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Archive for the ‘Romance fiction’ Category

I’m back on the PhD with a vengeance lately. This means I’m reading some academic papers that get me angry with their generalisations.

‘the ideal heroine in a romance is passive…’ Mary Ellen Ryder

‘Romance’s generic requirement that the hero should be volatile in his affections and sexually intimidating…’ Doreen Thierauf

These are throw away lines in articles that have some good in then but the stuff mentioned above makes me scribble ‘bullshit!’ in the white space.

Ryder in particular made me growl this week.I get strange looks from other PhD candidates. Ryder read some Barbara Cartland. Each to its own I suppose, but her greatest flaw was saying that because Cartland published 24 books when she was 93 she obviously wrote to formula…’which means that examining just one of her books should reveal a great deal about the whole romance genre.’ For godssake, the whole fucking genre, really? I wouldn’t say one book from any author would allow me to talk about all their works, let alone the whole genre.

Her actual analysis of the text was really quite interesting but why put that tripe at the beginning of her paper?  And it was a gothic bloody romance to boot.

I pull my hair out and shout why, why, why?

Luckily there were some good articles, like from Mairead Owen and possibly Laura Struve (I’m still pondering it). I guess I’m learning to be critical. Step one for me.

Also, I find that when academics talk about Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey they lose their shit when it comes to romance. They may be blockbusters but that doesn’t mean they are the typical romance novel.

Actually, I don’t think there is a typical romance novel. There are key features of a popular romance novel but I won’t go into that. Others like Pamela Regis have already done that.

My current fiction reading though has run counter to what these people are saying about passive heroines and violent and volatile heroes. I’m reading some vintage, retro if you like, Amanda Carpenter. I’ve mentioned her before in past posts. The Great Escape (1984) and The Passage of the Night (1990). (Amanda Carpenter writes as Thea Harrison these days.). These book are examples of her early works. She’s a damn fine writer and I think has a great mind to boot. I can certainly tell she had the chops for paranormal writing in those early days. (I’ve read four of her books so far. They have been very different from each other!)

(possible spoiler)

The Great Escape features a 17 year old protagonist. She’s an heiress, unhappy but quite clever. She escapes from her guardians and is pursued by a PI, whom she outsmarts. In this book, she drugs the PI, she punches him, she seduces him and then after they fall in love, she gives away all her money without consulting him once about it. She hates the money. It defines her too much. If this book had been published later, I suspect it would have been a romantic suspense because someone is trying to kill the heroine.

So in this 1984 story, the heroine is not passive and has agency.

The Passage of the Night is also very interesting. The heroine kidnaps the tycoon hero at gunpoint, she drugs him and then takes him to a mountain top in Vermont. The reason she has kidnapped him is to save her sister, but the hero isn’t anything like her sister said he was. He’s angry at being kidnapped, of course, but he is never aggressive or violent. He chops wood continuously to ‘sublimate’. He’s not going to have her charged. He voluntarily stays with her and then she flies him back because she can’t justify her actions anymore. She’s a helicopter pilot and plane pilot and her family has a bit of money. She’s also loyal and brave.  He’s on seven figures. She sees his life and doesn’t like the long hours etc. She doesn’t demand he change his lifestyle but she’s walking out until he sorts his priorities. In the end, he gives up his job.  I think that about reverses the tropes.

I’m not done with the Carpenter read through yet. It’s fascinating.

Other fiction reading, Full Moon Rising, Keri Arthur. I’m sorry. Riley Jensen kicks butt. It’s urban fantasy on the’ boil the coffee over’ end of the spectrum but mmm…not much passivity there.

I’ve started rereading JD Robb’s …In Death series. I’m on book five so far (it’s been a week?) and there’s no sign of passivity there.

The In Death series is harder to peg. It’s futuristic urban fantasy with romantic elements or romantic suspense or just SF crime with romance. The heroine and the hero are the same couple all the way through (very well done by the way) and for me the series discusses child sex abuse all the way through, even peels it back to a very stark and dark root that makes me blanch. But I applaud JD Robb for doing it (JD Robb is Nora Roberts btw) and I think she’s brilliant.

