Saturday, December 31, 2011

A different take

Sarah's take on Laura Struves' article published by JPC is slightly different from Laura's and a lot more ranty:

I can't figure out if I'm more upset at the author or at the Journal of Popular Culture about this article. I think it's a tie, with a side-order of despair about academic publishing in the Humanities.

The author has produced yet another article about romance fiction that considers the entire romance genre to be the same -- to have the same purpose, the same outcome, the same focus, and the same manner of expression. This is yet another article astonished that romance readers aren't pathetic women who must be humored in their addiction. It hashes over the same ground in completely unoriginal ways. It's, basically, Radway updated for the internet, so the only new thing it's saying is that readers are doing exactly the same thing that Radway discovered they were doing (creating communities around their romance reading, being proactive and kickass), but now they're doing it on the internet too.

But the article doesn't consider current romance internet interactions. It does not mention Smart Bitches (started in January 2005) or Dear Author (started in April 2006). Twitter is conspicuous in its absence. As Laura says, the article talks about AAR's At the Back Fence as a current blog. It doesn't even mention RRA-L (the first romance listserv).

For example, the article claims, "Approximately fifty specific Web sites are dedicated to romantic fiction and eleven chat groups allow readers to talk to each other directly. Over 273 romance authors have sites on the Web, and more Web sites pop up daily." This sounds like something from the late 1990s. It continues, "The genre of romantic fiction is marked by a strong connection between writing and reading. Writers remain in close touch with their readers through conferences, fan mail, and the ever-expanding Internet." One thing about the connection between authors and readers that CHANGED on the internet is that it became much more direct. RRA-L was, in fact, the first place to change that, as it was a listserv to which authors and readers both posted with the same amount of authority. I was personally involved in Suzanne Brockmann's message board in 2000-2005, on which Brockmann frequently interacted with her readers. This is, in fact, where I met her and began to establish my professional relationship with her. The important thing to know is that Brockmann's message board was not unusual.

Honestly, this article feels like it was written as a seminar paper in 1997 or 1998 that applied Henry Jenkins's theories to the romance community and was then never updated for submission, but was submitted anyway. All quotes from authors in the articles, for example, were from Krentz's Dangerous Men, Adventurous Women or from AAR's ATBF in 1996 or 1997. This is unconscionable on the author's part. Giving her every benefit of the doubt, HOW could she submit, in, say, 2005 at the very very earliest an article that was written at least five years previously, without updating it? Because that's what it looks like she did. If *nothing* else, Pamela Regis's A Natural History of the Romance Novel was published in 2003 and would have bolstered part of the article's argument significantly.

Which brings us to the journal. JPC has, apparently, overwhelmed itself with accepted submissions, meaning there's at least a three year backlog on publishing articles after acceptance. That's their issue. They either need to raise their standards, expand their issues, or start publishing on the web like JASNA did with Persuasions. And certainly if this article is an example of the scholarship that they're putting in the very very long line for publication, then they need to raise their standards. If this was accepted in, say, 2008, that's still a full (generously) six years out of date *in 2008* (let alone how out-of-date it would be when finally published!). Peer reviewers should have caught this. Assuming a two year peer review process, there was still recent scholarship in 2006 that should have been part of the article (Regis), and there were CERTAINLY online communities that should have been discussed in an article *about* online communities that seems to have stopped its consideration of said communities in 1997 (ten years out of date for 2008 acceptance -- HOW did no one catch this?!).

But really, this says more than anything about the state of Humanities scholarship than it does about JPC (although it sure says enough there, too). JPC feels (and is not alone) that a two year peer-review process is just fine. It also feels that a three year wait between acceptance and publication is just fine, too. And then it publishes without indicating that there was, at least, a FIVE year wait between submission and publication. This is just...short-sighted, if nothing else.

The entire field of popular romance studies has changed in the last five year. IASPR was started in 2009. JPRS's first issue was in 2010.

But forget the academic field, the romance genre itself has changed in the last five years (downfall of erotic romance, switches in paranormal, rise of e- and self-publishing, demise of group author blogs). And certainly reader/author interaction has changed with the advent of Twitter and the dominance of Facebook. And while neither the author nor JPC could have anticipated *quite* how outdated the article would appear when published in 2011, talking as it is about online culture circa 1997 (almost 15 years!), the fact that academic publishing in general doesn't seem to realize that things change, dammit -- they grow and adapt and CHANGE -- is just...depressing. Is five years to publication REALLY the way to stay relevant? Do we really wonder why the Humanities are being left behind in academia by fields that can stay more relevant to modern changes?

Additional, though smaller, issues with the article that are just symptoms, I think, of the larger problem:
  • The article misspells Kathleen Woodiwiss (as Woodiweiss) and Jennifer Crusie (Cruise). The latter may be a legitimate typographical error, because I know I do it all the time when I try to type Jenny's name, but the former is not.
  • The section about covers is utterly out of date, almost a decade behind the times.
  • As is the section about the "midlist" issue -- something that's still an issue, to be sure, but has been fundamentally changed by digital publishing (started in 2000 with Ellora's Cave).
  • The section about sexuality in romances ignores the rise of the erotic romance, something that started in the late 1990s and fundamentally changed romance in the 2000s (again, also ignoring digital publishing).

Struve, Laura. “Sisters of Sorts: Reading Romantic Fiction and the Bonds Among Female Readers.” Journal of Popular Culture 44.6 (2011): 1289-1306.

Sisters and Husbands

Laura Struve's "Sisters of Sorts: Reading Romantic Fiction and the Bonds among Female Readers" appeared in the most recent issue of the Journal of Popular Culture but its conclusion is not likely to come as any surprise to readers of this blog: "Romance readers not only fail to be oppressed by their reading, they also make it an occasion to participate in a female community" (1303). Struve points to the existence of active communities of romance readers, such as those who visit All About Romance, as evidence that "Contrary to the perception that readers are passive, isolated women hopelessly waiting for their prince to come, readers of romantic fiction are active and seek to form bonds among women" (1293) and argues that
When romance readers seek out other readers, they are seeking out other women, and when readers become writers, they identify themselves as writing within a female tradition. These connections are discussed using the rhetoric of familial relationships—kinship, sisterhood, and motherhood. Instead of being obsessed with unattainable heterosexual romantic relationships, romance readers seek out and desire sisterhood. [...] These readers are not trying to find “Mr. Right” or “Prince Charming” [...]. They are trying to find a fellow reader; they are trying to find a sister of sorts. (1297)
Since it's quite possible to have both a husband and a sister and, according to the Romance Writers of America, "Romance readers are more likely than the general population to be currently married or living with a partner," I wonder precisely what is meant by "unattainable heterosexual romantic relationships." Clearly many readers are in romantic relationships, so is Struve is suggesting that there is a particular type of "heterosexual romantic relationship" which is unattainable (i.e. one with a "prince")? Or does she think that many readers have no need to be "obsessed" about attaining a heterosexual romantic relationship because they already have one? Could it be that she has failed to consider the possibility that romance readers may have (or be obsessed with having) heterosexual romantic relationships and develop homosocial relationships based around romance-reading?

