Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Eloisa James ScholarBlog: Perfect Angels After The Storm

From Michelle: Romance superstar Eloisa James (who's got a really cool paper-doll contest goin') keeps a 'day job' as Fordham University English prof Mary Bly, whose specialities -- yes, think it w/ a Brit accent, cause our faire Eloisa is expert in Things Shakespearean -- are boy's plays and queer theory. Today, La Bel' Eloisa joins us from Paris (6 hrs ahead on your Minnie Mouse timepieces, Bellas) and ponders romance from the unique position of one who writes, reads and studies the genre we love and respect. Please offer her your warmest Bella buongiorno...
From Eloisa: Buongiorno Bellas! People are always expecting me (as a romance writer who’s an academic) to defend the genre of romance whenever I put on my professor-hat.

I’m not going to do that, any more than I would defend the genre of plays written for boy actors around 1608, the subject of my research as a professor. I don’t think either genre needs defending.

People enjoy romances, just as they enjoyed boys’ plays (Hamlet himself expressed a little anxiety about the fact that boys’ plays were more popular than adult plays). For that reason alone, romances are fascinating objects of study that need no defending.

For example, a burst of paranormal romances featuring heroines able to control the weather followed hurricane Katrina. Some of those books were very well written; some were less carefully written; some were probably terrible. But all of them are tremendously interesting, from an academic point of view.

The tough thing is trying to figure out what to say about a trend like that. Did readers feel more powerful in the face of bad weather after reading these romances? I think one mistake academics make is rushing to judgment as far as the effects of reading are concerned. For example, I do not believe that reading a romance about a Prince of Darkness type of hero makes a woman more likely to stay home with an abusive husband. But it is clear that the Katrina-esque romances registered a deep strain of anxiety in current culture.

For the past two years I have written a column on romance for BN.com's Barnes & Noble Review, which has resulted in virtually every published romance being sent to my house each month. One trend I’ve noticed lately? Angels. To be more specific, heroes who are fallen angels. J. R. Ward’s latest book, "Covet," joins a throng of angelic men.

So what’s that about? What is happening in our culture that we like to read/think/dream about angels, fallen or otherwise?
***
TOMORROW: Back 2 School Week 2: Scholars on Romance Continues with the gregarious gray matter behind RomanceUniversity.org, carrying on in the longstanding tradition of romance authors and industry professionals educating up-and-comers -- and readers taking part in the tutelage!

38 comments:

debbie haupt said...

Thanks Eloisa and good morning my fella bellas
Well I'm no expert on why the world chooses to read what they do, but as far as my tastes go I love all things paranormal/urban fantasy and some science fiction be it in the romance genre or not and for me the attraction is pure wanting to literally get away from it all. Our world is in turmoil constantly and we (me) as individuals feel totally helpless to change anything so to cope I read outside the box and enjoy things that could never be printed anywhere by the enquirer. I just finished Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick for the First Look club at B&N it's a YA paranormal about you guessed it fallen angels.
To dig any deeper into my reasoning for liking such reads would take pages and pages, but suffice it to say that I like a lot of people have a fascination about the hereafter and legends of such beings.
Thanks again professor Eloisa ;-)

Princess Bumblebee said...

Oh, I love angels and, frankly, would like to see more of them! Nalini Singh's new Guild Hunter series features angels promenantly and in very alpha, to-die-for way, hehe. All I can really think of to describe it is, that with so many vampires and things roaming around and with all the bad things we hear about, maybe we want a little more, how else can I put it, angelic heroes and heroines? but that are still so very bad. All I can think of to describe it is that old Clint Eastwood movie "The good, the bad, and the ugly"? Not taht our heroes are ugly, hehe. They're usually very hot! Which we are forever thankful, hehe

Erica Ridley said...

>> So what’s that about? What is happening in our culture that we like to read/think/dream about angels, fallen or otherwise?

Great question! And... I have no idea! Maybe it makes us happier to believe that there's Something Greater out there (and that True Love can transcend it?)

Hush Hush is already on my TBR, but I will have to add Covet to the list!

Eloisa James said...

Such a good point, Debbie -- that there are too many things in our world (not the mention the world itself) that leave us feeling helpless. Even a hero couldn't save all those floundering polar bears, I suppose, but surely an angel could!

