December 24, 2007 - Issue #288

From the Desk of Anne Marble:

AARList: 2007's Hot Topics

AARList is our busy e-mail discussion group, hosted on by YahooGroups. I've run AARList since 1999, and seen it through both flame wars and bonding. This year is no exception. Since the last yearly roundup of AARList hot topics, there have been more than twice the number of posts during the equivalent period last year, so I want to give a big woot to all AARList members who contributed. Readers and writers alike talked about subjects ranging from "Bad Anatomy in Romance Novels" to "Characters Who Keep Grinning at Each Other." Some topics took up as many as 65 posts, while others might have attracted five or six posts, but the discussions were always stimulating.

As in previous years, one of the hottest topics on the list was virginity. Many readers run from virginal heroines like the plague. Some like the role reversal of virginal heroes, but others are turned off by those stories. "Pseudo virgins" - heroines who aren't virgins but might as well be - were even more controversial. Readers debated the pros and cons (mostly cons) of virginal heroines and complained that in contemporary romances, plots involving virgins are often stupid. This led to a heated debate and some misunderstandings. Is it the virgins who are stupid, or the plots? Or is the real problem with certain authors whose virgins are stupid? Readers and authors/publishers also got into kerfuffles about discussions related to publicity, such as "bogus reviews," and of course, the usual promotional posts that didn't follow the guidelines. (Let's just say that a couple of authors got dizzy when they were shoved back through the revolving door.)

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But as hot as these debates got, AARList posters generally got along. Most of the year, subgenre recommendations and discussions ruled the list. For a while, historical fiction discussions became the king (or is that queen?) of the list, with posts about Bernard Cornwell and Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond books, and even a thriving debate about Dunnett's writing style. A question about Western romances generated nearly two dozen posts. Just a few years ago, people were sick of Western romances. Now it looks like we want them to come back! Erotic romance formed another topic for hot (pun intended) discussion, with scads of posts on Lora Leigh's books, many of which Laurie wrote about in our joint erotic romance column in October. Readers also recommended and discussed multicultural romances. While no one reader had the same experiences with multicultural romances, everyone agreed that people who return a book to the store because the characters turn out to be minorities are creepy. Readers also chimed in on "chicks in pants" books, Medievals, romantic suspense, Beauty and the Beast romances, heroines with a fear of sex, and even romances featuring romance-reading characters. While the paranormal is hot, there were only a couple of discussions on vampire and ghost romances, with most readers wanting to talk about historicals or contemporaries. Readers also discussed love scenes (what works, what doesn't) and just what is a guilty pleasure.

Readers wanted to talk about authors, both the "guilty pleasure" ones and the ones they weren't ashamed to love. In a thread about "Missing in Action" authors, readers pined over authors who were no longer publishing romance. Whole threads were devoted to authors ranging from Georgette Heyer and Jodi Thomas (yes, in the same thread) to Jennifer Crusie to Robyn Carr. Quick! What do The Da Vinci Code, Shirlee Busbee's newest book (Scandal Becomes Her), and Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me have in common? All three books had entire threads devoted to them - although sadly, most readers admitted that the new Busbee was disappointing and that her older books were far better. Readers also debated whether "I don't get her" is a polite way of saying "I think her books suck." They wondered if they were "out of step" because they didn't agree about those books everyone else seems to like. And they chimed in about their favorite author web sites and blogs. Both readers and writers chatted about, and sometimes debated, promotional issues. For example, do promotional bookmarks make a difference? Which romance authors make short stories or other samples available on-line? What about book trailers? (Most readers aren't crazy about them.) And what about pen names? Most readers don't mind them, especially as a way to keep work in different genres distinct, but others find them annoying because it makes it harder to keep track of a favorite author. Did readers know that there are services that "help" authors by posting glowing reviews of their books...and what did readers think about that? Everyone agreed that those services suck and are deceptive and that their mothers dress them funny. And that we hate characters who stop acting logically in the middle of a book, causing us to ask "What were they thinking?!"

Alphas heated up the list - not just alpha heroes but alpha heels and alpha heroines. Readers love their alphas, although most (but not all) hate the alpha heels. There were a great number of posts with "alpha" somewhere in that subject lines. Contrast that to beta heroes, who ended up mentioned in about four posts. The thread about pet peeves and "pet loves" taught us that everyone has something that rankles them more than anything else, be it a bullying hero, historical romances that read more like Sex in the City with costumes, historicals where "ruined" heroines are accepted back into society as if nothing had happened, or stories with obvious villains. And that what one reader loathes, another will love...although just about everyone agreed that euphemisms in love scenes are annoying and that it's creepy when the heroine calls the hero "Daddy." Almost as popular was a thread about adultery in romance, and first spouses rated many, many posts, with HEA endings and grovels following close behind. Many topics were character-driven. Feisty heroines? Hate them! TSTL heroines? Hate them! Possessive heroes? Hate them! Aristocratic characters who act like real aristocrats? Two snaps up, especially if Jo Beverley is writing about them.

