Saturday, April 14, 2018

Day 2: Bowling Green State University's Romance Conference

As I mentioned in my last post, more details about the conference, which is being held on April 13-14, can be found here and you can follow events as they happen on Twitter, via #bgsuromcon18.

Today's papers are:

Contemporary Paranormal Romance: Theories and Development of the Genre’s Feminism (Or Lack Thereof)

Kathleen Kollman, Bowling Green State University

Paranormal romance is a contentious subgenre that some critics have castigated as being anti-feminist. Linda J. Lee writes that this subgenre features “male protagonists [who often] come from a cultural background in which men are dominant over women” (61), and Sandra Booth argues that paranormal romances featuring a monstrous hero and angelic heroine hearken back to highly patriarchal forms of gender roles, including consensual sex that reads like violent rape (96-99). However, as the genre proliferated beyond its initial surge in popularity in the 1990s, it—like romance novels generally—matured beyond its beginnings and manifested more complex ideologies. As Lee Tobin-McClain writes, the concept of “collective authorship” of romance causes it to be even more influenced by audience expectations than other literary genres (296), resulting in the need for heightened levels of feminist relationships in popular titles. In this essay, I will be exploring Tobin-McClain’s thesis, along with positioning paranormal romance as a twin heredity form sharing more features of horror and urban fantasy than may initially be apparent. As data points, I will be examining contemporary paranormal romance in the vampire subgenre, specifically Dead Until Dark (Charlaine Harris, 2001), A Quick Bite (Lynsay Sands, 2005), A Shade of Vampire (Bella Forrest, 2012), Immortal Faith (Shelley Adina, 2013), The Art of Loving a Vampire (Jaye Wells, 2013), and Bite Mark (Lily Harlem, 2016). Each of these six books represents an even more specific subgenre within vampire paranormal romance (urban fantasy, family saga, young adult, Amish romance, mystery, and ménage, respectively), and each was first published within the past two decades. By taking into account the scholarly genealogy of paranormal romance pre-2000, I will be seeking to assess whether the work written since that point continues to reflect those themes or if, in fact, several popular exemplars of the genre have grown to exhibit a more overtly feminist sensibility.
Love in the Time of Twitter: Identity, Relationships, and Fantasy in Modern Young Adult Romance
Patricia Ennis, Bowling Green State University
Social media has become pervasive in our society over the last 10 years. It has transformed the way we communicate and interact, has turned strangers into friends, and has allowed us to maintain a multitude of personalities, specifically curated for the platform in question. Who we are online is different than who we are in public which is itself different from who we are in private. Online we can be whoever we want to be. We can be idealized versions of ourselves. We can accept parts of ourselves we might otherwise deny or hide away those parts we — or others — might find objectionable. As the popularity of social media has increased, and as the internet has become less frightening and more widely seen as a tool of communication, so too has it become much more prevalent as a facet of young adult romantic fiction. In this paper, I analyze a number of recent novels in which social media and the internet plays a vital role and look critically at the way we construct identity and relationships online and the concerns, hopes, and anxieties modern teenagers face in these interactions. 
Not Cosplaying Around
Nicole Drew, Bowling Green State University
Novels like Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell have begun bringing fandom to the forefront of the romance genre. Cosplay, as a part of fandom, is also becoming more relevant in romance novels, but the depiction of the hobby is not always favorable. The goal of this paper is to compare the depiction of cosplay in romance novels from kink to hobby and to examine the treatment of cosplay in the romance industry and what impact it could have on those who actually participate in the hobby. I will use novels like Don’t Cosplay with my Heart by Cecil Castelucci (2018), Waiting for Clark by Annabeth Albert (20150, and A Different Kind of Cosplay by Lucy Felthouse (2015), as well as synopses for other novels like these with cosplay as an important part of the plot (or lack thereof). I will be comparing the way each novel addresses, utilizes, and treats cosplay and whether it is an accurate depiction of the cosplay community as a whole. There is plenty of study on the way audiences receive the content of romance novels; this paper will repurpose those studies for this particular subgenre to decide whether the portrayals could result in a fancified idea of those who participate in cosplay, including Stewart Hall’s audience reception theory and Ann Snitow’s example of literary analysis. I argue that most depictions are not accurate to actual cosplayers and that readers come away with false expectations of what cosplay is and how it operates.

Seriously Becky Don’t You Know Hallmark Christmas Movies are Just Romance Novels on Film?
Alexander Lester, Bowling Green State University
According, to Pamela Regis the conventions of Romance Novels are Simple and Finite. Each romance novel has eight essential elements that permeate throughout its plot. In this paper, I look at the correlation between two Hallmark Christmas Movies that were adapted from romance novels The Christmas Cottage, A Bramble House Christmas and compare them to Hallmark's made for TV movie Fir Crazy. I argue that the 8 essential elements are seen in made for TV Hallmark Christmas Movies as well as novels adapted for film thus making them Romance Novels are written for television.
I Found Romance at the Spinner Rack: The History & Evolution of Romance Comics
Charles Coletta
Following World War II, comic book publishers soon realized that sales of their superhero titles were starting to decline as the once-prominent genre was diminishing in popularity. To retain their readers’ interest, the publishers cancelled many of the superhero titles and diversified into other genres, such as science fiction, war, Westerns, crime, horror, and romance. Young Romance #1 (1947), which was created by the legendary team of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, is widely regarded as the first romance comic. The pair produced and oversaw numerous romance comics for twelve years until Kirby left and transitioned to Marvel Comics. Young Romace gained great popularity and spawned numerous other titles featuring work by some of the industry’s top writers and artists. Aimed primarily at teen girl readers, the romance comics genre remained vital until the mid-1970s when the rise of the women’s liberation movement and sexual revolution caused the comics to seem overly innocent, bland, and accepting of traditional patriarchal concepts of women’s behavior and gender roles. This presentation will offer a history of the romance comics genre from the 1940s to the 1970s by looking at its creators, themes, and readership; it will also include an in-depth examination of the Kirby-Simon stories that helped establish the genre.