Early in the essay Struve states that
If romance novels are perceived to be poorly written, formulaic, and pornographic, then it is easy to characterize their readers as unintelligent, unsophisticated, and neurotic. The idea that “you are what you read” dominates many studies of romantic fiction, and the portrait of the reader that emerges is heavily influenced by the content of the novels.
If, however, one shifts the focus from content to the activities that surround the reading experience—the way romance readers talk about their reading, the way they talk to each other, their connections to writers and publishers, the way they use technology—a portrait of a different reader emerges, a reader who is an active participant in the genre’s production and reception as well as its consumption. Despite the genre’s conservative ideology, which focuses on heterosexual courtship and marriage, romance readers make connections with other women, and they use the Internet to help foster this community. (1289-90)
It is not entirely clear whether Struve herself perceives romance novels to be "poorly written, formulaic, and pornographic" [and I, as the author of a book subtitled "The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance" would, obviously, take issue with that view if she does hold it] but she certainly seems to accept that the genre has a "conservative ideology, which focuses on heterosexual courtship and marriage." While it is true that a great many romance novels do focus on heterosexual courtship and marriage, such a statement immediately makes me wonder if the author is aware of the existence of substantial numbers of lesbian and m/m romances or has considered the possibility that there might be significant variations in the depictions of "heterosexual courtship and marriage."1 Furthermore, when female communities are contrasted with a "conservative ideology," I can't help but note that a group of women do not, by the mere fact of coming together to participate in leisure or other pursuits, automatically pose a challenge to conservative ideologies.

Whatever her view of the merits (or otherwise) of modern romance novels, Struve is very much aware that there are
similarities between the study of romantic fiction and the history of the novel and novel studies. The attacks on the romance reader today are similar to those leveled at novel readers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. [...] During the first half of the twentieth century [...] [s]cholars who wanted to expand the canon to include works by female authors faced accusations that literature written by women was frivolous because it focused primarily on domestic concerns such as courtship and marriage and that these works were poorly written. (1302)
She therefore concludes that
Scholars who are critical of this genre seem unaware of the history of their complaints and cultivate a certain blindness about the relationship between literature and popular culture and the act of reading. Literary scholars have already decided that a lifetime can be spent and a career made in talking about books and reading them, yet romance readers are criticized for being “addicted” to reading. (1303)
Struve, Laura. “Sisters of Sorts: Reading Romantic Fiction and the Bonds Among Female Readers.” Journal of Popular Culture 44.6 (2011): 1289-1306.

Another woman-only social activity
1 Despite the inclusion of some bibliographical items dated 2011 there is a curiously retro feel about parts of this essay. For example, Struve writes that "All About Romance, features an interactive column, 'At the Back Fence' ” (1294) but I knew it had been discontinued some time ago. When I checked at AAR, I discovered that "The last ATBF column was published October 27, 2008" (AAR). Struve writes that:
In addition, romance novels have an extremely shortshelf span; Harlequin publishes c. thirty different titles every month. Readers must rely on word of mouth and recommendations in order to make their purchases before the books disappear from the shelvesand are replaced by new titles. (1294)
There is no acknowledgment here that many romance readers now buy ebooks, which do not have "an extremely short shelf span." Incidentally, this also seems a rather low estimate of Harlequin's monthly output: in December in the Harlequin Presents line alone I counted 10 new novels. I strongly suspect that the essay was first written prior to 27 October 2008 but was not published until this month due to the fact that at one point the Journal of Popular Culture had a massive backlog of articles accepted for publication.

The image is of "Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. These two Church Amish women are engaged in quilting. Quilting bees are popular in this area." The photo was taken by Irving Rusinow and came from Wikimedia Commons which in turn acquired it from "the National Archives and Records Administration as part of a cooperation project. The National Archives and Records Administration provides images depicting American and global history which are public domain or licensed under a free license."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Biscuits, Heyer and a Cornucopia of CFPs

Anyone want some (virtual) biscuits? I've been discussing the category-romances-as-biscuits metaphor at the Pink Heart Society.

From Eric, in his capacity as Executive Editor of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, comes this
CALL FOR PAPERS:  Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer’s work spanned many genres, including the detective novel, Georgian romances, and historical fiction, and she has been credited by critics with establishing the Regency romance as a popular romantic novel form. Acclaimed by reviewers and other novelists, including A. S. Byatt, Heyer’s enduring popularity among romance readers is evident in the publication history of her work—most has never gone out of print, with new editions recently published by HQN and Sourcebooks, Inc.—and in her many imitators. With the publication of Jennifer Kloester’s new literary biography of Heyer in the fall of 2011, the time seems right for a reexamination and reevaluation of Heyer and her work.
The Journal of Popular Romance Studies is soliciting papers for a special forum on Heyer as a romance novelist, guest-edited by Phyllis M. Betz. All critical approaches are welcome; papers may focus on individual novels or groups of texts, on Heyer’s changing status as a middlebrow and popular novelist, on paratextual and contextual issues (covers and marketing, publication history, reception), or on Heyer’s legacy.
Essays / proposals on Heyer’s work in other genres, and on her genre-crossing texts, are also solicited for a separate anthology, also edited by Phyllis M. Betz.
For the special JPRS forum on Heyer as a romance novelist, please submit scholarly papers of no more than 10,000 words to An Goris, Managing Editor and Submissions should be Microsoft Word documents, with citations in MLA format. The deadline for submissions is May 4, 2012.
For more information about the anthology on Heyer’s work in other genres, please contact Phyllis M. Betz at
And in other CFPs we have:

Allusions and echoes – cultural recycling and recirculation, an international colloquium at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK, June 16-17, 2012. Deadline for paper/panel submissions is March 30, 2012. More details here.

Guilty Pleasure Literatures: The penny dreadful to the graphic novel. Dr Curt Herr and Dr. Deb Christie seek essays on guilty pleasure literatures for a new anthology. We are looking for submissions that explore the idea of guilty pleasure reading balanced with the cultural significance of the works under question. Deadline for submissions is Jan. 18th, 2012. More details here. [Since those details are rather limited, I contacted Dr Herr to ask for more information, and to enquire whether he and Dr Christie would be interested in submissions related to popular romance novels. Unfortunately he has not yet replied.]

The 10th Global Conference on Monsters and the Monstrous (Tuesday 11th September – Friday 14th September 2012), Mansfield College, Oxford. 300 word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 16th March 2012. Details here.

The 7th Global Conference on The Erotic (Tuesday 11th September – Thursday 13th September 2012), Mansfield College, Oxford. 300 word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 16th March 2012. Details here.

The 2nd Global Conference on  Beauty: Exploring Critical Issues (Friday 21st September – Sunday 23rd September 2012), Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom. 300 word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 16th March 2012. Details here.

The photo came from Wikimedia Commons and shows "Types of fancy dessert biscuits as suggested in the book 'The modern baker, confectioner and caterer; a practical and scientific work for the baking and allied trades.' Edited by John Kirkland. With contributions from leading specialists and trade experts."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Joy to the World: Popular Culture Associations Go Global

In the first issue of the Australasian Journal of Popular Culture Toni Johnson-Woods and Vicki Karaminas write that
Our interest in establishing a popular culture association and publishing an affiliated journal was generated by an encounter on a cool San Francisco day in Easter 2008. In a boardroom of the Marriott Hotel, a dozen people sat around an executive desk listening to John Bratzel, the Executive Director of the Popular/American Culture Associations (PCA/ACA). John talked about the PCA’s wish to spread the study and understanding of popular culture globally by setting up affiliated organizations around the world. He asked if we would like to start an Australasian popular culture association. His question was met with a flurry of enthusiasm, and we all agreed that a popular culture association is exactly what Australia and New Zealand needed. (3)
The Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand (PopCAANZ) held its first conference in 2010.

