Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bronwyn Clarke GuestBlog: Hugh, Clive, And You -- The Keys To Online Romance Scholarship

Contest!!! One LCB who writes a suggestion to help Bronwyn wins a 6-pack of romance!

I learned about Bronwyn Clarke through our very own RBtheBook Alpha Nerd, Eric Selenger, Ph.D. Yeah, here at RBtheBlog, we kinda claim Eric as our personal Romance(Scholar) hero, and I think we also feel close to the whole idea that studying readers' issues and inclinations is good thinkin' on the part of the smarty pantses we so admire.
Bronwyn Clarke is one of those smarty pantses who thinks the way we like -- like us -- and is fascinated by the phenomenon of online romance communities and their importance to the vibrancy of the genre. Today, she welcomes us to help her in her noble cyber-quest. Please, a warm Bella buongiorno for Bronwyn, scholar, writer, romance lover...

Hello, Bellas!
I'm delighted and honored to be here at RBtheBook today. This being my first time as a GuestBlogger, I thought I'd bring along Hugh and Clive for moral support :-)

I've been reading romance since I was about 12 (a scary number of decades ago!), and about 6 years ago I st
arted seriously writing it - and probably might have quit, were it not for all the wonderful friendships and information from the online communities I became involved with. So, when for career reasons I needed to start a part-time PhD, I decided to research online romance genre communities, and their perspectives on the genre. I figured if I had to give up sleep to juggle work, writing, and PhD, it better be for something fun and interesting, as well as valuable!

The active part of my online research is happening this year, through 3 main activities - an online survey, a research blog, and a series of online focus groups. And yes, I'd LOVE the Bellas to participate!! The
online survey and research blog are both 'live' now, and I'll be organizing the focus groups from June. The survey takes about 10 minutes to complete, and asks questions to provide some quantitative, contextual data about online activity and reading/buying activity.

At the research blog, I post discussion questions and ideas every week or so, and anybody with an interest can make comments. We've discussed topics such
as romance hero 'types', romance's reputations, our online lives, why we read romance... and more. All the questions are left open for comments, so anyone can add their thoughts, anytime. In the focus groups, we'll use a chat tool to discuss some topics in more depth. I'll post more info about the focus groups on the blog when they're organised, so interested people can sign up. My research website has more information about the project, including the official info required by my University.

It is very exciting, being part of the new groundswell of positive, academic interest in the genre, which includes researchers such as Eric Selinger, Laura Vivanco, Pamela Regis, Sarah Frantz, and Glen Thomas. I was delighted to see Professor Bill Gleason's class here at RBtheBook last week, and the marvelous responses to their questions.

So, Bellas, since I'll be doing a couple of chapters in my thesis on specific issues/aspects of the genre in depth, what do YOU think those should be on? What are the important things, from your perspectives, that the academic and literary worlds need to understand about romance, and reading it?

I'm looking forward to reading your responses! And because it's important in this type of research that you feel you can trust me, if you have any questions you'd like to ask me, please go right ahead 


Julie in Ohio said...

Welcome to RBTB, Bronwyn!! I'm so happy you came here for some research. We have alot of smartsies here. Unfortunately I'm not one of them. I'm the enthusiastic welcomer. So come on in, take your shoes off and grab a cup of coffee. I made if fresh just for you. :o)

Anonymous said...

Hello, Julie, and thanks for the welcome! I might have to take a raincheck on the coffee just now, though, since I'm down under in Australia and it's almost midnight here :-) But cyber coffee stays fresh, doesn't it, so I can have a cup in the morning, right?

Julie in Ohio said...

You mean you weren't going to pull an all-nighter? :oD

You're right. Cyber coffee stays fresh and has a bonus of no yucky after taste... :o)

amy kennedy said...

Yikes, Bron--great name BTW--so many issues...I do love the aspect of the H and H both being damaged in some way and there struggle to reclaim themselves and then to be able to love. And how they "help" each other.

Too much?

Anonymous said...

Hi amy*skf! I love reading that emotional journey, too, and I like the way you put it - 'struggling to reclaim themselves' before being able to love. I think one of the things I learned (and maybe it was partly from romance books) that we have to have at least some self-awareness, and like ourselves, before we can really love.

