Laurie's News & Views

April 22, 1996 - Issue #4

I've begun to notice a peculiar phenomenon cropping up in the e-mails I receive from other readers. I've noticed it in my own posts and notes to others as well. It is that statement we make about our educational/working credentials just before (or just after) we mention our love for romantic fiction. It is part of the general apologetic and embarrassed stance we often take in reference to our love of the genre.

I'm conscious of the stereotypes readers and writers of romance face because, for me it is a double whammy. I used to work in government and faced stereotypes as well in that field of endeavor. The assumption of a government worker is one of slothfulness, laziness, and not-too-brightness.

Never mind that I trained specifically to work in government to help society, my master's degree, my 60-hour work weeks, the productivity improvements and increased collections. . . -- Oops, I'm doing it again.

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So, as a lover of romantic fiction, I recognize many of these same stereotypes. Being empty-headed is similar to being not-too-bright; and being slothful and lazy are not far removed from sitting around in a housecoat all day eating bonbons. I know you know what I'm talking about, because I read your e-mails. And I want you to know that you are not alone.

Both readers and writers of romantic fiction battle these stereotypes every day. Genre fiction in other categories -- including science fiction, mysteries, and westerns -- don't seem to face the same uphill battle for respectability. But mention romance, and you're apt to face patronizing sneers.

According to author Deborah Simmons, romantic fiction is "written for women by women, and, as such, will always be a target for those who like to feel superior."
Simmons' remarks are echoed by the experience of Romance Reader editor/publisher, Leslie Aun McClain. When she proposed reviewing romantic fiction to the book editors at some of the nation's largest newspapers, "they were pretty snooty about turning me down. As one editor said rather haughtily, 'We only review serious books'. I thought this particularly insulting, especially when you consider that they review detective novels, science fiction and even westerns. Personally, I think romance novels get short-shifted because they appeal primarily to women. Male editors aren't interested, and female editors don't want their peers to think they like romance. It's a lot of snobbery."

Author Lisa Ann Verge offered up this anecdote about her lecture at a local college:

"I stood up with my lacy shirt and my short pink skirt and antique cameo and blow-dried hair and proceeded to tell them that all the stuff they heard about romances and romance writers was true. Yes, I sit in my nightgown and pop bon-bons as I finger-type sex scenes, Fabio actually did write his own books, and all romance writers are bored housewives (they were incredulous with laughter!).

"I then proceeded to tell them that I recently attending a museum demonstration on thatching, so I could describe the feel of hay in my hands in my latest Irish historical . . . then I happened to mention that two years ago I'd done a talk at Bell Labs in Murray Hill about polymer conformation using three-dimensional NMR. Then I laid on them all those juicy statistics about how profitable romances are, how large a part of the mass market paperback business. . . Hit them with humor first, then give them the facts.

"Of course, I didn't convince everyone. One man, after the meeting, asked me how long it took to write a book. I said, which type? Contemporary or historical? He scoffed at the contemporary and said 'Anyone can bang out one of those.' I simply smiled and said, 'Oh, really? Why don't you try it? It would be a quick ten thousand bucks . . .'"

Author Merline Lovelace, a retired Air Force colonel, recalls the time when she was asked when she was going to write a "real" book by her former boss, a four-star general:

"We were at a dinner party another friend had thrown. My former boss was leafing through my first historical, which of course, I thought was pretty impressive. Then he asked the question. I just laughed and casually let drop my royalty rate and the print run for that 'unreal' book. He's pretty smart -- he figured out real quick how much it could earn me. He took the book home to read that night. Generally, I try not to get defensive about my work. I just do my own thing and merrily deposit my royalty checks."

There are those of us who order our romances from on-line bookstores or through catalogs to avoid smarmy comments made by sales clerks. Others of us have been told the reason the romance shelves are in the back of the store is because the store owners don't want them in plain sight, even though sales in this genre account for about 50% of paperbacks sold.

Still others of us face daily ridicule and embarrassment by family members, friends, and even total strangers about our choice of reading material.

  • "How can you read that trash?"
  • "Aren't all those books the same?"
  • "I'll bet you just bought that book for its cover!"
Catherine Fryman, a recent visitor to this site, e-mailed me the following: "It is so nice to meet, even on the Internet, someone else who enjoys romance, but is not simple-minded (you probably know what I mean by this). Romance readers are thought to be that by the non-readers of this world. Yes, I have a mind, and like romance. So shoot me!"