Canadian scholars of popular culture have followed suit: the Popular Culture Association of Canada (PCAC or “canpop”) held its first conference in May 2011 and a Canadian Journal of Popular Culture will be forthcoming in 2012,
devoted to the scholarly understanding of popular culture in its broadest sense, encompassing non-mass-mediated as well as mass-mediated forms, texts and practices, both historical and contemporary. While encouraging submissions in all areas of popular culture, the journal will be particularly receptive to articles that focus on Canadian examples, or on broader comparative and theoretical questions viewed through a Canadian lens.
The "The East Asian Popular Culture Association (EAPCA), the newest branch of the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association (PCA / ACA)" held its first conference in September 2011.

European scholars of popular culture have decided that a popular culture association is exactly what Europe needs too, hence the following

Inaugural Conference of the European Popular Culture Association
11-13 July 2012
London College of Fashion
University of the Arts

Individual paper and panel contributions are invited for the inaugural conference of the European Popular Culture Association (EPCA).
EUPOP 2012 will explore European popular culture in all its different forms This might include European Film (past and present), Television, Music, Celebrity, The Body, Fashion, New Media, Comics, Popular Literature, Sport, Heritage and Curation. And more - we’ll be guided by the submissions.
Closing Date for this call: 18th FEBRUARY 2012

This conference will launch the European Popular Culture Association. There will be opportunities for networking and for developing caucus groups within the EPCA. Presenters at EUPOP 2012 will be encouraged to develop their papers for publication in a number of Intellect journals, including the new Journal of European Popular Culture, the journal of the EPCA, other film journals including Film, Fashion and Consumption, and various music journals.

Papers and Complete Panels for all strands should be submitted to the email contact below. Paper/panel submissions will be as always subject to peer review:
Submit paper or panel proposals* to:
• The same address should be used for general administrative queries

- The European Popular Culture Association –
The European Popular Culture Association (EPCA) promotes the study of popular culture from, in, and about Europe. Popular culture involves a wide range of activities, outcomes and audiences; EPCA aims to examine and discuss these different activities as they relate both to Europe, and to Europeans across the globe, whether contemporary or historical.


  • Johnson-Woods, Toni and Vicki Karaminas, V. "Letter from the Editors." Australasian Journal of Popular Culture 1.1 (2012): 3–6.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Giveaway of For Love and Money

Joanna Chambers, who very kindly read draft versions of parts of For Love and Money, has extremely generously decided to promote the book too. She's holding a competition on her blog this week and the prize is an e-copy of the book: "To enter, just post the name of your favourite category romance of all time - it doesn't have to be a HQ/M&B (for all you Loveswept readers out there...)." [Edited to add: the contest has now closed.]

The good news for those of you who prefer paper books is that the price at Lulu has just decreased to £14.95.

As for me, I've been avoiding giving book recommendations at the Spurtle, talking about metafiction and the "rules" of romance at Liz Fielding's blog and had my writing praised by my editor.

And if you're bored of reading about my book, you might be interested in Joanna's post about female impersonators and cross-dressing heroines.

Friday, December 16, 2011

PCA 2012 Deadline: December 21

This is a FINAL CALL for proposals for the Romance Area for the Popular Culture Association's 2012 Annual Conference, which is being held in Boston from April 11 - 14, 2012 (one week later than we have traditionally held it in the past).

Call For Papers: Romance Area

Deadline for submission: December 21, 2011.

We are interested in any and all topics about or related to popular romance: all genres, all media, all countries, all kinds, and all eras. All representations of romance in popular culture (fiction, stage, screen—large or small, commercial, advertising, music, song, dance, online, real life, etc.), from anywhere and any-when, are welcome topics of discussion.

This year we are especially interested in papers on Romance on/and/in Television, to be presented on panels jointly sponsored by the Romance and the TV areas.

The Romance Area is also co-sponsoring with the Gay/Lesbian/Queer area papers that discuss BDSM and Kink in any form. Representations of BDSM/Kink in popular media and/or discussions of real-life BDSM/Kink practices and practitioners are all welcome. Romance is not a necessary component of papers to be presented in BDSM/Kink.

We will consider proposals for individual papers, sessions organized around a theme, and special panels. Sessions are scheduled in one-hour slots, ideally with four papers or speakers per standard session.

If you are involved in the creative industry of popular romance (romance author/editor, film director/producer, singer/songwriter, etc.) and are interested in speaking on your own work or on developments in the representations of popular romance, please contact us!

As we do every year, the Romance area will meet in a special Open Forum to discuss upcoming conferences, work in progress, and the future of the field of Popular Romance Studies. All are welcome to attend.

Submit a one-page (200-300 words) proposal or abstract by December 21, 2011, to PCA's online database: Specify the Romance Area (for any/all of the topics) and Sarah Frantz, the Area Chair in Romance, will be notified.

If you have any questions, please contact Sarah S. G. Frantz:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My New Book - For Love and Money: The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance

I'm very, very pleased to be able to announce that my new book, For Love and Money: The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance is now available.

Since this isn't a time for modesty, I'll share my back-cover quotes:
"Laura Vivanco's For Love and Money is an impressive study of the popular fiction of Harlequin Mills and Boon that is a must read for any student of popular fiction and for those who write and love the genre" - Liz Fielding, author of over 50 Harlequin Mills & Boon romances.
"Deep learning, wide reading, and clear thinking are very much in evidence in Vivanco's exploration of HM&B. A welcome addition to popular romance criticism." - Professor Pamela Regis, author of A Natural History of the Romance Novel.
"Laura Vivanco’s For Love and Money is the book that scholars and fans have both been waiting for: a deft, attentive introduction to the Harlequin Mills & Boon romance novel as a work of art. [...] Vivanco traces the connections between these books and the classical myths and medieval romances they so often deliberately echo, and she shows how the novels use allusion and metatextual reflection to defend their genre. (“Scorn not the sonnet,” Wordsworth warned in a sonnet—Harlequin Mills & Boon novels have long taught readers to “scorn not the romance.”) Vivanco’s conversation with earlier critics, from the 1930s “Battle of the Brows” through 21st century scholars like Pamela Regis, is lively, engaging, and good-humored, and she has a remarkable eye for the textual details that bring each novel to life. I am profoundly impressed." - Professor Eric M. Selinger, author of What Is It Then Between Us? Traditions of Love in American Poetry.
My publisher, Humanities Ebooks, is (as their name suggests), an academic e-press, and the book is available from their site as a pdf. This is a format that deals particularly well with footnotes. A Kindle edition is also available at Amazon .at .com .de .es .fr .it and .uk .

HEB has teamed up with Lulu so that paper copies can be printed on demand. Lulu's preview of the table of contents and the introduction is embedded below.

A brief summary of each of the chapters and a list of the HM&B romances cited, can be found at my website.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Art and Craft: Bachelor Dad on Her Doorstep (2)

Michelle Douglas is a pseudonym used by Therese Michelle Dryden, who recently completed a Creative Writing Masters at the University of Newcastle (Australia). Her thesis has two parts. The first was Bachelor Dad on Her Doorstep; the second
discusses the conventions and constraints of the popular romance genre. It explores the challenges presented to a writer in creating and maintaining emotional intensity in a popular genre romance and the need to provide a satisfying and credible ending to that romance. Five well-known romance novels – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Grand Sophy, and The Republic of Love – are analysed for the manner in which they portray romantic love and for the narrative strategies that may be of use to the writer of category romance. Finally, the exegesis discusses how the conventions of the popular romance genre and the narrative strategies employed have combined to shape the creative work.
It can be downloaded from here. I'm very pleased that Therese has agreed to be interviewed at Teach Me Tonight.

