Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Romance III: Civic Engagements: Romance Communities, In and Outside the Text

Romance III: Civic Engagements: Romance Communities, In and Outside the Text

“Have you forgotten how bad the gossips are around here?”: The Functions of Idle Chatter in Harlequin Medical Romance

(Jessica Miller, University of Maine)

Harlequin medical romance novels depict an emotional love story that develops within the social world of medicine. These novels focus on two morally good and professionally competent protagonists navigating a highly dramatic and intense romantic relationship. But much of the excitement and appeal of medical romance also derives from the “high stakes” health care setting, with its medical crises, organizational challenges, and contested workplace relationships. This presentation focuses on one particular feature located at the busy intersection of the social and individual aspects of the Harlequin medical romance: gossip.

Gossip is depicted in nearly every Harlequin medical romance under review (a selection of fifty novels published between 2010-2014). As in fiction more generally, gossip serves many functions in these novels: it drives plot, illuminates the norms of the social world, reveals character, and locates the protagonists relative to the social groups in which they find their identity. In terms of genre romance specifically, gossip has a crucial role to play in defining and creating the “flawed society” (in Pamela Regis’s formulation) of the romance, and in bringing that society to a changed and improved state by the end of the novel.

In general, the novels track the prohibition against gossip present in traditional moral codes. Gossip is likely to be trivial or false, and protagonists are much more likely to be fearful of gossip, threatened by gossip, or harmed by gossip than to engage in it, use it for their own ends, or benefit from it. However, this presentation will also consider an alternative approach to gossip found in the texts, informed by recent feminist theory, that gossip is an emotionally charged intertwining of attentive moral judgment and non-trivial information sharing, especially among oppressed groups.

(EMS note:  after the abstract was posted, Jessica contacted me with a new proposal focused on the representation of nursing In HMB medical romances, especially on the "virtue script" that shapes this representation, undercutting disourses of professionalism, etc.  A lot of work on this in other media, but not until now on medical romances.)

“The town has really nice blonde hair”: The Romance Plot and Civic Engagement in “Parks and Recreation”

(Wendy Wagner, Johnson & Wales University)

This paper situates the television comedy “Parks and Recreation” within the subgenre of the small-town romance in romance fiction, focusing on the love story of Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt. Specifically, the presence of this particular love story in the show differentiates “Parks and Recreation” from similar television shows about quirky small towns, such as “Northern Exposure.” Television critics have often referred to “Parks and Recreation” as a political allegory, but I want to argue that it is, in fact, a romance plot where the hero and heroine’s relationship is deeply entwined with the story about the town of Pawnee. I compare the Leslie/Ben plot to classic romance novels such as Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation and Courtney Milan’s The Suffragette Scandal, applying Pamela Regis’s eight elements of a romance novel to make this argument and calling attention to the relationship between romance and civic engagement in these texts. These romance plots are not just about finding love but also about remaking society, which Regis notes is a key element of the romance novel: “defining the society establishes the status quo which the heroine and hero must confront in their attempt to court and marry and which, by their union, they symbolically remake.” The inherent optimism of the romance novel, its foundational belief that love can ultimately change society, is in full display in “Parks and Recreation.”

Legitimating Romance: Neutralizing the Stigma of Romantic Fiction

(Joanna Gregson, Pacific Lutheran University, and Jen Lois, Western Washington University)

In April of 2010, we began a longitudinal sociological study of romance novel writers. By interviewing romance writers and other industry insiders, attending local and national RWA meetings, following writers on social media, and experimenting with writing romance ourselves, we are examining both the craft and the career of the romance writer. In so doing, we hope to explore how writers experience working in “the most popular, least respected literary genre” (Regis 2003: xi).

The present work examines how writer’s affiliation with the romance genre prompted outsiders to trivialize their work. We examine both the application and management of this stigma. First, we describe how outsiders applied the stigma, namely by suggesting that writing romance fiction is easy, that it is not “real” literature, and that it is not important. Although writers disagreed with these views, they nevertheless had to manage these negative perceptions. Writers attempted to neutralize the stigma by defending their writing process, contrasting the goals of literary and commercial fiction, demonstrating the impact of their work on readers, touting their financial success, and pointing out the sexism implicit in the stigma.
We conclude by distinguishing between the different stigma management techniques available to authors of different career statuses, and by highlighting the gendered and class-based biases informing the dominant cultural messages about the producers and audiences of romance fiction.

