Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Congress vs. the Popular Romance Project

I hadn't realized things had gone this far.  A bill was introduced in Congress last summer to strip NEH funding from the Popular Romance Project, and also prohibit funds from the NEH for "any similar project relating to love and romance."

The bill did not pass, but it clearly sent shivers up the collective spine of the NEH, and as the Romance Novels for Feminists blog reported last week, "NEH funding for the PRP web site has been put on hold."  (If you were wondering why the site went on hiatus a few months ago--well, now you know.)

I've been waiting for the right moment to propose an NEH summer seminar or institute for faculty about popular romance fiction, but politically speaking, that moment may have passed.  A pity.  As a scholarly adviser to the Project, I've always thought--and continue to think--that this is one of those rare projects that brings top notch humanities scholarship to bear on a topic of broad and democratic interest.

I hope the pendulum swings back someday; in the meantime, the documentary film that Laurie Kahn has made looks to be very interesting, and the loss of website funding won't stop the film from getting done and out to the public.  More about the film, the funding fracas, and the upcoming popular romance symposium at the Library of Congress, at the new, separate "Love Between the Covers" website.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Jo Beverley interviews Catherine Roach

If you haven't already seen it, you might like to take a look at Jo Beverley's interview with "Dr. Catherine Roach [...] Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Alabama." They discuss feminism, defining features of the romance genre, historical romance and more.

Here's an excerpt:
Catherine, your next point is "Romance entails faith in love as a positive force for the good in many people's lives. In this sense, love functions as religion." I'll confess that I'm not comfortable with the word '"religion." Could it be stated as hope?

Catherine: Yes, you could rephrase to say that romantic love offers hope. My point is that the romance story believes there is an answer to existential problems of loneliness and suffering and that the answer is love. Romance is a hopeful and optimistic form of fiction that stakes its claim on the belief that the world is a good place. Despite all of life’s injustice, both love and love stories make the world a better place. The genre is life affirming.

I see. Yes, there is a necessary belief, and I have it. It's one reason I write romance.
(Reader -- are you a believer? Is it part of why you love to read romance?)
 You can read the rest over at The Word Wenches blog.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Library of Congress to host Conference on Romance Fiction

As stated in a press release from the Library of Congress
"What Is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital Age," an international, multimedia conference, will be hosted by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress on Tuesday, Feb. 10, and Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015.

The conference, which is free and open to the public, is made possible through the generous support of lead sponsor Harlequin, a worldwide publisher of books that are printed in 34 languages and sold in 102 international markets.

Romance fiction is the second-best-selling genre in the publishing industry, generating more than $1 billion in publisher revenues in 2013, according to Bookstats. Romance accounts for 21 percent of the adult fiction market.

"This two-day gathering will unite authors, scholars and fans to explore the changing dynamics of the genre, its relevance in popular culture and how digital technology is shaping the future of romance fiction," said John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book.

"Our conference will include business and social interests and influences, romance literature scholarship and public engagement with people who love the genre," he said. "We are grateful to Harlequin for its generous sponsorship of this conference." Additional support is provided by the Popular Romance Project, created by the Center for New History and Media at George Mason University; the Nora Roberts Foundation; the Romance Writers of America; and Berkley/NAL, imprints of Penguin Random House.

"Harlequin has been in the business of romance for over 65 years, bringing love stories to women wherever, however and whenever they want to shop," said Craig Swinwood, publisher and chief executive officer at Harlequin. "We are thrilled to be partnering with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress on such an important conference that will spotlight the importance of romance fiction and feature marquee authors from the genre."

The Popular Romance Project, led by Laurie Kahn of Blueberry Hill Productions, will also include the feature-length documentary film "Love Between the Covers," directed by Kahn. There will be a preview of the film at the Library of Congress on the evening of Feb. 10.

The conference agenda will include panels moderated by Pam Regis, professor of English at McDaniel College and president of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance; Bill Gleason of Princeton University; Mary Bly of Fordham University (who writes as Eloisa James) and Sarah S.G. Frantz. Special author appearances include New York Times best-selling authors Robyn Carr and Brenda Jackson.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

New Thesis Looks at Innovation and Change in the Romance Novel Industry

Andrea Cipriano Barra's sociology PhD thesis takes a look at the ways in which
Romance novels have changed significantly since they first entered the public consciousness. Instead of seeking to understand the changes that have occurred in the industry, in readership, in authorship, and in the romance novel product itself, both academic and popular perception has remained firmly in the early 1980s when many of the surface criticisms were still valid. Using Wendy Griswold’s (2004) idea of a cultural diamond, I analyze the multiple and sometimes overlapping relationships within broader trends in the romance industry based on content analysis and interviews with romance readers and authors. Three major issues emerge from this study. First, content of romance novels sampled from the past fourteen years is more reflective of contemporary ideas of love, sex, and relationships. Second, romance has been a leader and innovator in the trend of electronic publishing, with major independent presses adding to the proliferation of subgenres and pushing the boundaries of what is considered romance. Finally, readers have a complicated relationship with the act of reading romance and what the books mean in their lives.
The pdf can be downloaded here as it's been made available online via the Rutgers University Community Repository.

Barra, Andrea Cipriano, 2014. 
Beyond the Bodice Ripper: Innovation and Change in the Romance Novel Industry. PhD dissertation in Sociology, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Romance Research: Shakespeare, Breast Cancer

I don't mention all the new additions to the Romance Wiki bibliography but since I haven't posted for a while, I thought I'd share a couple of the most recent (which were added by Christina Martinez):

Whyte, Tamara Lynn. 2013. "Shakespeare in Love: Appropriation of Shakespeare in Popular Romance Novels." U of Alabama. (Dissertation Abstracts International) 75, no. 6 (December 2014).
Popular romance authors frequently allude to William Shakespeare's works within their novels. In my dissertation, I survey and analyze the various ways current authors of historical romance novels appropriate Shakespeare and how those appropriations reinterpret his works. I argue in part that the inclusion of Shakespearean allusions has become part of the codes of romance novels, with various types of allusions serving different purposes. Performances of Shakespeare's plays tend to serve as a backdrop for courtship or as a foil to the plot of the novel. When romance authors rewrite Shakespeare's plays to suit the romance novel audience, they often refocus on the heroine and give her more agency. Romance authors also rewrite Shakespeare's tragedies as romance in ways that draw on reader familiarity with the plays. These revisions tend to reduce the plays to key moments or themes and focus on female characters in Shakespeare's works. When romance novel heroes or heroines quote Shakespeare, his words serve as a signal to the reader of elements of their character, such as their intelligence or emotional availability. When authors allude to Shakespeare's works in titles, names, or opening quotations, they openly signal their appropriation of the Bard in ways that distinguish their novels from others. In these more minor appropriations, Shakespearean allusions can function as marketing tools.
The whole dissertation is available for download from the University of Alabama.