Laura: You already had an undergraduate degree in English. According to the biography included in Bachelor Dad you "enrolled in an English master's program for the sole purpose of indulging [your] reading and writing habits further." I'm sure there would have been simpler ways to get indulge your "reading and writing habits"; why study for a Masters in Creative Writing?

Therese: I didn’t mean for that comment to sound quite so flippant. It certainly glosses over the hard work and angst involved in a Masters, but, that said, my Masters did allow me to indulge my love of reading and writing further, just in a more directed fashion. My undergraduate degree was 14 years prior to my enrolment in the Masters course and, as such, seemed like a whole lifetime ago.

But my reasons were bigger than that too. I had been submitting manuscripts to Mills & Boon on a fairly regular basis and, while said manuscripts were being rejected, I knew that I was getting closer and closer to being accepted for publication. But the process is so long and I started to wonder if I had the right voice and whether I was wasting my time etc. Enrolling in a Masters in Creative Writing seemed a good way to continue doing what I was doing while forcing me to spread my wings a little. Romance wasn’t actually my topic when I first enrolled (I wrote a loose and baggy monster of a novel), but when Mills & Boon bought my first book early in the second semester of my enrolment (February 2007) it seemed wise to focus all my energies on romance instead.

Laura: Re writing romance novels, you say that "The level of emotional intensity that needs to be generated quickly and maintained over the course of the story, and the credibility of the happy ending are two elements I find most difficult and challenging in my own practice" (193). I found that interesting because I recently read the following in a post by Magdalen, whose romance novels have not yet been published:
I don't know yet all the ways to convey emotion in my writing. If I'm managing to evoke emotion in my readers, it's a happy accident. That's why I'm off in January to coastal Maine to start an MFA program.

Yup, I'm committing two years and a lot of money to get a degree I don't need and won't likely use just so that I can write a scene that plays that most beguiling trick: it makes the reader feel.
Did studying for your MA help you perfect "that most beguiling trick"?

Therese: My initial response is to say no, as I still think the best instance of “that most beguiling trick” in my own work is in my first novel, which was written a good twelve months before I enrolled in my Masters. But that is too easy an answer. During my enrolment I was exposed to writers – excellent writers – whom I wouldn’t have studied otherwise and they have no doubt influenced me in untold ways.

More importantly, perhaps, I discovered other writers’ guidelines and maxims about writing that explained some of the techniques I was applying instinctively. A specific example being the idea that if you allow a character to cry in a story then the reader doesn’t have to. I knew that a particular scene in my debut novel worked well, but I’m not sure I could’ve satisfactorily explained why. Knowing the why is valuable because it gives a writer a place to look when an effect they are trying to create isn’t working.

Interestingly, though, I think the biggest benefit I’ve gained from my Masters has been the greater understanding I’ve developed for the romance genre. That has been invaluable.

Laura: Ken Gelder, whom you quote in your thesis, states that "The entwining of entertainment and information is a key feature of much popular fiction. Readers can quite literally learn from it" (62):
Crime fiction is often informational, and technical - although it is by no means the only genre of popular fiction that relies on the provision of often intensely researched details: even romance can do this. (Gelder 62)
In your thesis you focus on love and
the conflict romantic love seems to trigger between intellect and emotion. As Blaise Pascal declares: “the heart has its reasons whereof Reason knows nothing” (qtd. in Lewis, Amini, and Lannon 4). The internal discord this can engender in a heroine and/or hero can generate tension quickly within a story and help amplify the narrative elements of internal and external conflict while heightening the emotional tone of the story. (193)
Do you think readers can glean useful information, whether about relationships or about other topics, from romance novels?

Therese: Yes, I do, but I would also caution that romance novels are not self-help books or encyclopedias. I know the Smithton women in Janice Radway’s Reading The Romance cited facts and instruction as one of the benefits and enjoyments they found in reading romance, and while it’s true that, like them, I’ve learned interesting facts through the pages of a romance novel, it’s not one of the main reasons I read romance. Also, I don’t consider that passing on of information a romance novel’s primary goal, though it can certainly be an entertaining by-product.

I recently read Sarah Wendell’s Everything I know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels, which I enjoyed immensely. While I’m not sure I would make all the claims that she does, I do think romance novels generally portray characters who work through their fears and relationship problems and encourage each other to communicate, which I think has a positive import.

Laura: John G. Cawelti has suggested that
In earlier more homogeneous cultures religious ritual performed the important function of articulating and reaffirming the primary cultural values. Today, with cultures composed of a multiplicity of differing religious groups, the synthesis of values and their reaffirmation has become an increasingly important function of the mass media and the popular arts. (388)
Catherine Roach would appear to be in full agreement, at least with regards to the romance genre:
To the ancient and perennial question of how to define and live the good life, how to achieve happiness and fulfillment, American pop culture’s resounding answer is through the narrative of romance, sex, and love. [...]

I argue romance novels are so popular partly because they do deep and complicated work for the (mostly) women who read them—work that derives from the mythic or religious nature of the romance narrative that serves to engage readers in a “reparation fantasy” of healing in regards to male-female relations. Romance novels help women readers, especially heterosexual women, deal with their essentially paradoxical relationship toward men within a culture still marked by patriarchy and its component threat of violence toward women.
In Bachelor Dad you put a bookshop in conflict with a bakery. Jaz's mother, and then Jaz own the bookshop while "Mr Sears owned the '[...] bakery directly across the road" (11):
Mr Sears had never actually refused to serve Jaz and her mother in his 'baked fresh-daily' country bakery, but he'd let them know by his icy politeness, his curled lip, the placing of change on the counter instead of directly into their hands, what he'd thought of them.
Despite Jaz's pleas, her mother had insisted on shopping there. 'Best bread in town,' she'd say cheerfully. (12)
Is it entirely fanciful to think that this choice of shops might serve as a reminder that "Man shall not live by bread alone" (Matthew 4:4)? There's nothing overtly religious about the books Jaz sells, of course, but perhaps there's something of a spiritual nature to be learned from the fact that the conflict is removed because love overcomes hatred?

Therese: Oh, you have no idea how much I want to say that I intentionally did all that! My reasons for choosing a bookshop and a bakery were far more prosaic, I’m afraid. When I visited Leura, which is the inspiration for my fictitious town of Clara Falls, I fell in love with the bookshop there (Megalong Books if anyone is interested). So when I decided that I wanted to write a novel set in the Blue Mountains it only seemed natural that the bookshop would feature prominently. For plot reasons, I needed Mr Sears’ shop to be one that a person would go into on a regular basis. Hence, the bakery. However, the book does feature art and artists – in part to reflect the Blue Mountains which abounds with art galleries – and I wanted Mr Sears to be an artist in his own way as well (though, baking as art may indeed be fanciful). I wanted his art to hint at the fact that he could be redeemed (baking/bread = nurturing). Because a romance is focused so closely on the heroine and hero it wasn’t possible to show Mr Sears’ journey and I didn’t want his redemption coming completely out of left field (though I fear it probably still does).