Blogging and Blackouts: Exploring Romance Readers’ and Authors’ Uses of Social Media

(Stephanie Moody, Kent State University)

In the wake of the October 2014 Blogging Blackout, new questions arise about the ethics and etiquette of romance fiction book blogging and reviewing. These questions are further complicated by the multiple and competing purposes romance readers and authors have for engaging with books and with each other online. My interviews with fifty romance readers, authors, editors, and publishers demonstrate that talking about books online – through blogs, reviews, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumbler – serves many, simultaneous purposes: as a marketing device, a creative outlet, a form of intimacy, a teaching tool, a process of reflection, and a political statement. Moreover, these purposes routinely change and shift, and are shaped by the web 2.0 medium in use.

In this presentation, I explore study participants’ talk about their purposes for using social media to discuss romance novels, and I suggest that notions of ethics and etiquette are largely shaped by individuals’ reasons for engaging with books and with others online. For instance, conceptualizing a book review as both a free source of marketing and as a way to, as one blogger put it, “c[o]me into being the person who I am now,” reveals how book blogging and reviewing collapse distinctions between public and personal writing. Likewise, characterizing the relationships between authors and readers within discourses of consumption, fandom, and intimacy demonstrates the slippery subjectivities evoked through such interactions. By attending to the literacy practices and talk that comprise individuals’ engagements with romance-related social media, I extend ongoing conversations about the perils and possibilities of book blogging and reviewing.

Romance II: Dangerous Texts, Censorious Readers

Romance II: Dangerous Texts, Censorious Readers

‘mushy eyes over a quarter chicken at Nandos’: Love, gender, class and history in romantic advice texts for young people.

(Amy Burge, University of Edinburgh)

We are in the midst of a global ‘moral panic’ about young people, love and sex. The ‘pornification’ (McRobbie, 2008) of contemporary popular culture has led, it is argued, to the ‘adultification’ (APA 2010) of young people, in particular young women. Forced to choose between ‘raunch or romance’ (Bale 2011), modern young women are confronted with a plethora of advice texts that stipulate a narrow set of rules and behaviours that govern successful romantic discourse.

Responding to a call to consider questions of young people, love and sex from a hitherto neglected historical-situated perspective (Egan and Hawkes 2012), this paper compares relationship advice for young adults from the late Middle Ages and twenty-first century.

The specific focus of the paper is on representations of class and their collocation with romantic discourse. The late medieval conduct poem How The Good Wife Taught her Daughter (c.1350) emphasises a particular type of bourgeois feminine identity which is central to its romantic and social discourse: for late medieval women, class clearly matters. Yet, in her 2012 study Why love hurts, Eva Illouz argues that gender and class boundaries have disappeared from modern guides on love following a shift towards a focus on the self.

Is it really the case that class and gender boundaries have disappeared from modern romance advice? Or is it possible, through a comparison of historical and contemporary advice materials, to observe a continued intertwining of gender and class in romantic discourse? Employing close reading and critical discourse analysis, this paper considers the relationship between gender, class and romance, and proposes a deeper consideration of the historical structures underpinning romantic love today.

Romancing the Taboo: The Marriage Law Challenge in Snape/Hermione Fanfiction

(Amanda Allen, Eastern Michigan University)

In No Future, Lee Edelman suggests that our politics fetishize a “cult of the Child,” our symbolic future that must be protected at all costs. The Child thus represents our reproductive futurism, our drive to live into the future. This drive propels the canonical texts of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, but it also emerges in the bodice-ripper-styled subset of Harry Potter fanon: Snape/Hermione fanfiction.