Romance covers in Brazil: online interactions between fandom and publishing houses
Giovana Santana Carlos, DePaul University
Book covers are very important for romance fandom (RODALE, 2015). They express the stories and the genre through images and design (MCKNIGHT-TRONTZ, 2002) becoming an important factor for the readers when buying a book. But not always the fan is content with the cover. While is possible to observe that sometimes the writer does not have power of decision related to the covers (GREENFELD-BENOVITZ, 2012), it becomes more complicated when the book is published in foreigner countries, depending on contracts between publishers. In Brazil the romance book market is formed by most of international titles and writers translated to Portuguese. Not always the books can have the same cover as the original, so they are adapted or completely changed. However, as Brazilian romance fans follow their favorite writers and know how the original cover was published, they use social network websites to express their opinion and interact with the publishing houses. These companies also have learned the importance of covers to fans and interact with the readers (JENKINS, 2008). Thus, in this presentation I intend to show cases of online interactions on Facebook between fandom and publishers in Brazil that depict two perspectives: first, covers changed after fan complains and, second, publishing houses posting options of cover for fan voting. The collected data on Facebook regards books from Megan Maxwell, J. R. Ward and Leisa Rayven. These interactions present the importance of fandom for the development and establishment of romance book market in Brazil.
She’s an Athlete, but Don’t Worry, She’s Still Beautiful; Images of Female American Football Players on Romance Novel Covers
Joanna Line, Bowling Green State University
This paper analyzes the portrayal of female American football players on the covers of the three romance novels in The Cleveland Clash Series from Crimson Romance and compares these covers to two Crimson Romance novels that portray male American football players, to explore similarities and differences between how female and male athleticism are depicted. While the storylines of The Cleveland Clash novels provide a space to challenge the American cultural ideology that femininity and athleticism are conflicting concepts, the covers of the romance novels affirm the femininity of the female athletes while indications of their athleticism are absent. On the other hand, the portrayal of male athletes affirms the association of masculinity with athleticism. The relationship between gender performance, athleticism, and visual portrayal will be explored through Butler’s concept of gender performativity, Mulvey’s concept of the male gaze, Duncan’s theory of discourse within sport photography, and Goffman’s framing theory to assert that the portrayal of female American football players on the covers of The Cleveland Clash Series demonstrate the conflicting ideology of femininity and female athleticism.

Wherefore Art Thou Fabio? 50 Years of Romance Novel Cover Design
Andrea J. Briggs, McDaniel College
The art of the romance novel cover is just as important in reflecting consumer desires as the material contained within its pages. This presentation provides a comprehensive look at cover art trends and tropes of popular romance novels ranging from the 1960s to today, as publishers have adapted to the changing market of readers, visually differentiating and defining subgenres of popular romance literature.
How Amazon has shaped the future of the Self-Published Author
Constance M. Phillips, MVRAI Published Author
Not that long ago self-publishing was looked down upon and referred to as vanity publishing, insinuating the author had more ego than talent. All that has changed over the last decade. When Amazon launched the Kindle, they made ebooks easily assessible to everyone. The voracious appetite of the avid reader created a high demand and savvy authors began looking at independent publishing.
This turned the traditional publishing industry on it’s ear and created a new business model for the independent and hybrid authors.
In this presentation I will look at how Amazon, and the success of their Kindle ereader, has forever changed the publishing industry—especially in the romance genre. I will also examine the lasting effects these changes have had on traditional romance publishing companies.

Researching Contemporary Settings without Traveling
Jill Kemerer
Authors don’t always have the option of researching a setting in person. Time, financial and physical constraints prevent many writers from heading out west or spending weeks in Paris. A novel’s setting shapes the story and influences the characters’ thoughts and actions. Readers want to experience the mountains or city where the book takes place, and extra care must be taken to get the details right.
One way to get an overall impression of an area is to read a memoir of someone who lived there. Another method is to use online tools such as Google Earth, weather data sites, cost of living comparison tools, historical websites and visitor guides. For sensory details and local flavor, social media networks can connect writers with people who reside in the area. For instance, Google+ has groups for photographers in many states. They’re generous with their knowledge and share great pictures.
With modern technology, memoirs and help from people who live there, any setting can come alive, and readers will feel transported to another place.

