Diversity and the Hidden Value of Ageism: A Weird Theory? Maybe.

Last weekend, I attended the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Melbourne, Australia. To be honest, I didn’t attend this conference with the intention of participating in workshops or sessions that would help me further my career as an author as much as I did to be present at a panel session about Diversity. This session was a long time coming and, frankly, well overdue. The author-panel was made up of a Queer woman, a Black woman, an Asian woman, while the moderator was a white woman who happens to be Chair of the Writers Board of South Australia, as well as an academic currently examining intersections of race and gender in historical romance.

I sat right up front. The panellists were all romance writers, and I was interested in what it was, or is, like for those members of the panel to be, or have been, overlooked as a leads, incorrectly portrayed, rendered to stereotypes or rendered invisible.

If you follow the ranty Sandra Soapbox Mature Content Stockpile stuff I usually post here, what the panel discussed may sound rather like what I ranty Sandra Soapbox about. That’s because being overlooked as a lead, incorrectly portrayed, rendered to stereotypes or rendered invisible it is exactly what I ranty Sandra Soapbox about. All the time.

Imagine then, how pleased I was when, at the start of the panel, slides popped up to INCLUDE AGE AS AN ISSUE OF DIVERSITY! My research and the Seasoned Romance subgenre got a little shout out. I kinda wanted to jump up and down when I saw the slides. I wanted to jump up and down—while simultaneously hiding under my chair because I’m an introvert and everyone was looking at me. But holy shit, there was a nod to my research (Thank you, Amy), and a slide that mentioned my work on the sexist ageism entrenched in the romance fiction industry, and the quote included that line I keep repeating on this blog, the “no one wants to read granny sex,” comment that shows how the industry overlooks, incorrectly portrays, renders to stereotypes or renders invisible.

I felt so validated, yet at the same time, I admit, if that nod hadn’t happened, despite my introversion, I was quite prepared to stand up on a chair (because I am short) and make sure that the room full of people knew WHY it was important to include age in the discussion of diversity, but I didn’t want to hijack the panel. It was vital to hear Renee Dahlia, Nicole Hurley-Moore and MV Ellis convey their experiences, give their opinions, give a history lesson on whitewashing and yellow face, on being portrayed as victims and villains, of having history erased—and then leave room for questions, to generate discussion from the floor, to open eyes and get RWAus authors to think about how they write whole real, human characters of colour, characters of different ethnicities, LGBTQ+ characters when the author is none of those things.

Some people just don’t quite get it, and an hour-long panel discussion plus a short Q&A isn’t enough to educate or have that lightbulb moment. However, I am not under a time constraint here. I can take more time to explain and offer a theory to those who still don’t get why this is important, to those who believe they can’t empathise or identify with or see their life reflected in a Black, Asian, or Queer hero or heroine. It’s because you are a cis, straight, white woman and have never experienced what it is like to be anything other than what you are since you have never—or rarely—seen anything other than what you have been conditioned to see because you have never been excluded from having your story, your truth, your life portrayed. This is what you need to know: One day, perhaps sooner than you think, you are probably going to experience ageism. You are going to experience what it is like to suddenly be seen as “other” and fade into the background or be erased from your own future. If you cannot fathom what it is like to be excluded or erased on the basis of your ethnicity, your skin colour, your gender identity, or your sexual identity, Ageism is there to help you understand.

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

I’m going to make a bold statement and say I have a theory. I believe the key to understanding the need for diversity and inclusion may lie within the framework of ageism—the last acceptable prejudice. Ageism affects everyone. Why? Regardless if you are Black, Asian, White, Queer, Straight, Transgender, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, male, female, transgender, non-binary, ageism is an equal opportunity prejudice. Ageism excludes, renders to stereotypes, and erases. Ageism has a greater, often more obvious impact on women than men; after a certain age, women are more quickly stereotyped, side-lined, devalued as human beings, and rendered invisible. Sound familiar? Do you see the connection?

