Required Reading for Anyone Writing About Romance Fiction

Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us. This means it’s the time when newspapers, magazines, blogs, and websites roll out the clichéd stories about Bodice Rippers, Fabio, heaving bosoms Romance fiction, lonely, bob-bon-eating, middle-aged cat-owning women who read romance, dating, pleasure, sex, and reading choices.

Like many other authors in the romance genre, I’ve had more than enough of the tired, poorly-researched, stereotyped drivel about romance fiction. The American comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to say in his shtick, “I don’t get no respect.” Readers, authors and academic scholars of romance know full well about the lack of respect afforded the genre. What I find rather fascinating is how these Valentine’s Day articles about Romance fiction are written by men and women.

The theory goes that anything written by women is demeaned and considered ‘lesser’ than the writing of men. Back in 1983, Joanna Russ’ How to Suppress Women’s Writing discussed the ways social forces hinder the recognition of female writers by the patriarchy. Russ ought to be required reading for anyone thinking of writing a piece about women’s writing, women’s fiction, and romance fiction in particular. Why? Russ highlights suppression with eleven common methods that are used to ignore, condemn or belittle the work of female authors. They are:

1. Prohibitions: Prevent women from access to the basic tools for writing.

2. Bad Faith: Unconsciously create social systems that ignore or devalue women’s writing.

3. Denial of Agency: Deny that a woman wrote it.

4. Pollution of Agency: Show that their art is immodest, not actually art, or shouldn’t have been written about.

5. The Double Standard of Content: Claim that one set of experiences is considered more valuable than another.

6. False Categorizing: Incorrectly categorize women artists as the wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, or lovers of male artists.

7. Isolation: Create a myth of isolated achievement that claims that only one work or short series of poems is considered great.

8. Anomalousness: Assert that the woman in question is eccentric or atypical.

9. Lack of Models: Reinforce a male author dominance in literary canons in order to cut off women writers’ inspiration and role models.

10. Responses: Force women to deny their female identity in order to be taken seriously.

11. Aesthetics: Popularize aesthetic works that contain demeaning roles and characterizations of women.

Once you look at that list, you may think it’s about the patriarchy, especially when one notices how the books that make review lists are typically penned by men, or when one considers that special chestnut A Roundup of the Season’s Romance Novels penned by former one-time Simon & Shuster editor in chief Robert Gottlieb, the older white man in New York Times last September—you know which one I mean. Once you look at the list you might notice how it influences the piece Verity ran today, 7 Romantic Books That You Won’t Be Embarrassed to Admit Reading, which mentions dear Fabio and puts quotes around the words “romance novel.” Articles such as these hit the screechy stereotyped notes. Articles like these highlight the patriarchy at work quashing and devaluing work, any work, by women. It’s a sinister thing because it’s ingrained practice familiar to women; it’s what we’re used to, what we navigate on a daily basis across a spectrum of mundane and professional duties we carry out. But here’s the thing that really grates: number 2 on Russ’ list. Number 4 pisses me off too, but number 2 is particularly insidious.

Bad Faith: Unconsciously create social systems that ignore or devalue women’s writing.

This practice is so entrenched that women use the suppression, consciously or unconsciously, not only to demean the work of women, but even to inform women of their need to feel guilty or be embarrassed when they read subversive, feminist, substantive, social commentary that explores the human condition and the very human need to connect to others.

Russ wrote about suppressing women’s writing 35 years ago. Clearly, change is still needed in the way women’s work, be it domestic, professional, or creative, is presented and discussed in the media, in the way women are presented in the media (particularly women over 40—I know you were waiting for me to mention the lack of respect mature women get). Pieces like Jennifer Weiner’s We Need Bodice Ripper Sex Ed  and Jamie Green’s Who Gets a Happily Ever After in 2018, place women’s pleasure, sexual and reading pleasure, first. Weiner and Green counter the usual claptrap about romance, trashy, sappy, porny romance fiction, and feeling guilty about sex or reading a novel.

Change is rolling in, slowly, but rolling in nonetheless, and it could use a little push forward. The next time I read a clichéd, crappy article about romance and romance fiction, I’m going to leave a comment directing the author to READ RUSS and do better research. I’ll also suggest reading Frantz and Selinger’s New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction,  Rodale’s Dangerous Books for Girls, Wendell & Tan’s Beyond Heaving Bosoms. and contacting the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance,  you know, to get the facts straight instead of relying on sloppy stereotypes. I’ll point out that romance authors like Eloisa James (Professor Mary Bly), Jennifer Crusie, Jodi McAlister (aka Dr Jodes ), Amy T Matthews (Tess LeSue,), myself, and so many others lead, or have led, double lives as romance fiction scholars and academics.  I’ll be sure to mention that us scholarly types can tell you a thing or two about the romance genre, like how the genre is subversive, feminist, complex, political, how it deals with social and psychological issues, has been at the forefront of social change for women, and that Fabio hasn’t been on a romance cover in decades, but model Jason Baca has been on 500 or more.