Romance Law School is Now In Session
Jill A. Smith, Georgetown University Law Center
Plotting a murder, divorce, or even a trip to traffic court for your novel’s characters? Do you know how to make that realistic? You already know what state your characters are in, but do you know what jurisdiction you’re dealing with? State? Federal? Is this a criminal matter? If so, has your character committed every element necessary to successfully charge them with a crime? Are you sure the law that you know about in your home state is the same as the state where you’ve set your book?
If these questions are making you panic, never fear, you need to consult a law librarian. But you should also be prepared for that encounter.
In this session, Georgetown Law Librarian Jill Smith (a.k.a. romance novelist Adele Buck) will teach you how to structure your research queries, both for research on your own and for interacting effectively and efficiently with law librarians (and how to find those sometimes elusive creatures so you can ask for their assistance). She will show you some free legal resources available on the internet and how to begin to navigate them. She will also cover common pitfalls and misunderstandings about how the law and civil and criminal court systems operate to ensure that your manuscript is lawyer-ready and librarian-approved.
The value of wearing two hats: Reflections of a romance writer by night/feminist media scholar by day
Jessica Birthisel, Bridgewater State University
By night, I’m likely to be tucked behind my computer, writing the spicy passages of my next contemporary romance novel under my pen name. By day, I’m likely to be teaching, analyzing or researching similar content as a professor of media studies and a feminist media scholar at a public university in New England. In this session, I’ll wear both hats, sharing my experiences of hopping across this line between producer and fan, between author and media critic, and how I’ve found these unique perspectives to inform one another in essential ways. First, I’ll share how my academic training in feminist media analysis has prepared me to join a vibrant (and growing) community of romance authors writing feminist, intersectional, women-centered and diversity-conscious romances, which I argue play a vital role within our current social and political climate. I’ll also discuss my process – and rationale – for applying a feminist critique to my own works-in-progress. Conversely, I’ll share how my experiences as a romance author and as an active member in the professional romance writing community (including the Romance Writers of America) have shaped my academic media scholarship in important and positive ways. Key considerations of the session include: the role of self-publishing in the diversification of the romance genre, romance’s potential for subverting social and cultural norms, and the increasingly blurred lines between production and reception.
Keynote- Dr. Kate Brown, Huntington University
Kate Brown, Huntington University
Originally from a suburb of Buffalo, New York, Dr. Kate Elizabeth Brown received her Bachelor of Science in Applied Economics and Management from Cornell University in 2004 and her Ph.D. in American History from the University of Virginia in 2015.
She specializes in American legal and constitutional history, politics in the colonial, early republic, and antebellum eras, as well as English legal history.
Dr. Brown was a 2017 recipient of an academic research grant from the Romance Writers of America for a project which explores how English common law and constitutionalism give fundamental structure and substance to the historical romance genre. She will be discussing her work and research.
Guest of Honor- Beverly Jenkins
Beverly Jenkins is the recipient of the 2017 Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as the 2016 Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for historical romance. She has been nominated for the NAACP Image Award in Literature, was featured both in the documentary “Love Between the Covers” and on CBS Sunday Morning.Since the publication of Night Song in 1994, she has been leading the charge for multicultural romance, and has been a constant darling of reviewers, fans, and her peers alike, garnering accolades for her work from the likes of The Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, and NPR.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Bowling Green State University's romance conference starts today.

More details about the conference, which is being held on April 13-14, can be found here and you can follow events as they happen on Twitter, via #bgsuromcon18 and some can also be found on .

The guest of honor for the conference will be 2017 RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Beverly Jenkins, who has published more than 30 novels and is well-known for the level of detailed research she puts into each of her books – making her the perfect guest for this conference. She will be speaking and signing books Saturday afternoon at the Wood County District Public Library.

On the Friday there are presentations on a range of academic topics, including pedagogy, librarianship, masculinity, horror, feminism, research, race/ethnicity/nationality and history:

