Friday, August 29, 2008

PCA Conference 2009 - Call for Papers

The Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association will be holding their National Conference in New Orleans, April 8-11, 2009. More details can be found on their website.

The area chairs for romance fiction, Eric Selinger and Darcy Martin, are putting out a call for papers:

We are considering proposals for individual papers, sessions organized around a theme, and “special panels” featuring authors or editors. Sessions are scheduled in one-hour slots, ideally with four papers or speakers per standard session.

Should you or any of your colleagues be interested in submitting a proposal or have any questions, please contact one or both of the area chairs (see below). Please feel free to forward, cross-post, or link to this call for papers.

We are interested in any and all topics about or related to romance fiction: all genres, all kinds, and all eras.

Some possible topics (although we are not limited to these):

--Individual Novels or Authors
--New Directions in Romance Scholarship (historicist, formalist, post-colonial, queer-theoretical, etc.)
--Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Romance, and same-sex love within predominantly heterosexual texts
--Genre-Bending and Genre-Crossing authors and texts (erotic romance, SF romance, chick-lit, urban fantasy, highbrow / lowbrow crossover texts, etc.)
--African-American, Latina, Asian, and other Multicultural romance
--Young Adult Romance and Chick-lit (series, novels, authors, communities)
--Category Romance (its past history, recent and forthcoming lines, changing demographics, etc.)
--History of Romance Fiction and its major subgenres (major authors and texts, turning points in the development of the genre or any subgenre)
--Romance and Region: places, histories, mythologies, traditions
--Romance on the World Stage (texts in translation; romance manga; non-Western writers, readers, and publishers; local, national, and multinational publishing)
--Romance communities and the Romance Industry: authors, readers, publishers, websites, blogs

If you are a romance author or editor and are interested in speaking on your own work or on developments in the romance genre, please contact us!

As we did last year in San Francisco, the Romance Fiction area will meet in a special Open Forum to discuss upcoming conferences, work in progress, and the future of the field. Of particular interest this year: the new International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR) with its affiliated scholarly publication, Journal of Popular Romance Studies (JPRS)!

Submit a one-page (150-250 word) proposal or abstract (via regular mail or e-mail) by November 15, 2008, to the Area Chairs in Romance:

Eric Selinger
Dept. of English
DePaul Univ.
802 West Belden Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614

Darcy Martin
Women's Studies
East Tennessee State University
(423) 439-6311

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Charlotte Lamb, Hot Blood, and Acting One's Age

Charlotte Lamb was the "author of more than 150 romances and thrillers" and her oeuvre is certainly varied. SB Sarah described her "last novel, The Boss’s Virgin" as "cracktastic, sudzy, over the top, silly and utterly insane fizzy candy, and I cannot put it the hell down. It’s a horrible turn-the-page omg-what-next experience, reading this book. What is IN this book?" but Sandra's review of Lamb's Vampire Lover gives an insight into another type of novel that Lamb is known for, namely romances which pushed at the boundaries of what was taboo. As Sandra quoted from the Harlequin website:
Charlotte was a true revolutionary in the field of romance writing. One of the first writers to explore the boundaries of sexual desire, her novels often reflected the forefront of the "sexual revolution" of the 1970s. Her books touched on then-taboo subjects such as child abuse and rape, and she created sexually confident—even dominant—heroines. She was also one of the first to create a modern romantic heroine: independent, imperfect, and perfectly capable of initiating a sexual or romantic relationship.
The most recent boundary-pushing novel of Lamb's that I've read is Hot Blood (1996). It wasn't just that Lamb set up a love triangle which kept me puzzled until very close to the end of the novel because I really didn't know which man the heroine would end up with, it was also that this heroine, who was being pursued by two very eligible men, was a 52-year-old grandmother. I doubt that heroines of that age were common when Lamb wrote the novel, and they're still uncommon in the romance genre today. This is perhaps because of the prejudices that still exist about older women:
Historically, women in mid and later life have been characterised as losing interest in sexuality and the expression of sexual desire. The Victorians preferred to view women in general as asexual creatures. Progressively, throughout the 20th century, this view has been revised thanks to the pioneering work of Freud, Ellis, Kinsey, Masters and Johnson and Hite. As views about sexuality have changed[,] the recognition that ageing might include continuing sexual activity [...] has been slowly gaining ground. [...]

