Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Call for Papers: PCA Conference 2022

Here's part of the call for papers:

The theme of the PCA Romance area in 2022 is fantasy and escape in romance and romantic media. We encourage you to define this theme broadly, and to think not just about specific texts but through them, to the broader discussions in which they are implicated. How can we most productively think through this tangled web of fantasy and escape and their relationship to the “real”?

Questions on this theme you might wish to explore include:

  • The fantasy of romance: what is it?
  • Romance in fantasy: how does the romance plot play out in fantastical worlds?
  • The right to fantasy: whose fantasies get represented in romantic media? Do we all dream about the same happy endings? How do race, religion, sexuality, and other factors affect romantic fantasies?
  • Escapism: where are we escaping from? where are we escaping to?
  • Escaping lockdown: how did we consume romantic media during the pandemic?
  • Creating new fantasies: what kinds of romance narratives were created during the pandemic?
  • Runaway heroines and heroes: how does escape work as a theme in romance? Does it play a different role depending on subgenre (such as captivity narratives, gothics, and/or romantic suspense)?
  • Seeking the fantasy in the real world: how do people go about looking for love?
  • Romance on reality TV:  what even counts as real?
  • Fan(fiction)tasizing: how are new possibilities for the romance imagined in fan culture?
  • Escaping unproductive discussions: how can we work over, under, around or through endless discussions about the merits of romance and popular culture?

If none of these suggestions appeal, or you simply want to pursue your own intellectual passion, you are very welcome to do so.

As far as I can see, the deadline for submissions is 15 November 2021. See the full details here.


Friday, August 27, 2021

Forthcoming Events (Black Romance and Concepts in Popular Genre Fiction) and some Articles/Posts

On 17 September the Center for Black Diaspora at DePaul University is hosting

Black Romance: Past, Present, and Future

Moderator: Dr. Margo Hendricks

Four panelists:

  • Dr. Piper Huguley,
  • Dr. Katrina (Nicole) Jackson,
  • Tatianna Richardson,
  • Dr. Yakini Etheridge,

This round-table brings together romance writers, scholars, editors, readers, and podcasters to discuss their views on the past, present, and future of Black Romance in the United States.

Sponsoring Institutions:

Center for Black Diaspora, DePaul University

Center for Contemporary Literature and Culture, University of Birmingham

International Association for the Study of Popular Romance.

You can sign up here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/black-romance-past-present-and-future-tickets-167463563025



Call for Papers: Concepts in Popular Genre Fiction

Deakin University, 6-8 December 2021

Convenors: Dr Jodi McAlister and Dr Helen Young

This virtual symposium, to be held 6-8 December through Deakin University as part of the Literature and its Readers research network, seeks to open up different sorts of questions, in order to consider other ways of examining, analysing, and utilising popular genre fiction. Specifically, we seek papers exploring concepts, ideas, and motifs, and the role that they play in popular genre/s.

Submissions close on 31 August.

On Twitter it's been announced that:

The first of our keynote speakers will be Farah Mendlesohn (@effjayem). Farah is the author of several acclaimed books on popular genre fiction, including Rhetorics of Fantasy and Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction. Our second keynote speaker will be Jayashree Kamble (@prof_romance). Jayashree is currently the vice-president of @IASPR and the author of Making Meaning in Popular Romance Fiction: An Epistemology. And finally, we will host a keynote panel by the research team from the Genre Worlds project, Lisa Fletcher (@lmfletcher72), Beth Driscoll (@Beth_driscoll) and Kim Wilkins. This fascinating project explores genre in 21st century Australian popular fiction.

More details here.


Steve Ammidown's written an article titled “Romance Writers of America Rescind Award for LakotaGenocide Redemption Narrative” for Library Journal.


Mary Lynne Nielsen interviewed veteran romance cover artist James Griffin about his work and changes in the industry. The interview can be found here and also at AAR.


Charlotte wrote a series of posts about "paratexts." This one is about the different ways that authors market the selling points of their novels on Twitter, as compared to what appears on the books themselves: https://closereadingromance.com/2021/06/22/paratexts-part-three-the-art-of-the-one-click/


KJ Charles wrote a post about obstacles in romance, illustrated with references to Alexis Hall's For Real:

But there’s a lot more obstacles than the obvious headliners.