Ageing is an inescapable fact of life. I am getting older. So are you. You have seldom seen anything other than what you have been conditioned to see. I whole-heartedly believe we need to change what has always been presented as the norm because in reality it IS NOT the norm. Life is not all one colour, ethnicity, or one sex. It never has been. If you don’t think change is necessary, if you don’t want a better reflection of actual humanity, then keep reading your young, cis, het, white leads, the ones you say you can empathise and identify with, and will probably escape back to when you see your older self incorrectly portrayed, rendered to stereotypes or rendered invisible.

Let me know how that works for you.


Seriously, A Trilogy?

Here I am, on the cusp of the release for the second book of the In Service series, I mean it’s TWO days away until Forever in Your Service drops, and it only dawned on me, oh, about 5 minutes ago, when I shoved in a mouthful of this really delish cabbage salad, that I am writing the third book of a trilogy when I had no intention of writing a series when I started the first book.

Some cabbage may have fallen out of my mouth and onto my keyboard.

Honest. I had At Your Service and the short story prequel, Your Sterling Service, and I thought that was it. I didn’t know I was going write a second book about the middle-aged butler and the spy who loves her. I swear, I started writing the second book without realising there was going to be a second book. Ms Ainslie Paton, an author friend of mine asked, “Is there another book?” and I sorta looked down and kinda noticed that, yep, I was 2 chapters deep in a series I never knew I was going to write.

And here I am, mouth still full of shredded apple & cabbage salad, writing the THIRD book about a middle-aged butler and the spy who loves her.  My series is a Trilogy–The In Service trilogy.

Look, I’m a slow writer who often gets interrupted by my day job, family, headaches, holidays and ranting about ageism and women over the age of 40, but I aim to have the trilogy completed before the next James Bond movie comes out NEXT YEAR, as in 2020. The third book is titled True To Your Service. I already have a cover for it.

I can’t tell you much about the third book because I don’t plot, but I will say it battles the ageist structures that continue to keep older women from being portrayed as romance heroines, it positions a woman in her early 50s as the romantic lead, has tulips, banter, sexy times, is another genre-crossing romantic suspense cosy spy thriller mystery with older protagonists, and gives a middle-aged spy the happy ending James Bond never gets.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have to clean up spilled cabbage salad.

Five Reasons Why My New Release ‘At Your Service’ Is Important

Here are 5 reasons why my latest release At Your Service is important for women:

1. At Your Service breaks down ageist and sexist barriers that have allowed men to age, be adventurous, foxy, and paired with women 15-20 years younger while dismissing women over 40.

2. Portrays a strong, middle-aged female lead who is not an ageist stereotype or is typecast as a mother, wife, grandma, harpy, or crazy woman who lives in a van.

3. Portrays a middle-aged woman as intelligent, capable, attractive, sensual, and sexual.

4. Ageism is often overlooked as an issue of diversity. Young women will one day be older women. Positive, realistic representations of intelligent, capable, attractive, sensual, and sexual women over 40 create positive role models for younger women.

5. Sexism has rendered older women nearly invisible in all forms of media. The women over 40 in At Your Service get noticed.

Okay, so At Your Service is a romantic suspense cosy spy mystery thriller and how realistic is it to have a female butler join up with a British spy… Ah. Yes. You get it. Fiction. Content here creates the culture, the positive role model of a female butler, which is unusual role for a woman, AND the fact she’s middle-aged, intelligent, capable, attractive, sensual, and sexual IS the spin on the content and culture we’re SO used to seeing. Breaking down the barriers of sexism, ageism, stereotypes, and the sidelining of older women we’ve come to accept as the norm is not reality and it’s not fiction either.

The reality is, women over 40 are not invisible, but they have been miscast and have, for far too long, been left off screen and out of fiction. It’s my mission, so to speak, to challenge this, to change this, to give the world a positive portrayal of women over 40 and a role model for younger women AND men, one book at a time.

The F*ckable Silver Fox Romance Heroine And Me

If you have a psyche of a sensitive nature, one that detests off-colour language, you may want to look away now because I’m about to drop some f-bombs.

By now you’ve probably seen it, Amy Schumer’s Last Fuckable Day. If you haven’t here’s a link to it.  Go watch it now.

