the great romantic plays, poems and novels, (e.g. Shakespeare, Byron, Tolstoy) so I don't think men should be allergic to stories about love. Romance has so many sub-genres there's probably something there to suit the tastes of any reader. If someone likes adventure/mystery there's romantic suspense. If someone wants something 'hot' there's erotic romance. If someone enjoys history there are the historicals, and so on. And there are quite a few male romance authors.

Laura Vivanco said...

the question I want to ask is how do you define the differences between porn, romance, and erotica.

Nana, you might like to take a look at what Sarah Frantz had to say about the difference between porn and erotica. There's also Passionate Ink's (the erotic romance chapter of the Romance Writers of America) short reply to the question of the differences between porn, erotica, erotic romance and 'sexy' romances.

Nikki Magennis said...

Hi all,

I'm a writer of erotica, though my book has 'erotic romance' on the spine, so I guess I fit in here somewhere! I'm definitely not an academic, but I'll do my best!

Nana, here goes on the porn, romance, erotica subject... you could probably write several theses on the topic and the various opinions held! All these ideas are merely my own take on the subject, of course....

The difference between porn and erotica - is mostly a value judgement. Porn is supposed to have no artistic merit. Erotica is supposed to have some aesthetic (or literary) angle. Both are intended to arouse the reader, but while reading erotica on the bus will make you look like a learned, freethinking woman of the world, reading porn will make you look like a criminal.

Obviously there's a difference between a porn mag and a masterpiece of erotic fiction (some say Anais Nin, some say Henry Miller or Nabakov). But it's a question of degree - and if one dispensed with the labels, I'd say comes down to more an issue of the quality of writing than whether it fits in one box or another. Because porn is generally a pejorative term, whereas erotica confers some cachet or merit to the writing.

- as an aside, we've discussed this issue quite a bit over at the Lustbites blog - check out this post, and have a riffle through the archives for more. We like to chew over topics like this!

As for the romance question, well, bear in mind I'm a Brit and I believe the romance market is substantially different over here. (Evanovich is 'crime' or 'comedy' on our bookshelves, def not romance.)

Personally I would say, a romance has its primary focus on the feelings (esp love) of the characters, rather than necessarily the sex. It's a love story, simply put. My first novel was a love story, only the sex was more frequent and varied and promiscuous than a 'trad' romance. An erotic novel is not necessarily a romance, as it may not contain any 'love' at all. Should that be put on the spine? Ingredients: BDSM, m/m, threesomes; Warning: contains no love.

To get all philosophical about it, it depends on how you classify love. All my characters have some feeling for each other, or the sex is meaningless. That might be love in different degrees or anti-love, but it always carries some emotional charge.

There you go, the answer to the question is *love*! Aw, ain't it always? : )

Phew! Did any of that make sense? I'll have a look at some of the other questions now and see if I can pretend to act knowledgeable about them! If any of you have specific questions about erotica, I'll be happy to make a stab at answering them.

Nikki Magennis said...

Re 'Would you rather read about a character who's the epitome of physical perfection or someone normal'

Perhaps I'm oversensitive to this, or snobbish, even. Whenever I read '6ft, well-built, tanned, white teeth, rippling six pack', I think, oh dear, I'm so sick of these perfect heroines.

Sorry, I'll be serious. For me, I want a vivid, real, breathing character, and the flaws are what makes a character unique and thus compelling. I even like ugly. I like writing that explores and subverts the standard ideas of beauty and suggests something deeper.

- the appeal of romance to men.

Much the same as it is to women, I'd imagine. Thrills, emotional resonance, empathy, a little sexy, a good plot. I know the books are aimed and marketed mostly towards a female audience (Black Lace, my publisher, produces 'erotica by women, for women') but I'm sure they're read by a fair few men. I've heard from male fans who didn't seem aware or bothered by the female-aspect of BL books.

Perhaps some of the guys are looking for insights into the tangled minds of women. Maybe they just get a kick out of it.

I suspect I'll never know for sure!

Diana Groe said...

Hello!

Romance spans a wide range of sensuality levels from sweet (chaste kisses only) to erotica (let your imagination run wild.) Everyone sets their own line at what constitutes pornography, but for me, context is everything. If a lovescene doesn't advance the story or reveal deeper truths about the characters, then however mild it may be, the scene will smack of gratuitous titillation. The focus of romance is the relationship in all its facets, emotional, spiritual and of course physical.

Frequently, the heroes do have more experience than the heroines, but there have been notable exceptions. In Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, the hero was a virgin, albeit a willing pupil of the carnal arts.

I personally receive many fan letters from male readers because I write epic, dramatic stories with as many fight scenes as love scenes. Of course, they say they enjoy the swordplay or the naval battle, but the unspoken applause may come for my love scenes as well since I don't feel bound to constantly remain in the heroine's point of view.

About perfect characters--how boring that would be. In my next release, SILK DREAMS, my heroine is an epileptic and in the 10th century, people afflicted with "the falling sickness" had a rough go. How she deals with her condition is a major theme of the story.

I'm glad you're taking the time to examine Romance. Please let me know if I can answer any questions for you.

Diana Groe
www.dianagroe.com
MAIDENSONG "Refreshingly different, splendidly entertaining"--The Chicago Tribune
ERINSONG, "A masterpiece . . . captivating"--FreshFiction
SILK DREAMS, Coming July 2007

Love is the most dangerous journey of all . . .

ev said...

I am going to start with Nana's Question. (Then go get my mani and pedi and be back to read more!!)

Nana- You sound like you read the exact things that I do. I also do the sci-fi/fantasy.

Here's how I see it, (and no Vivi, I am not making judgements here. I like your stuff). In the Anita Blake, for instance, I don't consider it porn. It is part of the story, not the reason for the story. Erotic, definately.

I work at Border's and the Erotic books (a genre unto themselves) are in the self-help/sex section. You won't find Anita there.

The story line of that genre is written, as I see it, about sex. The story line is secondary. Just like Playboy is about the pictures first, and then the articles.

Will be back soon. gotta take the kid to college through all that ice that got dumped on us yesterday. My poor flowers.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Hello to Michelle and to Bill's Princeton class! I'm a published novelist whose many novels are not romance, but they all contain some romance. After all, don't all human beings want some sort of love in their lives?

The class asked: "“Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public?”

My answer is: Absolutely. I'm still on a kick I started in 2005 of reading a book a day, meaning I read 365 books a year. If people out there think less of me when they see me reading a romance or other genre novel than they do when they see me reading the collected stories of Firzgerald or the latest Richard Powers or Alice Munro, it says less about me than it says about their own tiny minds. Life is short. Throwing stones at people over their choice of reading material should be the least of our worries.

Julie said...

Before I reply, I want to introduce myself. Michelle so graciously asked me to come over today and throw in my dollar’s worth...name is Julie Elizabeth Leto and I’ve written over 25 novels for publishers such as Harlequin, Simon & Schuster and Penguin. I’ve been in the business since 1988, though I didn’t sell my first book until 1997. So that’s 25+ in about 10 years. All of my books are contemporary and a few have paranormal elements.

I was a romance reader long before I began writing. Read my first when I was 13--Johanna Lindsay’s CAPTIVE BRIDE. I was hooked ever since. I try to read in a lot of genres, but I’ll be frank and say that I swore off “literary” novels and classics about ten years ago when I retired from teaching to write full-time. Reading, for me, is entertainment. As a writer, I am an entertainer. I want my readers to get a few good hours of escapism and close the book with a good feeling. I’m in no way trying to write the “great American novel” but I do take a great deal of pride in creating the best book I can.

“What’s your favorite part of a romance novel”

I think it’s the emotional aspect of the book that appeals to most readers, myself included. When I read thrillers or straight suspense (which I do read) that is the part of the read that is oftentimes missing for me. Yes, those genres have great drama and pacing and such, but the emotional side--how the action of the book affects the characters deeply--is sometimes given short shrift. Not so in a romance novel.

“Do you consider romance novels a form of pornography?”

I almost want to yawn when I hear this question--it’s so old hat. The answer is definitively NO. Pornography is about sex for titillation and that’s it. It’s about objectification and demoralization, in my opinion. NONE of these things apply to romance novels. The only people who consider romance novels pornographic are those who are incredibly uptight about sex or who need an easy, sound-bite of an argument against the genre because they are threatened by its often subversive themes (it’s okay for sex to feel good and not come with dire consequences, women don’t need a man to complete them, etc.) I will admit that romance novels often contain love scenes that are titillating, but these scenes are the celebration of intimacy between a man and a woman. If you get off when reading them, well, all the better, I say.

“Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public,”

Yes. Why shouldn’t I be? I don’t give a hoot what other people think of me, and frankly, I dare them to say something snide. It’s worth at least a good ten minutes of entertainment for me to dress them down properly. There are some covers I’d prefer weren’t quite so ugly, but that’s the same in any genre.

“Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you?”

No, I do not. What bothers me, honestly, is, once again, the equating of romance novels with pornography, which I’m sure is where this question comes from. A woman should be able to appreciate a man’s physical attractiveness and sexual prowess (and vice-versa) without it being considered objectification...the only time this would happen is if the emotional element of the book is missing and in my mind, if it’s not there, it’s not a romance novel.

“Would you rather read about a character who’s the epitome of physical perfection, or someone “normal?”

Well, here’s the interesting thing...we have to remember that when a character is described in a book, they are being described through the eyes of the character who is sexually attracted to them. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes? I can remember well when I first saw my husband back in college. I was nearly knocked off my feet. His eyes...his legs (he’s still got awesome legs, too) and wow, what an ass. If that’s crude, so be it--it’s honest. Another woman looking at him might think he’s cute, but he’s no George Clooney and that’s okay. He still pushes all the right buttons for me.

That said, I think we cannot leave out the fantasy element of romance novels. Personally, I don’t pay that much attention to the physical attributes of the characters when I read a book unless it is important to the story somehow. In my own books, I often forget to put in these details and I have to do it in the revision stage. It’s the character that counts--not what they look like.

One of Bill’s students notes that male characters in many of the romances s/he’d read, usually have an almost animalistic sexuality, while the female characters are generally more delicate -- though the heroines are often also strong-willed and intelligent, and appealing to the male for those reasons. "Is this the usual scenario? And what does it mean to have the male played up this way?"

I think this student needs to pick up a few Harlequin Blazes. I’ve yet to write a “delicate” heroine, but I write contemporary novels and those types of heroines don’t appeal to me. Some readers, however, are more delicate and want a heroine more like them. My heroes run the gamut in terms of character type, but all of them are good in bed. I mean, why on earth would you want to read about a man who isn’t? In a romance novel? That sort of kills the fantasy, doesn’t it? Not to mention...since romance novels are ultimately about commitment (marriage)...should a woman marry a man she isn’t sexually compatible with? Not if she wants to stay married, in my opinion.

And another student finds in Regency romances that the male is usually more sexually experienced character. S/he wants to know, "is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?"

Well, of course there is a difference! People were different then. Morals and mores were different and romance novels, for the most part, reflect that. It’s only since the sixties and seventies that women being sexually active has gained any sort of acceptance--and even then, it’s a slippery slope. I’m not saying that women haven’t always been as sexually voracious as men, but historically speaking, it certainly hasn’t been acceptable for a woman to show that side of her to the public lest she be labeled a slut. That’s one reason why I love writing contemporaries. My heroines don’t have to be (and aren’t) shy about their sexual nature.

“are there other traces of formal elements at play in [romance] novels that might give them greater literary status than the typical mass-produced, formulaic fiction?”

I think it is a fallacy that all mass-produced fiction is formulaic...or am I misunderstanding the premise of your argument? And what exactly do you mean by formulaic? It is a tenet of genre fiction that in a mystery, the driving story question is answered (ie, who done it?) In a romance, the hero and heroine commit romantically. In a horror novel, many will die. Is this formulaic or simply the framework of the genre itself? I've always interpreted formulaic to mean the books are all the same. I do not think that is true--I think it's what the literary establishment wants people to believe about genre fiction, but it's like criticizing the sky because it is blue. You're attacking the very nature of the sky. A romance, a mystery, a horror novel...they all have frameworks that readers expect to be present. If there are no murders in a horror novel...if the hero and heroine do not commit in some way in a romance...you've broken the reader's trust.

Lastly, I am not a romance writer who seeks 'greater literary status' because I believe that it is unattainable, no matter how artfully written a romance novel is--and quite frankly, some of these books are masterpieces. The books are written, primarily, for women BY women. That alone will keep the literary establishment from ever taking us seriously--even by women within the establishment, who can often be the harshest critics because they have something to prove. On the other hand, books like those written by the Bronte sisters, which are romances in the truest sense, do have literary status. Maybe we all just have to die first.

“what’s the appeal of romance to men?”

Well, smart men realize that these books are a glimpse into a woman's desires, needs and fantasies. Any smart man would plug in and use the knowledge to improve his own relationships. Since I'm not a man myself, I can't say more than that.

marisa said...

Hi All! These are all great questions,I'm not sure where to begin.As an avid reader of romance novels it's hard to deconstruct why I read them, why I love them. However, for the sake of academia and inquiring minds, I'll give it a go.
While Gone With the Wind is a sweeping saga and wonderful love story it is not a romance novel. The difference is simple, love stories will allow you to have a tragic ending - Rhet leaving Scarlet - romance novels absolutely guarantee a happy ending. This also answers what my favorite part of a romance novel is. I like happy endings - I've lived and continue to live in a world with pain, confusion, death and destruction. In this techno world of advancement, I continue to read the paper daily, watch the news nightly and listen to commentaries on NPR - I crave happy endings; and I know where to find them - romance novels. Well told stories that take me to places I may never get a chance to go to and assure me that no matter how treacherous the trip - It will end happily. And in a world with very few sure things - I know I can count on that.

Marisa
romancenovel.tv

ev said...

Good Morning Julie!!

Julie's books are a great example of the type of Heriones I like to read about. I have a problem with the weak, "someone please save me" women of many stories.

I just want to smack them. Which is probably why I am very picky about the historical romances that I read. So I tend to read more contemporary or para books.

I think part of this stems from the fact that I was raised to be a strong, independent woman by parents who let me have my head and didn't try to put me into that "little girl in pink" mode.

I can't find who posted it, but here Evanovich is in the Mystery/thriller section of the stores, not romance. I don't consider her "romance" per say, but Joe and Ranger are just as much a part of the story as her ineptness at catching someone or her cars getting blown up. The same with JD Robb's books- the relationship between Eve and Roarke is so interwoven that I don't think you could have a story without them together.

Well, the sun is out and the kid decided not to go to class. Thank god.But I still get to do my mani/pedi and relax!!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Buongiorno, Bellas, Prof Gleason, Princeton students, and new friends!

Grazie mille, Bill, for organizing your students, for putting together with them their series of questions today, and for pretty much being one of the nicest guys on the planet. It's very cool that you've been introducing romance fiction to your classes for years, yet another reason you're welcome to visit with us anytime.

Welcome, nana, our first commenter of the day. :) You know, almost any love/sex/sensual scene taken out of context can seem graphic, especially if it's of tab/slot variety and/or lacks emotional interjection, right?

So, I'm wondering, was your guy friend serious in his calling what he read porn? Do you think he was embarrassed reading it in front of you, of his physical response, perhaps? I think a lot of folks slap porn labels on stuff that arouses intensely their bodies or emotions, because they're so uncomfortable admitting to either.

It may be part of the reason romance gets such a bad rap. It's easier to diminish or dismiss the genre as unrealistic, fantastic, etc., than it is to examine the lovely emotions and physiological responses of all types it elicits in the reader.

I've given up feeling embarrassed reading the books in public, though I used to feel ashamed. Then I saw all the folks reading thrillers, mysteries, fantasy/sci-fi.

It made me think of how folks say women who read romance are "out of touch with reality." Yet, do we say that with the thriller/mystery/sci-fi readers?

Eloisa James/Mary Bly said something like: the higher the intellect of the woman, the greater her capacity for shame. I meet so many women who read romance who are super bright, savvy, literate, aware, yet are squeamish about letting their friends or colleagues know they read the genre.

Can I blame them? Absolutely not. But do I think there are many women who'd like to read romance -- or do on the sly -- but feel they should only be reading "Lit Police-approved women's fiction?" You betcha.

I find romance readers and writers admirable and brave. Those things can make us proud of our choice to read romance fiction.

Thanks so much for getting this day started in such a thoughtful way, though I'm thinking my brain's gonna be throbbin a little by the end of it.

Maria Lokken said...

Hi, I'm Maria Lokken from Romance Novel TV. I am a big fan of romance novels. For me the answer is very simple. I enjoy the stories, I enjoy taking the journey with the characters as they grow, over come obstacles and in the end find a way to make it work. Simply, it's satisfying. And no, I'm am not embarrassed to be seen reading a romance novel in public, because I never judge a book by it's cover - and I don't judge others by what they read.

Problem Child said...

I think the question about romance as pornography and the objectification of men and women go hand in hand.

Porn has limited audience partipation, while romance requires the reader to become involved. In porn (even if there is an attempt at a plot set-up), the trick is to get to the sex as quickly as possible, and focus on it exclusively. Therefore, the men and women in porn are objectified--he's Tab A; she's Slot B. Who cares what they're thinking or feeling? The sex is the purpose and point. And once it's over; it's over--next sex scene, please.

In a romance, however, the sex must serve a greater plot purpose. The couple needs to have a reason for having sex at this time, and the reader is invited into the hero and heroine's minds and emotions to experience the phyiscal and emotional effects.

So the sex in a romance novel can be erotic and explicit and titillating, but there's something deeper going on. The sex is moving the relationship between the characters to a different place.

Even in the most graphic of erotic romance (where the characters particpate in some amazing situations), you'll see there's emotion there. Emotion is what's normally lacking in porn.

(Yeah, yeah, you get the porn scences where there's an "Oh, I love you so much," but it's hardly convincing. Cue cheesy music and bring in another blond contortionist for an unnecessary three-way.)

You can't objectify a character you know and care about. If the author has done her job, then you care about these characters and what they're doing (and with whom!).

So, no, romance does not equal porn. To do so implies that the sex within a loving, caring relationship is no different than the sex purchased on a street corner.

Anna Destefano said...

Wow--lots of answers for an author to wade through, after staying up all night finishing line edits ;o) Waving at everyone at RBTB. It's been a while since I could come out and play...miss you ladies!!!

I'm going to start with Professor Gleason's question, then try to catch up once I've had a bit of caffeine. I'm a Georgia Tech Honors graduate, after all--so brown nosing the prof. is a skill I've honed over the years.

I write congtemproary romance novels for Harlequin--a publisher whose imprints now span the spectrum of romance. They market everything from erotita, to sweet romances where relationships aren't consumated until after marriage, to inspirational (faith-based) love stories. My stories (approximately 300 p. novels for Harlequin Superromance) fall somewhere in between--the degree of sexual content will vary, depending on the characters and the plot and subplots I'm weaving together.

I'll start with a few In My Honest Opinion (IMHO) definitions:

1) Porn--typically male-centered point of view, the objective of which, it seems to me, is to produce the desired physical response as quickly as possible. Sigh...not much story or set up is needed.

Why male-centered? IMHO, the focus is on the visual--the external. Women typically need more of an emotional hook to be fully involved, and that takes a bit more set up than, "Is that the pizza delivery boy at the door? Oh, my--I forgot to put on panties when I got out of the shower..."

2) Erotica--now we're getting more into the realm of women's fantasy. These stories, when well-crafted, strike a balance between imagery and emotional buy-in. Erotic setting and theme are employed to trigger an emotional (as well as a sexual) response, and characters and motivation are more deepely developed. The result, IMHO, creates a deeper committment on the reader's part to the story--so the delievered sexual fantasy has a greater impact on the reader than merely (MERELY???) a super-hot read. When done right, erotica invites you to care about the characters and their journeys.

3) Romance--warning: some might argue with me here--is at it's heart female romantic fantasy. These aren't meant to be realistic stories (though some authors, yours truly included, walk the reality line pretty close and chose to write about tough issues readers can identify with in their real world). Romances promise a Happy Ever After (HEA) every time--hence, GWTW cannot, by definition, be a romance. Neither can most Nicholas Sparks novels.

Romance readers will put up with the tradgedy/hardship/trials authors sometimes drag them through (and I'm one who likes to rip at heartstrings, rather than pluck), because they know the landing at the end will be a soft one, complete with sigh. Love and the HEA always, ALWAYS, conquers in th end.

I think if you were to compare the best erotica out there with the best romance has to offer, you'd find a lot of similarities. Romance novels can push the line between sensuality and erotic content now days--because it's finally (thank God!!!) considered acceptable for a woman to enjoy and endulge her sexuality in every day life. Many Erotica novels delve as deeply into story and character development as their "romance" conterparts. The lines blur more every day on the mass-market fiction shelves.

The difference (between romance and erotica) is in degrees, I would think. How much page time do you commit to the development of the story, subplots, romance and sexual exploits of the lead characters and central relationship? What are reader expectations? What is the writer spending most of her time trying to accomplish--a deeper connection to the story/characters, or a more involved committment/acceptance on the reader's part of the characters sexual needs and desires?

If you deliver an expertly crafted erotic story, you can hit your first sex scene on pag 10, and your reader is already hooked. The same goes for novels whose first consumated love scene is on p. 198 (as is the case in the novel I spent the weekend pouring over line edit notes for). Sexual tension means more to the romance reader sometimes than the actual sex act. The chase in novels with lighter sexual content builds expectation, so the pay off has more punch for being delayed until the end of the second or third acts of the story.

In the end, what makes great romance or great erotica is the same--fantastic wrting and storytelling!!! Readers expect/demand a quality escape from their every-day lives. So an author's job is to deliver a romantic fantasy that transports the reader to whatever world we're writing, for as long as we can hold the reader's attention.

Nairobi Typ0 said...

Jambo! I am a romance reader and long time fan. (One whose internet is tres dodgy today! I've been trying to post this for ages now. Grrr!)

“Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public?”

It depends. Wow, that was a lame answer. LOL Once people know I read romance, I have no problem reading it in front of them. My husband’s fellow students in his grad program make fun of me for it to this day. His colleagues over here? They don’t know about my romance habit. To them I am the wife who reads African fiction, biographies and other such literature. But never anything as “base” as romance. I’m a closet reader I guess.

It isn’t shame, per se. But they’re a bunch of nerdy academics and PhDs and I like to try to appear vaguely smart in front of them. LOL

“What’s your favorite part of a romance novel”

I enjoy the back and forth between the two protagonists. I love watching them fall in love. (I’m also a closet sap!) :p

“Do you consider romance novels a form of pornography?”

Not really. Although my husband refers to romances as “chick porn” I don’t personally like the sex scenes and only skim them to make sure I’m not missing a plot point. I prefer closed door romances like those of Lynn Kurland. Which is not to say that sex scenes – even the vaguely graphic ones – are bad. They’re just not my cup of tea. I prefer the real thing. :p

I think that Julie answered the “formula” question quite well so I won’t go there.

Kim said...

Good morning everyone. I'm Kim, from Eloisa James' BB and Romance Novel TV. I'm also a rabid romance reader.

Personally, I think GWTW is a romance. Its about love to me.

For the porn/erotica/romance question. To me, porn is pictures. Erotica is very detailed sex. Romance is about falling in love.

We all make definitions with our own bias, its all our opinions:D

Nope, I'm not at all embarrassed to buy or read romance in public.

My favorite part of a romance is the falling in love part. The courting, flirting and tension. Its all about the lead up.

Problem Child said...

>>>“are there other traces of formal elements at play in [romance] novels that might give them greater literary status than the typical mass-produced, formulaic fiction?”

I'm not trying to hog the blog, but this I do have to adress.

Northrop Frye defined the 10 characteristics of Shakespeare's comedies. Does the fact that all of Shakespeare's comedies contain these 10 elements make Shakespeare a formulaic writer?

All books have a beginning, middle and end. That's a formula. If you've analyzed novel stucture, you've probably discussed this formula. Heck, you can draw plot structure on the chalkboard in class.

"Formula" is often used instead of "expectation." In a romance, there's the expectation of a hero and heroine meeting, falling in love, and living Happily Ever After. In a thriller, there's the expectation of bad guy hatches plot, hero uncovers plot, hero saves the world.

When you pick up a book, you have an expectation of what's going to happen. If the book doesn't meet your expectation, then you're disappointed.

Any novel can be well-written. It can have Deep Meaning About Life. It can use symbolism, foreshadowing, metaphor, and all the other literary terms. It can teach you something or lead you to greater understanding.

The difference between "literary" and "commerical" fiction really comes down to expectation--and it's that expectation that leads some folks to use the term "formula" as an insult.

A formula is a step-by-step instruction that creates an expected result. Other than beginning, middle, end, I don't see a formula in *any* genre of literature.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

On the subject of objectification of women, Hemingway did that; John Updike still does that. It doesn't seem to have kept then out of the pantheon of Great American Novelists.

The problem I see is that anything in our culture that is primarily enjoyed by females is automatically relegated to "less than."

Is it inherently a more ennobling pastime when a man watches another man take a metal stick and try to propel a ball into a cup than when a woman watches a soap opera?

Is it a greater thing when the boy across the way takes out his toy guns and gleefully threatens to shoot other kids than it is when my seven-year-old daughter writes a story about girls?

My guess is that if Cornell West - is he at P or at one of the other Ivies? - was seen walking around campus reading a techno-thriller, people would think nothing worse than, "Aw, the poor man works so hard, he deserves to enjoy some good entertainment." Now switch that scenario, and put a romance in Joyce Carol Oates' hands, and professors will probably be looking for her replacement.

End of rant! :)

Oh, and since Julie brought up the subject of our credentials, I've been in the business for twenty-four years: first as a buyer for what was then the biggest independent bookstore in the northeast, then as a Publishers Weekly reviewer, freelance editor and sort-of librarian. I've had seven books in three genres published since 2003.

Bob said...

Good morning. My name is Bob Mayer and I’m an author published in a variety of genres from military thriller to science fiction and most recently co-authored a romantic adventure with Jennifer Crusie. Prior to being an author I was in the army and commanded a Special Forces A-Team (green berets). Jennifer and I do something unique when we write: she writes the heroine’s point of view and I write the hero’s. (Plus the crazed sniper in our first book, but that’s a long story). We find it to be a unique experience because—surprise—men and women do approach things differently. Not only the characters in the book, but our creative process.