That all said, though, this is a story that is primarily about forgiveness and redemption, and, of course, ideas of forgiveness and redemption do have significant religious overtones. I wanted echoes of Jaz and Connor’s journeys in the characters of Mr Sears, Mrs Lavendar and Boyd Longbottom too. I think that as a general rule romance novels do portray love as a much more positive emotion (ie, an emotion that can give one happiness) and a smarter choice than holding onto hatred, fear and prejudice. As Pamela Regis points out in A Natural History of the Romance Novel, the society defined at the beginning of a romance novel is flawed in some way. In Bachelor Dad, when the rifts are finally healed, old grudges settled, and Jaz and Connor are free to declare their love for each other, those fractures in the society are mended and that, hopefully, indicates not only a better future for Jaz and Connor, but for Clara Falls as well.

Laura: You write in your thesis that "Genre fictions are created for the purposes of enjoyment and pleasure" (219) while Ken Gelder suggests that
Two key words for understanding popular fiction are industry and entertainment, and they work firmly to distinguish popular fiction from the logics and practices of what I regard as its 'opposite', namely, literary fiction or Literature. Literary fiction is ambivalent at best about its industrial connections and likes to see itself as something more than 'just entertainment', but popular fiction generally speaking has no such reservations. (1)
In presenting Harlequin Mills & Boon romances as novels which are highly constrained by the publisher and emphasising their authors' wish to provide entertainment, do you accept that there is a great divide between Literature and popular fiction? And is this a question you meant to address in Bachelor Dad through the depiction of Jaz and Connor's art?

Therese: I don’t accept that there is such a great divide between Literature (with a capital L) and popular fiction. That seems to me too artificial. I think that Literature and popular fiction do privilege different things, but it doesn’t mean other elements are completely ignored. Literature often privileges truth, or beauty of expression in language, or experimentation with language and/or structure, but on its own head be it if it ignores a reader’s desire for entertainment and pleasure. Popular fiction privileges elements of fantasy, and romance novels idealize romantic love, but if there is no truth or honesty, or if it is poorly written, likewise, it won’t hold a reader’s attention for long. There are numerous works that are compelling, emotionally engaging, truthful and beautifully written in Literature and in popular fiction. I believe there are instances in which category romances are all these things too. Category romances are constrained, but that doesn’t mean there is no room for innovation, and within the form there is a wealth of diversity.

Can you tell that prior to writing Bachelor Dad I had been reading John Carey – specifically What Good Are the Arts, and The Intellectuals and the Masses? I do believe that Jaz’s tattoos and Connor’s wood-turned furniture are valid art forms – as valid as their drawings and paintings. I dislike any kind of art that attempts to deliberately exclude a large segment of the population. I come from a working class background so cultural elitism is an anathema to me. I don’t know if they were issues I deliberately meant to address in Bachelor Dad, but it is inevitable that a writer’s own prejudices and beliefs will make a mark on their fiction.

  • Cawelti, John G. "The Concept of Formula in the Study of Popular Literature." Journal of Popular Culture 3:3 (1969): 381-90.
  • Douglas, Michelle. Bachelor Dad on Her Doorstep. Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 2009.
  • Dryden, Therese Michelle. Bachelor Dad on Her Doorstep. MA thesis. Faculty of Education and Arts, School of Humanities and Social Science
    University of Newcastle, Australia, March 2011.
  • Gelder, Ken. Popular Fiction: The Logics and Practices of a Literary Field. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2004.
  • Roach, Catherine. "Getting a Good Man to Love: Popular Romance Fiction and the Problem of Patriarchy." Journal of Popular Romance Studies 1.1 (2010).

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

CFP Deadline Extended: Animals and/in Romance

"I thought I was late for a very important date..."
Eric Selinger, as Executive Editor of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, has sent out the following message:
Due to an error in the submissions email address, submissions to the special forum on Animals and / in Romance have been getting bounced back to their authors as undeliverable!

We are therefore extending the deadline, and have a new, correct submissions address below. Please circulate the corrected CFP, as well as our apologies for the confusion.
The new deadline is January 6, 2012 and
Essays of up to 10,000 words (MLA citation style; Word documents preferred) should be submitted to An Goris, Managing Editor of JPRS, at
The original call for papers can be found here.

The illustration is one of Sir John Tenniel's drawings of the creatures in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865). It shows the White Rabbit looking at his watch and was downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Art and Craft: Bachelor Dad on Her Doorstep (1)

Michelle Douglas, the author of Bachelor Dad on Her Doorstep (2009), "made my heroine and hero, each in their own way, artists" and I was intrigued by the ways in which the novel touches on matters related to art and books and hints at possible similarities between them.

The novel is dedicated "To Varuna, The Writers' House" and, as Douglas has written, "The inspiration for Bachelor Dad On Her Doorstep came from a setting: the Australian Blue Mountains where I spent a week on a writers’ retreat," presumably at Varuna, which "is in the World Heritage Area, the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales, Australia." Since Douglas's "favourite place in the mountains is Leura – seriously cute, plus it has one of my all-time favourite bookshops [...] I based my fictitious town of Clara Falls on Leura."

Jaz Harper, Douglas's heroine, owns a bookshop on the "main street" (15) of Clara Falls, so the novel literally places books at the heart of the community. In the final chapter a book fair gives Clara Falls the chance to demonstrate that "In this town [...] we pull together" (267); there are "Oodles and oodles of people. All mingling and laughing out the front of her bookshop" (265) and "a cheer went up when the townsfolk saw her" (266). Like Jaz's biker friends, this chapter seems to suggest that "supporting independent bookshops is a good cause" (146).

Jaz, who also "mean[s] to open an art gallery" (164), brings together books and art when she decides to decorate the bookshop, formerly owned by her mother, with a mural of the dead Frieda:
She'd sketched in the top half of Frieda's face with a fine pencil and the detail stole his [Connor's] breath. [...] Beneath her fingers, her mother's eyes and brow came alive - so familiar and so ... vibrant.
Jaz had honed her skill, her talent, until it sang. The potential he'd recognised in her work eight years ago - the potential anyone who'd seen her work couldn't have failed to recognise - had come of age. (112)
Brief as this passage is, it seems to suggest that the production of the best art requires practice as well as raw talent and this lesson is emphasised later in the novel when Jaz encourages Connor Reed, the hero and Jaz's former boyfriend, to pick up some charcoals and try sketching for the first time in years:
He'd lost count of how many pictures he'd drawn. [...]
Jaz sighed and chuckled and teased him, just like she used to do. She pointed to one of the drawings and laughed. 'Is that supposed to be a bird?'
'I was trying to give the impression of time flying.'
'It needs work,' she said with a grin. [...] 'But look at how you've captured the way the light shines through the trees here. It's beautiful. [...] You can draw again, Connor.' (174-75)
Jaz forces him to draw because she wants him "to know its joys, its freedoms once more ... to bow to its demands and feel whole" (170). This perhaps describes the experience of creativity not just of visual artists, but also of those who are creative in other media, including writers.