Zeiger, Melissa F. " 'Less Than Perfect': Negotiating Breast Cancer in Popular Romance Novels." Tulsa Studies In Women's Literature. Fall 2013/Spring 2014, Vol. 32, No. 2/Vol. 33, No. 1: 107-128.
Over the last twenty years, breast cancer novels have quietly become a large subgenre within popular romance, reflecting both the increase in public breast cancer awareness and the commercialization of that awareness. The emergence of this subgenre both reflects and participates in a shift of what is acceptable to say about breast cancer and expands the range of romance novel topics, including, among other innovations, cancer narratives for lesbian and African American characters. While still liable to many of the criticisms leveled by feminists in the 1980s and beyond, romances can tell new stories as well as the old ones, expanding an inadequate set of cultural and emotional vocabularies. The space for feeling that this genre opens has produced a new reading community and is at least one of the major ways that romance has been and continues to be rewritten. Contradictory movements have accompanied greater freedoms in discussing breast cancer, and this essay argues that feminists can find in romance novels a powerful site, supplementary to feminist theory and activism, for elaborating a productive and critical public breast cancer discourse.
This one isn't available for free online but here's a link to the abstract.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

"Reading From Behind": M/M Romance Event at Princeton University

--Eric Selinger

Having hosted two international conferences on popular romance fiction (2009 and 2014), Princeton University continues to be the hot spot for Ivy League study of the genre.  

Today, their English Department's Graduate Student Genres Colloquium hosts Jonathan A. Allan,  Canada Research Chair in Queer Theory at Brandon University and Associate Editor of JPRS, who'll be speaking about M/M romance, or at least one topos in it.  Details about the event are here, and here's the abstract:
Reading from Behind: Thinking Through Male/Male Romance Novels 
In my book, Reading from Behind (forthcoming, University of Regina Press), I ask a number of questions about how we read and think about the anus: what would happen – even if only ever as a thought experiment – we privileged the anal dimensions of texts and textual and cultural analysis? What if the anus, the booty, the moneymaker, the tukhus were fully loaded signs endowed with rich and complex meanings much like the anus’s numerous nerve endings? What if we relaxed, loosened up our critical inquiries, embraced the deep fullness of the pleasure of the text, a pleasure that tickles and titillates, and removed ourselves from the paranoid, sphincter-tightening hermeneutics of suspicion? In this paper, I return to many of these questions to think about the anus and anal sexuality in the popular romance novel, particularly male/male romance novels. I argue that if “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then the way to his psyche is his asshole.” Simply put, masculinity is dependent upon its refusal to be opened and this is, in many and complicated ways, what the male/male romance novel attempts to deconstruct. At bottom, what would it mean to read these novels from the vantage of the ass, rather than the phallus, the penis, the mighty wang, etc. (which have long been the subject of feminist critiques of the popular romance novel)?
I don't know if Allen Ginsberg's poem "Sphincter" shows up in his project, but if it doesn't, Jonathan, here's a link.  Good luck, and bottoms up!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Happy Endings: A Children's Literature Perspective

The discussion of happy endings and the romance novel genre continues on the RomanceScholar listserv, and with permission, I'm reposting here something that Amanda Allen, an English professor with a specialty in Children's Literature, contributed to the discussion.  

Amanda writes:
I find this conversation fascinating in terms of the history of YA. I study junior novels, which are predominantly romance novels for young people (1942-1967) that predate canonical young adult literature. The junior novels are heavily dedicated to the HEA, and often end with the exchange of a class ring or pin (suggesting, of course, future marriage). 
What is interesting in terms of this conversation is that the ending of the junior novel genre coincides with the rise of canonical YA (in 1967), and what is known as the "New Realism." Whether or not the New Realism is realistic is... well... debatable, but it is predicated specifically on negating a) romance narratives generally, b) HEAs specifically, and c) the feminized field of early YA. In other words, the New Realism purposely defined itself around anti-romance narratives that focused on gritty (and often depressing) situations that were written predominantly by men (or women whose initials masked their gender--think S.E. Hinton) and aimed at a male audience. 
1967 is thus a key date in the history of young adult literature, but I think it plays a similar role in defining Americans' disdain for the HEA (at least as it relates to YA). 
If people are interested in this version of the history of YA, Michael Cart's From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature may be helpful. It's somewhat outdated now (and a little problematic), but chapter one, "From Sue Barton to the Sixties" and chapter two, "The Sixties and the Rise of Realism" include some great contextual history. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Is "The Fault in Our Stars" a Romance Novel?

Pamela Regis writes with a thought about HEA endings and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. 

Here's another thought regarding definitions.  Green's novel has all of the eight elements that I have identified.  The hero dies.  The heroine has a form of cancer that is very likely to kill her long before she reaches middle age.  
 Yet the story ends with the words of the marriage vow:  "I do" written by the heroine, our first-person narrator, in response to a posthumous question (delivered via a letter) by the hero.  He has said earlier, "I fear oblivion."  But in our hands is the book, in which his beloved immortalizes him.  No oblivion for him.  
 I think this qualifies as an HEA, given the constraints of illness that the hero and heroine operate within.  The usual meaning of happily ever after implies an expanse of time that is unbounded.  Over and over again, The Fault in Our Stars insists on the limited time that we all have, not just those of us with life-threatening illness.  So the "ever after" in this HEA has been achieved, I think. 
 RNA would count it within their definition, I suspect.  RWA's definition would also count it.  The more restrictive "courtship and betrothal of one or more protagonists?"  Yep, I think so.  
 Quite aside from any marketing, branding, or other marketplace issues, it seems to me that, fomally, this is a romance novel. 
What do you think, folks?  At the very least, this would be a wonderful topic for a PCA proposal!  (Tick-tock:  only a dozen days left to submit!)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Romance Events in North Carolina

Just popping in briefly to mention some events planned for North Carolina.

Jackie C. Horne writes that
If you happen to be in the Durham, North Carolina area this coming Monday, October 20, consider stopping by the Duke University campus and joining me and other romance devotees in a conversation about "Women, Fiction, & Popular Perception." I'm honored to have been asked to join historical romance novelist Maya Rodale and professor Rachel Seidman (whose students created the Who Needs Feminism? project) for the inaugural event in Duke's Unsuitable series, a speaker series intended to engage students and members of the wider Durham community in a discussion of women's interests and popular fiction. Duke professors Laura Florand and Katharine Brophy DuBois, who both also have flourishing careers as popular romance novelists (DuBois under the pen name Katharine Ashe), will be joining forces to teach a newly developed seminar on the history of the romance novel this coming spring, and hope to open the conversation beyond the classroom through this innovative series.
Then, "Durham County Library will host its second “Fall Into Romance,” a two-day celebration of the romance genre, on Friday, November 7 and Saturday, November 8." On the programme for the Saturday are:

Queer Romance
10:30 a.m., Southwest Regional Library, 3605 Shannon Rd.
Join Sarah Frantz, editor at Riptide Publishing and former President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, for a discussion of the history, conventions and appeal of LGBTQ romances. The only requirement of queer romance is that the main characters be somehow queer: same sex, trans, genderqueer, menage and more. Does this fundamentally affect the story told? Frantz will discuss these issues and hand out free books.