You mean you weren't going to pull an all-nighter? :oD

LOL - I'd love to party all night with the Bellas :-) but tonight's not the best night to dance until dawn, since I have a busy day tomorrow - including playing in here! So I might have to head off for bed now, and I'll be back in a few hours.

Have a good day, up there in the northern hemisphere! I'll be back after some (much needed!) beauty sleep :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm assuming you wonderful ladies can look after Hugh and Clive for me, while I'm gone :-)

Julie in Ohio said...

It would be our pleasure, Bron... ;o)

robynl said...

Reading romance is for pleasure, quiet time, down time, relaxation; a time to 'get away' from the everyday struggles and stresses and enter a world where you can meet new friends and visit faraway places or places new to you. It is a discovery and an adventure.

Welcome and congrats on your first time as a guest blogger.

Playground Monitor said...

I was going to say you need to include WHY people read romance and I think Robyn said it well -- pleasure, relaxation, escape. That's why I read it. What more pleasurable way to relax and escape than with a great love story?


ellie said...

Romance reading is a pleasureable diversion that allows us to dream, to travel and to experience wonderful places. Romances provide us with entertainment which is endless and always changeable and fascinating. It is easy to become enthralled with the characters and their lives.

Anonymous said...

Bron - Welcome to the group! There are two things that I think would be great to explore.

1) That romance is a popular genre because it fulfills a basic need in many women (and some men).
2) That there are many, many sub-genres of romance that cater to every type of personality out there...from Inspirational stories to dark and edgy vampire stories to historicals to thriller/suspense romances to chick lit to erotic romance. I get sooooo tired of the non-readers of the genre classifying us all under the "bodice-ripper" umbrella.

Shannon said...

Welcome to the party Bron...

I think that you should focus on helping people to understand that romance novels are not just about sex. It seems like people like to clump them all into one category and that just doesn't ring true for all of them. Of, course we like our sex scenes, but it is the creativeness of the writer and all of the emotions and conflict that we love. We love happily ever afters, but it is more about the journey in getting there.

Hope this helps. ;-)

kim h said...

people believe in happily ever after and good sex

Maureen said...

It's uplifting to read about people who triumph in all different situations and work hard to get their happy ending.

Carol M said...

I read romance to escape life's problems and because it's nice to see a HEA. I like to read all the different kinds of stories but suspense and historical are my favorite.

Julie in Ohio said...

The thing I would like the academic/literary world to do is recognize romance as the legitimate literary masterpiece that it is. There has been a stigma attached to romance for so long that academics tend to ignore or avoid it. I think it's time that someone punch them in the arm and say "hey, looky here."
In my opinion, the head honchoes think of romance as "girlie" with no real meat to it so why should they bother but that is so NOT true. There is something for everyone within the romance genre.

Julie in Ohio said...

I would also like to throw out there that although we read for the fantasy and escapism that romance brings, that doesn't mean that we are deadening (not sure if that's a word but using it anyway) our minds. Romance authors are such creative and smart people and it comes through in their works.

Anonymous said...

welcome :)

I totally agree with Nina and probably couldn't have said it better myself. I feel for people who don't read the genre, they are missing out on some of the best writing.

Lis said...

I think reading a romance is a definite escape, allows the reader to get away from whatever life's throwing at them for a few minutes, hours, whatever to relax and rejuvenate themselves.

And yeah, getting rid of the stigma of romance would be a great thing :) Especially the 'oh anyone can write one of those books' aspect

anne said...

When I am depressed, upset, or at loose ends I immediately know that reading romance will cure my ills. I become engrossed within the story and am transported to another time and place. This eases my mind and I can function once again.

ev said...

Welcome Bron!! I have to admit that doing a thesis is the one big thing that keeps me from going for my Master's and beyond. It's a daunting task that you have set for yourself. I am humbled.

I aagree with Julie. What makes Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (for ex.) literature and what we read- not. Isn't her's a romance novel when all is said and done? I can just go down the shelves at work and put almost everything in romance.