Frequent RR site visitor, Nancy Forbes, had this to say in a recent e-mail, "Like many readers of these books, I am an educated female professional (two Master's degrees) and am tired of feeling `ashamed' of my tastes in literature, i.e. that people in general feel those who read these books are silly."

Meredith Moore, a contributor to this site and another highly educated reader, says of romantic fiction: "It is a subject I rarely tire of, whether I am praising or criticizing. No one I know can stand to talk about it. Especially not my lit cronies from graduate school, who think I'm ready for the loony bin."

I'd like you to let me know the kinds of comments you've heard and the responses you've made, or wish you had made. I'd like to leave this section open for awhile, and for readers and writers to respond. Ask your friends on the 'net as well.

SHOULD A HERO SLEEP AROUND?
In the last issue of this column, I put forth a reader's question about heroes and whether or not they should refrain from any and all extracurricular activities once having met their heroine.

The results are in. And while acknowledging the marriage of convenience and its variants in the historical arena, overall we do not want our heroes being intimate with women other than our heroines. While we may accept a hero who realizes he's not up to an amorous outing with his mistress after having met the heroine, many of us would prefer he realize this before they're in bed together. While we enjoy a story where the heroine thinks her hero is guilty of infidelity, we're glad when she is proven wrong.

Reader Catherine Johnson had this to say on a hero's fidelity to his heroine. "I think that the hero should not sleep with his mistress, whore, or anyone after he meets the heroine. I don't care how much experience he has beforehand, but I want him remain true to the heroine. I don't mind if they visit the mistress or bordello and can't perform, that doesn't bother me. I'm sure that this is a more modern opinion, then what women had to put up with back then, with the marriages of convenience."

Catherine Allen, the reader who initially asked us to investigate this issue provided this response: In Johanna Lindsey's Tender Rebel, the hero states that he had not been with another woman since the day he had met the heroine. 'How can I make love to another woman when you are the only woman I want?' were his exact words. And I don't know about anyone else but I think those are some of the most romantic words you could ever hear. Maybe I'm naive, but I would rather consider myself a hopeless romantic.

While Catherine agreed that A Taste of Heaven and Midsummer Magic broach this issue well, she dislikes Judith McNaught's take. "I have enjoyed many of Judith McNaught's books but she tends to do this quite a bit. It is rather blatant in some like Until You and only a tad more subtle in others like Whitney, My Love."

Another reader with a strong opinion on this subject is Barbara Schwartz. She brought up the example of Susan Johnson's Love Storm, with a hero who sleeps around so much, we're both wondering how this book could be considered a romance. Barbara notes that the rakish hero in Love Storm meets the virginal heroine in the first chapter and they sleep together within the first 30 pages. She adds, "Throughout the book he sleeps with about every other woman we meet (excepting his sisters and mother). He seduces other virgins, even after he's married the heroine. Then we're expected to believe that he really loves the heroine. I don't think so."

Barbara summed up her feelings with this comment: "Yes, I think when the hero finally meets his destiny (the heroine), he should remain loyal and celibate from then on. It becomes a real turn off and a disappointment if he continues to carry on an affair with another woman at this point."

A reader known as Bee comments, "In Catherine Coulter's book Chandra, the hero sleeps around with a harem girl because the heroine refuses to sleep with him. It killed the romance immediately. I collect most of her books, but did not keep this one just because of that plot."

(Bee: I know what you mean. I traded in that book as well. Did you know that the man who raped Chandra's maid in this book turned out to be the hero of Fire Song, another Coulter title I traded in? Never mind; that's another column!)

If you have additional thoughts on this subject -- titles that handle fidelity in either a pleasing or displeasing way, please e-mail me here.

HERE ON OUR DESERTED ISLE:
Many of you have responded to my desert isle query. We've got a nice variety of heroines and heroes and so many great books to read, I don't know how many of us would actually want to be rescued in the end!

Here are the heroines we wish to be and our heroes:

Prodigy pal Anita Crosby had me blushing with her choices. She would like to be Tedra stranded with Challan from Johanna Lindsey's Warrior's Woman. The naughty girl said, "We'd have lots of laughs and lots of hot sex."