At the heart of SS/HG fanfiction is the recognition of the potential symbolic violence inherent in the taboo of the student/teacher relationship—a taboo that directly negates our drive to protect the child. While Rowling’s texts incorporate student Hermione (aged eleven to eighteen) and adult Snape (aged thirty-one to thirty-eight), many SS/HG writers appear uncomfortable with “shipping” characters of such differing ages and statuses. To protect the Child (Hermione), the majority of these writers attempt to normalize the power imbalance by changing the characters’ ages or time settings, incorporating authority figures (such as Dumbledore) to sanction the relationship, and legalizing sexual relations between Hermione and Snape under Ministry of Magic-approved laws.

This paper focuses on fics produced under the WIKTT (When I Kissed The Teacher mailing list) SS/HG “Marriage Law Challenge.” In these fics, the traditional “barrier” of popular romance—the reasons why the hero and heroine cannot marry (in this case, the student/teacher taboo)—is inverted, and becomes the reason why Snape and Hermione must marry; namely, to protect the Child. Yet this protection is doubled; while the marriage law fics use the institution of the Ministry of Magic to legitimize a taboo relationship, the overall purpose of the marriage law—to repopulate the Wizarding World—ensures that the fics remain fantasies of reproductive futurism. The Child is thus both sacrificed and saved by the romance narrative, thereby allowing the reader to celebrate the tabooed love between Snape and Hermione.

Anyone But Baby: Child-free Heroines, Heterosexual Romance, and Female Subjectivity in the Fiction of Jennifer Crusie and Emily Giffin

(Jessica Van Slooten, University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc)

As Myra Hird and Kimberly Abshoff conclude in their article "Women without Children: A Contradiction in Terms," “Feminism needs to be able to test its theories of women against the assumption that all women sexually reproduce. In other words, feminist theory needs to be able to authenticate childlessness as central to experiences of womanhood and femininity" (361). This theorization of child-free female subjectivity, while still nascent in feminist theory, is happening in practice—in women’s lives, and notably, in popular romance fiction. In Jennifer Crusie’s novels Anyone But You (1996) and Bet Me (2004) neither of the female protagonists want to have children. Rather than being a barrier to romantic fulfillment, this desire to live child-free strengthens the relationship between Nina and Alex, and Min and Cal, respectively. In these two novels. Crusie rejects the dominant culture narrative that romantic happiness necessitates a procreative future, and in doing so, theorizes a feminist female subjectivity that is not contingent upon bearing children.  In contrast, Emily Giffin’s novel Baby Proof (2007) suggests that motherhood is the price of maintaining true love, reinforcing theories that motherhood is central to adult womanhood and heterosexual marriage. Ultimately, the relationship between female subjectivity and motherhood is changing. According to the PEW Research Center, “nearly one-in-five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one-in-ten in the 1970s” (“Childlessness Up Among...”). American women are increasingly choosing child-free lives, and popular fiction reflects these trends. While Crusie boldy suggests that female subjectivity and adult heterosexual romance can flourish because of a desire for a child-free life, Giffin reaffirms the dominant cultural narrative that places parenthood at the center of heterosexual marriage.

Love and Healing: Explorations of the value and meaning of Love in contemporary cinema

(Phil Matthews, Bournemouth University)

This paper will look at several selected contemporary cinematic romance examples and discuss how they utilize the cinematic narrative devise of the character arc model to inform and impress meaning and value to notions of Love, and whether these definitions have wider currency beyond the cinematic romance genre. 'HEA' or even 'HFN' are arguably pervasive in the romance genre but is this the case in cinematic notions of genre, and how do cinematic genre conventions respond and engage with these arguably widely accepted literary principles not least posited by Regis (2003). A story cannot be told about a protagonist who doesn't want anything, who cannot make decisions, whose actions effect no change at any level. (McKee, 1998. Pg. 138.) This paper will explore and discuss screenwriting narrative mechanisms for change in cinematic characters principally utilising the character arc form, and how motivations and decisions communicate meaning to an audience. In this way meaning and value can arguably be attributed to whatever a character pursues. The pursuit of love within cinematic narratives thereby has an assigned value and it is how cinematic narratives negotiate and work with this value whether consistently or not which will be explored and investigated within this paper. 

Romance I: Romance Across the Canon

The PCA/ACA annual conference is very special for romance scholars but not everyone can get there (I haven't even been once). We can, though, read the abstracts of papers which will be presented in the many sessions on romance. I'll be putting them up here at Teach Me Tonight, session by session.

