Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Thoughts Inspired by the Conference: Race, Money and Medievalism

I was pleased to see that romance author Diane Gaston felt that Laurie Kahn's documentary is "the most respectful depiction of the romance genre that I’ve ever seen." The conference at the Library of Congress was clearly a very positive and thought-provoking experience for many attendees. Eric posted the following note to the Romance Scholar listserve:
At the recent Library of Congress symposium some questions came up about the history of African American popular romance fiction, and after the conference, Kathleen Gilles Seidel passed along a memory that Pam Regis thought worth getting out into the record:  a “footnote,” as she called it, to the history that’s been discussed elsewhere.
In 1982 when Vivian Stephens, an African-American, was the editor in charge of putting together the new Harlequin American line, she really wanted to feature an book with African-American characters.  She didn’t get an appropriate submission.  So she asked Jackie Weger, a Southern white writer, to take the characters in her book A Strong and Tender Thread and make them black.  Jackie did so, and Vivien intended to make it one of the four launch titles.

During test marketing, the book tested horribly so Harlequin assumed that readers didn’t want books with black characters . . . as opposed to assuming that readers don’t want fake books with  black characters.  So the book was taken out of the first month (and my book was put in – which is why I remember this story so well as it worked out beautifully for me).  It was published in 1983 as Harlequin American Romance #7 during the second month of the series.  It did have very light-skinned African Americans on the cover, and it was the first series romance featuring African Americans released by Harlequin (and possibly any series publisher).  But they didn’t put their best foot forward. 

Personally, I suspect there was indeed a big problem with White "readers [who] didn’t want books with black characters" because, not much later, Harlequin published a romance by a Black author, with Black characters:
Sandra Kitt of New York had written her first Harlequin with black characters in 1984, but after Adam and Eva, "I couldn't get them to accept the other black novels. They said they didn't know anything about the market," she told the Boston Globe. In fact, Harlequin got scads of letters complaining about the book, including one from a Philadelphia woman who said, "Those people should have their own series." (Grescoe 279)
Harlequin was a business and it sounds to me as though their market-research and consumer feedback was telling them loudly, and often in an explicitly racist manner, that romances featuring Black characters didn't appeal to their existing readers and therefore wouldn't sell well.

On the topic of romance as a business, Bobbi Dumas mentions at Kirkus that "Laurie Kahn [...] refers to it as 'a female-powered engine of commerce, a multi-billion dollar business and tech-savvy global sisterhood'" and Elisabeth Lane writes that
a common thread that struck me after watching the documentary film and after attending the conference the next day: the huge economic impact of the romance genre. As a romance reviewer, I typically think of romance in terms of its content: stories, characters, plots, themes. And sometimes in terms of sociological analyses of what we as a society say about the romance genre and what the romance genre says about us. But while I have always known intellectually that romance is a huge business (it’s a fact that gets repeated frequently by romance apologists), I hadn’t really considered its impact on individual women’s finances. During the film and the conference, the theme that romance is a genre “for women, by women, and about women” was repeated at least a half dozen times by various speakers. While in the spirit of inclusiveness, we know that’s not always the case, it is still very much true of the bulk of the romance industry. Not only is the romance industry in general for women, by women, and about women, it is also a business that accrues major economic benefit to women.
You can read more of Lane's thoughts about "Financial Empowerment from Romance" here.

Anne Bornschein, meanwhile, spent some time mulling over comments made by "William Reddy, Professor of History and Cultural Anthropology at Duke, who asserted that contrary to popular belief, modern romance novels do not represent archetypal models of love." She concludes that
although the definition of romantic love that guides popular romance fiction today is not transhistorical, the premodern Western literary tradition has a lot to offer scholars and readers of popular romance in terms of productive lenses through which to view current literary trends.
Here are some areas of correspondence between the premodern and the (post)modern that readily come to mind:
  • alternative models of love, in particular possible slippage from the homosocial bond (i.e., bromance) to the homosexual, including iconic male couples such as Roland and Olivier, or Lancelot and Galehaut, as antecedents to today’s m/m romance
  •  narratives foregrounding cross-dressing, role reversal, and gender performativity in texts such as Aucassin et Nicolette and  Le Roman de Silence
  • Marie de France’s Lais such as Yonec and Bisclavret as medieval forebears to the were- and shapeshifter trends in romance, and more broadly, the medieval Otherworld’s link to fantasy-inflected love stories
  • authorship and readerly community in the Middle Ages: Arthuriana as a medieval form of fanfic in which vast networks of writers contributed translations, reworkings, alternate continuities, continuations, prequels, and paratexts
  • hagiography (saints lives) as a parallel genre associated with discourses of passion (both physical and spiritual), sacrifice, and bodily suffering, with particular emphasis on metaphor
 And the rest of her thoughts on the topic can be found here.