Jennifer says it’s like we start at one end of a field and I look across and see the end and head in a direct line for it. And she’s constantly grabbing my shoulder and saying: “Look, flowers. Look, trees.” In essence I’m linear and she tends to, putting it politely, circle. A lot. I also tend to focus more on plot and she focuses more on characters.

An interesting thing happened in our first book, Don’t Look Down. We got to the end and Jennifer noted my hero never said “I love you” to the heroine. Jenny pointed out that they had sex within a couple of days of meeting, but he couldn’t utter those three words. I pointed out that my character saved the heroine’s life (and her, his) and did a bunch of other things to prove by his actions his feelings for her. Of course this observation about the lack of an “I love you” was made by Jenny in front of 200 women at an RWA workshop, whereupon I was hissed at by 200 women. So I put an “I love you” in there. As the hero is on a skid on one side of the chopper, and the heroine is on the skid on the other side as they’re flying in to battle the bad guy, the hero yells across the cargo bay: “Hey, I love you.” Needless to say, that didn’t go over well. In the published version he now says those infamous words as they’re huddled behind a berm and he’s also lamenting the lack of night vision goggles. It’s much more romantic that way.

There’s also a scene where the heroine is mad at my guy for something, and even a year after the book has been published, I (and my hero) still aren’t sure exactly why she was mad at him.

As far as being embarrassed about being seen reading a ‘romance’, sort of as a joke, our publisher did the book jacket with a traditional chick lit cover but did the actual cloth cover in a camouflage pattern so a guy could take the jacket off and tell people he was reading a sniper manual.

Regarding the ‘perfect’ hero or heroine: Jenny says she hates heroines whose only flaw is that their breasts are too big. I hate heroes who can do everything: are expert in martial arts, perfect shots, can cook a gourmet meal on the fly, fly a jet, speak twelve languages, and all of this without ever working out or practicing. I’ve found that readers often identify more with a character’s flaws, then they do his/her strengths.

Michele said...

Wow! Great questions with some teriffic answers so far from some awe-inspiring authors!

I'm a little intimidated to even try to answer myself.

1- as far as GWTW - no, I don't consider it a romance. In a nutshell, there is no HEA.

As a romance reader, that's what I expect to see and if it's not there, it's not romance. The goal in reading those types of books is to see a man and woman find happiness despite the odds against them; that they find happiness together. When a book doesn't deliver, I place it in another category - inspirational life journeys perhaps?

2- What's the favorite part of a romance novel? I think I'm going to sound strange when I say this .. but ..
A well written epilogue.

3- Is romance porn? Nope. Not in my book. Michelle B is right - it's the emotions behind it that make a huge difference.

No emotional investment is like a one night stand.
Forgettable.

4 - I'm comfortable reading them in public as long as it's mixed company. Reading a book with a bodice ripper cover in a room surrounded by men is scary.
(automotive repair shop waiting room)

5 - Does objectifying women bother me? well, sure. Especially if they depict her as a stereotypical dumb blonde with implants. Grrr.

6 - Hmm, interesting question about the perfect physical speciman versus average joe.
I've noticed that men scarred from heroic actions are accepted and glamorized. Women with scars are depicted as broken and need to be emotionally healed. Why the difference?

7 - Diff in women historically vs. now? BIG difference. Then- our voice was hushed, ingnored or elaborate machinations were employed to work behind the scenes. Now? Say it, do it, Be it - women are intelligent too.

8- animalistic men? LOL - do you mean, ALPHA men? Romance readers like that. but usually they're balanced with being "tamed" by their soul mate. The ultimate challenge to the female is to stake a claim on the genetically superior male.
Human animals are no different in that instinct than wolves or the big cats - generally speaking.
But our intelligence and humaness puts a different spin on things. So that criteria no longer holds the final say. Thank goodness! There's way too many wonderful men out there whose mate potential is more just the size of their pectorals.
I just adore the "Nerds" romance series for that very reason.

9 - traces of formal elements?
Ouch, I'll let the writers have fun with that one. The only one that comes to mind would be L.A. Banks' series ... lots of religious overtones to discuss, disect and wonder over. Ultimately there is an HEA ... but what a road!

10- *cough*... what's the appeal to romance for men? Is there one? Wow... love to hear about it.
The only thing I can say is that, if a woman is shy about expressing her desires ... maybe having her love read the chapter helps communicate what she may find hard to say... or a cute way of telling her man ...'surfs up' ...
I hope some men reply to this question because I don't know ANY males who read romance.
Wow..what a concept. :-)

MaryKate said...

Welcome Bill's class -- and Go Tigers!

I don't have too much to add to what our brilliant ladies have added so far, but I wanted you guys to be aware, that even just this morning, you have been addressed by some of the true luminaries in the romance industry. Listen to these folks! They know wherefore they speak!

Teresa Medeiros said...

Hi Bill and Bill's students! We're so excited to have you here today starting this wonderful dialogue :)

I'm Teresa Medeiros, New York Times bestselling author of 17 romance novels. I have to go feed the cat in a minute but I thought I'd try to answer a couple of the questions.

What is your favorite part of a romance novel? For me, it's the "dance of courtship." When Oprah announced that she didn't choose romances for her book club because she thought they were "unrealistic", I think she was missing the point. Most romances deliberately chronicle the "courtship" phase of a relationship when two people are meeting for the first time and forming bonds that may very well end up lasting a lifetime. If you've ever fallen in love, I'm sure you'll recognize it. It's that time when you can talk on the phone for hours and every song reminds you of each other.

The "dance of courtship" is a universal concept and one that forms the very basis of the family unit in our society. About the time the heroine starts snoring and the hero starts tossing his socks in the floor instead of the hamper, we write THE END and leave the more mundane aspects of relationship and marriage to the readers' imaginations.

"Do you consider romance pornography?" Absolutely not. I find it ironic that we glorify "serial killer" novels in which women ARE objectified and treated as victims, yet we denigrate romance novels where women are able to read about sex within the context of a loving and usually monogamous relationship.

Yes, we write about sex. And we do it very well. To call it pornography is the same thing as calling Michelangelo's DAVID an obscenity and trying to throw a dropcloth over it because it portrays humanity in all of its naked glory. I tried writing a "closed door bedroom scene" once and I felt like I was cheating both my readers and my characters. To me, writing a love scene is no different from writing a drawing room scene or a battle scene. It's all part of the development of story and character that leads to the story's resolution. Pornography objectifies women's sexuality; romance celebrates it.

www.teresamedeiros.com

Jane said...

“What’s your favorite part of a romance novel?”

I love the courtship. The interplay between men and women as they scheme, manuever, and, oftentimes, inadvertently fall in love.

“Do you consider romance novels a form of pornography?”

No. I think that there are some books that are published under the umbrella of romance that could be considered porn but I don't think that the genre can be identified as such. The wonderful thing about romances is the breadth of the diversity. There are books wherein the bedroom door is closed and books wherein the activities are taken out of the bedroom and into the public.

The idea that romance is pornography is simply one way to be dismissive of the genre without having to read it and to give it critical evaluation. Further, the idea that books with sex in them, even if it is to titillate, is pornographic misses the overall movement of the book. Because the story is not about two people getting together and having sex. The story is about two people meeting and falling in love. The sex is merely a physical expression of the romance and can serve as impediments to the ultimate joining or a celebration of the joining. Sex can be a wonderful plot device and simply because a good writer can invoke a physical response by writing a sex scene does not mean the book and the writer should be labeled with the negative description as "porn".

If a writer, by the magic of putting words together, can invoke an emotional response, she has done something wonderful. This should be celebrated and not denounced.

“Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public,”

I hate the covers featuring the male chest; the clinch; the very naked men. I hate the promotion and objectification of men and women on the covers and within the industry because I think it makes it easier for those who don't read romances to say "see, it's all about sex" or "it's porn, look at the covers." So yes, the covers make me uncomfortable reading in public because it says all the wrong things about what is inside the books.

“Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you,”

Yes, some do and some don't. As in any genre, whether it be literary fiction, science fiction, or mystery, there are good books and bad books. Books that offend you and books that uplift you. An entire genre is not defined by one book or even a group of books.

“Would you rather read about a character who’s the epitome of physical perfection, or someone “normal?”

I want it all. I want to read about the breathtaking beautiful woman and the scarred, poxed woman all experiencing the glory of the courtship and the wonder of the fallling in love.

"Is this the usual scenario? And what does it mean to have the male played up this way?" and "is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?"

I think that its changing and I think it depends upon what books you read and whether you believe that any woman's fantasy is appropriate. First, I think more and more books show characters with equality. I.e., Caroline Linden's books are very good at that. But remember with historicals, a woman's sexuality is not something to be proud of. That's a very, very modern concept. In a historical, I think that the woman can be in touch with her sexuality but its not likely to be overt. The delicacy with which this is handled may lead to the perception that the men have more animalistic sexuality but I think it is more of an "overt" v. "open" dichotomy.

"are there other traces of formal elements at play in [romance] novels that might give them greater literary status than the typical mass-produced, formulaic fiction?”

This question seems to have the answer already determined. Who is determing "greater literary status" and by what statndards. I believe that writing a successful romance novel within the constraints of the HEA is more difficult than writing the tragedy because you must make the ending believable. You must convince the readers that your characters have fallen in love, despite whatever obstacles are created, and that they belong together. It's much easier, in my opinion, to write characters who don't like each other or once fell in love and then drifted away because that makes sense to our common experience. More people break up than stay together. The romance, therefore, must overcome that innate disbelief that couples don't ordinarily stay together or that individuals who are so different or who are not pretty or who are mean or who are cruel or whatever, can actually change enough for the reader to buy into that HEA.

“what’s the appeal of romance to men?”

Have no idea. Not a man. Actually, my husband, Ned, has read two romances which he finds to be the equivalent of fantasy books which is his main genre. In talking about the two books last night, he could barely remember the sex scenes but enjoyed the action scenes and the heroism of the men, which is again, like the fantasy constructs he reads. The two books he's read? Meljean Brook's Demon Angel and Claudia Dain's the Holding.

Lori Foster said...

Wow. Great questions, great replies. I'm Lori Foster, an author.

Rather than address any of the questions directly, I'll just say that like most genres, romance varies from one end of the scale to the other. Some are more explicit than others, and any sex scene read out of context, without the character development and the build up in relationship to the consummation, loses emotional punch.

My favorite part of a romance novel is the characterization, specifically how two mature, single people work together, through love, to resolve issues.
I LOVE great dialogue, and my favorite romances are those that amuse me and make me chuckle.
I like to be entertained.

The romance novels that I enjoy don't objectify anyone. They depict mature, intelligent, motivated people with real life difficulties that must be worked through. But again, there are all types of romances - same as any other genre.
I do enjoy reading about people who take care of themselves physically, but like all real people, the characters have to have flaws.
However, I wouldn't enjoy a book where either lead protagonist was abusive, immature, unsympathetic, or stupid.

I don't worry too much about any unfavorable rep that romance might have. These days, everyone and everything is fair game for ridicule in the guise of entertainment. If comedians feel free to ridicule men, women, races, religions, the president and the pope, why should romance be any different?

I don't let that type of uninformed opinion influence me in any way, and I trust in the intelligences of others to feel the same.

Happy reading!

Lori Foster

Anonymous said...

Apparently, I am unknown today--It's me, amy*skf

Today's blog would be a wonderful starting point for anyone interrested in writing a romance. Talk about your experts.

Very cool that you've all commented.

The insights and opinions are wonderful and as Marykate said, the authors awe-inspiring.

I'm not going to go into each question, but for me, the older I get the less sad I want to be. So even though within the parameters of a romance there might be hearts wrenched and tears shed (mine included) I know in the end I will have happiness and satisfaction.

I have much more fun on a "virtual" roller coaster, knowing I won't actually be physically harmed--and I mean this in the literal sense--so too, I have much more fun reading a soul cleansing book (sobbing, et al) knowing in the end I'll be smiling and not sitting with my gut writhing because of the sadness of the ending.

I love Nikki's comment "Warning: contains no love" Genius. Or how 'bout--Warning: Unhappy ending.

Problem child, you hit it in your comparison of pornography and romance.

Hello all you Bellas!

Michele said...

OMYGOSH!!!
Lori F?! Bob Mayer! Julie Leto, Teresa M?

Just the tip of the Romance
Wow-o-meter!

Michelle B - this post has got to be one of the most diverse and intellectually stimulating events of this blog's existence.

Congrats on a brilliant idea and stellar turnout!

Diane Perkins said...

I'm delighted that Michelle and Princeton Prof Bill Gleason devised this discussion.
I'm an author of Regency Historical Romance as Diane Gaston for Harlequin Mills & Boon (the UK branch of Harlequin) and as Diane Perkins for Warner, now Grand Central Publishing. Regency Historicals are books written in the time of Jane Austen, the time of the war with Napoleon, of wonderful historical figures such
as Beau Brummell, Lord Byron, Wellington...
If we are dragging out educational credentials, I have two Masters degrees, one in Psychology, one in Social Work, but my undergraduate degree was in English Literature.

1. Do you feel romance novels objectify men/women? If so, does this bother you?

Just the opposite! The romance novel of today is a story of the romance between two equals. The hero and heroine are not meant to be archetypes, but all of us authors aspire to write about real, living, breathing (albeit fictional) people to whom readers can relate.

2. If seduction is more than a whirlwind of passion, to what extent do aesthetic elements operate in its nature and in the texts themselves?

Most romance authors are also exploring the nature of passion, but passion is always explored in the nature of a relationship, not as an entity separate. We are exploring what passion is like between a man and a woman who love each other and how the physical relationship is enhanced by that love.

Also, are there other traces of formal elements at play in these novels that might give them greater literary status than the typical mass-produced, formulaic fiction?

Genre fiction, whether it be romance, mystery, sci-fi, horror, suspense, is often written in prose that is accessible to readers. Genre fiction is written for enjoyment, not for loftier reasons. But that is not to say that romance authors do not write beautiful prose. We all aspire to be free of cliche, to write about a romance in a fresh way, to make our words as beautiful as possible -- or as funny, as suspenseful, as emotional as possible, whatever we want the book to be.

To assume that the writing of a romance novel cannot be every bit as rich and meaningful as a literary novel is a mistake. It can be, but it also must be accessible to the mass market. You must not have to read a paragraph over ten times to figure it out. It has to be shown in great clarity.

3. Do you consider the novels a form of pornography?

No. Pornography exploits the physical relationship between men and women. In romance, the physical relationship, the lovemaking is always based on the emotional relationship. It is also important to note that sex is no longer forced upon women in a romance. This was a convention in the early days of romance, but no romance reader would stand for that fantasy in today's world. Lovemaking in romance is always between equals.

4. What's the appeal of the novels to men?

These are great stories about interesting people doing interesting things and exploring the nature of overcoming conflicts to achieve a mutually satisfying relationship. Romance novels are optimistic, hopeful. Why would that not appeal to a male reader?

5. Since they've studied "Gone With the Wind," they'll also be talking about why it's "not" a romance.

Gone With the Wind is not a romance because its ending does not result in the hero and heroine working out their relationship in a satisfying way. In today's "Romance" world we would term it a novel "with strong romantic elements."

Re: whether or not I would hide reading a romance novel in public, absolutely not. I'm showing that cover, even if it is one that most people might find embarrassing. Those are covers that attract many readers, why would I be ashamed to show I am one of them? (Just let somebody ASK me about reading a romance novel--I'll tell them exactly why reading romance is a good thing!)

Re: Romance novels depicting physical perfection-- I actually want my romance novels to be about attractive people, physically attractive people, as well. They aren't perfect beauties, male or female, but definitely attractive. We all would rather look at attractive people; we all would rather look at attractive actors and actresses in movies or TV, for example. I believe the same is true in reading romance. One of my least favorite Georgette Heyer books was A Civil Contract. Her heroine was definitely unattractive and that fantasy did not appeal to me (although the moral of that story was a good one!)

Romance novels are not real life, so we can engage in fantasies. I think that is why heroes in some romance novels are strong, "dangerous" men (with an equally strong ethical base). Just as we are genetically programed to be attracted to beauty, women are genetically programed to be attracted to the "Alpha" man, the strongest of the species. Whether we'd really want to be married to one is an entirely different matter.
This is fantasy!

To learn more about Regency Historical fiction come join us at the Risky Regencies blog or at dianegaston.com

Vivi Anna said...

Welcome Bill and Students, and I even saw Bob Mayer on here...very cool!!!

Wow! Some great responses here. I'm almost too shy to answer...

ROFLMAO...okay, I don't have a shy bone in by body as the Bellas can attest to.

I write erotic futuristics and paranormal romances. I can answer the porn/erotica/romance question, because I have written all three.

I used to write pornographic 'letters' for men's mags like SWANK, Genesis and XES. I've also written for Playgirl. Those stories were all about putting P into slot V. No emotion just words to create a visual of the sex act itself. So, in essence what does it LOOK like.

Erotica is about a sexual journey, about the emotions involved in the sex act. What does it FEEL like.

Erotic/romance is a sub-genre of romance not erotica. I think a lot of people get that confused. And it's about a couple's relationship journey and how they get to their happy ending. The difference is the door is not closed on the love scenes, it's wide open for our complete enjoyment. Sex scenes also have to advance the story and/or the characters or they are pointless in a book, just like anything else put in for no reason.

I have to go homeschool for a bit. But I'll be back...

I want to talk about sammiches...and why I love writing and reading romance.

Teresa Medeiros said...

Well, the cat has been fed and I'm back! As for the "men enjoying romances" question, I think that a lot of romances simply present a rollicking good adventure story. My father-in-law and my brother-in-law have been some of my biggest fans from the very beginning of my career because I give good sword fights, good swashbuckling pirate scenes, and great cowboys. In my mind, a good book is a good book and a well-written romance, especially those with elements of adventure, definitely have the potential to engage the male audience.

On a side note, since it can take me up to two weeks to craft a love scene, I once asked my husband what he thought of a love scene in one of my books. He looked at me and said, "Oh, I just skip over those parts." (Picture me lunging across the table for his throat :))

Pamela Clare said...

What a great discussion!

Welcome to Bill —I remember your last visit to this blog — and to the students. I’ve read a lot of great questions and great answers here, and I thought I’d add my two cents.

I’m the author of six novels, both historicals and contemporary romantic suspense. I’m also a full-time investigative reporter and editor, a single mom and a refugee from academia. I ditched out just shy of finishing my masters in archaeology and art history so that I could write. For 15 years, I’ve written a weekly column focusing on women’s issues.

I’ve been a romance reader since I was a teenager, and I knew even then that I wanted to write romance. Yes, writing romance was my life-long aspiration. I find romance novels to be inherently feminist. They provide a space for women to explore ideas about relationships, family, sex, careers… They constantly reinforce the idea that a woman deserves a man who treats her well, and visa versa, and that violence against women and children is wrong. They provide an uplifting ending and brighten people’s day. What’s not to love about that?


“What’s your favorite part of a romance novel?”

I love the part where the hero and heroine realize they love each other. I also love the epilogue, where we get to experience them living their happy ending.


“Do you consider romance novels a form of pornography?”

I always find this question so strange, though as a romance writer I encounter it a lot. I think part of it is that we in the U.S. have problems with sexuality. If something has sex is it pornographic? Is Henry Miller porn? Are Harold Robbins’ novels porn?

I think everyone would agree that they are not. So why do we ask this of sexually explicit novels written by/for women?

I think it’s the gender thing. Sexuality has traditionally been treated as if it’s a male realm, with women being relegated to romantic, but not sexual, expressions of love. Romance novels incorporate elements of female sexual fantasy, but they’re much more than that. As others have said, romance is about the emotional journey to true love. Sex is a part of that for most of us.
Romance is no more pornographic than the average monogamous marriage.

“Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public?”

Absolutely. Nothing about romance embarrasses me.

“Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you?”

This is an interesting question. Let me start by saying that we all objectify. If you’re more attracted to the ripped guy or the thin guy than the fat one with acne, you’re objectifying. We don’t exist in a world where people judge others by character alone, particularly not when it comes to sexual attraction. So romances DO tend to objectify, particularly men—not nearly to the degree that most things in our society objectify women, of course. And, frankly, I’m okay with that.

The novels have to create a sense of sexual attraction, and though many include “normal-ish” characters, there’s always an emphasis, at least in the beginning on physical traits. And that’s how it is most of the time when we meet and hook up with someone, isn’t it?

“Would you rather read about a character who’s the epitome of physical perfection, or someone “normal?”

If we’re talking about the heroine, I prefer normal. If we’re talking about the hero, I prefer a man who’s edging nearer to an ideal, though not perfect.


“Is this the usual scenario? And what does it mean to have the male played up this way?"

Good answers have already been given for this, but I think you’ll find most contemporary romances these days acknowledge female libido as an equal force. I would never write or want to read a romance with a sexually shy heroine. Perhaps she’s been hurt before or abused and is reluctant to have sex, but once she gets going, she’s every bit as hot as he is, with her own desires. My characters even trade off on who’s the aggressor in bed.

“is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?”

I write both historicals and contemporary romantic suspense. For me, this is really a question of historical authenticity (I have a degree and graduate work in classical archaeology). What were the norms in historical times? What were the social pressures? What was the scope of women’s experience and women’s power?

I don’t worry about being politically correct when I write, and I don’t think authors should write books that way. I write historical romance to tell an uplifting story that’s sexy and romantic and also as historically accurate as possible. So naturally, the heroines in my historicals are going to be very different than the heroines in my contemporary novels.

“Are there other traces of formal elements at play in [romance] novels that might give them greater literary status than the typical mass-produced, formulaic fiction?”

I think the only thing holding romance back from having greater literary status is that fact that they’re written by and for women and women’s needs/wants/desires aren’t taken very seriously. Like any form of literature, romance varies in quality from very bad to sublime. Those sublime novels ought to have a place on the bookshelf next to other great literary works. I hope that one day we’ll get past the stereotypes (and I think this class is a wonderful way to do that, as is Michelle B’s awesome blog) and be able to honor the great writing that exists in the romance world.


“What’s the appeal of romance to men?”
I think men have an interest in many of the same things that women do — family, love, passion. I’m not sure they feel as free to express those needs or interests. The men who read my books say they like them because of the story/characters and because of the action. (I put a fair amount of action in both historicals and contemporaries.)
I tell my male friends that if they want to know what’s inside women’s heads, they ought to read romance.

Thanks for asking these questions and for inviting me to join in!

Playground Monitor said...

I overslept today and look! So many responses already. But I'll add my 2 cents.

Is GWTW a romance? Absolutely not. No HEA. Last month at our RWA meeting we had a college professor speak to us about fictional southern women characters and Scarlet and GWTW were discussed. The prof asked how many of us had read GWTW since we were teenagers. A few hands went up. She went on to say she'd tried reading it again and couldn't get past page 50 or so because it's just well... not to be negative or jeopardize my good standing as a southerner... it's not written all that well. It's been 40 years since I read the book so I've forgotten that she uses pages and pages and pages to describe the red Georgia clay. But definitely not a romance.

Favorite part of a romance? It's all about the falling in love. The courtship. Watching two people dance around each other and sometimes try NOT to have it happen . Of course I also have a fascination with the Black Moment -- that emotional train wreck that drives the H and h apart. Then I get to enjoy the resolution and the HEA.

Porn? Nope. I think others have covered this far better than I could.

Am I comfortable reading romance in public? I do it all the time and have a tendency to comment back to anyone who says anything about my "trashy" book. I picked up a few good replies from an article by Linda Howard. She says "It's only trashy to someone who has a trashy mind."

Perfect or normal? Normal for sure. What's the fun in reading about someone with no flaws? It's that flaw -- that chink in the armor -- that draws you to a character.

What's the appeal of romance to men? I can only answer in context to my DH. When I was trying to write a romance novel a few years ago, he kept wanting to help me plot it. I was targeting this book for Silhouette Desire. The DH kept giving me tips for a wonderfully convoluted plot that would have been okay for another line, but not Desire. So I told him he needed to read a Desire before he could help me anymore. He did and I could almost see his eyes rolling back in his head the whole time. He doesn't read a lot, but when he does it's something along the lines of John Grisham. Needless to say, he doesn't try to help me with my stories anymore.

Nana mentioned Janet Evanovich as a favorite author. My sister and I were discussing her last night on the phone at midnight. JE started as a romance novelist and then went from there to the Stephanie Plum series, which I love. She's has several other series of books out and has a new one on the stands now -- a collaborative book. The Plum books are the only ones I like and I think it's because she's created a character group that I've come to love. I can identify with Stephanie Plum in some ways. I love Lula and Grandma Mazur. And of course there's Joe and Ranger and even Bob the Dog and Rex the hamster. In the other books, she hasn't been successful (at least for me) in creating those loveable characters that make me hang in there with them from page one til The End. With romance, it's all about the characters and I don't consider her to be a romance novelist now. Yeah, some have a HEA but overall she's not writing true romance.

Marilyn

Jessica said...

The only time I was embarrassed reading a romance novel in public was when it was so amazingly "hot" that I wondered if people could tell what it was doing to me!

Seriously, though, I think there is quite a bit of snobbishness in the world. I'm a professor of English and a romance writer, so I can really see this in action. When I write a contemporary or literary work, my colleagues are very interested--when a romance comes out, well, not. One of my colleagues actually said, "Oh, you are writing guilty pleasures."

I actually think I am writing a story. With a purpose (romance), but a purpose. I have put as much into my romances (When You Believe, Reason to Believe, and Believe in Me) as anything else I've done.

So much so that I'm teaching a class for UCLA about romance writing starting today in fact (online).

When I was studying romance writing, I read about 100 one summer. Like any kind of literature, there are varaitions in writing ability. Sometimes I pick up a book of poems and think they are badly done. But in the genre, there are some smart writers, good writers, writers who can really pull a story together.

Jessica Inclan

Anonymous said...