In the meantime, screw the patriarchy and those clichés about Romance fiction. The only thing I am chained to is my laptop, and while I write my next book and continue to fight the good fight to place more women of a certain age as romantic leads, I’m left wondering several things. Does the romance community look at news articles about Romance fiction differently when they are written by women; does the community view the piece with a more or less critical eye than if written by a man? Or do we, as readers, authors, and industry members, judge each piece on individual merit?

What is it we romance ‘enthusiasts’ want to see in an article about the fiction we so adore?

Now, the next time you read an less-than well-researched article about Romance fiction, enjoy a game of ROMANCE CLICHE BINGO, inspired by and created especially for this post and you by author and spider-lover Ebony McKenna! Many thanks to you, Ebs!

Created by Ebony McKenna ©2018

 

Excerpt: Russ, J. (1983). How to suppress women’s writing. University of Texas Press. https://utpress.utexas.edu/books/rushow

 

 

 

 

Loving the Beast: Or What I Learned From Loving the Villain

Luke Evans as Gaston. I approve.im-such-a-bad-boy

Everyone thinks the story Beauty and the Beast is about Belle and the Beast, a cursed prince, but really it’s about Gaston’s ability to expectorate, decorate with antlers, and his slide into hell.

You can keep your pure-hearted heroines and heroes. I’ve always liked fairy tale villains best. Villains give a better example of what it means to be truly human. Villains face or ignore their own shortcomings. Villains illustrate the concept of free will. Villains demonstrate human frailty, human morality. Villains illuminate how to and how not to behave if one wants to be loved, accepted, and admired. We learn more about ourselves from the villain’s actions than we do from the heroine’s or hero’s actions.

Heroines and heroes can be kind of boring, particularly if they are all goody-goody, principled types. Why I think Cinderella is boring as dry grass is that I never learned anything from her, and I never learned anything from Sleeping Beauty, from The Little Mermaid, or Snow White either—other than if you’re pretty people hate you. But I learned plenty from the evil stepmother, nasty stepsisters, and The Evil Queens: If you do something mean it will, eventually, bite you on the ass and lead to your downfall.

Best to avoid being mean.

I love a well-fleshed out villain, but what I love even more is a character who has villainous traits. For me, what makes Mr Rochester far more interesting than Mr High Morals Darcy is that Rochester has a secret, a screaming wraith of a secret that makes him deceitful. The secret is in the attic and it very nearly ruins him. What do we learn from Rochester’s villainous behavior?

Polygamy is bad and don’t keep secrets from the woman you love.

queen2Naturally, my love for a bit o’ badness points to the usual discussion about ‘niceness,’ as in how the leads, particularly the female lead in a romance novel, must be ‘nice,’ never nasty or bitchy, which points to the double standard discussion about how women ‘ought to behave,’ and how older women have been maligned for centuries, which points to a discussion on social mores blah, blah…

I want more female leads in romance fiction to be villainous, to have villainous traits the way Scarlett O’Hara and Rochester do. While Scarlett’s behavior in Gone With The Wind would never be questioned if she had been a man, she is, like Rochester, a perfect example of how good people, men and women, do bad things to protect what they love.

Yes, that is what I learned from Scarlett O’Hara and Mr Rochester.

What I learned from fairy tales wasn’t be pretty, be tidy, kiss frogs because they may be princes. My education came from the villains. I learned to never pretend to be something I wasn’t because that would get me shut up in a cask stuck with nails and dragged through the streets. I leaned to never be wicked to others because that would get me shut up in a vat with poisonous snake and then boiled in oil. I learned to be happy and grateful for what I have because, like the materialistic fisherman’s wife, I could lose it all in a flash, and its only ‘stuff.’

In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston’s utter ruin teaches us how to be human far better than the Beast does when he is transformed by love. Gaston’s transformation from man into a real hellish beast shows us that the villains are the true teachers in fairy tales and in life.

Marching to Shallowreader Bingo

Sheesh! I didn’t even place in this month’s Shallowreader BINGO. My March reading was curtailed by my writing, my poor, darling mother-in-law’s shingles (I happen to honestly love my MIL), family birthdays, Easter, an 20th anniversary, attending a “Professional Women’s Conference” (where I wore eye makeup, ran into a few fellow authors, and ate muffins), lots of socialising, and picking up and hiding a new bar fridge. Where was the time for reading?

