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Posts Tagged ‘Romance fiction’

I’m back into PhD mode, currently working on the all important research proposal for my confirmation seminar. These confirmation seminars happen about a year in to the degree study and one can present (in theory) an indepth research proposal and get approval to do the PhD proper. It’s weird because you know I’m doing the PhD now, and I’ll be doing it after confirmation. It’s a formal part of the process to ensure I have something worthwhile to research now I have had a year looking into the research material. I get assessed and I get a drilling on my presentation and the topic. All good.

I’m at present beavering away at writing up the proposal and pulling together my literature review. It’s not quite structured properly yet but I’m getting there. I have really enjoyed the research part of this degree. Romance fiction, feminism, incomprehensible French philosophers are all so enthralling. I haven’t really been able to pull myself away from it to work on the creative work. But after the confirmation seminar in March, I will.

Part of my research, a very important part of my unique contribution, is the two surveys I am conducting at the moment (and when I do them this year, the selected in-depth interviews). I am surveying writers of popular romance fiction and readers of popular romance fiction. When I was putting the proposal forward for clearance the biggest concern from the bureaucracy here was how was I going to reach readers of romance fiction. These days that is easier than people think. I’ve read articles where the researcher couldn’t get sufficient readers to participate in their research. This was years ago before the big websites dedicated to romance, social media and even here the Australian Romance Readers Association (ARRA). I’ve had a really good response thanks to all those means, Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Dear Author, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and ARRA (who have been awesome!). Authors have also been spreading the word to their readers. The response is so good that we could go for statistically significant for reader response so yes I’m still looking for readers of romance fiction. Please spread the word. Do the survey if you are a reader of romance!

The irony is that I’m sadly lacking in romance fiction authors responding to the survey, particularly in comparison to the reader response. I know there are thousands of romance authors out there. I am having trouble reaching them. Romance Writers of Australia has nearly a 1000 members, Romance Writers of America has over 10,000 members. You think it would be easy. But it’s not. I’m not a member of the Romance Writers of America for example and it’s not easy for me to wave the flag and say lookie here.

Not easy to reach popular romance authors, not easy to convince them to complete me lovely survey. Come on darlings, look over here. Look at my nice survey!

However, I’m not giving up. The survey continues.

See my previous post for details and links. HERE

me with glasses

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It’s been an interesting week of romance reading for me with two totally different books. One that triggered me and the other that blew me away.

First up was Haunted Dreams by Charlotte Lamb (1995). This is a Harlequin Mills & Boon and British author. This book had a lot going for it, particularly as the hero had a checkered past and the book discussed the conditions of the poor in Mexico, the picking over of dumps and the exploitation of kids. It also featured domestic violence. The hero’s father had been a drunk and violent towards his mother and him and his siblings. All this boded well for me, despite the fact that the heroine was very young (half the hero’s age) and virginal etc. Yet she had some depth to her because she had nursed her dying mother and then rejected by her father after he married straight after her mother’s funeral.

Ambrose (great name!) is a banking man and makes money. Emilie works for her grandfather and is essentially his heir. All well and good. I don’t normally like to do spoilers but hey, this time I have to.

This book triggered me, right at the end too. I had trouble reconciling this so I have come up with the notion that the book is flawed. I know Charlotte Lamb churned these buggers out and maybe she didn’t think this one through, because there were some perfectly good opportunities to make it work out better. OMG! I can’t believe I’m being critical.

Firstly there was a burglary. There was a good setup for this burglary I thought. Emilie had been given sapphires and diamonds for Christmas and the evil cousin was jealous and avaricious and even asked if they were insured. The description of the burglar could have been a woman I thought, but no. It was only an excuse to get the hero to stay over the night. Now random things do happen in life, but in fiction well not so much…not with the potential there to make it work in the story. So the burglary  was a minor inconvenience, even though the cousin was a thief!

Then there was the strangulation of the heroine by the hero and the words something like ‘I’d rather kill you than let another man have you’. That’s my trigger. This happened to be, not a strangulation, but a bashing with words similar to this. However, triggered as I was there was a way to pull back from the abyss and Ms Lamb missed that too. She plunged straight into the abyss without a yell.

Do you think in the emotional resolution to the story that the hero would be remorseful, that he would pledge on his life never to touch her again in that way, that it was his horrible background that made him an abuser etc. No. Not a bloody word.

The heroine was upset because he didn’t trust her. She didn’t want to get back to him because he’d refused to believe her. What the actual…??? He sees the bruises says something like I can’t begin to apologise but she says sweet FA. Surely to god, there’d be some request for a promise never to hurt her again or she’ll leave him. No. The bloody violence is not discussed, other than a thin apology. Sorry. That book sucked monkey balls. Well the resolution did.

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Then we come to Flashback by Amanda Carpenter (1984). Mills & Boon published in London by an American author. I had this book by me because I’d loved her Cry Wolf story about an artist. It was so emotionally intense that I wanted to read another one to see if that was similar or Cry Wolf had been a one off. Luckily I scored one in the Grace Collection. Funny thing was I reading either a book or an academic article that said Flashback was an amazing anti-war book. So that was it. I dived in. I was also trialing my new data gathering tool that I can hand write while reading for later input into a spreadsheet or database.

This book was amazing. It blew my mind. It is not your average Mills & Boon and even using Pamela Regis’s barriers to analyse it, I found it hard to pin down. It seemed to break all the usual tropes over the head with beer bottles.

I won’t spoil this one but I will note a few features. It has a foreword by the author. This is an unusual feature for the time. It expressed sentiment about the loss of life in war. So clearly the author’s intention was to have an anti-war message.

My premise in reading category romances is that they try to depict reality. Doreen Watt set me straight on this. Before Harlequin Mills & Boon brought in all the lines, the Mills & Boon were one line. I’ve found some stories that would be more intrigue than straight romance. There was one where the protagonists remembered their past lives.(Charlotte Lamb’s Dying for You). Well Flashback features a telepath. Yes, you saw correctly. A bloody telepath. This is probably why it was really hard to identify any barriers to the hero and heroine getting together. They were linked telepathically and it was an intense and emotional story. Amanda Carpenter writes very well and I’m glad to see that after having a break she came back to writing as Thea Harrison and she writes paranormal romance. I have to check her out. She’s snared me!

So this story doesn’t feature another woman to make the heroine jealous. She lives with her mother and is very close to her. So she’s not an orphan caught in the hero’s web of sex and intrigue. She lives almost as a recluse. The telepathy drives the story. There is no sex scenes. It’s so damn intense it doesn’t need them. I think I need to measure my blood pressure after reading it. And what happens to the heroine in the end. Jesus. Mary. And Joseph!

Anyway, read Flashback.

Thea Harrison released her titles again with Samhain. Here is a link to the book. Here.

Also check out Thea Harrison. Here.

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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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