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

 

 

 

 

A Little Help From My Romance Reading Friends

Antonelli coverThe current buzzword is diversity. There’s been discussion about the diversity of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender and age discrimination in Hollywood. There’s been discussion regarding diversity in romance fiction as well. In an open letter to its members, the Romance Writers of America has addressed the importance of the romance industry being diverse and inclusive of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities.

Kudos to the RWA and thanks for coming to the party. Just one thing with your diverse list. You forgot to be inclusive of age. 

Are you over 40 and feeling invisible in romance? Don’t. Someone’s thinking about you.****

You all know how I have books and short stories published and out there.

You know how all my books and short stories all feature heroines and heroes over 40.

You know how I blog regularly about grown ups in romance and run something I call the ‘Mature Content Stockpile‘ on this website. I need to add to that stockpile, and I’m looking to YOU THE READER for help because AGE DIVERSITY MATTERS! 

I have been wanting to collect a list of romance novels that feature ‘mature’ ROMANCE Heroines and Heroes, specifically Heroines and Heroes over 40 in CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE. This is because of how contemporary society views older women, places them in stereotypes roles, or renders them invisible

Let me be clear: I am not interested in couples under 40. I am not interested in couples who are secondary characters. I want characters who are IN their forties, fifties, or beyond, characters who are the LEADS! Nix I am not interested in ‘women’s fiction’ or ‘romantic elements.’ I am looking for romance, where the love story is the focus of the novel, rather than a mere piece of the tale. I want HEA or HFN.

The All About Romance website has a list of Older Couples books that needs updating.  I modified the AAR list and included it my PhD research. The AAR list got me started, and includes novels where characters over 40 appear as secondary characters, which I include on my booklist because those secondary romance (and short stories that feature an older couple), form a foundation where older has been ‘acceptable’ as a side tale, however, I will not include secondary romance from this point on. There is a list on Goodreads Best older hero AND older heroine romance books (the main couple has to be over 40!)  and it is FAB, but it does include books some consider Romance as there is no happy resolution or Happily For Now, e.g. Kazuo Ishiguru’s Remains of the Day (a book I love SO HARD).

Allow me to reiterate. For the purposes of continuing my book list, I am only interested in Contemporary romance novels where the leads are over 40.  I include my list at the bottom of this post.

If ANYONE can give me more examples of ROMANCE FICTION that feature heroines and heroes over 40, please let me know by leaving a comment on this post! 

****EXCITING NOTE! As of May 4 2017, Entangled has put out a call for romance fiction WITH LEADS WHO ARE OLDER!

Contemporary romance Older Couples (AAR Original is here)

Forty-Something

A Basic Renovation (2013) by Sandra Antonelli

For Your Eyes Only (2013) by Sandra Antonelli

Driving in Neutral (2014) by Sandra Antonelli

Next to You (2016) by Sandra Antonelli

Out of Control (2002) by Suzanne Brockmann (secondary romance)

Breaking Point (2005) by Suzanne Brockmann (secondary romance)

Hot Dish (2006) by Connie Brockway

For Auld Lang Syne (1991) by Pamela Browning

Eve’s Wedding Knight (1999) by Kathleen Creighton

I’m Your Man (2007) by Susan Crosby

Anyone But You (1996) by Jennifer Crusie

Fast Women (2001) by Jennifer Crusie

Full Bloom (1994) by Stacey Dennis

Fanning the Flames (2015)  byVictoria Dahl (short story in Flirting with Disaster)

