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Just what is "romance" fiction
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Cora



Joined: 12 Mar 2008
Posts: 1129
Location: Bremen, Germany

PostPosted: Thu Oct 02, 2008 7:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The thing is, I don't really need all those epilogues or the central couple of a previous book appearing in a later book blissfully happy with umpteen children to believe that the couple is living happily ever after. Either the author has done her job and convinced me that the central couple will indeed have a happy future or she hasn't (which is what apparently happened with The Marriage Bed, though I haven't read that book) and all the happy epilogues in the world won't change that.

I once read (and I wish I could find the quote now, but I cannot): "For an adult, the story of Cinderella is over once the glass slipper fits. He or she doesn't need to be told that they lived happily ever after." The majority of romance readers are adults or at least savvy teenagers. So why do so many romance novels insist on telling us what should be obvious?

Besides, the epilogue HEA almost always takes the very traditional route of marriage with children. Which is fine for a lot of couples, but not for every single couple out there. The RWA definition allows for more variety, which is a good thing, particularly in contemporaries. An ending where a couple decides to take things to the next stage, move in together, decide to get to know each other better before getting married, get married but don't want to/can't have children and are happy anyway etc... can be just as romantic and better suited to certain couples than the traditional married with children ending. Marriage is a given in historicals, due to the social conditions up to the 1960s, but even in historicals there could be a bit more variety, e.g. a couple deciding to escape social strictures by emigrating to America or ending up happily married but childless (which is what happened to the real life couple Georgette Heyer's The Spanish Bride is based on). There are a variety of happy endings in real life, so why not in romance.

As for problematic themes, it really depends on the skill of the author. I am not particularly keen on reading about infidelity, adultery, children in peril, but if an author has the skill to pull it off, more power to her. For example, I was never bothered by the supposed infidelity in a couple of Crusie novels (Don't Look Down, Fast Women and Tell Me Lies, I think), because it made sense in the context of the novel.

I understand and respect that some readers absolutely refuse to read about certain topics. I have a couple of dealbreakers myself, for example I cannot abide rapist heroes or controlling and abusive men as heroes (and WWII settings). But if I were to use my personal dealbreakers as criteria for what is or isn't a romance, I would exclude Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers, Catherine Coulter (in fact, reading authors like those as a teenager turned me off the romance genre for more than fifteen years) as well as the vast majority of Harlequin Presents novels from the genre. And I think we all agree that those novels not only belong into the genre but are among its very foundations.
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
Posts: 1867

PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 4:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

willaful wrote:
I don't see how we can ever get past the basic fact that this is all just a matter of personal taste. You can argue for what you like as long as you want, but I'm still going to like what I like, and vice versa.


With respect to everyone, I honestly don't think this is just a matter of personal taste. Confused It's not that I want to bash what someone else likes, but I really don't think The Marriage Bed meets the criteria for a good Romance novel. That doesn't mean it automatically sucks as a book, just that it doesn't belong in this category.

I mean, his heart breaks with another woman??? And the other woman doesn't get an HEA??? I really don't mean to offend those who truly love The Marriage Bed, but it doesn't add up. It's kind of like calling L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables a Romance.

On the other hand (just to show this isn't a subjective thing), we have books I don't like which do add up to Romance, like Judith McNaught's Whitney, My Love . . . The whole world could hate Clayton and Whitney's story (and sometimes it seems the whole world already does Laughing ), but I don't think anyone would be able to say that it isn't a Romance novel.

Cora wrote:
Besides, the epilogue HEA almost always takes the very traditional route of marriage with children. Which is fine for a lot of couples, but not for every single couple out there.


The best thing about conventions is that they can be sent up. Variations include those epilogues without marriage (much less children), and heroines who pursue the heroes, heroes who are virgins, and other twists of the basic formula. In a genre as closely defined as Romance, half the fun comes from seeing the expected elements presented in unexpected ways.

What I'm saying about The Marriage Bed is that it does not merely add a twist, and is not simply (as Gail K. puts it) "non-standard," but that it puts a completely foreign element into the mix--an element which changes it from a Romance to something else entirely.
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Gail K.



Joined: 19 May 2007
Posts: 1292

PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 5:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Schola wrote:

With respect to everyone, I honestly don't think this is just a matter of personal taste. Confused It's not that I want to bash what someone else likes, but I really don't think The Marriage Bed meets the criteria for a good Romance novel. That doesn't mean it automatically sucks as a book, just that it doesn't belong in this category.