Falling in Love in a Small Town
1 p.m., Southwest Regional Library
Join USA Today bestselling author Farrah Rochon for a discussion of romance, small towns and south Louisiana. Farrah is the author of over twenty romance novels and novellas, including I’ll Catch You, which was nominated for the prestigious RITA Award, and A Forever Kind of Love, a RT Book Review Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee. Her newest book, Forever’s Promise, continues her Bayou Dreams series in small-town Louisiana.

The Suspense of Romance and the Romance of Suspense
2:15 p.m., Southwest Regional Library
Join New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers for a discussion of mystery, suspense and romance. Carla is the author of more than 60 novels that have sold in over 30 countries. RT Book Reviews called That Night on Thistle Lane “emotionally charged,” and Library Journal called Saint’s Gate, “A fast-paced, action-packed tale.”

Five Things in Life I have Learned Through Writing
3:30 p.m., Southwest Regional Library
Join New York Times bestselling author Cathy Maxwell for a discussion of life, writing, reading and romance. Maxwell is the author of over 30 romance novels and novellas and is known for her sensual love stories, realistic, engaging characters, and rich detail. Library Journal has called her books, “fresh, unique.” Her September release, The Groom Says Yes, is the final book in her Brides of Wishmore series.

More details here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Noted with Interest: "Optimistic Ending"?

--Eric Selinger

A recent post by novelist Edmond Manning at the Queer Romance Month site, "Make Room for Happily Never After," sparked a lot of comments about the genre designation appropriate for love stories without an HEA / HFN ending.  (Addendum: this follow-up post by Alexis Hall at All About Romance is well worth reading, and I'll post about that one later.)

I'm not going to try and summarize the debate that played out in the comments section and on Twitter.  My interest is in the ways that the RWA definition of the romance genre was deployed in the post and what followed.  Specifically, I'm beginning to wonder whether the way that the RWA describes the romance novel's ending isn't, itself, somewhat problematic, although I'm not sure whether that's because it's disingenuous or just plain fuzzy.

As readers of this blog probably know, the RWA definition of the romance genre reads like this:
Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.  
A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel. 
An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. 
The first sentence of this definition does not explicitly state that the ending of the novel will feature the protagonists together and in love with each other.  However, the second, ancillary sentence, which spells out what an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending" means, does say that "the lovers" will end the novel in possession of "unconditional love," and we might well assume that this means "love for each other" rather than, say, "love for and being loved by somebody else down the line, with lots of romantic memories of the transformative experience that made it all possible."

I've often thought that the interestingly fuzzy thing about this definition was the notion that a love that comes to you as a "reward" can really be described as "unconditional." In the Queer Romance post, however, it was the bit about an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending" that came into play.  One comment agreeing with and defending the post observed that "Not even the modern definition specifies a HEA. An (and I’m quoting the RWA) 'emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending' leaves the door wide open." Another concurred, saying that "you could argue that an ending could be happy even if it involves a couple separating but valuing their time together. This doesn’t actually contravene the standard RWA definition which requires only that a genre romance centralise a love story and that its ending be optimistic."

Needless to say, not all of those who left comments felt this way.  "If *I* read a book that self-identified as genre romance with an ending that had the central 'couple separating but valuing their time together,'" one observed, "I would throw that book at the wall, rant on Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads and any other outlet I could find that this book was NOT a romance novel. I’d never trust that author again."  It's worth noting that this comment went on to insist on the "context" of that phrase about an "optimistic ending" in the RWA's definition.  "I don’t believe that “optimistic” is intended to mean optimistic about the fate of one or more of the characters," the reply continues.  "I’ve always read it to mean that the reader is meant to leave the book feeling optimistic about the fate of the central love story. If that’s not part of the definition, than I give up."

As it happens, there's one more bit of context we can bring to the table here.  In her short essay "I Know What It Is When I Read It: Defining the Romance Genre," Jennifer Crusie, who was on the definition-writing committee, gives us a sketch of the discussions that went into the final wording. Obviously this is just her account, and it's not coming down from Sinai.  But I do find it helpful.

What the RWA was after, Crusie writes, was "something short and punchy that described the genre in all its glory, something that would be easy to remember, something the press couldn’t make fun of."  Much of the discussion seems to have revolved around how to describe the ending of a romance novel.  Here are the key quotes:
  • There were those who insisted that the definition must stipulate a happy ending, and those who pointed out that a lot of great romances didn’t have happy endings, and that it would be a bad idea to frame a romance definition that excluded the book most people cite as the greatest romance of the twentieth century, Gone With the Wind . Oh, we had a high old time debating this one. 
  • ...we go back to the happy ending definition, right? Well, no, because some of the best romances don’t have happy endings, they’re bittersweet.Those who write romances about protagonists who have experienced tragedy during their struggles shouldn’t have to tack on Disney endings to qualify as serious romance novelists. It was at this point in the discussion that people began saying, “Well, when I say ‘happy ending,’ I mean . . .” and it became clear we were going to have to define “happy ending” in the definition. 
  • The discussions on this one pretty much boiled down to “endings that make the reader feel good at the end of the book.” No endings where the protagonists sacrifice for one another and end up noble and alone, no downers with the hero and the heroine wordlessly staring at a cockroach scuttling across the cracked linoleum of their tenement, and definitely no finales with dead protagonists unless they’re ghosts having a terrific time in the afterlife. 
  • I knew we had it when Gone with the Wind and Pride and Prejudice made the cut, and Madame Bovary and Message in a Bottle didn’t.
The stuff in here about Gone with the Wind is particularly fascinating, since it's clearly not a romance if the protagonists have to be together and committed to each other, even informally, at the end.

I also wonder whether the need to write a definition that "the press couldn't make fun of" also played into avoiding "happy ending" terminology; after all, the truly happy ending is often poignant and tremendously complex, tonally speaking.  I think here of what J. R. R. Tolkien says of the happy turn in Fairy Stories:  "It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief."

For my money, it makes a lot of sense to have a separate term to distinguish a love-story-that-ends-happily-for-the-relationship from some other kind of love story, whether that other kind is one that ends optimistically for one or more protagonists, but they're not together (as in the Crusie / Mayer collaboration Wild Ride) or one which ends tragically, or just glumly, or whatever.  I generally go with "romance novel" for the first, the successful courtship narrative, with "romance" or "love story" or "romantic fiction" as the broader, more general term.

If you use other terms, or have suggestions, let me know.  And if you want to know why it's important to have separate terms, take a look at the comments on that post above. Some women there said it better than I ever could.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Noted with Excitement: Glitterland as a Christian Romance?