In addition, it seemed to me that the novel explores what can be classified as "art." In their youth Jaz and Connor used to
take their charcoals and sketch pads to one of the lookouts.
She'd sit on a rock hunched over her pad, intent on capturing every single detail of the view spread out before her, concentrating fiercely on all she saw. Connor would lean back against a tree, his sketch pad propped against one knee, charcoal lightly clasped, eyes half-closed, and his fingers would play across the page with seemingly no effort at all.
Their high school art teacher had given them identical marks [...]. Connor's drawings had [...] captured an essence, the hidden potential of the thing. Connor had drawn the optimistic future. (50)
It is perhaps logical, given the nature of his talent, that Connor "hadn't picked up a stick of charcoal since" (42) Jaz left town and he no longer envisaged an "optimistic future" for himself; he
relinquished his dream of art school.
'I run a building contractor's business now here in Clara Falls.' (41)
However, although Jaz is led to believe that Connor has "given up his art" (52) and is now merely "Painting shop signs [...] All that potential wasted" (50-51), and despite the fact that he believes he has "turned his back on art to become a carpenter" (169), when Jaz sees the "handmade wood-turned furniture" (189) he has made, "She marvelled at their craftsmanship, at the attention paid to detail, at the absolute perfection of each piece" (189) and tells him that "you didn't give up your art. You just ... redirected it" (190).

For her part, Jaz is now "a world-class tattoo artist, if Frieda's boasts could be believed" (43) and despite the fact that she herself used to think that "Connor had more talent in his little finger than she possessed in her whole body. She merely drew what was there, copied what was in front of her eyes" (50), in fact when she creates a tattoo it
wasn't just any simple tattoo. It was an indelible photograph captured on this man's arm for ever.
It was a work of art. (152)
To the man who has been tattooed, however, it is "a memorial" (153) to his dead daughter. Thus, like Connor's carpentry, the tattoo is art which is very functional.

Art, this novel seems to suggest, is not limited to 'high' culture, but can be found in creations which might be described as 'craft,' or 'popular culture.' Indeed, one might even wish to add to that list the work of Mr Sears, the baker. His carrot cake "tasted divine" (101) and he certainly behaves as though he considers his creations to be special: "he placed each of the three cakes in a separate cardboard box with the same care and reverence mothers showed to newborn babies" (146).

  • Douglas, Michelle. Bachelor Dad on Her Doorstep. Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 2009.

Friday, December 02, 2011

JPRS 2.1 continued

Some new essays, and some reviews, have been added to issue 2.1 of the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. In “When chick lit meets romanzo rosa: Intertextual narratives in Stefania Bertola’s romantic fiction,” Federica Balducci writes of romanzo rosa ("Italy’s tradition of popular romance") that
The master of romanzo rosa was Liala (Amalia Liana Cambiasi Negretti Odescalchi, 1897-1995), who remains the most popular romance writer to date (Arslan and Pozzato 1039; Roccella 12); all her novels have been continually reprinted through the decades. Her career stretched from the early 1930s to the 1980s, and her life and writing are so deeply interwoven that they have become the rosa’s prototype and foundation stone (Lepschy; Roccella 53). A member of the Italian aristocracy, Liala married Marquis Cambiasi, almost twenty years her senior. Shortly after the marriage she met the aircraft pilot Centurione Scotto and the two fell in love. Cambiasi agreed to divorce but in 1926, before the paperwork could be completed, Scotto died while performing an acrobatic flight. Liala’s first novel Signorsì (Yes, Sir) published in 1931 by Mondadori, is inspired by these events and became an instant bestseller (Lepschy 183-84).

According to Pozzato, Signorsì presents the “estetismo di massa” (“mass aestheticism”) that would become a trademark of Liala’s writing. Characterised by a sophisticated vocabulary and syntactical constructions, this style was rooted in the late-nineteenth century literary movement of decadentismo (Decadence), whose tones and values Liala absorbed and reworked in a more popular form, aimed at a broader readership (90). The main features of Liala’s “mass aestheticism,” Pozzato explains, are stunning heroines and stylish heroes, moral integrity, exquisite settings infused with a sense of grandeur, and refined tastes expressed through close attention to visual details, particularly when describing clothes, houses, cars and other material belongings (90). From a formal perspective, Anna Laura Lepschy identifies a strategy of “double focalization” in Liala’s courtship plots; that is to say, the emotions of both male and female characters are granted equal visibility and importance in the story (186).
I was struck by the number of similarities between Liala and Barbara Cartland (1901-2000): they were of the same generation, had very long careers, become figureheads for the genre in which they wrote, had aristocratic connections and wrote novels which featured "stunning heroines and stylish heroes, moral integrity, exquisite settings infused with a sense of grandeur, and refined tastes expressed through close attention to visual details, particularly when describing clothes, houses, cars and other material belongings." As far as I know, however, no-one has yet suggested that Cartland's writing was "Characterised by a sophisticated vocabulary and syntactical constructions."

Balducci's description of the much more recent writing of Stefania Bertola makes me wish that I knew Italian (or that that Bertola's novels had been translated into English).

Another new item which discusses chick lit and romance is Suzanne Ferriss's review of Chick Lit and Postfeminism by Stephanie Harzewski. Ferriss comments that
Harzewski notes that while popular romance fiction adheres to a “one woman-one man” ratio, chick lit presents one woman involved with many men. If in romance fiction, the quest for romance is central, in chick lit, the heroine’s quest for self-definition and the need to balance work with personal relationships is given equal, if not greater, attention. The idealized protagonist of romance fiction, typically an active, intelligent beauty, is nowhere to be seen in chick lit, which features protagonists who are highly conscious and critical of their physical appearance and who are more often pictured as flawed than feisty.

More significant differences center on the characterization of men and depictions of love and sex. Harzewski argues that romance fiction presents men as objects of erotic desire who are valued for their sexual prowess. By contrast, in chick lit, she argues, men are “not really valued as individuals as much as a means to a lifestyle, wedding, or in some cases beauty boost” (33). The moments of genuine eroticism that punctuate and, for some readers, characterize romance fiction are missing in chick lit.

Above all, the two genres differ in their endings. There are no HEA (“Happily Ever After”) endings in chick lit, which offers “a more realistic portrait of single life and dating, exploring in varying degrees, the dissolution of romantic ideals, or showing those ideals as unmet, sometimes unrealistic, expectations” (40).
Other new items are:

Romancing the Past: History, Love, and Genre in Vincent Ward’s River Queen” by Roger Nicholson.

Kay Mussell's review of Reading the Adolescent Romance: Sweet Valley High and the Popular Young Adult Romance Novel by Amy S. Pattee.

Johansen Quijano's review of Boys' Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre, ed. by Antonia Levi, Mark McHarry, and Dru Pagliassotti.

Jonathan A. Allan's review of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker.

More Romance in the New Millennium

Continuing on from the tweeted summary of the keynote speech given to the McDaniel College Popular Romance in the New Millennium conference, and Jonathan's discussion of the ideas contained in his paper, here are some links about the conference. I suspect many of you will have read some or all of them already, but I wanted to provide them for those who haven't, and to create an archive of links.

There's a description posted on the McDaniel College website of a pre-conference talk given by Lisa Dale (author of Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier) and of a workshop run by Amy Burge. Jessica, of Read React Review, summarises Amy's presentation (in which she discussed this and a previous workshop) and also gives a summary of the presentation by Glinda Hall. Amy's own reflections on her McDaniel workshop can be found at her personal blog.

Jessica has also written a summary of Eloisa James's keynote speech.

Smart Bitch Sarah's summary of the entire conference makes particular mention of Mary Bly/Eloisa James's keynote address, Glinda Hall's "discussion of what including romance in courses does to the classroom community," An Goris's plenary address on the works of Nora Roberts, Samantha Sabalis's "Lacanian analysis of Courtney Milan’s Proof by Seduction and Unveiled," and Maryan Wherry's "feminist literary critical examination of the sex in romance."