Personally, I would be happy if ALL fiction were just shelved alpha by author. And I've stated as such before when discussions of categorization and definitions return perenially, usually brought up by dick.

But for Ms. Guhrke, who clearly intended to write a romance novel, for her editor, who clearly intended to publish a romance novel, and for about 50% of THE MARRIAGE BED'S readers, who clearly find the story a highly-satisfying romance, Schola's statement above is just...wow.
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Maggie AAR
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Joined: 23 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 5:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gail K. wrote:


Personally, I would be happy if ALL fiction were just shelved alpha by author. And I've stated as such before when discussions of categorization and definitions return perenially, usually brought up by dick.

.


This would be my greatest nightmare come to life. Seriously. I still browse and I think if I had to face a bookstore full of things just classified by author I would lose it. Case in point: I was in the mood for something new in Paranormal Romance. Glancing over the shelves the cover for "Kiss of fire" caught my eye; it had a dragon on it, I had a coupon and we wound up going home together.

If everything were bundled together I would need to come in to a bookstore and only purchase what I knew I wanted in advance. That works for people like us (well, sometimes, I'm still a browser) but seriously a lot of people DON'T research. So, long story short those categories are needed. If anything, I would also shelve by sub-genre, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, historical romance, contemporary romance etc.

maggie b.
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
Posts: 1867

PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 8:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gail K. wrote:
Schola wrote:

With respect to everyone, I honestly don't think this is just a matter of personal taste. Confused It's not that I want to bash what someone else likes, but I really don't think The Marriage Bed meets the criteria for a good Romance novel. That doesn't mean it automatically sucks as a book, just that it doesn't belong in this category.


But for Ms. Guhrke, who clearly intended to write a romance novel, for her editor, who clearly intended to publish a romance novel, and for about 50% of THE MARRIAGE BED'S readers, who clearly find the story a highly-satisfying romance, Schola's statement above is just...wow.


Yeah, I was worried even as I composed it that it would come off sounding like hubris, but I do stand by it.

I also think that if Guhrke hadn't already been a best-selling Romance author, The Marriage Bed might never been accepted for publication. It's such a square peg for Avon's round hole--and Romance's round hole in general--that I doubt a less successful writer could have convinced a publisher to buy it.
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Elizabeth Rolls



Joined: 26 Mar 2007
Posts: 1076
Location: Australia

PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 11:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I also think that if Guhrke hadn't already been a best-selling Romance author, The Marriage Bed might never been accepted for publication. It's such a square peg for Avon's round hole--and Romance's round hole in general--that I doubt a less successful writer could have convinced a publisher to buy it.


This is really a "damned if you do, and damned if you don't" sort of thing. How often do we see posts from readers bemoaning that all they are seeing is the same old, same old? And when an author does pull one out of the box and pushes the envelope with say, The Marriage Bed, or To Have And To Hold, or Claiming the Courtesan; what happens then? Whether or not we as individuals happen to like these particular books they keep the genre hopping and keep us thinking. (Easy for me to say as I happened to like all three of them even when I wanted to murder the heroes.) It's a fact that an already best-selling author will probably have an easier time selling a potential hot potato, but that's life. It probably also takes a skilled author to pull it off. And, let's face it, Gurkhe et al didn't pull it off for everyone as various discussions here show. But do we honestly expect to like every book? Have every book fit our particular expectations? Or even fully understand why a book that we loathed worked for someone else? Do we really want one-size-fits-all? This is one reason that RWA's criteria, definition, call it what you will, is so broad. If we don't want one-size-fits-all then I think we have to accept that some books/authors we as individuals would like to throw at the wall are going to be wildly popular, or at least strike a resonant chord with a large body of readers. And yes, I picked those three books because they were three that get a very polarised reaction from readers. In fact I read THATH because of the discussion it got here, both positive and negative. My experience has been that a book that gets such a violent response both for and against has usually got something going for it. Otherwise why would we care?

Elizabeth - who should probably go and hide out with her alpacas about now!
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 2498

PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 11:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

To all: Without definitions, we would, none of us, be able to converse about most things without floundering around in a morass of un-shared meanings. I will admit to being something of a fuss-budget about them, gailk. So, I can't agree that definitions are a matter of taste. Definitions, to be definitions, have to set limits, to exclude as well as include. If each person is going to define for himself what a romance is, it's only logical that there can be no such thing as a romance, (i.e., the books discussed on these boards), because the term soon has no shape, no form, no limits; it is meaningless.