Here’s my pitiful March Bingo Card

MarchbingoJPG

Okay, you may notice  I DID read. I read my own work because:

a) continuity in writing a sequel is important

b) I was editing my forthcoming book Next to You (Out July 2016, kids!)

But I also re-read books for research for a second book in a rom-com-suspense series, and I did research for an academic paper, meaning I read academic books and articles that I never thought to apply to my Shallowreader BINGO card until JUST NOW!

Please note the bottom right corner square titled Hatchback Hero. This Unicorn is a bone of contention between myself and The Shallowreader, Vassiliki.  This has been a sticking point for us for years. There is NO SUCH THING. A hatchback is not hot or heroic.

Hats off to Willaful for her March Crown. She found Sloth in her reading. I’m most impressed. All right, who am I kidding i’m ashamed because my March reading was slothful and I never thought to apply that to the Bingo card.

Now, if you read, like I know you all do, and you want to snatch that crown away from two-time champ Willaful, join in the Shallowereader BINGO. It’s fun and it’s FREEEEEEE!

See here for how to play along–for FREE. Better still, you can read ANYTHING YOU LIKE!!

 

And Bing-O is the Game-O

books

Photo credit: Patrick Gage viaFoter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Are you a reader?

Are you reading RIGHT NOW?

Well, of course you are.

So why aren’t you playing Shallowreader BINGO?

Anyone can play. And playing is so easy!

All you gotta do is READ, and You can read ANYTHING YOU WANNA– Romance, science fiction, non fiction, the back of a box of cereal, operating instructions for a Bosch Rotak 32R-r Electric lawn Mower, picture books, song lyrics. subtitles–ANYTHING!!  All you gotta do is READ and fill in the very pretty Bingo (was his name-o) form below.

It’s FREE! All the cool kids on Twitter play! Also, it’s so much fun to shout out BINGO! I should know because I won February’s Shallowreader Bingo.

I dare you try to guess my contributions on the March game card.

marchbingo

 

ShallowreaderBINGO–It’s Better Than Winning a Meat Tray!

Oh YEAH MAMA! I won a game that wasn’t a trivia contest!

I just took the February round of ShallowreaderBINBINGOWINGO (was his name OH!), which I have to say is way more exciting than winning a trivia contest or winning the meat tray at the Italian Club because:

  1. I’m vegetarian
  2. BOOKS!

I’ve been playing the Shallowreader’s reading Bingo all year. I got close to winning last month, but I wasn’t quite able to do it because I only read four books. This month, I had six going. I thought I’d get shot down by Lust and/or Netflix and Chill since most of my reading selection wasn’t what you’d consider romance fiction.

The squares I took were:

A Flower Amongst Flowers—that one was easy. I re-read S. Morgenstern’s (William Goldman) The Princess Bride and HAWOAH Pwincess Buttercup! Get it? Buttercup—a flower—the most beautiful woman in the land marries that son of a bitch Prince Humperdinck and is saved by Farm Boy/The Dread Pirate Roberts Westley in The Kissing BOOK!

Reading Flagellation: I took this to mean a book that was painful to read. And I am sorry to say it was Susan Donovan’s Sea of Love. It was my second attempt to read this book. I failed the first time after three chapters. Or maybe it was two. Anyhow, I started again and finished it, but only because I kept the book in Dr Shrinkee’s car, and read it whenever Dr Shrinkee said he’d only be 5 minutes, and was more like 20.

Wildcard: This free space was a FREE SPACE and FREE IS GOOOOOD!

Ethically Iffy: Mary Roach’s sublime nonfiction book Stiff The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. The book discusses the “good deeds of cadavers,” advances in medicine and science, and how modern day cadavers are treated with respect. It’s really quite amusing and eye-opening about what happens to people who donate their body to science. However, one chapter is all about “Crimes of Anatomy” where doctors resorted to, well, ethically iffy means to procure cadavers.

Green: Never saw this one coming. I started reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s annotated autobiography Pioneer Girl. The third or fourth chapter in, Ma got a library book from Sunday school and read a little poem to Half-pint and Mary. Hey, look Sandra, it’s VERSE, only I knew there was no way I was going to get that line with Verse, seeing as it was in the same row above Lust and Book Boyfriend, but holy crap, Ma read the word GREEN in that poem and….BINGO!

Come on and play along, read along with the Shallowreader’s Book Bingo because reading and shouting BINGO is so much more fun than a Meat Tray!

shallreadbing

 

 

A Reading Challenge Where YOU Get to SHOUT!

