Saturday, June 15, 2019

CFP: Symposium on The Sheik at Birmingham University

100 Years of The Sheik: A Public Research Symposium

12 & 13 September 2019, University of Birmingham, UK

This free-to-attend symposium, open to students, researchers, and members of the public, will mark the centenary of the original publication of The Sheik with a range of panels, workshops, a film screening, and a roundtable on the following broad topics:

  • Critical responses to Hull's novel, its sequels or film adaptation;
  • The legacy of The Sheik for twentieth- and twenty-first-century popular culture;
  • Approaches to (and reflections of) learning and teaching with The Sheik;
  • Parodies, imitations and the desert romance genre;
  • Twentieth and twenty-first-century sheikh-themed romances;
  • Diversity in romance publishing.

Since its publication in 1919, E. M. Hull's The Sheik has been a sensation, shocking and fascinating readers alike. Owing much to the literary traditions of Romantic Orientalism and golden-age women's travel writing, as well as to literary modernism and the crisis of masculinity in British culture in the aftermath of World War One, it is a novel that articulates the tensions and desires of its time. Contemporary critics regarded it as salacious and degenerate, yet its cultural legacy in Britain and North America has been significant and enduring. One hundred years on and The Sheik is considered "the ur-romance novel of the twentieth century" (Regis, 2003, p. 115), while its treatment of gender, sexuality, and race continues to trouble and provoke debate.

The symposium will showcase research conducted by contributors to a special issue of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies on The Sheik due to be published in Autumn 2019. We are also seeking proposals for additional research papers, lightning talks, poster presentations, and roundtable participants. We would particularly welcome proposals from current and recent students.

If you are interested in participating in the symposium, please send a short title and 200-word abstract to Dr Amy Burge by 12 July 2019. Please also direct any queries to Amy: a.burge@bham.ac.uk

Provisional symposium schedule:

Thurs 12 Sept
Late morning - Grad Seminar
Afternoon/ evening - Screening of The Sheik (1921) + panel discussion

Fri 13 Sept
10-11:30 - Academic panel
12-1pm - Author panel
1-2pm - Lunch
2-3:30pm - Learning & Teaching panel
4-5pm - Roundtable

Details transcribed from here.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Call for Papers: Researching the Romance Conference at BGSU, Ohio

Researching the Romance: Romance Across Boundaries
Bowling Green State University, Ohio
April 24-25, 2020

More about the Conference
Romance fiction is shaped by boundaries and rules- the expectations of tropes and subgenres, the centrality of the love story, the requirement of the happy ending. Authors and readers rely on the boundaries of romance to help them write and read, yet also sometimes revel in their subversion. Academics use those same boundaries to form their avenues of inquiry into this vast genre. Taken together, the boundary lines provide endless points of discussion and controversy for those who produce and consume romance. This conference will provide a venue for all of those interested in romance fiction- authors, academics, and readers- to come together and discuss their interactions with the genre’s boundaries.


Call for presentations:
We are seeking presentations of approximately 15-20 minutes in length. The scope of the conference is deliberately broad in order to encourage presenters to be creative and take interdisciplinary approaches. Individual and panel presentations will be considered. Some examples of potential topics include but are not limited to:
  • Romance tropes and how are they defined, enforced, and subverted
  • In-depth analysis of particular authors’ work
  • The history and growth of subgenres within popular romance fiction
  • The history of the Happily Ever After
  • Predictability and freedom within category romance
  • Authors’ approaches to research on time periods, subgenres, etc
  • How authors, readers and academics can occupy multiple identities within popular romance fiction
  • Romance novel covers across the decades and subgenres
  • Popular romance fiction around the world- how national borders influence the genre
  • How the traditional boundaries of romance impact self-publishing
Presentation proposals should consist of an abstract of no more than 250 words. The deadline for submissions is November 1, 2019.

More details here.


Sunday, May 05, 2019

New to the Wiki: Publishing, Brockmann and More

I've added a new page to the blog: it's a Race and Romance Bibliography.

In addition, there are some new items which have been added to the Romance Wiki bibliography.

Billekens, F.G.W., 2019. 
Never Mind Me When There's You: The Submission Of The Heroine In YA Supernatural Romance Fiction, Bachelor's Thesis, Utrecht University. Abstract and link to pdf
Brouillette, Sarah, 2019. 
"Romance Work." Theory & Event 22.2, pp. 451-464. Abstract

