Thursday, March 26, 2009

Romance Heads to the Ivy League!

Ladies and Gentlemen, the website for the Princeton University conference "Love as the Practice of Freedom? Romance Fiction and American Culture" is now live!

Organized by Eric Selinger (DePaul University) and William Gleason (Princeton), the conference will be held on April 23-24, 2009, at Princeton's Betts Auditorium. Featured speakers include:
The conference is free and open to the public; please register in advance, as space is limited. For a small fee, conference-goers can enjoy lunch and dinner with participants; again, seating is limited.

Please spread the word, and feel free to link, post, or otherwise disseminate the information. (Carrier pigeon? Semaphore? Hedgehog with a talking box? You name it.)

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

RWA Academic Research Grant

Congratulations are in order for Dr. Catherine Roach, Associate Professor of New College and Graduate Adjunct Faculty in Women’s Studies at the University of Alabama, for winning the 2009-2010 Romance Writers of America Academic Research Grant (past winners here). Her project is entitled, "Book Lovers: Love, Desire, and Fantasy in Popular Culture Romance Narratives," and rumors have it that it's a book project.

Previous work by Dr. Roach includes Stripping, Sex, and Popular Culture and Mother / Nature: Popular Culture and Environmental Ethics.

Dr. Roach tells me that she is also an aspiring romance author, so she certainly has a lot on her plate. She will be presenting at the PCA conference next month ("Rip My Bodice: Sex-Positive Culture and the Romance Novel Today" on Friday, April 10, 2:30-4:00pm), so we all look forward to meeting her there!

IASPR mission statement (and bonus logo)

I've been working on the Mission Statement for IASPR. Am I missing anything?
The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance is dedicated to fostering and promoting the scholarly exploration of all forms, genres, and media of popular romance. IASPR is committed to building a strong community of romance lovers scholars through open, digital access to all scholarly work sponsored, solicited, or published by the Association; by organizing or sponsoring annual international conferences on popular romance studies; and by encouraging teaching of popular romance on all levels of higher education.
What about teaching? Do we need something in there about supporting the teaching of popular romance?

I'm feeling the need for a final, "Why does it matter" sentence. Yes? No?

A suggestion was made on Twitter for adding "like-minded": "IASPR is committed to building a strong community of *like-minded* romance lovers through open, digital access to all scholarly work sponsored, solicited, or published by the Association." I'm not sure it's necessary, though. Or even desirable?

The lovely and talented Stella Price has been working on our logo! What do you think? Isn't it beautiful?! :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Praise for TMT

Yes, I'll stop sunning myself and start writing a serious post soon, but I just want to bask in the glow of praise for Teach Me Tonight for a little while first!
The work that they are doing is, in my mind, just as admirable, or even more so, than getting published in the top journals. They are damning the torpedoes, breaking new ground, changing minds, encouraging and supporting young scholars and grad students, cajoling old timers to switch gears [...], starting up a new journal and organization, forging key connections with the industry
Apart from giving me that warm glow, Jessica's introduction to an interview with me about Teach Me Tonight also provides a little bit more context in which to place Eric's recent post about how romance scholarship fits in with traditional academic career paths. The good news in Eric's post was that the university committee assessing his job performance
said not one word against the unexpected turn my research has taken, from poetry to popular romance. As far as the committee was concerned, the topics of my work were just fine. I just needed to get things published--and to do so in peer-reviewed venues.

The photo is of a wet lovebird (couldn't resist that, given the topic of our scholarship), sunning itself, from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bad News, Good News

Eric Selinger

First, the bad news. My application for promotion to Full Professor was (gasp!) turned down by the college committee at DePaul--and not just turned down, but soundly, firmly, grimly, unequivocally trounced. Not enough publishing in peer-reviewed venues, not enough leadership in committees and DePaul undertakings: come back, they said, when you've fixed those flaws, and you'll have a proper case.

(They also decried my treatment of poor Mr. Wickham, but with respect to that other, more weighty accusation, I believe they will acquit me when they are acquainted with every particular of the transactions.)

Now, as you can imagine, I'm quite disappointed, and not a little humiliated. But there's good news buried in the rubble. The negative report said not one word against the unexpected turn my research has taken, from poetry to popular romance. As far as the committee was concerned, the topics of my work were just fine. I just needed to get things published--and to do so in peer-reviewed venues, the coin of the realm, academically speaking. The work I've been doing on conferences (Princeton, PCA, Brisbane) is all very well and good, but it's no substitute, as I probably should have known.