Hi it is Nana again. I think I accidentally deleted my second post.
Anyways thanks so much for your guys' responses! I checked out the previous blog on my question and there definitely was alot to say on the subject.
I agree, my friend probably was embarrassed that I could be reading a romance novel- I mean how many times have heard my guy friends talk about porn almost as if it made them a real "man" but whenever I brought up my romance novels, I would get strange looks. Ah well, trying to convince one person one day at a time.
On a side note, when authors write the graphic scene, how do they get so good at writing it? It seems incredibly difficult, hard, and emotionally-invested to write something that personal...

Michele said...

Vivi Anna said
"I want to talk about sammiches"

Good, because I'm still unclear as to WHAT they are.

And maybe the students would like to know too...?

And I just discovered a new author to explore.

So glad the kiddos are on school vaca this week. THis is a great day to visit!

Re-touching base on the "man who reads romance" idea.

I give Kudos to men who will try ... even though they might skip the "romance scene" ... to read romance.

It's another wonderful way to connect for a husband and wife and any wife is extra fortunate if her DH is willing to at least try.

My DH won't read them. He prefers books on fact, not fiction. He prefers bullet points, not beating around the bush no matter how well written.
Sort of like what Bill Mayer said above; Men think differently and read differently.

*sigh* I'd like to see that in a romance book then ... a story about a man reading romance, wishing for "his" HEA when he accidently drops his book at a bus stop. It ends up at the feet of ... well, that's a fantasy, right?

Oh, and I like Diane's statment:
" You must not have to read a paragraph over ten times to figure it out. It has to be shown in great clarity."

I think it's one of the reasons I don't read classics for fun. After being forced to disect them in just such a manner, you can no longer enjoy the story for itself.

Dave said...

Good afternoon, everyone! I'm another one of Professor Gleason's students, and I've been reading these posts as a little thesis procrastination, and looking at all the responses has got me with a few questions of my own.

I guess the major question I have has to do with the male/female divide when it comes to romance novels. As I've been reading GWTW, I've noticed myself liking it well enough, but also noticing that the emphasis of the novel is at least equally focused on the characterization and the historical background as it is on the romance aspects. Watching the movie last night made me realize that the filmmakers opted to more strongly emphasize Scarlett's romantic dramas (though they did not ignore the history at all).

As I watched, I found myself really getting into the movie (almost more so than the novel itself), and my first thought was that it "wasn't as bad as I thought it would be." The more I considered that, the more I realized I had set myself up to not like it -- was it because of the stigma of the book as "romance"?

While I haven't figured that out on my own yet, I would like to press the male readers to know what they find so enticing, alluring, and fascinating about romance novels? Why do you read these books so avidly, and what do you look for in them? Also, while I know the question of embarrassment has been brought up already, I want to reframe it a little: why is it "okay" for men to be fixated on more overtly sexual images and activities (such as pornography), but not so much with romance novels?

I guess I can sum all this up by asking why was I so surprised that I enjoyed my first foray into the romance genre, and if that's a typically male feeling to have? Romantic men, I give you your call to arms!

Thanks!
--Dave

Michelle said...

I'm a TA for Bill's class, so I probably shouldn't enter this discussion--but I hope you'll forgive my intrusion.

Two questions:

Some of the readings on romance that we've asked students to read (Regis and Crusie) have given some time to why the happy ending is so essential to the romance genre. But could you explain a bit more the work that endings do for romances? Why is it essential to the 'formula'?

I also want to push the question of _Gone with the Wind_ again. For those of you who have read it, are there any elements within it that fit the romance genre? I ask because despite its ending, we've had some good discussions of it in light of Regis and Crusie.

Thanks!

Cathy Maxwell said...

I’m Cathy Maxwell and author of sixteen historical romance novels.

What I’d like to bring to this discussion is an understanding of exactly how huge this market is. Inside the romance genre are numerous sub-genres. You’ll find action-adventure romances, horror, fantasy, suspense, thrillers, mystery, slice-of-life, erotica, historicals from every time period, city chick stories and hometown heart warmers. There isn’t a topic that hasn’t been written about and the sexuality of the stories range from books where characters would never think to hold hands before marriage to books where they are getting it on with aliens.

When people ask me why they are so popular, I reply because they are great stories.

What I haven’t managed to grasp is why, as a society, we are so tolerant of anything people want to watch on TV or the movies, and yet, judgmental about books? My stories are no different than watching “Pirates of the Caribbean” in nature. If I say I enjoyed “Pirates of the Caribbean” people wouldn’t question my intelligence the way some do when I say I enjoy romance novels.

It’s a book. We want people to read books. Or are we just more judgmental about books than we are other forms of entertainment? Is there some sort of to keep people from enjoying reading?

Vivi Anna said...

“What’s your favorite part of a romance novel?”

Well, I don’t read romance novels for the romance. I read them for a good story, and the fact that my favorite genre—paranormal—just happens to be shelved extensively in the romance section of bookstores.

“Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public?”

Yup, no issues. I’m comfortable with reading an erotica book in public with a woman in bondage on the front.


“Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you?”

Oh, you mean in the same way that fashion magazines objectify women? Or most TV shows? No, not at all. Do they objectify men? Hmm, if you mean that most romance novels star men that could never exist in real life…possibly.


“Would you rather read about a character who’s the epitome of physical perfection, or someone normal?"

I like to read about characters that are innately flawed. Emotionally and physically. So, more normal. 


One of Bill’s students notes that male characters in many of the romances s/he’d read, usually have an almost animalistic sexuality, while the female characters are generally more delicate -- though the heroines are often also strong-willed and intelligent, and appealing to the male for those reasons. "Is this the usual scenario? And what does it mean to have the male played up this way?"

Well a lot of romance novels are about fantasy. And a lot of women fantasize about being with a man that is completely and utterly alpha. Take control kind of guy with an insatiable hunger for his woman. But also a man that would do anything for her.

I tend to write heroine’s that way. And the heroes have to learn to catch up.

"Is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?"

I’d say yes. To write a good historical, an author needs to be historically accurate. Women were different back then, they dealt with a whole bunch of issues we probably couldn’t understand now.

“Are there other traces of formal elements at play in [romance] novels that might give them greater literary status than the typical mass-produced, formulaic fiction?”

I hate that romances are considered formulaic. But could not the same thing be said about thrillers, or mysteries? To be considered a certain type of book, there needs to be certain elements present. A romance needs to have romantic thread in the plot with a HEA. How the author gets there is completely up to her or him and it can be in any setting. Historical, contemporary, fantasy, sci-fi, futuristic. Or a mixture of all five.

“What’s the appeal of romance to men?”

A good story, just like the rest of us. I have a lot of male readers, especially for my books Hell Kat and Inferno. Both are fast-paced, kick-assed, action adventures. And both just happen to have a couple that are struggling to find their happy ever after together in a desolate bleak post-apocalyptic world.

Vivi Anna said...

Oh and Michele, sammiches are like this...

Viggo/Vivi/Christian Bale or

the pirate sammich..

Orlando/Vivi/Johnny

mmm, so many possibilities

there should be more romances about the sammich.

Roxanne St. Claire said...

Wonderful discussion! Thanks to Michelle for the alert on this – my name is Roxanne St. Claire (yes, class, real name) and I have written 16 romantic suspense and contemporary novels for Pocket Books and Harlequin/Silhouette. In my former life, I spent nearly every day of 20 years as a marketing executive, devising all manner of ways for Fortune 500 companies to get their message to consumers. This was, it turned out, the perfect training ground for writing romance because marketing teaches one thing: the mass appeal of a fantasy. This would be my answer to question #1: favorite thing about romance novels: To me, romance is first, foremost and forever about the fantasy. The thrill of new love, a brush with death, the taste of the forbidden, the exhilaration of beating unbeatable odds.

Romance novels package the fantasy and this is why we’re not welcome on Oprah (who embraces reality, and there is a place for that!), why our covers embarrass some (not me!) and why are guilty of (I know I am) creating “animalistic” heroes and the strong-willed women who tame them.

The other question that intrigued me was: Are there traces of formal elements in play in romance novels that might give them greater literary status than typical mass-produced formulaic fiction? There are traces…in fact, there are whole books full of literary elements. All romance novelists (who, in all fairness are not mass producing anything, but eeking out ten pages a day that probably have to be rewritten the next) incorporate and consider a host of literary elements in every book: character development, scene structure, subplots, symbolism, varied pacing, point of view, emotional disasters, transitions, motivations, climax and a happy ending, er, denouement. Like a really good commercial where the call to action is buried in a message that tugs a heartstring or makes you smile, all the literary elements are invisible to the reader who just enjoyed a great fantasy. (The call to action? Buy another!)

Roxanne St. Claire

Diana Peterfreund said...

What a fascinating discussion already! A bit of background information about me: I'm a writer of mainstream commercial fiction for Bantam Dell, a lover of romance novels, and I have a degree in Literature from Yale, where I wrote my thesis on a classic genre novel: Jame Hilton's Lost Horizon.

Why isn't Gone With the Wind a romance?

Because according to the current market standards for the genre, a romance has to have a happy ending for the couple. I recently heard Nicholas Sparks talking about how the books considered romance novels go back to the tradition of "comedy (most of Shakespeare's comedies ended in a wedding) whereas his novels, which he calls "love stories" since they center around romantic love, have grown from dramatic tragedies. It took me a long time to wrap my head around this seemingly minor distinction -- to me, if it was called a romance, shouldn't that mean that it was primarily concerned with romantic love? But this isn't the first time a definition has been based on what happens at the *end* of the story.

I will not address the romance/porn question, since others before me have done it so well.

Regarding the portrayal of different character types, I think you may see a preponderance of what is known in the industry as "alpha males" because it's a reader favorite. Why? Well, I think that goes back to what Anna DeStephano mentioned about romances being on some level, fantasies.

But the more widely you read, the more you will see that there is a huge variety within the genre. There are the more "fantasy" based romances, where every character is larger than life and reflects strongly the ideals of romantic archetypes, and then there are the more "slice of life" romances where the characters have more of an "everyday Joe" flair.

And this isn't a statement of quality, but more about the effect the author is trying to create. For instance, I write comedies where some of the humor is derived from the intersection of these larger-than-life characters with the everyday, or with the more subdued "straight man."

In addition, wide reading in the genre will reveal female characters in all hisotrical eras who are more sexually experienced. Many romance novels are about upper class characters, following in the tradition of Jane Austen, so in many cases female virginity was considered a commodity as much as the woman's dowry, etc. But if you read books with characters who are not from the upper class, you will find all manner of sexual experience. One example is Lydia Joyce's Music of the Night.

are there other traces of formal elements at play in [romance] novels that might give them greater literary status than the typical mass-produced, formulaic fiction?

I find this to be a rather leading question, since it assumes a body of mass-produced, formulaic fiction. Also, I'm not entirely sure what is meant by formal elements. Is the questioner asking about the basic building blocks of story, character, setting, etc., or about the thing one points to when writing academic papers about the subject -- allegory, theme, symbolism, etc.

Either way, the answer is yes. And, naturally, different romances employ these elements to varying degrees, as does literature of any type. Some writers are going to be heavy on the symbolism and construct elaborate motifs throughout their work, others will concentrate more on making statements through their story or evoking much loved myths in the cultural consciousness through their choices of characters and plot (Beauty and the Beast is a popular one).

I'm always most fascinated when an individual creates a character or a world that lives on beyond the creation (My senior project was about Hilton's "invention" of Shangri-La.) In the comments here, you can see examples of this, as readers refer to Stephanie Plum or Anita Blake or Jamie from Outlander as "celebrity" characters in the genre. I haven't even read Outlander and I don't think I'd be lost in a discussion about Jamie, the way one can talk about Sherlock Holmes or Gatsby or Miss Havisham or Achilles or Hamlet.

I would also recommend that students interested in reading more about the readers' interaction with the modern genre of romance check out Janice Radway's Reading the Romance. The study is about two decades old now, but I think most of her findings are still true today.

Thanks so much, Michelle, for encouraging this great discussion.

~Diana
SECRET SOCIETY GIRL, 5/07, Bantam Dell
UNDER THE ROSE, 6/07, Bantam Dell
http://dianapeterfreund.com

Anna Destefano said...

Dave--I get a lot of cross-over male readers (usually husbands who pick up their wives' copies of my books).

The formulaic thing is a bit of a myth these days. Romance authors and editors spend a great deal of time and creative energy on the craft of storytelling itself, in addition to making sure the actual writing is engaging and interesting to the reader. The stories are carefully written and edited to give you an intense, complex emotional experience--in addition to the love story's HEA.

I the case of my novels for Super, I always include a strong male point of view--as well as, at times, points of view of children and other secondary characters. As in many romance novels I love, the heroes typically have as much point of view page time as the heroines. You get to experience a different view of the central romance than just the heroine's, and the guy has his own life and set of problems (internal arc) outside the romance. Readers (men and women) seem to love this.

So, I guess to sum up, the depth of romance novels is amazing. Glad you're strating to warm up to the idea of finding something you like where you'd never thought to look before ;o)

Julie said...

Dave, I think it's because men are not conditioned to show their emotions, but they have them the same as any woman. Romance novels allow a man to explore the full breadth of the emotional rollercoaster that is life without wearing his heart on his sleeve.

As to Gone With The Wind and the happily ever after ending. First, the ending is essential to a romance the same way that at the end of a mystery, the mystery must be solved. Why would a reader commit to 300-400 pages of text that has the story question of "who done it" if they aren't going to get any satisfaction at the end? It's the same for a romance. The reader has invested in the relationship between the man and the woman...if they break up at the end, what was the point?

A happily ever after ending does not necessarily mean marriage. It just has to mean some sort of commitment...so the reader can happily believe that these two people she's come to know have a real shot at a long and happy future. It's optimistic and uplifting.

Two things keep Gone With The Wind from being a classic romance...but in every other sense of the word, it is women's fiction at its best. First, Scarlet goes through several marriages and second, she and Rhett do not end up together at the end. However, there have been romance novels where the heroine went through several marriages over the course of the book (Virginia Henley's A WOMAN OF PASSION comes to mind) but the ending is the ending. Unless the book is the first in a series focused on the same protagonists, there needs to be satisfaction for the reader at the end.

Otherwise, I think Gone With The Wind is an excellent example of a romance. There is great emotion, sweeping drama, the focus on the female protagonist, great action, wonderful characterization, hot sex (even if just implied--no one can deny that 'cat that ate the cream look' on Scarlett's face after her night with Rhett isn't just scrumptious!)...all the hallmarks of a great romance. If only Rhett had turned around in that last scene.

I'm basing those comments on the film, not the book. I've only read parts of it. I prefer the movie, but I've got a thing for Clark Gable. He wasn't the least bit classically good looking (this relates, I think, to the question about physical attractiveness) but man was he ever H-O-T hot.

Annette Blair said...

Hello Bill and students. It's wonderful to talk to you today. My name is Annette Blair and I've written Regency Historicals, Amish Historicals, and now I write Contemporary Romantic Comedies about witches set in Salem Massachusetts.

I believe that porn is about sex with non exclusive partners and romance is a journey about two people falling in love. If a love scene doesn't move the story forward or bring about change in the characters, it doesn't belong in the book.

Like most writers, I was a reader before I began writing, so yes, I'm comfortable reading romances in public, though I dislike the old clinch, or nursing father, covers. One of my first historicals in 1999 had a clinch cover--one about an Amish school teacher. Worst cover ever.

Yes the heroines in Regency novels are different from modern day heroines. Regencies are set in England and usually revolve around an aristocratic male. Think of Prince Charles and the innocent little miss he THOUGHT he was marrying when Diana first appeared in the media. Think of his current marriage and the dissaproval surrounding it. The aristocracy hasn't changed all that much. In the Regency, the aristocratic hero was expected to be experienced but the bride must be a well brought up, innocent virgin. I used to like to read about the Regency marriage of convenience, so I liked to write them as well. I also liked to see the governess get the aristocrat.

My favorite part of any romance is reliving/recreating the rush of falling in love for the first time, that window of amazing discovery, sexual and otherwise.

I tell my students that writing is like playing God. You create people, make them do what you want, make what they want impossible to attain, then you're brilliant and fix everything. The writer gets to fall in love over and over again as well. That's also what the reader takes away from romance. Hope for a happily ever after, especially if it doesn't seem possible in his/her life. Hope is powerful.

In my contemporaries, my heroines are as proactive as my heroes. They have goals every bit as important as the hero's, and sometimes it's the heroine who saves the day. They're flesh and blod men and women, appealing to the eye--when was the last time you looked at a homeless person and thought you might like to get to know them better? If we're 'in the market' and we see a good looking man or woman, we're interested. That's not objectifying. Linda Howard would say it's our species choosing the mate most likely to produce, protect and provide. It's an inborn selective process, human nature at it's most basic. But are my characters flawed? You bet. I write about real people with real problems. My stories usually include underlying themes that portray the search for home/family, a lesson in tolerance--is he/she a commoner or an aristocrat? Amish or English? A witch or not? Does it matter? No. These underlying themes were unknown to me until readers pointed them out, by the way. It's typical of how we bring ourselves into our stories. I knew I wrote an underlying theme of seduction and comedy, I love a good seduction and a good laugh, so that's what I give my readers.

Do I have male readers? Several that I know of. Why do they read romance? From the few I've gotten to speak to, I find that they're usually married Beta heroes in their own right, who are looking for the same as my female readers, that first rush of love. They say that reading romance makes them better husbands. Helps them understand their wives needs.

As for romance being formulaic, I think Problem Child said it best. Was Shakespeare was formulaic? Frankly, if there is a formula, I wish someone would give it to me, because I've written seventeen romances, and it's darned hard work.

Happy reading!
Annette Blair

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Michelle the TA asks: "But could you explain a bit more the work that endings do for romances? Why is it essential to the 'formula'?"

I actually believe that the idea that there must be a HEA can be a tyranny, but...but...but...I always think, whenever other people point to the required HEA in romance as evidence of its inferiority: What about mysteries, with their need to have the puzzle solved and the criminal party identified by story's end? What about fantasy, with its need for good to triumph over evil by journey's end? Every area of writing has some sort of convention built into it. So why does only one genre receive regular criticism for this literary fact of life?

CM said...

Hi. I'm CM. I have multiple graduate degrees, and I've graduated at the tippy-top of every class I've ever been in. Romance novels got me through it all. I probably read close to 200 novels a year, and probably 150 of them are romance novels.

Let me start with one observation: there is no such thing as a "romance reader." I mean, really--it's like asking about the "black experience." Which romance reader are you talking about? Likewise, saying "romance novels" means nothing. Which romance novel?

But could you explain a bit more the work that endings do for romances? Why is it essential to the 'formula'?

Endings for romances do the same things that endings do for other books: they tie up all the loose ends in a relatively satisfactory way. Why is a happy ending essential to a romance? The only answer I have is because RWA says so. I don't see why you can't have a romance with a sad ending, except for the fact that it will probably not be a commercial success.

What's my favorite part of a romance novel? The answer is very simple: The part I'm not expecting. I love to be surprised, and the surprise that has been coming all book, but which creeps up on you unawares, is absolutely the best. That will make me fall in love with a book in an instant.

Do I think that romance novels are porn? Most of them aren't. Even if you accept that they play some sort of prurient role, that doesn't make them pornography. But that being said, I can see why someone would count them as "porn for women," particularly if that person were uptight and the book were exceptionally hot. What I have to say to that hypothetical person is that "porn for women" is a damned sight better than "porn for men." Nobody gets diseases in the making of a romance novel porn. No actual person is exploited. No crack whore is paid ten dollars to pose on film. Take a look at the photographic and video porn industry, and then look at the world of romance publishing. If romance novels are porn for women, women are to be congratulated for getting their sexual thrills in a way that is relatively benign to others.

I read romance novels in public.

Do I think romance novels objectify women and men? This is another "black experience" question. Without a doubt, some romance novels objectify women and men. Many do not, though. It drives me nuts when the hero is basically nothing other than a placeholder in tight pants with muscled thighs. But the best romance novels are the ones that emphasize character, where no matter what the hero looks like, he's a real person.

Would I rather read a character who's physically perfect? Wrong question. I don't care. It's all about the story. In all honesty, I don't care what he looks like, as long as it makes a good story. His looks matter to me almost nothing--if he's handsome, I'd like to see how it changes the story. If he's not, the same.

As to male animalistic sexuality, and female inexperience: these drive me batty. I don't generally like the bad boy sort of romance, and I don't generally like the sexual ingenue. She shows up with surprising regularity both in historical and contemporary romances. The best authors, in my mind, rarely rely on this.

As for the appeal of romance to men . . . doesn't it depend on the man?

Anna Destefano said...

Michelle, the endings of romances are as varied as the endings of mystery, suspese, thriller and sci-fi novels. They're not as similar as you would think, except that the central romance is resolved in a way that leaves the reader satisfied that the hero and heroine are FINALLY together (after the author's kept them believably apart for the rest of the book).

Some endings are light and hopeful (typically comedies). Some are more thoughtful and not all is resolved to the happily ever after point (in my novels, subplots the lead characters typically still have a lot to work out in their lives, even though they've found love and someone to work through things with). If an author is writing a continuing series of books, sub plots and secondary characters can be left with a bit of a hook to deal with, thus leading to reader the next book. The possibilities go on and on...

I think the central element all romance writers promise in their endings is that the elements and issues relevant to the hero and heroine's story are wrapped up in a satisfying way. Not always blissfully happy, not always perfect, but the reader sees that they're okay and that they have what they need to keep fighting whatever's left to be fought. And in the classic romance the hero and heroine end up together...always...and not dead (Nicholas Sparks just about killed me with The Notebook...if "I'm a bird, you're a bird"...then the birds fly off together as the hero and heroine die in each others' arms...I balled all over myself...).

The core romance in GWTW a classic, and one of my favorites. But the hero leaves the heroine, with no chance in his mind of them ever getting back together (of course, for her, tomorrow is always another day...). Not a classic romance hero or a classic romantic ending. But it works...man, does it work!!!

Amanda Brice said...

This is a very cool experiment, Michelle! Thanks for the email alerting me to it.

I'm an author.

Anyway, as to the question about whether I consider romance to be pornogrpahy (figured I'd get this started with a bang, right?).

Absolutely not. Nor would I consider erotica or erotic romance to be pornography, for that matter, either.

From the Freya's Bower website (www.freyasbower.com):

Erotica
What is erotica and how does it differ from porn? Erotica has explicit sex scenes and portrays sex in a positive light, most of the time. For us, we want erotica that is story driven, although the story doesn't necessarily have to be a romance. Sex must be in a positive light and between consenting adults.

Porn
What is porn and how does it differ from erotica? Porn isn't about being sensual nor is it erotic. Porn is all about instant, sexual gratification and is often derogatory and demeaning toward women.

______________________________

That is a concise explanation of the difference between erotica and porn. As for the difference between erotica and romance, well, erotica doesn't have to involve a romance (although erotic romance does). And not all romance involves sex at all (although many do, obviously).

At its most basic, romance is about the journey of the heroine and the hero as they move though the relationship from the first meeting to the HEA (with the "big black moment" in there, of course). Romance will always feature a happily ever after, whereas love stories don't have to feature a happily ever after. At its core, romance includes, well, duh, a romance.

Porn (and even erotica) need not. But erotica focuses on sensuality and features sex in a positive light, whereas porn isn't about being sensual.

Amanda Brice said...

Why isn't GONE WITH THE WIND a romance? For the very simple reason that it does not have happy ending. According to Romance Writers of America, a romance must have an emotionally satisfying ending.

GWTW may be a love story, but it is not a romance. Neither are most Nicholas Sparks books. They are love stories, but not romances. Of course, it doesn't mean that I don't love them just as much as romances, but they aren't technically romances.

Susan Squires said...

Well, well, you can tell I'm on the west coast. I get up, and look, everyone has already said such wonderful things that there's little left to say. I'm Susan Squires, author of 11 novels. I am currently doing a historical and very sexy vampire series for St. Martin's Press. I've done Vikings and Saxons in the time of Alfred the Great, and AI and genetic mutations. I say this because I think I'd like to emphasize that romance is a VERY big tent. You can find whatever you're looking for in that tent. so:
For me, men and women are objects when they are cardboard characters that aren't fully drawn. I needn't be rude by pointing out specific examples outside romance where that is true, but it's sometimes true in romance as well. It doesn't have to be, and there are some excellent writers on this blog who prove that.
Romances can have themes, imagery, symbolic constructs, and love of language no matter their length. Shorter romances, also called "category" have less complex plot lines of necessity, but that doesn't mean they aren't well written. Longer books, called "single-title" have more complex plot lines. Both can either focus more on the relationship, or mix that focus with elements of thrillers, sci-fi, horror, mystery, etc. That said, not all romances of either length actually ARE well written. And they contain varying amounts of theme, imagery lines, etc. But I am a wide reader, and I can also say that for mystery, horror sci-fi, and the occasional novel purporting to be literary fiction only.

I write books with sex in them. Sex is usually a very important part of a relationship, and to deny that would be unrealistic in my opinion. But the sex has to have a point. It can be bad sex, sex for the wrong reason or sex with the wrong person as well as sex that is fulfilling and contributes to personal growth or the growth of a relationship. When the sex is for sex alone, I call that erotica.

I'm amazed that so many of you like the same part of the romance that I do. I call them "getting to know you" scenes. These are the scenes where character traits and belief systems, similarities or dissimilarities are consciously or unconsciously revealed. They are prominent in the beginning of the relationship, but we usually come to some revelation at other stages as well--for instance, when the characters reach the nadir of their situation, or during the resolution. Fun stuff always.
I'll check in later. Thanks for making this conversation happen, Michele.
Susan

Diana Peterfreund said...

Michelle, I think I may have unwittingly addressed some of those "ending" questions you had in my earlier post.

Regarding Dave's question:
While I haven't figured that out on my own yet, I would like to press the male readers to know what they find so enticing, alluring, and fascinating about romance novels? Why do you read these books so avidly, and what do you look for in them?

This is another "I hear it a lot" question, though not always specifically directed to males. I am always surprised when an audience of any entertainment medium -- horror movies, romance novels, science fiction television shows -- are called upon to justify their enjoyment of that medium. It is something they do for pleasure, for relaxation, for fun. Often, it cannot be quantified, or the very act of trying to pin down exactly what they like about it will detract from its value as entertainment. It appeals to their sensibilities, period.