The academic and literary worlds need to understand that just because the authors we read aren't dead, doesn't mean they don't deserve the same respect.

I just had an older (well over 60) woman come in looking for anything new by Victoria Holt. (ahem) She insisted that they should be in mystery/thriller. I had to show her on the computer that they were labled romance. She was shocked to find she had been reading romance books all these years. It gave me a good laugh.

Julie in Ohio said...

Ev-- Your typing has improved. How's the finger?

Anna Campbell said...

Hi, Bron! And Hugh and Clive...

principessa said...

Romances appeal to all ages and across a broad spectrum of society. No other genre has this attraction. We can empathize with the individuals and their trials and tribulations since they are not too different from our own lives many times.

alissa said...

When I read romances I am riveted within the story, be it a historical, contemporary or any genre. I love that I can get within the pages and have that special feeling that lasts for hours. Perhaps it is called contentment due to the nature of the wonderful magnetism of the story.

Anonymous said...

Hello again, everyone! It's morning here, and I'm awake again. (Okay, so maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but I'm sure at least one neuron in my brain will fire any minute now..)

Thanks for all your comments so far! I'm going to take a few minutes to re-read the above messages (and let the caffeine do its work!) and then I'll be back.

Monica Burns said...

Welcome, Bronwyn BTW, I second the point about your name being fabulous! How apropos that you're writing about what's special about romance and why we read it.

There've been some really good points made that I totally agree with. Escapism, relaxation, pleasure, etc. I'd like to add fantasy.

Fantasy that's safe.

There are a number of authors in the genre of romance, specifically erotic romance and erotica, who are taking chances with their stories and creating a brouhaha in the romance community itself, whether it's forced seduction, bondage, whatever. A reader can enjoy the fantasy of these type of romances provided she knows there's a HEA. These stories are not for all readers, but for those who want them, they're there.

Finally, I love the idea of something for everyone. The variety. There might be certain types of romances I don't care to read, but I like that there will always be something different for me to try. Variety is the spice of life, and romance definitely gives a reader that. Variety AND spice! LOL


Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks, Bellas for your thoughts. Many of you commented on the pleasure and relaxation of reading romance, the ability to step to another place for a little while and let your mind enjoy it. I'm pretty similar - romances are good stories, well-written so that they draw me in, and I get absorbed. (And stay absorbed... which is why I never start a book in the morning before work, or late in the evening!)

Nina and Trish, you commented that romances fill a basic need for women (and men). Can you explain further what you think that need is? I've got some ideas, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Shannon, you said you'd like academe to understand that romance novels aren't just about sex. When I did a rough outline of my thesis structure a while back, I included a chapter on sexuality and sex in romance, because it is one of the hotly debated topics, both in academe and in online groups. I got to thinking the other week, though, that, while I still might include it, I really want to stress somehow that, as you say, sex isn't the main focus. Maybe I should make the chapters on emotional journeys, courtship and intimacy, and put the sex in the appendix :-)

This is getting long - more in a minute!

Anonymous said...

Oh, no! I just wrote another long comment, and I lost it. And now I'm running late for work.

I have to teach a workshop this morning, so I probably won't be back for about 4 hours, although I'll try to pop in earlier if I can.

Julie in O, part of my long comment was asking what YOU feel makes romance novels literary masterpieces?

And Monica and Amy, thx re my name - I like it, too!

Sorry I have to dash - I wasn't supposed to be teaching this morning (so i could spend the day with you) but a colleague had family dramas so I've had to step in.

Back in a while - don't exhaust Hugh and Clive while I'm gone :-)

Stacy~ said...

Hey Bron, welcome to our humble abode :) You've touched on one of my hot buttons, and I can get rather long-winded and melodramatic in my responses. I'll try and keep this short *g*

Probably one of the biggest misconceptions about romance novels is that the only people who read them only uneducated women who believe that their prince will come to rescue them. And that is simply not true. Many of the women I know who read romances are college educated, happily married or enjoying the single life. The world should know that there are a ton of bright, independent, unique, courageous, funny, fearless and loving women (and men for that matter) who read them, and for a variety of reasons.