If you don’t want to watch it, in a nutshell, the skit addresses the ageist and oh-so-sexist double standard in Hollywood. You know the ageist double standard I mean, don’t you? It’s that thing when an actress reaches an age grannyand is suddenly put out to pasture, or only offered stereotyped roles like mother, cougar, knitting grandma, and crazy hag cat lady, because they’ve crossed The Line of 40 and are no longer considered ‘fuckable’— or bankable. It’s that thing that doesn’t happen to men in Hollywood.

It also that thing that doesn’t happen to heroes in Romance Fiction.

In Schumer’s Last Fuckable Day, Amy and her pals, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Patricia Arquette point out a woman’s ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date in Hollywood, the enduring stereotyped roles available to an actress of a certain age, and how their male counterparts fail to suffer the same fate when they cross The Line of 40. You see, Silver Foxes, like George Clooney, are welcome in Hollywood as much as they are in romance novels. And in romance novels silver fox heroes are a hot and sought after hero.

Like in Hollywood the silver fox romance hero is usually paired with a younger woman. Like in Hollywood the silver fox moniker applies only to men. There are those of us who are tired of this ageist and sexist double standard. There are those of us tired of being told, ‘Sorry, you’re over 40 and no one wants to fuck you onscreen or in the pages of a romance novel.‘ To that I say, bullshit, there ARE people who want to see thosCGAHe movies and read those books. There are those of us who have money we would spend to see those movies and read those books because there are those of us who think that, who know that, being over 40 doesn’t mean you’re done with love or sex or romance.  There are those of us (in spite of how much we love Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade) who’d like to see the silver foxy hero paired with a woman his own age. There are those of us who want to change things, who want silver fox to apply to women who have crossed The Line of 40.

Yes, I’m one of those who wants to change this because, goddamn it, I’m over 40 and I’m a silver fox, not a dumpy middle-aged hausfrau who’s dead from the waist down, and I’m tired of seeing women like me left out of movies and books. I’m so over seeing Daniel Craig’s late 40s SPECTRE James Bond get paired up with the then 20-something Lea Seydoux instead of 50-something Monica Bellucci.

Pardon my momentary rant. I still haven’t recovered from the missed opportunity of Bond getting the RIGHT GIRL.

I write romance fiction with silver foxy men AND silver foxy women. Yeah, no, I’m not going to call her a silver vixen because cougar is already pejorative enough and there isn’t a male equivalent besides ‘dirty old man,’ which is something more perverted than a screen hero paired with a woman half his age—which keeps getting rammed down society’s throat Antonelli coveras normal.

Sorry…sorry, ranting again. Bond should have been with Bellucci.

There are those of us who believe we need a new normal, those of us who believe that if we saw silver foxy women on a regular basis, in advertising, on the big screen, on TV, in print that the double standard that keeps women over 40 trapped by stereotypes of age might change. That’s what I am doing, changing what I see by presenting real women in romance fiction who are not trapped by a stereotype of age, who are not cougars, grannies, or crazy cat ladies. In fact, I’m going against the Hollywood image completely.NextToYou_V1_FINAL Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022

My books, all of them, feature pairs of silver foxes in romance fiction, something we are lead to believe is a younger woman’s tale, which we know in real life is bullshit.

My latest release, Next to You, features a pair of silver foxes. It’s about a Bubblegum pop loving albino man named William Murphy and his new neighbor, Caroline, a woman who’s trying to grab life by the balls.  Next to You  comes on on Monday.

Drama in Real (and Fictional) Life!

ImageIt’s not hard to tell that I love Los Alamos. The little town is not simply the birthplace of the atomic bomb, home to a national nuclear research laboratory, and the prettiest place I have ever set eyes upon (see how lovely it is?), but curious, hungry bears also adore the place. I mean they REALLY love the town, and they’re not shy about showing it.A Basic Renovation_Final

Take this moment from A Basic Renovation:

