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Treat yourself to the AAR Bookbag!

November 22, 2002 - Issue #149

We promised in the previous issue of At the Back Fence that we would have a November 22nd issue to make up for the fact that illness prevented a November 1st issue. That's what you'll find here, and as we mentioned the last time, we'll take a look at erotica and the romance erotica hybrid, provide you with some survey results, and open a discussion on what looks to be a bizarre backlash we've noticed. And, a Nevada Supreme Court decision we've just heard about not only updates a previous column's discussion on the possibilities that an author might sue a reviewer, but answers a recent reader question about the nature of reviews.

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Erotica & Erotic Romance (LLB)

There's been a fair amount of discussion lately about erotica and romance erotica hybrids. It seems as though many of the highly anticipated Harlequin Blazes haven't delivered the goods in terms of both telling a decent story and providing a wealth of erotic love scenes. From what I gather listening to readers and our own review staff, Alison Kent and Donna Kauffman have perhaps done the best in these previously uncharted Harlequin waters. We've given good reviews to some other Blaze titles, but overall the problems seem to come down to this: either the author has taken a tried-and-true and overdone theme such as a "virgin's awakening" and tarted it up, or has devised a plot in order to give the characters excuses for sex.

The latter of which brings up some interesting questions about erotica, which I am unfortunately unqualified to answer. But as I can ask, begin to explore, and see what happens, I will.

Late this summer, one of our readers asked the following question on our Reader to Reader Message Board, "Whatever happened to Patricia Ryan?" Since I too had noticed she hadn't had any books out recently, I emailed her. She responded on the message board that she was moving in some different directions to satisfy her craving to write some historical mysteries involving a couple with a "Mulder and Sculley dynamic." She also wrote that after having written a short story for a romance erotica anthology (Burning Hot, to be released in the summer of 2003), she wanted to write more erotic romance. Although I'm not a reader of erotica or romance erotica (is there a difference between erotic romance and romance erotica?), I do like reading romances featuring quite luscious love scenes.

If I like hot love scenes, why don't I like erotica or romance erotica/erotic romance? The only full-length erotica I've ever finished are Anne Rice's B&D/S&M erotica novels. I can't honestly say I've liked them, but I've finished them when I haven't been able to finish other erotica novels, including the few Black Lace books I've tried. Perhaps it's that Rice goes "whole hog," as it were; her Sleeping Beauty books created an entire fetishistic fantasy fairy tale world inhabited by beautiful royals who just so happened to enjoy degrading and being degraded sexually.

I've never read further than a few chapters in the other full-length erotica novels - even those written for women. If erotica is, as defined by my dictionary, "literature or art designed to arouse sexual desire," the definition in itself may be my answer, at least partially. I don't need a whole book to arouse sexual desire, so full-length books of erotica, unless indeed totally based on a fantasy world, are probably overkill for me. Then too, prose that some people find quite sexual often seems laughable to me instead. And, in every full-length erotica novel I've read, the characters are often menaced (or menacing) and the sex fetishistic. To paraphrase Ellen Micheletti, who wrote one of the best lines ever in her review of an erotic romance anthology, aren't there nice people, and don't they have plenty of good, hot sex that doesn't involve rubber, spanking, hot wax, and/or the insertion of things in places I'd rather not consider them?

I can even handle such things, but in very small doses, which means I've had far more "luck," if you can call it that, reading erotica anthologies. So when Patricia Ryan mentioned wanting to write additional erotic romance, I responded that I hoped she'd be writing them in novella form. It's hard to say what other readers prefer from the discussion on this topic thus far, which has been limited. I asked Patricia to talk about erotic romance. Here's what she had to say in return:

"I know what you mean by preferring shorter stories when it comes to heavy-duty erotic content. A little of that can go a long way, and three- or four-hundred pages at once can seem overwhelming - especially if it's mostly sex and if there's not a lot in the way of story or emotional charge. And that's where I think the key lies.

"A full-length erotic novel has got to be just as much of an emotional roller-coaster as a non-erotic novel, and just as well crafted in terms of plot and character, or it's just not going to hold together over the long haul. Sexual excitement is fleeting. Once the heat of the love scene has dissipated, there's got to be something there to keep the reader's heart and mind invested. It's not enough to just throw in some filler-type connective tissue between sexual romps; what you have then is porn (my definition being a work that exists primarily for sexual titillation, with the story serving the sex) rather than erotica (a fully developed story which happens to contain graphic sex).