Grescoe, Paul. The Merchants of Venus: Inside Harlequin and the Empire of Romance. Vancouver: Raincoast, 1996.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Eric's Symposium Remarks

--Eric Selinger

Last week the Library of Congress hosted a day-long conference on romance fiction (and related topics) in the digital age.  Along with Len Barot, Beverly Jenkins, Nicole Peeler, and Susan Ostrov Weisser--see above, in the photo by Margaret Locke--I was was on the first panel, which was supposed to focus on the question "What Belongs in the Romance Canon?"  A number of other ancillary questions were posed by the moderator, Pamela Regis, including how broadly defined "romance" and its canon should be.

Each of us on the panel got to make a three-minute opening statement, and I spent a sleepless night trying to decide what I ought to say in my slot, what I should save for the Q and A to follow, and so on.  In the end, here's what I wrote out and said:
The last thing that popular romance needs is a man in a suit explaining--mansplaining--what belongs in the romance canon.
I can tell you who's been on my romance syllabi.  As your program notes, I've taught upwards of thirty courses exclusively devoted to the genre at DePaul, from historical surveys to thematic courses to ten-week seminars on individual romance novels.  But every book and author I've taught is there because of the expertise and enthusiasm of some blogger, reviewer, scholars, reader, librarian, or author who loved that book, put that book on a list, or put that book in my hand, saying "this is awesome, this was influential, this would teach really well; I don't get to teach this class, and you do, so put this in it."
It's worth nothing, I think, that so far every one of those bloggers, reviewers, scholars, readers, authors, and librarians has been a woman.
Now, I don't always end up teaching the particular novel they suggest.  Sarah Frantz Lyons has been after me for years to teach It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and my wife loves Match Me if you Can, but Natural Born Charmer is my jam:  it teaches perfectly, for me.  
This leads me to a second point about the romance canon, one made last spring by a young Australian scholar, Jodi McAlister.  In the romance world, Jodi wrote in a blog post called "Boom Goes the Canon," there are certainly iconic books, authors, publishing lines, but they don't function the way a traditional literary canon does--to establish authority, to separate wheat from chaff, sheep from goats, the gospel of the lord from Bible fan-fic.  Romance readers, she writes, are quite comfortable with the ideas of subjective pleasure and continent value.  What works for me won't work for you; what works for me might work for some reason other than "objective artistic merit" or some other demonstrable reason for canonicity.
There are, we might say, many fish in the sea, or a lid for every pot:  a lesson from within the novels that romance readers seem able to map onto the literary field of the novels themselves.
The romance community is quite comfortable with what Barbara Herrnstein Smith once called "Contingencies of Value."  And  as a scholar, my inclination is less to weigh in on what belongs in the romance canon, or what the boundaries of that canon should be, then to try to learn what the romance world can teach me about why we ask those questions, and about what's at stake in how we answer them.
In the Q & A that followed, I mentioned Noah Berlatsky's canon piece in Salon and Wendy the SuperLibrarian's response (and the comments from her readers that followed).  But I wanted to take the opportunity of the 3-minute formal address to do something Sunita mentioned in a comment last spring when that whole canon business was getting talked about:  that is, to draw my audience's attention to the women whose expertise I've relied on all these years, rather than pretending to an expertise of my own.  (I do have some expertise of my own, I hope, but it's not about what's in or should be in the romance canon!)  Jodi's piece has been on my mind for nearly a year, and that seemed like the one to flag most immediately--and I figured I would have plenty of chances to plump for particular novels, etc., as soon as the discussion started.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Romance in Influential Places

Eric's promised to post some comments/reflections on the recent conference held at the Library of Congress but in the meantime Margaret Locke's report can be found here and Kiersten Hallie Krum's collection of [all the?] tweets sent from the conference is here. [Edited to add: Jessica Matthews has just tweeted a link to an article about the conference, in the Washington Post. A shorter collection of tweets, featuring pretty much only those sent by Smart Bitch Sarah can be found here.]