Romance I: Romance Across the Canon (Fairy Tale, Shakespeare, Lit Fic)

Navigating the Fantasy of Romantic Love Through Popular Romantic Adaptations of "Cinderella"

(Margot Blankier, doctoral candidate at Trinity College Dublin's School of English)

This paper, part of a larger thesis project on “Cinderella” as fairy tale and American myth, will examine contemporary popular romance fiction that announce themselves as adaptations and use “Cinderella” as their structural framework. The narrative concerns of the popular romance and the fairy tale often overlap: in her article “Guilty Pleasures: Reading Romance Novels as Reworked Fairy Tales,” Linda J. Lee observes that classical fairy tales and romance fiction are both formulaic, invoke fantasy realms, and are often dismissed as trivial entertainments. However, where fairy tales are noted for their abstract and “depthless” characters, writers of contemporary popular adaptations of “Cinderella” justify the length of their novels by according their protagonists an interiority that, according to Max Lüthi’s The European Folktale, opposes the generic expectations of the fairy tale. In this way, the writers of these texts “betray” the expectations of the classical fairy-tale heroine by emphasizing her agency and wit over her “archetypal” qualities. She meets the prince character early in the novel and experiences an intense physical desire for him, but their relationship ebbs and flows over the course of the novel. Generally, the culmination of their relationship—the “happily ever after” ending—occurs after they have been “tested,” and the prince character has proved that he “deserves” the love of the Cinderella character. Thus, while the romantic implications of Cinderella’s marriage in Charles Perrault’s original fairy tale are largely reader-generated rather than textually present—there is no mention of love between the pair—writers of popular romance develop the physical and emotional relationship between Cinderella and the prince as the most important element of the story. This paper will consider the transformative power of love as a substitute for the fantasy aspect of fairy tale, the readerly movement between in and out of the textual world as a source of pleasure, and the stepmother figure as a source of repressive social milieu and patriarchy.

Texts to be considered include, but are not limited to, Eloisa James’ A Kiss at Midnight (2010), Claire Delacroix’s The Damsel (1999), Teresa Medeiros’ Charming the Prince (1999), Katherine Kingsley’s Once Upon a Dream (1997), Mercedes Lackey’s The Fairy Godmother (2004), and a selection of titles from Harlequin’s Silhouette Romance imprint.

(EMS:  Margot Blankier was unable to attend, but we hope to hear more about her research in the future!)

Taming Shakespeare: Historical Romance Novel Adaptations of Taming of the Shrew

(Tamara Whyte, Piedmont Virginia Community College)

Despite its less romantic elements, many romance novelists allude to and adapt William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. In my research, I have found 40 romance novels since 2000 that allude to the play. Most of these novels have little to do with Shakespeare’s text, but six recent historical romance novels attempt to rewrite elements of the taming plot for a modern audience: Sabrina Darby’s Woo’d in Haste and Wed at Leisure, Johanna Lindsey’s The Devil Who Tamed Her, Christy English’s How to Tame a Willful Wife, and Eloisa James’s Kiss Me, Annabel and The Taming of the Duke. Darby breaks her adaptation into two separate narratives. The first, Woo’d in Haste, focuses on Bianca’s perspective, vilifying Kate. But then the second, Wed at Leisure, focuses on Kate, redeeming her. Lindsey’s novel adapts the taming plot to make it more acceptable to romance readers without changing the gender dynamic in which an aggressive man attempts to change the behavior of a woman who fails to conform to societal expectations for her sex. English includes a commentary on Shakespeare’s work within her adaptation. James depicts a failed taming attempt in Kiss Me, Annabel and inverts the gender roles in The Taming of the Duke. In my paper, I will analyze these various adaptations and appropriations of The Taming of Shrew with particular emphasis on how romance authors make the taming plot more palatable for modern romance authors. 