The basic parts of a romance, I think all would agree, include the central relationship, the problems, the hea. What we're all disagreeing about are the things that the relationship and the solutions can include and still allow the HEA. Of those elements, the most influential is the HEA, don't you think? For everything in the book must, in some way, "allow" it--that is make it believable, compatible with what was included in the relationship and the problems faced. I maintain that, once the relationship is established, such things as infidelity, a hero who rapes, forced seductions, etc., destroy the hea, for I don't think any of those things fit with the term "happy," and certainly not "ever after."

I may enjoy reading a book such as Dearly Beloved as a well told story, but I can't stop thinking nor remembering just because the author's skill with words draws me in. The rape which opens the book, the actions of the hero before re-establishing the relationshp, simply don't accord with the words "happy ever after." The same is true of the hero's actions preceding the ending in Dancing with Clara. The books may be interesting stories about relationships that come out right, but they aren't romance, even though I may have enjoyed them while reading and even though they're thus labelled.

Perhaps the genre is misnamed. Perhaps it should be called relationship fiction?
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Linda in sw va



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
Posts: 4708

PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 11:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

[quote="Elizabeth Rolls"]
Quote:
My experience has been that a book that gets such a violent response both for and against has usually got something going for it. Otherwise why would we care?
!


I was thinking the same thing, while I have not read The Marriage Bed, for this book to provoke such a passionate response either positive or negative, not to mention to spark so much discussion, the author has definitely done something right. If it were just an average book we wouldn't care, so many books pass by that never get a mention, they have made no impression at all having been read and just as quickly forgotten. Dick was saying lately how the message boards haven't been as active and look at the lively discussion that's come about here.

Just because a book is not your average romance novel does not mean it it does not belong within the genre, you've just been given a little taste of something different. If it's not your cup of tea that's fine, but for some readers out there it might an interesting change of pace or just the thing to renew their interest in the genre. Initially paranormals did this for me, there were and still are many readers who feel they cannot possibly be romantic - vampires and shapeshifters and whatnot. But for me who had become bored with the genre all of the sudden I was excited about reading romance again. Of course now we are saturated with them but it wasn't that way when I first started reading romance.

IMHO the romance genre needs a little something now and then to spice things up, surprise readers, spark discussion and give us a little of the unexpected. That's what keeps things interesting, wakes us up. It doesn't make the more traditional novels less interesting, by giving us a variety of choices the romance genre will benefit all of it's readers and not just a select group. And let's face it, the genre will continue to define itself simply by what sells, in the end it truly is the readers that decide.

Linda

.
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Linda in sw va



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
Posts: 4708

PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 11:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
]To all[/b]: Without definitions, we would, none of us, be able to converse about most things without floundering around in a morass of un-shared meanings. I will admit to being something of a fuss-budget about them, gailk. So, I can't agree that definitions are a matter of taste. Definitions, to be definitions, have to set limits, to exclude as well as include. If each person is going to define for himself what a romance is, it's only logical that there can be no such thing as a romance, (i.e., the books discussed on these boards), because the term soon has no shape, no form, no limits; it is meaningless.


The thing of it is dick is that it's harder to define people and romance novels are mainly character focused, all about the hero and heroine and how they come together. How could you decide what limits to set when we all are so different, both the characters and the readers? I don't know about you but as a reader I don't want a bunch of stepford characters running around that all behave and think in the same way. My limitations as to what might be considered romantic are my own, not uniform with yours or any other's. So defining 'romance' is a matter of personal taste because as human beings we are all so different and complex. The basic RWA definition allows us our differences while still keeping at it's core what is most important.

Quote:
The basic parts of a romance, I think all would agree, include the central relationship, the problems, the hea. What we're all disagreeing about are the things that the relationship and the solutions can include and still allow the HEA. Of those elements, the most influential is the HEA, don't you think? For everything in the book must, in some way, "allow" it--that is make it believable, compatible with what was included in the relationship and the problems faced. I maintain that, once the relationship is established, such things as infidelity, a hero who rapes, forced seductions, etc., destroy the hea, for I don't think any of those things fit with the term "happy," and certainly not "ever after."