Romancelandia on Twitter: Designing a Digital Humanities Research Assignment for First-Year Writing Students
Heather M. Schell, George Washington University
Ann K. G. Brown, George Washington University
In Heather’s first-year writing class, Love and American Culture, in the primary goal is to introduce students to academic writing and research. Part of this entails helping students experience the excitement of writing a research paper when the topic is new and the questions are motivated by genuine interest. Heather has been collaborating with Ann, a research librarian, to develop an assignment sequence around original research on romance authors’ public social networks. The project uses Social Feed Manager and textual analysis tools to give students the opportunity to shape their own research questions and study the Twitter feed of the romance author of their choice.
The Category Romance Project: First-year Students Researching Romance
Jen Wofford, Ithaca College
“Vintage” category romances – commercial romance novels published twenty years old and older – can provide a fascinating data set for “community inquiry” (CoI), and a novel way to introduce students of writing to textual analysis. In its third iteration, my Ithaca College course Reading Popular Romance, is a writing-intensive first-year seminar taught using a Community of Inquiry (CoI) approach to instruction.
Where are all the Fun Books: Popular Romance and Science Fiction Novels in Academic Libraries
Sarah Sheehan, Manhattan College
Academic libraries have an uneven record of collecting popular contemporary literature (genre fiction). Due to this unevenness, colleges and universities that offer courses about particular genres or collect works devoted to the study of genre fiction may not actually own the primary texts. This study examines the extent to which award-winning novels in two popular genres—romance and science fiction—are included in the libraries of 114 major research universities (the Association of Research Libraries) and 80 prominent liberal arts colleges (the Oberlin Group).
Fantasies of Black Manhood: Black Masculinities in Brenda Jackson’s Westmoreland Series
Kelly L. Choyke, Ohio University - Main Campus
Kay-Anne P. Darlington PhD, University of Rio Grande
Popular romance is truly one of the few communities and forms of media where the male point of view is not catered to. While the romance genre is the most profitable and least respected literary genre, romance novels have nevertheless become a safe space to explore marginalized identities. Our study focuses on the representation of black masculinities in Brenda Jackson’s Westmoreland Series, published as category romances via Harlequin.
Happily Ever After …. And After: time travel, history and romance in the novels of Susanna Kearsley
Sarah H. Ficke, Marymount University
[...] place often plays a central role in romance fiction. A perfectly-decorated seaside cottage, like a gorgeous silk gown, can be materialistic wish fulfillment for a reader who has neither gown nor cottage. However, place can also be deeply emotional, creating and shaping the conditions for relationships. In this presentation, I will be exploring the intersection between romance, place, and history in three novels by Susanna Kearsley: The Winter Sea, The Rose Garden, and Mariana.
[...] Although they range across time, each of these novels is anchored by its setting, which plays a crucial role in the emotional development of the characters and their relationships. [...] I will argue that these novels provide a framework that can help us understand the simultaneous specificity of romance – a series of intimate moments between people – and our urge to view it as a timeless emotion.
True Love and Real Terror: Romance and Horror in Megan Hart’s The Darkest Embrace and Reawakened Passions
David Aldrich, Bowling Green State University
The Darkest Embrace and Reawakened Passions are romances that take place alongside a horror plot. Using Pamela Regis’s outline of essential elements of the romance, I will chart how both novellas fit the formula of a romance novel in a relatively short amount of pages. I will also make comparisons between Hart’s work and other short works of contemporary horror fiction produced online. This paper will show that the romance genre can be combined with the horror genre in a way that satisfies the expectations and conventions of both romance and horror, all in a short fiction format for a online audience.
Finding the Fairy Tale in Popular Romance
Linda J. Lee, University of Pennsylvania
Some novels retell specific well-known fairy tales, like “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast” [...], while others incorporate a variety of fairy tale motifs without retelling a specific tale type [...]. Fairy tale intertextual references appear in just about every romance novel sub-genre [...]. Despite the almost ubiquity of fairy tale intertexts in romance, there are few scholarly considerations of the relationship between these narrative forms. Part of the difficulty is the misalignment between fairy tale theories and methods and the form of the romance novel. Jennifer Crusie’s “This Is Not Your Mother’s Cinderella: The Romance Novel as Feminist Fairy Tale” demonstrates some of the difficulties encountered when applying fairy tale theory to romance novels. Disciplinary boundaries and lack of familiarity with discipline-specific research methodologies and tools is another research challenge. In this paper proposes using Michael Dylan Foster and Jeffrey Tolbert’s concept of “the folkloresque” as a way to interrogate the use of fairy tales within popular romance novels.

Laboring for Love: Authorial Emotional Labor as Feminist Project in the Romance Novel Outlander
Emma Elizabeth Niehaus, Bowling Green State University
I argue that the common reception of the romance novel is yet another example of women’s emotional labor being regarded as frivolously sentimental when in actuality it is impactful social excavation. My project uses an analysis of emotional work to argue for the romance genre as a feminist project. Though the romance novel has been widely disputed as a viable feminist project, an in depth examination of the emotional labor of characters and writer has been widely overlooked in this argument. As example, I examine the romance novel Outlander, and the emotional labor performed by author Diana Gabaldon for the story’s heroine, Claire Randall. 
Researching the Romance Writers' Research
Caryn Radick, Rutgers University - New Brunswick/Piscataway
In this presentation, an archivist discusses her outreach to romance writers to learn more about their research behaviors, particularly their interest in and use of archives for writing their works. The results of this outreach led to the presenter’s article “Romance Writers’ Use of Archives,” published in Archivaria in 2016. It also led the presenter to invite two romance authors, Piper Huguley and Jennifer McQuiston, to the Society of American Archivists 2016 annual meeting to participate in a panel discussion on the role of research in their work. The presenter will share data gathered as part of a survey of romance writers about their research and discuss how the conversation at the panel session provided insight on how archivists might better serve the romance community and why it would be beneficial to do so.