Even so, many people both young and old, still regard the menopause as a cut off point in the sexual life of women reflecting Havelock Ellis’s view in the early 20th century that " there is a frequent well marked tendency in women at the menopause to an eruption of sexual desire, which may easily take on a morbid form". In a 1969 publication entitled Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex, Reuben claimed that ‘as estrogen is shut off, a woman becomes as close as she can to being a man’. ‘… decline of breasts and female genitalia all contribute to a masculine appearance.’ ‘Having outlived their ovaries, they have outlived their usefulness as human beings’. Even in 1997 this view was echoed in the Pennell Report where one quoted author reported that ‘the removal of a monthly event (menstruation) [is] central to the perception of femininity and fertility’ ‘age [causes] fear of the loss of sexual attractiveness due to a decline in beauty…’ (Vincent, Shmueli, and Ridell)
At first Lamb only hints at her heroine's age by referring to her "silvery hair" (5) so at first a reader might assume the hair is simply a very pale shade of blonde, since this is how she is depicted on the cover. The back-cover copy omits to mention her age either. What Lamb does do right from the start is subtly underscore the value of older things through the heroine's love of them:
She felt stupid, sitting here in floods of tears over an old black and white movie made before most of the audience had even been born!
Kit was a film buff, obsessed with the cinema and with the techniques of filming [...]. She particularly loved old black and white films. They had so much more atmosphere; a tension and power that films shot in colour simply didn't have. (5)
It is only after proof of the heroine's sexual attractiveness has been offered to the reader in the form of Joe's attentions towards her that her age is revealed.

Although Kit is aware of the sexual double-standard regarding beauty and ageing, she cannot help but be affected by it:
he looks good for his age. Men always did - that annoyed her whenever she thought about it. It was so unfair. [...]
Along with all the other advantages they had, men aged slower than women. They didn't live as long, of course. Women tended to outlive them, but life did not compensate by letting women keep their looks into old age.
Time started in on you once you were in your forties, pencilling wrinkles in around your eyes and mouth, especially if you had ever smiled a lot, which seemed doubly unfair. (10)
The problem is not necessarily that time ages women unfairly quickly, but that female beauty is so closely associated with youth:
Youth and (until recently) virginity have been "beautiful" in women since they stand for experiential and sexual ignorance. Aging in women is "unbeautiful" since women grow more powerful with time [...] Most urgently, women's identity must be premised upon our "beauty" so that we will remain vulnerable to outside approval, carrying the vital sensitive organ of self-esteem exposed to the air. (Wolf 14)
With two potential love interests, though, one of whom is ten years her junior, the novel suggests that Kit's assessment of herself isn't entirely accurate. And although Kit muses that "Everything has its season [...] - being born, growing up, falling in love, having children, growing old" (147) the novel demonstrates that falling in love may happen after having children and after a person begins to grow old. Kit herself mentions the "natural round of the seasons of the human race - we begin, we end, and in between we do the best we can" (147), a concept given visual form in Titian's painting of The Three Ages of Man (c1513) with which I began this post. As explained on the website of the National Gallery of Scotland
This early work depicts the three stages of life: infancy, adulthood and old age. Cupid clambers over the sleeping babies who may grow up to be like the young lovers on the right. Their intense and intimate relationship will eventually be interrupted by death, symbolised by two skulls which the old man contemplates.
Lamb's novel suggests that we need to place older lovers alongside the younger ones, because the ending of youth does not signal the end of either life or of opportunities for forming romantic relationships.

