Tuesday, March 25, 2008

PCA 2008: Romance I

Well. So, not so much on the live blogging. I apologize for that. The main issue was time. What with the panels and needing to eat three times a day (someone needs to change that!) and spending time with my colleagues and with my mother and son, the blogging didn't get done. But the other reason is because I wanted to do the papers justice. The bare-bones notes that I took at the panels needed fleshing out (and I somehow actually found it more difficult to take notes on the computer rather than with pen and ink and I'm still trying to figure out why that is—although the computer notes allow for quicker editing rather than transcription into blog posts, so that's good), and that editing process is taking considerable time, actually. The straight text below each title is a summary of the panel. I hope I did a decent job, but the presenters and other attendees should PLEASE feel free to correct me. The text in italics are my comments about the presentations, the presenters, and how the paper might fit into the larger scheme of scholarship of popular romance fiction, if and when applicable.

I'll post panels individually and create a master post when I'm done, linking everything together, as Laura did for the Virgin Slave, Barbarian King extravaganza. So without further ado:

Romance Fiction I: Thursday, 8:00-9:30am
The Romance Industry: Authors, Editors, Translators, Readers

Chair: Eric Selinger, DePaul University

"Romance Novels in France: Another World?" Severine Olivier, Université Libre de Bruxelles
Severine is a graduate student in Brussels and a quiet, wonderful person who kept apologizing for her English. While her accent was strong, she was completely understandable and amazingly articulate, and as Darcy said, "Sorry about our French!"

US, UK, Canadian, and Australian romances are translated to target French readers and add a French touch by the French romance publishers, Harlequin and J'ai Lu. The publishers claim that the French authors are not as good as English language writers, and as such, native French authors have few incentives to write romances. Economic strategies influence romance production and the novels are transformed, cut, and adapted so much that original novels are about one third shorter when translated. Changes that are made include narrative and aesthetic changes—repetition and cultural turns of phrase are deleted, because the fluidity of text is of primary importance. Additionally, there is a focus on main plot at expense of subplot and digressions; no suspense subplots are allowed and style is less important than story. Authors as such are unknown and unimportant in France (except Cartland and Roberts), so the authors' names are in tiny print on the cover and their forewords and acknowledgements are never included. This raises questions of who is the author of the novel in France: the author? The publisher? The translator?

Any novel too removed from French experience is not chosen to be translated. Additionally, English-language novels are culturally adapted. The quality of the adaptation depends on individual translators and editors because there are no explicit guidelines. The main modifications made to the originals when translated are to cultural representations of love and sexuality, which are the nodal areas of cultural expression. In the French translations, the heroine's thoughts are emphasized in love scenes. Heroes are made colder and more mysterious than in the original novels. In the French translations, the heroines are more naïve, less combative. The French translations of the original romance novels have to be a little bit more conventional, especially those that target older readers. Irony, insults, and swearing are not kept or are sanitized. The way to write about sex is codified in French, much less explicit than in English. Love scenes in the original are seen as much pornographic than erotic when represented exactly in French. In order to make them acceptable in French, translators add much more cliché, making the reading process easier. French translations of romance novels are more utopian, less pragmatic than English-language romances. The function of French-language romance novels are primarily to encourage dreaming. Overall, concepts of escapism and fantasy depends on national imagery, as is shown in comparisons between English-language and French-translated romances.

This paper was amazing. Last year, An Goris told us informally about translated romances in Europe and how they did not match up the original novels, but to have Severine analyze the differences so astutely and draw conclusions about the cause and effects of cultural constructs around notions of love, romance, and sexuality was incredible to hear. One thing that is so heartening about the current state of romance scholarship is the truly international nature of our community. Having Severine and An and the Australian contingent (Glen Thomas, Hsu-Ming Teo, Toni Johnson-Woods, Joanna Fedson) there added to the Romance Area of PCA immeasurably.

"A Genre of One's Own: Popular Romance Writers Create Community and Heritage" Glinda Hall, Arkansas State University
It was wonderful to see Glinda again. She and Eric were two of the original three who were put on a PCA panel together in 2006 (just two years ago!) because there was no Popular Romance Fiction Area. We can blame them for everything that happened since then, because they were the ones who decided that This Shall Not Do. Glinda is very close to defending her dissertation and will be venturing out onto the market after that. Good luck!