In my reading of retro Mills & Boon, there are occasionally passive heroines and other times not. I’ve not read everything. No one will be able to. I’m not as well read in romance as people I know, but I know enough not to generalize about it.

But I’m happy to get angry at people who do and blog about it…maybe…

 

BTW I still have my survey going for my PHD study. If you write or read popular romance fiction, please check out my survey. I’d really appreciate the contribution. See blog post here.

Articles cited

Owen, M, Re-Inventing Romance: Reading Popular Romance Fiction, Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 20. No. 4, pp.537-546, 1997

Ryder, M. E, Smoke and mirrors: Event patterns in the discourse structure of a romance novel, Journal of Pragmatics, 31 (1991) pp. 1067-1080

Struve, L, Sisters of Sorts: Reading Romantic Fiction and the Bonds Among Female Readers, The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 44, No. 6, 2011.

Thierauf, D, Forever After:Desire in the 21st-Century Romance Blockbuster, The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 49, No. 3, 2016.

 

 

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Now that I’m back from Shanghai, I am back on the ball with the PhD.

An important part of my research is obtaining the views of romance readers and romance writers. I have been working on these surveys for a few months and they are ready to launch.

Now there are two surveys: one for romance readers and one for romance writers. Please use the correct link!

Yes. Romance writers can be romance readers but I have questions on their romance reading  in the writer survey so you don’t need to do two surveys.

I think the survey can take up to 15-20 minutes to do. I do it quicker but I’ve been looking at it many times. So do allow some time.

I am also going to select some people for a follow up interview. There is space to indicate your willingness to be involved in this is the consent form. The consent form is the first part of the survey.

This survey is for my PhD, which is examining romance fiction. Please help!

This is the link to Survey Monkey for Romance Writers

This is the link to Survey Monkey for Romance Readers.

Thanking you all in anticipation. Donna!

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Recently, I was offered the opportunity to drive to Victoria and pick up a collection of Mills & Boon books. These were Grace’s books, her romance collection. Grace died about a year ago. This collection consisted of six 80 litre tubs of Mills & Boon. I couldn’t even lift one of these tubs. They are like gold to me for my PhD studies of feminism in popular romance fiction.

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This collection is so exciting for me. So many books. I had so much fun just looking at what was there, discovering. Grace’s collection as originally larger, but some were given away before they ever came my way. However, what I did get held amazing variety.

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Grace’s friend, author Lisa Ireland, told me she didn’t know Grace was a such a huge romance reader until after she died, but her family were well aware. Lisa said that Grace had a wicked sense of humour and a quick laugh. And she was determined. She defied her diagnosis for a very long time.

This collection spans the mid 70s until 2012-13, with lovely gems from the past with lots from the future. I believe Grace loved books, her books as much as I cherish this collection. I hope I’ll get to read them all. I believe Grace grew this collection because she loved the genre, loved reading and a bit like me, a bit of a hoarder. The hoarding baton has passed to me.

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Her brother John said of Grace.

What can I say about Grace Fastuca? How to sum up her life? Grace many Aunty a universal word. The fun Aunty, the wise Aunty. Whether you were or weren’t family.

Grace didn’t judge anyone. Many people have said how she helped them be a better person and this wasn’t just about staring death in the face. It was about taking a person a face value. Not talking down to people, really hearing what they say. About being in and making the most of every moment.

Ten years ago Grace was told she had six months to live and would miss her 40th birthday. So what did Grace do about that? She organized a very memorable 40 minus 3 party to be enjoyed with family and friends.

When Grace wanted to enjoy moments away from the hustle and bustle she went to Anglesea. Nothing can be said that will do justice to the connection she felt for the area, not to mention the amount of Mills & Boon books she bought at second hand stores there.

Grace knew as much about your life as you wanted her to know and vice versa. She was and will continue to be a great inspiration to everyone who knew her.

Grace was one of the funniest people I have ever known. As time passes we all realize how much we miss her laughter, her voice and her ability to cut through it all.

Everyone deserves an Aunty Grace.