Whatever the reasons for the general scarcity of middle-aged and older heroines in the genre, authors themselves do age and this may affect their depiction of supposedly youthful heroines. RfP at Readers Gab observes that many young heroines appear more like older women in disguise or young women trapped in a time-warp:
What decade do you think most contemporary romances are set in? I mean romances ostensibly set today—when would you place them, relative to real people in the present day? Do novels published in 2005 ever strike you as more like 1985? I have the impression most heroes and heroines are described as between 20 and 35, but how old do they seem?

Every so often I run across a romance in which the hero and heroine act older than they’re supposed to be. Not necessarily more mature, but as if their attitudes and concerns (and sometimes fashion sense) were shaped a decade or more earlier than the setting of the novel.
RfP's not alone in asking these questions. Last year Robin Uncapher at AAR asked "When was the last time you read a contemporary romance novel where the characters, hero or heroine, really sounded young?" and she added "here’s my suggestion to romance publishers: if you want younger readers romance publishers, its time to write heroines who really seem to be young themselves."

Harlequin seems ready to take up the challenge with its Modern Heat romances which are described in the guidelines for the line as featuring "the kind of relationships that women between the ages of 18-35 aspire to. Young characters in affluent urban settings". As reported at the Pink Heart Society blog the editor of the Modern Heat line,
Joanne Carr, describes Modern Heat as "a sassy, vibrant, new stream of editorial published in Harlequin Presents from aimed at a younger readership. Think of Modern Heat as Presents’ younger sister.

Sparky dialogue, urban settings and smouldering sensuality combined with original author voices - these are upbeat contemporary romances at their best! The heroines are your twenty-something girls-about-town [...]. We are on the look-out for new authors that can convey that young urban feel with 21st century characters.
To find new authors for the line Harlequin is currently holding a writing competition. The rules can be found here, and fuller descriptions of the Modern Heat line can be found here and here.

  • Lamb, Charlotte. Hot Blood. Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 1996.
  • Vincent, Chris, Avi Shmueli, and Jenny Ridell. "Sexuality and Older Women – Setting the Scene." Tavistock Marital Studies Institute, 2001.
  • Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. 1990. London: Vintage, 1991.
The painting is Titian's The Three Ages of Man, Titian, c1513. I found this photo at Wikimedia Commons.

I found the photo of the UK cover of
Hot Blood via Amazon. The back-cover copy and a photo of the US version of the cover (using the same cover art) can be found here. There's also a rather negative, one-star review of the novel at Romantic Times where Shannon Short states that "Although story development is poorly structured and the characters not particularly sympathetic, Charlotte Lamb comes up with an interesting premise for readers." I wonder if this reviewer has an antipathy to love triangles and/or to divorced older women who have affairs, because I didn't notice anything wrong with the plot or anything particularly unsympathetic about the characters.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Call for Papers - Academics at RWA Nationals 2009

Sarah is
calling for paper proposals for the RWA National Convention, July 15-18, 2009 in Washington DC.

First thing: money. You've got to be or become a member of RWA, which is $100. Then the conference fee is upwards of $350, apparently. Plus, it's DC. So it's not cheap, overall. About on a level with PCA. [Note from LV: associate members of the RWA "receive most of the other benefits of membership: including our monthly magazine, the Romance Writers Report [and] eNotes." The conference is a great opportunity to meet authors, gain an insider view of the industry and attend the "500-author strong 'Readers for Life' charity book signing."]

The title of the conference is "Strength, Knowledge, Power" which is pretty cool, if you ask me. I think that theme will work in our favor. And hey, a little Foucault is never a bad thing! :)

So, I want to put together two, maybe three panels.