I absolutely agree with you that the HEA is the most important, that feeling of optimism that this couple will live happily ever after. However, it's up to each of us to decide what our lines are and what can absolutely ruin any hope of us believing in the HEA. But this is again a matter of personal taste because it varies from reader to reader and I'd like to set my own boundaries rather than have you or anyone else set them for me .

Quote:
I may enjoy reading a book such as Dearly Beloved as a well told story, but I can't stop thinking nor remembering just because the author's skill with words draws me in. The rape which opens the book, the actions of the hero before re-establishing the relationship, simply don't accord with the words "happy ever after." The same is true of the hero's actions preceding the ending in Dancing with Clara. The books may be interesting stories about relationships that come out right, but they aren't romance, even though I may have enjoyed them while reading and even though they're thus labeled.


Important to note that they are not romance for you, that doesn't necessarily mean every other reader is going to feel the same.

Quote:
Perhaps the genre is misnamed. Perhaps it should be called relationship fiction?


Maybe, but I'm pretty content with it as it is, along with the RWA definition.

Linda
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willaful



Joined: 02 Jan 2008
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 1:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Schola wrote:

With respect to everyone, I honestly don't think this is just a matter of personal taste. Confused It's not that I want to bash what someone else likes, but I really don't think The Marriage Bed meets the criteria for a good Romance novel. That doesn't mean it automatically sucks as a book, just that it doesn't belong in this category.

I mean, his heart breaks with another woman??? And the other woman doesn't get an HEA??? I really don't mean to offend those who truly love The Marriage Bed, but it doesn't add up. It's kind of like calling L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables a Romance.

On the other hand (just to show this isn't a subjective thing), we have books I don't like which do add up to Romance, like Judith McNaught's Whitney, My Love . . . The whole world could hate Clayton and Whitney's story (and sometimes it seems the whole world already does Laughing ), but I don't think anyone would be able to say that it isn't a Romance novel.


To paraphrase any number of people: "The hero RAPES the heroine??? And threatens to beat her??? And you call this a ROMANCE? That's like calling Lolita a Romance."

How is this not a subjective thing? How does what happens in WML equal romance when TMB doesn't? Why is your dealbreaker an absolute value but someone else's dealbreaker a matter of opinion?

How do you feel about the Judith McNaught romances in which the hero is unfaithful?
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cawm



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 210
Location: Ontario, Canada

PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 2:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:

The same is true of the hero's actions preceding the ending in Dancing with Clara. The books may be interesting stories about relationships that come out right, but they aren't romance, even though I may have enjoyed them while reading and even though they're thus labelled.


I actually found Dancing With Clara very romantic. Both Freddie and Clara had entered their marriage for practical reasons, with no expectations of love or fidelity. The fact that Freddie was unfaithful seemed realistic, and as he grew to love Clara, he really wanted to change. By the end of the book, I believed in the change and in the fact that Freddie had reformed.

I think another of Mary Balogh's books is a closer parallel to The Marriage Bed. In The Obedient Bride, Arabella is young and loves her husband, so when she discovers that he continues to have a mistress, she is crushed. Initially, Astor can't understand her point of view at all, but by the end of the book, he too has changed.

Adultery is never the issue for me. It's not one of my favorite plots, but as long as the relationship develops during the course of the book, so that by the end of the story, I can no longer imagine a future of infidelity, I still consider these books to be romances.
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Susan/DC



Joined: 26 Mar 2007
Posts: 1661

PostPosted: Fri Oct 03, 2008 4:59 pm    Post subject: What is romance? Reply with quote

cawm wrote:

Adultery is never the issue for me. It's not one of my favorite plots, but as long as the relationship develops during the course of the book, so that by the end of the story, I can no longer imagine a future of infidelity, I still consider these books to be romances.


I agree with cawn and Linda on this. Adultery is certainly not romantic, but if at the end of the book I believe that there will be no more infidelity, then I can believe in the HEA. In fact, if there was only a single incidence, then in some ways it may be more believable than for those Dukes of Slut who slept with a different woman every week -- sometimes I find it hard to believe that these sex-addicts-in-all-but-name will truly settle down. In real life I've known a few couples where one of them committed adultery and the marriage suffered but survived, and in one or two even became stronger. So I can be persuaded, but it's up to the author to do so.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 05, 2008 9:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

to linda in sw va:

linda wrote: "So defining 'romance' is a matter of personal taste because as human beings we are all so different and complex. The basic RWA definition allows us our differences while still keeping at it's core what is most important."