Talk Me Down ( 2011) by Victoria Dahl

There Is a Season (1999) by Margot Early

Comfort and Joy in Santa’s Little Helpers (1995) by Patricia Gardner Evans

Luring Lucy in Hot and Bothered (2001) by Lori Foster

Fall from Grace (2007) by Kristi Gold

The Star King (2000) by Susan Grant

Hot Wheels and High Heels (2007) by Jane Graves

Contracted: Corporate Wife (2005) by Jessica Hart

Marriage Reunited (2006) by Jessica Hart

Love for the Matron (1962) by Elizabeth Houghton

Only Yesterday (1989) by Syrell Rogovin Leahy

Cold Tea on a Hot Day (2001) by Curtiss Ann Matlock

Love in a Small Town (1997) by Curtiss Ann Matlock

Stitch in Snow (1984) by Anne McCaffrey

Suburban Renewal (2004) by Pamela Morsi

The Fourth Wall (1979) by Barbara Paul

Down in New Orleans (1996) by Heather Graham Pozzessere

No More Wasted Time (2014) by Beverly Preston

Black Rose (2005) by Nora Roberts

A Piece of Heaven (2003) by Barbara Samuel

Count on Me (2001) by Kathryn Shay

Promises to Keep (2002) by Kathryn Shay

Sweet Hush (2003) by Deborah Smith

Bygones (1992) by LaVyrle Spencer

The Hellion (1989) by LaVyrle Spencer

Home Song (1995) by LaVyrle Spencer

Nerd in Shining Armor (2003) by Vicki Lewis Thompson (secondary romance)

One Fine Day (1994) by Theresa Weir

Snowfall at Willow Creek (2010) by Susan Wiggs

 

Fifty-Something

For Your Eyes Only (2014) by Sandra Antonelli

Next to You (2016) By Sandra Antonelli

The Long Way Home (2010) by Jean Brashear

A New Lu (2005) by Laura Castoro

Bachelor’s Puzzle (1992) by Ginger Chambers

French Twist (1998) by Margot Dalton

Remember Love (1992) by Stacey Dennis

Return to Love (1993) by Martha Gross

Hot Blood (1996) by Charlotte Lamb

Heaven, Texas (1995) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (secondary romance)

This Heart of Mine (2001) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (secondary romance)

Natural Born Charmer (2007) By Susan Elizabeth Phillips (secondary romance)

Familiar Stranger (2001) by Sharon Sala

The Best Medicine (1993) by Janet Lane Walters

Tomorrow’s Promise (1992) by Clara Wimberly

The Vow (2008) by Rebecca Winters

The Duke of Olympia Meets (2016) His Match by Juliana Gray (he’s 74 she’s 50+)

Sixty-Something

Julie and Romeo (2000) by Jeanne Ray

Eleanor and Abel (2003) by Annette Sanford

Trust Me on This (1997) by Jennifer Crusie (secondary romance)

Seventy-something

Late Fall (2016) by Noelle Adams

The Duke of Olympia Meets (2016) His Match by Juliana Gray

Discrimination, Diversity, Ageism, and Romance Fiction

AthenaIf you haven’t noticed, discrimination against older women is now a ‘thing,’ a topic of ongoing discussion –thanks to Hollywood, Russell Crowe (we’re getting a lot of mileage from you, Rusty), the fashion industry, and the BBC, but where’s the discourse on mature-aged women in the world of publishing fiction, particularly genre fiction?

Yes, romance fiction. I am looking right at you.

The 19 January 2015 Daily Mail UK has Sandra Howard suggesting that Selfridges (A UK department store) ‘Bright Old Things’ ad campaign is not a “nod to the older generation” or even directed to an older generation, but more of a tactic to sell clothes to the young.

If you missed it, on 16 January 2015, Holly Watt at The Telegraph reported that the BBC was shown to have an “informal policy” of discriminating against older women, and that this “imbalance” in the media shaped “social norms…” While similarly aged male counterparts have advanced or remained as reporters, presenters, and experts, older women have been under-represented as broadcasters. This lack of representation of older women feeds the cult of youth that privileges younger women, and renders older women as invisible, which is often something mature-aged women feel is their reality.

All this ‘discussion of age’ serves to highlight the discussion of diversity, which is another current hot issue. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AKA the Academy Awards) have been accused of ‘whitewashing’ the 2015 Oscar nominations. As The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Fritz reports, from 16 January 2015. Oscar Nominations Stir Up Controversy for being the least ethnic and racially diverse group of nominees in something like 17 years.

I want the inclusion of ethnicity, race, sexuality, religion, and gender in film, TV, and fiction, particularly romance fiction. That is why this 16 January 2015 article in The Guardian is good: The Six Hottest African Romance Novels for 2015. Yes, that’s African, not ‘African American.’ Ankara Press is “bringing African romance fiction into the bedrooms, offices and hearts of women the world over.” Ethnic diversity and colour diversity. Real life romance has no colour, but if you look at romance fiction you’ll discover how very white most of it is.