Power imbalance is a big one. Where there’s any sort of difference between the characters there’s probably some sort of power imbalance, which can lead to uncertainty, insecurity, misunderstanding, resentment. Obvious areas for power imbalance are gender-related (including in queer relationships), and disparities in wealth, health, professional status, class, sexual experience, age, perceived attractiveness, perceived value as a person. It’s always worth thinking about these.

(For an entire book about power imbalance–across age, wealth, education, status, sexual experience, and class–Alexis Hall’s For Real traces a relationship between an older, authoritative, wealthy sub and a young, less secure, broke dom. It’s a masterclass in power imbalances going both ways, and the complexities of how they shift and seesaw.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

New Publications: an around the world edition

Farooqui, Javaria (2022). "Romance, Austen, and English-Medium Schooling in Pakistan " Language, Education, and Identity: Medium in South Asia. Ed. Chaise LaDousa, Christina P. Davis. Routledge. [Excerpt available via Google Books.]

Izharuddin, Alicia (2021). “Reading the Digital Muslim Romance.” CyberOrient 15.1: 146-171.

Kołodziej, Gaja (2021). "Unforgettably in love: uses of the amnesia trope in contemporary romance." PhD thesis in creative writing, Massey University. [Embargoed until 2023 but the abstract is available.]

Leetsch, Jennifer (2021). Love and Space in Contemporary African Diasporic Women’s Writing: Making Love, Making Worlds. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. [See the chapter on "Routes of Desire: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie" (details here).]

Long, Eileen M. (2021). Modern Love: Reading, Writing, and Publishing the Romance Novel. Master's Thesis, Purdue University.

Mäkelä, Veera (2021). "Reading Response in Mary Balogh: A Critical Engagement." Journal of Popular Romance Studies 10.

Ngoshi, Hazel Tafadzwa (2021). "Repression, Literary Dissent and the Paradox of Censorship in Zimbabwe." Journal of Southern African Studies. Online first. [Abstract and excerpt here.]

Sinha, Mona (2022). "Reading Mills and Boon in India From the Post-Colonial to the Millennial Experience." Indian Popular Fiction: Redefining the Canon, ed. Gitanjali Chawla and Sangeeta Mittal. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Sujaya, I. M., Suarka, I. N., & Sudewa, I. K. (2021). "Representation of Balinese Exoticism: Analysis of Inter-ethnic Relations Novels in Pre-independence Period." The International Journal of Language and Cultural (TIJOLAC), 3(2), 46–56.

Zibrak, Arielle (2021). Avidly Reads Guilty Pleasures. New York: New York University Press. [The first chapter is about bodice-rippers, shame/guilt and "the dark hero." Excerpt available via Google Books.]

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Indiana University Acquires Unique Romance Collection

Earlier this year rare book dealer Rebecca Romney published a catalogue of landmark romance novels which was being sold as an entire collection. The idea was that it would find a home in an academic institution and it has! It's going to the Lilly Library (the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Indiana University)

The catalogue is still available for download as a pdf.

There aren't a lot of academic libraries with significant romance collections (I haven't been able to update the Romance Wiki since it moved, but the old list of those libraries can be found here). Moreover, it's particularly significant and encouraging for romance scholarship that this library chose to make a significant investment in the genre.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Update on the RWA Controversy: Genocide and Book Awards

I've been adding updates to the end of my previous post but it was getting very long and there's been another important development.

The RWA Board has now issued a statement saying that

We understand the concerns regarding the Romance with Religious and Spiritual Elements category. As a Board, we learned of the winner at the VIVIAN Ceremony, along with the rest of the membership. The board has held an emergency meeting and are in agreement that the proper remedy is to rescind the VIVIAN award for "At Love's Command."

When they write that they "learned of the winner" this presumably means that they were unaware that the book had won in its category. It probably can't be taken to mean that no-one on the Board  knew of the concerns that had been raised about the book because, as mentioned in my last post, concerns were raised publicly in April, after the book was announced as a finalist.

As Isobel Carr observes, there have been serious concerns in the past about staff acting without the oversight of the Board. Therefore it is concerning if, as Jenny Hartwell reported, it had been decided that "since board members had entered the contest, they could not be involved at all once it began. It was up to staff to run it & respond to formal complaints (& there weren’t any)." Was nobody available to respond to informal concerns? Given that many of the people raising concerns are, presumably, ex-members, they're not necessarily going to be able to send "formal complaints."