Haefner, Margaret J., 2009. 
"Challenging the -isms: Gender and Race in Brockmann's Troubleshooters, Inc. Romance Novels", Journal of Media Sociology 1.3/4: 182-201.
McAlister, Jodi, 2018. 
'The literary text as historical artifact: The colonial couple in Australian romantic fiction by women, 1838-1860', Lilith: A Feminist History Journal, No. 24: 38-51. Abstract
Priest, Hannah. 2018. 
“Sparkly Vampires and Shimmering Aliens: The Paranormal Romance of Stephenie Meyer.” Twenty-First-Century Popular Fiction, edited by Bernice M. Murphy and Stephen Matterson, Edinburgh University Press, 2018, pp. 182–192.
Sagun, Karryl Kim Abella, 2019. 
Book Mavens of Manila : an interpretative phenomenological analysis of contemporary niche publishers in the Philippines. Doctoral thesis,Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. [I include this because it incorporates material from "three Wattpad self-publishers based in the Philippines: Mina V. Esguerra, Noreen Capili, and Kimberly Villanueva. All three agreed to be quoted verbatim, and to be referred to by name. They have all published both on electronic platforms (particularly Wattpad) and on print. They also share the same genre for their works: romance" (123).]
Taylor, Jessica Anne. 2013. 
“Write the Book of Your Heart: Career, Passion and Publishing in the Romance Writing Community,” Ph.D. Thesis, University of Toronto. Abstract and link to pdf

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Happily Ever After: A Folklorist's Perspective

The recent PCA/ACA conference led to discussions about the happy ending in romance and Elizabeth Lane, in particular, wondered about the "codification of the HEA" and whether it had been studied from "a folklorist's perspective".

Luckily, the community of romance scholars includes Linda J. Lee, a folklorist at the University of Pennsylvania. In response to Elizabeth's question, she generously wrote a micro-paper about it via Twitter, which I'll collate below. The first tweet in the thread's here.

-----
For context, I'm a folklorist who studies fairy tales and romance - and I'm always happy to wade into definitional discussions about genres. I want to make sure that I'm hitting the central part of the question, though. It sounds like it's - at least in part - about the happily ever after and it's place in fairy tales.

Yes, most European fairy tales do end happily ever after - and most European languages have closing formulae that make this point. In English, it's "happily ever after," but other languages change this up a bit. For instance, in various Italian dialects, the formulaic ending is something more like "they lived happily and here we sit without a cent." Closing formulae of Sicilian fairy tales often draw a contrast between the circumstances of the characters in the taleworld and the storyteller/audience in the real world. The Snake Who Bore Witness for the Maiden ends with (English translation): They lived happily and content, but we have nothing to pay the rent. Here's a selection from Jack Zipes' translation of Laura Gonzenbach's Sicilian Folktales. Zipes translated from German into English (Gonzenbach had translated from Sicilian into German when the collection was published in 1870):



[LV - I was curious so I went off to look for Spanish fairy tale endings and there are lots of different ones, but apparently one of the most common is “fueron felices y comieron perdices” (they were happy and ate partridges)]

But more notably, not all fairy tales end happily. My favorite example of this is a fairy tale included in the first edition of the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmarchen but omitted by the 7th edition in 1857 called "The Children Who Played at Slaughtering." Yeah, it ends pretty much the way you expect based on the title.

And many don't end in marriage. Take, for instance, Little Red Riding Hood (ATU 333). In Charles Perreault's 1697 tale, the wolf eats the grandmother and the little girl, and the audience gets a warning about the dangers of sweet-talking wolves who follow you into your bedroom. And the Grimms' version of Little Red Riding Hood from 1812 has a male rescuer figure that releases the grandmother and the girl from the belly of the wolf. (My students often read this restoration as a metaphor for marriage, but there's definitely not one on the page.) An oral version like "The Story of Grandmother" comes closest to a happily ever after because the tricky heroine rescues herself. Plenty of eroticism, but still no marriage. Here's the text: http://boj.pntic.mec.es/~jmarto1/01tradicion-oral/delarue.html

Even when traditional oral European fairy tales end in marriage, it's usually not terribly romantic. The prince tries to buy comatose Snow White, for instance. Many female protagonists are really just making the best of a terrible situation. Some end up in marriages while running away from incestuous fathers (like Donkeyskin, a story that bears lots of similarities to Cinderella). Some certainly do have some romantic moments, though. But in so many others the female protagonists marry their rapists. Yeah, early versions of Sleeping Beauty didn't awaken with a kiss. In Basile's "The Sun, the Moon, and Talia," she wakes up when one of the twins she gives birth to sucks the piece of flax from her finger while trying to nurse. Yep. No kiss. But she eventually marries her adulterous rapist. So it's all good, right? There's a Sicilian fairy tale called "The Snake Who Bore Witness for a Maiden" in which a prince rapes the heroine and then plans to marry someone else, except for a marvelous snake who wrecks that plan.

There is a relatively recent concept of "anti-tale" that denotes fairy tales with a parodic or inverted structure. But Don Haase rightly criticizes this concept, because fairy tales have always had a variety of structures and endings.

The HEA of fairy tales is, in some ways, a modern invention. Arguably an inevitably of film adaptations that have longer stories with more developed characters. And again - if the choice of marrying your rapist or never marrying at a point in history when women had few choices.... Happily ever after means something quite different.