The whole reason I'm putting together these panels is for us as literary critics of romance fiction to introduce ourselves to the "business" side of the romance world. I want to show writers, publishers, bloggers, etc., that we're sympathetic to romances, that we're readers ourselves, and that we're part of the world that we're analyzing, rather than separate from it as many previous critics have been. I want papers that are not too theory-driven, but that show some of what we as literary critics can do with the theory out there. I'm looking specifically for papers that discuss very well-known authors so that most attendees of the panels will have a strong common knowledge base so that it's not the authors as well as the theory that is new.

Additionally, if you can give a "spin" to your paper that includes something that's a writing tip for authors, that would make it more attractive to RWA, because, of course, most of the people attending ARE authors. Sort of like what's being done to Pam Regis's A Natural History of the Romance. This is similar to Pam's own 2003 RWA panel, actually, so three or so papers with a "writing tip" focus arising from literary critical analysis is exactly what would be great for at least one panel.

And I've been told that the best thing to do to have panel proposals accepted is to attach handouts to the proposal. So, handouts are good--not just quotes you used in the paper, but something more substantial than that. And I'm going to need those either immediately with your proposal to me or, if I accept your proposal, before we send in the proposals to RWA. The deadline is November 3, but I'd like to get them by October 1, so we can get feedback from the full-time staff at RWA if need be.

So, please send me 500 word proposals (either for individual proposals or, if you're feeling ambitious, for a full panel) to my gmail address by September 15, with handouts if possible OR a solid description of what your handout will be as well as a description of your paper.

Looking forward to hearing from many of you! And please forward this to anyone you feel might be interested or post it wherever appropriate.

Sarah S. G. Frantz
Assistant Professor of Literature
Fayetteville State University
1200 Murchison Road
Fayetteville, NC 28314

The second poster is of Rosie the Riveter (via Wikimedia Commons).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Looking on the Bright Side

Eric writes that "Last month my wife and I celebrated our twentieth anniversary" and today he's over at Romancing the Blog to discuss something he's learned during those years. He's discovered how to reassess his personal history in order to highlight the positive moments and he relates this to romance because
romance heroes and heroines, maybe especially the heroines, make moves like that all the time. They find new ways to tell their life stories, and in the process, they break old habits in dealing with both the past and the present. Some of my colleagues groove on alpha-male tears, but me, I get my thrill from those inward turning points

The image is Claude Monet's "Weeping Willow" and I found it at Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Window Into the Past?

There has been a lot of controversy about a recent decision to withdraw from publication a work of historical fiction described as "A romantic novel."

There have been a lot of discussions about why the subject matter of this particular book caused offence (see here, here and here for very long threads at the Smart Bitches) and I don't see any need to duplicate them here, but I would like to highlight one issue which was raised as part of that conversation, namely the issue of historical accuracy in works of historical fiction.

The author of the novel in question, Sherry Jones, seemed to be emphasising the historical accuracy of the novel and the extent of her research when she wrote that "It is not a romance novel. It's historical fiction with a 29-page bibliography." However, in later comments she added that "with historical fiction—you alter the details, when needed, in service of the story" and "Please do remember, everyone—this is fiction! If my intention was to remain completely true to the historical record, I would have penned a nonfiction book. The story is the thing!"

Historical fiction, it seems, performs a balancing act between the need to entertain and provide a good story, and the desire to remain relatively true to the known historical facts. Diana Wallace has written about historical fiction's complex relationship with history that
Any historical novel is related to history in at least four ways: in its choice of period setting; in its engagement with the moment of its writing; in its relation to the literary history of the genre; and in its relation to the biography of its writer. While reviews often tend to focus on the first of these, judging a historical novel on the 'authenticity' of its period setting, any attempt to historicise the historical novel needs to consider the complex inter-relations between these elements. The way in which any chosen period is represented, for instance, frequently tells us more about the historical moment of writing than about the period the author is portraying.
Philippa Gregory has also had some interesting observations to add on the topic of history and accuracy in historical fiction, and in the process she's rather dismissive of romances:
a good historical novel has characters whose basic humanity engages our empathy and whose convincing circumstances remind us that the past is, indeed, another country. This is the opposite of romance fiction which is drawn to historical settings: not because it aims to explore how people are affected by the society in which they live; but because it depends on the imaginary glamour of the past: the long frocks and big hats, horse drawn transport, and high jeopardy. Romance fiction has no interest in different times and cultures, in the worst examples, its stories are told in a vacuum.