Use Heart in Your (Re)Search: The Invitations of Popular Romance
Eric Murphy Selinger, DePaul University
Romance writers do research—but what about romance readers? If they do, what does their “research” look like? In this talk, I will explore the kinds of learning that previous scholars have said (and, sometimes, worried) might be inspired by romance fiction, with an eye to how these relate to the teaching and learning at work in other popular genres. (Thomas Roberts’s argument that all popular fiction invites us to “Think With Tired Brains” about serious and interesting topics will be central to this discussion; his Aesthetics of Junk Fiction has been central to my romance pedagogy for the past four or five years.) I will then compare these critical accounts with the actual learning and research that my students and I engage in as we grapple with romance novels in English courses at DePaul: both multi-author / subgenre surveys and 10-week courses focused on individual texts. One of those narrowly-focused seminars, on Sherry Thomas’s My Beautiful Enemy, will be underway during the conference, and I will describe what we are doing in it and why. (A clue from the heroine’s quest for ancient treasure in that novel, “use heart in your search,” gives my talk its title.) Rather than ask what romance novels do or don’t teach readers in general, I want to detail about what a few individual novels invite us to go and learn, about how they extend those invitations, and about what we find when we take up their offers, whether in or out of school.
History's Been Hijacked: How To Combat White Supremacy Through Popular Literature
Elizabeth Kingston
At the 2017 rally in Charlottesville, white supremacists carried banners covered in medieval heraldry alongside their Confederate flags, laying claim to the Middle Ages as a white, Christian utopia. This whitewashing of history and construction of a “white race” began during the Age of Enlightenment, and continued through the 19th century – which just happens to be the most popular setting for Historical Romance.
Often seen as providing harmless escapism, the persistent fabrication of an all-white, all-Christian universe has resulted in an ignorance so extreme that many readers of Historical Romance reject the historical validity of non-white characters, or question the possibility that any non-white character could have a “happily ever after” in a white-dominated world. While this attitude has a dismaying effect on the genre, the wider implications of creating a popular fantasy world based on white supremacist ideology – and presenting is as actual history – are chilling.
For better or worse, our understanding of history largely comes from portrayals in pop culture, from Game of Thrones to Downton Abbey. Writers in the wildly popular genre of Romance have an opportunity to shape the perceptions of readers to more closely match the historical reality, and to prevent racially motivated hate groups from co-opting centuries of European history for their own purposes.
Romance Novels for Feminists: What Does That Mean?
Elizabeth Brownlow, Bowling Green State University
How do online spaces allow feminist romance readers to define and negotiate feminism for themselves? How do these readers define which romance novels are feminist, and which are not? In this case study, I will look at the popular romance review blog, Romance Novels for Feminists (RNFF). In 2009, Jackie C. Horne, a romance novelist, former children’s book editor, and literary scholar, established RNFF to review and comment on romance novels in all subgenres. RNFF does not explicitly state criteria for book selection, only stating that it “strives to review only books that in its opinion espouse and/or encourage feminist value.” RNFF’s reviews of feminist romance novels are based on a no-grading system intended to open up conversations about feminism and fiction. The reviews on RNFF allow for dialogue amongst readers, responding to both the books themselves and to Horne’s reading of them. This paper will explore the traits that Horne homes in on for her selection of “feminist romance” criteria as well as the traits that blog responders find most important. I will focus particularly on claims of sexist and feminist contradictions in these reviews. Moments of agreement and disagreement between reviewer and responders suggest romance readers are using online spaces such as RNFF to determine what feminism means to them as well as to form and articulate opinions on what does and does not count as feminist in the genre.
Romance Vs. Realism: How Critical Battles over Postwar Teen Romance Novels Led to the Emergence of Canonical Young Adult Literature
Amanda Allen, Eastern Michigan University 
In 1942, Maureen Daly published Seventeenth Summer, the wellspring text for a new genre of American romance novels aimed at a freshly-minted teenage reading audience. Called the “junior novels,” this genre was comprised of romance novels—often series texts— that focused on a girl’s first love experience. Although they quickly became the main stock of emerging teen library sections, the scholarship surrounding them became a site of contention, polarized into two opposing—and gendered—camps: (female) librarians, and (male) academics housed in English and English Education departments.
This paper uses the lens of Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of cultural production to examine not the junior novels themselves, but their reception by critics—a reception based on early Cold War values regarding what constituted “good” literature for girl readers (and, as a corollary, what constituted “good girls”). Thus, although librarian critics valued these romance novels for their use in girls’ socialization, most post-secondary academic critics opposed them, placing value on their view of literary quality. This use versus quality dichotomy, moreover, masked an underlying—and gendered—struggle over defining “realism” as specifically antithetical to “romance.”
An examination of the junior novel critics’ scholarship thus demonstrates a hidden, historical battle regarding who had the right—and ability—to define what constituted “value” in literature for girls, and illustrates how American postwar teen romance novels led to the creation and sanctioning of canonical young adult literature.

Stigmatizing the Romance Genre: Reading Romance in the Digital Age
Angela Hart, American University, Washington D.C.
The romance genre emerged as a counterpublic; a way for women to write books about women for women. Originally, the romance genre was not viewed as gender specific; but after World War II, and the return of men from the battlefields, women went back to their traditional roles, i.e. at home with their families. Romance novels have become a way to place female protagonists at the center of a story. Heroines across the genre are justified in their wants and desires, placing emphasis on the female experience and viewpoint. Today, romance readers face stigmatization due to their literary interests. Rather than celebrate a genre by women for women, readers and writers face marginalization. Avid readers of the romance genre find their voices in the online sphere; for instance, posting reviews or blog articles anonymously. On one hand, the online sphere should be commended for its ability to foster freedom of expression. Yet, on the other hand, it should be noted that the stigma surrounding the romance genre creates the need for ongoing anonymity. While readers are able to vocalize their thoughts, they may only feel comfortable doing so in an anonymous setting, unintentionally fostering the ongoing stigma of romance. The growth, accessibility, and affordability of e-books has also created a method for combating the genre’s stigma. Readers can make their literary purchases in the privacy of their own homes and privately read books on their electronic devices without preying eyes on recognizable romance book covers. The digital landscape is redefining romance and how readers discus the genre.
An Articulation of Modern Indian Values in the Romance of Sandhya Sridhar
Kristen Rudisill, Bowling Green State University
In 2009, avid romance reader Sandhya Sridhar quit her job at a newspaper in Chennai, India, and started her own company, Pageturn Publisher, which included the Red Romance Series, to publish English-language novels that she billed as “full blooded desi romance.” She sensed a need for romance novels more relatable to Indian readers than the imported Mills and Boons she grew up with. I argue elsewhere that desi romance can be considered a subgenre of romance, with the novels marked as Indian in a variety of ways that include language, content, and cultural values. Sridhar has written three books in the series, two in its first year (2010) and one in 2012. In this paper, I argue that Sridhar’s books have functioned as yardsticks for other authors and model the goals of this new subgenre. Through close readings of Heartbeats, Endless Time, and 31 Somnath Street, I address questions about family involvement in romance, acceptable erotic language, issues of consent, and an articulation of modern Indian values regarding sex and marriage. These values include respect for elders’ input, the inherent desirability of marriage and children, the prioritizing of the family over the individual, the importance of consent when it comes to intimate relationships, respect for all women, and women’s control over their own bodies and sexuality. These values reflect to readers Red’s ideas about of identity, self-realization, and romance in a post-colonial world.