However, if we look at the literary fairy tales from the French salon writers (mostly women, writing for other women), there are stories with narratives and happily ever afters that much more resembles romances. Probably the best known of these is "Beauty and the Beast," originally published in French in a novella length by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot du Villeneuve, then retold by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont as a shorter story in 1756. (I'm currently revising an essay on consent in monster bridegroom stories, including Beauty and the Beast, so this tale type is top of mind at the moment.) If you've seen or read, oh, just about any version of Beauty and the Beast - be it Cocteau's film or Disney's or whatever - it almost certainly draws on Beaumont's tale (and, by extension, Villeneuve's).

But as will come as no surprise to the romance novelists and scholars out there, the female French salon writers have largely been overlooked by folklorists in favor of the male collectors and editors. Go figure. Elizabeth Wanning Harris has an excellent book about this - Twice Upon a Time: Women Writers and the History of the Fairy Tale.

So the French women fairy tale writers were writing longer, more complex stories, rather than the shorter stories that are today's canonical fairy tales. (Harries calls these "complex" and "compact" tales.) And we find stories that start to resemble romances among these stories. Again, Beauty and the Beast is probably the best example of this.

-----
Dr. Sandra Schwab expanded a little on some of these points:

To a large extent, the opening and closing formulae of fairy tales became codified with what in German is called "Buchmärchen" (book fairy tales), like the Grimms' KHM. (Just as a quick aside for non-folklorists: The term "Buchmärchen" was introduced to denote the difference between oral fairy tale tradition & published one. And then there's yet another category, namely, the literary fairy tale. All these different types influence on another)

Because most of the editors of collections of "Buchmärchen" were male, as Linda mentions, they also became infused with a greater emphasis on patriarchal / middle-class values, as becomes nicely evident when you compare different versions of a tale in diff eds of Grimms' KHM. I'd use the term "literary fairy tale" for the tales of those French women writers. I haven't studied them in detail, but from the little I read up on them, I seem to remember that many of them nicely subvert patriarchal values of their time. You can see the same thing happening in the re-tellings of fairy tales written by 19th-century British women writers, e.g., "The Brown Bull of Norrowa" by Maria Louisa Molesworth.
------

Y colorín, colorado, este cuento se ha acabado.
[Colourin, colour red, this tale's finishèd.]

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Romance Scholarship at the PCA/ACA Conference

The PCA/ACA conference is taking place this week and the  programme for romance is here. I've tried to pick out the papers I think are focussed on romance novels and I've added links to what I think are pages about their authors (however, I can't guarantee the links are/will remain correct).