When I wrote the current sketch of my monograph on popular romance fiction earlier last summer, I included plans for a chapter that I call "Redeeming Love."  Here's the paragraph description:
Chapter 3:  Redeeming Love.  Popular romance novels draw on the long post-Christian tradition of thought about romantic love as a source of transcendent meaning, purpose, and value in life: an “erotic faith,” in Robert Polhemus’s phrase, that true love unites sacred and secular desires, erotic and matrimonial relationships, and, fundamentally, body and soul.  Some novels engage with this faith tradition in particularly self-conscious and artful ways, whether by questioning the psychological risks that we run as “erotic faith” shades into idolatry or by asserting the power of “erotic faith” to trump social prejudice (for example, against same-sex love) and intellectual prejudice (for example, against redemptive love as a banal or déclassé ideal).  This chapter will look closely at the ways three romance novels think through ideas about love and erotic faith:  Francine Rivers’s conservative Christian inspirational romance, Redeeming Love; Alex Beecroft’s progressive Christian m/m romance, False Colors; and Alexis Hall’s ostensibly secular m/m novel Glitterland, which invokes Roland Barthes as it struggles to redeem love itself as an ideal. 
I called Glitterland "ostensibly secular" because of the novel's many religious, and specifically Christian, overtones, not least of which is the title of a novel by the narrator / protagonist, Ash:  Through a Glass Darkly.  (That's borrowed from 1 Corinthians 13:12, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known," a verse from the long disquisition on faith, hope, and love (or charity, depending on the translation) that gets quoted at so many weddings.)  

I note with excitement, then, two recent posts at Cooking Up Romance:  "Religion and Romance: a Non-Theoretical Perspective" and "Glitterland Cottage Pie." They're not explicitly theorizing Glitterland as a Christian romance, but they hint at the connection, and there's a lot of thoughtful commentary on religion and romance in the posts themselves and in the comments.  A key quote from the former: 
I don't read romance as a political or religious statement. I read it because I like stories with happy endings about people falling in love. I also don't belong to my church for political or religious reasons. I do it because life, especially life in America in the early 21st century is isolating and selfish and acquisitive and I'd rather not be like that. And so I'm a member of a community that encourages me to be otherwise. I'll be talking more specifically about Glitterland next Thursday and the following Monday, but for now, just know that in Ash I recognized myself in my brokenness and desperation and in Darian, I recognized Christ as I know Him. If I'm honest, I'm unable to process that story any other way. I can tone it down. I can use non-Christian, non-theological terms to express what I thought about it and how I felt about it. I've been doing it for a week, in fact: talking about mental illness, intellectual snobbery and class differences. But that was the intellectual taking over. The gut-level reaction was a relieved sigh: that love and redemption is offered to everyone, even the most messed up and selfish of us. 
There's a lot to be said about all of this, and I can't tell you the joy I felt when I saw this post and found my classroom discussion of the text confirmed by an outside evaluation.  When I write about the novel, and when I teach it next, I'll certainly draw on these posts, and I hope that others will, too.

One question this conjunction raises for me, however:  am I reading a secular book as a Christian romance?  Or is it more that both the blogger, a Christian, and I--not at all a Christian--are reading Christianity as a romance plot:  a not-inevitable though certainly plausible interpretation of Christianity?  Plenty to think about here, and if you need a topic for your next romance essay, please have at it!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Noted with Interest: The Creed of Romance?

At the 2014 IASPR conference, Catherine Roach proposed that there were nine essential claims being made by popular romance novels--or, since her thinking draws primarily on recent novels by American authors, we might say "being made by recent American popular romance novels," allowing the claims to be historicized and treated comparatively.  Obviously her list plays off of Pamela Regis's list of eight essential elements, but as the shift in nouns suggests, these aren't narrative elements, but rather parts of an implicit creed or belief system that underwrites the genre.

In a guest post for another blog, Roach posted her list for comment--but since they're of such potential use for scholars and teachers of the genre, I thought that it might be useful to repost and archive them right here at Teach Me Tonight. She invited comments at the other blog, and I'm sure she'd welcome them here as well; I plan to blog about them individually as the weeks go by.

Here, then, is Catherine Roach's "provisional list" of the "nine central claims made by the romance narrative":

  1. It is hard to be alone. We are social animals. Most people need and want love, of some kind. Amid all the possibilities for love as philia (friendship) and agape (spiritual or selfless love), the culture often holds up eros or romantic partner love as an apex of all that love can be and do.
  2. It is a man’s world. Women generally have less power, fewer choices, and suffer from vulnerability and double standards. They often get stuck looking after men or being overlooked by men.
  3. Romance is a religion of love. Romance entails belief in the power of love as a positive orienting force. Love functions as religion, as that which has ultimate meaning in people’s lives.
  4. Romance involves risk. Love doesn’t always work out. Desire can be a source of personal knowledge and power but also of deception and danger. Romance fiction is the safe, imaginative play space to explore the meaning and shape of this landscape.
  5. Romance requires hard work. Baring the true self, making oneself vulnerable to another is hard. Giving up individuality for coupledom requires sacrifice.
  6. Romance facilitates healing. Partner love leads to maturity. Love heals all wounds. Love conquers all.
  7. Romance leads to great sex, especially for women. Women in romance novels are always sexually satisfied. Romance reading can connect women to their sexuality in positive way.
  8. Romance makes you happy. The problematic version of this claim is that you need to be in a romantic relationship for full happiness. Here, romance fiction can be oppressive if it mandates coupledom for everyone.
  9. Romance levels the playing field for women. The heroine always wins. By the end, she is happy, secure, well loved, sexually satisfied, and set up for a fulfilling life. The romance story is a woman-centred fantasy about how to make this man’s world work for her.

It might be useful to compare these nine elements to the claims about love made by romance author and Episcopal priest Amber Belldene in her recent essay "The Secret Sermon in Every Romance Novel." There are some fascinating passages in it, and I'll come back to them in some later posts here; for now, let this serve as the "money quote," in Andrew Sullivan's phrase:
I’m coming to think of each romance novel as a sort of sermon, shining new light onto a familiar truth, deepening our appreciation of it and our ability to live it out in our own lives. Those faithful readers of the trope-heavy category romances remind me of devoted church goers, longing for the comforting ritual of being told again in fresh words their most dear truth–that love heals, or that mistakes can be redeemed, that an ugly duckling is secretly a lovable swan, just as a seasoned preacher will tell you everyone needs to hear God loves them every Sunday.
In her mind, romance authors are "all preaching. Not the Christian gospel, or the Buddha’s four noble truths, but Romance with a capital R."

More on this, and other thoughts, anon.

Friday, October 10, 2014

New Managing Editor for JPRS

--Eric Murphy Selinger

Although the next issue won't be out for a couple of weeks, the Journal of Popular Romance Studies is pleased to announce that it has a new Managing Editor!

Erin Young is an Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies at SUNY Empire State College, and a familiar name in popular romance scholarship.  Since filing her dissertation, "Corporate Heroines and Utopian Individualism: A Study of the Romance Novel in Global Capitalism," in 2010, she has published on "'Escaping the “Time Bind”: Negotiations of Love and Work in Jayne Ann Krentz's “Corporate Romances”' (Journal of American Culture 33.2, 2010: 92–106) and "Flexible Heroines, Flexible Narratives: The Werewolf Romances of Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn." (Extrapolation: A Journal Of Science Fiction And Fantasy 52.2, 2011: 204-226), and she has spoken at recent PCA Romance Area panels, at ACLA, and at the IASPR conference.