Much is made of the romance audiences' love of the happy ending (read the Radway for more on this subject), and how it is a guarantee of "everything coming out all right." So for some readers at least, it is an momentary escape or distraction from the more difficult and prosaic world, and showcases an ideal.

I was recently speaking to a romance novelist friend whose books enjoy a huge popularity with military men overseas. The covers of her books aren't the normal "clinch" covers, so I think the guys are cool with reading them. She postulates they are so popular becuase in her books, the characters always act heroicly and with honor and they always defeat the bad guys. And isn't that a standard worth living up to.

I think romance novels are inspirational. There was a recent discussion here about how romance could provide a glimpse into a happier, healthier expression of romantic love than the girl in question saw growing up in an abusive household. For her, reading these novels convinced her that there had to be "good men" out there... somewhere.

Laura Vivanco said...

why was I so surprised that I enjoyed my first foray into the romance genre

I expect it's got to do with cultural expectations. Like I said, in the past male authors wrote about romance. Romantic comedies were written and enjoyed by men. Men wrote love poetry. For some reason, though, nowadays some people might consider it 'unmanly'. And romance is seen as particularly unmanly (according to the stereotype it's by women, for women, with lots of pink flowers and fluffy emotions). And in fact, it's about sex and emotions and given that everyone has emotions, and both men and women have sex, there's no reason why romance shouldn't be enjoyed by both men and women.

But could you explain a bit more the work that endings do for romances? Why is it essential to the 'formula'?

Romances explore what love is, what intimacy is, how relationships are built, how obstacles can be overcome. So the basis of the genre is about building lasting relationships. Take out the happy ending (which is the proof that the couple have resolved differences, overcome difficulties and are truly compatible) and it would be like having a mystery in which the detective couldn't work out who did it.

As Deborah Hale said, the formula is:
(H + h x A) ÷ C + HEA = R

Take out the HEA and it's a different genre. Also, there are clues right the way through that the reader follows which let them believe that the right solution has been reached by the end. Suddenly cutting out the happy ending (HEA) and leaving the relationship in tatters would mean that the reader would feel tricked and the character arcs and story arc of the novel would be warped.

If the author, right from the start, intends writing an exploration of romantic love (but isn't so keen on the HEA), then you have 'romantic fiction' and that can have prefiguring of the fact that this relationship is doomed for one reason or another. Or you can have, say, a chick lit novel in which the reader doesn't know who (if anyone) the heroine will end up with. But then the focus is different, and that's set up from the start and ties in with the way the plot develops.

In romance the HEA isn't something that's just slapped on the end, and so, equally, it isn't something you can just lop off a romance without critically injuring it.

Teresa Medeiros said...

And even though it's a bit more wordy than what we're used to today, I still think GWTW is one of the most "readable" novels ever written, which in my eyes definitely makes it elegible to be considered a Great American Novel.

Very few books through the years have shared this quality. Maybe THE THORN BIRDS?

Ann Christopher said...

Hi, all--

What a great discussion!

I'm a "retired" lawyer turned romance author, and I write for Kensington and Harlequin.

I have a terrible confession to make: I do feel a little strange reading romance in public. Maybe it's because I've gotten a few snarky comments and I can never think of a good comeback. Maybe it's because I think I should be reading WAR AND PEACE instead of having fun reading about people falling in love. Whatever. I am working on it...

My favorite part of romance novels is the courtship, the cat and mouse, the disconnect between what the hero/heroine say and do and what they FEEL. Also that moment when they realize they've met their match.

This is why I love GWTW so much. I love that Rhett loves Scarlett for who she is, and that he sticks with her for so long and through her other marriages. I love that he doesn't let her get away with any nonsense--and she does try. I love the subtext, and how, for most of the book, Rhett claims he could take or leave Scarlett, but then, every now and then, there are little clues about how he really feels--the way he watches her, the way he helps her, the way he teaches her it's okay to have fun again.

*SIGH*

I may need to go re-read it...

One more thing: the romance genre is incredibly diverse--you can find historical, suspense, comedy, science fiction, sweet, hot, inspirational, paranormal, black, white, Asian, Latina... are you getting the picture? :) Romance has something for everyone.

Thanks for visiting, students!

Ann Christopher
www.annchristopher.com

Robin Schone said...

Whew! I see I've missed a lot. Here are a few of my thoughts on the original questions . . . I'll be back with more!

First please let me say how totally impressed I am that a professor from Princeton (or any other university) and students are willing to explore romance. Hello, and kudos to all of you!

Michelle asked us to identify ourselves, so. . . . I am an author, and write "erotic" historical romances. In my books I explore the emotional need for intimacy that draws men and women together, as well as the legal, cultural and moral climates that keep my Victorian characters from gaining the type of love they need.

What’s your favorite part of a romance novel?

Interaction. The intimacy that builds between the hero and heroine through dialogue, or, conversely, in a good thriller, that same intimate dialogue builds between the villian and the protagonist. I want down and personal when I read, no matter what genre.


Do you consider romance novels a form of pornography?

I spent years trying to figure out the difference between romance, erotica and porn, until my agent blessedly ended my confusion. One day when I was whining that such and such author was being erroneously marketed as writing erotic romance, she said, simply, "Robin, erotic romance is whatever a publisher says it is." Wow. To think I had spent all that time worrying, when all along it wasn't up to me to define what is romantic vs erotic vs pornographic: it's up to the industry. They publish, knowing full well that one man - or woman's - pornography is another's valued artform, and we, the readers, react accordingly.

What really disturbs me is this incessant need to label fiction written by women. And who is doing this labeling? Men? Women? Why are so-called educated women - who should be advocates - putting down other women for increasing awareness of a woman's right to love? Anyone who insists that romance novels are porn is really saying far more about themselves than they are about the industry. Such a person is clearly laboring under the very sad and totally anachronistic belief that sexuality in a woman is bad, and to celebrate anything other than a woman's traditional roles as obediant daughter, loving mother and dutiful wife is, well, an act of pornography. Or just as sadly, these people are discrediting the role of love and sexuality, not only in the lives of women, but also in the lives of men. I really can't believe any truly educated woman would ditz romance.

Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you?

I don't think romance portrays people any more unrealistically than authors such as Henry Miller or D. H. Lawrence, or any other number of the modern, so-called "literary" authors who paint men and women's doomed existence in sweeping strokes of gloom. I believe it was Miller in one of his books who said men and women could not be friends (forgive me, I could be wrong, it's been a looong time since I've read his work); D. H. Lawrence frequently portrayed men as frail beings who were physicially and emotionally drained by sexually voracious women. These men wrote in the culture of their times. Historically, it has always been upheld that "Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus;" Miller was doing nothing more than mouthing the beliefs of the time. Whereas Lawrence . . . and please understand, Lady Chatterley's Lover is one of my all-time favs . . . was absolutely a creature of his time. Physicians in the 18th and early 19th century believed that men had finite sperm, and that if a man spent his sperm too frequently, that he would literally, physically, waste away. I don't think it's great literature for men and women to keep regurgitating archaic - not to mention wrongfull and hurtfull - ideologies; I think it's pure literary laziness.

Is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?

I should hope so, but like everything else, it's up to the author. Not all romance authors are the same. Some romance authors would rather concentrate on the "romance" than the history, hence you get a lot of fiesty heroines who, had they really lived historically, would have been either strangled or locked away. On the other hand, I once talked to a romance author who out and out said she didn't believe real 19th century women experienced desire. I was like, what?! The clitoris didn't just evolve; women have had them for a loooong time. Romance authors - like every other author - write what they believe in.

Sorry, didn't mean to get on a pedestal. Romance is my first love (well, actually, dinosaurs were my first love), but history is my passion.

Robin Schone said...

Oh! And I would say that Gone With the Wind is absolutely a romance, although not a traditional "genre" romance with the prerequisite happy ending. However, that was taken care of in the sequel, wasn't it? So if you look at the two books together (I wonder if Margaret Mitchell turned over in her grave when the sequel was written?), then it is traditional romance.

Playground Monitor said...

a story about a man reading romance, wishing for "his" HEA when he accidently drops his book at a bus stop. It ends up at the feet of ... well, that's a fantasy, right?

There was something close in Vicki Lewis Thompson's 1997 book MR. VALENTINE. It was about a man who worked in a mindless blue collar job so he could devote his nights to his true love -- writing. He submits a book to a publisher's contest under a pseudonym convinced they wouldn't even consider it with a man's name on it. He wins the contest and thinks everything is okay until they want "Candy Valentine" to go on a book tour. So he talks his best friend (and all us romance readers know she's the woman he's had a crush on for years) to pose as Candy.

And there's an Australian movie with Hugh Jackman called "Paperback Hero." I've tried my darndest to find it here in the states but can't. There are copies on eBay but not in a format that will play on US DVD players. :-(

Marilyn

Lauren Baratz-Logsted said...

Oops, I forgot an important point. We can blame Shakespeare for the tyranny of the HEA, for it was Shakespeare who first set up the model that comedy ends in marriage while tragedy ends in death.

Renny said...

Hello. I’m a romance reader.

With so many great and thought provoking answers to the questions and I agree with most of what has been said but I did want to make a comment about Nana’s question of the difference between erotica and traditional romance. Eventhough I think Laura Vivanco’s blog that she links to in her post covers the topic very well.

In my mind the difference between porn and erotica is in the intent to only to arouse or in the sex as a seamless continuance in the development of the understanding of the characters and plot. My definitions would be similar to what Anna Destefano said, but I disagree with her about Porn being male-centered view and Erotica a woman’s. The things I would consider porn would be all about the sex and things that in general tend to appeal more to a man then a woman, as I do agree most women prefer and need the emotional development and descriptions of feelings rather than the visual depictions of the act itself. I do not believe that always has to be the case. People are very different in all areas including what they find sexually stimulating (as attested to by the dozen’s of sub-genres) and cultural backgrounds also play a role as well. I think saying that visual stimulus is a male-centered trait plays into the same type of gender stereotyping that says men prefer violence and women are peacemakers.

While I do have a differentiation of Porn & Erotica in my mind, I believe that we have so many people trying to come with definitions and to show the line between the two because Pornography is used a derogatory word for something that should be seen as shameful, sinful and beneath notice. Where as Erotica has not taken on those same connotations and can still be looked on as something artistic and with value. So maybe there is not really a difference between the two but one is just the “bad name” given to something people fear and don’t understand.

Romances on the other hand are not about the sex at all. If we are looking specifically at something like Lynn Kurland’s Stardust of Yesterday in comparison the Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty the difference is huge. In Kurland’s book all the sex is behind closed doors – literally, she takes the reader to the bedroom door- it closes and then you skip to the next day – and if I remember correctly it only happens once towards the end of the book. The Sleeping Beauty series (which I haven’t read all of) is not about the development of a Happily Ever After and a committed romantic relationship but about the arousal of the reader through the many different bondage scenarios.

Romances can certainly be erotic but sexual explicitness is not a requirement of the genre though a popular trend currently. But to be a truly good erotic romance in my mind, the sex can’t just be thrown in to the story between the plot line but needs to be integral to the tale. Authors like Madeline Hunter, Christina Dodd and Teresa Medeiros do this well in incorporating the sensuality into the more traditional historical romance genre. There are also a few erotic romance authors, such as Joey W. Hill, in which you couldn’t understand the story or the characters if you simply skip over the sex scenes.

To address Michelle’s questions of why a Happily Ever After is a requirement, I just want say it is because of the expectations. Readers today have been told a book sold as a Romance will have an HEA ending. If it does not then the reader will be extremely disappointed. One of my friends recently read a series of novels she was looking forward to and at the end of the last book the hero died. She was furious and has told all her friends not the read the series because of it and she won’t be reading any other books by that author. The style of writing that she enjoyed in the first book of the series didn’t change but the problem was that it was sold to her as a romance and the book did not give her the fulfillment of the uplifting ending the she wanted. So while a book with romantic elements and a tragic ending might be a success, such as Nicholas Sparks, it can’t be sold to readers as a Romance in today’s market. But it doesn’t necessarily they weren’t considered romance in the past and couldn’t be in the future.

Nina said...

Hi Princeton Undergrads! Welcome to the blog - You're getting a special treat having so many wonderful authors weigh in on this subject! It's a treat for me, a reader & aspiring author, to read all the entries. Since several issues have been addressed quite well by these authors, I will only talk about what relates to me as a reader.
my favorite part of a romance is definitely the tango between the hero and heroine. The verbal & physical interplay, the push and pull of getting to know each other.
I don't consider romance a form of pornography anymore than I consider Michaelangelo's Boticelli on par with Playboy material. Popular "mainstream" fiction author Stuart Woods includes loves scenes in many of his novels and no one asks if he publishes pornography.
I don't mind if people see me reading romance in public, although I do object to many of the covers on romance novels. The trend is getting better, however, with more contemporary stylistic covers & getting away from the traditional "clinch" type covers.
Romance is written primarily by women - WE'RE THE LAST PEOPLE ON EARTH THAT ARE GOING TO OBJECTIFY THEM. We get enough of that in other forms of media.
I like reading about fantasy alpha males and I like reading about "normal" average guys as far as looks. What they all have to have is strong character, courage, and a passionate love for the heroine. Women are more into characterization (as Bob Mayer has discovered), although if he's great to look at, so much the better!
I'm a college educated woman (minored in Literature) who likes to escape the pressures of everyday life in a well written romance. They range the gamut from light and funny, to dark and suspenseful. Fantasy and reality. There's so much to choose from now that there is no way you can generalize about the entire genre, except to say that there are a lot of fantastic authors out there who deserve just as many kudos as their mainstream fiction authors do. I know they have a more loyal and dedicated fan base.

Laura Vivanco said...

We can blame Shakespeare for the tyranny of the HEA, for it was Shakespeare who first set up the model that comedy ends in marriage while tragedy ends in death.

I know next to nothing about this, but I think ancient Greek 'new comedy' got there quite a while before Shakespeare did.

Kate Pearce said...

"Is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?"

Good question-and imo, there should be a difference. I'm originally from the UK and I have a Masters in history (oh and I write erotic romances for Virgin EC and Kensington Aphrodisia as well) so it ticks me off when a romance heroine in Regency England or medieval France goes around behaving like a 21st century woman.

If you chose to write a historical novel, you should try and make the heroine work within the constraints of her time and the culture and society she lives in.

It's actually the fun part of writing it-seeing how an intelligent heroine can bend the rules and have a happy ending despite the constraints which after all provide the conflict.

Robin said...

I guess I should start out by saying that I'm a reader who also is an academic (Ph.D. in English from lit theory powerhouse, specializing in Colonial and 19th Century American and Native American literatures + a J.D. within the month -- god or whatever willing). And I'm home from school today with an ear infection, so forgive what is probably an incomprehensible post.

Some of the readings on romance that we've asked students to read (Regis and Crusie) have given some time to why the happy ending is so essential to the romance genre. But could you explain a bit more the work that endings do for romances? Why is it essential to the 'formula'?

As a reader, I don't believe the happily ever after ending is essential to the genre, but so many readers do I've given up fighting it. I do, though, point to Bronte's Wuthering Heights with the argument that it technically satisfies the requirements, since Heathcliff and Catherine are reunited on the moors in everlasting love, and even the mortals eventually find happiness after some generational gene pool cleaning.

I think, though, you could make the argument that Romance is basically the 20th and 21st century version of classical comedy, which tends to pit an individual or a pair of lovers against an antagonist that usually represents some older and oppressive authority, and through the conflict the younger/newer protagonist(s) prevail, as do their newer, younger social views, which become socially sanctioned in a wedding and a promise of fertility and social stability. So in that sense, I think the HEA of Romance is similar to the function that the wedding provided in old-style comedy -- to sanction the happiness of the couple; to promise a new social order based on love and happiness rather than, say, marriages of convenience or status; to preserve the family as the basis of social order; to send the message that "all's right with the world" despite whatever conflict preceded the unification of the couple in everlasting love and happiness.


I also want to push the question of _Gone with the Wind_ again. For those of you who have read it, are there any elements within it that fit the romance genre? I ask because despite its ending, we've had some good discussions of it in light of Regis and Crusie.

I think GWTW is a bridge book of sorts between the novels of the 19th century that we now call sentimental fiction (as well as the Victorian novel as written by Dickens and even the early Modernism of Hardy and the like) and contemporary Romance fiction. The character-driven conflicts, especially the centrality of the heroine, for example, is common to both types of fiction. So is the social conflict, although in the case of GWTW, Scarlett is on the side of "old" authority, which makes her either a more complex heroine or an antagonist, depending on your perspective vis a vis genre Romance. The epic scope is a definite bridge, especially when it's matched up with much of the Romance of the 80s, and 90s, much more of which had that epic feel to it.

Many genre Romance readers will say that the lack of a happy ending keeps GWTW from being a genre Romance, and that's probably true from the perspective of generic boundaries, because the couple don't end the book together. However, I tend to see more fluidity in contemporary Romance than a lot of other readers, perhaps because I tend to dislike "rules" and I tend to see genre Romance as both reinforcing and subverting social norms, depending on the book (although often both occur within the same book, IMO). Plus I tend to track Romance back to its distant cousin the captivity narrative, so that shapes my reading of genre Romance, as well.

What I generally find with fiction that has some sort of domestic focus (and I don't simply mean domestic in terms of housewife, but rather in terms of domestication of all varieties, husbandry, gender roles more generally, the relationship between love and social stability, etc.) you will have a fair amount of internal conflict around the "ideal" man, woman, relationship, happily ever after, sexuality, blah, blah, blah. And IMO that's a really *good* thing, because it keeps us all engaged in society as a process rather than a product of uncontested roles and expectations.

As for the objectification question, which I think relates here, I would argue that it's more the COVERS of Romance novels that are guilty of objectification, as well as certain marketing strategies for the genre. Which, IMO, FAR more than the woman-centric genre, is what keeps Romance from more mainstream respect. And I admit that I wince at all the talk of "hot wet men" around an audience of readers external to the genre, because, well, for the same reason the young man in the first commenter's post thought the Romance she was reading was porn. I do think Romance readers make a sort of paradigm shift into the genre, and until you make that shift, things look different. What I used to look at with suspicion, I now embrace in understanding. Then, of course, there's the whole way in which we demonize porn in order to elevate the Romance novel, but that's a separate conversation, I guess.

Nina said...

Oh, and what's the appeal of a romance to men? If it's well written and includes action, many men will read a "romance" writer. I turned my very macho, 220 lb. 6'4" brother in law onto Suzanne Brockmann's SEAL Team novels. Great Writing, action, romance, hot loves scenes....something for everyone!

LizeeS said...

Wow everybody - if there's a soul out there who doesn't think romance readers and writers are thoughtful, intelligent people, let him/her come into this place and be converted!

As a long-time reader of, and now a writer of romance fiction, this discussion is so important and so helpful. I am impressed with all the students who are taking time to take this so seriously!

You have all addressed the questions so eruditely that I won't repeat answers to everything here. Such smart women and men you all are!

The question of whether romance is porn is of most interest to me, and the answer should be obvious I guess, but I think it is still so much in the eye of the reader. I have a friend who writes excellent short pieces she describes as "candy" (isn't that a great descriptor?). The sex starts within 30 minutes of the H/h meeting and there are maybe seven or eight pretty hot scenes within 20,000 words. The story thread is thin: that these two people who've been wounded by relationships find trust and something special in each other. Is that believeable after 30 minutes? No. Is it wonderful fantasy? Yes. Is it some peoples' porn? Afraid so.

Personally, I prefer the longer romances where we get to know our H/h and by the time we reach the HEA we're absolutely certain their future is assured and not based on physical love. But, ain't it grand that the full range of romantic and sexual feelings is "explorable" in fiction today?

And just as the amount of sex and the detail of description is a matter of taste - so, too, is the type of hero or heroine. There are strong people, weak people, wise people, experienced people, obnoxious people and sweet people walking this earth. Thank goodness there's a hero and a heroine to match each type!

Thanks for this wonderful discussion, Michelle and Students! Trust me, you're teaching us all a lot!

Eve Silver said...

Hello. What a fascinating discussion! I'm Eve Silver, an author. I write historical gothics, contemporary paranormals, and futuristics.

I wanted to touch on the question of the appeal of romance to men...One of my husband's all time favorite reads was The Wolf and the Dove, and my son's #1 favorite is J R Ward's vampire series. Based on their input, along with that of male readers who have commented on my stories, the elements of a fast-paced, unique, action-oriented story come into play. Moreover, men can enjoy a happy ending just as much as women, can't they?

is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?

Women in historical romance are often written as products of their societal restraints, limited in options and choices by class and standing. Moreover, elements of their personality are shaped by those limitations, resulting in opinions and actions representative of the climate of the time. A modern heroine may view her worth, her options, the value of her thoughts differently because modern society views women differently than historical society did. Another thought is that a woman of the ton in a historical novel would be protrayed completely differently than a maid or seamstress. But this raises an interesting point in that some authors choose to portray women in historicals as very progressive, with attitudes more in keeping with modern times. Does this detract from the read? Add to it? I suspect that answer is that it is all in the execution.

Eve
--
http://www.evesilver.net

Robin said...

What really disturbs me is this incessant need to label fiction written by women. And who is doing this labeling? Men? Women? Why are so-called educated women - who should be advocates - putting down other women for increasing awareness of a woman's right to love? Anyone who insists that romance novels are porn is really saying far more about themselves than they are about the industry. Such a person is clearly laboring under the very sad and totally anachronistic belief that sexuality in a woman is bad, and to celebrate anything other than a woman's traditional roles as obediant daughter, loving mother and dutiful wife is, well, an act of pornography. Or just as sadly, these people are discrediting the role of love and sexuality, not only in the lives of women, but also in the lives of men. I really can't believe any truly educated woman would ditz romance.

Can I take a moment to argue against the idea that it's the "educated woman" who's rejecting Romance? Even in my own personal experience this isn't true. I have two friends who enjoy reading Romance, and one -- the person who got me reading the genre -- is a tenured professor at a major academic institution, and she's been a dedicated Romance reader since her teen years. Most of my friends who are not even college educated have ZERO interest in Romance and aren't quite sure what I see in it, either.

IMO it's not about the patriarchy or about the literati or about academia. Not that those particular contingencies don't have an effect. But what about the marketing of the genre from within? The covers, the cover man contests, Mr. Romance, etc. -- no kidding that people outside the genre denigrate it!

As for the sexuality issue, I'm glad you raised that, but I tend to see it as less of a polarized division. IMO the vast majority of women are conflicted *in some way* about our sexuality. I don't know how much of this is a function of patriarchal assumptions about gender roles and how much of it is some kind of policing mechanism among women that is only *partially* informed by patriarchy (at what point do we take responsibility for our own agency as women?!), but I think the ambivalence emerges within Romance fiction (including erotic Romance, Romantica, and traditional or mainstream Romance), and I'd even go so far as to say that much of what shows up in Romance is some effort to grapple with this ambivalence, to put it out in the open and to work it out somehow. So I'm not surprised anymore when I read erotic Romance that feels more socially traditional to me than some historical Romances I've read. Because one thing I've learned for myself is that even as I think the distance between porn and erotica is somewhat artificial and pejorative, anything labeled erotic isn't necessarily subversive, progressive, or challenging of social norms. For me, at least, it's really a book by book analysis.

AuthorM said...

wow! So many great comments have left me with little to say... :)

Except no, I don't think romances are porn and no, I'm not ashamed to read them in public. (Or to write them in public!)

Megan Hart
www.meganhart.com

Courtny M said...

Hi,

I'm a student in Professor Gleason's class who asked a couple of the questions that you all have been answering, and I just wanted to thank you for such well thought out replies--I've definitely learned a lot about the genre just by reading this blog & your comments.

Also, now I'm really curious about the books by all the authors that have been posting--I'll have to go check them out. I read a couple of romance novels as a young teen but then a combination of schoolwork, peer pressure, and just not enough free time kept me from reading more.

I guess another question is, what's your favorite romance novel ever, and why?

Mine is "The Changeover" by Margaret Mahy, because I get to watch the heroine come into her own, grow up, battle the forces of evil, etc. and her changes come from her own inner strength, making her world and the world of her hero a better place.

Thanks again for such a cool discussion.

Best,
Courtny

Robin Schone said...

Nina said:
Popular "mainstream" fiction author Stuart Woods includes love scenes in many of his novels and no one asks if he publishes pornography.

Oh, good point, Nina!

I groaned to my agent also at the fact that "erotic" romance books are not stocked by the likes of Walmart, etc., yet Kiss the Girls by James Patterson was prominently displayed in every Walmart, every department/drug and grocery story that sold books. Yet he included an anal sex scene that included a snake!

My agent's response - who is a very wise woman - responded that Patterson is not known for writing pornography, he is known for writing thrillers.

Yet, I have to wonder. . . . Would the retail world have been as accepting if that book had been written by a woman?

Is it romance that is being cold-shouldered, or is it women? Perhaps the literary world is merely a reflection of the true world, in which - while we've come a long way, baby - women still are not treated as equally as are men.

So again my question: is romance the issue, or is sexism the issue?

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Hullo, All! Thank you so much for dropping in and doing exactly what I suspected. You're explaining your opinions and impressions so clearly, each with your own flavor.

And, again, WELCOME PRINCETON STUDENTS!

I understand the Gov of NJ declared a state of emergency due to some miserable weather back East. So, Princeton has the day off.

So, I'm thinkin you guys are probably enjoying sleeping in, hanging with your friends and stuff. And I'm sure none of you is planning to party all day as my husband suggests. That is, perhaps, what he and Prof Gleason might have done back at Amherst, but I can tell you students would never, ever behave in such an undignified manner.

So, if you are checking in, I wonder if you'd like to tell us:

1. What think you thus far?
2. Do any of the opinions offered surprise you? How so?
3. What other questions have arisen? (if you'd like, you can email them to me, and I'll put them to the gang. :)

MaryKate said...

I guess another question is, what's your favorite romance novel ever, and why?