"Suffice it to say some of the 'erotic romance' on the market right now works for me, and some doesn't. To some extent, this is totally subjective, and it's not always easy to pinpoint why a particular story floats your boat when it leaves your friend cold. But I do know that sex alone - for all that I enjoy it when it's written well - doesn't really affect me deeply unless it grows out of a complex relationship involving psychology, suspense and deep characterization.

"Even with novellas, I think it's important to craft a really compelling emotional journey between these two people - otherwise, what's the point? When I wrote Possessing Julia for Burning Hot, it was really important to me to make it a gripping love story in addition to the red-hot erotic read that St. Martin's was asking for. In other words, I wanted the emotional component as explosive as the sex.

"I'm not shy about writing hot, pushing-the-envelope sex scenes, as my readers will attest, and Possessing Julia is no exception. But if there's no real reason for the sex, it ends up feeling not only thin but a tad distasteful. If, on the other hand, the sex happens within the context of a powerful love story, it can be breathtakingly graphic - even somewhat kinky - and still feel as affecting emotionally as physically.

"So I guess I'm saying I have the same standards for both the long and short forms. If those standards are applied to a full-length novel, I believe it will work even for readers who don't normally stayed engaged with that many pages of erotic fiction."

Patricia Ryan has written some powerful medieval romances with excellent love scenes; indeed, her Secret Thunder made a strong impression on me not only because the love scenes were wonderful, but because the widowed heroine had actually enjoyed sex previous to the arrival of the hero. Not only that, she enjoyed it with her first husband, whom she hadn't really loved.

I'll definitely be reading Possessing Julia, and because I enjoy her prose style, I'll also be trying any full-length erotic romance she writes.

While on the subject of erotic romance, I thought it would be interesting to interview Alexandria Kendall, publisher of the Secrets anthologies. She does advertise her company's books on our site, but we started reviewing them well before Red Sage signed on as an advertiser. Our grade for Secrets #6 back in 2000 was a B and our grade for Secrets 7 was a B-. Our review of 2002's volume, which goes on sale next month, will be posted online within the next week.

LLBHow do you define erotica? My dictionary defines erotica as "Literature or art designed to arouse sexual desire."
AlexandriaYes, erotica is designed to arouse sexual desire. So does anything relating to sex in the slightest degree for someone. A picture of a rose could cause someone to become sexually aroused, which is why something can be art for one person and garbage for another.

Many people consider "erotica" a derogatory term, whether relating to movies, books, or magazines. I believe that this has to do with the male influence in major media over the last 100 years. I don't think the influence is wrong - it's just different from women. The male concept has removed emotion from sex, or, to put it another way, it removes any connection or feeling for women. Women therefore have always shied away from anything in the media having to do with sex. There has never been anything in it for them to connect with. There are no other terms or language to describe something that is positive and emotionally fulfilling to a woman that is sexual in the media. So we are left with the term "erotica."

There have always been great women writers of romance who knew how to write hot love scenes in a novel. This is not new. What is new is the story is focused on their sexual emotional connection within the context of their story.

Romantic erotica I think might come the closest to describe what Secrets writers write. I don't believe with women you can just use erotica. The reader feedback I have received has always been they love the characters and the stories, but why they are writing is they loved how hot the stories are. The emotional connection always has to be there for a woman.

LLBWhy did you decide to begin Red Sage and publish the Secrets anthologies?
AlexandriaThe reason I started Red Sage (Passionate Wisdom) is because I kept hearing women authors complain they couldn't write the hot scenes they wanted to write in their novels. I loved reading all the authors everyone said wrote the hot love scenes. I knew I was just like any other woman who read romance. I loved the top authors also who wrote hot. I also loved a lot of the top authors who did not write hot. I just loved the way they wrote.

If women felt comfortable writing these love scenes why weren't the men who owned the publishing houses, letting them write them? I was told at that time that women did not really like to read about sex. Women were not as sexual as men and did not have the capacity to enjoy sex as men did so they really did not want to read it. Remember, this was eight years ago.