Mainly, I read them for escape and the wonderful happy endings, but also because there are many examples of positive relationships where men and women respect each other. I've been reading them since I was around 12 myself, and what I've learned over the years is that I'd rather be on my own then settle for someone who doesn't respect me or who treats me like crap. I have no problem being single - some days it's the most freeing and fun thing in the world LOL.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

'mornin, Bron! Thanks for boppin in and out.

Seems like what many commenters are saying, is that they want the literary and outside worlds to understand romance fiction fills needs within them that are important to them as "thinking" and "feeling" women.

You wrote, Bron (I'm with everyone else on the gorgeous name thing, too): I got to thinking the other week, though, that, while I still might include it, I really want to stress somehow that, as you say, sex isn't the main focus. Maybe I should make the chapters on emotional journeys, courtship and intimacy, and put the sex in the appendix :-)

I totally see your point in not wanting to make romance novels about "sex," even in the way you include the myriad journeys that lead up to "sex" that are explored in romance.

Perhaps the question is rather, how does the reading of romance empower women to embrace/explore their sexual fantasies and sexualities?

The emphasis then is on the value of the body of work to readers and the potential affect of the novels on self-actualization and human sexuality -- heck, even feminism, because nothing gets one to nail down ones Feminist beliefs like reading romance -- rather than how does reading "lots of sex" make women's bodies feel.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Ah, Stace, I remember that feeling!

Hey, Mon! I agree. Romance writers are incredibly brave, perhaps only marginally "out-braved" by the readers who often fight daily battles being respected simply because they buy and read the authors' novels.

ev, that so funny. Haven't we all met so many who say they wouldn't read romance, and it turns out they do all the time?

Anne, sounds like romance doesn't make you "out of touch w/reality" as some critics suggest, but brings you back to reality. Good point.

Well said, nina: they ain't all bodice rippers. (Oh, would that they were...but, um, that's just my personal opinion. :) ) I agree that the best way we can deal w/that opinion -- cause change will come sloooowwwwly -- is simply talk about our stuff exactly as if it matters whether to each other, or to non-readers. Define, don't defend is the RBtheBook motto. Uh, that, and hot, wet guys are food for the soul.

Grace Tyler said...

I'm not the guest, so I don't want to put in a HUGE post--however, when I was reading Joseph Campbell, I of course applied the book to myself as a romance writer. And here's what I concluded (from my review of his book in the Utah RWA newsletter):

The Hero With A Thousand Faces
By Joseph Campbell
Princeton University Press
ISBN: 0-691-1784-0

This book is a landmark in Campbell’s field of study, mapping the heroic journey that is common to mythologies spanning the globe. I hope my attempt to review it will do it justice and pique your curiosity at the same time.

Campbell opens his exploration of mythological heroes by first justifying our need for such stories. Though that certainly was not the main purpose of the book, I found it the most compelling section, as it explains, finally, the need for the romance novel in our modern world. Our genre has the highest sales and the lowest public regard. Why?

First, let me address the issue of low regard, as explained by Campbell. Again, this was not the purpose of his work, but he so clearly pinpoints the duality of the modern human condition. We are intellectually driven, wanting to explain everything rationally or scientifically. Evidence suggests that happy endings are in short supply in daily living. Human beings therefore disregard the “happily ever after” as unrealistic pabulum for the masses—like religion. Without the comfort of myth and religion in modern times, we live in a state of consummate despair.

This is why we need romance. Disdain for the happy ending leaves life with little purpose. Is there a heaven? Is there true love? The evidentiary answer of modern society is “no.” We have invented gods and so-called true love to comfort and justify ourselves.

According to Campbell, happy endings should not be regarded as lies, but as a representation of mankind’s ability to transcend the state of tragedy. A touch of the divine is glimpsed in these stories, a restoration of hope, however temporary.

This is the role of romance, to light the beacon of hope in a world that is often dark and filled with despair. Romance can temporarily counteract the fear engendered by the geo-political climate. It can restore belief in unconditional love, if only for the duration of the story. It can take a dreary day of work and transform it into excitement, renewing the thrill of infatuation and desire.