“Current lore is the Guaje monster perished in the Cerro Grande Fire.” Dominic had one more bite of pie before his eye caught the movement. For a second, with all the talk of mythical creatures, he thought his imagination was pulling a fast one.
    But what he saw didn’t look anything like an incarnation of the Chupacapra, Guaje Monster or Sasquatch. “Lesley,” he half-choked on pie filling stuck at the back of his mouth, “get in the truck.”
    She started laughing. “Geeze, do you know what try hard means?”
    Dominic dropped the pie, grabbed the back of her shirt, hauled her up, and dragged her towards the old Chevy.
    “Hey! You’re pulling my hair!” she squealed. Then she caught sight of the dark lumbering hulk moving towards the blanket. “Holy—”
    Luckily, she’d left the passenger side wide open. He shoved her up into the cab, leaping in after, slamming the door, and finished her exclamation, “Shit!”
    Lesley’s heart was doing a great impression of a locomotive. Out of breath, she stared through the windshield and settled behind the wheel, pulling the light switch on the dash. Dual spotlights appeared on the star of the show. She snickered. “You know that old question about a bear in the woods? I guess they like cemeteries too.” 

Trust me here. From the forest, to downtown, to the ‘suburbs’,  Bears dig Los Alamos. The cemetery scene in A Basic Renovation sprang from my imagination because of the time my mother looked out the window and found a bear sitting under the apricot tree in the back yard, gorging himself on ripe fruit. That moment went like this: My mother looked at the bear anImaged the bear looked at my mother — and went on chowing down on apricots and spitting out the pits.  A little while later, after Mr Bear (all bears are boys and hence the Mr) ate all the choice, ripe apricots, the bear went over a stone wall and into the neighbour’s back yard to have a swim in their goldfish pond.

Then yesterday, this happened: Bear Enters Home on Barranca Mesa.

Mr Bear came out out of Barrancas Canyon and ripped the screen off the open window of a pretty brick house. Then Mr Bear made his way into the kitchen and proceeded to check out what he could have for lunch. Oops, I forgot to mention the homeowner was in the house when the bear dropped by for lunch. It’s possible she never would have known she had an unexpected guest, but Ms Homeowner had the same idea about checking out what she could make for lunch and she found the bear “hunched over the kitchen island.” Of course, Ms Homeowner went one way and Mr Bear went the other — just like Dominic and Lesley did when they headed for the ‘safety’ of Dom’s old pickup truck.

When Mr Bear Comes For Lunch was all over, New Mexico Fish and Game Official, Blake Swanson, advised Ms Homeowner to lock all her windows and doors because, it seems, bears can pry open partially open windows and doors with ease, which was something Dominic and Lesley were rather worried about once they were inside the truck and the Mr Bear came a-knockin’.

cops LAWhat I love best about this Bear and his Lunch story is that wonderful Los Alamos Police Officers responded to the ‘Bear Call.’  That cop there on the fat left, in the blue striped shirt, could be John Tilbook from  my 0913 Eyes Only_Final[1] newest Los Alamos love story, For Your Eyes Only — and can I just say, hubba hubba Officer Blue Stripes. The coolest thing about the fine police officers is that, although you see them with scary-looking weapons, they arrived on the scene with the intention of scaring off the bear with a paintball gun. However, by the the time they got there, Mr Bear had made his way out of the house to dine on the fine garbage he found in the bins he knocked over further down the street, which I suppose was a better choice on fattening up for his long winter’s nap.

The stolen classified information in For Your Eyes Only was based on actual events in Los Alamos. And this after Mr Bear Comes For Lunch drama, I’m quite happy to know that the bear in A Basic Renovation isn’t such far fetched fiction.

The photos here are by Greg Kendall/ladailypost.com and Hari Viswanathan. Thanks for the awesome pics!

Romance -vs- Women’s Fiction: The Smackdown

What is romance? What makes a romance a romance? What is Women’s Fiction? This is a point of difference I discuss in my PhD research, and it’s proved a bone of contention for my supervisor. She’s unhappy with the typing that separates fiction along gender lines. “Can’t it simply BE fiction?” she asks. However,, she understands this Imageclassification when it comes to explaining the difference between romance and, well, Women’s Fiction.

If it’s not clear what I’m yammering on about, let me define. We can argue about it you wanna, but for me, and maybe for many of you as well, romance is a love story with a happy ending or optimistic ending. The plot of a romance is driven by a love story between two people, driven by how the love develops, how it hits an obstacle, how that obstacle is overcome and how the love triumphs. That’s a Romance.