The nice thing about missing out on a promotion, as opposed to tenure, is that nothing really changes. I still have my job, my benefits, my future in the profession. All my current projects will keep chugging along; if anything, they'll have a bit more steam. Had I known I was headed down the wrong path all these years, I'd have set some different priorities: less NEH work with teachers, fewer lesson plans online, more traditional publishing, more time in the trenches of some committee, etc. But I'm pleased to know that the biggest, most dramatic turn in my work--the one that brings me here, to Romancelandia--has plenty of support, and is being met with the same high expectations from my school that my work on poetry has been.

OK, 'nuff griping. Back to work.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

My Relationship with My Writing

Sarah S. G. Frantz
Apparently I have an adversarial relationship with my writing, a concept that I find fascinating.

I'm desperately trying to write (two articles and a conference presentation!) and when I talk about it, I say that "its kicking my ass" or "the article is winning." When I finally think I've got something (a paragraph, a point, an analysis) done well, I think "I've beat it into submission." These are my words, my ideas, an extension of my thoughts. How that translates into an antagonistic relationship, I'm not sure.

I can understand this mindset when I edit another's writing (as I am also doing). Then the ideas are not mine and I'm trying to make them and the writing fit a certain framework, word count, or readability.

But when dealing with my own words, my own thoughts? I'm trying to make myself understood, trying to make my points in the best way possible, trying to take what's in my head and put it on the page. Except, what's in my head changes as I put it on the page (well, the computer screen). As I write, I realize how to make points more clearly, I understand some contradictions, I see more areas that need to be clarified or explained, I complicate (in the good way) my theories/analyses. As a result, my thoughts are not complete inside me--it's not like I have a vision that I can't transcribe onto the page. The process of transcription changes the vision, for the better. So I see the whole process is outside me.

I'm also one of those people who obsessively rewrites. It's how I get started, it's how I overcome a problem, it's how I end the day. I can't just write everything and go back and revise at the end, because the process of rewriting changes the paper in such drastic fundamental ways, that I couldn't write the whole thing without having the part before it almost finished.

I don't have a Muse, per se, either, so I can't blame anything on him/her/it. This is just between me and the words in front of me.

I'm now fascinated with how I see this (it's as good a way to procrastinate as any, after all) and I'm wondering about how other people view their own writing. Do you write fiction or non-fiction? Or both? If both, how does the process change for the change in genre? Is the vision inside you and you have to "birth" it and get it perfect? Or is it outside you and you have to wrestle it into shape? Something else?

Picture is Vermeer's "A Lady Writing."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Call for Applications

I'm finally getting things off the ground with both the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR) and the Journal of Popular Romance Studies (JPRS).

If you're interested in helping in general and haven't yet emailed me, please do so.

But we're also looking for much more formal applications for a few positions:

Membership Chairperson: Are you organized? Are you proficient at the use of databases and spreadsheets? What about the dreaded and dreadful Mail Merge? Are you interested in being involved in IASPR? This job might be for you!

Treasurer: Do you have experience with maintaining dues for an organization and producing the necessary yearly report of assets? Do you have experience with non-profits? Are you interested in being involved in IASPR? This job might be for you!

Neither of these jobs will be very taxing, I imagine (I hope not, at least! We're aiming for non-profit status! Badumbum!). You'll be working closely with yours truly, the current IASPR President, on setting things up. Our goal is to start advertising its existence at the Popular Culture Association conference and the Princeton conference on romance, both in April. And then at RWA in July, so things should start very quickly. Experience is not strictly necessary for either job, although some financial/business/CPA credentials for Treasurer would be appreciated. IASPR applications due by March 20.

For JPRS: The journal, as currently envisioned, will be an online, blind peer-reviewed, open access journal, available to anyone to read, although you will need to be a member of IASPR once an article has been accepted for publication. It will evaluate, analyze, and otherwise discuss all forms of popular romance, not just romance novels. This could be popular romance in music, film, soap operas, celebrity life, art, or commercials/advertising--popular romance writ large. The journal will consist of academic articles, reviews of academic books on popular romance, as well as academic reviews of popular romance. I would like to be able to have comments after each article, so there can be conversations about the ideas in the articles as they're posted.

Managing Editor: The Managing Editor will run the day-to-day operations of the journal:
  • Setting up journal to begin with, including indexing and cross-listing
  • Working with the Web Manager to make sure that the journal is running smoothly
  • Receiving articles from authors
  • Making sure authors are kept informed about progress of articles
  • Sending articles out to peer reviewers and keeping on the peer reviewers to send their reviews back to you
  • Formatting, organizing, and posting each issue (certainly one a year to start, hopefully two a year by 2011).
The ultimate executive decisions about which articles will be included will be made by the Executive Editor (currently Eric M. Selinger) and the Executive Board (TBA). The Managing Editor will work closely with the Executive Editor as s/he makes those decisions. We will eventually also have a Book Review Editor and possibly a Comments Moderator if the comments really take off, with whom you will also need to work.

