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Does the romance genre owe society?
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NoirFemme



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 1481
Location: America

PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 2:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lynda X wrote:

I'm stuck, however, at the total lack of real conflicts that are totally ignored in the romance field. You have no couples (that I can remember) who are interracial in a time when that was illegal. You have no conflict between couples in the South during slavery over the issue (in fact, to avoid this, you have no slave-owning heroes since Brandon in THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER or ANY romances set in the antebellum south). About the most controversial is a suffragist or a feminist in the 19th century. Big deal. Although all good romances must have conflict, a real, historical conflict of any depth makes the focus of the book the conflict, not the romance.

So, in answer to Dick's query, I vote no, the romance world does not owe society novels that improve society.


I'm struck by the fact that the issues you list have to do with racism, as though the sole sum of a non-white person's life and dreams are framed only within the context of their ethnic background.

I can pull out a number of books that deal with serious issues that are feted and lauded by romance readers:

The Rake by Mary Jo Putney - alcoholism
Broken Wing by Judith James - sexual abuse & prostitution
Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas - abuse
Fallen From Grace by Laura Leone - male prostitute
Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie - low self-esteem, weight, and terrible mother
As You Desire by Connie Brockway - dyslexia
Broken by Megan Hart - paraplegic spouse

Because of this, I feel dick has muddled the entire point of this conversation with his closing question. The point is that we romance readers live in a diverse world--ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, wealth, education, etc--but for the most part, this is not a part of the mainstream fantasy in romance. Also, that there is a long history of authors writing romance with MC protagonists who are hardly ever given the same mainstream exposure as non-MC protagonists.

I think it's troubling that romance readers of various backgrounds would recognize the names of Lisa Kleypas, Nora Roberts, or Loretta Chase, but the same could not be said of non-MC romance readers for authors like Brenda Jackson, Rochelle Alers, or Beverly Jenkins.
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NoirFemme



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 1481
Location: America

PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 2:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is an interesting article: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/top-stories/176705/why-88-of-books-reviewed-by-the-new-york-times-are-written-by-white-authors/
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jaime



Joined: 23 Sep 2011
Posts: 529

PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 5:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, the whole genre is unrealistic for the most part. And many readers want that because they want to escape their stressful lives for a couple of hours. Romance-land is littered with dukes and gazillionairs and they are all sexy beasts. Have you ever looked at old paintings of real dukes? Lets just say your average real duke was not sexy - he was more of a poster boy for the gout.

Sometimes it gets to be too much and I crave a bit of realism in my romance and thankfully there are some authors that deliver that for me. But I realize that other romance readers don't want that ever.
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Tee



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 4225
Location: Detroit Metro

PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 7:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

jaime wrote:
Well, the whole genre is unrealistic for the most part. ..... Have you ever looked at old paintings of real dukes? Lets just say your average real duke was not sexy - he was more of a poster boy for the gout.

Too funny and way too true! Smile
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Eliza



Joined: 21 Aug 2011
Posts: 1264

PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2012 12:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In the Special Titles Listings section here, I found categories for inter-ethnic romances and American Indian among the others. I know this feature has been been discontinued but I thought it worth mentioning. I love this tab and wish there were time for it to be re-instated. Could it possibly be brought back by using what we do on these threads--note a theme, like my manuscript/rare books post, and then add readers' replies/suggestions, maybe with a note these are reader sponsored? Or perhaps doing one new category a week or month, or updating exisiting categories on a schedule? Possible?

This next is off topic and I hope I can be forgiven but earlier in this thread I said,
Quote:
Oh, and besides surgery, the Romans made better, longer-lasting roads and bridges than we moderns have.

so I couldn't resist posting the coincidence of what I found on AP today:
THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) -- Archaeologists in Greece's second-largest city have uncovered a 70-meter (230-foot) section of an ancient road built by the Romans that was city's main travel artery nearly 2,000 years ago.

The marble-paved road was unearthed during excavations for Thessaloniki's new subway system, which is due to be completed in four years. The road in the northern port city will be raised to be put on permanent display when the metro opens in 2016....

Viki Tzanakouli, an archaeologist working on the project, told The Associated Press the Roman road was about 1,800 years old, while remains of an older road built by the ancient Greeks 500 years earlier were found underneath it.
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xina



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2012 10:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tee wrote:
jaime wrote:
Well, the whole genre is unrealistic for the most part. ..... Have you ever looked at old paintings of real dukes? Lets just say your average real duke was not sexy - he was more of a poster boy for the gout.

Too funny and way too true! Smile



I've always thought the same. Not sexy. Not even remotely close to the descriptions and cover photos of the heroes. Smile
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2012 1:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

@noirfemme: Well, I'm not certain I muddled the question, so much as directly reflected the tenor of the original article on which it was based. Everything in the article, as I read it, suggested that romance publishers, authors, readers, and the genre itself should do everything possible to further a sociological agenda, that each of these entities somehow "owed" these efforts to society.