Jayashree Kamble has an article in Oklahoma Humanities (the magazine of the Oklahoma Humanities Council): "What's Love Got to Do with It? - In Romance Novels, Everything!" Other articles in the same issue which may be of interest are:

Fount of the Heart -- The Edna Crockett Valentines
The art and heart of exchanging valentines.

     By Nancy Rosin

Matchmaking: The Second-Oldest Profession
A centuries-old tradition.

     By Meghan Laslocky

The Movie Lover's Guide to Kissing
Tips and clips for reel romance.

     By Mary Brodnax

"Pointed Boots Are Just Bad News"
Love lessons from contemporary female poets.

     By Jessica Glover

Last, but not least, at the Journal of Popular Romance Studies Lisa Fletcher is
seeking new submissions for the section focused on any aspect of the teaching and learning of popular romance studies. My editorial in issue 3.2 of the journal, “The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Popular Romance Studies: What is it, and why does it matter,” introduces the section as a “trading zone” for the open exchange of ideas, research findings, and tools for enriching the experience of teachers and, most importantly, students in courses which examine the meaning and significance of romantic love in global popular culture. JPRS offers the only peer-reviewed forum devoted to the teaching and learning of popular culture: please feel welcome to email me with suggestions for, or questions about, the section [...]. 

I am interested in theoretical and empirical contributions from all relevant disciplines, as well as interdisciplinary approaches. Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:
• Key issues in the teaching and learning of popular romance studies
• The research / teaching nexus and popular romance
• Curriculum design for teaching popular romance
• Practical case studies of teaching key texts and/or topics
• Assessment models for teaching popular romance
• Teaching and learning popular romance in the digital age
• Student responses to studying representations of romantic love
• Popular romance fans as teachers and students
• Postgraduate students and popular romance studies

Articles submitted should be no longer than 10,000 words. Submissions should be Microsoft Word documents, with citations in MLA format. Do not include your name or the name of any co-authors in the submitted manuscript, since the piece will be sent out for blind peer review. In your cover-letter email, please provide your complete contact information (address, phone number, e-mail address) and a 150-200-word abstract of the submission. You are welcome to suggest appropriate peer reviewers. For further information about the submission process consult the journal (http://jprstudies.org/submissions/).

Saturday, February 07, 2015

CFPs: Romance after 9/11, A zine for lovers of romance fiction, Pop Culture in Asia/Australia/Oceania,

Call for Papers--Special Session Proposal for the MLA Convention in Austin, Texas 

Warrior and Lover: The New Face of Romance After 9/11
Nearly fourteen years after 9/11, there is little doubt that the significance of this event goes well beyond its impact on global politics and has influenced cultural production across genres and in a range of contexts. The romance novel is no exception. From the rise of the paranormal, to the new proliferation of sheik novels, to the resurgence of the warrior hero and heroine, the ever-changing landscape of the romance novel reveals a mostly feminine space in which the challenges of the post-9/11 era manifest themselves in both predictable and surprising ways.  

This panel seeks papers that explore the production of romance novels after 9/11 and the resulting variations in the genre brought about by this event. 

To be considered, please send an abstract of 250-300 words (a detailed summary of all papers selected must be included in the final proposal), as well as your name, title, and institutional affiliation to Jessica Matthews at jmatthe2@gmu.edu and Maria Ramos-Garcia at Maria.Ramos@sdstate.edu NO LATER THAN February 15th for full consideration.

Call for submissions: A zine for lovers of romance fiction 

We’re calling for submissions for the first issue of an annual romance fanzine with an as yet undetermined title. [...] People who love romance fiction are invited to submit stuff for inclusion in the zine. We’ll consider any creative work, including: essays (min 250 words); academic findings (written in plain speak); illustrations; personal reflections; photographs; poetry; scanned artwork; original short stories; excerpts of books in progress; and fun, provocative or satirical remixes. [...]

Our aim is to have the zine ready in time for the Australian Romance Readers Conference in March. This is a super tight deadline, so we need your submissions by Saturday, February 7.

More details here.

Call for Contributors: Encyclopedia of Pop Culture in Asia and Australia/Oceania

Entry essays can vary in length, approximately 1000-2000 words and should include a short list of recommended further reading. Entries should be clear, concise, objective, informative, and not heavily footnoted.