LLBWe've seen in the last few years a sort of mainstreaming of erotica into romance. Emma Holly, an erotica writer, is now publishing erotic romance, and Kensington, which initially followed your format of four erotic novellas in a trade size format, has really turned the erotic romance hybrid into a niche market w/its Brava line and its signing of many of the so-called "hottest" romance authors - Small, Johnson, Schone, and Devine. What conclusions do you draw from this?
AlexandriaI may be wrong on this but I think Red Sage was the first to publish Emma Holly in Secrets. Remember when Matrix came out and then there were all these movies that copied it? The Red Sage authors were there first.
LLBI know you have a page of writer guidelines at your site, but if you were to define for a prospective author what you are looking for in a novella for one of your anthologies, what would you tell her to write?
AlexandriaWrite a story that is fun for the reader to read, that will give the reader the most enjoyment possible. Provide an intelligent plot, captivating dialogue, and characters they will love.
LLBWhen we've talked in the past, you've mentioned discussions with romance authors. Do you read romance? And, were you an erotica reader?
AlexandriaI started reading romance late in life, in my 30's. When I started reading them I became obsessed. Before I decided to publish, I read every kind of romance there was - I mean everything, at least once. Believe it or not, I really like inspirational romance.

What I do really well is analyze. People have always said I should be a critic of books, movies, plays, vacation locales, etc. This is the same when I joined RWA. I found I liked to analyze instead of write. I thought I wanted to write, but the analyzing gods wouldn't let it happen. I was always seeing the big picture.

I had not read erotica before deciding to start Red Sage. I didn't even know if another company was out there publishing what I envisioned women would want to read.

LLBWhen you look at what else is out there today as compared to eight years ago when you started the anthologies, did you think the sub-sub-genre of erotic romance/romance erotica would grow to become as big as it has in the last couple of years?
AlexandriaYes.
LLBDo you think Harlequin has got it right w/their Blaze line or do you think they've "Harlequinized" erotica badly? Kensington and now St Martin's are doing erotic romance anthologies. Is this a compliment to you, or do you feel threatened? Also, Kensington is doing full-length erotic romance novels. Have you considered taking your company in that direction or do you plan to stay in your niche?
AlexandriaJust as there are many great actors. There are many great publishing houses and great writers.

I have always wanted to do full-length books. When you start a business you understand the problems of staying in business, as many of the other romance publishers that are no longer with us could tell you. You do not jump into something this big until you are very firmly established. I want the author to feel she is respected and appreciated. I cannot do that right now on a large scale. We are coming out with one big book in the future, but for the moment am concentrating on the anthologies.

My ultimate vision for Red Sage, is and always has been, is to be a company where a woman author feels safe and respected for her talent. I have the utmost respect for all the authors of Red Sage. The authors in the first book - Bonnie Hamre, Alice Gaines, Jeanie LeGendre, and Ivy Landon - were wonderful pioneers who took a chance on someone with no experience in the publishing industry. Talk about going across the desert without promise of water on the other side!

Let's broaden the discussion now, and consider not only the following questions, but some of the related messages posted on our Potpourri Message Board not long ago. First, some questions to keep in mind:

  • How do you define erotica?
  • Do you read erotica? Do you read the romance/erotica hybrid? What are the differences?
  • Is there a difference between a traditional romance novel featuring lots of love scenes and "erotic romance" and/or the romance/erotica hybrid?
  • Consider your favorite "mainstream" hot romance. If the author added more love scenes and in some degree of greater depth, would you rather read that than a book touted soley as "erotic romance?" Would you consider it "romance erotica" or simply a very spicy romance?

And now, some of the discussion from our Potpourri Message Board:

SarahI have to make a delineation between erotica and romantic erotica. I have only ventured into the erotic venue over the past year or two and although I like most different types, I can not classify Ann Rice's Beauty series or other "hard core" erotica with most romance authors. A lot of peoples' contact with erotic writing on here comes from Schone, Small, Small, etc. As I said, I enjoy their writing too, but to me at least, they are not erotica, like an author like Rice. Erotic writing, yes, erotica, no...or not quite. Anyone who has read Anne Rices' books will know what I mean by such a difference. If you haven't read them, they are very hard to explain. I am not sure I even liked them, but they will never leave my thoughts...

I read erotica for the unknown or the forbidden. I know that I am probably never going to enact these acts themselves, but reading about people who do, interests me. That fantasy element. Like others also, I can not read too much erotica or it loses its "spice," for want of a better word. I have no problem reading a full-length book, but can't read two or three back to back. One thrown in every 6 or 8 months maybe. My husband and I have a pretty open relationship (meaning we will talk about this stuff), though neither one of us would actually be interested in partaking in most of these fantasies. (IE S & M or B & D, and I am talking full-fledged actions here). It does spice things up, and make our lives more interesting though, to talk about it.