Jessica has a fairly full discussion of her own paper: she
presented on authorship with a colleague. We have project going that traces a Romantic conception of authorship in women’s writing about authorship from the Minerva Press era (late 18th-early 19th century) through today’s popular romances.
Angela Toscano's paper on "The Liturgy of Cliché: Ritual Speech and Genre Convention in Popular Romance" is up here. The throbbing core of her argument is that:
It is an oft repeated criticism of popular romance that the genre is formulaic. The cliché use of language is indicative of this formula; it seems to expose the romance as the very “mass–produced fantasies for women” that Tania Modleski accused them of being. But let us assume that authors know what they are doing. That they are using cliché not because they are unable or unwilling to come up with better metaphors, more original similes, but rather because the cliché is doing something within the text that another phrase may fail to do.
Toscano proposes that "repetition is only problematic if one takes the view that to repeat oneself or to repeat someone else is to fail to properly use language. It presumes that originality is the highest form of narrative. That to say what has never been said and to say it in way that has never been said before is the supreme expression of language." She suggests that repetition, in certain areas of life, can in fact be considered a sign of success because there are "actions that need, want, and are desired to be done again. They are the appetites: sex, sleep, food, love. Love is not final. It is never done. The fulfillment of love, like sex, like food, is in its repetition" and she argues that "Story, like sex, incites the desire for more stories." In addition, she considers that in romance cliché can be considered
liturgical. It is a type of magical speech, as in the language of the Christian mass which transforms the substance of the wafer into the body of Jesus Christ. In the mass this is not metaphor but an actual substantive and physical change. In the world of the narrative, the cliché comprises a series of speeches that, like the mass, become the means by which a substantive transformation occurs in the persons and the bodies of the hero and heroine.

To fill some of the gaps, I'm also including some of the tweets from the conference (these may have been very slightly edited, to remove typos or fill out more obscure abbreviations). They were written by Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell (in purple), Jessica from Read React Review (in blue), and Sarah Frantz (in black). Since both Jessica and Sarah Frantz were giving papers, this impeded their ability to report on some of the panels, so even with these tweets to fill the gaps, not all the papers are covered.


Third panelist is Jung Choi at Program for General Ed at Harvard titled "On Teaching the Romance Novel." Choi, quoting Derrida: "The center is not the center." Change one word, change center, relationship between center and margin. What is marginalized will come to center - for example, romance studied at Harvard. Behind images of emotional coldness, intellectuality, there have been constant image of love at Harvard: Love Story, Legally Blonde Inside ivory towers/ivy walls, Choi believes has been steady fascination with sex and romance. Choi did same assignment she gave students: shop for romance at Harvard bookstore. "Where are the Harlequin novels displayed?" Horrified reaction. "We don't carry trade books." Clerk couldn't say "Harlequin." "Romance has power to threaten what is a center." Quote from Northanger Abbey from Choi: "seems a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist." "Let us be united and let us celebrate."

jung choi, from harvard, on teaching the romance novel, is next. choi wondered whether she should attend this con, because she teaches the romance, not popular romance. choi starts with derrida quote, the center is not the center. choi's point is that the center we consider stable may be shaken up. relation bt center and margin is fluid. choi's romance course is dominated by women students. all female writers and topics such as marriage may explain that. for choi, issue is not just topics or gender, but location at margins, that prevents more male students from taking romance course. choi notes increase of students' interest in and desire to read strong female characters in romance course. choi assigns students to go out and find mass market romances in the community. look at display, marketing, etc. students are assigned to do an in depth study of one romance novel. part of the assignment is to read the romance in a public place and note reactions of peers. in 2008 choi went to harvard book store to ask for a harlequin novel. salesperson was dumbstruck. unable to repeat word "harlequin", clerk said, "we dont carry trade books." which is false. choi, "the happiest delineations of the varieties of human nature are celebrated in romance."

Up now is Jayashree Kamble on teaching literary canon alongside romance. For ex: Governess Novel: Jayne Eyre, Midnight Angel @lisakleypas, Turn of the Screw, Maybe This Time, Jennifer Crusie. Kamble encouraged students to use subjects that apply to their lives, i.e. using 1st person shooter Halo to discuss 1st person POV. "Eat Pray Love: appallingly bad movie, amazing in its exoticization of Italians, Indians and Indonesians." I have syllabi here. Section on "Love & communication" has Austen P&P, Flowers/Storm - Kinsale, Your Wicked Ways, Naked in Death. Secondary texts include Love Actually, Lady Hawke, Episode of Bones. Naked in Death included bc Eve Dallas has real problems with communication & emotional idioms. Kamble has students cite other students' papers, partly to teach citation, plagiarism, and what academic peer review is like.

j kamble shares syllabi. ex. the governess novel. incl j eyre, turn of screw, mistress mellyn, midnite angel, maybe this time j kamble's course on the exotic: wuthering, heart darkness, heart of fire, heart of the seas, seduce me at sunrise. kamble also uses variety of 2ndary texts in media theory, criticism. ex. levine's highbrow/lowbrow, belsey's a future for criticism

Now: Bill Gleason, “Teaching Romance in the Popular American Literature Survey” from Princeton U. Gleason: early version of course did not include romance fiction, but thought it did. Current version: A LOT of romance fiction. Course begins with Wigglesworth's Day of Doom (1662) as examination of books that were popular and some that still are, thru 20thC. Romance: Bet Me (2004) Students pick last book of the reading list, they decide. Nominate text, then class votes. Two years ago: Harry Potter, Sorcerer's Stone. Then Gossip Girl. Course is set up in "genres" and what that means: Seduction, Adventure, Mystery, Romance. Course focuses on the idea that the historical context of what is popular and WHEN it is popular is crucial to study. In 1993, Gleason thought was inc romance b/c he had GONE WITH THE WIND on the syllabus, w/ Krentz's DANGEROUS MEN. Offers covers to camouflage Bet Me: Cover for Beowulf, The History of Otero and Crowley Counties Colorado for embarrassed students. Comprehensive final exam, progression of class texts "makes romance fiction seem part of continuum, not outlier." Course presently is 2/3rds female, 1/3 male. One thing Gleason can't do is real sense of breadth and range of romance fiction. Students have asked for course just on romance fic.

bill gleason of princeton says in 1993 he taught GWTW thinking it was romance. gleason says he teaches bet me by jenny crusie. this is a topics in am lit course at princeton. Many Princeton students deeply embarrassed to read romance novels. Offer them camouflage book covers: Tarzan, Beowulf. ...gleason says having romance arrive at end means he can start talking about romance on first day of class. gleason emphasizes romance themes in earlier texts like last of mohicans. gleason tries to help students see romance as part of a continuum, not an outlier. 

"Sneaking it in at the End: Introducing Popular Romance into the Small College Classroom” by Antonia Losano, who was unable to come. Eric Selinger is reading paper for scholar in absentia. Small colleges can be troubling for instructors because required courses take up time of small faculty, not room for flexibility. Lack of flexibility can marginalize romance, for example, because requirements for established canon classes for major students. Losano: Every time I tried to sneak a romance in at the end, it was a pedagogical failure. Students disliked inclusion of P&P and Frederica. "Frederica" has no redeeming values, said one student in eval. Course included Pamela and Welcome to Temptation. Students liked Pamela, didn't like Temptation. Losano was baffled. Losano presented Roberts' The Search as contemporary fiction featuring dogs for dogs in literature course. Was accepted w/o problems. Didn't reveal it was a "romance" so it was discussed without rejection. Losano asks: in what framing methods can we introduce romances into our courses? Concl: most successful method Middlebury College is hide romance completely in courses by not saying it's romance.