I don't think any work of fiction, no matter how powerful, can actually change the individual who reads it. It may set him thinking, but that won't necessarily lead to change. And I think that of all works of fiction, romance fiction is the least likely to have an effect, for the many reasons other posters have suggested, the primary one being that readers of romance fiction don't read romance fiction for thoughts so much as they do for emotions. Despite the inclusion in some romances of troubling issues such as alcoholism, by the end of the romance, few readers care as much about that issue as they do about the essential purpose of romance fiction--the relationship between h/H and the HEA.

Choosing what we read is so highly personal, so idiosyncratically determined, that I think any entity trying to make us change the reasons for those choices would be striking at the most fundamental of human freedoms--the thoughts and feelings in our heads.
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Tee



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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Location: Detroit Metro

PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2012 2:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:
Despite the inclusion in some romances of troubling issues such as alcoholism, by the end of the romance, few readers care as much about that issue as they do about the essential purpose of romance fiction--the relationship between h/H and the HEA. Choosing what we read is so highly personal, so idiosyncratically determined, that I think any entity trying to make us change the reasons for those choices would be striking at the most fundamental of human freedoms--the thoughts and feelings in our heads.

Yes, I like and agree with what and how you said that. We know what we're going for in romance fiction and we pretty much get what we expect, as a rule. The romance fiction genre would not be the ideal one for proselytizing personal agenda items to a number of people. Not that readers would not be aware or concerned about these social issues; only that we are reading this genre primarily for the reasons dick stated above, IMO.
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Not Quite Nicole



Joined: 29 May 2007
Posts: 147

PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2012 6:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dick and Tee, what does that have to do with wanting to see more books published that reflect the people that read them? I don't want to sound thick, or beat a dead horse, but what I keep reading is "We don't want issue books or books that try to teach us something or be lectured at" when the article at DA is about having more POC as protagonists in romance novels and why that doesn't seem to be happening. It's not about realism, or what society owes us or whether we should write the books ourselves. Seriously, I feel like people are deliberately not understanding or avoiding the question, so I'll ask it again.

What is wrong with wanting to see more mainstream romances that feature POC?
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Tee



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2012 6:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You're right--I got off track from the original question which dealt primarily with POC. I expanded it to include other social issues that authors may feel strongly about, so I can understand the confusion. Sorry about that. Sad
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Maggie AAR



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
Posts: 2506

PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2012 7:35 pm    Post subject: Re: Does the romance genre owe society? Reply with quote

dick wrote:
Anybody else following the DA essay "Cultivating Tolerance"? I hope I don't get this wrong, but I think the thrust of the essay is that the romance genre doesn't include enough persons of color as main characters, doesn't present enough romances that cross multicultural lines, and that steps should be taken to correct this deficiency. Thus, romance readers would become more "tolerant" of those kinds of stories, of minority authors. At times the discussion became quite heated!

The author of the essay states clearly that the word "tolerance" has ambiguities; i.e., to tolerate has a pejorative content as well as a positive one. It might have been better to substitute the word "acceptance."

In my own mind, I'm not sure that romance lends itself to sociological purposes. But the discussion brought up all kinds of matters that I simply never think about when reading romance fiction.

What do you think? Should romance take on the task of changing readers' levels of tolerance/acceptance?


I read the article and could barely get beyond the author's pedantic, didactic style using ludicrously ostentatious words to pontificate on matters that would be best served by plain speaking. Frankly, I wondered if the language was meant to hide the meaning of much of what she was saying.

On a personal level, I was flummoxed by her point. For example, she mentioned one (poorly) written book dealing with a Bollywood actress by Abby Green. She seemed to feel that book represented India in the mainstream romance industry. Yet I routinely read books about Indian American women finding love - sometimes within an arranged marriage, sometimes simply finding it on their own. . Novels such as "A Good Indian Wife" by Anne Cherian, "Haunting Jasmine" by Anjeli Banerjee, or "The Hindi Bindi Club" by Monica Pradhan. These authors outsell Abby Green, so I would consider them more "mainstream" than she is.

The Kimani line is still going strong which publishes African American romances. Authors like Suzanne Brockmann, Lynn Austin and Barbara Samuel have tackled bi-racial romances. Victoria Christopher Murray, Jacquelin Thomas, and ReShonda Tate Billingsley, Tia McCollors, Claudia Mair Burney, Marilynn Griffith, and Angela Benson, Sheila Lipsey, Keshia Dawn, Leslie Sherrod, and Kimberly Cash Tate all right AA Christian fiction. Felicia Mason writes under several different imprints. Ceceila Dowdy wrote a bit for "Love Inspired". And of course there is the ever popular Brenda Jackson.

I could go into lists of Latina heroines and Japaneese-American heroines but I won't. The books are out there and fairly easy to find. I think, though, that romance readers live in a dream of stumbling across the book they want to read without any research whatsoever and that ain't gonna happen unless you love dukes or spies. I routinely have to search for what I want, even for books you would think would be easy to find, like Romantic suspense. The simple fact is that with the hundreds (and if you count e-books, thousands) of romances printed yearly it is easy for even big name authors to publish almost unseen. Jill Barnett was a New York Times bestseller but her most recent book, published in Kindle format, was out without any blips on the boards about it. Barbara Samuels just published "Sleeping Night" about a bi-racial couple in 1940's Texas. I haven't seen any chatter about it and she is a fairly big name.