Ah! I question I can answer without hesitation! It's THE WINDFLOWER by Tom and Sheila Curtis. IMHO, this is one of the finest examples of historical romance there is. Why? Well, the prose is sumptuous and evocative. The heroine travels a long and bumpy road and grows in remarkable ways. The hero is a double-winner, IMO -- he's both an aristocrat AND a pirate and dances a moral. It features some of the most intriguing and mysterious secondary characters ever put on the page. And, did I mention, it's a pirate story.

Seriously though, the romance industry lost a couple of giants when Tom and Sheila Curtis decided to stop writing.

I'm sure you'll get other answers, but for my money, THE WINDFLOWER is the best romance ever written. I know that Teresa Medieros will back me on this, she's the one who recommended it to me.

My answer will come as a surprise to NO-ONE who frequents this blog.

MaryKate said...

Huh, that should have been "dances a moral tightrope."

Jeez.

Bill Gleason said...

Hi everyone -- Bill Gleason here. I just can't thank all of you who have taken the time to read and respond to thoughtfully to the questions that my students have put forward. I do hope that we'll hear more from them as the day goes on -- though as Michelle just wrote, it has indeed been a very strange day here in New Jersey (official state of emergency because of all the rain and flooding) and the campus is in a bit of chaos with most classes trying to meet, but most extracurriculars getting cancelled. (Even the English Dept. is officially "closed" for the day.) But even if the conversation were to end now (and I hope it won't!), the sheer amount of expert knowledge and opinion shared here has been extraordinary. Thanks!

Robin said...

If I have to pick just one genre Romance novel as my favorite, it would be Judith Ivory's Black Silk. Followed closely by Laura Kinsale's Seize The Fire and For My Lady's Heart, Tom and Sharon Curtis's Windflower, Ivory's Dance and Untie My Heart, Patricia Gaffney's To Love and To Cherish and To Have and To Hold, Shana Abe's The Smoke Thief, and more my poor little sick brain can't recall at the moment. What does it say that all but one of these was published at least 5 years ago?

Gemma Halliday said...

Hi, all! I’m Gemma Halliday, and I write a romantic mystery series called the High Heels Mysteries. I’ve been writing romance for about 5 years, and my debut book, SPYING IN HIGH HEELS, is currently up for two RITA awards this year.

This is a really great discussion! Let me see if I can add anything.

Do you feel romance novels objectify men/women? If so, does this bother you?

Yes. And, No. :) I think romance is all about fantasy, and, while it’s not politically correct to say so, we all fantasize about hot people with perfect bodies. No one’s going to pick up a romance novel with an overweight, pot-bellied hairy plumber on the cover. So, yes, it does objectify to a point. But no worse than a Victoria’s Secret commercial.


Do you consider the novels a form of pornography?

Some are close, yes, in that they stimulate the same sort of feeling in women that porn stimulates in men. It’s about creating a sexual fantasy, just like a picture of big-breasted girl in bunny ears might for a guy. But a lot of romance, my books included, have no sex and the story is really more about the emotions and issues these two people are facing.

What's the appeal of the novels to men?

Wow – got me. I write totally girly books. :)

Since they've studied "Gone With the Wind," they'll also be talking about why it's "not" a romance.

This completely stumped me when I started writing romance. I had gone my whole life thinking it was romance. But, like the other authors have said, if there’s no Happily ever After at the end, it’s not considered a romance by the romance reading/writing community at large. Readers want to know that they’re in for a feel-good moment at the end of a romance. Personally (and, yes, some of my peers may stone me for this) I do see “Gone With The Wind” as a romance. It’s about a love relationship. And, while this doesn’t promise a happily ever after, it is, in my estimation, as romantic as stories come.


Gemma
--
Gemma Halliday
KILLER IN HIGH HEELS – out now
SPYING IN HIGH HEELS – double 2007 RITA finalist!
www.gemmahalliday.com

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Hi, Courtney!

Thanks for joining us. It's very cool that you've read romance, and detail exactly why you moved away from it. Your question of what are our favorites and why is a most popular subject here at RBtheBlog.

Courntney asks: What's your most favorite romance novel ever and why?

Now, perhaps, Courtney or other Princeton women, you might tell us a bit about the climate which surrounds a female student at Princeton, and how "peer pressure" might inform her "free-time" reading choices.

Cause we're discussing whether smart women shame other women for making the choice to read romance.

Years ago, feminist literature attacked the novels as patriarchal, the women reading them as "being held down," or worse, "asking for, or accepting a limited role in society." (understand, all, I'm stating this quickly/simply for time's sake).

Today, feminist literature supports romance fiction, kinda saying it celebrates a woman's right to define her sexuality, her fantasies, to self-actualize, etc.

I would have wished that were the case when so many bright women I know said they had to hide their Woodiwiss so their fellow campus NOW members wouldn't think poorly of them, or think they were agin 'em.

I speak to a lot of romance readers, most of whom are markedly intelligent, others who are perhaps "average" in intellect. But from their anecdotes, I can safely state that the most shaming they experience comes from other women, especially when those women are "educated," or the romance readers view those women as "better educated" than themselves.

And if you think no shaming goes on among romance readers with relation to the sub-genres they choose to read and write, you "gots another think comin."

It is a sad fact that even women who are feminists can be awfully hard on, and judgmental of, other chicks.

Up until a few years ago, my summa cum laude self wouldn't have condescended to read a romance, and would have thought women who read them a bit pathetic.

Don't I stand magnificently corrected.

Janice Maynard said...

Hello, Professor Bill and Princeton gang!! And hello to our wonderful Michelle. Sorry I'm late to the party, but it has been a Monday at my house.

What a great day and a great forum to talk about some of my favorite things... books, love, and sex!

I have a Master's degree... taught school for fifteen eyars, am part of a very happy 30 year marriage, and I've been fortunate enough since the fall of 2002 to be writing romance fulltime.

I read my first romance when I was 12 or 13 years old. Back then Harlequin was the only game in town. The heroines were almost always sweet young things and the heroes were brooding, domineering macho males. I loved it...

Fast forward twenty years, thirty years - the genre has evolved even as the role of women in America has evolved. We've grown up as a "group" and the books have followed suit.

All my life I have been fascinated by the relationships between men and women - why some work... why others don't. And based on my completely unscientific research, I believe that marriages based on genuine intimacy - marriages that include healthy sexual relationships - are the ones with the best survival rates.

Life is hard. Life throws stuff at you weekly if not daily. How great it is at the end of the day to know that there is one person in the world who will slide under the covers with you and keep the monsters at bay.

Women like the words - duh... but men often express emotion via sex. As long as both parties understand what's going on, intimacy grows. The deeper the intimacy, the stronger the glue.

I sometimes laugh when I hear romances referred to as formulaic. If sexual attraction which leads to love and commitment is a formula, then hallelujah. The world needs more of that.

If putting a naked woman and man together in bed and expecting something to happen is a formula - well, that's no news flash, now is it??

Now on the subject of porn... hmmm... I believe it is a sliding definition. Before you throw tomatoes at me - think of it this way... some people call chocolate a "junk food" - which I have to tell you is pure nonsense, because I know for a fact that chocolate is an essential part of my own personal food pyramid.

So, too, with porn. I have a dear sister (we are close) who is super conservative in both her religious views and her politics. I consider myself very religious and am in church every Sunday, I also happen to be what some would label liberal in my politics, and she and I are poles apart on almost every issue.

She thinks what I write is porn. We have agreed to disagree.

I write for Pengion/NAL in what they call their "erotic" romance imprint. The label doesn't mean much to me... I simply call it contemporary romance with hot sex scenes.

I have, however, also published with Penguin/NAL under the name ELizabeth Scott. My alter ego writes what I call erotica... still lots of romance, but the hero and heroine are already together and the book is all about the sexual journey rather than the initial "falling in love" phase.

My sister doesn't know about those books. I have just recently decided to ccome clean about my other identity - why didn't I in the beginning? Because I didn't want my family to know. But I also don't tell them that I read and enjoy Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty books.

Anytime we delve into the messy areas of intimacy, love, commitment, sexuality and arousal, we are on sensitive ground. But all these topics are at the core of what makes us human. They will never go out of fashion.

I will say that I have come across a number of "twenty-somethings" who are surprisingly squeamish about sexual topics. Not sure what that means or why, but there you have it.

Romance in all it's many wonderful permutations is at its most basic level the story of how two people (from Mars and Venus if you will) manage to at long last wade through all the stuff that keeps us apart and form an alliance that strengthens them both individually and as a couple.

In a good relationship, that alliance enables both the man and the woman to be better, happier people.

I'm never ashamed to be seen reading a romance. I have stacks of books in my house that fall into a million categories. If you would like to come shelve them and label them "porn", sweet romance, romantic suspense, etc., be my guest.

All I ask of my wonderful books is that they give me enjoyment, mental stimulation, and a reminder of why it is that I love the genre in which I write.

I am delighted that Bill and his Princeton crew are interested enough to be here and kick around such a stimulating topic.

Long live the romance novel! And long live romantic love.

Janice Maynard

Anonymous said...

I'm a fairly recent recruit to reading romance, after being assured for so many years from my time in the ivory tower and then my friends who were still there, that romance is dreck. Even my mother who has read every mystery novel ever assured me that romance was somehow less than those. Turns out it's not. Heh. Who knew?

* Do you consider romance novels a form of pornography?

Some, yes. If the people meet and immediately have blazing hot sex in every possible position and the writer chooses to describe every aspect of this coupling, then the book doesn't show much emotional growth? I won't say I don't get turned on (fanning myself), but it's not exactly Literature, y'know?

* Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public?

Depends on the book. Some are just so stinkin' good that I am proud to take them out in public and recommend them to my friends and to complete strangers. Others are....not.

* Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you?

Some of them do. They are more likely to objectify men, so it doesn't bug me as much. I'm mostly joking on that one.

* Would you rather read about a character who’s the epitome of physical perfection, or someone “normal"?

Definitely normal people (and define "normal"), for the most part. Or at least, the idea that a normal woman like me can have hot sex and happily ever after with a really hot guy is a fantasy. Though my DH is darn cute, sweet, intelligent (I guess I'm not going to be able to sign this, huh?) he's not always emotionally available and he doesn't have six-pack abs.

* One of Bill’s students notes that male characters in many of the romances s/he’d read, usually have an almost animalistic sexuality, [etc]

The scary fact is that it's a huge number of women who have endured some sort of sexual mistreatment (25% I think I read at some point - and that's the reported cases, not the borderline date rape or guys with wandering hands that you barely escape from). The other scary fact is that many women have been physically injured by a boyfriend or husband or acquaintance.

If we haven't, we know people who have and/or we have felt the fear of walking down a dark street at night or the date who has gotten too pushy too fast, or have just felt overwhelmed in the presence of someone bigger and stronger.

Now, if you could have the biggest and strongest and toughest person possible to protect you? All the time - sometimes just by his reputation as big and tough? And that person was in love with you and would make love to you like a crazed weasel? Oh yeah.

* Are there other traces of formal elements at play in [romance] novels that might give them greater literary status than the typical mass-produced, formulaic fiction?

Depends on the book. Some mysteries have 'formal elements' and some are formulaic. Some action-adventure novels, GI Joe-esque novels, sci-fi, fantasy, books that get published just as 'fiction', some newspaper articles, some children's books....

Thousands of books are published every year. Why is romance singled out as being more formulaic and less worthy than every other genre? I think many other authors have explored the ghettoization of women's fiction. Like that Erica Jong article recently....

And why have we never had a woman president and why are we under-represented in Congress? And why is there a glass ceiling? And why why why?

And can a novel win the Pulitzer prize unless it's tragedy? Who made up that (unwritten) rule?

* What’s the appeal of romance to men?

Don't know. DH reads computer manuals. But I would guess that the good authors are writing good books about realistic men and women who have their ups and downs and get their happily-ever-after, or at least an "emotionally satisfying" ending which I believe is all the RWA says it expects.

Vivi Anna said...

I agree with you Robin. My question would be this, if romance wasn't predominately written by women and read by women would we be having this discussion about the merits of romantic fiction????

Although I believe there was a time when sci-fi/fantasy authors were poo-pooed on.

My favorite romance novel...hmmm, that's a tough question because I don't read romance books for the romance. But I'd say Warprize by Elizabeth Vaughan would be my favorite romance romance. That and Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes, which is wonderful but shelved in fiction not romance.

My favorite book series are not romances, but urban fantasies.

Robin Schone said...

Can I take a moment to argue against the idea that it's the "educated woman" who's rejecting Romance? Even in my own personal experience this isn't true. I have two friends who enjoy reading Romance, and one -- the person who got me reading the genre -- is a tenured professor at a major academic institution, and she's been a dedicated Romance reader since her teen years. Most of my friends who are not even college educated have ZERO interest in Romance and aren't quite sure what I see in it, either.
Hi, Robin! So sorry if I came on a bit too strongly there. I know that romance novels touch men and women regardless of their education, both from the letters I receive, and the wonderful men and women who participate on my bulletin board. So, again, please accept my apologies if I inferred otherwise. Isn't it strange to think of reverse discrimination? Yet, that, too, exists: the mother of a friend, who did not attend high-school, vigorously claims educated women don't read romances, that they are, in essence, the "opium" of the masses.
IMO it's not about the patriarchy or about the literati or about academia. Not that those particular contingencies don't have an effect. But what about the marketing of the genre from within? The covers, the cover man contests, Mr. Romance, etc. -- no kidding that people outside the genre denigrate it!
I wholeheartedly agree with you, and was thinking along those same lines . . . and then I saw the cover Michelle posted for the Tarzan book. Ye gods! Give me spilling boobs and yes, even man-boobs! LOL Seriously, some of the covers on romance books are embarrassing, yet I also know that some women love the ones that would have me ripping off the cover if it were on one of my books. In a romance seminar in Germany (2003), German readers were likewise groaning over the bodice-ripping kind of covers a leading romance publisher was using. The editor responded that readers loved these covers. That the covers identified a book as romance, thereby alerting romance lovers about what they would be receiving, i.e., romance.

I have to wonder . . . is romance popular BECAUSE of the covers, or despite the covers? Did anyone back whenever actually LIKE the Tarzan bookcovers?

Diane Perkins said...

Popping back in to address another question:
Is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?

I believe the appeal of a Historical novel is that the reader gets the fantasy of the differences in the time period as well as the universals. So I certainly believe that women in Jane Austen's time thought differently about freedom, career, marriage than the modern woman, yet Austen's Pride and Prejudice seems as fresh today as in 1813 when it was first published, because of universal and timeless themes. Being loved for being the person you are is one theme that is timeless. And the romance novel certainly explores this theme.

I believe people have had universal needs thoughout history - love, security, a fulfilling occupation (not necessarily a career), sexual fulfillment, for example. The ethics of "doing what is right" is another timeless universal, the strong protecting the weak. Things like this.

When the historical is true to the mores of the time period and also taps into these universals, I think it is at its very best. And there are countless Historical Romances that do this very thing.

Portia Da Costa said...

Late to the party, as ever...

This is a very interesting discussion, but I'm not sure I've anything new to add to it because of all the fab answers that have gone before.

I'm Wendy Wootton aka Portia Da Costa and I write what I call 'romantic erotica' for Virgin Black Lace. I'm not a person who analyzes the way I write all that much. I've always liked to write sexy, but in my heart, it's always been romance, even if it sort of breaks a lot of the romance rules.

Anyway, I don't know why anybody would say romance is porn... I don't think they're anything like each other, not even when the romance is erotic romance. To me porn is more a visual thing, and when people write romances, they're going beneath the surface appearance and into the hearts and minds of the characters. Porn is just superficial, wham bam thank you ma'am... romance is feelings, an erotic drive, yes, but wound up with emotion. Even if it's not the simple boy meets girl love emotion that those who don't read romance often equate with the genre.

I think that's all I'm really qualified to answer... oh, apart from what part of a romance I like best... Well, that's got to be the emotion itself. Really, really well written emotion, the kind that gives me a sort of twist of the heart when I read it. :)

Oh, and no, I'm not ashamed to read any kind of romance in public! Sweet or spicy... If folk don't approve of what I'm reading, well, it's their loss!

I'll stop now... I'm rambling. LOL

Love

WendyPortia

Sonia said...

Hi,
I’m a student in Prof. Gleason’s class. I’ve never read a single romance novel, but after reading the posts, I’m very curious to know what they’re like. Do they ever include issues with inter-racial marriages or divorced heroines? What age range are most protagonists and what type of audience do you feel romance novel s are geared for? Do you feel female teenagers would benefit from reading romance novels (ie attain a sense of empowerment as Jenny Crusie suggests) ?

Thanks...
Sonia

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Dave writes: why is it "okay" for men to be fixated on more overtly sexual images and activities (such as pornography), but not so much with romance novels?

I guess I can sum all this up by asking why was I so surprised that I enjoyed my first foray into the romance genre, and if that's a typically male feeling to have? Romantic men, I give you your call to arms!


Hey, Dave: I really wanted to comment on this, because my husband brought your post to my attention. He's not a romance reader, but is pretty happy that I love them so much.

Your questions are great, and I'm hoping some of our guy readers/writers will visit to answer your call to arms.


I guess what you're saying in terms of it being more OK for guys to like porn/graphic imagery is that we generally accept that men are primarily aroused by visual stimuli. Yet we know that men also express love through sex; for committed guys, there's truly no time most feel more in love. (Ian Kerner, PhD.)

One of the things that surprises many, is that women are more turned on by visual imagery than anyone cared to notice, we're generally just primarily aroused -- at lease initially -- by emotion applied to sensual/sexual situations or representations.

Earlier, I wrote that people in general are uncomfortable with strong emotions -- and it's still so damn societally unacceptable for guys to express or indulge them -- that men and women who read romance are looked upon as suspect. Men, of course, more so, because you've got those "guy" standards to live up to. And whether we want to admit it or not, women have a bit of trouble "processing" guys who act outside of the guy norm, too.

But you don't need me to tell you you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't in many ways when it comes to working out the whole guy/emotion equation.

I'm gonna suggest you enjoyed your foray into romance because you're curious and open-minded enough to say, "I thought it was gonna stink." Then you tried it.

All's I'm sayin, too, is, if you liked GWTW -- and you dig emotion and maybe even hot sensual imagery -- you just might wanna try some more romance. Maybe start with a Suzanne Brockman Navy SEAL novel. Or not, just dive into anything that suits, a vampire, an historical, something totally erotic.

Spend some time nosing around RBtheBlog, read some Features at RBtheBook.com . But mostly, get yourself some more of the good stuff. You know you want to. :)

CM said...

Sonia:

* Interracial marriages & divorce. Yes. All the time. Even in historicals set in England.

* Age range of protagonists: 17 or 18 at the low end through 30-40.

* And yes, definitely. Especially Crusie's novels.

Amanda Brice said...

speak to a lot of romance readers, most of whom are markedly intelligent, others who are perhaps "average" in intellect. But from their anecdotes, I can safely state that the most shaming they experience comes from other women, especially when those women are "educated," or the romance readers view those women as "better educated" than themselves.

And if you think no shaming goes on among romance readers with relation to the sub-genres they choose to read and write, you "gots another think comin."

It is a sad fact that even women who are feminists can be awfully hard on, and judgmental of, other chicks.

Up until a few years ago, my summa cum laude self wouldn't have condescended to read a romance, and would have thought women who read them a bit pathetic.

Don't I stand magnificently corrected.


I'm a lawyer. In my spare time, I'm an aspiring romance novelist (have a few short stories published, and my young adult mystery romance is currently being shopped by my agent).

I'm constantly getting from many of my friends, who went to the same college I did (not an Ivy, but the school is also an "elite" institution), that romance isn't as "intelligent" as the books they read (mostly "literature." You know what? I read literature, too, when I choose to do so. Good books are good books, whatever the genre or form. That being said, when I read, I want to escape. I spend way too much time in my day job reading and analyzing difficult and wordy material. At night, or on my Metro ride home, I want to relax, unwind, kick back. I want to laugh. I want to cry. I want to enjoy myself.

Whatever. I know that I'm just as intelligent and just as educated.

So I don't care if you think less of me because I read romance. Life is too short to worry about stuff like that.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Hi, Sonia!

Characters in romances come in all age ranges, from all backgrounds. Interracial romances are absolutely depicted, and not always as in "they have so much to overcome to be together," but "here are two lovers who happen to be of diff races/cultures."

Many romanced authors have large numbers of teen readers, especially paranormal authors Sherrilyn Kenyon and JR Ward.

If a teen is ready for them, there are many romances completely appropriate for them. But that gets tricky because, as romances necessarily depict fantasy, some of those fantasies are appreciated through experience, or may only be healthy or interesting to some women.

For instance, an adult woman who digs the idea of bondage accepts the premise w/in a story she's chosen to read. She understands and is turned on by the power dynamic shared/acceded between the hero/s and heroine/s.

A 15-year-old probably isn't sophisticated enough to understand that, even if the author is very good at showing the emotion involved in the relationships.

I understand this isn't always the case, maturity varies, and in no way support censoring or not allowing teens access to the material.

But would I give it to my teen daughter even after discussing m/f power dynamics, feminism, right to determining one's fantasy? Ain't happenin.

But I'll say this: I wish someone had turned me on to romance novels when I was a teen, because my understanding of healthy relationships between men and women, of a woman's perfect right to ask for what she wants, and of the importance of celebrating sexuality would have been strengthened.

E. M. Selinger said...

Hi, everyone! I'm Eric, the romance scholar from DePaul University in Chicago and a UCLA grad school classmate of Bill G's. (Yo, Bill! When are you going to invite me to Princeton to talk about romance?) Anyway, I'm just back from 6 straight hours of teaching (poetry, not romance, alas), but I'm here at last to weigh in on these pressing questions, and especially Dave's:

"I would like to press the male readers to know what they find so enticing, alluring, and fascinating about romance novels? Why do you read these books so avidly, and what do you look for in them?"

I've been reading romance fiction for about 7 years now, and reading it seriously for 4 or 5, and I must say, I do find romance novels "enticing, alluring, and fascinating," as well as just plain fun. Why?

The fun part is easy, and probably my answer is the same as everyone's. I like the characters, their interplay, the story; I like the way that romance novels have to work within fairly strict parameters (to fit the genre), yet have to find some way to be fresh or interesting and familiar all at the same time, which is quite a compositional challenge. Think of romance as something like the blues: a very familiar structure, in which you can establish your individuality, move and entertain the reader / listener, pay tribute to your artistic ancestors, flirt with other forms or styles, mix the sacred and the secular, and "stomp the blues" by asserting the possibility of a happy ending. ("The sun's going to shine in my back door some day.")

Now, as for why I find the books specifically "alluring," I think that has everything to do with reading them as a man. First off, I love reading them because it feels like I'm getting a glimpse of a peculiarly female world and world-view: a glimpse of life and love through other eyes. I've learned a lot from romance, reading that way, whether it's about the secret language of shoes (or fashion more generally) or about the many various ways that a man can be attractive (which I've never spent much time noting, but do now). If that's the result of romance novels "objectifying" women and men, I'd say it's actually a pretty pleasant result from my end--I have a new set of eyes to see with, and I don't think they're doing anyone harm!

In addition, although I don't know how to verify this, I'm sure that I've become a better husband and father because of all this romance reading. The better father of a daughter, anyway--who just read her first romance novel a few weeks ago, to get in on the fun. (She proudly announced that she was "skipping the yucky sex stuff." The book in question, Beverly Jenkins' "Something Like Love," has a fair amount of that, but I'm not terribly worried. It's certainly a better book to learn about sex from than the ones I had as a boy, although I suspect it will give her pretty high expectations!) My female students often wish that their boyfriends / husbands were romance readers, and I will admit that if I don't actually ask myself "WWRHD" on a regular basis (What Would a Romance Hero Do?), variations on that thought have certainly surfaced from time to time. ("What Would Phin Tucker Do?" Now there's a bumper sticker I can sport with pride!)

And, for the record, I like reading romance novels in public, if only for the shock value. The only time I'm embarrassed is when women at the library give me odd looks in the romance stacks, as though I'm some sort of lech who's trying to pick them up. Even then, it doesn't bother me much--I'm just an average husband and scholar doing his research, and what could be wrong with that?

Amanda Brice said...

Characters in romances come in all age ranges, from all backgrounds. Interracial romances are absolutely depicted, and not always as in "they have so much to overcome to be together," but "here are two lovers who happen to be of diff races/cultures."
Yeah, this is a big issue for me. I'm Caucasian and am married to an Asian man, so for me, interracial romance is just normal and absolutely is something reflected in my own writing. But the issues that the couple overcomes has nothing to do with their race, unless this is something that is germane to the plot. It's not the plot itself, though.

E. M. Selinger said...

P.S. A Point of Clarification:

"("What Would Phin Tucker Do?" Now there's a bumper sticker I can sport with pride!)"

For those of you in Bill's class, Phin is the hero of Jenny Crusie's "Welcome to Temptation," which you should all go and read. Tell your friends it's a pop-cultural revision of "Paradise Lost" (which I suspect it actually IS, but then, I'm an English professor).

Oh, and reading as a man, I love, but love, a lot of romance heroines. I know some female readers who think of them as "placeholder" figures--there's a good essay on that by Laura Kinsale, another wonderful romance author--and the novel pivots on the hero, but for me, it's often all about her. And the author. But we won't go there. (Grin.)

Now back to you in studio!

Amanda Brice said...

Sonia, I did read some romances when I was a teenager, but mostly as I further in my teen years.

But there are definitely young adult romances, and young adult fiction with heavy romance subplots. In fact, several of the authors who commented today write young adult (in addition to also writing for adults). (The book my agent is shopping is a teen romance mystery.)

Courtny M. H. said...

"Now, perhaps, Courtny or other Princeton women, you might tell us a bit about the climate which surrounds a female student at Princeton, and how "peer pressure" might inform her "free-time" reading choices."

Being a female student at Princeton is an interesting experience--there are a lot of social connotations, both on and off campus. From talking to my friends, I think it's somewhat different for men, and also different for women in the sciences (I'm an English major).

As a woman, I feel like there's some pressure to prove yourself as being as smart as the guys. There's the same pressure that permeates most of our culture to look good, because often people judge based on appearances--but there's also a perception that if you're a pretty athlete you're not as smart, which I feel like I also sometimes have to combat. And regardless of gender, there's academic competition: when you put a bunch of bright ambitious people in the same place then how can there not be?