Like any book I read (and I have said many, many, many times on these boards) the book has to be well written for me to enjoy it as well. For example, Emma Holly did an incredible job with Cooking up a Storm and Menage. In these books, not only did I think the reader got erotica, but well thought out characters and (OMG) a plot too!!!! A lot of the Black Lace books I have read were strictly sex, kinky sex, and Wow, way out there sex. But some of them actually try to get into the mind of the characters. Why do the mistresses/masters enjoy their power and why do the slaves enjoy their debasement? There are some interesting psychological stuff going on in the well-written erotic books. Those that go for your mind as well as your body. The other books, with just raunchy writing and lots of partners and kinky stuff, is just sex to me, and I would classify that as pornography. I guess at base, it depends upon how I interpret the book and the writing as to whether it is erotica or porn to me.

WendyThe simple answer of why I read erotica? Purely out of guilty pleasure. Kind of like the addiction I had to the TV show Melrose Place during the 1990's. Sure, the bulk of it was trash - but man, did I ever have a good time.

I find that I enjoy erotica when the heroine is in control. No simpering misses, no bug-eyed virgins, etc. These women are in charge, gasp enjoy sex and know what they want. That said - I've read several romance-erotica's this year that featured either "might as well have been a virgin" and/or "clueless virgin" heroines. The "I need a big, strong man to educate me" kind of heroine has never held appeal for me (although, I can understand how that fantasy does work for some). In short - I guess I like the idea of turning the "woman as the weaker sex" stereotype on its head.

DeborahI read erotica because of two aspects: forbidden and fantasy. The fantasy of one man/one woman who are destined from the moment they meet and couldn't possibly be with anyone else is the fantasy I look for in reading romance. That leaves a lot of other fantasies that aren't quite so respectable - and erotica is where I'm more likely to find them. The feelings I get reading good erotica are similar to the ones I would get back in junior high when we'd pass around "the good parts" of books. Sex at all back then was a forbidden fantasy. Today, reading about plain garden-variety sex doesn't evoke the same feelings - but sex with gardening tools is a whole different matter! When it gets down to it, itís fun to read about kinky sex.
CGWhen I think of Erotica, I think of Small and Johnson and the like, not the Blaze line at Harlequin. I feel that distinction is important, because to me, there's a difference between just hot and sweaty sex, and sex involving man-made objects and harems and the like.

So why do I read it? I guess because there are some days when I come home from work and just don't feel so sexy. So I read about some feet-curling sex. For me, erotica serves the same purpose a porno tape serves for men. It gets me thinking about sex again. And then I go find my husband, quickly.

SabineI am a big fan of erotic romances and erotica like the Black Lace series; one of the reasons I like it so much is, I would say, that I can live out in my imagination all kinds of adventures I can not have and/or would not like to have in reality.
MaggieI have read very little erotica but it tends to stay in my mind. That which I have read is not very different from sex in romances in terms of the technical aspect. But the emotions -- negative and positive -- brought to it are much more intense. I can remember a certain level of intensity in the sex scenes when romance first began but most scenes now fall short. I think this is because only positive emotions are allowed to enter into most of the scenes and to create truly powerful positive emotions you need to take time and build the relationship.
LisaI think I've found some of my dissatisfaction with current romance. I started reading romance in the 70's as a teenager. What I find missing in some of the newer stuff is the all consuming emotion. The stuff that caused the "I hate you, let's jump into bed" or the now infamous hero rapes heroine scenario. Maybe it's just my warped mind, but I like my heroes to be a bit cruel on occasion. I like those dark, forbidden emotions in my romance (living vicariously here). There is something about the intensity of emotion that overtakes the h/h in certain erotica that I clue right into. Now that is not to say that I enjoy all erotica. Some is just by the numbers sex. But when an author does it right I'm there. The longer I read romance the harder it is to find romance that hasn't been sanitized by the PC police or the marketing department.
Laura While I enjoy reading mainstream romances for the stories and relationships I have to admit that I only read erotica for the kinky sex. But that's just me.
JessicaI don't read what is considered erotic per se, but I have read some of the Blazes and many of Brava's erotic romance line as well. I have enjoyed many of them, and hated others. I have very different views of reading and romance books than most others that post here so I won't go into too much about why they did or didn't work for me. But I will say that I see most posters on message boards on this topic talk about strong, sexual women and they tend to use that as their defining goal of erotica. I tend not to care too much about the women. I'm not sure if I can explain why, but the best books for me are ones where the author delves into the man's head and shows you what he wants from the relationship or encounter. I think that reading a man's thoughts on sex or a sexy woman are what I consider hot and what I like to read about. I'm not sure what that says about my taste and I am sure most would disagree with me, but that's why a lot of the so-called "women's erotica" doesn't work for me.