Now Selinger talking about his own experience teaching romance fiction at DePaul. Has done so for years. @angoris pointed out that Selinger's syllabi of romance text lacked, among other things, Carpathians and tycoons. Selinger had student who refused to buy romances because they were so embarrassing Selinger assigned her to think about that refusal. "What are you a sucker for?" These novels will teach you that. Students have written to say romances have taught them to leave bad relationships, challenge professors who dismiss romance. Selinger says one prof at DePaul would query on 1st day which students had read @harlequinbooks, then say they should be ashamed. Selinger: "He doesn't do that anymore."

EricSelinger says two rewards of teaching romance fiction are 1. they illuminate complexities of both emotional and textual desire and, says @EricSelinger, this turns student into readers, into scholars. second, romance teaches students about beautiful circuits and subterfuges of their own desires. 

"The wired world of romance scholarship," Kat Schroder, student in Masters of Commm in Digital Media at U of Washington. "Online communities offer what James Gee calls an 'affinity space.'" online spaces encourage active sharing of knowledge. Romance communities are comprised of blogs, bboards, podcasts, social communities. Romance author websites being used for examples: Jennifer Crusie, Eloisa James. Jenny Crusie uses her blog to solicit help for plot points, names, titles, and allow audience to have role in shaping text. Reading is an active process in which readers construct textual meaning. In Crusie example, readers construct text and meaning. James' Facebook community allows readers equal access to text and "day in life of bestselling author" with video Q&A. Online community "changes what book is, shows how elastic parameters of a book are now." Boundaries between reader author friend and fan are blurry now. [Also, I point out, definition of "Friend" is varied as well. People who come to my home, eat w me not = FB friends, online friends.] Trying to link how internet has allowed academic study of romance to flourish. I am learning that there are terms for things like how many links, directions of links. Eigenvector Centrality: influence! All of the people who are part of IASPR network on twitter: in graphic. @sarahfrantz is center.

Now I'm listening to *business* professor Chryssa Sharp talk about "using cross-cultural frameworks to examine American attitudes. Sharp is proposing that we use international management models to examine affect of emotion in romance novels. How do values contained w/in popular romance line up w/ US cultural norms? What would cross-cultural comparisons show?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Command Performance: Lessons Learned

This is a Tribute to An Goris and, since I'm not on Twitter, my attempt to retweet this, from Sarah Frantz: Huge congratulations to now Dr. for her successful defense of her dissertation on Nora Roberts' books!!!!! Woohoo!!!

Having gained the Key of Knowledge, I hope you'll Savor the Moment, An!

Disclaimer: the misuse of the NR seal should not be taken as an indication that Nora Roberts has begun awarding doctorates.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Romance, Readers, Affect

During my lecture at McDaniel, I returned to Susan Quilliam’s polemic and asked about the place of romance in therapy, therapy in romance. As a literary theorist, there are aspects of Quilliam’s work that I want to agree with, namely that romance – like any literary text – has an affective power. We are moved to laughter, to tears, to joy, to sadness, to pleasure by the texts we read. Dina Georgis, though not writing about romance novels, writes: "By awakening us to loss, literature incites our weeping" ("Hearing the better Story" 171). But, to recognise this affective power and possibility is to also recognise that Quilliam asserts, romances teach readers to have sex without condoms. Where Quilliam and I depart is about the role romance can and does have in the lives of readers and writers.
We are reminded often enough about the dangers of romance fiction. Jean Lush and Pam Vredevelt’s Women and Stress: Practical Ways to Manage Tension provides a telling example:
When I was writing my first book, Emotional Phases of a Woman's Life, I decided to investigate the reading material women were buying. I called bookstores and secondhand shops that handled thousands of paperbacks. One morning, in a used-book store, I witnessed a woman bringing in a huge sack of romantic novels to exchange for dozens more. I asked her why she read so many of these books, and she said, "I love romance. It's my escape from a humdrum life, I guess." [...]
Why is there such a colossal market for romantic paperbacks? Some would say this is one positive way women can stimulate their love life. However, many romance novel readers admit to being addicted to these books. They express a desire to break the habit because it robs them of time for other healthy involvements.
I think these books serve as a substitute for reality for some women who do not feel romantically fulfilled, but I question the benefits of getting lost in fiction. If anything, this habit may stir up unrealistic expectations and make them feel less satisfied with life as it is. (81)
I am willing to recognize, as I did in my lecture, that there are probably "extreme readers" for whom the romance novel is genuinely an addiction, but these readers are "extreme." As for "escap[ing] from a humdrum life," I'd imagine that many of us read fiction to "escape" our daily lives. Orhan Pamuk opens The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist with these words:
Novels are second lives. Like the dreams that the French poet Gérard de Nerval speaks of, novels reveal the colors and complexities of our lives and are full of people, faces, and objects we feel we recognize. Just as in dreams, when we read novels we are sometimes so powerfully struck by the extraordinary nature of the things we encounter that we forget where we are and envision ourselves in the midst of the imaginary events and people we are witnessing. At such times, we feel that the fictional world we encounter and enjoy is more real that the real world itself. (3)
Of course this could become a problem, a problem that leads Don Quixote to fight windmills in search of Dulcinea, a problem that leads Madame Bovary to be lost in romantic fantasy. But is this genuinely the "norm" and if it is the "norm" is it so extreme that it requires an intervention? For Donna Patrow, this is a reason for concern:
her inclination toward soap opera addiction will undoubtedly compromise her mental purity. [...] With that type of lifestyle, she's inclined to attract the wrong sort of friends - friends who drag her down rather than challenge her to grow mentally and spiritually. Maybe her soap opera buddies will introduce her to racy romance novels, and she'll become addicted to those, as well (see 2 Cor. 12:20; 2 Thess. 3:11). This can lead to a type of emotional adultery that is extremely destructive to your love life. (105-106)
Romance fiction, like soap operas, may very well be dangerous but this presumes that all readers of romance fiction will become "addicted" to a point where the addiction is debilitating and interferes with daily life to such a degree that some radical change is needed. Such a perspective is, to my mind, the most dystopian reading of romantic fiction (at least on the critic’s part). Surely, there is a way in which the critic can imagine a more utopian outcome for romantic fiction.
In my paper, I argued that indeed romantic fiction could serve more utopian ends. The argument that I am interested in is about what romantic fiction can teach its readers. If romantic fiction is powerful enough to teach readers not to use condoms, it surely too must be endowed with a similar power to teach readers about what an ideal relation might look like. I am not arguing that all relations will be ideal and everything will work out perfectly, indeed, I don't think many romance novels advocate this either. Pamela Regis’s eight components of a romance novel don't begin with perfection and then outline another seven perfect steps. The romance novel includes: conflict, points of ritual death, barriers. What romance does differently than lived romances is that it guarantees a happily ever after, but that happily ever after is only possible because the relation is itself a journey in which the reader and the heroine encounter barriers to the relationship, conflicts intrinsic to the relationship (which often enough reflect very real conflicts that can translate to the reader’s own life), and points of ritual death. The point of romance fiction, I argued, is less the happily ever after (though we demand this) and more the journey towards the happily ever after.