HeraThere is one thing that concerns me in the conversations on age discrimination and diversity. Although it is wonderful that ageism and the lack of diversity in the media is topical, age is seldom included in the discussion of diversity of fiction and genre fiction. There is no discussion of the discrimination against mature-aged women in publishing. That is, there is no discourse regarding the representation of women of age in genre fiction, particularly with how they are seldom or not at all represented in romance fiction.

 

 

 

 

“research” With A Little ‘r’ (cross-posted from Oldbitey Bites tumblr)

I know  when you write about romance fiction romance is supposed to get a little r. The capital R is reserved for use when referring that literary genre of high culture with quests, brave knights, ladies, courtly love, and all that jazz.  I think the use of a small r for romance fiction (and pink and hearts and clinch covers) is a reason modern romance novels are denigrated. Well, here’s another. Some of us romance writers are up in arms today over this little story about how romance fiction poses a threat to women’s sexual health.

Read it and you might agree we’re our own worst enemy when it comes to romance novels and research. Annie, Aretha and Oldbitey are cheesed off because “research” like Susan Quilliam’s, says, women who read romance novels are getting life and love and sex all wrong. Romance readers are making a mess of their lives because romance novels are not good role models. Sisters are not doing it for themselves, they’re doing it to themselves.

Hang on. Didn’t I blog about something “to ourselves” yesterday (See What Do We Want)

Here’s an idea. Can we stand up for one another rather than knock down and reduce romance readers to little r’s again and again?  How about showing some respect for your fellow sex? If you can’t, at least wear a condom or a dental dam-like device when you undertake this sort of poorly investigated research. And crack open a 21st Century contemporary Romance novel before you start typing up your notes.

Ye Gods.

The Bite Lecture Series on Romance Fiction: Romance Heroines Are Not Sissies, So Man Up Part 2

 
Welcome back. We hope you enjoyed the brief, DeLorean-free trip to the past and apologise for today’s bumpy landing. To refresh your memory, we were discussing "Sins the Contemporary Romance Heroine Should Avoid" and those sins were:

Sleeping with someone other than the hero; Being a bitch; using foul language; and (my favourite) Having the cojones to be over 40.

Yep. You heard that right. It’s a taboo to be 45 and in love… in Contemporary romance.

I’m being specific about contemporary romance fiction for a reason. I’ve always loved interplay of real life with the fantasy part of falling in love. That’s why contemporary rom is what I most enjoy reading, it’s what I write, and what I’ve noticed is oddly age limited. It’s pretty freaky when you know the average age of a romance reader is 44.9 (see RWA www.rwa.org/cs/readership_stats) because despite that, a form of segregation creeps into Contemporary. After 40 a woman’s characterisation changes. She becomes what I’d like to suggest can be viewed as an additional incarnation of the ‘other‘ woman, where her age equates to a source of comedy, an unworthiness, or form of evil. ‘Other’ women have a place in romance fiction. I like a well-crafted female villain, but this isn’t about the purpose served by that sort of characterisation, or even about the way ‘other’ women are typically punished, although I can argue that the segregation I mentioned is a form of punishment.

Some of you have read my schtick before. You regular Biteyites know I research the phenomenon that moves a woman 40-plus out of contemporary romance fiction and ushers her, or for the sake of this entry, segregates her, into those genres that fall under the term of Women’s Fiction—the Hen, Matron, and Granny Lit type stuff where the story is driven by the female protagonist’s emotional growth. In contemporary romance, when a forty-plus woman makes an appearance it is often as a secondary character, sometimes with a subplot of her own (hello Susan Elizabeth Phillips!), but most of the time Ms. Forty is cast as a stereotype rather than as heroine.