As Executive Editor of JPRS, I want to thank the many scholars who applied for this position.  We were tremendously gratified by the responses our post received, and delighted at how many people we had not met before who were applying.  We hope we'll continue to live up to that interest in the years ahead.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Miss New Orleans? Never! (PCA Call for Papers)

There's just one month left to get your proposals in for the PCA/ACA 2015 National Conference Romance area!  The conference will be held in New Orleans, April 1-4, 2015.  Don't learn what it means to miss New Orleans--put in your proposal and visit, instead!

Here's the official Call for Papers--please feel free to share it and spread the word.

Call For Papers: Romance Area

Deadline for submission:  November 1, 2014

The discourse of romantic love permeates popular culture.  The Romance area includes papers on love, romance, and relationships, in real life and as represented in any medium, now and in the past.  From ad campaigns to Supreme Court decisions, Dan Savage to Sweet Savage Love, K-Pop to qawwali:  if it’s about love, it’s a welcome topic at the PCA Romance area.

We will consider proposals for individual papers, sessions organized around a theme, and special panels. Sessions are scheduled in 90-minute slots, typically with four 15-minute papers or speakers per standard session, with the remaining time available for discussion.

If you are involved in the creative industry of popular romance and are interested in speaking on your own work or on developments in popular romance culture, please contact us!

Some possible topics include:
Love and Romance in New Orleans:  Vampire romances, The Big Easy, Nora Roberts’ Midnight Bayou, etc.
Love, Globally:  local traditions, transnational media, adaptation and translation issues
Romantic love in political discourse (e.g., marriage equality cases and campaigns)
Virginity, Dating, Marriage, Adultery, Divorce, Hooking Up, FWBs: advice texts and media representations
Queering the Romance: LGBT romance, Kink in romance, Polyamory, Asexuality, etc.
Romance High and Low (i.e., texts that remix or blur distinctions between “high” and “low” culture, like the Lizzie Bennet Diaries)
Love Theory / Romance Practice:  theoretical approaches to love and romance, and popular romance as a place where love is theorized
Romancing the Marketplace: romantic love in advertising, marketing, and consumer culture
Romance bloggers and readers:  scholars, critics, and communities IRL and online
Young Adult, Paranormal, and other emerging genres of romance fiction
Individual Creative Producers or Texts of Popular Romance (novels, authors, film, directors, writers, songwriters, actors, composers, dancers, etc.)
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.

Presenters are encouraged to make use of the array of romance scholarship resources online, including the romance bibliography, the RomanceScholar listserv, and the  peer-reviewed articles and interviews published in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies.

Submit a one-page (200-300 words) proposal or abstract by November 1, 2014, to the PCA/ACA conference database.  Directions for submission can be found here.

Please feel free to forward, cross-post, or link to this call for papers.

If you have any questions as all, please contact the area chair:

Eric Selinger
Professor of English
DePaul University

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Noted with Pleasure (Beta Males; JPRS citations)

--Eric Selinger

As a companion to Michelle Sagara's recent post on Alpha Males at Dear Author, Elizabeth Vail has written a delightful tribute to "The Appeal of the Beta Male."  There are interesting reflections on the means of seduction that seem to be preferred by Beta heroes, and also about the types of heroines that Beta heroes seem to get paired up with, at least in contemporary fiction.

Some of the heroes she mentions are familiar to, and much loved by, me:  Phin Tucker from Jennifer Crusie's Welcome to Temptation; S. T. Maitland from Prince of Midnight, by Laura Kinsale.  Others, though, are from authors and novels I've never read.  She discusses "Rose Lerner’s magnificent A Lily Among Thorns" (did she just say "magnificent"?), Mary Balogh’s Lord Carew’s Bride, and Marjorie M. Liu’s The Wild Road (a paranormal, with a gargoyle hero).

The comments have offered a number of additional suggestions, including
  • Rupert, in Loretta Chase's Mr. Impossible (from Cleo)
  • Henry Tilney in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Alex Moore in Jennifer Cruise’s Anyone But You, Theo Mirkwood in Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened, Mark Turner in Courtney Milan’s Unclaimed, and Peeta Mellark in Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games trilogy (from Emma Barry)
  • Murphy from [Nora Roberts's] Born in Shame (and Grey from Ice too?) And Ethan from Rising Tides (Imani)
  • Robert Carroway from Suzanne Enoch’s England’s Perfect Hero (Amanda)
Many more have come in overnight, so forgive me if I'm a little behind!

Phin makes an interesting case, because structurally, he's an Alpha:  he's mayor of the town of Temptation, born to power--men from his paternal line have run the town for generations--and possessed of wealth and agency and looks beyond the local norm.  He is, however, bored with and generally uninterested in the position and power he's inherited, and mostly he's there as a catalyst for Sophie's transformation.  There's a fair amount about Phin, Sophie, and the novel here, in the Journal of Popular Romance piece that Kate Moore was kind enough to let me co-author.

I can't help but wonder, though, whether Alpha and Beta in these discussions are as useful for us, as analytical terms, as High Mimetic and Low Mimetic, the terms that Laura Vivanco borrows from Frye in For Love and Money.  That is, "Alpha" and "Beta" are useful as terms to describe the discourse that circulates in the romance community, but HM and LM might be more precise when talking about particular characters, especially since authors so often deploy modal counterpoint (also from Frye and from Laura's book) to vary their characterization from passage to passage or scene to scene.


In unrelated but still welcome news, Jonathan A. Allan reports that a recent MA thesis filed at Eastern Washington University cites several pieces from the Journal of Popular Romance Studies.

The thesis is "Eros and Psyche from Apuleius to paranormal romance: a communication analysis of the archetype's message," by Arielle Nicole Reed (2013); you can find it in the EWU Masters Thesis Collection, as Paper 85.  Reed says she's using four JPRS articles, but I could only find three in her bibliography:
  • Allan, J.A. (2011). Theorising male virginity in popular romance novels. Journal of Popular Romance Studies, 2 (1); 
  • Pearce, L. (2011). Romance and repetition: Testing the limits of love. Journal of Popular Romance Studies, 2 (1); and
  • Toscano, A. (2012). A parody of love: The narrative uses of rape in popular romance. Journal of Popular Romance Studies, 2 (2).
Good to know that we have a Very Useful Journal on our hands.  Thanks for the heads-up, Jonathan!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Extended Deadline: Queering the Romance

The Journal of Popular Romance Studies has extended the deadline for its special issue on "Queering the Romance," guest edited by Jonathan A. Allan and Andrea Wood.

Sometimes known as "Queer/ing Romance," this issue is now looking for work on an even broader set of topics and media.  For example, the CFP now includes the uses of romantic love in judicial opinions and advertising campaigns, like those related to marriage equality; I suspect that the editors would also be interested in scholarship on advice columns and other places where real life love and media representations of love are intertwined.

I've pasted the revised Call for Papers below; please feel free to circulate it!