I haven't read Hush Hush -- good for adults too?

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Hi, Eloisa!
I'd have to agree with Debbie -- that things must seem so bad that traditional heros-to-the-rescue like fireman, zillionaires, all-powerful dukes, and Navy Seals can no longer be counted on for romantic salvation. Instead an unworldly symbol of good is required to "make everything better" for the heroine.

Could it also be that the notion of reforming a bad boy hero seems like more trouble than it's worth for readers these days? That they'd rather their heroines be saved by the hero than save him? Or maybe male angels are just a flip of the angelic, super-nice heroine who can save lost boy heros?

(Of course I'm in no position to discuss angels, since my current WIP features the Earl of Rochester, the Earl of Dorset, and Sir Charles Sedley –– gentlemen well known to you, Eloisa *g* –– no feathered goodness in that lot.)

Regardless -- jus' sayin' it's very nice to see you here in Michelle's palazzo, and I enjoy your columns over at BN.com, too. Thank you!

Eloisa James said...

You make a great point, Susan -- so, riffing off what you're saying: maybe we feel pressure to save ourselves if it's a matter of your "usual" bad guy -- but if it's a question of demonic badness, we can just relax into the arms of his angelness?

Rochester, huh? I love him. His collected letters were way inspirational in one of my books. Not that I could print most of what he implied.

debbie haupt said...

Hush Hush is great for adults too
Deb

Vanessa Kelly said...

Hi Eloisa!

I must admit that I'm not very comfortable with the whole angel trope, although I can certainly see the appeal of the fallen angel attempting to redeem himself. And we all know that Paradise Lost is way more interesting than the boring stuff in heaven!

But as for the good angel as hero...not so much. Maybe it's the old Catholic schoolgirl in me, but angelic beings are not just otherwordly/paranormal types - at least not to me. They're part of the heavenly host, and I just don't find the heavenly host very sexy. Correction - it feels weird to me to sexualize angels as heroes of romance. Kind of sacrilegious, actually!

I guess the appeal of angels is that they are firmly on the side of all that is good, and will fight to defend the weak and innocent. But after having survived years of indoctrination in Catholic school (and we all have our stories about that!), I think I prefer to keep my angels firmly "up there," and not wandering around dressed like alpha hotties in black leather.

Becke Davis said...

Hi Eloisa -- this is a fascinating topic! I've read a few of the weather-controlling-heroine books, but hadn't connected them with Katrina.

And Michelle mentioned something in one of her Heart-to-Heart blogs about all the fireman heroes we saw after 9/11. I remember one of your columns for B&N where you mentioned that there were a lot of immortal heroes after 9/11, too.

I used to be embarrassed to be caught reading books with hot covers, but no longer. I'm proud of the authors who wrote those books, and they give me something as a woman that feels a gap -- and I'm speaking as someone who is very happily married.

As I've come to know a lot of readers and writers of romance, I've found a number of these women were abused in the past. Reading and, in particular, writing about erotic romance seems to give many women a sense of control that's often absent in the real world.

As a struggling writer, I had to laugh at your note about the popular angelic trend. I submitted an erotic novella last year to a well-known publisher, and they expressed an interest in it. It went through a couple of levels of editors before it was rejected.

The book took place 100 years in the future, and it involved warrior angels and, of course, one fallen angel. The rejection noted that they decided against the story because of concerns about publishing a story with religious undertones.

Now, looking back at that novella, I think it needs some revision before I submit it anywhere else. But my eyebrows are still raised at the "religious concerns" -- as if that has stopped the publication of all those other angel books out there!

Becke Davis said...

"that feels a gap?" Freudian slip or senior moment? Anyway, that should say "fills a gap." Duh.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Eloisa,
I just wanted to drop in and say, "hi". I see your blog is going quite nicely. You have great discussion going on about angels. It is a really tough subject.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Buongiorno, Bellas and bonjour, Eloisa! Thank you so much for joining us today! I must share with everyone that Eloisa kindly stepped in at the last minute to fill in for another scholar.