I like to read hot, very sexual stories as pure enjoyment. I read so much for several other jobs/responsibilities that I have where I have to pay attention, study and think. I read fiction to be entertained and not to think. If the guy is hot, is he is sexy and cool, then I will probably love the book.

SidoniaFrom a very personal perspective, I can only associate it with the assorted levels of love in a marriage. There are times in a marriage where you make love, there are times where you lust for your partner and just go at it for purely sexual reasons and yet there is another level where love and lust are both present. That last one's my favorite. {blush}

I find that my book choices fall into those same categories. I love romance that makes me melt because the love and devotion between the characters is unbelievable. I enjoy erotica from time to time because (please don't be offended erotica fans) I enjoy reading it down right nasty. My favorites are the hybrids as you called them. The ones where there is a love and respect between individuals with just a touch of kink. It all depends on my mood.

CandyThis is not an easy subject to talk about because it is hard to get across the reason why. Remember this is in regards to my opinion only. I don't read erotic romance for the sexual thrill because if I did that a Playgirl magazine would suffice. I've tried straight erotica, i.e., Black Lace, but there is no emotion in it. Just some kinky sex, which seems rather mechanical because the emotion doesn't reach into the sex. Well for me, there is no emotion period.

I do like Robin Schone and the Secrets, to name a few, but to me I don't consider them true erotica. I think true erotica is written for the sex, for the thrill of the naughty or forbidden. The erotica I read combines some depth of feeling, some emotion. They make sex real, not prettied up, at least for me. Sex isn't exactly romantic, although I think romance needs to be a part of the relationship for sex to be good. But erotic sex itself is a total release of emotion, a total surrender, with a healthy issue of trust. It's also reading something other than the ordinary; it's reading about "real" sex. These scenes may make us uncomfortable at times, may make us uneasy, but they definitely draw upon some deep feelings. And no I am not talking about lust. Robin Schone's books for example, make feel uncomfortable and uneasy at times, I don't read it to get a thrill. If I wanted that, I would be reading straight erotica only. But her characters are not afraid to surrender, to "feel", to explore, to push the boundaries. During sex, our pain threshold lowers, blood rushes to surface areas and extremities and heightens our sense of touch, we forget who we are, sometimes what we are doing. These are all very "human" reactions for me. These books "go there" for me.

Maybe those that feel the way I do, maybe we have a particular interest in what happens physically and emotionally, what happens inside our body and our mind during sex. And I tend to see that brought out in a good erotic romance.

I don't think Susan Johnson and Bertrice Small fall into my erotic category though. I also read some short e-book erotica (the kind that most here don't seem to like) and have found some good reads, though I do admit to not feeling the strong emotional pull in these, but there is an element that I like that seems difficult to put into words. They are funny, sexy, light-hearted, action-packed. Do they deal with life's tough questions? No. But they are a pure escape route for me. A quick, snappy read that usually, for my tastes, deal with a lot of fantasy. Now maybe these I read for the thrill! They are usually too short!

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And the Surveys Say...(LLB)

Just about every time I buy a new book, I ask myself, "Just when do you plan to read this?" Because, you see, I tend to buy many more books in a year than I actually read. The end result of all this book-buying is already known - just look at the number of books you have TBR. But let's consider how your pile got that way, if you have one. We know from a previous survey that some of you have no TBR piles at all, or if you do, they are relatively small.

We posed two survey questions in the October 1st issue of ATBF to help us get to the bottom of the matter: how many books did you buy so far this year, and how many books so far have you read this year? Unfortunately, space constraints on October 15th issue, and illness, which led to no column at all on November 1st have gotten in the way of following up on these survey questions. As a result, I'm simply going to present the original results, based on reader behavior over a 9-month period, and extrapolation of them for a full year, which is where I had originally intended to take discussion. Feel free to discuss these results on our ATBF Message Board when you're finished with the column.