Queering Popular Romance (February 1, 2015 Deadline)
In 1997, Kay Mussell called upon scholars of popular romance “to incorporate analysis of lesbian and gay romances into our mostly heterosexual models.” Today, closing in on two decades later, that challenge has yet to be met.  Although print and digital venues for LGBTQ romance have proliferated, meeting a growing demand for such work among readers (especially for male / male romances), and although there is a burgeoning interest in writing LGBTQ romance on the part of both LGBTQ and straight authors, queer romance fiction remains peripheral to most academic accounts of the genre.  Likewise, with a handful of exceptions, scholarship on popular romance fiction has scarcely begun to engage the theoretical paradigms that have become central to gay and lesbian studies, to queer theory, and to the study of queer love in other media (film, TV, pop music, marriage equality campaigns, etc.)
The Journal of Popular Romance Studies therefore calls for papers on “Queering the Romance,” in the broadest possible sense of the phrase, for a special issue to be guest edited by Andrea Wood and Jonathan A. Allan. 
Recognizing that there are both similarities and tensions between “queer theory” and “lesbian and gay criticism,” we call not only for papers that consider the importance of identity politics to popular romance fiction—that is, papers on romance novels with LGBTQ protagonists—but also for papers which give “queer” readings of ostensibly heterosexual romances, as well as for those which are theoretically engaged with the fluid concept of “queerness,” no matter the bodies and / or sexualities of the protagonists involved.  We think here of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s famous assertion that “one of the things that ’queer’ can refer to” is “the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically.”
Topics to be addressed might include:
  • Queer love stories and queer readings of love across all media and genres (film, television, graphic novels, video games, judicial opinions, advertising campaigns, as well as fiction)
  • Queering subgenres and romance conventions / tropes (virginity, sexuality, attraction, betrothal, the Happily Ever After ending)
  • Questions of Authorship / Authority / Appropriation: who writes, reads, and gets to judge LGBTQ romance, and why?
  • Intersectional texts and readings:  queerness and disability, race, ethnicity, illness, religion, etc.
  • Beyond m/m and f/f:  bringing bisexual, transgender, asexual, and other genderqueer romance into the discourse
  • Continuity and Change in LGBT romance (including publishing, circulation, and readership), from gay and lesbian pulps to digital platforms
  • Rereading the Romance, Queerly: queer re-readings of older romance novels, of romance scholarship, and of the text / reader relationship

Please submit scholarly papers no more than 10,000 words, including notes and bibliography, by February 1, 2015, to the journal’s Managing Editor, at managing.editor@jprstudies.org. Submissions should be Microsoft Word documents, with citations in MLA format; please remove all identifying material (i.e. running heads with the author’s name) so that submissions can easily be sent out for anonymous peer review.  For more information on how to submit a paper, please visit http://jprstudies.org/submissions/

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Noted With Interest (Alpha Males)

--Eric Selinger

Almost exactly four years ago, Laura wrote a long and useful post here about the "Evolution of the Alpha Male," with links to then-recent scholarship by Heather Schell and a blog post on the topic by Jessica of Read, React, Review, as well as some very helpful background information from Joseph McAleer:  namely, that Alan Boon, of Mills & Boon, espoused as a "law of nature" the notion that "the female of any species will be most intensely attracted to the strongest male of the species, or the Alpha" (Joseph McAleer, Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon [Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999], 149-150).  

If you're interested in the idea of the "alpha male" in romance, and in the critical debates that surround him--both in academic scholarship and in the online critical world, where authors and readers and scholars are interacting--you might want to take a look at fantasy author Michelle Sagara's "Letter of Opinion" over at Dear Author ("Michelle Sagara Contemplates the Alpha Male"), at the debate that plays out in the comments, and at the essay in response by romance author and critic Olivia Waite, "Ecology and Uses of the Alpha Male in Romance."  Waite, too, embeds some helpful links, including one to a study that debunks the science about wolves on which some ideas of the "alpha male" seem depend.  

Sagara's description of the Alpha Male's appeal sometimes recalls ideas from Janice Radway's Reading the Romance, as in this set of paragraphs:
In real life, women are responsible for so much, emotionally. On hard days, on days when they just want to give up and crawl back into bed, one of the things they daydream of, outside of romance novels, is for someone else to pick up the slack for a day or a week or a month. It’s for someone else to get a grip, to take responsibility for their own lives, so that the woman herself can be responsible, for a tiny while, for just herself and her own needs. In fact, I’ll go one step further and say: on some days, when things are overwhelming, I want someone to take care of me. 
And that kind of care happens when we’re three. Or five. Or sick as a dog. If it happens at all. It’s not realistic. It’s not a desire upon which to build a real life. And we don’t. But we can dream. 
I don’t think it’s social conditioning about alpha males that causes the reading pleasure. I don’t think it’s the conditioning that makes romance alpha males work for readers. I think it’s the rest of real life. It’s having to raise children and be aware of their needs and their emotions constantly. It’s having to deal with failed relationships or walking away from those that are just draining because of incompatibility, etc. It’s having to be responsible, always, for other people. It’s having to make nice and to be someone else or be something other than we actually are for so much of day-to-day life.
I don't mean to suggest that Sagara is taking ideas from Radway without attribution; after all, Radway's analysis was based on reading romance novels and talking to readers, and anyone who's read romance novels and talked to (or been) a reader might independently arrive at similar conclusions. But I do wonder whether there might be an interesting story to tell about how ideas within the novels got talked about in the 1980s and then made their way back into the discourse of authors and readers alike in a more self-conscious or deliberate or heightened way.

And I wonder whether Waite's response to Sagara--which points out that "Social conditioning is what makes us feel like women have a greater responsibility than men do to raise children, to be the responsible nurturer in defiance of our own needs and wants" and that "what Sagara is describing here is patriarchy, in a very fundamental way"--doesn't also suggest that, at least where alpha males are concerned, the discussion hasn't entirely left behind the dynamics that Radway described thirty years ago.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Calls for Papers: Illness, Medievalism and Girls' Series

Edited Collection: “Psychosomatic” Illness in Popular Culture (Abstracts due September 1) 

The proposed collection invites interdisciplinary analysis of the phenomenon of “psychosomatic” illness as it is (mis)understood in expert and popular culture. Possible themes or topics include:

•the persistence of mind-body dualism in both expert and lay concepts of illness and wellness
•the connection between stress and illness in popular culture

More details here. And on a similar theme:

Medical Humanities: Health and Illness in Popular Culture, April 1-4 2015 (Abstracts due 1 November)

The "Medical Humanities: Health and Disease in Culture" area for the 2015 Popular and American Culture Association meeting in New Orleans invites proposals related to the portrayal of health, illness, and health care in the discourses of popular and American culture. [...]
Subject areas might include but are not limited to:
• Narratives of physical and mental illness or disability told from the perspective of patient and/or provider in contemporary pop culture media: fiction, poetry, graphic fiction, memoir, television, film etc. [...]
• The problematic representation of illness narrative in popular culture (quests, battles, wins, losses, survivors, victims—and the construction of the patient-as-subject)

More details here.