Mass Market Pornography: Romance Novels for Men are Different
  • Via Twitter: 'Jonathan Allan talks about vanilla sex and the "fantasy of the ordinary", and links it to Ina Garten saying that you need "really good vanilla" for baking' and 'I asked what it means to call this “ordinary” when its still so far from real sex acts/bodies. Allan’s response touches on this sex as seeming “achievable” which is intriguing me re. the porn/romance connection.
The paratextuality of category romance: the branding of short shelf life fiction
  • Via Twitter: and looked closely at the paratext of 43 category romances published by M&B UK in August 2017 - these are "books that kiss the shelves rather than linger on them".
New Adult Fiction: A feminist Reading of a New Genre
Josefine Smith
  • Via Twitter: Smith defines NA as 'romance about "emerging adults" ages 18-29, focusing on forming identity and transitioning into adulthood' and "
    notes that female protagonist of New Adult romance deals with coming if age in a patriarchal culture dealing with the male gaze, madonna/whore complex. Her ideal male partner is both strong /powerful and woke and emotionally intelligent."
Black-Asian Swirl – Resisting Stereotypes and Promoting Fetish in American BWAM Romance Fiction
  • Via Twitter: "about Black Woman-Asian Men (BWAM or AMBW) romances and how the texts reflect the BWAM movement objectives and resist white supremacy" and "Tension in BWAM fiction between resisting and succumbing to tropes, particularly beauty norms and colorism."
The RITA Retrospective Project
  • Via Twitter: the Project is "trying to ID which tropes are most popular w/romance readers over time" and "The most prevalent plot device found so far in RITA nominees = Previous relationship/second chance romances." There is more about this project on Peterson's website.
Where are all the Fun Books: Holdings of Popular Romance and Science Fiction Novels in Academic Libraries
  • Via Twitter: "she has found that uni libraries in the Oberlin Group hold much more sff than romance" and "Sheehan's larger point is that libraries collect the academic criticism on romance, but not the primary texts academics also need to study the genre. What will be studied in 20 years, esp as public libraries turn over their collections?"
Romance Novels & The Female Gaze: The Evolution of the Romance Genre’s Book Covers
Angela Hart
  • Via Twitter: "presenting her PhD work on romance novel covers. The research is based on LOTS of interview data!" "Some interesting findings in 's interviews: 65% of romance readers preferred digital books and electronic devices; average age of respondents was 38; purchases are mostly online (Amazon dominant) but bookstores (chain, used, and local) still there (33-38%)"
“A recipe for sugary-sweet erotica:” Consumption in Alexa Riley’s Novellas
Evvie Valiou
  • Via Twitter: "Evvie Valiou looks at the clash between body positivity and objectified consumption in Curvy by Alexa Riley. The heroine is presented as a positive fat woman, but is the object of the hero's consumption. Sex is also heavily described in food terms."
“Doubt Creeps In”: Sarah MacLean and the Inverted Orpheus of One Good Earl Deserves a Lover.
Jessica Chadbourne
  • Via Twitter: " on Sarah MacLean’s use of Orpheus myth with hero/subversion of Eurydice role by heroine - interesting implications re: relations to myth, narratives, role-modeling, & identity construction"
Her History, Her Romance: Evangeline Parsons Yazzie’s Naabeeho/Diné historical romance series
Johanna Hoorenman
  • Via Twitter: "Hoorenman, discussing Evangeline Parsons Yazzie's Navajo romance novels, notes that Native authors of genre fiction may depart from conventions because those were often developed by white authors and may be problematic or oppressive. Not genre ignorance."
Justice and Divine Vengeance Pursuing Crime: Revenge in Sarah MacLean’s Rule of Scoundrels Series
  • Via Twitter: " concludes by identifying progress from liminal role of heroine to liminal role of hero & mythic power shift in ‘s novels: men cannot effectively revenge, but goddesses can."
An Articulation of Modern Indian Values in the Romance of Sandhya Sridhar
Kristen Rudisill
  •  Via Twitter: "Sridhar’s publishing house had a stated goal of breaking away from the Mills and Boon model to an Indian one with its own Indian romance fantasy but perhaps her own books don’t depart as much from the rich hero trope"
Rainbow nation in love. South African popular romance in Afrikaans and the Politics of Representation
Martina Vitackova
  • Via Twitter: Martina Vitackova introduced these books [Sophia Kapp's Malansusters trilogy (2007, 2008)] as the reader favorites among popular romance in Afrikaans.
Mr Worldwide: How global is your alpha?
Amy Burge
  • "This paper presents the results of a case study of the heroes of all ten titles published to date by Ankara Press, “a new imprint bringing African romance fiction into the bedrooms, offices and hearts of women the world over” (“About Us”, AnkaraPress.com)." More details here and, via Twitter, "Burge notes that Ankara positions its heroes as explicitly opposed to a western toxic masculinity but toxicity in African masculinity is referenced too, so alpha is still present."
Love in the Time of the #MeToo movement Teaching Paranormal Romance in 2018
Maria Ramos-Garcia
  • Via Twitter: " is beautifully demonstrating how cultural and political contexts can change EVERYTHING about how we understand romance"
Happy for Whom? The Contingent Happy Ending in Romance Fiction
Jessica Matthews
  • Via Twitter: ' on 19th C. American romance, [...] asks: "who is supposed to be happy at the end of a romance?" (A: the couple, but also the reader) and what happens if that is no longer true?' and "
    Looking at Lydia Maria Child’s Hobomok (1824). Readers differ in experience of ending then (1824) and now (2019)" because it's "an early 19c American novel with a Native American hero who nobly stands aside to allow the white heroine to reintegrate into white society. This novel is a good example of how the definition of a "happy ending" shifts over time." and "happy endings [...] are more complex & contingent (who gets to be happy? what about shifting cultural definitions of happy?) than often assumed."
The “Grandly and Inhospitably Strange World” of Heroines on the Autism Spectrum in Romance Fiction
Wendy Wagner
  • Via Twitter: 'Wagner looking at Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series and Hoang's The Kissing Quotient. Thinking about ways neurodivergent characters read as “diversity” to some readers and reductive tokenism to others' and 'Wagner tracing ways that Kissing Quotient frames Stella’s discomfort with touch not as a need to adapt to some neurotypical norm, but as a conversation about consent' and 'Wagner unsure if Thomas means for us to read Charlotte Holmes as neurodivergent, but finds key indicators in the series. Tracing ways the series emphasizes world's need to adapt to Charlotte, not Charlotte’s need to adapt/acclimatize.'
“Cockygate”:  Trademark Bullying, Romance Novels and Intellectual Property
Devon Fitzgerald Ralston
  • Via Twitter: " on which, alongside is one of the [burning] topics in the Anglophone romance world right now", "
    's point is that Hopkins ( author) is using trademark in a way that it is not meant to be used" and "In Hopkins uses legal rhetoric of cease and desist letters to silence other authors, loops them into the automated reporting structures implemented by platforms to protect corporate IP."
“Welfare Reform, Romance, and a Black Love Ethic for the 1990’s”
Julie Moody-Freeman
  • Via Twitter: 'The first panel asks: what's race got to do with it? (Spoiler: A LOT). First speaker is Julie Moody Freeman who is talking about "lift as we climb" (Angela Davis) in Felicia Mason's romantic fiction.'
(Re)imagined Romance: intersections of cultural memory, media representation and the perpetuation of repressive ideologies
Tania de Sostoa-McCue
  • Via Twitter: 'Sostoa-McCue interested in disconnect between romance community, industry, and public which leads to the erasure of marginalized peoples' because 'Representations of romance claiming to “help” romance or reframe it often do this in ways that reify what they claim to be working against. Tracing problem through media coverage of romance (publics) and certain reader responses (counter publics)'. Specifically: 'Sostoa-McCue turning to romance scholarship. Thinking of ways pop-rom studies, in working to value romance lit, maybe falling into similar trap where they ignore romance counterpublics and privilege mainstream romance' and 're. pop-romance scholarship "I know we’re all trying to do our best but I felt really erased by my own research"'
“Love is (Color) Blind: Citizenship and Belonging in 21st Century Historical Romance Fiction”
Mallory Diane Jagodzinski
  • Via Twitter: " interested in anxieties about citizenship in age of neoliberalism via Duran’s Duke of Shadows and Romain’s Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress" and "Citizenship under neoliberalism = proving yourself effective/successful within capitalism" and "The state is prominent throughout 2 books, until conclusions where it disappears. One book seems to question if state is possible, other replaces with capitalism. Seem to suggest citizenship is precarious/unobtainable."
Love to Teach You: Pedagogical Reflections on Alisha Rai (Hate to Love You) and Alyssa Cole (An Extraordinary Union)
Eric Murphy Selinger
Explaining the Appeal of Popular Romance Novels in Aesthetic Terms
Jessica Miller
  • Via Twitter: "Jessica Miller [...] is taking us into aesthetic experience, asking: what makes good romance novels good?" and "Miller outlines common objections to romance and points out how they're over-simplifying and not helpful: it's just porn; it's formulaic; it's badly written; it's conservative."
Idyllic Escapes and Ideal Theory: What Romance Novel Settings Can Tell Us About What’s Wrong With The Real World
Matthew Hoffman and Sara Kolmes
  • Via Twitter: "Matthew Hoffman and Sara Kolmes [...] are focusing on the idyllic settings of romance, arguing that these highlight things that make the HEA harder in real life" because "idealized escapist settings in romance (isolated castles, islands, etc) create the conditions for HEA by shutting out systematic problems and creating space, which then can prompt a critique of those systematic problems" and "Unrealistic or escapist romance can prompt readers to ask what is being excluded or escaped from: financial worries? Societal oppression? Something else?"
Engaged, but Not Enfranchised: Political Women in the novels of Rose Lerner
Sarah Ficke
  • Via Twitter: " Learner’s novels reflect contemporary understandings re. the ways women and girls interact with politics outside of the voting process" and "center community/networks in their political discourse, balancing this with individual identity/priorities."
Swooning Maidens, Heroic Saviors: How Fictional Romantic Archetypes Engage with Popular Notions of Love
Ashley Gwen Hay and Hannah Shows
  • Via Twitter: "Interested in invisible work, influence, agency present in women’s lives."
In transports – the negotiation of pleasure and the construction of authority in Jane Eyre fan fiction
  • Via Twitter: " is making an argument about the spaces of cars as contested in gender terms in Jane Eyre fan fiction by Betty Neels, Penny Jordan, and others" but "to clarify, isn’t applying fic to texts that would necessarily consider themselves fic. These are published romance novels that she links to Eyre and reads as fanfic."
The Agon-y and the Ecstasy: Heroic Confrontation in Romance Novels
Jayashree Kamble
  • Via Twitter: " [...] is reading agon (from classical Greek meaning a struggle or conflict) in romance novels" and " is interested in ways romance novels use agón to play out conflict and desire, wants to track the lexicon and changes over time" and suggests "More recent novels reduce hero’s attacks on heroines, but also expand the agon backwards into characters’ history."