Being an English major at Princeton has been a great experience for me so far--I love the department so much that I'm on the Undergraduate Advisory Council. That said, I feel like many of the folk in my department would make fun of me if they saw me reading a romance novel--same goes with sci-fi and fantasy novels. However, because I'm much more emotionally invested in fantasy and sci-fi (my dad read them aloud to me as a kid) I don't care if people make fun of me for reading them.

I guess I feel guilty reading romances because they represent me reading just for pleasure and entertainment: if I have the time to read a novel outside of class (which I often don't) then I feel like I should make it something that will either advance my studies in some way, or that reminds me of home. Which isn't to say that I only read Faulkner, Virginia Woolfe, Shakespeare, LeGuin etc. for academic or nostalgic purposes - I wouldn't be an English major if I didn't like many of the critically acclaimed big-guns that are on the syllabus, and I wouldn't continue reading sci-fi and fantasy if I didn't enjoy the genres.

To clarify: I definitely think romance novels can have academic and literary merit, as I'm sure any genre of literature can--just that there's a social perception that they're "trashy"--a notion that I've been strongly disabused of by the level of discourse on this blog!

Best,
Courtny

Robin Schone said...

Hi Sonia!

Do [romance books] ever include issues with inter-racial marriages or divorced heroines?

Absolutely, although not so much in historicals. Mind you, some historicals do, but not the majority. Historically, divorce was very hard for a woman to obtain: up until the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century, a man could abuse a woman, keep a harem of mistresses, take away a woman's children, commit a woman to an asylum . . . and a woman could not gain a divorce, unless she had the money and the where-with-all to procure a special dispensation from Parliament. However, lots of contemporary romances have divorced protagonists, as well as inter-racial relationships.

Not all romances are the same. What do you like to read? Sci-fi? Horror? Mystery? I guarantee there's romances out there that covers any subject you'll find in non-romance books!

What age range are most protagonists and what type of audience do you feel romance novel s are geared for?

The heroines' ages are anywhere from 15/16 with an occasional 13/14 year old thrown in (remember, historically women married younger than women do now); I would say the average historical romance heroine is anywhere between 17 and early 20s. I write about older heroines - my last one was 49 - and a few other historical authors also write about heroines in their 30s, sometimes their 40s.

Do you feel female teenagers would benefit from reading romance novels (ie attain a sense of empowerment as Jenny Crusie suggests)?

I don't think romances stunt the growth of young teenagers. In fact, a twelve-year-old girl once wrote me that after reading one of my books, she was determined to save her virginity until she was older and met a man who would respect and cherish her needs as much as the hero in my book. She wanted something more than a boy, she said, who would sit on his behind and have her fetch his drinks/food, and who would then demand sex for the price of dating a popular boy. So yeah, I think some romances might have positive benefits for teens.

Vivi Anna said...

Sonia, you can find every type of heroine and hero in romance, even young adult romances. From 18-60 years old. Black, white, Asian, mixture, green even (scifi romances are awesome) You can also find divorced, widowed, single, married couples in romance books. It's not always about the single gal in her 30's looking for Mr. Right.

My suggestion if you want to check out various books...go to
http://www.romantictimes.com and check out their review search. You can pull it up by genre, situation, all kinds of different parameters and you'll find a long listing of books published over the past 10 years and reviews of each book.

Cara King said...

Hi! I'm an author of Regency Romance (a.k.a. "Traditional Regency" -- the genre the follows the tradition of Georgette Heyer, often containing aristocratic characters, witty dialogue, a high level of historical detail and accuracy, and read by readers interested in the history and period detail).

Following Diane's lovely answer, I'll also address the question:

Is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?

Historical romance (and right now, I'm using it in its broadest sense, including traditional Regencies) is a huge, and varied, genre. So it's a little like saying "how are Americans portrayed in science fiction" -- while there are some interesting tendencies or trends to discuss, there is no one answer.

Some historical romances definitely are interested in how social rules and the culture of an era affect the people in it. These books try to portray the periods/places accurately, and have the characters either mostly conforming to the dominant culture, or deciding to rebel against it -- but the society is definitely a factor.

So in these books, anyway, the woman are generally quite different from women in "novels set in the present."

Using the period I know as an example: duing the English Regency, the women were living in a culture in which virginity before marriage, and "modesty" after marriage, were considered highly important for women of many classes.

They were also living in an time and place in which:

-- there were a limited number of jobs women could have, and almost none paid well
-- women could not go to University or "public school"
-- women had a good chance of dying in childbirth
-- there was lots of syphilis (and no cure)
-- rape was punishable by death (but sometimes hard to convict)
-- property was expected to be passed on to the eldest son
-- one could sue a man for breaking off an engagement
-- the vast majority of the population could not vote
-- women could almost never get divorced if their husbands didn't wish it (and men also had a very difficult and expensive time getting a divorce)
-- illegitimacy hurt one's chances in life

So for the group of historical romances that have a serious interest in how society shapes character, the women are of course going to be very different from modern women. This is part of the interest that the book holds for the reader, in fact!

There are other kinds of historical romance, though, in which the historical backdrop really is more like a backdrop -- a stage dressing. These books are more likely, I find, to either have characters who are like modern characters, or to play with certain "archetypes" that have been around in fiction for a long time (Lancelot [all-powerful warrior], Cinderella [externally powerless and wronged virtuous female], Robin Hood [unnaturally clever rogue], etc etc.

Cara
--
Cara King
http://riskyregencies.blogspot.com

Jenna Black said...

I’ve never read a single romance novel, but after reading the posts, I’m very curious to know what they’re like. Do they ever include issues with inter-racial marriages or divorced heroines? What age range are most protagonists and what type of audience do you feel romance novel s are geared for?
--------
I'm the newest author to chime in and say I'm late to the party! I write paranormal romance for Tor and urban fantasy for Bantam Dell. And up until about 2003, I'd never read a romance. (Shocked gasp.) I bought into the notion that romances were somehow lacking in literary quality, that they were formulaic, and I was sure I wouldn't like them.

When I finally allowed myself to try reading them, I discovered that not only did I love them, but--there are TONS of different kinds, spanning from inspirational/Christian, to historical, to romantic comedy, to erotic romance, to paranormal--and everything in between. Sometimes, I think when we talk about romance as a whole, we do ourselves a disservice, because the genre is so amazingly diverse.

There are definitely romances that deal with interracial relationships and divorced heroines (and heros). But what I really wanted to address was your question about the age of the protagonists, and I think that's one place where you see the incredible breadth of the genre.

There are YA romances, with teen protagonists. There are romances that have heroines over forty (the Harlequin/Silhouette Next line comes to mind). And there are romances anywhere in between those two extremes. I don't have any particular statistics in front of me, but I suspect that the paranormal romance I write tends to appeal to a younger audience in general than does historical romance.

Romance is not a genre that only appeals to a certain age group. And I don't even think it necessarily has to be limited by gender, either. My husband reads and enjoys my romances. (Of course, I'm not sure how much choice he has in the matter. LOL) I think there are many men who would enjoy some of today's romances--if they could get over the fact that they're romances and men aren't "supposed" to like them. In fact, if you gave a guy a romance novel with no cover to give away what it was--particularly something like a paranormal or a romantic suspense, where the romance is only part of the plot--he might read all the way through without even realizing that this book is something that would usually sit in the romance section. (This is true for many of the romance naysayers, as well.)

Robin said...

Hi, Robin! So sorry if I came on a bit too strongly there. I know that romance novels touch men and women regardless of their education, both from the letters I receive, and the wonderful men and women who participate on my bulletin board. So, again, please accept my apologies if I inferred otherwise. Isn't it strange to think of reverse discrimination? Yet, that, too, exists: the mother of a friend, who did not attend high-school, vigorously claims educated women don't read romances, that they are, in essence, the "opium" of the masses.

Robin, I wasn't offended by your point; I just have a high sensitivity to some of the perceptions about mainstream acceptance of Romance. Because yes, I think there's some reverse discrimination that goes on almost unchecked, and it makes me crazy. So forgive the following rant and know it's not directed at any one person.

I'm befuddled, for example, by the sheer number of educated women who participate in these online discussions (some of whom are academics and many of whom have advanced degrees) and the attending argument that it's educated women who disdain Romance.

I'm frustrated by the jabs and snipes at literary fiction and the assumption that it's all those literary snobs who make Romance a no-respect zone, when I find even Romance readers covering up other otherwise hiding or being ashamed of clinch covers. And I won't even get into the generalized perceptions of lit fic as pretentious and depressing.

I'm confused about the perception that it's "those" people (fill in the blank) who keep Romance from being accepted when the Romance community seems to have so many rules around discussion and reflection on the genre internally. I've never encountered another genre where critical discourse is so suspect, and where critique is automatically assumed to be criticism, and criticism is deemed a bad thing. IMO, the more open Romance becomes to honest and reflective critique, the less marginalized it will seem (and perhaps the less demeaning its marketing will be).

Because when I hear those cries of "if you can't say anything nice," or "it's only entertainment;" and when I hear about agents who say they won't work with someone who says something bad about another author, when said editor's own authors have behaved in a way I find abominable (and in public, no less); and when I see authors who don't feel comfortable reviewing other Romance authors' work in print; and when I see readers who dare question some of the tropes in the genre being questioned for their loyalty to the genre, I can't help but seeing the "them" argument as a bit of a red herring.

I'm not saying that certain lit fic folks or academics aren't dismissive of Romance; all I'm questioning is whether those views are the ones entirely or even substantially responsible for marginalizing the genre.

Jessica said...

Well, I don't see a lot of respect for romance in literary fields. No one at the Four CCCC's conference in NY a couple of weeks ago did a presentation on how to teach romance in the classroom--romance for romance's sake. I don't see a great deal of acceptance at the MLA conference. Or at AWP. So it is there.

But it takes more than a small number of academics to marginalize anything.

Makes me wonder if we are embarrassed by pleasure? Is it like eating ice cream? So wonderful, so delicious, just what we wanted, but we are ashmaned of our own enjoyment?

Why is finding out "who done it" more highbrow than "will they get together in the end"?

I'm not sure. I would love to see more acceptance of romances in the writing field not to mention in book stores. My local bookstore carries mysteries but no romances. "You can go to Rite Aid," I was told. "If you want those."

Jessica Inclan

Robin Schone said...

:::cautiously sticking out my head:::

I don't think anyone blames the literary world for the present reputation of romance, Robin; I still think in certain literary circles that romance is put down. However, I think the cause lies not among the Ivy league, but because women in our society still have not achieved the same level of respect and acceptance that men have.

I will never forget a professor I had who taught religion. He did not believe in hell, he said, although he was a devout Christian. He said the seminary he attended did not teach that hell existed. But, he said, the general populace still believed in it, ergo, they (and the church) continued to promulgate the existence of purgatory. Ideology, he said, always lags 100 years behind technology/science.

I think romance is one of those lagging ideologies. But I think professors such as Bill and Eric will one student at a time change wrongful perceptions. :-)

Amanda Brice said...

would love to see more acceptance of romances in the writing field not to mention in book stores. My local bookstore carries mysteries but no romances. "You can go to Rite Aid," I was told. "If you want those."
What bookstore was that?!?!? I'm certain it must be an indy bookstore, as the chains (at least all the branches I've been in) have large and thriving romance sections, often one of the largest SINGLE fiction sections in the store.

But even with an indy bookstore, I sitll find this difficult to believe, simply as a business matter. Romance fiction is the largest segment of the fiction market. Why on earth would a bookseller want to miss out on that kind of profit? Unless they're a specialized bookstore (a mystery lovers' bookstore, scifi bookstore, children's bookstore, classic lit bookstore), why wouldn't they sell the genre with the largest audience and that's the hottest selling genre that commands that biggest market share? Doesn't make a lot of sense...

Jenny said...

Hi, I'm Jenny Crusie (Bob sent me).

Hello, Bill; any friend of Eric's is a pal of mine, especially if you tell me all the vile things he did in grad school. And hello to the students, too; I will lift a glass with anybody who studies romance and takes it seriously.

You know, this should have been a party. There are a lot of great people here. And now to the questions, which I notice Bob did not answer. He leads, not follows.

What's your favorite part of the romance novel?
The court and spark. The journey. I know how it's going to end, what I want to know is, how do these two people manage to put a relationship together in the face of some really big odds?

Do you consider romance novels pornography?
Absolutely. That's why I belong to PWA and let me tell you, our parties rock.
Pornography is written to evoke sexual feelings in the reader. The story is secondary to that. As a friend of mine once put it, the plot of the porn flick he'd just seen could be summed up as, "Oh, look, it's the plumber." And he didn't care.
Romance fiction is love stories with optimistic (not necessarily happy which is why I still say GWTW s a romance novel) endings. Sometimes the novels have sex in them. Sometimes the sex is explicit. Explicit sex is not automatically pornography, no matter what some people will tell you. Some people will say anything to feel superior. We should pity them.

Are you comfortable being seen reading romance in public?
Sure. Anybody who thinks less of me because I'm a reader is beneath my contempt anyway.

Do you feel the novels objectify women?
No. I feel they objectify men. Go, us.

Would you rather read about a character who is the epitome of physical perfection or somebody normal.
Oh, I go for normal all the time. Unless the person who's the epitome of physical perfection is also a flawed human being--flaws just aren't in appearance--and her amazing beauty is an intergral part of her problem. Let's face it, amazing beauty carries with it some baggage, internal and external. That could be a really great story . . . hmmmmm.

Then there's the question as to whether the heroine is always delicate.
Uh, not in my books and I don't remember reading any that had a delicate heroine. That's probably my reading taste, though.

Is there a difference in the way women are portrayed in historical novels?
Yes. They act like women did in that societal and historical context.

Are there other traces of formal elements at play in romance that might give them greater literary status?
You know, I don't care. Literary status means bupkis once you're out of grad school or Manhattan. I have two and a half grad degrees, and I can tell you that while I was earning them, I put up with a lot of crap about writing "genre fiction" [literary fiction IS a genre, you morons] and suggestions to write literary fiction instead (there's a nightmare for you). Then I left grad school and the world was bright and shiny and people read for pleasure instead of for status. Come into light, children. Really.

What's the appeal of romance to men?
Good stories.

What's your favorite romance novel?
The Grand Sophy. Or The Thief of Time, but that's just because I've got a thing for Susan Sto Helit.

Great conversation on here. Kudos to Romance By The Blog.
Jenny

Amanda Brice said...

I don't think anyone blames the literary world for the present reputation of romance, Robin; I still think in certain literary circles that romance is put down.
Case in point. OK, it's not strictly romance, but chick lit is considered a romance subgenre and one of RWA's many specialty chapters is Chick Lit Writers of the World. Last fall, two books made all kinds of headlines: THIS IS NOT CHICK LIT, which was a collection of short stories by a group of self-proclaimed "America's best women writers" (all literary folks) and THIS IS CHICK LIT, which was the chik lit world's counter. Lauren Baratz-Logsted, who spearheaded the counter project and who was on here earlier, can probably talk more to the lit chick vs. chick lit debates, but it's very similar to what you see with romance fiction.

Jessica said...

Of course it makes sense to me to carry romances!!

All the big chains do carry romance, and it has been the smaller ones who don't. As a writer, I am always checking out who stocks my novels. Invariably, I will find my NAL "women's contemporary lit" novels in stores (small and large) more frequently than my romances.

But I sadly promise you that the response I received in the local store was the truth. And Rite Aid does carry romances! That's the good news.

Jessica

Amanda Brice said...

Jessica, I know you know it makes sense. I guess I'm just incredulous as to the short-sightedness of these people. Sure, go ahead and allow your own prejudices to win over, because, after all, it's your store, but it really doesn't make a lot of sense as a business decision.

Eh, to each her own, I guess.

Jessica said...

You'd think they'd like a slice of the pie and it's a big pie!

I did a number of readings at the store (the woman who owns it was a childhood friend's mother), and it was with some consternation that she received the news of my newest publications.

I guess that some are slow to change, and there wasn't much I could do to change it. Oh well!

Jessica

Vivi Anna said...

Do you feel female teenagers would benefit from reading romance novels (ie attain a sense of empowerment as Jenny Crusie suggests)?

I wish I would've learned about sex and love from romance novels instead of porn mags when I was a teen. Hmm, maybe that says a lot about me....LOL

Caroline Linden said...

I see I'm coming in late to a really interesting party (as usual)!

First, welcome to Prof. Gleason and his class. What an interesting discussion this is. I write historical romances for Kensington.

“What’s your favorite part of a romance novel?”

As several other people have said, the 'tango' as the hero and heroine get to know each other. My favorite single moment of a romance, though, is the moment when they finally click, and understand each other, even if they haven't satisfied all the HEA requirements: declaration of love, marriage, sex, whatever else seals the deal in your opinion. It's the moment when you really, truly believe those two people should be together, and will be together, because they have finally seen each other for who they really are, and like the view just fine. And that's why I don't really consider GWTW a romance, because it stops just shy of that moment. Scarlett never realizes what she has in Rhett until he's walked away from her, after years of her pushing him away. It's a failing in Scarlett that she never gives him a halfway decent chance to prove himself, and her 11th hour conversion to loving him isn't complete, imo, because there's a chance he's really had enough. In a true romance novel, that would be about the halfway point, followed by Scarlett having to win him back. Because I think she deserves to suffer for what she's done, and have to work to get him.

“Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you?”

I don't think romance objectifies women, although sometimes it does them a disservice, when the heroine is ditzy and self-absorbed or a perpetual victim. If anything, the hero is sometimes objectified as some He-Man sex god with money and position to burn. That does bother me. I like to believe my characters are equals, with strengths and weaknesses that complement each other, and if I read a romance that gives off an air of 'he's lucky she'll have him' or 'she's lucky he's there to save her from herself'--instead of "they are both lucky to have found each other'-- the book doesn't work.

So unsurprisingly I like the more normal heroes and heroines, or rather, the ones who are exceptional in subtler ways than the obvious.

"is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?"

Well, yes. Women, and expectations of women and their behavior, have changed. IMO, there are exceptional, extraordinary women in every era, it's just what makes them extraordinary that's changed.

And I have to go now, but as the question about educated women being the hardest on reading romance, I have to say it was my college roommate at Harvard who got me hooked on romance. She was an English major but would go to the bookstore and hit the bargain tables for "fun" reading (in her words, and meaning "something I know I will like" as opposed to anything by Hemenway or Eliot or anyone Russian). Reading romance certainly wasn't looked down on--having spare time to read might have been, but not the nature of the reading material.

Caroline

--
www.carolinelinden.com

PS: When I got to watch GWTW for a college class, we had to analyze the portrayal of race and class in the South from the Civil War to the 1930s (when the movie was made). Hmph.

Pamela Clare said...

Vivi Anna,

I encourage my teenage boys to read romance novels because I think they benefit from learning how the other half thinks and seeing different perspectives on relationships.

I also talk frankly with them about sex. We give our kids all kinds of education for their jobs. We send them to class to learn to drive. But so many parents send their kids into the world with NO information when it comes to sexuality. That seems so wrong to me.

Diana Peterfreund said...

"Now, perhaps, Courtney or other Princeton women, you might tell us a bit about the climate which surrounds a female student at Princeton, and how "peer pressure" might inform her "free-time" reading choices."

I wasn't at Princeton, but I was at Yale five years ago, and though I did not notice any particular pressure to conform to a standard regarding free time reading choices (I discovered category romance novels at college), I did feel a great deal of pressure on the career side. There was definitely a prevailing attitude that if you were going to construct fiction, it had better be something meant to win a Pulitzer or a Nobel Prize. If you just wanted to tell good, entertaining yarns for a living, you were a waste of space.

My strongest memory is of a fiction teacher declining to discuss a student's children's fantasy story in his workshop because "this is not a genre fiction class." I was so angry I wrote him a ghost story for my final project.

But at the same time, I had another teacher (in an Am. Studies class) suggest that I write historical fiction for a living based on a novella I wrote for one of her class's projects.

The books I write now are set at an Ivy league school, and the characters feel that sort of pressure to do something "worthy" with themselves. It took me a little while to get over that mindset.

Jenny Crusie is right. Come into the light, indeed.

Robin said...

I don't think anyone blames the literary world for the present reputation of romance, Robin

If I hadn't had this argument with some of them, Robin, I'd probably agree with you.

It's interesting to me, as a humanist scholar, how marginalized the Humanities feels within academia, so the thought that English professors have the power to marginalize a gazillion dollar industry strikes me as kind of ironic on both sides of the issue. Who knew? Now maybe we can right the criminal imbalance in funding for the sciences . . .

But anyway, maybe it just comes down to the larger issues of agency women struggle with. On the one hand, we see ourselves struggle against very real barriers in society that still allow men (or at least white, fully-abled men of higher means) through. On the other, women seem to be particularly caustic in policing each other in ways I'm not convinced are the product of patriarchal training. Not that we should be all sisterhood of love in tune or anything, but perhaps more accepting of conflict up front, more comfortable with disagreement as productive and even healthy. And maybe it is just the nature of collective identification that an us v. them seems to be the most attractive foundation of security. Regardless, though, when Romance is no longer marketed *primarily* as Philly Fabio beefcake, and critical discourse *within the genre* is more widely accepted, I think we'll see a substantive change in how external communities perceive the genre. Heck, isn't that the basic principle of all esteem-oriented psychology: you can't be loved by others until you truly love yourself! ;D

Robin said...

I wish I would've learned about sex and love from romance novels instead of porn mags when I was a teen. Hmm, maybe that says a lot about me....LOL

All I know is that the book I have of yours just hit the top of my TBR, LOL!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Hi, Bellas and Princeton students!

Kathleen Eagle, multi-published in Romance (since 1984) and still think of myself as a high school English teacher moonlighting as a fiction writer. I was so naive about commercial fiction that I was actually surprised to learn that the book my first agent agreed to represent was a Romance. I'd never read a Harlequin, and I found the "Savage" historical covers of the day insulting. Not only was I surprised to discover that I enjoyed reading many of those books, I was really surprised to learn that I'd written one. Must have been my Ivory Tower education (Mount Holyoke '70). Which I wouldn't trade for anything, by the by.

Just turned in a manuscript, so I'm addled at the moment. I tend to chafe at the notion that we must fit our genre into pigeon holes labeled according to subgenres. RWA is big on definitions. I've done my time on the RWA Board, so I can talk. IMO we have way too many categories in our RITA competition, which leads to people trying to judge a book by how well it fits into a category rather than how good it is.

I don't see how you can call GWTW anything but a Romance. Scarlett will get Rhett back. I don't know whether they'll be happy, but I don't know whether Beauty can be happy now that Beast has lost his hirsute charm either. The point is that GWTW is a love story. It's about two people who are meant for each other. The last scene leaves no doubt in my mind that they'll settle for nothing less.

Some people want to split hairs and talk about "women's fiction" as opposed to Romance, but I think that's because we have marketing issues. We're talking about commercial fiction, which means marketing is essential. But as writers the more we split hairs, the ... worse our hair gets? (Told you. Addled.) Don't worry so much about the pigeon holes and the definitions. Worry about wings that work. LaVyrle Spencer was one of the first to tout the "women's fiction" label, but I ask you, which of her books is not a Romance?

What I love about writing fiction is creating characters and dealing with relationships. Erotica rarely lends itself to that kind of development, imo. It's more about titillation than character or relationships. The more attention devoted to titillating the reader at the expense of story, the closer you're getting to porn. Pornography is all about stimulating a reader/viewer sexually. I don't say that erotic fiction can't be well-written or that I don't enjoy a sexy love scene. Some of my favorite writers write very hot scenes. Great sexual tension is a requirement for great Romance. Tension is the operative word.

Romance as a genre is a huge umbrella. Get 10 writers in a room and you'll have 10 opinions about what it is and is not. And 9 out of the 10 will say that the more books they write, the harder it becomes to write the love scenes. The 10th writer is a newbie.

Tessa Dare said...

Thanks for such a great conversation! So many thoughtful points have been made, I'll just chime in on one of the questions to which I have a slightly different answer.

My favorite part of a romance is the declaration of love. I adore the courtships, too, but that moment where the hero lays it all on the line and puts his love into words ... it curls my toes every time.

And not just in genre romance novels. I've been hooked on those moments ever since the first time I read "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

I, too, went through several years where I shunned "trashy novels." (Actually, I was still reading them on the sly from time to time, rationalizing it as a 'guilty pleasure.') Now I can't fathom why - when I think back to the books I loved as a teenager and have returned to again and again - Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and other Austen novels, Little Women, and yes, GWTW - they all share a common theme of a young woman coming into her sense of self (and sexuality), learning to live in the world, and falling in love. They were all written by women, too.

The romances I love to read and the romances I'm writing all share that theme.

Bill Gleason said...

Caroline Linden wrote: "PS: When I got to watch GWTW for a college class, we had to analyze the portrayal of race and class in the South from the Civil War to the 1930s (when the movie was made). Hmph."

Actually, we've been lucky to have two weeks to spend on GWTW (still barely enough time, but there you go). For the first week we talked primarily about Scarlett's desires and infatuations (i.e., the romance plot), and for the second week we've been talking about race (and to a lesser extent, class). In tomorrow's last lecture on the novel, I'll probably try to draw these two topics together, perhaps thinking closely about the way Mitchell stages what I call "the staircase scene" and its aftermath.

I'm intrigued, by the way, by the several commentators who have said that for them GWTW works as a romance and not just as romantic fiction. Despite the ending, and perhaps even despite Scarlett's refusal to return Rhett's feelings meaningfully (until it's too late), there's still something quite powerful about the way so many readers nonetheless *want* the story to end, which may say something about the emotions that romance fiction, at its best, makes vivid.

Amanda Brice said...

The books I write now are set at an Ivy league school, and the characters feel that sort of pressure to do something "worthy" with themselves. It took me a little while to get over that mindset.
I hate to admit it, but that mindset is exactly why I don't speak of my moonlighting job at work. There's a total double-standard. A man can write something non-work-related and he's doing somehting really interesting. YEt, as women, despite the fact that we now make up slightly more than half of all law students, when it comes to the working world, sad to say, the legal profession is still an old boy's club. And romance, quite frankly, is looked down upon.