Web Manager: The Web Manager will obviously run the technological side of the journal's operations:
  • Coordinate with the web hosting service
  • Advise on the choice of and manage the open source journal software
  • Set-up comment ability and coordinate with Comment Moderator, if necessary
  • Coordinate with the Managing Editor and the Executive Editor on the organization and publication of each issue
JPRS applications due by April 1, 2009. Our goal is to publish the first issue of JSPR on February 14, 2010.

Please email applications (IASPR by March 20 and JSPR by April 1) for all positions to me {sarahfrantz [at] gmail [dot] com}. (I can open all MS OfficeSuite files, including MSOffice 2007. I also accept Rich Text Format files, but NOT Word Perfect or MSWorks.)

Include your CV, any other material you feel is pertinent, and a cover letter that includes:
  • Highlights and narrative of experience you have with required tasks
  • Interesting/unique ideas you have for the structure/organization/implementation of the Association and/or the journal
  • For the JPRS positions, any experience you have with Open Journal Systems or similar open access online software
(At this time, there is unfortunately no remuneration for any of the positions, except for a lovely line on your CV under "Service." But nothing besides time will be required of you, either. All web-hosting, etc., will be paid for by the journal and the Association. If you're an academic and get the Managing Editor position, you may be able to get a course reduction from your institution once the journal is official off the ground.)

Feel free to disseminate this as far and as wide as possible!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Romance Dissertations

I was really pleased to get a notification via ProQuest of a couple of new PhD theses about the romance genre. Congratulations Dr Kamble and Dr White!

The first is Ann Yvonne White's, from The University of Iowa: Genesis Press: Cultural Representation and the Production of African American Romance Novels. (2008, AAT 3340278). Here are some more details:
In my dissertation I look at the production of African American romance novels under the umbrella of cultural representation. The genre, which is popular among African American women of all economic and social levels, is important, because products created by and for African Americans may have the ability to reshape images and ideas of African Americans. I conducted a case study of one small, family-owned publishing company to look at how the culture and environment in which the books are produced might reshape and redefine negative images of African Americans often found in the media. I also interviewed an author of African American romances to understand how the writing process may be influenced by the views and experiences of a writer.

I also attended a conference of African American readers, writers, and industry personnel to look at how readers influence the stories, themes, and characters found in the novels. More than 350 people attended the conference including representatives from African American book clubs all over the country. Readers were specific about the kinds of stories they wanted to read, and how they thought the characters should be portrayed in the novels.

Because the books produced by Genesis Press are romances, the editors and publishers adhere to a standard romance formula. But as producers of cultural products that strive to enhance negative images of African Americans, they also rely on the culture, environment, and life experiences of the writers and readers. And as executives who are culturally sensitive, they seek to bring a shared history of cultural awareness and activism to the industry.

The second is by Jayashree Kamble, from the University of Minnesota: Uncovering and Recovering the Popular Romance Novel. (2008, AAT 3338954). Here are some more details:
Popular romance novels are a twentieth- and twenty-first century literary form defined by a material association with pulp publishing, a conceptual one with courtship narrative, and a brand association with particular author-publisher combinations. The theme of romantic love in romance novels forms the basis of a drama involving the extra-private worlds of the protagonists (financial, civic, and familial). The framework of the romantic relationship allows the genre to study the challenges these spheres face over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. A comprehensive look at the genre's history and diversity, as well as its reception in different readership communities, undergirds this analysis of three tropes involving the romance hero--capitalist, soldier, and heterosexual. The analysis proves the genre's struggle with an economic, political, and social ideology that has gathered force over the last hundred years. Though popular as well as academic critiques of the genre disparage its formulaic sexual content or its attachment to the ideology of middle class morality, its very nature as "commodity literature" helps challenge conservative thought on capitalism, national defense strategies, and sexual orientation.

The dissertation also considers the impact of the dust jackets and paperback covers of romance novels on non-romance readers. A survey of this material history suggests that it has contributed to derogatory opinions on the genre; in particular, the genre has been indicted because of the "bodice-ripper" covers that adorn many romance novels rather than the actual content. A look at reader and author discussions on the genre, alongside textual analysis of selected works, proves that romance fiction is not fixated on a clichéd plot and descriptions of sexual intercourse; it involves complex themes that are disguised as stereotypical genre elements. Readers' online debates demonstrate how this romance "formula," albeit a function of its commodification, engages them in addressing quandaries related to societal preoccupations. The concluding study of romance reading in India further supports the possibility of multiple, even liberating, readings that can empower romance readers.
And I'm happy to say that you can download a pdf of the whole of Jayashree's thesis, which is stored at the University of Minnesota's Digital Conservancy database.

The image is from Wikimedia Commons.