Glinda claimed that her paper was almost in opposition to what Severine argued. It is a condensed version of the last chapter of her dissertation. For her dissertation on Heritage Studies, she was originally planning to focus on very traditional stories and memoirs of Southern women. A theorist of her field claims that a sense of place creates identity and that is what she wanted to analyze. One day she picked up a novel by Jennifer Crusie and discovered in it a voice, narrative, and community that called to her. She also could see connections between Crusie's fiction and Raymond Williams' ideology. As a result, she ended up deciding to write instead an ethnographic study of romance writers in the South.

There is an intrinsic search for meaning in a community. In order to understand the shared and coded language, ideologies, and symbols one needs to be part of the group, rather than merely a dispassionate observer. Glinda had found herself becoming part of the romance reader community, which is what precipitated her dissertation topic, and she started contacting the RWA writing communities in her area. There were groups willing to speak with her, but one group was extremely resistant to her and wary and skeptical of her academic perspective, assuming she was going to be negative about romances. Her pass into all the groups was admitting that she was a reader and fan of romances, just like them. She participated in one group in particular (River City Romance Writers of Memphis) both as an academic, but also as a friend of most of the writers, who accepted her into their homes and lives. She was trying to discover intentionalities in the romance novels the authors produced that would support her own research agenda, but interviews and interactions went in different and fruitful directions. For example, the writers specifically wanted to talk about the publishing world. Additionally, she was interviewing Southern writers and wanted to know how they were Southern in their writing, but many of the writers were resistant to that label—they wanted to be universal.

Romance is an all inclusive group and its heritage has created common ground and communities that accept and celebrate differences. The writers she interviewed expressed the compulsion to tell stories, but were also concerned about dealing with trends (for example, some author hate writing sex scenes and resist the need to be more graphic). Writers claim that RWA is a very feminist and supportive community, which is all about mentoring and sharing and a lack of hierarchy, even within the hierarchy. Glinda titled her paper "A Genre of One's Own" after Virginia Woolf's room because her research has shown her that the genre is a private and safe space to create a female community, and a fiction where women become the subject, the actors. "History" becomes "Her-story."

"Romance Unbound: Comparisons in E-Publishing and Print Publishing by Erotica and Erotic Romance Authors" Crystal Goldman, University of Utah
Crystal is an academic librarian and an erotic romance author.

In her The Natural History of the Romance, Pamela Regis defines the romance as focusing on a single relationship between a hero and a heroine. This is no longer true in the erotic romance industry, with m/m romances and ménage novels. Erotic romance started online at the e-publishing houses and has since moved to New York print houses. (New York publisher means that all works published in paper format, with some potential e-publishing. On-line publishers means all works published in electronic format, with some potential print publishing.) There is an assumption is that NY pubs are more conservative than the on-line houses. Crystal interviewed many erotic romance writers about the differences between their experiences with e-publishers and NY publishers, incuding Kate Douglas, JC Burton, Sasha White, and Evangeline Anderson (those were the names I could catch in a very long list of authors). The first issue that came up was that promoting print book is different from promoting e-pubs. Kate Douglas claims that presses do the minimum amount of promoting possible. Tawny Taylor invests all of her advance in her promoting, which other authors claim is "insane." The issue of earnings arose quickly too, with authors claiming that they make more actual money on print pubs, but that e-pubs are more lucrative for them, although it varies for each author. Douglas said that because the different types of presses pay the authors so differently (NY royalty checks come once to four times a year, e-pubs pay every month), it's actually difficult to say which makes more for the author. As a whole, the e-book market has not lived up to its potential or expectations for it, but the erotic e-book market is the only e-book area actually making money. Lynne Pearce claims in Romance Reading that niche markets become evermore specialized, mainly based on the inclusion or not of sex. Authors claim that they are encouraged, implicitly or explicitly, to push the sexual boundaries: some like it, some call it pornographic. Most authors claim they hadn't experienced any prejudice because of their writing. They claim that, on the whole, the only group they'd experienced prejudice from were other romance writers. Erotic authors claim that this is because the traditional romance authors resent the raised heat requirement across the board. A letter in RWA Report (Jan 2008) calls raised erotic content "prostituting" romances. In general, the "boy meets girl" format has changed. Eden Bradley claims that what is taboo for one reader or writer is different for others. There's a difference between "taboo" being forbidden but titillating and being completely unacceptable, but that line is different for each person and each publishing house. Right now, fem-dom and f/f stories not being bough by the e-publishers. Print publishers will always lag behind e-pubs in innovation and trends because the lag time to turn a book around is much longer in traditional publishing.

