sartorias: (1554 S)
First, wishing a lovely Passover to all who celebrate!

Today's post continues on the romance theme, following the previous post on Regency romances--I'm actually combining bits from an email conversation and a talk with a friend over tea about books that are romances but labeled something else, and why. And a couple suggestions.
sartorias: (1554 S)
still evolving after nearly two centuries.

And in a radical swing in another direction, I've been glued to the Norwegian TV show "Occupied." It's extremely well acted, shot, edited, and unlike American TV is capable of conveying adult relationships without long, dull scenes of fake TV sex, and also the horror of violence without graphic splatter. It also gets into the complexity of motivation and political skew.
sartorias: (Default)
Nerdy Reviews interviewed me. Some questions I often get asked, others, a first.

And here, silver fork novels and the beginning of romance, especially the tension between what readers wanted and reality.
sartorias: (Fan)
In this post, [livejournal.com profile] temporus asked about a trope I've seen often in historical romances (as opposed to historical novels that have romance). You should read his post, but briefly, hero and heroine see one another, even in dire circumstances, and are immediately hot to trot.

I don't want to slam romances. There's enough of that going on already. This particular trope appears to be popular in romance. I find I seldom can get into novels where it happens--there's a popular book, I keep forgetting the title, something about spies, that opens with the h/h in a French prison during the Revolution under threat of death by an evil torturer, yet they encounter one another and whammo! Instant hots. I put the book down because my willing suspension of disbelief had just fizzled out.

Not because Romance is Bad, or the author was incompetent, it was that I no longer believed in the danger if the protagonists had the luxury to fall instantly in lust and only be able to think about each other. The phrases, the reactions, made it clear that they were destined for a bash on the Beautyrest, which meant their escape was a foregone conclusion, which meant the danger wasn't real . . . which meant no story tension.

A zillion other readers disagreed, as the book is very popular. So after [livejournal.com profile] temporus's post, I was thinking about levels of suspension of disbelief. How much realism do we really want? Maybe that can't be defined in any useful sense, maybe it is more of a balance of many things that have to work together, but even then I doubt there is any sure formula.

Romance readers want the protag to get to intimate space ASAP and stay there. That means most of a novel's focus is solely on them, their sensories, their emotions. I find I can only get into that if there is a huge dose of the funny. So if the above novel had snapped with wit, I probably would have stayed right with it. Therefore I'm inconsistent, unless I look at the question as a combination of tropes and other ingredients.

I am very willing to sink into the world of a novel or a film--I still, at my old age, have problems with certain films because I have to make a real effort to pull myself out if the anxiety level gets too high, the humiliation is too acute, or of course horror too intense. As a kid, I couldn't pull myself out of either film or book. I recollect when our babysitter insisted on watching monster movies, and I was too terrified to go in my room alone (because of course the cheesy five cent monsters on the tube were in my room waiting for me if I ventured in there without my little sister's presence), it was the commercials that broke the horrible spell. I remember the sweet relief as each came on, and then the sick terror when the show returned and I had to endure another fifteen thousand hours, measured in minutes. Whereas I hated commercials if the show was something I wanted to watch.

However I can break that fourth wall in film now, with concentration, but in my reading, I find, it breaks much more easily on its own. Even repeated misspellings, or phrases, can break me out of a reading experience. I hate that. Just as I couldn't break myself out by will as a kid, I have trouble willing myself back in as an old bat. There has to be some compelling aspect to pull me back, and I can't always predict what it will be.
sartorias: (Fan)
I really love The Hinky Chicago series by Jennifer Stevenson. (Whose interview furnished some interesting insights about writing, I thought.)

I have a fondness for funny romance a la Jennifer Crusie--unabashedly bawdy, cheerfully sensuous, with interesting characters and emotional dynamics, but never sodden or lugubrious.