Monday, March 25, 2019

Race and the RITAs


The announcement of the finalists for the Romance Writers' of America's 2019 RITA awards has caused dismay and led to calls for change. Earlier this year, there were similar sentiments expressed after the publication of the Ripped Bodice's report on the state of racial diversity in romance publishing in 2018. The authors of that report had
hoped that providing clear data would contribute to the work that authors of color had been doing for decades to prove that there is widespread systemic racism within romance publishing [...but] there has been zero progress in the last 3 years. [...] For every 100 books published by the leading romance publishers in 2018, only 7.7 were written by people of color. That compares to 6.2% in 2017 and 7.8 in 2016.
The figures for this year's RITA finalists are, if anything, even worse:
US Census data on race/ethnicity (2016)
White: 61.3%
POC: 40.9%

2018 RITA Finalists by race/ethnicity
White: 97.3%
POC: 4%
Bronwen Fleetwood analysed the data for the RITAs over a 20-year period: "There were 397 data points in total, including winners and finalists. Of these only 17 were BIPOC. That’s 4.28%" while "Out of all the winners (241), only ten were BIPOC. That’s 4.1%".

As Esi Sogah, Senior Editor at Kensington Books, has said "This is an industry-wide problem and readers/consumers are a part of the industry, not separate from it. It is very hard to root out biases in those who refuse to acknowledge they have them".


