Quickie with Patricia Gaffney

Rif on Politically Correct Writing

August 1997

Patricia Gaffney is no stranger to reader criticism, having faced it herself after the release of To Have and to Hold (one of her Wyckerly trilogy). Last year she contributed a Write Byte on reader criticism, which is pertinent in the discussion of political correctness, Christina Dodd's latest release (both in Issue #31 of Laurie's News & Views), and Judy Cuevas' Quickie. Here's what Patricia had to say:

I adore Judy Cuevas/Judith Ivory for many reasons, and now I love her even more for her intelligent and spirited defense of an author's right to her own vision, unimpeded by considerations of conventional morality or political correctness.

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Romance readers are made to feel sheepish about their habit; romance writers complain they get no respect. Why not? At the height of the Nora Roberts/Janet Dailey flap, critics of the genre wrote gleefully and often in the mass media that romance novels are pretty much all alike. Why? In that instance they were wrong - Nora Roberts writes like nobody else - but stereotypes usually persist for a reason.

If romance has problems (and what literary genre doesn't?) Judith Ivory has pointed a true and unflinching finger at one of them, one we might call - well, this is bound to sound inflammatory, but I can't think of a synonym - pandering to the least common denominator. Romance is "safe." Romance is conventional, predictable, conservative. But I say romance had better watch out, or it will also be moribund.

We decry the mention of a possibility that there might be a "formula." But if writers are dissuaded from writing what is in their hearts because of the potential disapprobation of some small but loud minority of "moralizers," the width of the canvas we're allowed to paint on shrinks and shrinks, until there's no room left for anything except the formula. And then I say we deserve what we get.

Like Judy, I haven't read Christina Dodd's book yet, but now I can't wait to buy it. If she flouts convention, she's my hero. Romance has been amazingly successful for 15 years - the very reason it needs flauting. Sight unseen, book unread, I say brava, Ms. Dodd.

How else are we going to continue? What else but genre-bending will keep us relevant in the 21st century? I'm sick of heroes scrabbling around in their bedside drawers for condoms - and that's just one example of a tired convention, to which no one but unimaginative editors and a handful of romance readers are holding us. There are a hundred others.

Well, this is turning into a rant. Judy was much more gracious - as usual. I'll close with something of hers, for emphasis, and because it's right on:

"If (a romance writer) wants to write about rape or forced seduction...let her...judge her on how well she does it. If what she writes transports you...into her world, she has succeeded...If she takes you vividly where you don't want to go, well, for heaven's sakes put the book down - but if it's vivid, even unsettling, then graciously admit another might find it interesting."

Hell, yes. And not just because tolerance and broadmindedness are better than their opposites, but because otherwise romance is doomed. If we don't judge it by the same standards we apply to any other kind of fiction, it's dead - and I for one will mourn it.

--Patricia

Patricia Gaffney at AAR
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