All but the very best romance fiction tends to deploy a limited number of character types: the heroine: vulnerable, pure, loving, the female villain: manipulative, sexual, heartless, the male villain: aggressive, uncontrolled, cruel, and the hero: loving, but often mistaken. The cardboard characters come ready-made, they are not forged by their particular experiences, by their history or by their society; nothing interrupts them working their way through their story to the happy ending.

High quality historical fiction is not like this. A good historical novel tells of characters who are entirely congruent with the known conditions of their time, and yet sufficiently independent in thought and action to stand out from the crowd, and for the modern reader to identify with them.
I haven't got any profound commentary to add, but I'd be very interested to learn your thoughts about historical fiction, the balance to be struck between accuracy and entertainment, and whether it's necessary to be more careful when writing about real people rather than fictional people in a historical setting. Does historical fiction open up a window into the past in a way that's accessible, or does it really tell us more about contemporary attitudes and beliefs? How much can we learn about history from it, and how often do you think it misleads readers?

The image is of "One of the embrasures, or window alcoves, of the Hall of the Ambassadors in the Alhambra at Granada, Spain," and I found it at Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Positive Feedback Loop?

The 2008 RITA Winners have just been announced (and congratulations to all of them!) but what I found even more interesting (from my admittedly rather odd point of view) was an announcement I saw this morning that RWA's online chapter will be holding a workshop (more details here) for romance authors based on Pamela Regis's A Natural History of the Romance Novel:
The Natural History of the Romance Novel:
How Understanding our Roots Can Help Today's Authors
Write a Compelling Romance Novel

Presented by Teresa Bodwell
August 11 - September 12, 2008

Registration for this class is from July 21, 2008 - August 10, 2008.


This course will track the eight essential elements that define a romance novel according to A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis. Participants will learn how to apply the essential elements to create a compelling, romantic page-turner.

According to Regis, the eight essential elements of a romance novel are:

Society Defined; The Meeting; The Barrier; The Attraction; The Declaration; The Point of Ritual Death; The Recognition; The Betrothal

The workshop will discuss all of these elements using examples from several romance novels. Participants will submit excerpts from their works in progress for comment. Assignments will include: the meeting, the barrier, the attraction and the point of ritual death.

To get the most out of this course, participants should read the following books:

* The Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis
* Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
* Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
* Montana Sky by Nora Roberts
* Ain't She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
* Scent of Roses by Kat Martin
I was instantly reminded of a recent comment made by AgTigress who, although she's "really encouraged to see the genre being subjected to serious scholarly analysis" can
see some dangers, too. The unselfconsciousness of a genre that is outside the limits of 'serious' consideration has strengths as well as weaknesses: one of the reasons for the sheer inventiveness of romance, the blending with fantasy and fairy-tale, with science fiction and suspense, had to to do with the fact that there were not too many perceived rules, beyond those imposed by the publishers, who had their own ideas (often mistaken) about what would sell.

I am encouraged, though, by what I have learnt about the people who are involved in this more conscious study of the genre. It seems to me that there are many people involved who have a good deal more insight than the traditional literary critic.
As is apparent from my response to her comment, I'd never thought that we as academics could have much impact on the genre that we write about. Somehow I'd assumed that although what we said might be of interest to some romance authors, it wouldn't really affect their writing. It seems clear I was very wrong.

I'm sure it's a compliment to Pamela that her work is being considered to have useful, practical, applications by and for romance authors but how do you feel about this feedback loop between romance authors and the academics who study and appreciate the genre?

The image of an "ideal feedback model" came from Wikipedia.