What the analysis of the RITA results and the Ripped Bodice report findings provide is evidence of institutional racism. Institutional racism is
“the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin”. It is seen in “processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people”.
As Sogah observed, biases are often unacknowledged. It is important to note that
Empirical psychology of the past few decades has again and again shown that the workings of our minds are not transparent to us, and that many of us harbour and are influenced by implicit biases. [...] This sort of bias means that people who – sincerely – report that they are not racist, and that they are committed to fair and non-discriminatory treatment, might nonetheless harbour implicit race biases, and be influenced by these biases in the way they behave. These biases are described as ‘implicit' because they are not easy to detect (we cannot easily check whether we have them or are influenced by them), and because they operate automatically, and outside the reach of direct control.
Implicit racial biases are likely to vary, with different stereotypes being associated with different racial/ethnic groups. As LaQuette and others have pointed out, the lack of winners and finalists is particularly glaring with respect to black authors:
there have been no black Rita winners [...] the issue at hand is black women who are being discriminated against (both authors & characters).
As a result of the long-standing institutionalised racism in the RITAs, some black authors no longer enter, or have never entered, their works in the competition. Beverly Jenkins, the 2017 RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient, is one of them:

In other contexts
There are various strategies that have been tested as ways of tackling implicit racial biases. They range from trying to change the biases themselves – a sort of cognitive training that should overturn traces of negative stereotypes in our minds – to putting in place structural measures and checks to try to stop biases from impacting on decisions and actions. Such measures might involve new ways operating – such as considering whether to exclude information about race from a decision-procedure in order to avoid potential biases - or new ways of checking each other's decisions and holding each other accountable.
In the context of romance publishing it would not be at all desirable to alter published novels in order to "exclude information about race" with respect to the protagonists. In addition, it appears that some authors would strongly resist the suggestion that they have any biases, and would therefore probably not be open to some "sort of cognitive training" prior to judging the contest. However, some other strategies could perhaps be implemented. Cat Sebastian, for example, has proposed the following:
While the peer-judging process is a traditional part of the RITAs, the core problem with the current state of the awards is that the pool of judges (largely other RITA entrants) is operating with inherent biases. Any solution needs to start by addressing the fact that a biased judging pool selects which books will final. I propose that we end peer-judging and instead put this process into the hands of a diverse committee. Instead of requiring authors to nominate their own books, nominations could come from demographically diverse committees organized according to subgenre; these could consist of authors who are not entering the RITAs as well as a diverse group of librarians and reviewers.
The full proposal is here and discussion about it can be found here. I include it not to endorse it (since I'm not a member of the RWA, and moreover I know nothing about the complexities of how to run a competition of this kind) but to demonstrate that there may be measures which could be implemented which would counter the impact of the biases afflicting the current process.

Edited to add: the issue is being discussed in various locations, including the private PAN forums (for published authors who are members of the RWA). I do not have access to those but I got a flavour of the discussions via Twitter.

Here's African American author Piper Huguley's response to comments made elsewhere by Jennifer Beckstrand, one of the finalists, rebutting the "implication that I don't work on my craft and that must be [why] I haven't finaled in the RITA yet. Your statement about there being no racism in RWA is flat out wrong."

Cherry Adair, the 2019 RWA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient thought criticism should wait in order to allow award recipients to enjoy their achievements.


But Joanna Shupe (another of the finalists) argued that it was right to have debate now:


Susanna Kearsley, another finalist, withdrew her nomination, saying that her novel "is dedicated, by name, to the people my own ancestors held in slavery, and I can't properly honour their lives and memory, nor pay respect to the diversity of characters in my book by participating in an award that doesn't fully represent that same diversity"

Ann Aguirre withdrew hers too

Among other things, she stated on her website that "At this point, the RITA is broken, and the award judging process needs to be completely reconsidered."

Courtney Milan (who won a RITA in 2017 and is also a lawyer) noted that

The point of the RITAs—and I mean this legally—is to raise industry awareness of excellence in romance fiction. RWA is a trade organization. Legally, it cannot engage in activities with the purpose of benefiting individual members. [...] The legal purpose of the RITA contest is to promote excellence in the romance industry. It is NOT to make authors feel good. [...] At this point, between the “uh nominations mean no organizational endorsement” shuffle that we had about Nazi romance and this, it’s pretty clear that the organization does not, and CAN not endorse this award as having any relation to industry excellence. What is RWA’s non-profit justification for engaging in this activity, then? Because if this is not accomplishing a legitimate purpose related to our non-profit status, than shouldn’t the contest be considered and accounted for as a for-profit activity?
Edited again to add that later on 25 March the RWA President, HelenKay Dimon, issued a statement which says, among other things, that:
The 2019 RITA finalists were announced late last week. While we are happy for our finalists, we cannot ignore the lack of representation on the finalist list or the shadow this lack of representation casts on RWA. The Board apologizes to our members of color and LGBTQ+ members for putting them in a position where they feel unwanted and unheard. While the Board cannot undo the harm inflicted this year, it does make the following points and commitments: The Board affirmatively states that there is a serious problem with reader bias in the judging of the RITAs. This is most evident in the preliminary round of the RITAs. [...] The Board is currently investigating options and reviewing member feedback to change the scoring and judging of the RITAs.
Edited on 28 March to note that RWA have now announced that "Cherry Adair is withdrawing her name as the 2019 RWA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. [...] There will be no Lifetime Achievement Award recipient this year." The full text of Adair's apology can be found here.