Into this mix add: Chicagoans and their attitude if magic were to appear unexplained ("we don't call it magic, because you know what happened to Pittsburgh! We just say it's . . . hinky"); a six foot Valkyrie of a heroine whose job it is to "deal with" hinkiness, while meanwhile her mess of a sex life gets her into difficulties right and left; an arrogant English earl from the Regency period, whose privileged attitude pissed off a witch and so who ended up magically chained to a bed until he could satisfy 100 women.

I love this series--the characters, the little details of unromantic Chicago life mixed in with the impossible, the sheer joy as well as the laughter. On a second and third read I realized how much sharp insight into human behavior and emotional dynamics Stevenson slides in while remaining highly entertaining.
sartorias: (Default)
Over at Tor.com today, Jo Walton talks about why she likes Georgette Heyer. Interesting discussion and comments.

Though I've rambled about Heyer and silver fork novels I still keep trying to figure out why Heyer's more upbeat romances work as well as they do. (The serious ones are really, really awful.)

This in spite of her trenchant classism, anti-Semitism, and in spite of the fact that many of her heroes are, in spite of their sexy bodies and impeccable taste in clothes and races horses, That Guy in behavior. In spite of the fact that Heyer seems incapable of depicting deep emotion without sliding into melodrama (The Civil Contract teeters on the edge, with its three main characters all suffering from unrequited love, at least so it reads to me).

The alternate world is so skillfully built, it's like London, and England, have become a Disneyland for the gentry and above. Servants exist to keep things going, then pop back through the door, the evidence of their existence whisked away. Napoleon's depredations are a distant echo except in An Infamous Army, which a lot of people don't read, and even then, there is a glossy, aristocratic overlay to it that one only realizes when one reads dispatches and memoirs from the actual thing.

Maybe that's it. Heyer's books are the text equivalent of an Oscar Wilde play, with just enough love, and just enough sex, and just enough wit. The books that don't work as well are the ones when she strayed out of that narrow but effective formula that she so brilliantly crafted.

Dunno. What do you think?
sartorias: (Default)
Over at Tor.com today, Jo Walton talks about why she likes Georgette Heyer. Interesting discussion and comments.

Though I've rambled about Heyer and silver fork novels I still keep trying to figure out why Heyer's more upbeat romances work as well as they do. (The serious ones are really, really awful.)

This in spite of her trenchant classism, anti-Semitism, and in spite of the fact that many of her heroes are, in spite of their sexy bodies and impeccable taste in clothes and races horses, That Guy in behavior. In spite of the fact that Heyer seems incapable of depicting deep emotion without sliding into melodrama (The Civil Contract teeters on the edge, with its three main characters all suffering from unrequited love, at least so it reads to me).

The alternate world is so skillfully built, it's like London, and England, have become a Disneyland for the gentry and above. Servants exist to keep things going, then pop back through the door, the evidence of their existence whisked away. Napoleon's depredations are a distant echo except in An Infamous Army, which a lot of people don't read, and even then, there is a glossy, aristocratic overlay to it that one only realizes when one reads dispatches and memoirs from the actual thing.

Maybe that's it. Heyer's books are the text equivalent of an Oscar Wilde play, with just enough love, and just enough sex, and just enough wit. The books that don't work as well are the ones when she strayed out of that narrow but effective formula that she so brilliantly crafted.

Dunno. What do you think?
sartorias: (Default)
It seemed time to post a riff about Unresolved Sexual Tension vs. upfront sex.

Also, here is my offer for Con or Bust--a box of current YA genre books. These were all sent to me for the Norton jury. Some are dupes, some I'm not the audience for.
sartorias: (Default)
It seemed time to post a riff about Unresolved Sexual Tension vs. upfront sex.

Also, here is my offer for Con or Bust--a box of current YA genre books. These were all sent to me for the Norton jury. Some are dupes, some I'm not the audience for.
sartorias: (Default)
Happy Father's Day!

Today's riff is about how difficult it is to find successful couples in genre literature.

I also wanted to link Daily Science Fiction :: Made of Cats by Judith Tarr--the idea sparked because of a discussion here. I so love it when that happens.
sartorias: (Default)
Happy Father's Day!