I felt bad asking her to be a 'pinch scholar," feeling as though she might be sick of being trotted out wearing her 'professor hat,' as she's called it here. But if you're new to RBTB, you may not know that Eloisa also is RBTB's GuestBlogger Laureate, a dubious honor that goes along with her being the first RBTB GuestBlogger. After that first appearance she said," Hey, any time you need a blogger, just let me know." And she's regretted it ever since.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Debbie, it's interesting that you equate the angel phenomenon w/a fascination w/the hereafter, not just with fallen-angel mythology. Now, for anyone other than me, that would be a no-brainer, right? But I tend to pull apart the literal when thinking romance, so I guess I just think angel = another hot hero.

But do you remember when everyone was angel-mad about 10 years ago? Little angel lapel pins, in pictures and stuff? And everyone wanted to -- and maybe still does believe they were or are angels on Earth? So I guess the angel hero really adds a layer of naughty to something that's supposed to be such a pure blessing moving among us?

I have a girlfriend who's crazy about angel mythology, though I don't think it's mythology to her. And I've known her quite a while. she's been writing about angels for years and has had a bunch of "d'oh!" moments as angels have gotten more popular. But she's created really cool mythologies about angels in which there are legions both good and evil.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

'nessa, we Catholic girls didn't have to look any further than the altar and cute priests to get all mixed up about fallen angel fantasy, so this whole angel mythology can really be troublesome for us! :) Of course, I shouldn't lump you in w/ me and my sinful Catholic girlfriends...

debbie haupt said...

Right and we must remember that the most written about and most famous or infamous fallen angel of all has fascinated people for eons. So they're not really a new concept as them being heros or good guys.

debbie haupt said...

I meant to say that the new concept is that they're considered good guys. But in my previous post that's not how it came out.

Becke Davis said...

Well, I come from a long line of Presbyterians, Methodists and Quakers, so I'm missing the Catholic school girl gene. I still think fallen angels are hot, though.

Eloisa, was that you Tweeting for Avon Books today? Someone was asking if we preferred fallen angels or redeemable demons: I want both.

Becke Davis said...

Oh Michelle, I sure do remember that angel craze. Everyone was wearing little angel lapel pins. What started that craze - Desert Storm, maybe? Columbine? I'm assuming it was a disaster of some kind.

Eloisa James said...

I tweeted, but I think it was the editor Erica Tsang tweeting about redeemable demons vs fallen angels today... And Becke, I clearly remember being in an audience in New York City, and an editor rolling her eyes and saying, "just please don't give me any paranormals." I was thinking, "but I like paranormals!" Well...then the vampires hit, about 6 months later. Sometimes an author is just ahead of the curve, and ahead of the editors!

Becke Davis said...

I have a friend who write historicals with a paranormal twist and another who is having trouble getting any interest in her time-travel historical -- both were told there isn't a market for that type of book. I can never figure out who decides what the market is, but I know I'll read anything, if it's good!

debbie haupt said...

Yes and we all know that Becke is definitely ahead of the times. And I think you should share with all of your friends after your revisions and then we could let you know how we like it.

Santa said...

In terms of the tortured hero theme, fallen angels fit that bill like a thigh hugging pair of inexpressables. That would work for me in any romance sub-genre.

As to why they are so popular now, well, I'd have to say (without sounding preachy in any manner) it's about redemption for that fallen angel and salvation for the heroine. Here is an entity that can really love and protect the heroine unconditionally. Angelic heroes show that love is not only possible but eternal and in these times of uncertainty on so many levels one more sure thing certainly can't hurt.

Great to see you all here. I've been in hybernation but am sooo ready to return to reading and writing romance. Maybe once I'm done with my WIP, I'll dip back into my file for that angel story I started a couple of years ago.

LizeeS said...

Hi Eloisa and Bellas,
Like Santa I've been a blog recluse lately, finishing a WIP--but this is such a wonderful topic to come out of my dark "mole hole" for!

I have my head so rooted in contemporary romance that I get rolled eyes from all my writer/reader buddies who love paranormal and every iteration of it. But, to me, the angel fascination goes back to well before the current reading trends. Think Highway to Heaven and Touched by an Angel.

I think we all want the feeling that we are not only worth redeeming, but redeemable. As readers or writers, by being able to consort with angels either fallen or otherwise, gives us the chance to live the fantasy that we have a special "in" to the spiritual world.

I totally believe in Angels and actually like the idea of them as helpmates to the lovers more than lovers themselves. Nonetheless, there've been some great 'falling for the angel' stories.