Edited on 29 March to add that RWA Board Member Catherine Bybee is withdrawing her book from the competition too and has issued an apology:

Anna Zabo provided the image of Bybee's apology via this Twitter thread, which also includes a transcription of the text in the image.

Edited later on 29 March to add that a replacement has now been found for Avery Flynn, who resigned from the RWA Board on 25 March "because, in good conscience, I could not go to the RITA ceremony": the RWA announced that "RWA President HelenKay Dimon appointed Seressia Glass to the Board of Directors. She will serve the remaining term of the seat vacated by Avery Flynn."

Edited on 4 April to add that Lois Beckett has written a very detailed account for the Guardian of the background history regarding racism, romance fiction and the RWA. It concludes be referring to the current situation with the RITAs.

Edited on 9 April to add that Catherine Bybee has resigned her position on the RWA Board of Directors:

Edited on 19 April to add that RWA announced that they are
in the process of hiring an outside consultant to assist the Board in working through the diversity, equality and inclusion issues in RWA.  We are excited for this new step. The consultant will work with the Board on issues, including leadership training and RITA judging. The consultant will also assist the Board in restructuring the Diversity Advisory Committee (DAC) to be responsive to member needs and play a more active role in relaying concerns to the Board. We thank the current DAC members for their hard work this year. The committee's work will be placed on hold during the restructuring, with an expected relaunch after the annual RWA conference in July.
In addition, "RWA President HelenKay Dimon appointed Kate McMurray to the Board of Directors. She will serve the remaining term of the seat vacated by Catherine Bybee.  Kate previously served as president of both the Rainbow Romance Writers, RWA's LGBTQIA+ chapter, and RWANYC, the New York City chapter."

Saturday, March 09, 2019

New to the Romance Wiki Bibliography: African Love Stories, Masculinity, Pirates, Pregnancy, Virginity and Some Romance History

Here's what's new to the Romance Wiki Bibliography:

Clasen, Tricia. 2017. 
“Masculinity and Romantic Myth in Contemporary YA Romance.” In Gender(ed) Identities: Critical Rereadings of Gender in Children’s and Young Adult Literature, edited by Tricia Clasen and Holly Hassel. New York: Routledge, pp. 228–241.
Gehrmann, Susanne, 2018. 
“Remediating Romance: Forms and Functions of New Media in Contemporary Love Stories from Togo and South Africa”. Africa Today 65.1: 65-84.
Harris, Racheal, 2018. 
“Really Romantic? Pirates in Romantic Fiction.” Pirates in History and Popular Culture, edited by Antonio Sanna (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Publishing), pp. 109–119. Excerpt
McAlister, Jodi Ann, 2015. 
"Romancing the Virgin: Female Virginity Loss and Love in Popular Literature in the West". PhD thesis, Macquarie University, 2015. [Abstract and link to pdf]
 
Rosanowski, Annika, 2019. 
"Can She Have It All? Pregnancy Narratives in Contemporary Category Romance", Journal of Popular Romance Studies 8 (2019).
Waller, Philip, 2006. 
Writers, Readers, and Reputations: Literary Life in Britain 1870-1918. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [See chapters "In Cupid's Chains: Charles Garvice" (681-701) and "Hymns and Heroines: Florence Barclay" (702-728).]

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Ghostwriting of Romance: An Issue for Romance Scholarship?


Courtney Milan gives details on her blog of why she was obliged to conclude "that Christiane Serruya has copied, word-for-word, multiple passages from my book The Duchess War" and it then emerged that more authors had had their works plagiarised too. This latest plagiarism scandal has, however, also led to revelations concerning ghostwriting in the genre.

Shiloh Walker has explained that:
there are any number of reasons why some works are written by ghosts.

#1 Well-known names like V.C. Andrews, who…well, kind of died just a few books into the successful series. The works & rights reverted to her family. The choice to use a GW here is pretty obvious. The Sweet Valley books about the Wakefield twins were largely written by ghosts.

But the worlds, characters, etc for both of these huge series wouldn’t have existed without the original author & creator. Ghosts made the worlds bigger and kept them going after death in Andrews’ case, and expanded them even more for the SV world, taking the girls down to junior high, onto college, etc in Pascal’s situation. The world is huge and has been widely enjoyed by so many and it wouldn’t have been possible without ghosts.

So…simply keeping a world going or expanding on an existing world or series is one reason to use a GW.

#2 One project I took early on was from an author who had the bare bones of a project already done, and I don’t just mean the outline. It was a solid piece and well done, but this client couldn’t quite finish it and wanted help fleshing it out so it could be published. The basic work, characters, world-building, story arc, character growth, resolution was done, but the client knew it needed more. I was hired to provide that and did so. My words helped fill in the story, but the story itself wasn’t mine. It belongs to that author.