Lately, there’s something I’ve noticed. A heroine’s age is treated differently across a few romance subgenres. In historical romance, most authors strive to be accurate with the context of their story’s place and time. Historical authors are aware that life spans were more limited in the Eighteenth Century than in the Twenty-first, which means middle age in Regency times (and this is a big fat guess here) was somewhere around, let’s say, 28-32. For the sake of historical accuracy, a 19 to 20-something old-maid heroine is not out of place in a Regency romance. In Paranormal and urban fantasy romance age exists in a magical world that has no bearing on a heroine’s part in the story if she’s a vampire, shape-shifting, alien witch-goddess. Indeed a woman can be all that she can be in these subgenres, but in contemporary romance it’s uncommon to find a woman of a certain age allowed that same agency.

Oooh. I threw you for a loop there, with that bit about ‘agency’ didn’t I? ‘Scuse me, my dissertation’s showing.

Think of all those forms of ‘other women’: the Stifler’s Mom cougar, evil stepmother, cranky old lady, mutton-dressed-as-lamb-whore, grandma, menopausal-wise-crackin’-best friend. None of these ladies are allowed to have centre stage. None of these women get to star in a book of their own.

OK, sometimes they do. The Age-Sinning Heroine is out there in Contemporarylandia. There are those who buck the trend. Julie, is in her sixties in Jeanne Ray’s Julie and Romeo. Nora Roberts has Roz in The Black Rose. Jennifer Crusie’s got Nell in Fast Women. But come on, we’re talking Nora and Jenny! They can do almost anything because they’re, you know, Roberts & Cruise!

Roberts & Crusie—sounds like a cop Buddy movie, dunnit? Maybe it should it be Crusie and Roberts…

Anyhow, I’m here to make a point, so let’s get back to the idea of the ‘other’ and look at one more Crusie offering. J.C. brought us Shar in Dogs and Goddesses. Shar’s 48 and, like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Claire, she appears in a world where magic is possible, where being 48 doesn’t matter, where age isn’t made an issue to the love story. This “other-worldliness” of paranormal fiction connotes an older woman can exist as a heroine, but only if she possesses some sort of extraordinariness that propels her further beyond the usual fantasy of romance, beyond the ordinary realities typically found in contemporary fiction. The heroines in paranormal romance are allowed to be much more subversive than their contemporary counterparts. They aren’t sissy girls. They can behave like ‘other women.’ They can sin. They can act like men. They can cuss. They can be bitchy. They can kill people. They can sleep with another man besides the hero. Oddly enough, if you leave out the vampires, changelings, magic, and telekinesis, when you get down to the actual fantasy of romance, the paranormal romance heroine is the most realistic warts-n-all representation of a real woman. And they aren’t punished for it.

What this says, and I’m talkin’ bottom line here, is that if you’re looking at the other side of forty, and you wanna be a real woman, you wanna be bad, you wanna get to fall in love, be confused by the trip, have wild chimp sex, a happily ever after, or happy for now, forget contemporary romance. Pick up a paranormal to find your ‘normal.’

Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing my contemporary romantic comedies with non-sissy 40+ women who man up and act like sinful paranormal heroines.

Biting Hands Across The Water Charity Debate: Join Us

Fairy tale princess Oldbitey is all about romance. She believes in the redemptive power of love while cherishing the chains of her soft-as-a kitten feminine bondage. You also know, as a romance reader, scholar, and writer of so-called sensationalist romance porn-fluff, she busts myths and misconceptions of the romance genre with PhD research titled Cougars, Grannies & Menopausal Knitters: Roles, Representations of Age, and the Non-Traditional Romance Heroine.


This Thursday night, her academic and modest bosom will heave beneath a pale pink, un-ripped bodice, as she spars with the “male members” of a delightful Q&A debate panel set to take place at the Hands Across the Water Fund-raising dinner.

 

An evening of fun, laughter and strong debate is assured when a panel of celebrities (Ooh! Oldbitey is a ‘celebrity!’) debate the "best and worst of the opposite sex". Hosted by one of our Brisbane based 2011 Thailand Bike Riders, the evening will seek to raise funds in between the laughs and entertainment. A three course seated meal along with drinks is included and ticket sales will commence shortly.
 

Yes, that’s this Thursday, 14 October. It’s not too late. For more information on how YOU can come and watch Oldbitey look like a complete idjit, or how you can make a donation, visit:  www.handsacrossthewater.com.au/fundraising_activities

Suck on that, Other Charity Events!