What about a sense of style? AARList members discussed stylistics issues throughout the year, even though the one thing we agreed on was that we couldn't agree on writing style. Some find it crucial, and others don't let it bother them except in rare cases. One stylistic flaw that many readers did notice was "Repetitive Phrases Repetitive Phrases" - that is, those pet phrases writers end up falling in love with. Long paragraphs also drive us nuts, but while we prefer shorter paragraphs, they can be annoying if abused. At the same time, one reader pointed out that authors can make things worse by trying too hard to avoid repeating pet phrases. Readers agreed that head hopping is fine as long as it's not overdone or confusing, even if they couldn't agree on what constituted true head hopping. We also agreed that foreign phrases are often both overused and abused in romances. The more you know about a language, the more likely you are to be annoyed when an author gets it wrong. And what's with characters dropping random foreign phrases into their dialogue when they're speaking English? Mais oui, this seems tres silly! We also chuckled over Bad Anatomy in Romance Novels, such as authors who don't know where the hymen should be located and characters who perform acts that sound painful rather than passionate.

Browsing, book buying, and reading habits also burned up many photons. When buying a book, does the publisher really matter to you? For many AARList members, the publisher does matter, especially when buying an ebook. Where do you like to read? For AARListers, the prevalent answer is everywhere. Do you ever skim and even (gasp) peek at the end? Many fans admit that they do. How do you decide which book to buy and which to leave on the shelf? (More and more readers rely on review sites like AAR, message boards, etc. to help them make their lists.) Have you ever returned a book to the store? Quite a few members have, but many would never do that because they see it as the equivalent of eating a meal at a restaurant, and then asking for your money back. Others see it as the equivalent of tasting the meal and then sending it back because there was something wrong with the dish. And what about throwing out books? Yes, some of us admitted to throwing out books if we couldn't trade them in or give them away. And what do you do with those unwanted ebooks? Do you keep them, or delete them to save space?

Like last year, e-books formed a growing part of the discussion on AARList throughout the year. These threads weren't without their controversy. One author zoomed in with a "hit and run" post advertising her site. Unfortunately, most of the links on her site didn't work, and she never returned to the list to answer the many responses she'd generated. In true AARList fashion, long after the original poster was kicked off for not following the rules, the discussion morphed from complaints about the hard-to-use site to a stimulating discussion about ebook standards. Despite that bump in the road, most ebook discussions went much more smoothly. Still, that doesn't mean everyone loves ebooks. Several people jumped in to say that they love paper books and will never read ebooks. And posts like that original "hit and run" post don't help popularize ebooks!

All those form a healthy chunk of what we talked about on AARList this year, but they weren't the only topics. With more than 1,300 posts, you can imagine that all sorts of things cross our minds. What else did readers bring up? Just about everything you can imagine. Do readers get annoyed about dated references when reading older contemporaries? Most don't mind reading about a world without a cell phone or Google - it's the dated attitudes they hate. Do coincidences in plots come across as bad plotting to you, or can you accept them as part of the story? Most readers accept them - after all, life itself can be unpredictable. Do we want innovation in romances, or do we want to stay in that comfort zone? The answer is...It depends. We all have our own comfort zones. Some want graphic sex, some are sick of it but wouldn't mind a darker plot now and then. Others hate rape but love forced seduction. Others hate graphic violence, torture, adultery, female/female sex, female domination, racial stereotyping, and proselytizing. We even learned that one list member likes to feed books she disliked to her cockatiel! And you thought our F reviews could be harsh!

AAR itself became the topic this year when technical troubles plagued the site. Laurie used AARList to garner information on which areas still had trouble accessing the site, and that gave her ammo - uhm, I mean information - she could use with the technical support people. AAR again became the topic of debate when members tried to put together their lists for the Top 100 Romances Poll.

What will next year be like for AARList? We can only hope that the posts keep coming, that the debates are healthy, and that they discussions are just as stimulating, even if we rarely agree on anything for long.

Questions for Your Consideration:

Are discussion lists relevant, or have they become passé as the Internet has evolved?

If you belong to lists - AARList or otherwise - do they wax and wane in terms of posting and/or their interest to you?

For AARListers, which discussions did you follow most closely or participate in with the most enthusiasm?

Are there certain topics that always seem to generate vociferous discussion? What are they?

Why do you suppose there is so little expressed interest in the beta hero?

Feel free to discuss any or all of these AARList hottest topics:

  • Plots involving virgin heroines
  • The Western romance
  • How to dispose of bad books/ebooks
  • Defining the guilty pleasure read
  • Are you out of step as a reader
  • Adultery in romance
  • The first spouse
  • Authors and pet phrases
  • Where do you read
  • What dates a contemporary romance
Anne Marble


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