Love and the Machine: Romance in the Victorian Industrial Novel

(Sarah Ficke, Marymount University)

My most recent paper on popular romance (presented at this year’s IASPR conference) examined the Iron Seas steampunk series by Meljean Brook to discover how these texts configure the relationship between technology and humanity. I found that the language and actions of romantic relationships were instrumental in demonstrating a positive connection between people and technology in the stories. However, this made me wonder about the 19th-century novels that provide much of the foundation for steampunk. How did they represent romance within an industrialized, mechanized context? The paper I am proposing will answer this question by analyzing the role of romance and its relationship to technology in several important industrial novels from the Victorian period, including works like Hard Times by Dickens, North and South and Mary Barton by Gaskell, and Shirley by Charlotte Brontë. I will be using digital humanities tools to uncover language patterns and points of connection across the texts, as well as examining their individual representations of romance. I hope to discover how these industrial novelists imagined technology describing, enabling, or disrupting romantic relationships. This is part of my larger project on how steampunk romances adopt and reconfigure Victorian ideas about technology for a 21st-century world.

 “Stay away from my sister”: Romance and the Asian American Male Canon

(Erin Young, SUNY Empire State College)

No abstract provided.

Monday, March 30, 2015

RWA Academic Grant Recipients 2015

[From the RWA] Romance Writers of America is proud to announce the recipients of its annual Academic Research Grant competition. The grant program seeks to develop and support academic research devoted to genre romance novels, writers, and readers.
  • Jonathan Andrew Allan, Ph.D., Brandon University: The Optimism of Happily Ever After. RWA awarded funding to Jonathan Andrew Allan's project "The Optimism of Happily Ever After." His proposed research seeks to explore one of the most critically maligned aspects of romance, the happy ending, or, the emotionally satisfying ending, via Affect Theory.
  • Drs. Beth Driscoll, University of Melbourne, Lisa Fletcher, University of Tasmania, and Kim Wilkins, University of Queensland: The Genre World of Romance in 21st Century Australia. RWA awarded funding to Drs. Driscoll, Fletcher, and Wilkins' project "The Genre World of Romance in 21st Century Australia." The researchers plan to create detailed case studies of three authors at different stages in their careers. The case studies will include analysis of the creative processes for one particular book by each author using textual analysis of the books and in-depth interviews with each author. They will also include interviews with the other significant players involved in the creation of and publication of each book. This research will present romance writers and their books in a wider artistic and commercial context.
  • Jessica Taylor, Ph.D., University of Toronto: Professional Business Women: Romance Writers, Feminism and "Women's Work." RWA awarded funding to Jessica Taylor for her project "Professional Business Women." Taylor researches how writers, who can choose to define their work any number of ways, sometimes pitting the creative and artistic against the professional and commercial, can negotiate interesting blends of the two. She studies how writers think and talk about what they do as work and its value and significance.
Congratulations to all the recipients!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Call for Papers: Midwest PCA/ACA Conference, October 2015

Call for Papers: Popular Romance

Thursday-Sunday, October 1-4, 2015
Cincinnati, OH
Hilton Netherland Plaza

Deadline for submission: 30 April 2015.

Love and romance are pervasive elements in popular culture, showing up in film, television, fiction, manga, advertising, advice columns, pop songs, and more. We are interested in any and all topics about or related to popular romance and its representations in popular culture (fiction, stage, screen—large or small, commercial, advertising, music, song, dance, online, real life, etc.)

Topics can include, but are not limited to:
•       critical approaches, such as readings informed by critical race theory, queer theory, postcolonial studies, or empirical science
•       depictions in the media and popular culture (e.g., film, television, literature, comics)
•       literature and fiction (genre romance, poetry, animé)
•       types of relationships (marriage, gay and lesbian)
•       historical practices and traditions of and in romance
•       regional and geographic pressures and influences (southern, Caribbean)
•       material culture (valentines, foods, fashions)
•       folklore and mythologies
•       jokes and humor
•       romantic love in political discourse (capitalism)
•       psychological approaches toward romantic attraction
•       emotional and sexual desire
•       subcultures: age (seniors, adolescents), multi-ethnic, inter-racial
•       individual creative producers or texts of popular romance
•       gender-bending and gender-crossing

Submit a one-page (200-250 words) proposal or abstract by 30 April 2015 to the Popular Romance area on the MPCA/ACA website. Please include name, affiliation, and e-mail address with your abstract. MPCA/ACA can provide an LCD projector for presentations, but it must be requested with your proposal. If necessary, indicate and submit potential scheduling conflicts along with your proposal. If you wish your presentation to be listed as MACA (rather than MPCA), please include this request with your proposal.