The Board continue:

In 2020, RWA took on the enormous task of creating a welcoming and open atmosphere from an organization that had institutionalized barriers and prejudices. In just one year, RWA has made huge strides. We have updated our bylaws to put inclusion at the forefront of membership. We are in the process of implementing an organization-wide DEIA program. We have created mentorships and outreach to marginalized authors through an Own Voices Program and have implemented a Pen to Paper Program to assist new writers in completing their first romance novel.
The retirement of the RITA Award and the introduction of the new VIVIANS added a new judging rubric aimed toward making decisions based on the quality of the work and limiting bias. The 2021 inaugural Vivian finalists were the most diverse class in the history of RWA awards. 17% were marginalized authors in comparison to 4% in the last RITA Awards. As this is the contest's first year, we already had planned a post-award analysis of the Vivian contest framework, looking at a systematic review of the judging, the rubric and the outreach.  

RWA is in full support of First Amendment rights; however, as an organization that continually strives to improve our support of marginalized authors, we cannot in good conscience uphold the decision of the judges in voting to celebrate a book that depicts the inhumane treatment of indigenous people and romanticizes real world tragedies that still affect people to this day. RWA is rescinding the Vivian awarded to the book finalist "At Love's Command." 


Lacking from the RWA Board's latest statement, is anything that addresses the fact that the RWA President's statement, issued only yesterday, normalised the depiction of protagonists who commit genocide. It is not clear if the President consulted the Board before issuing yesterday's definition of "Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements":

Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements, as a subgenre of romance, requires a redemptive arc as a genre convention. Essentially, the character can’t be redeemed by human means; only through their spiritual/religious awakening can they find redemption for their moral failings and or crimes against humanity.


As AztecLady notes, also unaddressed in the latest statement is the fact that (as discussed in my previous post) this definition is heavily rooted in Christian theology and therefore implicitly excludes romances with religious or spiritual elements which draw on other faith traditions.

--Updated to add

Re the claim that "The 2021 inaugural Vivian finalists were the most diverse class in the history of RWA awards. 17% were marginalized authors in comparison to 4% in the last RITA Awards", this may not be, as Claire Willett suggests, something RWA should be boasting about since

"marginalized" means, I'm assuming, anything and everything

lumping together queer authors, authors of color, authors with disabilities, basically anyone who isn't a cishet white lady

and STILL, 17% of the total submissions was the best they could do???

---Updated to add that, as noted below by Bronwyn Parry, the 17% refers to finalists, not total submission. Bronwyn also states that "As a judge, I was pleased that my packets were the most diverse that I've ever had. However, I emailed the president yesterday in dismay and requested that my book be withdrawn as a finalist as I no longer had faith that the contest was judged fairly and without bias."

Bronwyn's full statement about this can be found on her website.

I've also noticed that the Internet Archive's archived copies of RWA pages are visible but then hidden due to some issue with cookies (presumably on the RWA site). I've already excerpted most of the text in this post and the previous one, but I'll attach screenshots below of the pages as they were yesterday (3 August) when I referred to them and left the tabs open on my computer. I do not have a screenshot of the original page containing the list of finalists or of the original page announcing the winners in each category.

Here's LaQuette's "Statement on 2021 VIVIAN Awards"

Here's the "Important News Regarding the 2021 VIVIAN Awards" which was subsequently released by the Board.
Here's the list of "The Vivian Contest Categories".

--Edited on 10 August to add some news coverage:

4 August

from Alyssa Shotwell at The Mary Sue, "Romance Writers of America Continues to Celebrate Racist Conversion Stories: Warcrimes are apparently okay, if you find Jesus after."

6 August 

from Kelly Faircloth at Jezebel, "The RWA Rescinds Award For Novel That Treats Wounded Knee Massacre as a Backdrop for White Redemption." 

from Hillel Italie at ABC News and USA Today: "Romance fiction award withdrawn for novel about war veteran" and here.

7 August

from Harmeet Kaur at CNN, "A romance writing group gave an award to a book criticized for romanticizing the killing of Native people. Then it took it back."

Monday, August 02, 2021

More RWA Controversy: Genocide and Book Awards

In May 2020 the RWA announced

the introduction of a brand-new award, The Vivian, named after RWA founder Vivian Stephens, whose trailblazing efforts created a more inclusive publishing landscape and helped bring romance novels to the masses.