The editors welcome and invite contributors to suggest topics that they would like to write on, for consideration and possible inclusion in this volume. We are not limiting our reach and are interested in generating country-specific ideas. [...] We cordially invite interested contributors to help us build the best possible topic list by making suggestions. A list of chosen topics in need of contributors is available on request. All contributors automatically get contributing author credit and free digital access to this encyclopedia. Editors can provide individual invitation letters to contributors upon request. If you are interested in contributing, please email the following information: full name, title, institutional affiliation, best mailing address, email, CV, and suggested entry or entries to both: kmnadeau@me.com and jmurray@csusb.edu

More details here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Politics of the Australian Rural Romance

In a newly published article, Kylie Mirmohamadi argues that
A number of the literary themes and preoccupations of nineteenth-century Australian society and literature loom large in today ’s rural romances. The most significant of these shared concerns is with the idea of an Australian female type. Australian rural romances work to produce an image of a “typically” (and yet ideal) Australian heroine: hardworking, committed to community, resourceful and, when required, assertive, including sexually. Journalists point to the “ feisty ” and “ strong ” qualities of rural heroines. (9)
That might be called an observation on the gender politics of these novels. In addition, their
post-colonial context both informs and influences some of the recurring and dominant motifs of Australian rural romance. These include the idea of rural land as just inheritance, a site of belonging and home, and, importantly, a space for autochthonic place of return. The drama of the homecoming (or making) of the heroine and the coming together of the romantic protagonists, in other words, takes place against the background of larger, unresolved dramas of history still being played out in Australia.
Landscape in colonised countries is never innocent. It is discursive as well as material space, criss-crossed with competing claims of indigeneity and contested assertions of ownership. To write about land in such countries is to enter culturally loaded debates surrounding the questions of who owns territory, who can claim a belonging to it and how land should be used. (10)
Mirmohamadi, Kylie, 2015. 
"Love on the Land: Australian Rural Romance in Place." English Studies. Published online 19 Jan. 2015. Abstract

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book Now! Romance Conference in Washington DC

The program for the "What is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital Age" is now available and places are free. This conference will be held at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, on the 10th-11th of February.

The main event on the 10th is a screening of a "documentary film that takes its viewers into the multi-billion dollar romance fiction business and the remarkable worldwide community of women who create, consume, and love romance novels." You can book your place here.

Click here to book your place at the "international, multimedia conference of authors, scholars, publishers, and the public at the Library of Congress on February 11, 2015, hosted by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, in cooperation with corporate and foundation supporters and the Popular Romance Project."


Tuesday, February 10, 2015
The Library of Congress, Jefferson Building
Sneak Preview Screening of Love Between the Covers

6:30        Welcome; Coolidge Auditorium, Ground Floor

6:45        Love Between the Covers

8:20    Q&A with producer/director Laurie Kahn, editor William A. Anderson, and featured authors Beverly Jenkins, Len Barot/Radclyffe, Mary Bly/Eloisa James, and Joanne Lockyer     

Wednesday, February 11, 2015
The Library of Congress, Madison Building, 6th floor
What Is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital Age

9:00         Welcome

John Y. Cole, Director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress; Co-organizer of "What is Love?"

Laurie Kahn, Project Director, Popular Romance Project; Producer/Director of "Love Between the Covers"

Pamela Regis, Professor of English, McDaniel College; President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance; Co-organizer of "What Is Love?"   

9:10-10:30     Panel 1: What Belongs in the Romance Canon? Why?

•    Pamela Regis (moderator), Professor of English, McDaniel College; President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance
•    Len Barot/Radclyffe Founder/CEO, Bold Strokes Books; Romance Author
•    Beverly Jenkins, Romance Author
•    Nicole Peeler, Associate Professor of English, Seton Hill University; Romance Author
•    Eric Murphy Selinger, Professor of English, DePaul University; Executive Editor, Journal of Popular Romance Studies
•    Susan Ostrov Weisser, Professor of English, Adelphi University

Questions to Consider
Why does romance fiction resonate globally? How many archetypal love stories are there? Who are romance novels speaking to? Should there be a romance canon? Should there be different romance canons for the sub-genres within romance? Should the canon(s) include romance novels written in non-Anglo cultures? And how far back should the canon go? What is included and excluded from this genre? How does the perception of romance fiction compare with the perception of fantasy, sci-fi and mystery? Why?