Catherine Johnson, a reader with a background in law enforcement and wife of a U.S. Customs agent, can't decide between these three tall, dark-headed cops: Tristin McLaughlin from Susan Andersen's Shadowdance, Dane Hollister from Linda Howard's Dream Man or Devin McKade of Nora Robert's McKade brothers. She says, "I always imagined myself with one of these guys, but for heroines, I would have to say either Emma Sands from Susan Andersen's Exposure or Ivy Pennington from Susan Andersen's Obsessed."

Vonia Grant's choices are those star-crossed, time-traveling lovers from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. She would like to be Claire Randall, stranded with Jamie Fraser.

A frequent Romance Reader visitor known as Paula says her choice of hero was easy - Lord Robert "Robin" Andreville from Mary Jo Putney's The Rogue & the Runaway. She had a harder time choosing which heroine to be but finally decided on Alexandra Townsende from Judith McNaught's Something Wonderful because she "always thought that she was one of the most beautiful heroines, inside and out", that she'd ever read.

"Fanatic fan" Catherine Allen tells me "there is just something about that man" James Malory from Johanna Lindsey's Gentle Rogue. Catherine would want to be Whitney Westmoreland from Judith McNaught's Whitney, My Love.

Romance Reader contributor Meredith Moore wouldn't mind being stranded with Cyn Malloren from Jo Beverley's My Lady Notorious "because he's not a jerk." She adds, "Christian de Rivers from Lady Gallant is my favorite character of any romance, but he's too difficult and hotheaded for me to want to be marooned with. What heroine should I be? Well, Claire from Outlander, because she's intelligent, sensible, and has medical training."

Another frequent reader of this column, Wylinda Ashley, made these choices: "I really liked Jade from Julie Garwood's Guardian Angel and my hero would have to be hands down Zackary Benedict from Judith McNaught's Perfect. To be stranded with someone . . . that romantic and caring and strong would surely give me a heart attack. But what a way to go!"

The books we'd save before the ship went down has grown so large we'd need a barge to tote them to the island. There are far too many for me to attempt to list them in this column. Press here if you would like to access the full listing, including my 29 all-time keepers.

HOW IS A ROMANCE LIKE AN ARTICHOKE?

LUSCIOUS LOVE STORIES - I attempted to peel off another tasty leaf on our romance artichoke in the last issue. Beyond laughter, beyond tears, I tried to generate discussion about what many consider the "heart" of the artichoke - love scenes. Either readers of this column have suddenly gotten shy or perhaps just need some gentle prodding in the right direction. In order to guide you, here is a partial re-print of my last column, some new thoughts on the subject, and my list of luscious love stories:

Some writers leave a great deal to the imagination while others are as graphic as letters to Penthouse. We here at the Romance Reader rate sensuality from "G" to "NC-17". There are times when a "G" or "PG" book suits fine. At other times, an "R" rating hits the spot.

Do you prefer the relatively chaste style of love scenes written by Dorothy Garlock? Do you lust over the slightly-more risqué style of Amanda Quick? Do you eagerly anticipate the love scenes penned by Julie Garwood and Stella Cameron? Or do you yawn unless titillated by the erotic writings of Susan Johnson and Bertrice Small?

Some books adhere to a "3-scene" rule. Others end with the marriage bed. Still others seem to be love scenes strung together by plot. What is your preference? How much is too much? Is there such a thing as too much?

I'd like you to think about your favorite love scenes and whether they are in your favorite books. When you've got a match, (or 2, or 20), drop me a line with your list and your answers to the questions above.

My listing of love scenes and love stories falls mostly into the PG-13 to R category. The most vivid in my mind include plenty of sexual tension and verbal foreplay. I think exquisitely written love scenes can transform an otherwise ordinary read into a good one, but cannot similarly transform a poor book into a good one.

Others share a different view. Author Elizabeth Elliott, for example, believes that a love scene must advance the story and serve some purpose other than sexual gratification for the lead characters. She admits, however, that "sex can deepen their emotional bond, and be the source of all sorts of realizations and revelations".

Romance Reader contributor Meredith Moore agrees with Elliott and is perhaps even more vehement about it. She says, in part, that she feels "patronized when a love scene is tossed in just for the heck of it. To me it is a crude marketing device. It has to move the story and characters forward, otherwise it feels like a commercial break."