More conference information can be found at

For further inquiries or concerns, please contact Popular Romance Area Chair, Maryan Wherry,

Friday, March 20, 2015

A New Subgenre?: Breast Cancer Romances

In "'Less Than Perfect': Negotiating Breast Cancer in Popular Romance Novels," Melissa Zeiger draws attention to "a huge body of romance novels whose heroines are recovering from treatment [which] began to emerge in the mid-1990s and continues into the present" (108).

I have no idea how I missed reading this at the time it came out (though it's been listed on the Romance Wiki for some time) but I'm glad I came across it in the course of my current research because it's a fascinating essay which complements other romance scholars' work on disability, race and sexuality in romance fiction.

Zeiger argues that
The emergence of this subgenre reflects a shift in what is acceptable to say about breast cancer, and the novels contribute to breast cancer’s status as something to talk about rather than hide. [...] I am interested in the way romances record a transitional moment in lifting taboos on breast cancer as a topic of discussion. During the 1980s, virtually no mention of breast cancer, let alone women of color or lesbianism, occurred inside the mainstream discourse of romance. (108)
She demonstrates that romance novels, so often scorned for their predictability and their supposed social conformity, do important cultural work in this area:
Given the futility, and worse, of so much public breast cancer discourse, it seems like a good idea to find as many supplementary sites of discourse as possible. Breast cancer romance takes a problematic genre and uses it to say some things that the culture does not always want to hear. Romance characters are allowed a leeway unknown in what critics have come to call “pink culture”; when despairing, bitter, or just angry, when wildly mourning their breasts, or when disappearing from society to nurse their wounds, they are treated with warm sympathy. This space for feeling has produced a new reading community and is at least one of the major ways that stereotypical romance has been and continues to be rewritten. Such innovations are not trivial or quietist. (109)
Among the novels mentioned are:
Kathleen Eagle’s The Last Good Man (2000), Michelle Douglas’s The Man Who Saw Her Beauty (2012), Marilyn Pappano’s The Trouble with Josh (2003), and [Donna] Alward’s How a Cowboy Stole Her Heart [2011]; the African American romances Crown and Glory (2011) by Denise Jeffries and No Regrets (2002) by Patricia Haley; and Susan Gabriel’s lesbian romance Seeking Sara Summers (2008). The ambiguous politics of these works evokes complex questions regarding the relation of breast cancer to sociocultural status, constructions of femininity, and popular literary representation. (111) 
Zeiger, Melissa F., 2013/14. 
"'Less Than Perfect': Negotiating Breast Cancer in Popular Romance Novels." Tulsa Studies In Women's Literature 32.2/33.1: 107-128. [Abstract]

Monday, March 02, 2015

CFP: Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand 2015

Jodi McAlister is
very pleased to announce that Popular Romance Studies is a new area at the Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand conference this year. I'm the Area Chair, and while the CFP has already closed, I've arranged an extension of a few weeks for romance scholars until April 15.

I'd love for the Romance area to make a really dynamic and fascinating debut, so I'd appreciate it if you could circulate this [...] CFP to anyone you think might be interested:

6th Annual International Conference
June 29-July 1, 2015
Massey University Campus
Wellington, New Zealand 


Popular Romance Deadline for abstracts: April 15, 2015 

The Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand (PopCAANZ) is devoted to the scholarly understanding of everyday cultures. It is concerned with the study of the social practices and the cultural meanings that are produced and are circulated through the processes and practices of everyday life. As a product of consumption, an intellectual object of inquiry, and as an integral component of the dynamic forces that shape societies.

We invite academics, professionals, cultural practitioners and those with a scholarly interest in popular culture, to send a 150 word abstract and 100 word bio to Jodi McAlister, Chair of Popular Romance for PopCAANZ:

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 (

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 and Maria Ramos-Garcia at 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: and

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