10:45-3:30    Drop-in Interactive Rooms, concurrent with Panels 2 and 3

•    Write a romance novel scene.
•    Explore the Popular Romance Project website:  PopularRomanceProject.org.
•    See the film: "Love Between the Covers."
•    Suggest a Popular Romance Library Program for the American Library Association.
•    Browse publishers' exhibits.

10:45-12:15    Panel 2: What do Science and History Reveal about Love?

•    William Gleason (moderator), Professor of English, Princeton University
•    Stephanie Coontz, Professor of History, Evergreen State College
•    Eli Finkel, Professor, Department of Psychology and the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
•    Darlene Clark Hine, Professor of History, Northwestern University
•    William M. Reddy, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University
•    Ronald Walters, Professor of History, The Johns Hopkins University

Questions to Consider
What do scientists know about physical attraction, lust, and love? What have historians discovered about the ideas of love in different times and cultures? When, why, and where did domestic partnerships shift from being primarily about dynastic relationships between families—often including economic benefit—to being about individual choice based on ideas of love? Is love a feminine topic? What kinds of love do we see depicted in romance novels and do we use these depictions to shape our own lives? How does knowing the history and science of love change our sense of what love is now? Is love being transformed in our digital age?

12:15-1:30    Lunch Break

1:45-3:15    Panel 3:  Community and the Romance Genre

•    Mary Bly/Eloisa James (moderator), Professor of English, Fordham University, Romance Author
•    Kim Castillo, Author's Assistant, Eloisa James, Inc.
•    Robyn Carr, Romance Author
•    Brenda Jackson, Romance Author
•    Anne Jamison, Professor of English, University of Utah
•    Allison Kelley, Executive Director, Romance Writers of America
•    Sarah Wendell, Romance Blogger, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Questions to Consider
Is the romance community like other fan communities? Are there actually many romance communities – and do they communicate with one another? Why do romance fans love their books so much?  How are romance communities different in different parts of the world? Are the values of romance novels lived out in the romance community? How are books changing due to a more interactive reader community? Why have so many best-selling romance authors come from reader communities? What can we learn from the magnitude of the romance community about the world we live in? What can we learn about community building from romance writers and readers?

3:30-5:00    Panel 4:  Trending Now: Where is Romance Fiction Heading in the Digital Age?

•    Sarah Frantz Lyons (moderator), Editorial Director, Riptide Publishing; Founder of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance
•    Jon Fine, Former Director of Author and Publisher Relations, Amazon.com
•    Liliana Hart, Romance Author
•    Angela James, Editorial Director, Carina Press/Harlequin
•    Tara McPherson, Associate Professor of Critical Studies, University of Southern California
•    Dominique Raccah, Founder/CEO, Sourcebooks
•    Claire Zion, Vice President and Editorial Director, New American Library

Questions to Consider
During this last panel of the day, we will reflect on the current tsunami of change in publishing—from traditional publishing to the explosive phenomena of ebooks and self-publication. How well is the romance industry, and the romance community writ large, poised to ride this digital wave? Where are we? Where are things heading? Together we will ponder the future of romance fiction.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Congress vs. the Popular Romance Project

I hadn't realized things had gone this far.  A bill was introduced in Congress last summer to strip NEH funding from the Popular Romance Project, and also prohibit funds from the NEH for "any similar project relating to love and romance."

The bill did not pass, but it clearly sent shivers up the collective spine of the NEH, and as the Romance Novels for Feminists blog reported last week, "NEH funding for the PRP web site has been put on hold."  (If you were wondering why the site went on hiatus a few months ago--well, now you know.)

I've been waiting for the right moment to propose an NEH summer seminar or institute for faculty about popular romance fiction, but politically speaking, that moment may have passed.  A pity.  As a scholarly adviser to the Project, I've always thought--and continue to think--that this is one of those rare projects that brings top notch humanities scholarship to bear on a topic of broad and democratic interest.

I hope the pendulum swings back someday; in the meantime, the documentary film that Laurie Kahn has made looks to be very interesting, and the loss of website funding won't stop the film from getting done and out to the public.  More about the film, the funding fracas, and the upcoming popular romance symposium at the Library of Congress, at the new, separate "Love Between the Covers" website.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Jo Beverley interviews Catherine Roach

If you haven't already seen it, you might like to take a look at Jo Beverley's interview with "Dr. Catherine Roach [...] Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Alabama." They discuss feminism, defining features of the romance genre, historical romance and more.