How Many Books Have You Bought This Year?
Between 1 and 25 (68) 17%
Between 26 and 50 (78) 19%
Between 51 and 75 (62) 15%
Between 75 and 100 (49) 12%
Between 100 and 150 (58) 14%
Between 150 and 200 (33) 8%
More than 200 (50) 12%
Number of Votes: 398
How Many Books Will You Buy This Year?
Between 16 to 33 17%
Between 33 and 67 19%
Between 67 and 100 15%
Between 100 and 133 12%
Between 133 and 200 14%
Between 200 and 267 8%
More than 267 12%



How Many Books Have You Read This Year?
36/one per week (43) 11%
Between 36 and 50 (37) 10%
Between 50 - 75 (62) 17%
Between 75 - 100 (52) 14%
Between 100 - 150 (62) 17%
Between 150 - 200 (56) 15%
One a day; more than 200; (50) 13%
Number of Votes: 362
How Many Books Will You Read This Year?
52/one per week 11%
Between 52 and 70 10%
Between 70 - 100 17%
Between 100 - 133 14%
Between 133 - 200 17%
Between 200 - 267 15%
More than 270 13%

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Backlash? (LLB)

Suzanne Brockmann became more than a simple bleep on my radar when, in 1999, she garnered three honorable mentions in our yearly reader awards. In our 2001 reader awards, she won in four categories and received two honorable mentions, and for 2001, she not only won in eight categories and tied for a ninth in our reader awards, she also won two RITA's from RWA. She also "won" one of negative categories, though, for Most Annoying Lead Character.

What made her showing at AAR in 2001 all the more significant was that, for the first year since our awards began in 1996, Eve and Roarke from J.D. Robb's In Death series did not win as favorite couple. Not only did a Brockmann couple wrest that award away, but this was a secondary couple. Brockmann was not only a reader favorite for 2001, her Over the Edge won as our Reviewer's Choice, just edging out The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons.

Although I'm not much of a Brockmann reader myself, it's clear to me that over the past few years she's become the hottest romance author around. Her popularity is not simply an online phenomenon; if it were, her old series romances would not be in reissue, she would not be moving to hardcover next summer, and she would not, as Publishers Weekly stated early this year, "consistently garner rave reviews (and) hit the bestseller lists." No matter how popular an author is online, that popularity must be go beyond the virtual world into the "real" world in order to reach consistent bestseller status and for a publisher to take her to hardcover. Because as romance readers know, while much of mainstream fiction is initially released in hardcover and later released in paperback, it is generally a sign of a romance author's great success that she is publishable in hardcover at all.

When the awards were announced back in March of this year, one long-time visitor to AAR seemed surprised at how well Brockmann had done and made a startling comment that seemed to many to be more an accusation than anything else. Her initial post asked whether there had been a concerted "campaign" by Brockmann and/or her online fans which caused her to win so big. The discussion very quickly degenerated into unpleasantness, and even though we clarified, as we do each and every year, that every vote counted was legitimate and not an instance of ballot box stuffing, the idea that our awards had been co-opted by an author and/or her fans lingered long afterwards.

This was actually, now that I think about it, the beginning of a "Brockmann backlash," which intensified in recent months in a manner unlike any other author backlash I've ever witnessed. My personal "uh-oh" flag was raised when I received one of the author's newsletters detailing a betrayal of her trust by a man who had pretended to be a Navy SEAL. I get many author newsletters simply to keep up with what's going on, but noticed that Brockmann sends out more than any other author. And, while her fans may appreciate the friendly manner she has - which includes her exemplary behavior at booksignings - I thought perhaps her level of intimacy might be problematical for some.

No doubt in order to capitalize on her widespread popularity, Ballantine sent out many more than the usual number of advance copies of her upcoming release, Into the Night, hoping to generate some advance buzz (as if any were really needed). Well, they got buzz, but it wasn't positive buzz. And the strong secondary relationship between Sam and Alyssa that had so captivated our readers in 2001 turned sour. For a book that wasn't going to be released for two more months, the commentary, often by those who hadn't yet read it (which would be most people), seemed at odds with past discussions about Brockmann.

Even more recently there was another negative discussion about Suzanne Brockmann, who as I mentioned previously, is moving into hardcover during the summer of 2003. The book will not be a stand-alone title; it is the sixth in a series and will provide the culmination of Sam and Alyssa's story. While there are often grumblings when an author "goes hardcover," these posts went beyond grumblings. Many readers are angry, very angry - and very angry at Brockmann herself, not her publisher - for "allowing" this 2003 release to be published in hardcover. While some readers have expressed dissatisfaction with authors as varied as Julie Garwood and Jane Feather about moving into hardcover, I've never seen this level of anger at an author doing similarly in the past.

