Archive for category genre

in which I have opinions

It’s been a weird week in which a lot of things have happened, and I got very

but somehow restrained myself when it came to actually speaking up. It’s the problem of being an author and being conscious of the fact that people are watching what you do. To be clear, I don’t feel stifled by potential readers, it’s more thinking, “Does acting this way or saying these things really live up to the image I want to portray?” and usually when I want to rant about something, the answer to that is, “No.”

But here are some things I’ve been thinking about, in no particular order:

• I should know better than to read most “journalism” on the romance industry. So many of the articles take a “hey, look at what these silly women are doing” approach that I find kind of offensive. But the kicker is that I read two articles recently that made the argument that romance writers don’t aspire to be literary or romance writers aren’t concerned with the same things literary fiction writers are. I got into kind of a shouty argument with a friend, who countered that this was a good thing because literary fiction is soulless and concerned with writing the perfect sentence over plot and character. I disagreed because, as with romance, you can’t characterize a whole genre with such broad strokes. Sure, some literary fiction novels are soulless, and some romance novels are crap. But that doesn’t mean the whole genre is that way. More to the point, the connotations of the statement that romance writers don’t aspire to the same things literary writers do is that romance writers don’t aspire to be good writers. Which I take issue with. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time studying and working on my craft, with the goal of each book being better than the last, and to me, a great book is one that gets everything right: beautiful writing, a compelling story, interesting characters, emotional resonance, all of those things. The ONLY differences between a romance novel and a literary novel, as far as I’m concerned, are romance’s emphasis on the central story being a romantic one and the happy ending requirement.

Basically, the distinction between literary and genre fiction is one of marketing and expectations, not writing quality. For example, if I walk over to the fantasy section of a book store, I’m looking for a certain kind of book. I have expectations for what it will include. Literary fiction is much more broad. But otherwise? Sure, maybe there are some genre writers who are painting by numbers, but a lot of romance writers I have met over the years are genuinely invested in creating a great book.

• Although, perhaps disproving my own point, I read a historical romance novella earlier this week that was just rampant with factual errors. (Not m/m for what it’s worth. And no, I won’t tell you which book it was.) Now, I will grant you, I’m a dweeb and a history buff, so I’m going to spot errors that other readers may not. In this case, there were two that stood out to me: one was a bit about baseball that was so wrong I actually dropped the book in exasperation—and that was something a thirty second Google search could have rectified—and, without giving away the book, the other error is about something so fundamental that if you fixed the novel to correct it, the whole plot would fall apart. That is, the premise of the novel is based on something historically false, and this is not an alternate history. This is apparently a hard limit for me; the writing was competent and I liked the characters okay, but I just could not get past those historical errors.

• I did actually weigh in on an argument on an author loop, which I basically never do, but apparently I hit some kind of tongue-holding critical mass. I mean, I was nice and respectful. I don’t even necessarily think we all have to get along within the community, and some debate and disagreement is good, but it’s a combination of “am I putting myself in the best light?” and “is everybody going to hate me if I say this?” that pass through my mind whenever I type something to put on the Internet, even somewhere semi-private like an author loop.

• I’m reading a Beverly Jenkins novel right now in which the heroine is a whore—this is what she calls herself in the novel, and indeed, she is a woman who has sex for money and the hero is one of her clients—and I’m finding it so refreshing that this heroine totally owns her past and her choices and feels no shame about it! I’m really loving that aspect of the book. That is, the heroine has had a hard life and totally recognizes why a happily ever after with the hero from a prominent family is probably not possible (except it totally is because this is a romance novel) but there’s no effort on Jenkins’s part to make the heroine pure anyway—and I recently read a book with a virgin concubine heroine that was published in 2009, so this is still a thing we’re doing in romance—or regretful of her past life except as it pertains to her current situation and the novel’s central conflict.

I wonder sometimes if some of the reason LGBT romance sometimes feels like it has fewer limits is that the fact that there are two dudes or two ladies or whatever at the center of the book is already a barrier to entry for some readers, and if you’re already redefining a genre, you might as well go for it. Is it the same for multicultural romance? Does the fact that this Jenkins book has two people of color embracing on the cover keep some readers away? (I’m not so naive as to think that it doesn’t, which is a shame because this book is so fantastically trope-y and I’m finding it very entertaining.) If so, does that give Jenkins some room to write a different kind of heroine than what we’re used to seeing? I honestly don’t know; I’m just wondering if that’s what’s happening here, because it’s been a while since I read even a contemporary romance with a heroine who owns her sexuality in this way. (So far. I’m about halfway through the book.)