So even though one of my female attorney colleagues here at work writes erotica and owns an e-pub, I haven't come forward about my fledgling aspiring writer career (nor has she, publicly, other than simply disclosing it to the ethics staff, to avoid conflict of interest). Our close friends at work know, but because they're friends of ours.

And until one day I make the best sellers' list (a girl can dream, right?), that's how it will remain...unless people start recognizing my author photo (I write under a pen name). But I'm not going out of my way to tell them, that's for sure.

Annie V said...

Hello, I’m a student in Prof. Gleason’s class. I want to thank everyone for their interesting posts, I have learned a lot. Thanks for your concern about the weather, but as far as I can tell, Princeton is operating as usual (the state of emergency didn’t get me out of waking up to go to lecture and precept). Even if the university were closed, I am confident that we would be in the library (as we all are right now), and not behaving in an undignified manner.

I read a romance novel for the first time last winter and have read about ten novels from the romance genre since then. All of these novels were written by Nora Roberts, for two reasons: 1) my cousin’s favorite author is Nora Roberts; 2) this cousin loaned me all the romance novels I read. Given my limited experience with the romance genre, I have certainly found this blog to be enlightening. I enjoyed the entry by Sophie Jordan on April 9, because I completely agree with her choice of Raoul Bova as the inspiration for her male characters. And I promise that, as soon as I finish my thesis, I will read more romance novels, from the novelists that were generous enough to take the time to answer the questions from my classmates.

The discussion about the peer pressure and judgment from other females is at the core of the “Do you read romance novels in public?” question. I have NEVER read a romance novel in public at Princeton. I wouldn’t even admit to most of my friends that I have read romance novels. Why? Because I am afraid of people judging me. Intellectual snobbery is rampant here at Princeton; we’re all supposed to be “smart.” In general, the only reading that is done here is the reading for classes (we don’t really have enough time to do this required reading or any time to read for fun). I found myself having to defend the reading that we have for Prof. Gleason’s class: an English major writing a thesis about Joyce’s Finnegans Wake could not understand why I would “waste my time” reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Tarzan of the Apes. I think that there is something really wrong with the standards of reading and scholarship for there to be such condescension towards bestselling novels (romance novels are arguably the bestselling genre in America). But I also think that there is something wrong with people like myself, who won’t admit to reading and enjoying romance novels. I suppose I need to rip myself out of the false academic environment and not worry about people judging me for doing something I enjoy.

What do I like about romance novels? In my limited experience with the genre, I find them very entertaining. It’s as simple as that. I know that this issue has already been discussed, but I’m not sure I understand the mandatory happy ending rule for romance novels. As a reader, I do not require a happy ending for the heroine/hero, and sometimes I don’t like the happy endings (I have never liked the end of Little Women). (As a side note, I must admit that I am a Russian literature major, which isn’t exactly known for happy endings, so maybe I’m not the best person to comment.) I understand that the important part of the novel isn’t the ending so much as the process, but I know that I would be more likely to become addicted to romance novels if I wasn’t positive that the heroine was going to get engaged at the end of the novel.

thanks!

Annette Blair said...

I've been reading these posts on and off all day, bowled over by the brilliant arguments and observations presented by my peers. Meanwhile, I've been trying to narrow down my choice of favorite romance novel--no easy task. I fell in love as a teen with Jane Eyre then Pride and Prejudice. I re-read Mary Balogh's Regencies regularly. I snap up every Stephanie Plum novel that hits the shelves, though, strictly speaking, they're mysteries. It's a fine line we walk in this genre. I've read Welcome to Temptation twice and listened to it on CD more often, so I too could ask what Phin would do. Faking It is also high on my list, as is my ancient copy of The Windflower. All these are dog eared books I own, including everything Tom and Sharon Curtis ever wrote. I use Jennie Crusie's work as examples in every writing workshop I give. For me, writing romance is a joy and reading it is a treat I allow myself after a long day. Try it some time. You won't be sorry. "Come into the light." Who could say it better than Jennie?

L.K. Campbell said...

Hi, everyone,
My name is Lucinda, and I'm a romance author.
"Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public?" Not at all. I began reading romance novels in high school during the 1970s. While I've read in many other genres, romance was always my favorite. I've never worried about any kind of stigma that it placed on me. I was serving as a lay pastor at a small rural church when I began writing romance novels, and I was never ashamed of it. I just now realized that the opening of my comment sounded as if I was attending an RRA (Romance Readers Anonymous) meeting.
"Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and if so, does it bother you?" Not the ones that I read. I think this might be a stereotype created by one particular author from the past (I won't name names.) Romance authors and their heroines have come a long way, baby.
"Would you rather read about a character who's the epitome of physical perfection, or someone "normal?" This is a tough question, because when you're in love, you see the object of your affection with rose-colored glasses. In reality, I know that my husband is slightly overweight and has a few gray hairs, but to me, he's the most handsome man I know. So when I write in deep-POV, I'm looking at my hero through my heroine's eyes. The same way I see my husband, my heroine will see her hero. I guess I need a secondary character to come into the scene and describe him the way he really looks.
"Are there element at play in romance novels that might give them great literary status than the typical mass-produced, formulaic fiction?" I think the best thing that has happened to romance in the last decade is the way in which the genre has broken free of the formalaic style. Many new publishers have come onto the scene and opened the genre up to a greater diversity of plots and to social issues that you wouldn't have found in romance novels of the past.
These have been wonderful questions, I wish I could answer them all, but I'd take up too much room.

Deeanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deeanne said...

Introduction: I write "edgy inspirational" romance.

Eric E. Selinger you are a delight. What a fun post. When the publisher mailed me my first novel hot off the presses, I ran up the stairs, burst into my husband's study and said, "Look!"

He took it in his hands, thumbed through it, sighed and said, "Oh. I guess now I'll have to read it now."

Ha! I love hearing from guy readers. I had one fella tell me he read my book on an airplane--but that he kept it buried inside his Hunting and Fishing magazine the whole time. ;-)

Well, I'm going to sign off so y'all can continue with your discussion. Just couldn't resist "delurking" for a quick second.

(P.S. My above link takes you to my old blog. My new one is at: IWantHerBook.com)

Mary Reed McCall said...

Sorry to be coming to the discussion so late. I teach full time (this is my 18th year: HS and College English) and the family needs to eat before I can a chance to check e-mail etc, LOL.

I'm also a published author of seven romance novels (six of which are medievals, the seventh set during the Renaissance) - and I hope I'm not bragging if I share how thrilled I am that I just received my very first review in Publisher's Weekly today! :) My academic credentials include BAs in Russian and English and a Masters in English Lit.

Ok - Here's my take on some of the questions posed in the original blog post (because, unfortunately, I haven't had time yet to read all the previous responses; therefore, please forgive me if I overlap what's already been said). I'm also going to try to be as brief and succinct as possible, though as you can probably tell, that's not my natural tendency *g*.

“What’s your favorite part of a romance novel?”

For me it's the journey. The ending in a romance is pretty clear: the hero and heroine will end up together. It's the getting there that good writers make me care about reading (which can be a tall order, sometimes. I enjoy trying to provide interesting plot twists for my readers, and I certainly appreciate it *as* a reader when other writers do the same).

“Do you consider romance novels a form of pornography?”

No. Porn, to me, is the physical act of sex first, and emotion (if there is any) second, or third, or not at all. Romance novels by nature are about all the facets of emotion that go into a courtship. That may often includes lust, but purely physical, "hot" satisfaction is only one part of the couple's relationship trajectory (all of this is IMHO, of course).

“Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public,”

Yes. But then again, I am the kind of person who is pretty secure in who I am. That doesn't mean I haven't felt the sting of contempt about my reading choices, especially in circles of women, whether educated or not, who consider romance to be "trash" - but I don't let their ignorance affect me overly much (and if given the opportunity, I will use my best diplomacy to show them the error of their ways, LOL).

“Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you?"

No, I don't, because to me, good romances are about fully-fleshed people, with great attributes (some physical, some emotional) and flaws as well.

“Would you rather read about a character who’s the epitome of physical perfection, or someone “normal?”

I think there's some truth to the fantasy elements of romance - the hunky hero and the beautiful heroine...these can be archetypal in nature sometimes. But I also personally gravitate toward romances where the characters have weaknesses and flaws. If they're physically perfect specimens, they're often emotionally damaged in some way. There would be nothing more boring that to read about perfect people living perfect, well-adjusted lives. Real life isn't that way (at least not life as I know it!) and neither are romance novel lives.

"One of Bill’s students notes that male characters in many of the romances s/he’d read, usually have an almost animalistic sexuality, while the female characters are generally more delicate -- though the heroines are often also strong-willed and intelligent, and appealing to the male for those reasons. Is this the usual scenario? And what does it mean to have the male played up this way?"

There is a wide variety of character types from which to choose in romance. The animalistic, sexual male and the delicate female are two. Because I write medievals, many of my heroes are warrior-types - but they're varied in their personalities and possess in varying degrees intellectual and emotional skills, in addition to their physical power (i.e. with the capacity for sensitive perception, thoughtful action and good communication).

My heroines may most often be physically beautiful (though not always in the eyes of the society in which they live), but they're not usually delicate. They always have a core of strength; however, sometimes it's more overt (as in my second novel THE MAIDEN WARRIOR - a spin off on the Arthurian Legends, where the heroine is believed to be King Arthur, reborn, to lead the Welsh to freedom from English rule and is therefore trained from a young age to fight and lead an army) and other times more a quiet, inner quality. And this is just in my own books.

"is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?"

I would say yes. Female characters in historicals must reflect the customs and perceptions of the historical time periods and societies they're portrayed as inhabiting.


"Are there other traces of formal elements at play in [romance] novels that might give them greater literary status than the typical mass-produced, formulaic fiction?”

It depends on what you mean by "formal elements". Many romances include thematic subtexting, for example. My own works seems to return time and again to themes of redemption, justice, and the constructs of betrayal and revenge.

There are archetypal elements present within many romances - and these provide some of the resonance that (I feel) makes romance such a powerful and lasting genre.

Well, I've blathered on for long enough, I think. Thank you, Princeton students, and Prof. Gleason for your very thought-provoking visit here today. I'm looking forward to taking my time in going back and reading all the responses thus far.

Mary Reed McCall

Mary Reed McCall said...

Sigh. Please excuse some of the typing/grammatical errors in the above post. I attempted to push the "preview" button and hit the "publish" button instead.

Hopefully, you can make out what I was trying to say, anyway. :)

--MRM

Mary Burton said...

I’ve written 16 romance novels for Harlequin/Silhouette and my first romantic suspense novel for Kensington is scheduled for a January ’08 release. I’m chiming in a bit late but wanted to say how much I’ve enjoyed reading today’s discussion. I can’t say there is any one part of a romance novel that’s my favorite because all the elements of the book are necessary. For me the magic happens in the dozens of different moments that occur throughout the book between the hero and heroine. The first glance, the first touch, the first time the L-word is spoken. These moments keep me turning the page. When I pick up a mystery I expect the killer is going to be caught just as when I pick up a romance I expect the hero and heroine to get together in the end. The destination isn’t as important as the journey.

Jenny said...

Bill wrote:
"I'm intrigued, by the way, by the several commentators who have said that for them GWTW works as a romance and not just as romantic fiction. . . . there's still something quite powerful about the way so many readers nonetheless *want* the story to end, which may say something about the emotions that romance fiction, at its best, makes vivid."

See, and I base my assumption of a happy ending on the evidence of the text. Was there anything that Scarlett wanted that she didn't get (aside that wimp Ashley?)? No. Foreshadowing says she got him back.

Playground Monitor said...

Nobody's mentioned romance statistics, so here goes:

In 2004:

55% of paperback sales were romance fiction.
40$ of all fiction sold was romance.
Most readers are married (50%) and the largest percentage (22%) fell between the ages of 35 and 44.

Readership is divided almost equally between the south. west and midwest (29,27 and 26% respectively) with 12% in the northeast.

42% held a bachelor's degree or higher.

You can read all sorts of statistics at the Romance Writers of America statistics pages.

M

Robin Schone said...

I think GWTW ended on a note of hope: perhaps Scarlet was shocked out of her own self-absorption. Perhaps she could convince Rhet to take her back. Or . . . perhaps both could get on with their lives and find happiness in their own way. Another classic that I actually prefer over GWTW is Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor. The ending was perfect, not that it ended on a note of hope, but just that it ended as it should have. Amber and the man she loved both got exactly what they deserved. And really, isn't that all we ask for in a romance? That everyone get what they deserve?

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have to go soon, so I only skimmed the other comments. I apologize if what I say is redundant.

“What’s your favorite part of a romance novel?”
I was thinking about that recently. I've decided that my favorite part is the "recognition scene." I don't know its proper name. But it's when one person in the couplehood finally understands that they love.

When Marguerite from the "Scarlet Pimpernel" leaves and Blakeney kisses the steps because he can't deny (to himself anyway) that he still loves her. When Anne from "Persuasion" says the only thing that she claims for her sex is loving when hope is lost. When Noriko in "From Far Away" tells Izark that she doesn't care how he looks or what he is because she just loves him. And so on. Oddly enough, the recognition scene works for me even if the couple doesn't get together.

“Do you consider romance novels a form of pornography?”

This question bothers me a lot.

If a book is about sex, does that make it porn? Or is it only porn if it is about women's sexuality? I think a lot of the romance novels=porn idea has more to do with discomfort over women's sexuality than it does with the actual sex in romances compared to other types of literature.

For a lot of people, many aspects of a female sexuality (pregnant sexuality, lesbian sexuality, female masturbation, etc.) are pretty taboo no matter how they are approached.

“Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public?”

I hate stupid clench covers. I feel that they usually misrepresent with the content even when it is highly sexual.

I hate them and I will not buy them or check them out or even read them in private if I can help it.

But if it's a cartoon or a landscape or painting detail or a couple looking human on the cover, I don't care.

The titles and romances themselves don't bother me because I have good reasons to read what I do. That is, I like them.

“Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you,”

Poorly written characters are everywhere in movies, in TV shows, and in books. It can be disturbing when you start a book in good faith to find out that the author has written horribly unreal characters. But there are plenty of good stories available, it just takes some dedication to find them.

“Would you rather read about a character who’s the epitome of physical perfection, or someone “normal?”

See, I loved it in "Blood and Chocolate" when Vivian shows off her werewolf body to her potential lover who is cringing in fear. She loves her body and knows she's strong and beautiful no matter what little meat-boy thinks. So, if the women accept their bodies at some point, I don't care what they look like. That counts equally for the male characters.

I'm out of time but that was enough blathering anyway.

Dayna_Hart said...

Erotic romance, in my opinion, tells women that sex is a valid part of a relationship.

How often have any of the women reading this thread met a 'really great guy, but he just doesn't...do it...for me'? And how many of you flushed with guilt or shame when you said it?

No more guilt, ladies :) Sex is an important element of a good relationship, whether people like to admit it or not. Erotic romance isn't afraid to show that. Maybe I'm just old enough to believe that's still needed.

As for Amanda's comment:
Why isn't GONE WITH THE WIND a romance? For the very simple reason that it does not have happy ending. According to Romance Writers of America, a romance must have an emotionally satisfying ending.

I hope she won't mind my disagreeing with her in this case, but I'm reluctant to let the RWA define romance for me :) Also, 'emotionally satisfying', in my opinion, does not equal 'happily ever after'. In some cases, the only way for a book to end in an 'emotionally satisfying' way is for the hero and heroine not to get together. However, romance readers do prefer to get happy endings :)

I did a search on dictionary.com which came up with this definition of Romantic:

7. (usually initial capital letter) of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a style of literature and art that subordinates form to content, encourages freedom of treatment, emphasizes imagination, emotion, and introspection, and often celebrates nature, the ordinary person, and freedom of the spirit (contrasted with classical).

Although I'm not sure about the 'subordinates form to content' part of the definition, I think it defines quite well what the romance genre is, or at least should be.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

To Annie V.:

Thanks for telling us your "true romance" story, Annie. So many of us have experienced/experience what you've detailed. But I want to offer a little dispensation. You write:

I also think that there is something wrong with people like myself, who won’t admit to reading and enjoying romance novels.

It took me a few years and, frankly, getting paid to write about the genre, to get right with blurting out to any/all that I read romance.

Your problem? You're human and smart, (see, no problem) and academia is made up of real human people. And, shawkah, people of all ilks and IQs often deal with their insecurities and perceived inadequacies by dissing others.

There's a difference between inspiring folks to learn through critical examination of ideas, and another to simply criticize learners in an effort to "improve" them or, in actuality, get them to think as we want. The latter inspires no one, the former excites and opens minds.

I can't thank you and your fellow students enough for giving us the opportunity to offer you some insight for your consideration. I wasn't looking to make conversions, but I was hoping that students like you -- especially w/in the type of class Bill presents, w/in such an academically rich environment -- might come away with new concepts to present at some point along the path you choose in life.

Mary Stella said...

Hello, everyone. Did any of you also go to the Peddie School? if so, then Ala Viva from a fellow grad.

I'm a romance author and before I start answering questions, I want to share two quick stories. First of all, I'll always be grateful to the Princeton U. student book store. I drove over from Monmouth University (Ok, it was still Monmouth College in the mid-late 70s when I was a student.) and bought an Old English-Modern English dictionary to help me get through my study of Beowulf.

Second story -- in either 1999 or 2000, I organized a promotion for which RWA authors donated signed novels to the Miss America Pageant contestants and chaperones. I had the pleasure of addressing the group and presenting the books. I'll never forget Miss New Jersey telling me that she and her roomies kept a stack of romance novels in their dorm room at Princeton. I wish she'd won the crown that year.

On to questions.

“Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public,”

Absolutely. I enjoy reading the genre as much as I enjoy writing it. I'm sure not embarassed to do either. I don't need anyone's approval of my choices, and I don't allow anyone else to dictate whether my chosen genre is acceptable. I never use a book cover to hide the cover art either, any more than I'd suggest draping a loin cloth on The David

“Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you,”

No. The best romances are about characters who have depth, heart, emotions, flaws, goals, fears, i.e. all the facets and complexities of real people. Even the gorgeous heroes and heroines have to act and react "real". One thing my favorite romances have in common is that I finish the book with a little sigh that they are, indeed, characters and I'm not going to run into them around the neighborhood. *g* That said, I think sometimes some books place too much emphasis on physical perfection.

That was the norm for years, but it's changing. I'm happy to see more and more books with characters who have bodies more like people you see every day and that incorporate the real person's anxiety over body image

“Would you rather read about a character who’s the epitome of physical perfection, or someone “normal?”

Ok, I'm going to be a little contrary, but this is purely a personal preference for myself as a reader. I like books where the man is more physically perfect than most guys, and the woman is much more everyday. That's a fun fantasy -- that the "ordinary" girl gets the fab guy -- but only after he proves himself worthy by truly appreciating that she's terrific, wonderful, fabulous, smart, etc., even if she isn't "movie star" gorgeous.

One of my favorite new tv shows this season is Ugly Betty. I'm not saying she should develop a crush on Daniel, or that I'm hoping he falls in love with her by season four -- but I want her to end up in a relationship with that very cute, funny Accounting guy.

I don't think that's a "fantasy" limited to romance fans. How many of us, as adolescents develop crushes and daydream on the teen idol singer or cute guy actor, or the high school football star, for that matter?

Kathleen Eagle said...

I'm with Jenny. Just popped back in to scan the responses--wow!--and I see that we had similar ideas on the ? of GWTW. Then I saw Bill's post about the way some readers *want* the story to end, and I thought, huh? Kept reading and found Jenny's great mind taking the same train I'm on. Of course Scarlett gets him back! If we've learned nothing else in the previous 1001 pages, we know Scarlett. And we know Rhett. Too late? That isn't where this story takes us, and I couldn't figure out how Bill missed the obvious.

And then I realized that Bill, being a guy, might actually think that Rhett has the final word.

Susan Squires said...

Susan Squires dropping in again. My but these are interesting posts. I am drawn to comment on the attitude toward romance. I was in the Ph.D English Lit program at UCLA and got out with my masters during some burnout. I am still an executive with a Fortune 500 Insurance company (talk about having to justify something in people's minds!). And I thought I had never read romance. I just didn't recognize it when I saw it, because I was thinking only of modern genre romances. But Pride and Prejudice is still my favorite book, and I loved GWTH (which I considered a romance) and the Bronte's.
When I wrote my first book, I was shocked when my agent said it was a romance. It was about Dark Age Britain in the Danelaw--clashes of culture, religion, language, battles, rapes (male and female) witches, saints--well you get the idea. Dark and gritty. But the hero and heroine got together in the end, so--romance. I was so appalled when they put a half-naked John DeSalvo (think Fabio) on the cover that I nearly choked. The only thing that consoled me was seeing my name in raised letters.

Even now, my work environment is still adjusting to the fact that I write books that have those covers. One physician once asked me if I enjoyed writing schlock. I replied that since one of my books, Body Electric had just been named one of the ten most influential paperbacks of 2003 by Publisher's Weekly, at least I wrote influential schlock. Now most of my friends and associates at work, many of them men, have read my books. Several have commented with some degree of surprise that they were "real" books and that they enjoyed them. Sigh. Half of the resistance is due to the darned covers and that label on the spine.

So I have had a prejudice against modern genre romance, which I've had to overcome. Do I read them in public? Yes--but it was an acquired skill. And I resent the fact that people assume they can't be "real" books. So, to the question of whether there are element that can raise romance above genre fiction--of course there are. Individual books and writers can always transcend their genre. Think James Lee Burke and William MacIlvaney in mystery and Kurt Vonnegut in SciFi. As a matter of fact there was a great article last year in Publisher's Weekly saying that some of the most exciting things going on in fiction were occurring on the edge between genre and literary fiction. I think of romance as a sonnet. The form is set. But your job as an author is to push that form to its limit. I don't subscribe to letting RWA define romance. They are like a union or a guild. But articistic guilds have always supported the status quo and romance is moving fast.

One more comment--men readers. Lots of men read my books, aside from the reluctant co-workers and the husband. I have the prison letters to prove it! I think that there is a universal appeal to romance because at heart these stories are about personal transformation. They are about overcoming odds, circumstance, situation, and finding a new life. That is quintessentially archetypal, and we want to relive the archetypes. Men as well as women. We want to believe it's possible.

So, I write romance. I may not always write romance the way RWA defines it. I get wanderlust. And I enjoy the books, and I've read a lot of them by now. I hope they give every reader a good ride. And once in a while, as in every genre, a writer or a book will transcend it.
Susan

Anonymous said...

Hi I own a bookstore in Brisbane Australia which only sells new Romance books.
Now you see I do consider Gone With the Wind a Romance I ask after reading it how can you not consider it Romance?
I do not really have a favourite part of a Romance so long as it has all the components I like its a good read. Must end happily though.
Whether I want someone "hot" or "normal" depends on my mood. Usually hot so I can really get into the fantasy.
Definitely not pornography!!!!
Romance novels appeal to men as thay are also looking for a touch of fantasy and as one of my male customers saids he shares all he reads about how to please a woman with his mates at the pub. He loves a good Regency.
Yes I do believe females are portrayed less experinced in Historicals as that was the norm now we are much more on an equal with men and female heroines are real popular if they can kick a bit of butt.
Thanks for reading this

Elise said...

Hi! I'm a student in Professor Gleason's class, and have really enjoyed taking in all your comments. One topic which people seem especially split upon is, should romance fiction should feature physically perfect protagonists? I agree with the blogger who said that, although absolute perfection might dull characters, it is always more pleasant to follow attractive individuals. Watching the first half of Gone With the Wind last night, I noticed an interesting trend in the movie's depictions of minor characters. India Wilkes, Melanie, Suellen, the Tarleton twins and Frank Kennedy, in my opinion, were at least as attractive as Scarlett and Ashley. How might movies and novels differ in the physical demands of minor characters? Do novels fear that cursory readers cannot distinguish characters without spotlighting the protagonists' charms with plagued supporting characters? Or, is the discrepancy purely a result of the film industry's tendency to make ALL characters visually palatable? Are the quick labels, "charming" or "plain", not necessary to distinguish filmed characters who can easily be identified by concrete visual features?

Another question I have is, does Belle Watling fit any conventional prototype of romance fiction? On page 811 of our paperback version, Belle takes Melanie into her carriage for a discussion after the KKK fiasco. What interested me was that Belle's relationships and concerns seem to parallel Rhett's almost perfectly. For instance, she is jealous of Scarlett in the same way that Rhett is of Ashley, and regrets Frank's elimination just as Rhett relies on Melanie to keep Scarlett and Ashley apart. Why, then, does the novel sympathize with Rhett and cast out Belle, both physically illicit individuals who are outcasted for their professions? Both employ their earnings in a medley of greed and altruism, although Belle is probably the more altruistic of the two. Is the difference purely in that Belle is female and Rhett male? Are we left even the slightest reason to hope that Belle and Rhett will unite? Might the novel be read as a romance novel (as defined by a happy ending), if Belle, rather than Scarlett, is seen as Rhett's "double"? Is it even possible for the reader to make such a leap?

Tianna Xander said...

I hope no one minds my answering at least one of the questions from the first comment. Since I not only read romance, I write erotic romance, I hope that I can answer that question clearly.

Porn is sex for sex's sake and its primary function is to arouse the reader. Two - or more - people get together to have sex, wild sex, and nothing but sex with no emotional entanglements. That is porn.

Erotica shares that purpose, but shows character growth and development with a real advancing plot and story line.

Erotic romance contains hot, sensual, explicit sex scenes between two -or three- people who love each other, showing the romantic element. It must have the romance. It goes a few steps further than erotica. The purpose of the story is no longer to merely arouse the reader, it makes them feel more than physical arousal by making them feel the emotional aspects of the story. They feel the love, and emotional connection between characters.

A straight romance is a novel that shows the growth and character development of a romantic relationship but the sex is not explicit and usually happens behind closed doors.

I hope this makes sense and answers the question.

Stacy~ said...

Wow, what a fabulous topic! I'm sorry I missed it, but loved reading all the replies. What an intelligent, interesting discussion. Makes me love the genre even more.