Women’s Fiction? Well, besides being an umbrella term that classifies and lumps together any novel written mostly by and for women (including romance, since most romance is written by women for women), Women’s Fiction is also a classification of a TYPE of novel where a female is the protagonist dealing with whatever life throws at her.

Trust me on this. I have it from editor’s and publishing houses that this is how it works.

So, Women’s Fiction? Think of the Bildungsroman, the “relationship novel” whereby the woman’s relationship may be with her husband, kids, mother-in-law, best friends. Think of a story that charts a woman’s voyage or self discovery, or her emotional/physical evolution, or her battle to take on City Hall. There may or may not be an element of a love story in a work of Women’s Fiction, but if it’s there it is only a sliver of the pie. Think of it this way: a love story is not what drives the plot in Women’s Fiction. As for the hallmark happily ever after? In Women’s Fiction there may or may not be a happy or optimistic ending, or a satisfying ending. There could be loose ends. OH DEAR GOD, Loose ends! But not always.

The bottom line, kids,  these are THE important distinctions between romance and Women’s Fiction. Women’s Fiction love may be a slice of pie. Romance is THE WHOLE PIE.

Have I mentioned how much I love pie? Especially cherry pie?

Anyhow, I know where I stand on this. I know what publishers think but I’m curious for your input.

See Sandra Champion the Older Romance Heroine On Dear Author.

Yes, I do go on about this, don’t I?
I bitch about how the female leads are always so young—and point out that people fall in love at any age, and no, I don’t want to read Women’s Fiction because if there’s romance in the Women’s fiction tale the romance is merely a sliver of the pie, and I want The. Whole. Freakin’. Pie. To. Be. Romance.

I’m not alone. Have a nice read of this “If You Like” Post on Dear Author: http://dearauthor.com/need-a-rec/if-you-like-misc/if-you-like-mature-romances/

A Basic Renovation_FinalI was invited to make that post, to be the CHAMPION, after a few lovely readers recommended A Basic Renovation as, not just a good romance read, but as woo-hoo-lookee-here-the-heroine-is-over-40! See? there are others like me out there. There are readers making suggestions and pointing out other romances where the heroine is 40 or more!

Keep ’em coming readers! The more you suggest, the longer my list gets on my PhD Booklist.

In case you’ve forgotten, or you never knew, the title of my PhD is Cougars, Grannies, Evil Stepmothers, and Menopausal Hot Flashers: Roles, Representations of Age, and the Non-traditional Romance Heroine. I passed my panel review yesterday.

A Kettle of WTF: Crazy Romace, Caftans, Kidnapping, & The Balance Of Power

Several weeks ago, my romance-reading friend Swell told me about a novel she was reading. She said that the plot was seventeen different kinds of batshit crazy and WTF, and the characters were all nutjobs, and she swore the 2012 this romance HAD to be a reprint from 1975, not a Harlequin from 2012. However, it was a 2012 publication, which is what led to her to thinking WTF, and me thinking: Gee, this book has all the hallmarks of what my dear friend and shallowreader Vassiliki looks for. She LOVES WTFery and the ca-razier the better!

So, I contacted Vassiliki to ask her to give me some insight on why the plot of Swell’s effed-up book, and other effed up romance plots full of bizarre-o-osity, would appeal to her.

Sandra: Tcaftans-men1hanks for joining me, Vassiliki. I know you pride yourself on being a shallow reader. You’ve mentioned you like WTFery and crazy in the categories you read and have mentioned several authors by name. Would you care to explain your appeal for what I like to call The ‘70s Caftaned Hero Romance?

Vassiliki: Awww man! You go straight to the hard questions! I love absurd humour. Early Woody Allen has a lot of bizarre occurrences where he still gets the girl. I just love the absurdity of Sleeper and Take the Money and Run. I love Mark Leyner’s My Cousin, My Gastroentorologist and Tom Cho’s Look Who’s Morphing. I love a touch of the absurd in my romances too—but only occasionally.

Sandra: OK. You named 2 of the 4 Woody Allen movies I don’t mind.

Vassiliki: Are the others Play it Again Sam and Annie Hall?

Sandra: Nope. Radio Days and The Purple Rose of Cairo.