Call for Blog Contributors - Genre and Medievalism

The Tales After Tolkien Society promotes scholarship exploring any and all ways in which popular culture genres engage with the Middle Ages. What does ‘medieval’ mean in different genres – including but limited to Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance, Westerns, Historical, Horror, Young Adult and Children’s?

The Society aims to connect scholars and build a community of those working on medievalisms in genre literature, and to promote their work. We organize conference panels, and have two edited collections forthcoming.

We are currently seeking new contributors to our blog talesaftertolkien.blogspot.com
More details here.

Collection: Girl Talk: The Influence of Girls’ Series Fiction on American Popular Culture (Abstracts due 5 October)

Since the mid nineteenth century, American girls have had books written especially for them, often featuring the same characters who begin to feel like their friends, enemies, and overall substitute social cliques. [...]

The editor seeks submissions that interrogate the cultural work that is performed through the series genre, contemplating the messages these books relay about subjects including race, class, gender, education, family, romance, and friendship, and examine the trajectory of girl fiction within such contexts as material culture, geopolitics, socioeconomics, and feminism.

Note that for the purposes of this collection, series books will include any books featuring the same female protagonist/s for at least three volumes.

More details here.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Journal of Popular Romance Studies Seeks New Managing Editor

The Journal of Popular Romance Studies, an international peer-reviewed academic journal publishing scholarship on representations of love in popular culture, is seeking a new Managing Editor. Duties include:

-          managing the journal’s main email account

-          coordinating the submission, review and publication procedures of papers submitted to the journal

-          preparing and reporting on (skype) meetings of the journal’s editorial team (bimonthly) and editorial board (annually)

-          working closely with the Executive Editor in the daily management and further development of the Journal.

The ideal candidate has a PhD (in any field; late stage doctoral students will also be considered), knows the field of popular romance studies (or is willing to become familiar with it) and/or has an interest in academic publishing.  We are looking for someone who is flexible, enthusiastic, and discreet, since the Managing Editor will be in possession of confidential information about the status of manuscripts, the names of peer reviewers, etc. This is a volunteer position – there is no salary connected to it. However, it affords ample opportunity to  develop transferable skills, gain experience in publishing, network with scholars around the world, and contribute to the further institutional and scholarly recognition of the field of popular romance studies.

If you are interested, please send a letter of motivation and a brief CV to Eric Selinger (Executive Editor) and An Goris (Managing Editor) at managing.editor@jprstudies.org  no later than September 1 2014. Questions may also be sent to this address.

Friday, July 04, 2014

New PhD Thesis: Roles, Representations of Age, and the Non-traditional Romance Heroine

Sandra Barletta (who writes romance as Sandra Antonelli) recently completed her PhD and the thesis is now available free online. In it she issues a "call to arms to other authors, besides me, to speak out, to rally and write romance novels about older heroines" (62).

In one chapter she states that
romance publishing is profit-focused and wary of undertaking anything that challenges its revenue. The chapter reveals through interviews conducted with various romance publishing editors [...] that there is an inherent conservatism at work in the industry that makes it less willing to take risks with publications valorising older women in the role of romance heroine. These editors consider Women’s Fiction as the ‘proper’ home for female protagonists of a certain age. While publishing profits play a large role in limiting the role and story for older women, there is also an industry resistance to the idea of a sexually active older women [sic] who is beyond childbearing age. (53)
For the author who wants to take risks in presenting older women as worthy participants in the romance paradigm, there are considerable obstacles to negotiate in a largely risk-averse industry. (57)
Sandra would, however, appear to have negotiated them successfully as
during the course of my research, I had two romance novels accepted for publication by Harlequin Escape. In no way does this suggest this outcome was not a long and frustrating enterprise. In the four years it took me to be offered a publishing contract, vast changes occurred within the publishing industry. The demise of brick and mortar book stores, the ongoing rise of Amazon, and the explosion of e-books, are all indications of a shift away from traditional models of publishing, and an accompanying shift in thinking among readers, authors and publishers. (57)
Her A Basic Renovation and For Your Eyes Only were published in 2013 as e-books by Escape Publishing (an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Australia).

Barletta, Sandra A. Cougars, Grannies, Evil Stepmothers, and Menopausal Hot Flashers: Roles, Representations of Age, and the Non-traditional Romance Heroine. PhD thesis in Creative Writing and Literary Studies, Queensland University of Technology, 2014.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Past & Present: Greek Romance

Since it's the last day of the IASPR conference, being held in Thessaloniki, here's a Greek-themed link to a recent article by Kirsten Day on the relevance of one of the oldest surviving romance novels, Longus' Daphnis and Chloe. The article argues that,
Despite a chronological gulf of nearly two thousand years, the second century C.E. Greek romance writer Longus and the early twentieth century Irish novelist Henry de Vere Stacpoole were prompted to produce their best works by a similar motive: an urge to explore the world, and particularly the phenomenon of love and desire, from a standpoint of complete innocence. Although the resulting novels, Daphnis & Chloe and The Blue Lagoon respectively, have no evident direct connection, they exhibit surprising similarities not only in plot, setting, and characterization, but also in the values, perspectives, and worldviews they advance. The striking intersections between these two chronologically and geographically diverse works offer us a lens for examining persistent notions of “natural” versus learned masculinity and femininity, for exploring the dynamics behind patriarchal power structures, and for scrutinizing how these issues relate to ideas about the value and merits of civilization. [...] this comparison helps to drive home the persistence of ideologies and power structures that initially seem remote.
Day, Kirsten. "Experiments in Love: Longus' Daphnis & Chloe and Henry de Vere Stacpoole's The Blue Lagoon." Dialogue 1.1 (2014).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Update from the 2014 IASPR Conference

Jodi McAlister's written up a report on the first day of the conference. Here's a taster:
Angela Toscano looked at ancient Greek romance (appropriate, given the conference’s setting!) The Ethiopian Story and read it against twentieth century romance The Windflower, painting a fascinating picture of the way the romance has evolved from being what she called a “romance of adventure” to a “romance of courtship”, the two texts featuring similar tropes but entirely different story arcs. One point she made that I really liked was that romance is in many senses the opposite of epic – while epic is largely concerned with the death of heroes, romance is in many ways about rebirth.

Lesley Ann Smith discussed the theories that many romance writers are familiar with and draw upon when constructing their novels, including Kim Hudson’s notion of the 13-beat virgin’s archetypal journey [...]. This led to a very interesting discussion about the way academic attempts to codify or define the romance are sometimes appropriated as guidelines – for instance, Pamela Regis’ eight elements of the romance novel (from A Natural History of the Romance Novel) being drawn upon by writers in order to better structure their novel. This was a crossover between academia and creative practice that I hadn’t really thought about before – I’d love to know how/if/to what extent authors use scholarly work when they write!