Thanx Bill Gleason and students, for joining us today. What a pleasure :)

Amy said...

Hello,
I am a student from Professor Gleason's class. I tried to post this comment earlier in the afternoon, but it doesn't seem to have gone through, so I'm hoping it isn't too late in the evening to try again. (And if my earlier post did go up and I'm just missing it, please forgive the repeat.)

In Professor Gleason's class we've spent a considerable amount of time
looking at how the works we read influenced the way readers looked at their society. Following this line of inquiry, I'm interested to hear how you all think that romance novels shape readers' perceptions and expectations of romance? I've heard many of my friends lamenting that movies and television have given them such idealistic views of love and relationships that they are doomed to never be satisfied with relationships in reality- do you think romance novels could function similarly by protraying "happily ever after" stories that are doomed to never be achieved in real life?

Anonymous said...

Oh wow, I had to do a lot of catch up. This is quite a conversation!
In response to the question asked to the Princeton women "Now, perhaps, Courtny or other Princeton women, you might tell us a bit about the climate which surrounds a female student at Princeton, and how "peer pressure" might inform her "free-time" reading choices."

Honestly, although I started reading books in the romance genre in middle school, I am sometimes hesitant to pull out my book if it has a flashy cover. I will read a romance anywhere but sometimes I get embarrassed if people sees the cover of the muscular half-naked man who is embracing a woman whose clothes are half off. I distinctly remember during my Princeton interview as a junior in high school where I told my interviewer that I loved writing short stories on my own time. He suspected I wrote romance since I was female and asked suspiciously what genre. I told him science-fiction even though it was really science-fiction-romance.
For me, it wasn't so much as the environment of Princeton that influenced my reading habits (I love romance and erotica) but rather I didn't really know anyone else who read romance besides myself. The few that did lived back in CA (my homestate), so I felt that I had to keep my reading habits to myself and keep the front covers of the books covered.
But peer-pressure is definitely something that people do face because there is the idea that because it is a college environment, but not only that a Princeton environment, therefore books that are read must be the culturally dominant and traditionally accepted ones.
-Nana
p.s.
Some of my questions were posted earlier about whether books set in the past made a difference than those set in modern times and the supposed animalistic male/delicate female contrast. Thanks so much for answering them. I am definitely going to have to check out the Harlequin Blaze series.

mary reed mccall said...

I've been reading everyone's comments with interest, now that I've had some time to go through them. While I concur with Tianna Xander's distinction between "porn" and "erotic romance", I have to humbly disagree with her comment further contrasting erotic romance with "straight" romance, wherein she says that, "A straight romance is a novel that shows the growth and character development of a romantic relationship but the sex is not explicit and usually happens behind closed doors."

I write what is considered "straight" romance, as opposed to "erotic" romance. My books are straight, medieval historicals and are published by HarperCollins/Avon. However, my books do each contain several explicit love scenes and almost-but-not-quite-full-lovemaking-scenes, none of which happen behind closed doors. It is the same with the books of almost every other "straight" romance author I know and read. The only exceptions to this that I can think of would be romances categorized in the industry as "sweet" (Avalon is one publisher of these; also, some of inspirational lines have "sweet" romances, as do some of the traditional Regencies lines etc...all of which leave the actual love scenes "behind closed doors").

Most "straight" romances do not fall into this category, however, and do indeed have explicit (albeit often more traditional one-man-one-woman) love scenes.

I just wanted to make that distinction.

--MRM

Kevin said...

Okay, I'm late to the party, but that's okay because I'm a very minor player. In fact, I haven't published a single romance.

My name is Kevin Killiany and my published works have all been in media tie-in. TV universes like Star Trek and Doctor Who as well as game universes like Classic BattleTech and MechWarrior. Google me and you'll find some titles and at least one fan site talking about what a jerk I am.

However, while I have not published a romance, I have written one (a trunk novel if ever there was one) and shall write more. In fact, I had to suspend one in progress when my current MechWarrior contract came along. I'll be getting back to it next month. I intend to make writing romances a major part of my professional life.

Must confess that as I type these words there are already over 130 replies on the board and I have not read all of them. So I hope you'll excuse me if my responses are redundant.

"What’s your favorite part of a romance novel?”
The characters.

"Do you consider romance novels a form of pornography?”
No. But they are close to a form of erotica. Some examples are very mild, others rival anything in the adult book stores for graphic depictions. However, what makes a romance different from erotica (or porn) is that while the physical aspects are there, it is the loving commitment of the lovers that forms the core of the novel. You can have a love story without sex be a romance. You can not have a sex story without love be a romance.

"Are you comfortable being seen reading romance novels in public?”
Hey, I've been a Trekkie since 1967. I'll read anything in public.

“Do you feel the novels objectify women/men, and, if so, does it bother you?”
Yes, they do and no it doesn't. This is escapism. These stories provide the raw materials for fantasy -- and they give the mind the chance to imagine options without consequence. They're very therapeutic. But they are not blueprints for life.

“Would you rather read about a character who’s the epitome of physical perfection, or someone “normal?”
Normal. As I recently posted elsewhere, just once I'd like to have a character stop in the middle of everything and say "Jeeze. You must have gotten a lot of ribbing in gym class."

"Is this (Men animalistic, women delicate but strong-willed and intelligent) the usual scenario? And what does it mean to have the male played up this way?"
Goes back to the fantasy thing. The guy is drop dead gorgeous with six-pack abs, six-figure income and hung like a 16-ounce beer can and is filled with burning passion at the sight of the woman. She has all the attributes women within a standard deviation of the norm say they wish they had: femininity, intelligence, and control over her own life. All that AND Nick Gage/George Clooney/visual-of-your-choice so in love with her he can't stand it? There's no deep literary meaning behind this set-up.
I will add one thing: There is a creature in romances that is not seen anywhere else on earth: The man who will sit down and openly discuss his feelings for a woman with another man. Believe it or not.

"Is there a difference in how women are portrayed in historical romance than, say, in novels set in the present?"
If there isn't, the author didn't do her homework. What makes historical romances work is the sense of being there -- and if the heroine is behaving like a 21st-century ad exec, something is wrong. The feelings of romance are universal -- how those feelings are expressed is a function of the character's culture. A woman -- or a man -- living 300 years ago would not have the emotional or social "tool kit" we have for finding someone and establishing a relationship. Personally and socially much more was at stake and there was no such thing as casual dating. Also for most men there is little connection between physical sex and love. This has been recognized since the dawn of time -- there's a reason home decorating isn't "the world's oldest profession." It was expected that men have greater sexual experience -- but that it be the "meaningless" professional kind. Their *hearts* were never involved. By the same token, we can't really show how life was -- this is escapist reading, mental recreation designed to make us feel better. How many of you were disappointed when you discovered Princess Cinderella made her stepmother and stepsisters dance in burning iron shoes until they died? We prefer our fairy tales to reflect our values -- not those authentic to the times.


"Are there other traces of formal elements at play in [romance] novels that might give them greater literary status than the typical mass-produced, formulaic fiction?”
Well, typical mass-produced fiction pays the bills and literary status gets you taught in college courses long after you died penniless. I should know, my brother's an English professor. Old school. Even his bathing suit is tweed. A romance is a story about a relationship between two people who love each other who overcome McGuffin-of-your-choice for the sake of their love and commitment to each other which ends with the couple happily together. You can dress this frame up with science fiction, history, murder mystery, comedy, what-have-you -- so yes, you can have a literary romance. There are several out there. But whatever else a story calls itself: If it has two people in love who end up together and happy at the end, it's a romance.

"What’s the appeal of romance to men?”
Every now and then we get tired of killing things. Besides, a romance is escapist reading. It's people who love each other being happy. I've been married 25 years. My wife and I just went on a cruise without the kids. Ten days of each other's company for 24 hours -- and we enjoyed it. We really like hanging out together. Would I enjoy romances if my fourth divorce was costing me more than the previous three? Probably not. How about if I'd never been married and suspected all women want to do is control men's lives? Echo answer. I think life experience and life expectations shape whether anyone -- male or female -- enjoys a good romance.

-- KeVin
http://kvaadk.livejournal.com

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Hi, Amy! So nice that you kept at it trying to post. Things have been a little funky with blogger.com today, and even though I have no control over it, I apologize for the inconvenience to you and everyone else driven bonkers by it today.

To answer your question simply, I've only heard romance reader lament, "if only life were that way." Many of us admit it'd be great if guys were as studly and masterful and skilled sexually as romance heroes, but I never get the sense that women expect that to be status quo IRL. Although I was at a conference once when a woman came by the local RWA booth and exclaimed that she stopped reading romance because real life never measured up.

Most romance readers I've heard from say that romance novels remind them of the great things they love about their partners/spouses; bring back the excitement of new romance; get them revved to express their sexuality with their partners. Yet I've not met any that believe guys really think all that much like heroes in romances, even though many authors work for very realistic heroes in some types of novels. I love that we can read romance and have heroes think and act exactly the way we'd like guys to. What a fantasy.

Yet even Bob Meyer said early that the hero he created in his novel showed his love for the heroine, and Meyer didn't think the guy had to utter the Big Three. (and that his writing partner and other woman were disappointed). Knowing guys, I can totally understand his pov, and I've read several satisfying romance HEAs in which the hero never said the words. The authors' choices to play it that way was pretty darn neat-o, cause I don't think those guys would have said ILU, and the not saying didn't make him selfish or passive-aggressive.

But I still love the "on his knees" moment when the hero realizes he loves his girl.

There's another spin on your question which is, "does romance novel sex ruin everything for mere mortal guys in the eyes of women who read the novels?"

I'd say it much favors the average real life Joe who's lucky enough to have a girl who reads the stuff, especially if she's felt empowered by the novels to ask for what she wants and deserves sexually and emotionally.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Kevin, thanks for stopping in! I had to laugh at this, cause it makes me giggle all the time and goes along with my "we like romance cause the guys think and talk the way we'd like them to: like us" theory.

There is a creature in romances that is not seen anywhere else on earth: The man who will sit down and openly discuss his feelings for a woman with another man. Believe it or not.

LOL! There's always the Alpha viscount rake who's best friend, only slightly less debauched, has found love, and suddenly Alpha Boy's cryin like a little girlie girl to his buddy about his love/lust for his new squeeze.

SaWeet! But hardly realistic. Yet it's also why I love the Band of Brothers series like JR Wards Black Dagger Bro'hood in which big, virile vampire guys maim and kill and show their soft, squishy emotions over beer and brats as they say somethin like, "yeah, bud. That's love alright." sigh. If only real life were like that...

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Nana, thank you for stopping in again, and for telling us more about your reading. I don't blame you for being conservative with your interviewer, etc., nor do I blame anyone who downplays their love of reading romance. We've got to take the "ain't nobody's bi'ness" maxim to the extreme and say it's also ok to protect yourself from being put down. Who invites that?

We're not standing up for social injustice, just reading some books we love, and nobody should feel guilty cause they don't feel like educating the non-romance reader.

Thank you everyone for joining us today! What a total blast. I'm honored you chose to take part in this event, and hope you'll feel free to continue the discussion. I just happen to be for bed.

Please, do visit us again to talk more romance fiction, and life, and sex, and anything else on your mind.

And thanks, Bill Gleason, for bringing your class, and for encouraging your students to explore romance fiction.

Buonanotte, Bellas and friends!

Leslie said...

I was not able to participate in this fascinating discussion, but I've had a marvelous time catching up on all the posts. I don't have much to add on the general questions...as an author of 25 or so contemporary romances for Harlequin Blaze and HQN, I agree wholeheartedly with most of the comments made by the other authors here. (And I, too, am a little "awestruck" at the who's who list of wonderful romance authors who've involved themselves in this conversation today!)

I did, however, want to respond to a few comments.

First, Annie V's: "In general, the only reading that is done here is the reading for classes (we don’t really have enough time to do this required reading or any time to read for fun)."

Annie, I completely agree with your reaction to this attitude. I don't consider any reading to be a "waste of time." There is something to be learned from anything you read...even if it's "what not to do" (as in "how not to behave when I become a huge star and decide to shave my head.") I am raising three children and my husband and I have both tried to instill in them the realization that reading is critically important, seeing letters formed into words into paragraphs on the page is absolutely imperative for the brain, and I honestly don't care what they're reading as long as they're opening their minds to the written word. Too many people forget to read for pleasure...I have been guilty of that myself, on occasion. But I find that when I do give myself permission to read for the joy of it, I perform better in my writing and in all other aspects of my life. My brain feels sharper, my creative juices flow. Whether it's writing a sexy contemporary romance novel, or, for you, writing an evaluation of a literary classic, reading for pleasure in order to expand your mind should be considered an absolute MUST for a good education!

Elise: I always adored Belle Watling's character, in both the book and the movie. Now, it has been many years since I've read the entire book (I re-read the first half of it within the past few months, though.) But I have always been of the opinion that Mitchell truly admired Belle and did see her as the female counterpoint of Rhett. Belle was merely the victim of her times...in 1865, Rhett was the beneficiary of the "boys will be boys" attitude, but Belle had no such dispensation. Still, I always found her a strong, admirable character. And honestly, if I were writing a sequel to GWTW...she would be the heroine!

And to Amy: "I've heard many of my friends lamenting that movies and television have given them such idealistic views of love and relationships that they are doomed to never be satisfied with relationships in reality- do you think romance novels could function similarly by protraying "happily ever after" stories that are doomed to never be achieved in real life?"

Honestly, I think the way romance/love/marriage/fidelity are portrayed in most popular media is one of the main reasons we NEED romance fiction! Did you see the study on sex/love/fidelity on MSNBC today? The article pointed out that most people think adultery statistics are much *worse* than they truly are, and one reason is because of the barrage of negative messages we see in movies and television. The truth is, there are a LOT of people (myself included) who are living wonderfully happy, monogomous, committed romantic lives with their "one and only."

Frankly, in my experience, and in the experiences of a lot of my friends, colleagues, siblings...true love does exist. Happily ever after really does happen. People should hold out for something special because it IS possible, despite what the media and statistics might say.

Further, marriages do not always end in divorce. People do not always cheat. Sex actually continues to be fabulous after 20 years of marriage! (ahem...sorry...)

You can probably tell that's a hot button issue of mine. Sometimes we all get so caught up in the dire statistics that we fail to see the good for all the bad: finding the right partner and being happy with that person for your entire life is not only a possible goal, it's an attainable one. If only more people believed it, maybe they'd try harder to reach for it.

And, in my opinion, romance fiction is one way to make them want to reach for it.

Thanks again Michelle and the bellas and the students and all the amazing writers who participated today. I definitely appreciated the brief distractions into lightness and possibility given the very dark, tragic news day we all just experienced.

Leslie said...

PS: Guess I should have signed my post...sigh...it's late.

I'm Leslie Kelly. Harlequin & HQN author.

Eva Gale said...

I love Bob's story about the ILU in Don't look Down. I wanted to break out singing Do You Love Me? from Fiddler on the Roof. I love Anne Stuart's heros because they are such men! I'm reading Ice Blue and Taka has his hands on the heroine's neck, he's thinking of killing her. LOVE IT. He's goal oriented and driven. It's his job. Some of the only times I put a romance down is when they have internal dialogs that are too much like women. The men acting like men is what makes the romance so powerful, that these two seperate completely different people can find a meeting ground and fall in love. That is powerful.

GWTW, love story, but I bet Scarlett gets her man.

Interracial romances? Yes, even with Were people. Man, THAT is interracial. Dragons and Mermen are falling in love all over the place.

Romances being porn? No. It's all about the emotion.

Yes, I read romances in public. I read. I see lack in people who don't read, not those who do.

Perfect characters? Heck no. Unless the perfection itself is a flaw. I'm in it for the flaws. I want imperfect people finding love. Everything from Quasimodo to OCD. It's the rush of the journey.

Kevin said...

Quick note: In rereading -- okay reading, I already admitted I hadn't read the others first -- the thread I notice the topic of interracial romance came up. My very first romance, written twenty years ago (so make that two romances in the trunk) was interracial. At that time I was advixed by an editor at Zebra that there was no market. Now Zebra is one of the leaders in the field. Not with my book though. How did I come to write an interracial romance? Remember that wife of mine for the last 25 years, the one I love to hang out with? u until 1967 it was illegal for us to be married. (Well, for two reasons -- one of which was the fact we wre 15 and 10 at the time and the other of which was the fact black/white marriage was against the law in fourteen states.)

KeVin

PS: I'm glad I didn't read before I wrote. If I'd known in whose footsteps I was following I might not have had the nerve.

Diana Peterfreund said...

In Professor Gleason's class we've spent a considerable amount of time
looking at how the works we read influenced the way readers looked at their society. Following this line of inquiry, I'm interested to hear how you all think that romance novels shape readers' perceptions and expectations of romance? I've heard many of my friends lamenting that movies and television have given them such idealistic views of love and relationships that they are doomed to never be satisfied with relationships in reality- do you think romance novels could function similarly by protraying "happily ever after" stories that are doomed to never be achieved in real life?


Clearly not a class of New Critics, huh? ;-)

I think that, in fact, it's the opposite. People who read romances will refuse to settle for the kind of treatment offered in many modern relationships. Reading romance, I knew that I wanted a monogamous, caring, committed relationship. I wasn't going to settle for anonymous hookups, for devoting myself to a guy who would basically ignore me unless he wanted sex, to someone who was using me or who would ditch me whenever the going got tough.

I see a lot of girls my age and younger than me who delude themselves into thinking that guys who treat them like crap, don't introduce them to their friends, only hang out with them when they are drunk or etc., are their boyfriends... or worse, that this is all that's out there, or it's what they deserve.

I think that women deserve "heroes." Not men who look like cover models, or are secretly princes, but men who will stand by a woman, support her as an equal partner, stand by her when things are tough for her, and DECLARE his love -- maybe not using those three little words (as Bill put it) -- but by making a commitment, even if it's telling all his roommates that you're his girlfriend.

And yes, I expect the same thing out of the women. Boys deserve heroines. ;-)

Is that idealism? To expect that two people in a relationship will care for one another, support one another despite times of trouble, and commit to one another? I don't think so.

Oh, and I'm with the anonymous person earlier who said they liked the "recognition" scene. I was always a big fan of the scene in the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice where Lizzie is helping Georgiana play the piano, and looks up, adn Mr. Darcy is smiling at her, and she smiles back. Fabulous!

I also like first kisses.

Robin said...

Re. the question of how images of love in Romance impact real-life expectations, I just want to add that there are a lot of different reasons people read Romance, a genre that is itself just as diverse as the demographic of its readership. I'm not the biggest fan of Romantic comedies in film, for example, but a passionate and thoughtful Romance novel engages me emotionally and intellectually, because it investigates emotional justice, love, forgiveness, and individual growth, as well as many other fundamental human issues.

Also, many, many Romance readers I've observed are incredibly voracious readers, and not just in Romance, but across all genres and areas of interest.

So the lines between fiction and real life are clearly delineated.

That said, I absolutely think it's true that our media and our art both reflect and project images and messages about societal attitudes, roles, and ideals, and we are all affected to one degree or another by the interplay among these images and messages. The question, though, is *how* and *to what extent* and IMO that relationship is complex, related to an individual reader's experience, an individual book, and a bunch of collective influences that don't boil down to a one-to-one book-to-person relationship.

We talk quite a bit about the relationship between Romance fiction and real life, especially as it relates to how women are portrayed in Romance, what choices characters make and how that resonates with different readers, and what we don't see a lot of in Romance, including meaningful racial and class diversity. We talk endlessly about the role of historical accuracy in historical Romance, and about the symbolic nature of non-human (or not fully human) protagonists in Paranormal Romance. We talk about how much moral ambiguity protagonists can possess and still be considered "heroic" and about how sexually liberated female protagonists can be relative to male protagonists. Some readers identify with the characters they read and others don't, which affects what different readers embrace or not in their Romance, as well. IMO these conversations are as important and often as interesting as the books themselves, and I can't imagine reading Romance without this community discourse.

For anyone coming from literature and literary fiction who is interested in the genre, I would suggest a few authors to start with (these authors effected my "conversion" to the genre): Laura Kinsale, especially For My Lady's Heart, Flowers From The Storm, and The Shadow and the Star; Judith Ivory, Black Silk, Untie My Heart, The Proposition, Bliss, and Dance (these last two are very hard to find); Candice Proctor, Whispers Of Heaven and Night In Eden; Patricia Gaffney, To Love and to Cherish and To Have and To Hold; Tom and Sharon Curtis (aka Laura London), The Windflower; Jennifer Crusie, Bet Me and Welcome To Temptation; JD Robb, Naked In Death, Glory In Death (the first two books in a series of futuristic romantic suspense/mystery). I also recommend Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series, starting with Dead Until Dark, which are not strictly Romance but have strong romantic elements and a wonderful Southern gothic feel. And for SF/F Romance, Sharon Shinn's Archangel is an absolutely beautiful book, as well.

It took me about three great Romances before I started feeling oriented to the genre, and it definitely took some time before I began to recognize certain hallmarks of the genre. IMO it's a paradigm, and if you try one book and don't like it, try another -- the sheer number of books in the genre is downright staggering.

Todd said...

Dave wrote:

While I haven't figured that out on my own yet, I would like to press the male readers to know what they find so enticing, alluring, and fascinating about romance novels? Why do you read these books so avidly, and what do you look for in them? Also, while I know the question of embarrassment has been brought up already, I want to reframe it a little: why is it "okay" for men to be fixated on more overtly sexual images and activities (such as pornography), but not so much with romance novels?

I guess I can sum all this up by asking why was I so surprised that I enjoyed my first foray into the romance genre, and if that's a typically male feeling to have? Romantic men, I give you your call to arms!


I started reading romance novels because my wife writes them. I would like to think that I wasn't particularly prejudiced against them. I read all manner of books--nonfiction, literature, sci fi, mysteries, pretty much you name it--so I was ready to give romances a try. And it was helpful that my girlfriend (now wife) wanted me to like them, so she was picking out particularly good books to start me off on.

Romances have a dodgy reputation among those who never read them, which includes most men, making for a self-reinforcing barrier. And there is also the fact that most men--at least in this country--are reluctant to do anything that is perceived as feminine. Which is one reason I'm glad that so manly a man as Bob Mayer wrote a novel with Jennifer Crusie. (Hello to both of you. Huge fan!)

As far as manliness goes, by the way, I am a college professor. I was never a Green Beret. In fact, to the best of my recollection I've never worn a beret of any color. Not that I have anything against them. The French like them, after all, and we all know how manly they are. But insofar as I still count as a man who reads romance--never having worn a beret--I think more men should read romance novels, so they at least know what they're talking about when they scoff. And if they did, I think there would be a lot less scoffing.

Todd-who-thinks-he-should-shut-up-now

Suz Brockmann said...

Hey, I just saw Michelle's email about this discussion -- I'm actually on vacation in Juneau, Alaska, but I wanted to drop in to welcome all of the students who are taking the time to explore the wonderful world of the romance genre.

I'm a proud, card-carrying romance author (NY Times bestselling, published in hardcover), and I happen to have quite a large male readership -- and I think I know why.

My theory (a-hem) is that my books are usually not *just* about the connection that comes with a romantic relationship, but, because I write about such groups as SEAL teams, my books also include relationships among friends. In fact, I would argue that BREAKING POINT is as much a book about the friendship between two male characters (Max and Jules) as it is about the romance between the hero and heroine (Max and Gina).

And I think that that really appeals to readers -- both male and female.

I've often brought what I call "buddy movie" elements into my books -- I'm as fascinated by friendship as I am by romantic relationships. And I think that the men -- and the women, too! -- who read and enjoy my books enjoy the "fantasy" of the kind of loyal friendships that the members of my fictional SEAL Team Sixteen have with one another. I also think that these elements in my books make them more accessible to men.

I could go on and on about how the friendships in my books intertwine with the romantic relationship -- the friends of the hero may tease him mercilessly about his feelings for the heroine, but beneath that is respect and even yearning for a similar romantic connection, which gives a male reader permission to experience similar yearnings -- but it's late and I'm in Alaska (which is still kind of blowing my mind).

Bottom line, I think that men aren't that different from women. I believe that all human beings are looking for a way to feel less alone/lonely and that we all yearn for a connection, be it with a friend or a lover (best of all = a lover who is also a friend).

When I write a romance, I let my hero and heroine discover all the ways they are alike -- all of their similarities -- even when, at first glance, they appear to be opposites. They must become strong and loyal friends as well as lovers on their journey to their happily-ever-after. I think that appeals to male readers, too.

Thank you again for taking the time to take a closer look at the richly entertaining genre of romance fiction!

-- Suz

Amanda Brice said...

OK, I didn't say that GWTW isn't romantic. I said it wasn't a "romance novel" as defined by RWA standards. In fact, I think it's way more romantic than many romance novels I've read. However, in my mind, it's a love story, not a romance. Don't get me wrong--I love love stories, often more than romances.

Scarlett may very well get him back. But she doesn't in the pages of Mitchell's novel. It's just like in a chick lit...often, the book ends with the girl meeting the guy. You just know that they'll get together eventually, but it doesn't happen within the confines of the pages. Not a romance.

However, that's not to say that I don't consider it romantic or a love story, or even that it doesn't have strong romantic elements. But to me, the larger story of GWTW was Scarlett's struggle with herself.

Amanda Brice said...

I was always a big fan of the scene in the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice where Lizzie is helping Georgiana play the piano, and looks up, adn Mr. Darcy is smiling at her, and she smiles back. Fabulous!
Sigh!

BEST. SCENE. EVER.

Kate Duffy said...

My name is Kate Duffy and I edit romance novels.

2 things - I have long thought that if romance were as common as rudeness I would not have a job.

And the worst but, by some arguments, accurate love scene I never published was 2 sentences long.

"It was over before I knew it. And it wasn't really what I expected."

Doesn't contribute much to the discussion, I know.

Kate

Bill Gleason said...

To everyone who took the time to read the questions from my class and to offer comments, suggestions, and advice over the past day and a half -- a very heartfelt THANK YOU. This has been a terrific experience, and we're quite grateful.

And special thanks to Michelle B., without whom this never would have happened. Thank you, Michelle!

Best, Bill