Vassiliki: I liked those too, but Play it Again Sam is my favourite. It is all about the romantic leading man and try-hards. You say ‘70s caftaned roms. Can I point out the most over the top bizarre caftaned hero was from 1993.

Sandra: And now there’s the one Swell read from 2012, the one she found over the top with WTF and referred to as a “POS Angst ridden wallow in self pity with completely non realistic psychological behavior.”  There are scenarios you’ve mentioned you enjoy are that are over the top, like a hero in a caftan. Tell me about them.

Vassiliki: Please note that there is no disrespect to the authors that write WTF roms. I LOVE their writing.

Sandra: So tell me what WTF is to you…with examples, please.

Vassiliki: I truly believe that they are deliberate in their attempt to write bizarre, over the top plots whilst sustaining believability. It is like Fantasy, but no fantasy elements. Beth and the Barbarian is totally WTF. The guy lives in a compound like place in Morocco. She’s a feisty Aussie who rides a crazy stallion he owns because she’s just that sorta go get ‘em gal. The hero has the most ridiculous clothing sense and she calls him out on it too. Yet they connect. He actually does wear a caftan. It is described as Satanic Black and the heroine can tell he is wearing nothing underneath it—this is in the seduction scene. The other example is Lynne Graham. I ADORE her books. There is an aspect of unbelievability to most of her plots, yet I am often crying towards the end because her characters go through some powerful low points.

Sandra: I remember you once telling me about the book with the Satanic black caftan—and I was stunned it was from 1993. The seduction scene when the guy is wearing a Satanic Black caftan and nothing else….I mean HOW did that work? Was he de-caftaned? It screams ‘70s!

Vassiliki: That one was the most cra-cra I have ever read. It was a page-turner only because I needed to read the next lot of crazy. I wanted to know what outline could she see that she ‘knew’ he wore nothing else underneath…but back to Lynne Graham: the plot. The plots she writes, to me, seem to stretch the believability spectrum. My ‘As-IF-o-meter’ was screaming with The Contract Baby. It starts in the US. A Billionaire CEO decides to hire a surrogate to have his heir because women are not trustworthy, but he needs a baby. He decides upon a 21 year-old woman. She needs to be a surrogate to pay for her mother’s cancer treatment—Oh, the mum that she was just reunited with. The Mum dies before the heroine gives birth. The heroine then decides she loves her bub too much, so she will escape/renege on the surrogacy and flees to her home in the UK. Surrogate dad (who unbeknownst to her had befriended her on her walks to the park so he could meet the woman having his baby) follows her, kidnaps her and takes her back to his hacienda in Argentina (?) to ensure that he has the baby. Then plausibility is stretched again in that she has a caesarean, which is great news because she was a virgin (you know—gotta keep it all tight down there), and of course she feels vulnerable about the sexy hot neighbour next door. But none of this was too ludicrous for love. At the end she brings this ever-powerful man to his knees and he loves her and adores her. HEA! Smiles for all. And a baby too. Phew! Does that example help?

Sandra: Oh, Gawd, I am rollin’ my eyes! Perhaps if I approached it from a different perspective—if I read for the WTF, I might enjoy it the way I enjoy the total unbelievabliity of say, The Transporter or Die Hard

Vassiliki: YES! As unbelievable as Die Hard and Bond movies, but in the romance genre. It is awesome.

Sandra: For me, the romance aspect is the game changer. I have to believe the romance would happen. The kidnapped bit makes me hit a wall. I’d stop reading. And then the book would hit the wall. Funny, I can buy John McClane jumping off a building with a fire hose wrapped around his waist or James Bond landing on his feet after jumping through a hole he made in a train car, but I can’t buy that a woman would fall for the guy who kidnaps her and keeps her prisoner on an island. That’s more like a mental illness, horror, sex slave story…Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, Boxing Helena… With that stuff, it ceases to be romance for me. Completely.

Vassiliki: In Beth and the Barbarian she consents to going back to his compound against the advice of other people. She is not a prisoner/kidnapped.

Sandra: She is willing? That’s A NEW KETTLE OF WTF!!! Willing = huge WTF.