One paper that might be particularly ripe for this kind of mobilisation in the future is Catherine Roach’s, who proposed another alternative (but not incompatible) nine elements for understanding the romance novel, concerned with deep structural priorities – that is, the core claims romance makes about love – rather than formal plot features. This was fascinating and nuanced and I don’t have time to reproduce her argument here (especially because it’s part of a book she has coming out next year which I will definitely be reading), but one claim she made that really resonated with me is that romance is essentially about the word “love” as a verb – that the romance story can be summed up as “find your true love and live happily ever after”.
You can read the rest here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

New Review of New Approaches

I was pleased to see a review of New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction in the June issue of the Journal of American Culture and the contents were even more gratifying. Carrie Marjorie Peirce concludes with the following statement:
All scholars of popular culture should read this sophisticated and rigorous volume even if they never intend to pick up Fifty Shades of Grey or a romance trilogy by Nora Roberts. The essays in the volume are refreshing: they offer a variety of feminist critique, explore the many subgenres within romance fiction, and, most importantly, demonstrate a genuine appreciation for the fans and writers of the genre. New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction — Critical Essays are model studies of popular culture and should interest all scholars of fiction and literature — popular or otherwise.
Peirce praises the introduction, for offering "a fascinating, comprehensive, and surprisingly concise history of scholarship on popular romance fiction," and gives a brief outline of the contents of the "Seventeen remarkably erudite and instructive essays."

Peirce, Carrie Marjorie. Review of New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays. Ed. Sarah S. G. Frantz and Eric Murphy Selinger.  Journal of American Culture 37.2 (2014): 237-38.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Updates to the Romance Wiki Bibliography

I'd been adding new entries to the Romance Wiki Bibliography, watching as Christina Martinez adds some, and only mentioning a few of them here, on Twitter or at my blog because I couldn't write up responses to them all. I've decided that, in future, every so often I'll post updates at Teach Me Tonight. Some of the items may not be easily available but, if nothing else, it's good to be able to see the quantity and range of the work being produced on popular romance. Occasionally there will be older items which had slipped through unnoticed until recently or which have recently been put online.


Cawelti, John. "Romance: The Once and Future Queen." The Wilson Quarterly 2.3 (1978): 102-109. [Here are a couple of excerpts at my blog. An excerpt of the first page is available via JSTOR here.]

Frederick, Rhonda. "Making Jamaican Love: Colin Channer's Waiting in Vain and Romance-ified Diaspora Identities." Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal Of Criticism 17.3 (2013): 63-84. [This "essay asks, What can a romance novel teach us about being in a Caribbean diaspora?" and here's the full abstract.]
Kania, Richard R. E. "Pirates and Piracy in American Popular Culture." Romanian Journal of English Studies 11.1 (2014): 183–194.  [Includes a section on "Daphné du Maurier and the Romance Novel Pirate." Abstract and full Pdf available here.
Nilson, Maria. "From The Flame and the Flower to Fifty Shades of Grey: Sex, Power and Desire in the Romance Novel," Akademisk Kvarter/Academic Quarter 7 (2013): 119-131. [Available in full.]
Novak, Julia. "Nell Gwyn in Contemporary Romance Novels: Biography and the Dictates of 'Genre Literature'." Contemporary Women's Writing.

Roach, Catherine. " 'Going Native': Aca-Fandom and Deep Participant Observation in Popular Romance Studies." Mosaic 47.2 (2014): 33-49. [Roach discusses how she combines being an academic, a fan of romance, and a romance author. Abstract and excerpt]

Selinger, Eric Murphy. "My Metatextual Romance: Thinking With (and About) Jaane Tu Ya Janne Na." Mosaic 47.2: 51-66. ["Scholars of popular romance fiction have begun to credit the genre with political and aesthetic self-consciousness, a “metatextual turn” that parallels changes in the academic reception of Hindi popular cinema." Abstract and excerpt]
Sonnet, Esther. " 'Erotic Fiction by Women for Women': The Pleasures of Post-Feminist Heterosexuality." Sexualities 2.2 (1999):167-187. ["This article addresses the material construction of female heterosexuality through examination of the mass marketing of women’s pornography - ‘erotic fiction for women by women’ as exemplified by Virgin Publishing’s Black Lace imprint." It's available in full.]
Sonnet, Esther. "What the Woman Reads: Categorising Contemporary Popular Erotica for Women." Consuming for Pleasure: Selected Essays on Popular Fiction. Ed. Julia Hallam and Nickianne Moody. Liverpool: Liverpool John Moores UP and the Association for Research in Popular Fictions, 2000. 246-267. [This article is also available in full and it could be considered an expanded version of the previous one. It puts the Black Lace erotica in the context of other fiction for women with sexual content, including romance "bodice-rippers," and discusses the ways in which these texts are classified/assigned to particular genres/subgenres.]

Sonnet, Esther. "'"Just a book", she said ...': Refiguring Ethnography for the Female Readers of Sexual Fiction." The Audience Studies Reader. Ed. Will Brooker & Deborah Jermyn. London: Routledge, 2002. 254-273. [Available in full]
Tang, Yang. "Between Fantasy and Reality: Time-Travel Romance and Media Fandom in Chinese Cyberspace." MA Thesis, Simon Fraser University, 2014. [Available in full]
Tapper, Olivia. "Romance and Innovation in Twenty-First Century Publishing." Publishing Research Quarterly 30.2 (2014): 249-59. [I discussed this at my blog. Abstract here.]

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hell Hath No Inventiveness Like a Romance-Reader Scorned

When Gabby Maait, Kat Mayo and Jennifer Wu discovered that the Sydney Writers' Festival was ignoring popular romance fiction, its writers and readers, they were angry - and then they got inventive.

They made a range of postcards which could be left at the festival to challenge perceptions of the genre. Bearing in mind that romance novels are often judged by their covers:

This "cover remix [...] features an Australian classic, My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, re-imagined as a chicklit romance."

This "cover remix [...] features The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde re-imagined as a paranormal romance" because, as Kat points out
Today The Picture of Dorian Gray a classic work of literature, and no critic would dismiss it because they think it will raise men’s expectations of debauched lifestyles. Contrast this to romance fiction, which is blamed for women having unrealistic expectations in relationships, of being porn for women (nothing more than a masturbatory aid rather than an expression of art or a form of literary entertainment), or of being escapist and therefore too light for serious review or analysis.

This one gives a clinch cover to Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles ("A classic bodice-ripper ... without the happy ending") to make the point that "in our books women always win."

The covers were designed by Jennifer Wu, who's written about the project here. You can see more of her work on her website. She also has prints/iPhone and iPod cases/skins of the original artwork for these covers available for sale. Here's Tess, The Picture and My Brilliant Career.

There are also two postcards featuring quotes from romance novels (one from Patricia Brigg's Fair Game and the other from Untamed by Anna Cowan). On the reverse, all of the cards carry a quote from Judith Arnold:
To belittle romance fiction is to belittle women. To read romance fiction is to confront the strength of women, the variety of their experience, and the validity of their aspirations and accomplishments
I think Jennifer, Kat and Gabby have given us a very impressive taste of their "aspirations and accomplishments."