I also never want to give up on the hope that in this scary, overwhelming world where we feel helpless to fix anything, there will come a hero/heroine who (with the help of angels or otherwise)will be that one man who CAN make a difference.

Guess that's why I love contemporaries so much -- they're the 'what if' fairy tales that take place right here and now.

Great, great topic! Thanks Eloisa AND Michelle.

Eloisa James said...

Santa and Lizee -- I LOVE the redeemable aspect that you point out! And Santa - we missed you! Eloisa

Vanessa Kelly said...

Michelle, I'd be honored to be counted as one of your sinful Catholic girlfriends! Alas, no cute priests in my parish - just the old crabby Irish ones with red whiskey noses! But it didn't escape my notice that angels (and some saints, too) were usually depicted as strong, handsome, very masculine figures who could kick the crap out of the bad guys. Part of that, I guess, is the whole beauty=good thing, but there does seem to be quite an artistic tradition of portraying angels/saints as very sexually attractive figures.

Jill Kemerer said...

I would have expected more angel books right after 9/11. I really couldn't guess why they're popular now.

P.S. I love your books, Eloisa. Much Ado About You remains my fave!! Thanks for guesting today!

Becke Davis said...

Seems like everyone I know is reading A DUKE OF HER OWN. I LOVE that book!

Becke Davis said...

You'd think that old John Travolta movie, would have inspired a lot of bad boy-angel romances, but I don't think it did:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117038/

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

I must say, becke, it may be my fave Eloisa yet.

Good point, Jill. i wonder if we were so drawn down to earth that we could only see the real people as heroes, the cops, firefighters, soldiers, etc...

nessa, you're in the club! But, really, the depictions had to be hot, or else we would've had one less thing to feel guilty about in church.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

In seriousness, however, I wonder what the angel speaks to in terms of feminism, and whether susan h scott might not be on to something in terms of the swing back to allowing one to be rescued? That would have to assume the angel was, in fact, a good-guy angel. Now, if he's the fallen angel, or the mythology is that the hero's just a flawed hero and angels never were only good or bad, then what is it about him that makes him any more appealing than any other para? Is he a wallpaper para creature? Just a kind of placeholder hero since all the other paras have been used?

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

I was thinking of the awful NickCage meg ryan movie, becke.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Another question would be: What made the change from angels as intercedents to angels as interacting forces?

Becke Davis said...

Oh, I know -- that was a great movie, right up until the end, when I wanted to stomp it into the ground.

Eloisa James said...

Thanks, Jill -- I'm so glad you enjoyed Much Ado.

And cheers, everybody. I'm in France, which means it's 9 o'clock and I'm trundling off to bed. It's been a pleasure... I'm writing about some of these angel books in my October B&N review column (check it out on oct 5!) and this has been really helpful. Thanks!

hugs, all,
Eloisa

amy kennedy said...

Michelle, I was thinking the same thing, that maybe it's because people wanted a new type of paranormal hero -- mind you, I love the idea of angels and fallen angels as heroes, I wrote a snippet, just the beginnings of a fallen angel story 25 years ago -- d'oh! -- and I love the theories too. But sometimes I envision an editor saying," Oh, God, not another vampire -- give something different..."

Princess Bumblebee said...

You know, I just realized that when I was in L.A. everywhere you looked there were shirts with angel wings on the back! I, who thouth it was awesome, had to buy one. I just thought it was because of it beign the City of Angels, but I could be wrong. In hickville where I live, most people aren't trendy or cool (unlike me), hehe. Maybe that says we do want more angels. I certainly wouldn't mind being rescued by a hot angel, hehe.
Oh, and in Tara Janzen's novels, angel portraits, mostly of her heroes, promote angels prominantly. And I thought it was ultra-sexy that the one they call Superman (my fave!) was tatooed with angel wings on his back. Gotta find some feathers to fan myself with!

etirv said...

For someone raised Catholic, this fascination with angels is something natural. I must admit I didn't expect to see angels in romance novels!

By the way, Eloisa James, I am reading A Duke of Her Own right now and love it, love it, love it -- thank you!

Eloisa James said...

Awake again -- just in case you stop by, etirv, thank you! I'm so glad you're loving Villiers.

Michelle, thanks so much for having me!

cheers,
Eloisa