Vassiliki: In The Contract Baby it is a bit more tenuous, but he is holding her to the contract. I can’t read most fantasy because the unbelievability of werewolves and vampires stretches me beyond reading. But yes, I think it is a new kettle of WTF! Sara Craven’s Count Valieri’s Prisoner was a Stockolm Syndrome romance. I usually like all her books but this one did not work for me. The power imbalance was too great. And perhaps that is the key—who holds power and how much.

Sandra: Tell me how THAT power balance worked because I’m not getting it.

Vassiliki: In the other 2 WTF roms I’ve mentioned, there is still power within the female character; they brought the guy to his knees. From memory, it wasn’t only the power of great sex (which is definitely one criteria), but somehow a personal connection that no other person managed to have with the hero. Somewhere along the bizarre story the heroine connects with the vulnerable part of the hero. Isn’t the vulnerability aspect the best though? How the hero/heroine copes and communicates when they find you are vulnerable.

Sandra: So which is more important, the vulnerability or who holds the power? When it comes down to accepting the WTF, I mean.

Vassiliki: I think it needs to be equal. Imbalances in relationships is what makes them unbelievable not plot twists. Can I also point out I have 3 subcategories of WTF. There is the WTF Absurd (discussed above) WTF Wallbanger (I cannot bear to read any longer for any number of reasons) and WTF Dysfunctional.

Sandra: I understand the Wallbanger. Can you explain the Dysfunctional?

Vassiliki: WTF Dysfunctional romances are when people enter abusive horrid relationships. They happen in real life. We see people we know in unhappy partnerships, they may go through mercurial love/hate stages and it can make my skin crawl yet they stay (at least for some time) in these relationships.

Sandra: I can’t read those at all. Those fall into dysfunctional for me.

Vassiliki: A Dysfunctional example is Lillian Cheatham’s Shadowed Reunion. This book is quite bleak. The hero is abusive both physically and mentally. He finally gets her to say I love you by breaking her will. All the power is his. He too says, I love you, AFTER her. I hate this book, yet I reread it every few years. The power imbalance is horrible. But I am intrigued by that momentary high, that moment of the love declaration. People look at the Taylor/Burton pairing. “True love!” Yet they were too mercurial to stay together, but those high moments of love still fascinate readers. I guess it depends on what sort of reader you feel you are. I am not a placeholder reader (I think that is the term that is used).

Sandra: I can do Rhett & Scarlett & Taylor Burton. They were equally matched. I’m not a placeholder. I’m more a voyeur or observer.

Vassiliki: I read as an observer/voyeur even when I get totally immersed in a book. I never see myself in a specific role….well with the exception of Miranda Melendy in Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays, but that is a kid’s book and kinda different.

Sandra: Thanks for joining me this morning to discuss the appeal of reading Absurd, Wallbanger and Dysfunctional WTF romance and caftans. I see the joy reading gives you, and I’m all for rejumpsuits-for-menading and joy. Will you join me again to discuss other aspects of reading and romance and romance scholarship? Or we can just talk about heroes with facial & body hair or the sublime WTFery of jumpsuits for men.

Vassiliki is The Shallow Reader who barely scratches the surface of romance literature, reading and libraries. She is an avid romance reader and romance scholar. She is, the shit. You can read her blog here.

A Shoe In?

You might think, because I have a row of red cowboy boots across the top of my website,and a book cover (A Basic Renovation) featuring red cowboy boots, that I have a thing for footwear.

The reality is I have small feet that are difficult to fit. For me shoes are hard to come by. I have a closet full of size 2 and 3 kids shoes and a few pairs of ladies size 5’s–my grown up shoes. The grown up shoes took ages to find. Typically, a shop will only stock ONE five. Lately I’ve discovered the smallest size starts at 6. It is as if feet are getting bigger across the globe because this can’t-find-a-shoe-my-size situation has happened to be on three continents. So those red cowboy boots you see. They took me over a decade to find.

Meanwhile, it took me 15 minutes to find a pair of white Converse Chuck Taylor All Star low tops, size 3.

pinkI like having my feet covered, protected from the elements. When I find a shoe my size, one that I like, one that is comfortable, I buy it. As a result, I have five pairs of Chucks, all size 3. There are the aforementioned white, as well as black, olive, brown and hot pink. The size five I’m-a-big-girl-playing-dress-up shoes I own I have amassed over two decades. This means everything old is new again and I’m in fashion!