Do you really think that definition is a matter of personal taste?

If so, then we can choose to define any word as we wish because our definition suits our personal taste.

Would you, for example, agree with a supermarket checker who, as a matter of personal taste, chooses to define a ten-dollar bill as a piece of paper worth only 1 cent and acts accordingly?
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Linda in sw va



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 05, 2008 3:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:
to linda in sw va:

linda wrote: "So defining 'romance' is a matter of personal taste because as human beings we are all so different and complex. The basic RWA definition allows us our differences while still keeping at it's core what is most important."

Do you really think that definition is a matter of personal taste?

If so, then we can choose to define any word as we wish because our definition suits our personal taste.

Would you, for example, agree with a supermarket checker who, as a matter of personal taste, chooses to define a ten-dollar bill as a piece of paper worth only 1 cent and acts accordingly?


Dick, ask 25 different women what they consider romantic (or not) and let me know how it goes! Multiply that by thousands of readers. :-)

Linda
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
Posts: 1867

PostPosted: Mon Oct 06, 2008 12:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

willaful wrote:
Schola wrote:

With respect to everyone, I honestly don't think this is just a matter of personal taste. Confused It's not that I want to bash what someone else likes, but I really don't think The Marriage Bed meets the criteria for a good Romance novel. That doesn't mean it automatically sucks as a book, just that it doesn't belong in this category.

I mean, his heart breaks with another woman??? And the other woman doesn't get an HEA??? I really don't mean to offend those who truly love The Marriage Bed, but it doesn't add up. It's kind of like calling L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables a Romance.

On the other hand (just to show this isn't a subjective thing), we have books I don't like which do add up to Romance, like Judith McNaught's Whitney, My Love . . . The whole world could hate Clayton and Whitney's story (and sometimes it seems the whole world already does Laughing ), but I don't think anyone would be able to say that it isn't a Romance novel.


To paraphrase any number of people: "The hero RAPES the heroine??? And threatens to beat her??? And you call this a ROMANCE? That's like calling Lolita a Romance."

How is this not a subjective thing? How does what happens in WML equal romance when TMB doesn't? Why is your dealbreaker an absolute value but someone else's dealbreaker a matter of opinion?


Oh, I don't find Clayton's treatment of Whitney romantic at all. I thought I had made that clear. However, the conventions all add up, from the extremely typical hero and heroine down to every last grovel both of them have to do. It may not be romantic (and I certainly don't think so), but there's no way anyone could argue that a novel with a hero like Clayton, a heroine like Whitney, a plot (and Big Mis and Big Sep) and resolution like that does not add up to a Romance novel.

willaful wrote:
How do you feel about the Judith McNaught romances in which the hero is unfaithful?


I honestly can't say. I stopped reading McNaught years ago and never tried any of her books in which the hero committed adultery.

Linda in sw va wrote:
Dick, ask 25 different women what they consider romantic (or not) and let me know how it goes! Multiply that by thousands of readers. Smile


Pardon me if I butt into your challenge for Dick, Linda. Smile

The value of a $10 is objective. (Well, unless you're the Central Bank! Laughing ) On the other hand, what any woman thinks is romantic is subjective. So it's not just apples and oranges which we have here, but apples and . . . hand painted Easter eggs.

Back to Whitney, My Love: as Willa reminds us, it is chockablock with unromantic elements. (I think I recall a discussion from several months ago in which someone even predicted Clayton would murder Whitney someday.) Yet it definitely belongs in the Romance aisle of a bookstore or the Romance stall of a library. What an individual reader finds romantic are the variables in the equation, but the conventions of a genre remain the constants.

Linda in sw va wrote:
And let's face it, the genre will continue to define itself simply by what sells, in the end it truly is the readers that decide.


Of course, I'd be an idiot to rule out the possibility that genres can develop over time. It is possible that The Marriage Bed has singlehandedly shifted Romance conventions.

Yet there are books which also sell well and which everyone here seems to agree are not Romances, like early Barbara Taylor Bradford or all Danielle Steele. Our Marriage Bed debate will clearly end in a draw, but we can't completely do away with definitions.
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