#3 Other projects I’ve taken from a semi-regular client were series-based from a popular series that did well for a particular author but this author wanted to move on from that series and focus on a new one that was taking up a great deal of time.  Readers wanted the initial series to continue. Author wanted to write newer one which was also gaining traction. Author didn’t write fast enough to do both, plus some authors don’t shift gears well, going from one genre to the next, as easily as others and these were two vastly different genres. I was hired to GW the primary series. The series, the characters, the ideas were never mine. I wrote from rough outlines, using plot lines and already defined character profiles, providing stories that wouldn’t have existed without the author’s previously established work. Those worlds belong to that author.

#4 Majority of my projects come from one primary client, an already established author who had a presence long before I was hired. I’m given very thorough, chapter by chapter outlines, very thorough character backgrounds & profiles. I’ve written short stories that aren’t as long as the initial material provided to me by my main client.

I’ve also had several other projects from clients similar to this, people who have the ideas, even the character and storyline they want, but they want a GW to finish the book itself.  I’m paid by the hour, I research, and provide original content. When done, I return the project, knowing it’s not mine. It never was, because the ideas, the characters, the plotline, weren’t mine to begin with.
Like Kaetrin, I can't help wonder who the authors are who use ghostwriters:


It seems to me that this has implications for the study of popular romance, at very least when the focus is on an individual author and trying to understand the trajectory of their life's work. It could potentially affect other types of scholarship. For example, computer analysis of some romance novels suggested that "vocabulary decay is a result of progressive amounts of linguistic chunking—due to author fatigue or a desire to produce a more readable narrative" (Elliott). If one author starts a novel, writes an outline for the rest, and it is completed by a second author, that would obviously have implications for this kind of analysis.

More broadly, suspicions about ghostwriting in the genre aren't likely to help dispel widely-held beliefs that all romances are just mass-produced products rather than individual works of literature.

Edited to add: Nora Roberts has now written about her experiences of being plagiarised and she puts this case into a wider context:
So this plagiarist lifted lines, bits, chunks big and small, from a slew of authors and books, mashed them together then hired ghosts off a cheap labor site to cobble them into a book.
This was her MO.

She did this for–I think my information is–29 books, put them up on Amazon, used Kindle Unlimited for some. KU pays by the page read. The freaking page read.

This culture, this ugly underbelly of legitimate self-publishing is all about content. More, more, more, fast, fast, fast. Because that’s how it pays. Amazon’s–imo–deeply flawed system incentivizes the fast and more. It doesn’t have to be good, doesn’t have to be yours–as I’m learning hiring ghosts is not really rare. Those who live and work in this underbelly don’t care about the work, the creativity, the talent and effort and time it takes to craft a story. [...]

I’ll have a lot more to say about this, all of this. I’m not nearly done. Because the culture that fosters this ugly behavior has to be pulled out into the light and burned to cinders.
I hope things do indeed start to change. Another point which Robert makes also gives me hope: she observes that "it’s always a reader" who spots the plagiarism. That readers do spot it is an indication of readers' engagement with, and love for, individual books in the genre.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Summer Archive Exploration Opportunity

Popular Culture Summer Research Institute at Bowling Green State University

June 23-June 28, 2019 
“Topics in Popular Culture: Researching, Writing,and Workshopping Your Ideas”  

"The institute will introduce 20-25 scholars from across the country and abroad to the research and pedagogical treasures of BGSU’s very special collections." These include the Romance Writers of America's archives, an extensive collection of romance novels and more papers and objects related to popular romance.

Some participants may receive travel grants. "If a grant is awarded, the registrant is still required to pay the $125 registration fee. It is also expected that the grant recipient present their research at a regional or national PCA/ACA conference within two years of the institute." Participants would also have to pay for accommodation.

More details here: https://pcaaca.org/news-events/popular-culture-summer-institute. The deadline for applications is 26 April 2019.

Friday, January 04, 2019

HEAs and "A Righted Universe"

Jennifer Porter's written a long thread on Twitter which examines a particular element of the Happy Ever After in more detail. The whole thread can be found here (via threadreaderapp) or here (at Twitter, but you'll have to scroll to the top). That element is what Porter (drawing on a post by Super Wendy) calls "a righted universe", and Porter states that "If the universe isn’t right, many of use reject the HEA/FN even if it exists".


I don't want to repeat the implications which Jennifer Porter draws out. They're in her thread, so there's no need to repeat them all here. But I do think that this insight into how readers feel about "a righted universe" enhances Pamela Regis's analysis of the essential elements of romance. Regis does, in fact, allude to the "righted universe". First of all, she offers "society defined" (31) as one of the essential elements of romance:

As she says, "This society is in some way flawed". Later, Regis returns to the issue of the flawed society:

The "accidental element" is the scene which demonstrates that "Society has reconstituted itself" (38) but, Regis says, "this scene is promised in every romance, even if it is not dramatized" (38). One could, then, argue that "Society reconstituted" (i.e. "a righted universe") is, for many readers, a ninth essential element.

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Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.