As fashionable as I am, the publication of A Basic Renovation made me notice something about my shoes. While I don’t have a shoe fetish, I clearly have something deeply psychological, far down in my subconscious about the shoes in my life because in everything I ‘ve written I’ve described how characters are shod.

Is that shoe envy?

Is it what Dr Shrinky types call projection? Do I want to WEAR the same shoes as my characters?

Or is it that I already do?

Case in point: my next novel, For Your Eyes Only (due out in September from Escape!!), Willa the superhero wannabe who tries to save the day, wears Hot Pink Converse Low Top Chuck Taylor All Stars. In one draft I changed the Hot Pink to Green, but then I changed it back again because I don’t own green Converse Low Top Chucks.  I did not realise I had changed the colour of the Chucks until I began going though the novel again, after it was accepted for publication. That was my Shoe A-ha light bulb WTF Moment.

So you tell me. If you’re a writer, what part of you makes it into your work?

If you’re a reader, do you wonder how much of the author is revealed in the characters? Do you rush out and buy red cowboy boots because Lesley has a pair In A Basic Renovation? Will you hunt down a pair of hot pink canvas Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Low tops because Willa laces up a pair in For Your Eyes Only?

Maybe I Need to Wear a Cape

I have been told I often I live up to the meaning of my first name, Sandra, from Alexandeathenar: Defender of man. This might be true (Yes, I know that’s Athena over there, but you get what I mean)

For years, I have talked about the lack of age representation in romance on OldBitey. First on the Oldbitey LiveJournal Blog, then here. But yesterday somebody else asked me the questions. Yesterday, I was on my soapbox on someone else’s blog: Read in a Single Sitting, and I was Advocating for older protagonists in romance fiction. If you are familiar with Oldbitey, you know my spiel, you know my PhD research is all about mature-aged romance heroines, but mostly I am really an advocate for inclusion.

I love romance fiction. I read across all genres, but I have a special place for romance. In romance there is something for everyone. Yes,  there is a lot of ‘white romance,’ but there is also some diversity outside the white hetro romance. There are m/m romance, lesbian romance, there’s even ethnic diversity if you look for it–not a lot, but it’s there. You can find stories of cross-cultural romance (Sheiks and Greeks anyone?), plus-sized heroine romance (although what makes plus-size is up for discussion) and inter-species romance (e.g. weres, vampires, aliens, shapeshifters).  There are, however, certain demographics seldom represented as protagonists in romance fiction. There is lack of heroes or heroines who are amputees, wheelchair bound, or have physical or mental challenges–such as Tim in Colleen McCullough’s Tim —the only romance I can even think of where a protagonist is, as McCullough puts it “not the full quid,” which of course speaks volumes to the attitude regarding disability of any sort. While ‘challenged individuals’ come in all forms, special demographics confront something that romance often wrestles with. The question becomes: How real is too real in the fantasy of romance?

There is a strange idea at work here with regard to the idea of how ‘real’ the romance fantasy can be. Some say too much realism ‘spoils’ the fantasy for them, but that is only when it comes to the age of the characters, as well as physical capability and mental capacity. Some readers prefer everything to be whole, pretty and young. All the time. Yet even within that whole, young prettiness, romance is incredible for addressing real life social issues, mores, and cultural standards, and changing the attitudes about them. Rape, divorce, single parenthood, abuse of all sorts, sexuality, the position of women in in business, in schools, in professions have all been poked and prodded and interrogated in romance and have transformed social sensibilities. These matters do not appear to be ‘too real’ to be included in a romance fantasy. So what the hell’s the matter with including the other incarnations of real human life in the fantasy?

The interesting hard fact is, the romance genre transforms itself and becomes more inclusive with each year. One day, I expect to see an even broader choice for all tastes, a broader scope of real people given the opportunity to participate in the fantasy because that’s what romance does.

Doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, as you ponder my musings, I’ll let my awesome scarlet cape flap in the wind and stand poised on my soapbox, ready to swoop down and defend and support forgotten demographics.