Bringing Sexy Back: Asian/Asian-American Men as Romantic Leads
Trinidad Linares, Bowling Green State University
Although the image of an Asian/Asian-American woman has been a hypersexualized one, the Asian/Asian-American man has been a desexualized figure in American history. In contrast to Black or Latinx men, Asian/Asian American men have been represented as asexual or gay. They are the Other who does not pose a sexual threat to the white man because they lack sexual power or prowess. These stereotypes have created an imbalance in what minimal representations exist for Asian/Asian Americans in American culture, including romance novels. As a result, there are often more representations of Asian/Asian American women in interracial relationships with white men than there are of strictly Asian/Asian American couples. My presentation focuses on the history behind the sexless Asian/Asian American man stereotype and how trends in American popular culture towards Asian/Asian American men may be changing perspectives of them, which may be impacting the romance industry and could also be impacted by the romance industry. I will provide examples of how author ethnicities and audience reaction to Asian/Asian American men may be catapulting Asian/Asian American men to lead roles in romance novels for the American market. These Asian/Asian American leading men present a new option for masculinity, where sexual attractiveness and ability are not reliant on the abuse of the power dynamic between men and women because there are comparable oppressions (interracial coupling between a white woman and an Asian/Asian American man) or whiteness is decentralized (Asian/Asian American couple or an Asian/Asian American man with a woman of color).
Outlandish romance: Fan and author navigation of romance genre boundaries
Spring Duvall, Salem College
When the first novel in the international bestselling Outlander series debuted in 1991, it was marketed as a quintessential historical romance - complete with a highly stylized cover - and shelved in the romance genre sections of bookstores and libraries. Cementing its status as a romance novel, Outlander won the Romance Writers of America's RITA Award for Best Romance of 1991. Yet, even though author Diana Gabaldon courted romance fans and accepted the community’s awards, she also insisted that her novels were not just romance novels and struggled for years to have her books moved into general fiction sections and to be recognized as more than just a romance writer.
This in-depth critical analysis of Gabaldon’s body of work examines her uneasy position within the romance genre and the tensions among her critics and fans who seek to define her as a romance writer or establish her as a general fiction writer. This presentation will discuss a textual analysis of the Outlander books and the television adaptation of the series, as well as a critical analysis of online fan communities and media critics who review the books and television series. In this research, I position myself as both a feminist media scholar who studies and teaches scholarship on romance novels and as a long-term fan of Gabaldon’s work who is deeply familiar with the Outlander fan community.
Paranormal Romance: A History
Maria T. Ramos-Garcia, South Dakota State University
Paranormal Romance was a term coined in the 1990’s, but during that decade, this subgenre was very marginal. The genre, which was all but disappearing by the year 2000 started to take off at the beginning of the 21st Century. September 11th triggered a new interest in romances with paranormal elements that allowed both writers and readers to delve on issues too painful or controversial to confront directly at the time. In the early years after the attack there was a preponderance of novels portraying the shock of discovering magical (and menacing) elements irrupting in our everyday reality. Later on series tended to develop fictional worlds in which the paranormal elements were a given, abandoning the discovery narratives. They either reflect a dystopian reality, or the realistic world becomes a backdrop for the action, but not an essential element of it. Over time, the superficially apolitical nature of the paranormal romance has been eroded with more openly ideological discourses emerging often. This evolution parallels the trajectory of other non-romance genres, especially urban fantasy. This paper will offer an overview of the history of the genre, emphasizing the connections between romance, culture, and history. While romance as a reflection of the changing gender roles of women over time has been frequently observed by critics, there is a scarcity of a more systematic evaluation of romance as a dynamic genre intimately connected with its historical moment. This paper will challenge this perspective offering a new reading of this subgenre.
Christian Romance Novels through the Eyes of West African Women
Philomena Archibong Offiong, Bowling Green State University
The romance novel has been a source of ridicule and criticism ever since its inception and most especially due to its consumption by women. Scholars such as Tania Modleski and Janice Radway arguing that it actually empowers women of which African women are included. However, there exists little or no scholarship on African Romance novels or even Romance novels based on Africa. My paper, therefore, seeks to address the scarcity of African romance novels which special attention to West African women. It is interesting to find out that mostly Christian authors have been able to combine these two powerful themes into a novel that entertain while evangelizing to people. The West African woman like every other in the Western world enjoy romance novels, however, there exist very literature on African Romance novels. My paper seeks to determine if the few African romance novels are written and published by African press follow the romance formula and most importantly, do these books be used by feminists to empower more women or are these novels in tune with the African cultures and religious beliefs that endorses patriarchal rule. My paper will use the use the novel of Unoma Nwankwor’s “An Unexpected Blessing” and Lynn Neal’s “Romancing God” since the novel falls under Christian romance and African women are noted to be religious; thus shedding more light on the relevance of this little-recognized issue.
Fantasies of Masculinity in Male/Male Popular Romance
Jonathan Allan, Brandon University
In her book, Hard-Core Romance: Fifty Shades of Grey, Best-Sellers, and Society, Eva Illouz asks: “why is traditional masculinity pleasurable in fantasy?” (58) To answer this question, I focus on the rise of the male/male popular romance novel, and think through why these novels are pleasurable. To these ends, I draw on Lucy Neville’s work on gay pornography, which she argues “subverts the patriarchal order by challenging masculinist values, providing a protected space for non-conformist, non-reproductive, non-familiar sexuality, and encourages many sex-positive values” (204). While this may be true of gay pornography, can we say the same is true of the male/male popular romance? Does the male/male popular romance novel really subvert the “patriarchal order”? Does it provide a space that “encourages many sex-positive values”? As such, this paper attends to a close reading of texts alongside theoretical work coming out of queer theory and the critical study of men and masculinities. Ultimately, I argue that the male/male popular romance novel remains an important site of analysis for studies of masculinity, but that, at bottom, we are still left with “traditional masculinity” as noted by Illouz, and, in many ways, the “profoundly bourgeois" (207) values central to the romance narrative that Pamela Regis noted in A Natural History of the Romance Novel. As such, I argue that these novels are not as subversive as we might hope for.
Queer Evolution: A Biocultural Investigation of Gay Romance Fiction
Nicholas B. Clark, Bowling Green State University
Literary Darwinism and biocultural theories of literature have seemingly ignored queer identities in their studies of literature, film, and popular culture. This study attempts to begin the integration of biocultural theories and queer theories by analyzing a collection of stories from Japanese BL (boys love), bara manga, and Western romance novels. These three unique genres are selected to give attention to narratives written by both straight and gay writers. The implications of generic format and the identities of the writers will be discussed as well. By comparing and contrasting these genres, this study seeks to establish the biocultural implications homosexual identities function within these texts. Specific attention will be paid to homosexual courtship and evolutionary theories of homosexuality, and how these texts conform to or deny specific theories. In addition to the traditional biocultural theories, attention will be given to the specific Japanese understandings of homosexuality and same-sex relationships and the country’s history of homosexuality and homosexual identities. In doing so, this study hopes to begin understanding queer identities within a Literary Darwinist framework, for just as fiction has be used to explore philosophy, so to can fiction be used to explore evolutionary psychology.