Today's riff is about how difficult it is to find successful couples in genre literature.

I also wanted to link Daily Science Fiction :: Made of Cats by Judith Tarr--the idea sparked because of a discussion here. I so love it when that happens.
sartorias: (Default)
intimate space, the fourth wall and reasons people read.

Happy Mother's Day to all who mother.
sartorias: (Default)
intimate space, the fourth wall and reasons people read.

Happy Mother's Day to all who mother.
sartorias: (Default)
Book View Café Holds 30th on the 3th Contest for Fool's Paradise

To celebrate the 30 years of marriage of BVC member Jennifer Stevenson and her stagehand husband, on Friday, July 30th, BVC is holding a 30th on the 30th contest. BVC will be launching episode 30 of Stevenson's stagehand romance, Fools Paradise, and giving out a free, complete copy (including the ending) to the 30th person who reads the episode and can find the answer to the following contest question:

What type of women do stagehands typically marry?

Find the answer in Episode 30 at the BVC site: http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Fools-Paradise-Chapter-30.

Send your answer to [contest@bookviewcafe.com]. Thirtieth responder gets a free, complete copy of Fools Paradise—including the ending.

Ad over. If anyone likes romances with lots of humor and colorful characters, do try Jennifer Stevenson's work. I've enjoyed every novel I've read by her.
sartorias: (Default)
Book View Café Holds 30th on the 3th Contest for Fool's Paradise

To celebrate the 30 years of marriage of BVC member Jennifer Stevenson and her stagehand husband, on Friday, July 30th, BVC is holding a 30th on the 30th contest. BVC will be launching episode 30 of Stevenson's stagehand romance, Fools Paradise, and giving out a free, complete copy (including the ending) to the 30th person who reads the episode and can find the answer to the following contest question:

What type of women do stagehands typically marry?

Find the answer in Episode 30 at the BVC site: http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Fools-Paradise-Chapter-30.

Send your answer to [contest@bookviewcafe.com]. Thirtieth responder gets a free, complete copy of Fools Paradise—including the ending.

Ad over. If anyone likes romances with lots of humor and colorful characters, do try Jennifer Stevenson's work. I've enjoyed every novel I've read by her.
sartorias: (Default)
Paranormals and urban fantasy, historical romances, romantic historicals . . . futuristics and science fiction. Various definitions float around, and as more authors cross old genre plot and content boundaries, the definitions have to be refitted.

I’ve been trying to figure out what romance gets such a bad rap, besides the obvious—written mostly by women, bought and read mostly by women, the main plot arc being finding a mate ending with hero and heroine as a committed couple.

For the most part, I’ve seen this dismissive stuff from people who haven’t actually read any romance, or maybe took a peek inside the cover of a random one, saw some infelicitous prose, and condemned them all for ever after. I’ve met people who enjoy romance, but admit it with that slight duck of the head, the dropped voice of embarrassment.

I understand that embarrassment from people my age or older, especially if there’s a man in the room, because it’s difficult to get completely past that early training that grants whatever a man thinks automatic authority, and of course no man would read anything “domestic.”

But I mean among women. Is there a sense that romance novels betray the precepts of feminism because they are about seeking and finding a mate? That seems odd if one stops to consider that these books are edited by women, bought by women who speak out firmly about what they like and dislike to the extent that the guidelines for romance novels have ramified to a fascinatingly tangled degree. The days of the Harlequin heroine whose only attributes are beauty, passivity as she waits for that alpha male to dump the Evil Mistress, and virginity, are loooooooong gone.

In fact, it’s worthwhile to find some of those old ones in the dime-a-throw bin at used bookstores to read and discover just how many of the unquestioned assumptions in the novels have changed.

But that was then, and this is now. Anyone perusing a just-published romance novel is unlikely to find a wilting flower of a heroine waiting around passively (and “purely”) for her prince to come.

So I have a couple of ideas to throw out. The obvious one is that what we don’t like we label as bad. So obvious I don’t see any use in elaborating.