What am I telling you? Social science says we need romance! It’s not escapism for the simple-minded. It’s the restoration of balance to the human condition. A touch of the divine is glimpsed in these stories.

And this explains the genre’s high sales.

And if you needed justification for the scores of romances lining the walls in the den, Campbell’s your man. Social science says your books are helping to restore society’s balance.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


Apologies to Bron and all the Bellas for this lengthy post. I'm new here, and very interested in Bron's work.

Best, Grace

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Thank you for sharing that with us, Grace, and welcome, Bella; you're one of us now.

Grace Tyler said...

Thank you for the warm welcome, Michelle. I am enjoying your blog, scrolling through previous posts.

catslady said...

I love all genres and I don't think one is any more legitimate then the next. Everyone takes away something different because after all we have lived different lives. Everyone looks to different genres for different things too. I think romance gets criticized because the majority of readers are women and/or some people have never read it.

Stacy~ said...

Catslady, you reminded me of something else - a lot of people do look down on romance who've never read it, calling it "cookie-cutter" and fluff, but many fail to realize the research a lot of authors do for their subject matter, especially for historicals. Granted, not all are 100 % accurate, but some authors take the time to painstakingly study and investigate a particular topic and use that to create amazing, imaginative stories. It's not just a matter of using an outline and filling in the blanks.

I guess I don't see the point of putting down any genre - if it gets people reading, how can it be a bad thing? Look at how Harry Potter got so many kids, and adults, to read? I think that's incredible.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the wonderful comments - it was great to finish the workshop I was teaching and come back here to find you all talking!

I love reading about why people read romance - and yes, as Ev and Stacy and others have said, I'd love academe and the broader world to understand that it's an intelligent, complex and rich genre. We often talk about reading it for 'escape', but I like Monica's point that we don't mean deadening our minds; I find its the fact that romance draws me in and absorbs me totally that allows my mind to 'switch off'from other things - but it sure as heck doesn't switch off entirely!!

(I'm just going to post this here and continue in a minute - I want to check which browser on my work computer posts okay, and which doesn't!)

Julie in Ohio said...

"Julie in O, part of my long comment was asking what YOU feel makes romance novels literary masterpieces?"

And this is what I meant at the beginning about me not being a smartsy type, because putting things into words is not my forte. I have serious rambling issues. However I will try.

IMO, what makes romance a masterpiece is the fact that they stand the test of time. I can pull out a romance from 20-30+ years ago, read it as if it were brand new and enjoy it just the same as if it were the new Julia Quinn. They're about people we care about doing and feeling things that we understand. Perhaps doing things that we personally wouldn't do but that's the fantasy/escapism that we enjoy. Just like with any other genre, when a book is written well, with the emotion and vibrance that an author puts into it, there is nothing that compares. And romance authors do that to the extreme. The emotion only that an author puts into the book makes it enjoyable but there's so much more. The dialogue between the characters and the world that is built around them just comes to life. Romance authors have the challenge of not only getting us to care about their characters but they have to create believable tensions, sexual and physical. The hero and heroine have to overcome obsticals in order to get to their HEA or it isn't satisfying. None of that is easy because for each reader the standards are different. What I like, you may not. For this reason alone I think romance is under rated but the Bellas have given many other good examples of why romance is a masterpiece.

See what I mean. I ramble. I hope at least a quarter of what I said made sense and was helpful.

Anonymous said...

One of the reasons that I chose this topic for my PhD is because I believe it as a very important one to explore. I really would like my work in this field to contribute to the work that Eric, Laura, Sarah and others are doing and to broaden the understanding of the genre. I do get passionate about the fact that romance readers and writers still get ridiculed, and that some people - like some of the students from Bill Gleason's class - feel a great deal of pressure not to read romance. I'd love to see the day when not only everybody who wants to read romance is encouraged to do so, but when our students read modern romances as a normal part of their literature studies - not just confined to genre or gender studies, and authors like Nora Roberts, Jennifer Crusie etc are in the same courses as Hemmingway and co.

(Oops, I seem to have somehow got up here on this soapbox! Let me just climb back down again...)

Michelle, I liked your comment about romance filling needs for us as both 'thinking' and 'feeling' women. That's a great way of expressing it - the intellectual as well as the emotional.