While I agree that too much of a good thing is still too much, I'm all for the occasional gratuitous love scene. Meredith and I agree, however, on the over-used euphemisms and terms that have been mentioned before in this column -- what I call "silly sex". We both find it annoying when a love scene reads as though "the author is consulting a romance phrase book." She adds, "When I first saw Teresa Medeiros refer to her heroine's erect nipples as 'aching buds' I thought, ohhhh, I want aching buds too. But now that I've seen aching buds in so many books, I just skim over it to get to the story. Jaded, aren't I?"

(BTW, I'm still trying to accumulate a good listing of silly sex phrases. If you've got any at all to add, or a particular phrase that you think is extra-erotic, please e-mail me with the title and author -- but let's not break any laws.)

Here is my listing of favorite love stories with luscious love scenes:

  • Rebellious Desire, Lion's Lady, Guardian Angel, The Gift, Castles, Saving Grace, The Secret, The Prize, and The Bride by Julie Garwood
  • Night Storm, the Magic trilogy, and The Sherbrooke Bride, by Catherine Coulter
  • Bride by Stella Cameron
  • Bewitching by Jill Barnett
  • Basket of Wishes by Rebecca Paisley
  • The Vicar's Daughter by Deborah Simmons
  • Splendid by Julia Quinn
  • Irresistible by Catherine Hart
  • Rebellious Bride by Donna Fletcher
  • Princess Annie by Linda Lael Miller
  • His Lady's Ransom by Merline Lovelace
  • Rendezvous by Amanda Quick
  • The Scoundrel by Debra Dier

FAVORITE FUNNIES - We've added several titles to our listing of favorite funnies. And, in addition, some authors' collected works are mentioned, in an effort to conserve space. Here is our current list:

  • Bewitching and Dreaming by Jill Barnett
  • Basket of Wishes by Rebecca Paisley
  • The Vicar's Daughter by Deborah Simmons
  • Splendid by Julia Quinn
  • The collected works of Julie Garwood
  • The collected works of Amanda Quick
  • The Gift by Julie Garwood
  • Knight of a Trillion Stars by Dara Joy
  • What the Lady Wants by Jennifer Crusie
  • One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
  • Once Upon a Pirate by Nancy Block
  • The Bride Wore Spurs by Sharon Ihle
  • Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught
  • Heartstrings by Rebecca Paisley
  • Courting Miss Hattie by Pamela Morsi
  • Lady Reluctant by Maggie Osborne
  • Wild Western Desire by Catherine Johnson
  • Heather & Velvet by Teresa Medeiros
  • Lady Gallant by Suzanne Robinson

THE TWO-HANKY READ - Our listing of sad yet memorable romances has also grown. Reader Vonia Grant, not content with our heading of "Two-Hanky Reads", said her "Four-Hanky Reads" included Coming up Roses by Catherine Anderson and Only Forever by Kimberly Cates.

Adding those two titles to this category, our list is now as follows:

  • Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught
  • Velvet Bond by Catherine Archer
  • Basket of Wishes by Rebecca Paisley
  • The Warlord by Elizabeth Elliott
  • Too Deep for Tears by Katherine Lynn Davis
  • All We Hold Dear by Katherine Lynn Davis
  • A Taste of Heaven by Alexis Harrington
  • Bewitching by Jill Barnett
  • Once an Angel by Teresa Medeiros
  • Pearl Stallion by Rae Muir
  • Fire in the Heart by Katherine Sutcliffe
  • Dream Fever by Katherine Sutcliffe
  • No Sweeter Heaven by Katherine Kingsley
  • Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi
  • Stealing Heaven by Kimberly Cates
  • Outlander by Diana Gabalden
  • Love Bites by Margaret St. George
  • Beauty & the Beast by Hannah Howell
  • Lord of the Storm by Justine Davis
  • Wings of a Dove by Elaine Barbieri
  • Another Dawn by Sandra Brown
  • A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux
  • For All Their Lives by Fern Michaels
  • Gabriel's Bride by Samantha James
  • Flowers in the Storm, Prince of Midnight, and Seize the Fire by Laura Kinsale

FUTURE VIEWS:
I had hoped to discuss covers, the length of books, favorite plot-lines, and over-used plot contrivances in this issue, but those will have to keep until next time. Please check back with this site in two weeks for the next issue, and keep those e-mails coming.

TTFN, as Tigger said to Winnie the Pooh,
Laurie Likes Books

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