Here's an excerpt:
Catherine, your next point is "Romance entails faith in love as a positive force for the good in many people's lives. In this sense, love functions as religion." I'll confess that I'm not comfortable with the word '"religion." Could it be stated as hope?

Catherine: Yes, you could rephrase to say that romantic love offers hope. My point is that the romance story believes there is an answer to existential problems of loneliness and suffering and that the answer is love. Romance is a hopeful and optimistic form of fiction that stakes its claim on the belief that the world is a good place. Despite all of life’s injustice, both love and love stories make the world a better place. The genre is life affirming.

I see. Yes, there is a necessary belief, and I have it. It's one reason I write romance.
(Reader -- are you a believer? Is it part of why you love to read romance?)
 You can read the rest over at The Word Wenches blog.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Library of Congress to host Conference on Romance Fiction

As stated in a press release from the Library of Congress
"What Is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital Age," an international, multimedia conference, will be hosted by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress on Tuesday, Feb. 10, and Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015.

The conference, which is free and open to the public, is made possible through the generous support of lead sponsor Harlequin, a worldwide publisher of books that are printed in 34 languages and sold in 102 international markets.

Romance fiction is the second-best-selling genre in the publishing industry, generating more than $1 billion in publisher revenues in 2013, according to Bookstats. Romance accounts for 21 percent of the adult fiction market.

"This two-day gathering will unite authors, scholars and fans to explore the changing dynamics of the genre, its relevance in popular culture and how digital technology is shaping the future of romance fiction," said John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book.

"Our conference will include business and social interests and influences, romance literature scholarship and public engagement with people who love the genre," he said. "We are grateful to Harlequin for its generous sponsorship of this conference." Additional support is provided by the Popular Romance Project, created by the Center for New History and Media at George Mason University; the Nora Roberts Foundation; the Romance Writers of America; and Berkley/NAL, imprints of Penguin Random House.

"Harlequin has been in the business of romance for over 65 years, bringing love stories to women wherever, however and whenever they want to shop," said Craig Swinwood, publisher and chief executive officer at Harlequin. "We are thrilled to be partnering with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress on such an important conference that will spotlight the importance of romance fiction and feature marquee authors from the genre."

The Popular Romance Project, led by Laurie Kahn of Blueberry Hill Productions, will also include the feature-length documentary film "Love Between the Covers," directed by Kahn. There will be a preview of the film at the Library of Congress on the evening of Feb. 10.

The conference agenda will include panels moderated by Pam Regis, professor of English at McDaniel College and president of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance; Bill Gleason of Princeton University; Mary Bly of Fordham University (who writes as Eloisa James) and Sarah S.G. Frantz. Special author appearances include New York Times best-selling authors Robyn Carr and Brenda Jackson.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

New Thesis Looks at Innovation and Change in the Romance Novel Industry

Andrea Cipriano Barra's sociology PhD thesis takes a look at the ways in which
Romance novels have changed significantly since they first entered the public consciousness. Instead of seeking to understand the changes that have occurred in the industry, in readership, in authorship, and in the romance novel product itself, both academic and popular perception has remained firmly in the early 1980s when many of the surface criticisms were still valid. Using Wendy Griswold’s (2004) idea of a cultural diamond, I analyze the multiple and sometimes overlapping relationships within broader trends in the romance industry based on content analysis and interviews with romance readers and authors. Three major issues emerge from this study. First, content of romance novels sampled from the past fourteen years is more reflective of contemporary ideas of love, sex, and relationships. Second, romance has been a leader and innovator in the trend of electronic publishing, with major independent presses adding to the proliferation of subgenres and pushing the boundaries of what is considered romance. Finally, readers have a complicated relationship with the act of reading romance and what the books mean in their lives.
The pdf can be downloaded here as it's been made available online via the Rutgers University Community Repository.