The Board has also made the decision to retire the annual RITA Awards. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to Rita Clay Estrada, RWA's first president, for honoring us the past 30 years as the award's namesake and for her service to RWA and romance authors everywhere.

In support of The Vivian, and guided by the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access, the contest task force has been hard at work developing a contest that aligns with the Board's vision for RWA 2.0 (RWA)

So, what evidence did the contest results provide of RWA's progress with regards to diversity, equity, inclusion and access? Well, when the winners of the Vivians were announced on 31 July 2021 (RWA), they included, as the winner in the "Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements" category, At Love's Command by Karen Witemeyer. This meant that

A "romance" in which the "hero" commits genocide against Native Americans is honored with an award named after the pioneering Black woman founder of RWA. (Kymberlyn Reed)

Joanna Hart responded to the RWA announcement by asking

Mass graves of indigenous children discovered this year and yet you allowed this book to keep its nomination and win an award? How did RWA think this was ok? Why did RWA look the other way?

Jackie Barbosa stated that

This book should have been disqualified. It opens with the "hero" killing Lakota people. This is not a new start. It is not better. It may be worse, since at least that Nazi-hugging book a few years back didn't win.

As Courtney Milan pointed out, it's not as though the outcry should have come as a surprise to the organisers, since

people were *openly* talking about the genocide when this book finaled, and it still won, which tells me there are respected members of the community who were *chosen* as final round judges who specifically voted for this book."

Here's an example of part of that discussion, from April 2021, by London/L. Setterby

The screenshot includes a portion of the prologue, in which the protagonist himself labels the event he has participated in as a massacre. 

However, the way in which the massacre, and the protagonist's participation in it, are described seem designed to elicit sympathy for him and portray him as a sensitive, caring person placed in a situation which horrifies him but in which his actions are justified. For example, it is stated that his "parents and baby sister [were] murdered by a Comanche war party," and the impression is given that the Lakota must bear some responsibility for what occurred:

A Lakota dropped his blanket. Sun glinted off metal. A shot cracked.
Purgatory erupted.
Matt voiced the shout, then signaled [...] his trumpeter to sound the advance.

Pamela Clare observed that

["Too many Americans don't know the story of Wounded Knee. It was an act of revenge for the Lakota victory against Custer. The soldiers stopped Si Tanka's band, demanded people's weapons, and when a Lakota man who couldn't hear refused to hand over his rifle, shots rang out. 1/ 

Young women w/ babies on their backs and children came out of hiding from the heap of bodies—and were shot or bayonetted. The soldiers took photos of themselves standing next to piles of corpses. THIS is the story of Wounded Knee, not the BS in this awful book." - Pamela Clare]

The framing of the participants' respective religious beliefs is also worth mentioning:

[a "Christian" book that romanticizes a white man who participated in a massacre of indigenous people and characterizes the Lakota as having "rebelled" instead of being murdered by Christians for practicing their own religious beliefs." (Cate Eland)]

It also seems relevant that author has the protagonist intervene (albeit unsuccessfully) during the action to  "get [...] kids out. Before it was too late" and shows him saving

a retreating trooper. Jonah Brooks, a buffalo soldier with the 10th Cavalry, had served with Matt on numerous reconnaissance missions when stealth had been required. He had a talent for making himself invisible and could hit a dime dead-center from five hundred yards. Too valuable an asset to lose in this mess. Plus, he was a friend.

These two rescue missions, and particularly the latter seem designed to forestall any accusations of racism. There is, after all, "a pervasive tradition of white people using their Black friends, family members, or associates as cover for racist statements or actions" (Tyler Parry, "A Brief History of the 'Black Friend'")

I have not read more than the beginning of the novel so I do not know if or how the events of the prologue are discussed later in the novel. However, it does appear that a massacre is being used primarily to provide a tragic back-story for a white protagonist given that the description of the novel begins

Haunted by the horrors of war, ex-cavalry officer Matthew Hanger leads a band of mercenaries known as Hanger's Horsemen who have become legends in 1890s Texas. They defend the innocent and obtain justice for the oppressed. (Amazon)

---Edited to add that LaQuette, the President of the RWA, issued a statement on 2 August stating:

Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements, as a subgenre of romance, requires a redemptive arc as a genre convention. Essentially, the character can’t be redeemed by human means; only through their spiritual/religious awakening can they find redemption for their moral failings and or crimes against humanity. According to its subgenre conventions, the book in question finaled and won for this category.
For our inaugural VIVIAN contest, we saw a diverse finalist class. We attribute this to a detailed rubric and required DEIA training implemented to make the contest equitable. As part of that training, VIVIAN judges were instructed (upon reading a contest entry) to report any perceived objectionable or harmful content to staff. RWA staff did not receive any complaints from the thirteen judges who read and scored the entry.
While encouraged by a diverse inaugural finalist class, we do recognize that we must continually analyze and refine our process to ward against perpetuating harm. We regret any harm experienced by the romance community. Our Vivian Task Force is now charged with assessing the overall effectiveness of the contest to include the contest process, rubric, and entry and judging guidelines.
It should be noted that although LaQuette states that Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements "requires a redemptive arc as a genre convention," that convention was not included in the basic definition provided by the RWA in The Vivian contest categories. There it says only that this category is for
Works in which spiritual beliefs are an inherent part of the love story, character growth or relationship development, and could not be removed without damaging the storyline. These novels may be set in the context of any religious or spiritual belief system of any culture. 

 The two statements are incompatible:

["The category purports to be for all faiths, but this description applies only to Christianity. Redemption is not a feature of all other faiths (in Judaism, we talk about atonement)" - Racheline Maltese]

Furthermore, the casual way in which "crimes against humanity" is slipped in to the phrase "moral failings and or crimes against humanity" seems to suggest that crimes against humanity are a common feature of Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements. Certainly, it suggests that committing such crimes should not be seen as an impediment to being rewarded with a happy-ever-after-romantic-union-with-a-beloved.

['When your org starts claiming a lead character’s “crimes against humanity” are ESSENTIAL TO THE SUBGENRE it is time for folks to abandon the racist sinking ship.

This statement. As though we secular readers don’t understand what a redemption arc is.' - Olivia Waite]

And on the topic of romance "genre conventions," the fact that readers and authors have tended to refer to romance protagonists as "heroes" and "heroines" is an indication that, to the contrary, there has, in fact, been an extremely strong "genre convention" that protagonists should be admirable. I acknowledge that there are exceptions, but crimes against humanity goes far, far beyond the worst flaws protagonists might be expected to have.

Finally, that thirteen judges found nothing problematic about the book, far from providing an answer to concerns about the novel, simply increases concern about the judging process.

---Edited again to add that there have been some more comments about the judging process.

['As a judge (though not of that book) my issue was there WAS no clear way to report offensive material. Not on the rubric. The only option made available to us was to email the coordinator directly & ask to have the story reassigned if we were "uncomfortable judging the material."' - Jen Comfort/Kitt Masters]


['as a judge for the category, I find it rich that they pin the blame there alone. People vocally complained. The system still lacked nuance and allowed for stuff like this with the design.' - Courtney Austen]

Moreover, with regards to the "redemptive arc", Susannah Erwin has more screenshots and descriptions which cast doubt on what, precisely, is "redeemed" in this novel. Here's part of her summary:

['In the end, he marries Dr. Joe & agrees to work for her father, the premier supplier of horses to the US Calvary — the exact same unit he quit supposedly in remorse. Yet his redemption arc ends with him actively supplying the Army with horses to ”protect settlers from…Indians.”' - Susannah Erwin]

Sara Whitney, a winner in a different category (Best Mid-length Contemporary) of the contest has issued a statement explaining that she is "declining my Vivian award and resigning from the organization" because 

This afternoon’s statement from the RWA Board of Directors was the last straw. Its narrow definition of inspirational romance and discussion of characters seeking redemption from “crimes against humanity" prove the organization has not listened or learned from its current or former members.

---Another edit, with more information about the judging of the competition:

[Courtney Milan retweets a tweet from someone who says they were a judge in the contest, albeit not one of the 13 mentioned: "A third round judge (in other categories) who tweeted about the issues with this book (which she was not judging) states that she was removed from third round judging."]

This suggests that the statement that "RWA staff did not receive any complaints from the thirteen judges who read and scored the entry" is selective and does not provide an indication of how many complaints the RWA staff were aware of from other sources.

---Edited again to include a tweet from Alyssa Day, a former RWA president, 

 ["I am declining the Emma Service award and withdrawing from RWA"]