Revenge of the Romance: How romance novels transform the nerd stereotype
Robin Hershkowitz, Bowling Green State University
The character of the ‘nerd’ has been prevalent in popular culture, usually represented as a man whose intelligence and lack of social skills keep him from achieving his ultimate desire: obtaining an attractive girlfriend. Since the early 21st century, the concept of the nerd has expanded to discussions of toxic masculinity and entitlement, often seen in such arenas as the culture of the tech industry and the Gamer Gate phenomenon. My paper addresses the central question of how the modern romance genre includes these character archetypes and incorporates them into the romance genre. Specifically, in my paper, I will use the scholarship of Carol Thurston, Jennifer Crusie-Smith, Lynn Coddington, and representations of masculinity to analyze the nerd character in the contemporary romance novels Romancing the Nerd by Leah Rae Miller (2016) and Nerd in Shining Armor by Vicki Lewis Thompson (2003). I will use these case studies to illustrate how a feminist reading of romance novels interprets and redefines the highly gendered concept of the nerd, how the genre provides a space for character transformation, how these texts redefine the concept of the ‘nerd’ in terms of the self, and to examine how the nerd character is a product of gender performance.
The conference continues on Saturday!

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

RWA, RITAs and Race

On 30 March the RWA posted the following (as part of a slightly longer statement):
We’ve only recently started collecting demographic information on our members, and that is on a voluntary basis. But from what we could determine, the statistics for black author RITA finalists from 2000 to 2017 are:
  • The number of finalist books by black authors is less than half of 1% of the total number of finalist books
  • No black romance author has ever won a RITA
We understand there are questions about which authors enter and what percentage of entrants are black authors. We will attempt to gather that information in the future to answer these questions but, in the meantime, it is impossible to deny that this is a serious issue and that it needs to be addressed.
I don't know precisely what prompted this statement. It seems quite likely it had been in preparation for some time, but the demographics of this year's RITA finalists had caused concern after "RWA announced the finalists for the 2018 RITA and Golden Heart awards on March 21" (RWA). Courtney Milan, who is a Director-at-Large on the current RWA Board of Directors, has noted that
If we lived in a society with real representation, of the 88 works that were RITA finalists this year, we would expect that 12 of them were black, 5 were Asian, 1 was Native, and 16 were Hispanic (with some percentage of those being nonwhite Hispanics.) [...] By my count, this year 4 of our finalists are Hispanic and 2 are Asian (Four Hispanic because I’m going by finaling works, not authors, and Alexis Daria and Priscilla Oliveras has works that double finaled as best first book.)
One of the ironies of this is that RWA came into existence because of an African-American editor, Vivian Stephens:
In 1979, editor Vivian Stephens and a group of romance writers met at a writers conference at the University of Houston. At the time, writers groups largely ignore the romance genre, and these women recognized the value of an organization dedicated to the needs of romance writers in the rapidly growing American romance fiction market. (RWA)
And yet, the RWA has often felt like an extremely unwelcoming place to people of colour. For instance,
Did you know that women of color who attend RWA often have what is in effect a buddy system? So they’re not left alone? Did you know that every year, Black women who sit down at lunch tables see white women stand up and move to not sit with them? That black women with twenty books to their name get called “aspiring authors”? That these things happen under the nose of white authors who don’t say anything because it would be “mean”? (Courtney Milan)
That black author with twenty books to her name was Kianna Alexander:
And the person who said it to me was an editor at a major publishing house, who simply looked at me and assumed I was "aspiring" rather than multi-published.
Publishers are clearly part of the problem. The lack of diversity in romance publishing was highlighted in The Ripped Bodice's 2016 report on the issue. In 2017 they repeated their analysis of romance publishing and their
study highlights just how glaring of an issue racial discrimination continues to be. This is an urgent issue. The downward trend in the industry as a whole this year shows that simply noting and discussing the problem is not enough. We need action. [...]