I’ll leave it there. It’s raining in New York right now, which is washing away the snow finally. I have high hopes that I will soon be able to go outside without wearing clunky boots.

the things you find

Reminder: I’m reading tonight at Lady Jane’s Salon in New York City.

It’s been an interesting few days in New York.

I stayed up until 1am March 1 to register for GayRomLit in Albuquerque. (I will learn to spell “Albuquerque” without looking it up before October!) I did not hesitate even a second before registering, and I’m really excited to be going again.

On Thursday, my friend A and I went to a reading at a tiny Brooklyn bookstore (Word in Greenpoint). We saw Eloisa James, Maya Rodale, and Sarah MacLean, all historical romance writers. A and I have been attending all manner of romance-related events in NYC and having a really great time. Granted, part of that is just fangirling over authors we really like, but we’ve also gotten the chance to talk to both readers and writers who are just as enthusiastic about the romance genre as we are.

Anyway, the “reading” was run more as a panel discussion, and one of the first things the panel talked about was writing. Some of their suggestions were solid if maybe standard writerly advice: read a lot, constantly work on craft, etc. But one suggestion they made was to make friends who are about at your stage in the publishing process. I hadn’t really thought of that before; I’ve only really started seriously networking with other authors over the last six months or so, but it’s nice to have that support network.

The discussion also included some questions on gay romance, although the focus was more on lesbian romance. Someone posed the question: if attitudes about women’s sexuality are changing within romance novels (which everyone agreed they are) is there room for bisexual or lesbian heroines? That stumped the panel, who weren’t sure what the barrier to success for lesbian romances was. I’d like to think f/f books can succeed; someone I talked to after the panel suggested there just needed to be a critical mass of really good ones before they became a phenomenon. (I don’t really buy that there’s no interest in lesbian romance, which is an argument I’ve heard a lot.)

Speaking of women, Friday night I did something I’d never done before. I went on a girls’ night out to nerdy burlesque. When we were waiting on line to get into the theater, one of my friends remarked that this was one of those strange, possibly Only In New York things. The show had a Batman theme, and most of the dancers wore costumes based on villains from the comic books. I think my favorite was the woman who dressed up as the Joker; her interpretation was based on the Heath Ledger Joker, and she stripped down to a nurse’s uniform before showing off her pasties that were made to look like tiny hand grenades. It was pretty awesome. (I’d never been to a burlesque show before, but I’d heard that a lot of the ones in New York are very pro-woman. I’d say that was true here. The audience was respectful but appreciative, for example. It was fun and not sleazy.)

A good friend of mine from college came to NYC this weekend, so we spent Saturday afternoon together doing dumb touristy things. I rarely do things like that—hell, I rarely leave Brooklyn these days—but I think it’s fun sometimes to see the city from the perspective of people who don’t live here. I forget sometimes what it’s like. For example, I had a job on Fifth Avenue for a long time. It was a few blocks from Rockefeller Center and I got so used to walking through that area every day that navigating it felt like more of a nuisance than a wonder. But as my friend and I were walking up Fifth on Saturday, she kept pointing stuff out, and I kept thinking, “Oh, yeah. That is pretty cool.” It’s nice to have some of the magic back.

So tonight, I’ve got the big reading, then later this month is the Rainbow Book Fair. I’m currently working on edits for Out in the Field, my upcoming romance between two baseball players. (That comes out at the end of April.) So March is busy!

“uh, because these books are awesome?”

For my birthday a few years ago, a friend of mine gave me a Vera Bradley book cover that is just the right size to hide the cover of a mass market paperback. (It’s really cute; it has pink elephants on it.) At the time, I was still doing most of my reading on the subway ride to work, out in public view of everyone. I assume most straphangers judge my reading material, because I totally judge theirs. And even the most beautifully written, engaging, delightful romances often have awful covers. So hiding the clutch cover under the pink elephants was one way to trick other subway riders that I was reading Anna Karenina. Or probably they thought I was overcompensating and assumed I was reading something trashy anyway. An e-reader kind of solves the problem, because they’re ubiquitous on the subway now, and you don’t know, I could be reading Freedom. (Although I sometimes worry that when I’m reading something smutty, everyone on the train can tell, like it’s written all over my face. On a recent subway trip, I started a new novel that opened with a really graphic blowjob, and I’m pretty sure the guy sharing the pole with me [hurr, not like that] was reading over my shoulder.)