Thank you Grace for this lovely collection which means so much to me. I must say that this collection complements the one started by Doreen Watt, from a gift of a selection of retro Mills & Boon to start my reading, which was augmented by Lifeline Book Fair purchases again assisted by Doreen. And also a collection given to me by Debbie Phillips, mostly of Silhouette romances. It is also amazing!

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It took me a few days to sort through this amazing collection. First I just had to look and get excited as I looked at each one. Touched it, wondered over it and then reached for the next one. Then I started roughly sorting the books.

IMG_6500There were many double Harlequin Mills & Boon and I just didn’t know how to file these as they were two different authors and there were so many books. These found their way back into the tubs for later sorting. Then there were a handful of non-genre books and single title books that were more historical romance. These I’ve put aside. I filled one tub with medical romances as I’m not focusing on them. Matthew argues that I should look at them too. I might just not now. Not enough shelves for starts. Then I put them in alphabetical order. I found books from authors I knew about but didn’t have books for. I found I had piles of books from particular authors who I didn’t know but where obviously quite popular, like Sara Craven, Sandra Kendrick, Anne McAlister,  Lindsay Armstrong etc. I also gained a few from authors I did have books for like Charlotte Lamb, Robyn Donald, Daphne Clair and Penny Jordan. My collection of these authors has expanded.

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I had just collected two new book cases so the books went straight in there. My lovely partner, Matthew, lugged the books inside. To my surprise I found them in the lounge and then I was a lost woman and all my plans for the day went out the window. Although they don’t all fit in the shelves atm.

I had to take a break from the sorting as it was physically demanding. All that crawling around on the floor, squatting, crouching, leaning over etc. I scored some Helen Bianchin and then I realized that she was an author I read when I was 19 when living in New Zealand. When I looked through the books I  saw that I had that book. THAT BOOK! And then when I looked up Helen’s bibliography I realized it was her first. It is a great book too. I love it. So I lay back on the couch and read The Willing Heart by Helen Bianchin, then Vines of Splendour and a more recent one, The Marriage Arrangement. I do note though as I’m collecting books in Australia, that there is a bias towards Australian and New Zealand authors. No problems there.

In amongst the Mills & Boon were some older Harlequins, and quite a few Silhouettes. These I have merged with my Debbie Phillips collection in the other book cases. I think there’s a thousand books there. I don’t know. But it’s awesome and the collection will be put to good use in the PhD reading and for enjoyment and my hoarding genes are well aligned.

 

 

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Recently I’ve been working on my first academic paper. This got me thinking about stuff. My previous post on Cherokee Thunder (here)  got me thinking about the positive slant in that book about men, while addressing the serious issue of domestic violence. The slant that says ‘not all men’. Needless to say, the current book I’m reading features a heroine who was abused by her husband!

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I thought because romance is a positive story as it’s going to have a happy ever after, that there is this delicate space there that issues, like domestic violence, can be discussed in a safe way. There might be triggers for people who have suffered domestic violence, but they know it’s going to turn out all right. In this positive way the ramifications can be looked at–the ways in which domestic violence (including emotional abuse) can make a woman feel, how it can take away your feelings of self-worth, personal safety, confidence and strength. (Child abuse has similar effects) How domestic violence can endanger your life and those of your children. It’s nasty and people generally don’t like talking about it real life.

There is the guilt and the self talk, the blame and the ‘I deserve it’ type of mentality. In a romance that features this, these issues can be teased out in a manner that allows for a positive resolution. So romance fiction is a fantasy. Some people don’t want to read books with this domestic violence content (which is normally post domestic violence, not in progress), some people do, because in these stories the heroine gets over her trauma, she learns to be confident, to be herself, and sometimes it’s the hero that shows her that love can be nurturing, kind, respectful and not smothering emotion.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to think this!

For me, romance novels can make me think about positive things. They let me imagine that a woman can have a great first time (unlike my own), or that a man can be trusted, that he can be gentle and also strong, that sex can be wonderful and that love exists in the world and maybe in my own life. Romance fiction can be healing to those of us who have lived the other side: Rape. Fists. Beatings. Low self esteem.

I’m not saying romance novels are the only things that do this, I’m just saying that they can.

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