Do not mistake this data as evidence that books written by authors of color do not exist. The books ARE out there. They are being self-published due to publishers' historic and current attitudes towards non white authors.
As Courtney Milan indicates, the net effect of all discriminatory attitudes and barriers to inclusion is to create
a tale of two RWAs. [...] It’s not just about people. It’s about the entire system of power. [...] In 2016, more black women were RITA finalists than in any of those other years before. One of those black women was , who finaled with a book that was released by Harlequin Kimani. Harlequin tends to celebrate its RITA-finaling authors—they’re very proud of the fact that their series authors write wonderful books that capture hearts, and they should be. Those authors are often given pride of place at their publisher signings. Phyllis Bourne, who was attending RWA, was not invited to sign her RITA finalist book at their signing. She wasn’t invited to sign at all. She reminded them she had a RITA finalist (was, IIRC, the only black Harlequin finalist?), and they just snubbed her. [...]
Like I said, this is a tale of two RWAs—one in which every woman of color was aware that a large number of black authors faced an existential threat to their career, and one where most white woman had no idea. [...] WOC wanted Phyllis to win. We really did. And yeah, we understood it might not happen, but man, publishing is full of disappointments. You get up and you keep going. But there was ONE book in that category, let’s say, I didn’t hear a lot of WOC they wanted it to win. This was a book (written by a white author) where the heroine was Native. She had a family history of alcoholism and poverty (because of course she did) and the hero was a white savior, and... it’s really not about that book. [...] It was hurtful that we knew some of our fellow authors who served as judges had read these books and didn’t notice that they were deeply racially problematic at best. But it’s not like racially problematic books hadn’t finaled before. You just hope they don’t win. It’s one thing if five judges randomly chosen don’t notice it. But five final round judges, hand-picked, would have to like it for it to win. You know which book won. And—by the way, this is important—Harlequin also published this book.
This, and more details and examples, can be found here, on Courtney Milan's thread. Seressia Glass adds more detail about the hurtful comments directed at her at that conference and each one matters because, as she states, "microaggressions add up." A pattern of microaggressions makes clear who is an "outsider" and whose work is not likely to be valued; the targets of microaggressions react accordingly. Beverly Jenkins, who is celebrated for her historical romances about African-Americans, for example,
never received a RITA until the LTA [Lifetime Achievement Award] last year because I never entered. Back in the 90s, I knew my chances of being a finalist were zero to nil, so why put myself through that. When I gave keynote in 2016 there was a record number of POC and queer finalists. Was this due to the judges? The numbers submitted? I was hoping it was a trend, then last year? Nope. Back to “normal”. This year “normal” too.
Sasha Devlin notes that:
Romance is always talking about how empowering the genre is for women, how welcoming, rah rah sisterhood & yet the truth is for many of us it's a gauntlet. Every event, con, meeting is a chance for Who Might Be Racist? Who Will Back Me Up?
To summarise, this is an issue which affects many different areas of publishing. It affects: how people are treated in person; which authors receive contracts from publishers and which do not; it is about the contents of the books which are and aren't published; it is about readers and the books they do (or don't) find problematic. On that last point, here's an example of a Harlequin romance, published in March 2017, which as pointed out here by azteclady has "so many things wrong with it" yet it nonetheless received a favourable, B review at All About Romance, whose reviewer would "recommend this book to adventurous readers looking to try something new." And here's a 2007 RITA-winner published by Jove which I critiqued at the time for its racist stereotypes: the reviewer at the Historical Novel Society noticed the "helpful peasants, and villains who only lack a mustache to twirl to complete their stereotypical portrait" but nonetheless concluded that "this is still a fast, fun read."

There's a lot to fix:
I mean fix the presumptions of quality. Fix the presumptions of "I can't relate to 'those' characters." Fix the perspective that you can't help.  (Adrienne Michel - another current RWA Director-at-Large)
We can all play our part in bringing about change. I wish RWA well as it attempts to address this deep-seated, systemic issue.