I’ve been thinking about romance reading and shame. The genre is still much-maligned, considered trashy and fluffy and not “literary.” But of course there are plenty of really smart, talented people who read and write romance. And this is a genre that I have come to really love and care about. I want writers to succeed. I want the genre to gain respect. (All of romance, I mean, because I read the high-brow ones, and I love brainy historicals, and I love mysteries and romantic suspense, and I read m/m and f/f and m/f and every now and then a menage, and I even still occasionally read those Harlequin Presents about the Virgin Sheikh’s Secret Baby’s Mistress or whatever, too, because I am a total sucker for an over-the-top ridiculous plot. Not all books are for everyone, but each has its passionate fans.)

A lot of things came together for me this past Monday night. I’d been thinking a lot about the situation with the More than Magic contest and RWA.

Aside: I usually stay away from controversy on this blog, but I do tend to be someone with very strong opinions. I’ve been following this particular issue somewhat obsessively but not really commenting on it publicly. Part of this is just a lack of time (it’s taken me two days just to write this blog post because I’m so busy with other things) but I also didn’t want to knee-jerk. At the same time, I’m a fairly upbeat person, so I thought, well, I want to write about this, but I can stay positive.

So, as to the More than Magic fallout, there were good things that came out of it. My local chapter, RWANYC, announced on Sunday that they would enthusiastically accept all romance to their Love and Laughter contest later this year. As president Lise Horton said, “Love, after all, knows no boundaries.” The membership of RWANYC is really diverse, both in terms of the people themselves and what they choose to write, and they accept everyone. That’s a refrain I’ve heard a lot from other writers—most have had really great experiences with their local chapters. RWI is not representative of the organization as a whole, is the impression I have. There’s been some lively discussion among the members of the Rainbow Romance Writers, too, although plenty of other people have talked about that more eloquently than I can.

Bottom line is that I’ve been really encouraged by the discussion and I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish, and I feel now that choosing to stick with RWA was the right decision. It took me a while to figure out what RWA could do for me, but THIS, this is what it can do.

So with all that on the brain, I went to Lady Jane’s Salon on Monday night. Lady Jane’s is a romance reading series that serendipitously takes place at one of my favorite bars in NYC, Madame X. (Lauren Willig, Eloisa James, and Sarah Wendell were the readers.) Over the course of the night, I had several conversations about romance as a genre with a pretty wide array of attendees. Everyone there was really friendly and enthusiastic about the genre. (I met a woman, for example, with whom the conversation basically went, “Hi, I’m ____.” “I’m Kate.” “Do you love romance novels?” “Of course!” and that was pretty much the tenor of the evening.)

My friend A and I have been going to pretty much every romance-novel-related event in NYC that we’ve come across in the last two or three months. What I’m learning is that New York has a really incredible community of romance writers and readers who are really fun to hang around with. These are really smart people, too.

Romance has the problem of being a medium that is (mostly) created by, produced by, and made for women, which I’m sure contributes to its reputation. But one of the things that Lady Jane’s Salon does, and one of the things that RWA and its chapters can do, is lend legitimacy, recognition, and respect to the genre.

So if you love romance, support the genre. Go to readings in your area. Talk up books you like. Celebrate what you love to read.

RWA and discrimination

If you haven’t heard yet, there’s a lot of discussion happening right now about Romance Writers Ink, a Tulsa-based chapter of RWA, which runs a contest called More than Magic. Among the guidelines for the contest is one disturbing note: “Note: MTM will no longer accept same-sex entries in any category.” (Here are the rules.) This, despite the fact that an LGBT book (More by Sloan Parker) won first place in the First Book category last year.

Heidi Cullinan’s post on the issue is great and you should read it: RWA Shouldn’t Be in the Business of Discrimination.

I joined RWA about a year ago. I know some of the members of my local chapter through my participation in National Novel Writing Month and they’d been bugging me to join for a long time. I’ll be honest; it wasn’t clear to me at first what my dues money was going to. I wound up not being able to attend most of last year’s convention, even though it was right here in New York last year, but I thought, if anything, it was a way to connect to other romance writers. The New York City chapter has been very supportive of me when I ask for it, and I’ve written articles for their newsletter and guest posts on their blog. One thing I like about them is that they are totally open to all kinds of romance writers: erotica, LGBT, Christian, contemporary, paranormal, you name it, it’s all represented.

At the beginning of this year, I joined Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance special interest chapter of RWA. I feel like I’ve found my people. This is such a fantastic group of writers. They’ve been a real force behind making it known that RWA’s wishy-washy response to discrimination is unacceptable and spreading the word about the situation. One of the missions of the chapter is to bring more attention to LGBT romance and advocate for it. “Take it mainstream,” is how Damon Suede put it when we had dinner together last fall. These are writers who take their craft seriously, who care about the genre, who want to put out good books. (Writers, please consider joining! It’s a great group!)