Barra, Andrea Cipriano, 2014. 
Beyond the Bodice Ripper: Innovation and Change in the Romance Novel Industry. PhD dissertation in Sociology, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Romance Research: Shakespeare, Breast Cancer

I don't mention all the new additions to the Romance Wiki bibliography but since I haven't posted for a while, I thought I'd share a couple of the most recent (which were added by Christina Martinez):

Whyte, Tamara Lynn. 2013. "Shakespeare in Love: Appropriation of Shakespeare in Popular Romance Novels." U of Alabama. (Dissertation Abstracts International) 75, no. 6 (December 2014).
Popular romance authors frequently allude to William Shakespeare's works within their novels. In my dissertation, I survey and analyze the various ways current authors of historical romance novels appropriate Shakespeare and how those appropriations reinterpret his works. I argue in part that the inclusion of Shakespearean allusions has become part of the codes of romance novels, with various types of allusions serving different purposes. Performances of Shakespeare's plays tend to serve as a backdrop for courtship or as a foil to the plot of the novel. When romance authors rewrite Shakespeare's plays to suit the romance novel audience, they often refocus on the heroine and give her more agency. Romance authors also rewrite Shakespeare's tragedies as romance in ways that draw on reader familiarity with the plays. These revisions tend to reduce the plays to key moments or themes and focus on female characters in Shakespeare's works. When romance novel heroes or heroines quote Shakespeare, his words serve as a signal to the reader of elements of their character, such as their intelligence or emotional availability. When authors allude to Shakespeare's works in titles, names, or opening quotations, they openly signal their appropriation of the Bard in ways that distinguish their novels from others. In these more minor appropriations, Shakespearean allusions can function as marketing tools.
The whole dissertation is available for download from the University of Alabama.

Zeiger, Melissa F. " 'Less Than Perfect': Negotiating Breast Cancer in Popular Romance Novels." Tulsa Studies In Women's Literature. Fall 2013/Spring 2014, Vol. 32, No. 2/Vol. 33, No. 1: 107-128.
Over the last twenty years, breast cancer novels have quietly become a large subgenre within popular romance, reflecting both the increase in public breast cancer awareness and the commercialization of that awareness. The emergence of this subgenre both reflects and participates in a shift of what is acceptable to say about breast cancer and expands the range of romance novel topics, including, among other innovations, cancer narratives for lesbian and African American characters. While still liable to many of the criticisms leveled by feminists in the 1980s and beyond, romances can tell new stories as well as the old ones, expanding an inadequate set of cultural and emotional vocabularies. The space for feeling that this genre opens has produced a new reading community and is at least one of the major ways that romance has been and continues to be rewritten. Contradictory movements have accompanied greater freedoms in discussing breast cancer, and this essay argues that feminists can find in romance novels a powerful site, supplementary to feminist theory and activism, for elaborating a productive and critical public breast cancer discourse.
This one isn't available for free online but here's a link to the abstract.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

"Reading From Behind": M/M Romance Event at Princeton University

--Eric Selinger

Having hosted two international conferences on popular romance fiction (2009 and 2014), Princeton University continues to be the hot spot for Ivy League study of the genre.  

Today, their English Department's Graduate Student Genres Colloquium hosts Jonathan A. Allan,  Canada Research Chair in Queer Theory at Brandon University and Associate Editor of JPRS, who'll be speaking about M/M romance, or at least one topos in it.  Details about the event are here, and here's the abstract:
Reading from Behind: Thinking Through Male/Male Romance Novels 
In my book, Reading from Behind (forthcoming, University of Regina Press), I ask a number of questions about how we read and think about the anus: what would happen – even if only ever as a thought experiment – we privileged the anal dimensions of texts and textual and cultural analysis? What if the anus, the booty, the moneymaker, the tukhus were fully loaded signs endowed with rich and complex meanings much like the anus’s numerous nerve endings? What if we relaxed, loosened up our critical inquiries, embraced the deep fullness of the pleasure of the text, a pleasure that tickles and titillates, and removed ourselves from the paranoid, sphincter-tightening hermeneutics of suspicion? In this paper, I return to many of these questions to think about the anus and anal sexuality in the popular romance novel, particularly male/male romance novels. I argue that if “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then the way to his psyche is his asshole.” Simply put, masculinity is dependent upon its refusal to be opened and this is, in many and complicated ways, what the male/male romance novel attempts to deconstruct. At bottom, what would it mean to read these novels from the vantage of the ass, rather than the phallus, the penis, the mighty wang, etc. (which have long been the subject of feminist critiques of the popular romance novel)?
I don't know if Allen Ginsberg's poem "Sphincter" shows up in his project, but if it doesn't, Jonathan, here's a link.  Good luck, and bottoms up!