Most recently? A thread on one of our message boards revived the rumor that somehow Brockmann and/or her fans had co-opted our 2001 reader awards and took her to task for asking those RWA members who are on her mailing list to remember to vote for their favorite books of the year, and showing them step-by-step how they could do so, for one of her books and a book by another author.

I don't understand this level of animosity. Any romance author who has written the number of quality books Suzanne Brockmann has - I base this on her reviews here, and her 11 DIK's - deserves the money a hardback contract will bring. If a reader cannot afford a hardcover release, it only takes six months to a year for that same book to be released in paperback. Why begrudge an author her success? It's one thing when an author seems to "abandon" her romance roots, although that's still her prerogative, but since Brockmann seems committed to write romance, I've got to wonder whether this is yet another sign of backlash against an author's success, perhaps somewhat driven by eagerness on her part that has led to overexposure.

I'd love to know what you think about this turn-around and its vehemence.

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The Nature of Reviews (LLB)

Earlier this month there was a thread on our Reviews Message Board regarding the nature of reviews. Dick wrote: "Reviews ought to be more than just personal opinion. Shouldn't they be a careful assessment of a novel rather than a list of statements for disliking? ...It seems to me, that, if romance literature is to be taken seriously by those who presently don't, reviews of it should be approached with more seriousness and greater responsibility than to express 'personal' opinions of a book."

We've defined reviews many times in the past, but I can add a new wrinkle this time and also update you on a special column I wrote earlier this year on libel and defamation.

A Nevada restaurant sued a Reno newspaper for defamation after an unfavorable review appeared in its pages. The November 7th decision of the Nevada Supreme Court found that because reviews are only statements of opinion, they are not actionable. The court went further, though, because the restaurant's complaint was that the review also included false statements, and held that for purposes of a review, the restaurant being reviewed was a public figure. As such, the restaurant had to prove actual malice, which is defined as knowingly publishing false statements.

Though this is not a U.S. Supreme Court decision and the complainant a restaurant rather than an author, the logic used by this court seems applicable to book reviews - and also answers Dick's question regarding the nature of reviews. Part of the court's decision read, "A review, by its very nature, constitutes the opinion of the reviewer...Defamation is a publication of a false statement of fact. Statements of opinion cannot be defamatory because 'there is no such thing as a false idea.'"

The court didn't go so far as to say that even a misstatement of fact in a review cannot be actionable, however, which means that reviewers need to craft their reviews with care not to make factual errors. And yet the court gave some leeway there as well: "The review as a whole, and its essential nature as an expression of opinion, should be considered in weighing any allegation of defamatory import."

In laymen's terms, what this means is: reviews are personal opinions. When a reviewer makes a statement of fact in a review - ie, "the hero tells the heroine he loves her after they share watery lemonade at Almack's," he or she should endeavor to make sure that fact is correctly presented. If not, any legal action taken by an author would need to prove that the reviewer/newspaper/web site published that information knowing it was false. The court would not only consider whether there was actual malice, therefore, but would also consider the review in its entirety and the nature of reviews themselves as expressions of opinion.

We at AAR always strive to provide informative and entertaining reviews. Each reviewer attempts not only to present synopsis information accurately, but also to share with you, our readers, why she/he did or did not enjoy every single book reviewed. We realize that not everyone agrees with the style of review we write, but hope we are all agreed that our type of review is well within the norm of mainstream reviewing. If you haven't had yet had the opportunity to view this page featuring negative mainstream reviews, we encourage you to do so (if you've been to the page before but not lately, we've just updated it), and if you have a mainstream review you'd like added to this page, please feel free to email it to me. At AAR we believe that reviews are a written art form in and of themselves and know that among our readers are many who simply enjoy the reading of a well-crafted review. While this can be shown in a powerfully written review recommending a book, it can also be illustrated in a negative review. Entertainment comes in many forms.

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Time to Post to the Message Board

Because this is essentially an "extra" column that has been posted only a week after the last issue of At the Back Fence, feel free to comment or question either or both columns. Because we did not provide specific questions for that column, we won't specify them for this column. We'll return to our regular schedule (and our usual providing of specific questions) with our December 1st ATBF.


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