On a personal note, it’s been an interesting journey into the land of romance writing. I held off on joining RWA because, when I first found out about it, I was still writing overwrought “literary” fiction, which is what too many creative writing classes will do to you, I guess. But then, maybe five years ago, I listened to an episode of This American Life about RWA, and that somehow was the push I needed to give romance writing a try (or to admit that most of what I was writing was pretty much romance anyway). It took me a while to accept that romance was my calling (and I’ve loved genre fiction, romance and mysteries especially, since I was a kid, so I don’t know why I held out so long). And I love m/m, I still really enjoy writing (and reading!) it, so there’s that, too. It’s been a real joy for me to connect with other writers and readers over the last year, because I love to talk about books and writing and I WILL talk at length if you let me.

So it’s a shame that RWA, which has the potential to do so much good for a genre that—let’s face it—is often maligned, can’t see the forest for the trees.

Edited to add: Best course of action for now seems to be to email RWA National to let them know we won’t tolerate discrimination, and also to spread the word. Maybe a critical mass of people will persuade RWA to change their policy. See also Kari Gregg.

if you are even a little interested in steampunk…

My very awesome real-life friend Tilda Booth’s debut novel is out today from Samhain. It’s a steampunk romance (m/f) novella. I read an early draft of it and can verify that it is a really fun read. There are gadgets and science and adventure. It’s part of the Silk, Steel, and Steam anthology, with two other steampunk stories; Tilda’s book is also available as an ebook standalone. (Not that you shouldn’t check out those other stories.) Here’s the blurb:

The plan: Kidnap H.G. Wells. Definitely not part of the plan: Falling in love.

A Silk, Steel and Steam story.

The year is 1897, the place, a Britain that could have been, but never was. H. George Wells is helping lead Britain into a new Golden Age, driven by technological advances and discoveries of the human brain. Then one night a beautiful woman abducts him at gunpoint, and she seems to despise everything he’s worked for. Despite his outrage, he can’t help but be intrigued by this adventuress and her passion for her cause.

Jane Robbins, agent provocateur, has reason to fear her country’s march towards a new world order. Using her wits and her arsenal of spy gadgets to infiltrate Wells’ house, she delivers him to her employer, who plans to use him as leverage to halt the coming Utopia. But when Wells’ life is threatened, she must choose between saving him or sacrificing him to the cause.

Scientist and spy, they are irresistibly drawn to each other even as the future pushes them apart.

Warning: This book contains gadgets, guns, death rays, dirigibles, sexy scientists and a smoking hot Victorian spy who’s as much steam as she is punk. Don’t blame us if it makes you want to slip a pistol into your garter and abduct the man of your dreams.

wait, nobody told me i couldn’t do that

I like the thinky posts on Dear Author, and this week’s, on whether there can be a second chance at love in a romance novel is no exception. The discussion here is about the One True Love trope in romance, wherein it’s so common for characters to have been in relationships before, but for those relationships to have been not so good, or, for example, you have a widower who thought his dead wife was the love of his life, but the love he feels for the heroine in the novel is so much better. So the question is left hanging: is it possible for a romance hero(ine) to fall in love twice in his/her lifetime?

In romance, there doesn’t seem to be room for a character to love, fully and completely, more than once. Upon meeting the true mate, the character must justify past feelings for another as not as complete or full or passionate.

Maybe this is true in a lot of the genre, but I don’t think it’s true in life. People fall in love more than once in a lifetime.

I bring this up because I don’t think I had ever seen this particular trope spelled out for me before, which is weird because I read a lot of romance and should have put it together sooner.

But I didn’t. In In Hot Pursuit, for example, Noah loses his partner Josh in the early pages of the novel. Noah and Josh had a solid, loving relationship. Josh is killed very suddenly, leaving Noah bereft. Noah then meeting and falling for Harry in no way invalidates (to me, anyway) his relationship with Josh, doesn’t make the past relationship any less solid and loving.

Nobody told me that I couldn’t make Noah fall in love twice.

It’s an interesting thing to think about, about the genre and the idealizations therein, about what authors can and can’t get away with and still pull off the HEA (or HFN), about how fiction has its own rules. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a writers group workshop where someone criticized a plot point for being too unrealistic, and the writer said, “But that happened to me in real life!”)

I like complicated stories, where there is no easy path to the Happily Ever After One True Love Babies and Weddings Epilogue, if you get what I mean. But I want a hopeful ending, too. I’m a sucker for a story where two people meet and it sure looks like they’ll be together for all eternity when you turn that last page, but what about the characters who lose their soulmate? I mean, shit happens. There are accidents and illness and things go wrong and these are the facts of life. Is the partner left behind expected to spend the rest of his life mourning? I prefer to think there are second chances.