This was an interesting paper because there are so many rumors, especially on the internet boards, about the differences between print and e-publishing, and it was wonderful to have Crystal, with her many contacts in the erotic romance industry, give us some insights into the confusing world of publishing.

"Romancing the Reader: Romance Authors on the Web" Glen Thomas, Queensland University of Technology

Technologies have always changed the way communities can be formed, and contemporary technologies, especially the internet, are no exception. The internet and its systems of networks have created communities that could never have been available even ten years ago. Authors are increasingly using personal websites to foster relationships with readers, which allows readers to get a sense of engagement with authors as well as with their work. The online presence of authors seems to create a "personal insight" for the reader on the world and life of the authors. Authors have become very market-oriented with publishers cutting back on marketing, and now see an internet presence and close connection with readers as part of what it means to be an author, although some authors do it with a sense of "well, I supposed I've got to," rather than with a real desire to create that connection. Janet Evanovich's website is a master of marketing that includes competitions that increases traffic to site hugely. She claims a million hits a week. Increasingly authors are willing to discuss the creative process with readers in order to keep material at the site current and regularly updated, which means that readers can now track a book from inception till they hold it in their hands, which changes the relationship between producer and consumer considerably. As a result, readers' relationship to consumption has changed: you can read what you like, when, where and how you like in ways like never before. Technology enables readers to go beyond simply and only consuming printed book. However, most author promotion is largely self-funded, especially with Harlequin. There is authorial recognition that romance market is a crowded place and they have to generate their own name recognition, a situation that seems to be unique for romance authors. They can't simply wait for market to come to them, they have to go out and find market. This new entrepreneurial spirit is good for authors, but of course fabulous for publishers, because they don't have to pay for promotion any more. New technologies have created new field for creative entrepreneurs which changes the capital-R Romantic idea of the reclusive author genius who is misunderstood. The Web, according to Stephen Fry, creates "reciprocity" and "interactivity" in a two-way process, which allows the readers to have an increased investment in the final product. The Dogs and Goddesses site by Jennifer Crusie, Lani Diane Rich, and Anne Stuart includes a blog that actually posts scenes for instant reader feedback, creating a broadened collaborative creative process, between both authors and authors, and authors and readers, allowing readers an insight into production of work itself. Writing, then, has become a public practice and the engagement with new technology changes the idea of what it means to be a writer. However, everyone is still very much attached to the physical book. There are two major issues that arise with an online presence. The first is the time that it takes to keep material current (an author Glen knows calls it feeding the blog monster). The second is the potential for attracting the crazy people. Anna Campbell's Claiming the Courtesan, with its discussion of rape, culminated for her in death threats through her posted email address on her website. Without the technology, that immediate contact would not have been possible. New technology can foster anger that can be vented right away—the loss of the buffer that is so attractive normally goes both ways. Readers also get angry when an author's work goes in different directions than expected. Over all, the bottom-up movement of author-driven marketing made possible by the new technology of the Internet is very different from publisher-paid book tours, indicating how publishing is changing in this new world of ours.

Taken together, these four papers that made up the panel discuss ways in which romance publishing changes and is changed by novels, authors, readers, and new technology. It indicates how romance publishing is an international industry, even when local concerns are important too. It also indicates how romance is at the cutting edge of innovations in technology, reader interaction, and change.


  1. Did you see this article yet?

    It's all about how Harlequin is using technology.


  2. No, I hadn't seen the Fox Business article. Thanks for the link! It really backs up what Glen was talking about, I think, particularly this bit:

    You're working in MySpace and Second Life. How important has social networking become?

    That's one of the big advantages for Harlequin -- what I term relationships. At Harlequin, we've had relationships with our customers since the business began, like reader parties and book clubs, because our brand evokes strong feelings in people. Web 2.0 allows us to use technologies to have relationships with more people and, more importantly, to allow our readers to talk to one another. Harlequin readers love to talk to each other.

    In Second life, we've been experimenting with virtual worlds.

  3. It was great having the opportunity to present at the conference.

    As a side note: on the whole, I've found Second Life to be less useful as a promo tool than other social networking programs like MySpace and Facebook.