The theory I’ve been playing around with is the use of intimate space. By that I mean that the god’s eye view, or third limited (staying outside the characters’ thoughts, only reporting what they do or say) is public space, and personal space is when you gain access to the thoughts of characters. Intimate space is when the clothing comes off, figuratively and symbolically.

Because intimate space is not all about sex. Romance writers are aware of this. They choose their intimate moments deliberately: we might follow a couple into the bedroom, but we don’t follow either of them into the bathroom. We don’t follow them to the dentist for a root canal. We don’t follow them to the post office for that forty-five minute wait in line on a Friday afternoon. That’s left to what’s called ‘literary fiction’ to do: follow the characters into intimate space, where often nothing happens beyond a microscopic report on a character being locked inside his or her head, frequently unhappily. I’ll come back to that.

In a romance novel, one expects long scenes in intimate space, that is, we are inside the characters’ heads as they experience attraction, then begin the courtship dance, and in spicier novels, we follow them into the bedroom. And even here, the writer chooses that which will convey a romantic emotional experience to the reader, instead of dwelling on the details of intimacy inevitable with human bodies that are painful, humiliating, or unintentionally funny.

The thing I want to focus on here is the crossing of genres. To keep this riff from expanding to novel length, I’m going to confine myself specifically to where a romantic historical becomes a historical romance: the question of intimate space. For example, a couple years ago, someone recommended a novel that takes place during the Napoleonic era, about which I’ve read a great deal. Dashing nobleman spy, thief heroine spy who turns out to have some sensory issues, adventure. Sounds like something I’d really enjoy. Opens with a bang—hero and heroine have been captured by the French and they are going to be executed!

But here’s where the story lost me: the hero and heroine are so attracted to one another that that’s pretty much all they think about, which deflates the sense of any danger. I wouldn’t have minded if the setting for that meet-and-want was a marble ballroom or a fusty parlor or a ride in a park, but in a dungeon with the threat of death hanging over them? Where I wanted wit and derring-do, I got pages of lust. I am not saying this is a bad book, it’s just that for me, the intimate space got in the way of other story elements. But for many other readers, it was a perfect blend of a hint of danger and lots of romantic potential.

My own tastes lean toward variety—big casts, lots of scenery, tone that ranges all over the spectrum, from humor to tragedy and then to triumph, with dash and romance and wit. The ‘space’ is going to range from public to personal to private in such a story.

Some readers prefer intimate space all the time. Romance readers prefer the intimacy to build the romance. In ‘slice of life’ stories, the author describes other intimate aspects of life. This can have a powerful effect, especially I think on young readers who haven’t much life experience. Or readers of any age who are seeking to read about the intimate lives of people in radically different circumstances from their own. There is a lot of assertion out there that this type of fiction is ‘better’ or ‘literature’ whereas romances or genre adventures aren’t literature.

Literature that will be remembered, I think, are the books that we come back to again and again, especially those that read differently to us at various points along life’s path, furnishing new insights along the way. A book that delves into the darker aspects of human experience can be intensely disturbing, but I am not convinced it’s better than other types of fiction. I was talking to some older readers about this very thing, and one pointed out that she’s been there, she’s already seen the full range of little horrors that life deals out. Another said that fiction serves different needs, not only from day to day, but over the course of a life. She has no need of a work that eschews the full range of human experience in favor of the petty and disturbing. To her, it makes as much sense to read such things as it does to walk around with dogpoo smeared on her glasses. “Who’s going to be impressed? Not me!”

The longest sustained piece of intimate space writing I can think of is Proust’s In Search of Lost Time . . . and yet deep as the perspective delves, the motivation behind the intimate thoughts of this character are buried deeply, surfacing ever so briefly in a brilliant sentence mid-book that goes on for several pages. That’s where the art comes in.

And that brings me back to art, and the romance writer skillfully choosing her intimate details in order to evoke (or re-evoke) the happier, passionate emotions in her reader. Tell me, why is that bad?

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