I have been long winded here and I apologize for it. My point is simply that the books are already there. It seems to me that rather than ask for a whole new set of books to be published we should purchase what is available. Nothing sends a message to publishers like sales.

maggie b.
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Linda in sw va



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
Posts: 4708

PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2012 8:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Not Quite Nicole wrote:
Dick and Tee, what does that have to do with wanting to see more books published that reflect the people that read them? I don't want to sound thick, or beat a dead horse, but what I keep reading is "We don't want issue books or books that try to teach us something or be lectured at" when the article at DA is about having more POC as protagonists in romance novels and why that doesn't seem to be happening. It's not about realism, or what society owes us or whether we should write the books ourselves. Seriously, I feel like people are deliberately not understanding or avoiding the question, so I'll ask it again.
C
What is wrong with wanting to see more mainstream romances that feature POC?



I could say that it feels like you're deliberately misunderstanding. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see more books with POC or that reflect the people that read them, no one has said that here. The people that have responded here have responded to the context of the original post, I have not seen the article over at DA, nor do I care too. You're taking the responses to the questions that Dick presented and applying them to a differently worded statement of your own.

Linda
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Mark



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 1406

PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2012 1:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I haven't read the DA piece, and based on comments in this thread I don't plan to, so this response is just based on what I've seen in this thread.
In answer to the thread title: no.
No genre of fiction has any duty or debt to society.
All fiction responds to the societies in which the authors grew up and live, but that response can be anything from direct mirroring through funhouse (distorted) mirroring to deliberate attempts to describe fictional societies as different from what the authors know as they can imagine. Fiction consciously and unconsciously conveys messages about the authors' societies, and those messages can be approving, indifferent, disapproving, reproving, or improving (or all at once about different aspects of societies). I agree with multiple posts that fiction deliberately written to push a message rarely works well, but that doesn't mean readers can't find messages in their fiction.
On the question of the colors of characters: I read F&SF for decades before I ever started reading romances, so I'm used to fiction with protagonists with many different origins and natures. There may be less variation in romances, but I have read romances with protagonists from many racial / ethnic / cultural backgrounds. I agree with posts saying they are already out there if you look.
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Eliza



Joined: 21 Aug 2011
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2012 7:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

After reading and thinking about this thread I have a different perspective, I think: Yes, the the seemingly dreaded "thought-provoking" has occurred.

First, I want to avoid the terms "owe," "tolerance" or "acceptance" for the purposes of just this particular post.

Next, most everyone is using either the term "escape" or "entertainment" for why they like romance.

My first question is why does it seem that hardly anyone is hearing that this is exactly what NoirFemme and Not Quite Nicole WANT TOO? Seems reasonable to me.

My second question is why diversity within romance entertainment isn't possible? Seems entirely reasonable to me.

My third question is why a homogenized community is necessarily any more entertaining than a diverse one? (Comfortableness? Puh-lease. Some of those small town books seem like something out of "1984" or a Stepford community to me--unbelievable boring, not to mention intrusive of any personal privacy. Obviously this last statement is JMO.)

Next, even for fun, why would a reader not WANT to read about all kinds of people, especially when quite a few have complained vociferously about the unrelenting sameness of recent romances?

WHO SAYS a romance with a diverse cast has to have any more of an agenda than any other romantic comedy, a romantic suspense, a paranormal, a historical, or anything else? Why can't there be diversity AND genre choice--as light or as serious as any of the other romances?

How many have tried romantic comedies or any other genre WITH diversity to make an informed decision if you would indeed like them? My guess is few because if you're like me, I hadn't seen any until I miraculously found one in a store. I didn't like that book, not because of diversity, but because the main characters, white and black, were both unbearably boring and there was virtually no plot. I plan to track more now.

But now that we have discussed this topic and are more aware, why not give it a try to see if you like it? Why the defensiveness? No one is saying WHICH book you MUST read, any more than you are told to read which romances you read now.

Don't you want to know more? What's out there?

Don't you want EVERYONE to have reading choices? And don't throw publishers into this since there already are SOME choices NOW if you go after a book the way one goes after an OOP book.

Finally, may I suggest when one thinks "diversity," don't limit that that to color or culture, black or white, American or Italian and so on. If any one different group can be made INVISIBLE, than every or any other group can be too--by gender, class, income, occupation, location, etc. YOUR GROUP. I think we each should care about our increasingly divided society on many fronts (politics and religion, et al) to take care of our own selves too--while entertaining ourselves.

And, NO ONE can say it isn't fun or entertaining IF YOU HAVEN'T AT LEAST TRIED. If you try a book that is "uncomfortable," STOP reading-- it's just like any other book you're not enjoying, and then go start another book.


,
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2012 9:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

eliza wrote:

"If you try a book that is "uncomfortable," STOP reading-- it's just like any other book you're not enjoying, and then go start another book."

I think this suggestion is a bit different from implying, as in my reading of it the original essay did, that readers are obligated to read, or even try to read, a book that "cultivates," by inclusion or exclusion, anything at all.
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