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.

That’s My Job

book-2The other day, over coffee in a café with a writer friend who lives around the corner from me, the topic turned from our writing to the great mystery of promotion and the elusive magical unicorn that leads readers to your books. We discussed when your new book comes out strong, gets well-reviewed, and then…slips into something like a zombie-like state where sales shuffle along, taking an occasional bite here and there. My friend and I wondered how much promo can you do for yourself, how can you market your work and get it noticed, get it ‘discovered’ without being annoying or spending a fuckton of money by hiring a marketing & PR firm.

Fun fact: Did you know fuckton is a now a standard unit of measurement?

The two of us talked and talked — and didn’t come up with any answers, had no suggestions to make, and we went back to sitting side by side drinking coffee, wearing headphones and writing. Because that’s what we do. We meet,we write, and drink coffee.

book1Like my friend, I’ve followed the advice I’ve been given, done blog tours, sent my books out for reviews, peddled my publications on Facebook, Twitter, Wattpad, Pinterest, in newspapers and local magazines, and radio, on my website, on other’s websites. I’ve gone to conferences, presented workshops and papers, and my books continue shuffling along. What I can say is that, while we spent quite some time discussing what to do, I don’t worry about my books doing a zombie shuffle. I set my focus on writing books. I write because THAT’S MY JOB.

I will be totally honest. I don’t write to make money. You may call bullshit on this, but  I have a great life and I do not define myself as a human being by the amount of dough my books do or do not bring in. As a pragmatist, I know this business is a crapshoot, that there are a shit-ton (slightly smaller than a fuckton) of writers and books out there, and very, very, very few make any real sort of money from the work. Making lotsa money would be nice and I’ll admit that royalties are kinda awesome, mostly because they keep me able to sit in a café, drink coffee and write, but as pleased as hell as I am when someone reads my work and buys me another cup of coffee, I do not write my books FOR anyone other than myself. I’m my own audience. And I know what I like

I started writing because I couldn’t find what I wanted to read, which, by now, all of you probably know that’s stories with women over 40 as the lead. Some of you out there happen to like what I like, and like what I write, and that’s totally bitchin’! Thank you for buying me coffee!

While my next two books continue my placing a 40+ woman as the heroine, they are a sligantonellicoverssmallht departure from my usual romance snark, and I still wrote them for myself first. I also wrote them for my friend Elle because she shares my love of coffee and the Bond movie Quantum of Solace. Cult status, coffee money, and Elle aside, what I’m pondering again today is this:

  1. How soon is too soon to market and promote a new book? If I begin this Friday, as I had planned to last week, will it be overkill of the fuckton of promotion?
  2. Is it too early for promo, considering that one of the books has garnered a little interest, but no publishing deal—yet.
  3. Is it too early for promo if I indie publish it and become a hybrid author, and if so see question 1?
  4. Is it possible to overfeed the elusive unicorn and kill it before it has a chance to become a zombie book?

The point of all this is that I am a writer. I am not schooled in marketing or promotion—I don’t even know if there’s a difference between marketing and promo. I am a writer and a coffee drinker.

Maybe one of you could mull this over and get back to me while I’ll carry on writing to please myself, drinking coffee, because contemplating the path to ultimate promomojo sure does get in the way of my job.

That Thing Where Your Book is Available for Pre-order

If you couldn’t tell by the title of this post, Next to You is now available for pre-order on AmazonNextToYou_V1_Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022

And if that’s not thrilling enough news, you can also have a good squizz at The Next to You Pinterest Board  where you’ll find Fun facts, fashion, films, and frivolity from the book.

 

The Soundtrack of A Fictional Life

William Murphy never sees It comingA mix tape, a playlist, a soundtrack whatever you call it, why can’t books have soundtracks for sale like movies? 

Because kids,  compiling a soundtrack for a movie is something of a copyright, A&R big money nightmare. For books to have a companion soundtrack would be a copyright, A&R ginormous money acid trip hallucination beyond the comprehension of mortals.

Despite that, from the very first book I ever wrote (the one that will never see the light of day) to A Basic Renovation, For Your Eyes Only (originally titled And She Was–a title I think was better–but marketing didn’t think so and what do I know about marketing?) and Driving in Neutral, every book I write has a soundtrack. Most authors I know listen to music when they write. Music can be inspiring or set the mood for a scene. Characters might have their own theme song. Some characters might even have an entire theme soundtrack, which is the case with Next to You, my upcoming July release.

The music for Next to You is so vital to the story, to the character of William Murphy. Music, Bubblegum pop and Super Sounds of the Seventies is what makes Will Will, –just like movies are what makes his new next door neighbour Caroline Jones Caroline Jones, but more about Caroline in future posts.

In the words of Barry Manilow (yes, I am quoting Barry Manilow), I am music and I write the sooooooongs, but really I am writer and I write the characters who listen to the sooooooongs, and the character I wrote listens to the songs (although he doesn’t listen to Barry Manilow) that make him the man he is.

Here then is some of what William Murphy listens to.   Next to You3coverAnd seeing as all of these songs (and many more) are in my  music library, you can be assured these are also songs I listen to. You can listen to the Next to You Soundtrack here on William Murphy’s YouTube Channel

Tell me, would you buy a book’s soundtrack the same way you’d buy a film soundtrack?

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

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