Few Kidbingogames conjure up images of childhood and being elderly as BINGO.

You know what I mean.  You spent your kid days singing that earwormy song that I bet is earworming through you because you simply saw the word.

A second or two later, as you realised you were humming the tune, or outright singing There was a farmer who had a dog… you automatically went to your inner kid place — or thought about retirement communities where some stereotyped imaged of the aged popped into your mind’s eye and you pictured rows and rows of old folk with their big-assed magic markers/Sharpies/Nikko pens/marker pens (choose the pen that best fits your dialect of English). You saw the tumbler and the game show host who calls out the number he pulls whilst making smarmy game-show host quips about the numbers and/or Bingo participants… OH DEAR GOD! I’ve been brainwashed into having instant images of how retired elderly folk are ‘supposed to’ spend their days!

BingoI should slink away in shame.

But I won’t because I know, despite my momentary (and shocking realisation that I’ve been indoctrinated by the media) lapse in reason, Bingo is a game for all ages, played by all ages.

Some Bingo games are more fun than other Bingo games. Grocery Shopping Bingo, for instance, or Number Plate Bingo (find all 50 US states/ European Countries/ All 8 Australian States and territories).

Some Bingo brings big bucks (love that alliteration, don’t you?).

Some Bingo, like The Shallowreader’s Bingo, brings you nothing but hours of reading pleasure, which YOU KNOW IS A HUGE PRIZE!

Some Bingo, Like The Shallowreader’s is simply a challenge, and who doesn’t like a challenge?

This is a reading Bingo Game.  A liberal reading Bingo game. You read and play Bingo with the books you are reading. Here’s what The Shallowreader is doing:

The rules are simple: cross the box as you read and when you get 5 in a row give out a Shallowreader Bingo call on either your blog, twitter or your favourite social media platform with a list of the items you have read. On the 29th of every month, I will put out a Bingo reminder and people can check their lists but I am happy for people to call #shallowreaderBingo whenever they like.

shallowreaderbingo-01I’m so playing along. Won’t you too? While a lot of you may be romance readers you are not limited to reading romance. Anything goes here. Just read, kids. READ! Follow the link to Shallowreader to join.

Come on. You know you wanna shout out BINGO!

 

Photos: garlandcannon viaFoter.com / CC BY-NC-SA, David Gallagher viaFoter.com / CC BY-NC-SA, Leo Reynolds viaFoter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

 

That Odd in Between Time Holiday Party Introvert Writer Thing

smalltalk_zThis being the holiday season means it’s also the Season of the Holiday Party. It’s cocktail parties, BBQs, Beer and Bubbly, meeting new people, and small talk.

I totally suck at small talk. Mostly because I am an introvert, When I tell people I’ve just met that I’m a writer and I’ve had three books published, the question I am asked most is never what I expect.

I’ve garnered comments such as “Mature protagonists? You mean your books are like Fifty Shades of Even greyer Grey?” and “It’s about time someone showed that women aren’t invisible after 40!” I like that comment.

There was also the well-meant, and very cringeworthy “Mr Turnbull, my wife can show you how to sex up a cost-benefit analysis,” to which, thankfully, the now-current Prime Minister of Australia offered a gracious smile.

I’ve been asked “What do you write?” and “Do you do research for sex scenes?” and even, “Have I ever read anything you’ve written?”

Yet, the the most frequent question is “When will your next book be published?”

I find that flattering and tremendously WTF at the same time before I remember the general public has no real idea how long it takes to write a book, let alone have it published.

Rather than become indignant, I get self conscious. I’ve drawn attention to myself, and I think I better, you know, get over myself and engage in small talk. So then I get a little teachery and FEEL THE NEED TO EDUCATE!

The man with the schooner of beer is waiting for me to answer his “When will your next book be published?”

I respond with:

True, some writers are able to hammer out a story in a few weeks. Others a few months,. Me? I take about 9 months to a year. Getting the book published can take even longer; from a few months to a year or even longer if the book is in print form. I have two books out there right now, both waiting to find a home. Yes, I have a publisher, but that does not guarantee my next two books will be accepted for publication, and even if they are, there is still the editorial process. The editorial process can take months. So this book I wrote two years ago, might not come out until next year.

Then I notice that his eyes have glazed over and his beer/rum-n-coke/champagne glass is empty and I totally sucked tremendously hard at the whole small talk thing.

Ho Ho Ho, Kids.

 

Looking for a smartassed presents to give to those who love to read smartass?

My three books go so well with coffee!

Sandrabooks1