Re the chapter on sex and sexuality, I'll probably grapple with how best to approach it for a while - I agree it's a very important issue - but since so much of the negative criticism has emphasised the acts of sex and the portrayal of them, I'd like to contextualise sexuality, as an important part, but a part only, of the portrayal of complex relationships. Not de-emphasising it, but perhaps raising into the limelight with it the issues of writing and reading emotional and physical intimacy. (I'm not sure if that makes sense - I think I need to find another cup of tea to give the brain a kick!)

Anonymous said...

Julie, that's a great response - thank you very much!! As a writer, I know what I *try* to do in writing, but that's meaningless if it doesn't do something for the reader. And so I'm really interested - wearing both my academic and writing hats - in what actually grabs and holds readers, and keeps them coming back, although yes, that's often hard to define and articulate.

(And, just writing there about writing hats made me wonder if I should really make myself one. Hmm... what should it look like? Jade velvet, Tudor style man's cap, with some jewels and colorful feathers, perhaps????)

Julie in Ohio said...

I believe all writers should have a thinking cap. What it looks like should reflect it's wearer. But colorful feathers? I was with ya on the velvet. I like soft. :o)

It's off to dream land for me.
Thank you, Bron, for playing with us today. I hope we were helpful in your research. Come back as often as you can and of course Hugh and Clive are also welcome anytime... ;o)

Anonymous said...

Gotta love these time differences - I've just had lunch, and Julie's off to sleep. Sleep well, and thanks heaps for your contributions!

I'm still catching up :-)

Grace, thanks for the reminder about Campbell's writing. I have the book of interviews he did with Bill Mollison, in which he says some wonderful, very real, things about relationships, too, in amongst the mythology discussions. A couple of his comments really helped clarify my own thoughts when I was first beginning in my marriage.

Catslady and Stacy - I'm with you on the valuing of all genres! Reading is A Good Thing, whatever the genre.

Stacy commented on authors' research, and robynl and Marilyn and others mentioned being transported to far away places - that's got to be good for our imaginations, too, doesn't it?

Just flicking back through all the comments, and Ev, you sympathised with the daunting task of writing a thesis. Thanks! I keep telling myself that it's not that big, it's just the length of a novel (here in Oz, our theses are around 100,000 words), and easier because I just have to keep a logical argument going and support it with evidence, rather than developing characters, emotions, intimacy, conflict and weaving it all together in an emotionally compelling way ;-)

Anonymous said...

Since it's now night-time for all you North American Bellas, I wanted to say a huge Thank you all for all your comment and contributions today:

Julie, amy*skf, robynl, Marilyn, ellie, Nina, Shannon, kim h, Maureen, Carol, trish, Lis, anne, ev, Anna C, principessa, alissa, Monica, Grace, catslady, Stacy, and of course Michelle... thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and helping me with my research in this way. I've printed everything out so I can study it properly - your contributions are a great resource, and I *really* appreciate them.

I'll still be checking back here during my afternoon and evening, so if there's any night owls around (or down-under-ites!) we can continue the discussion, but I did want to say thanks to those who have participated today!

The WWW of the Bellas = Wonderfully Warm and Welcoming!

Lis said...

Best of luck with your research :)
I was just thinking its funny how romance is looked at by the 'literary' set. But they read and adore Jane Austen and most romance writers seem to consider her work, esp. Pride and Prejudice, a definite romance.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Lis! Yep, I'd say P&P is definitely a romance - the ups and downs of the relationship are a key focus throughout the novel. Perhaps it's because it has been so popular for so long, that it just can't be ignored by the 'literary' set :-)

Stacy~ said...

Bron, thanx for stopping by. It was very enjoyable and hopefully you'll come back again :)

ev said...

Julie- thanks for asking. I am only typing slowly and seldome. The dr. made me leave the splint on cause I kept pulling the stitches.

Bron- thanks for stopping by and good luck. Don't be a stranger!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Stacy and Ev! I do pop in and read when I can, and now I've been chatting with you all, I'll say hello more often! Thanks heaps, everyone, for a great day!

My bed is calling me...