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Interview with Romance Book Professors: Dr. Frantz, Fayetteville State University...

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Dr. Sarah S. G. Frantz, assistant professor of English & Foreign Languages at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, and Dr. Eric Selinger, Associate Professor of English and a former Humanities Center fellow of DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, have teamed up to edit a collection called The Mind of Love: New Approaches to Popular Romance. They have asked anyone, be she author, editor, agent or reader to contribute to this collection. On a daily basis, Dr. Frantz and Dr. Selinger along with several other educators provide literary critique on the romance genre. Their opinions are as widely varied as any reader displaying that despite their credentials, they are just like us–readers and lovers of romance novels.

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First and foremost, what made you want to do this book? What is its purpose?
Sarah: As we say in our Call For Papers, “It is well past time for a volume of sophisticated, rigorous, and romance-positive academic analyses of romance.–? My academic mentor once said in class, “I don't care whether it's good or not. I care whether I can say anything interesting about it.–? I was a baby graduate student at the time, and I winced when she said it and ranted to my partner about the degenerate state of literary criticism that anyone could think that way. But I've come to “see the light,–? so to speak, and for me, romance criticism is not about determining good vs. bad or high art vs. trash. And it's not about figuring out empowerment vs. oppression, either. It's about the fact that romances deserve to be studied, and studied from a positive perspective, precisely because they're so popular. What about them makes them that popular? What draws readers to them in such numbers? But I'm sick of the sneering. I'm sick of reading criticism written by non-readers that thinks it's being objective but instead spends the whole article basically shaking its head, asking “How could they?–? We want to demonstrate that romances are a deep gold mine for academic consideration of issues that have intrigued academics for years, including feminism, female writers, female readers, gender roles and expectations, and women's sexuality. We also want to establish a base of THEORY of the romance that displaces the “theory–? of romance produced by all those non-readers from the 80s and early 90s. Then, hopefully, other critics and theorists can use the new theory to write their own criticism.

Eric: I come at this from a slightly different angle, perhaps. I'm new to romance, both as a reader and as a professor, and I've really noticed, in the past few years, the difference between how we newbies talk about romance and the way it gets treated in the “foundational–? academic books on the genre. It's just ridiculous for scholars and students to be taking as gospel–"or, worse, offering as gospel, in their classes–"such out of date accounts of romance fiction. We both felt, I think, that there was a need for some new book to gather and announce all the new ways out there of thinking about romance fiction. (“One book to bring them all, one book to bind them– –? Oops! You didn't hear that.) For me, the key questions aren't so much “what makes them popular?–? and “what draws readers to them?–? Rather, because I'm a poetry scholar, I'm drawn to issues of aesthetics. How do the best romance novels negotiate the demands of convention and originality, just as sonnets and odes and elegies do? What makes one romance novel different from another, so that one is charming, another haunting, another a dud? How can we tease out those differences, in form and content and style, so that each novel seems as interesting as possible? (My students hear that last one a lot: How can we make this particular novel as interesting–"which usually means “as enjoyable–?–"as possible?)

How and when did you first become a romance reader?
Sarah: I don't really remember. When I was eleven or twelve, I was working my way through my parents' bookshelves and reading Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Leon Uris, even Jean Auel. And at some point, my mother also gave me Georgette Heyer and Austen's Pride and Prejudice AND I started raiding the bookcase filled with romances hidden in the spare bedroom. I remember my first Mills & Boon (Anne Weale's The River Room) and I remember the first romance that grabbed my gut and pulled in ways that I wanted repeated (Roberta Leigh's Man in a Million). I also remember WHY it grabbed me: because the hero had a tic in the corner of his eye that showed how much he was affected by his feelings for the heroine. That access to the hero's interior emotional landscape, small as it was, slayed me, and I wanted more. I was hooked, and I've never looked back.

Eric: Unless you count books like Little Women, which I was pretty much obsessed with in second grade, and Andre Norton's Witch World, which got me a few years later, I became a romance reader in 2000, I think in the winter or spring. My wife had read, and loved, Bridget Jones's Diary–"loved it so much that I read it, too. The Evanston Public Library had a list of novels to read while you waited for The Edge of Reason to be published–"hats off to librarians!–"and we set about reading them. First was Sarah Bird's The Boyfriend School, which has some very smart discussions in it of the prejudices against the genre, as well as a heroine who learns to get past those, and carries you with her. (I often start my romance classes with this novel, out of sequence, since it helps meet skeptical readers right where they are.) Then, one night, I settled in with Jennifer Crusie's Crazy For You, and was utterly hooked. The novel was just so good, in so many ways: the humor, the heroine, the modulation from humor into suspense. First author I glommed–"we glommed, together–"long before we knew the word. I had no thought of teaching romance then, or working on it professionally; I'd just found something to love.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

19 Comments

  1. Emma
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 06:08:29

    This is a fabulous interview; thanks so much.

    I have one question for Sarah and Eric. It seems as though you’re mainly soliciting articles from practitioners (agents, writers, editors), not formal theorists. This makes me curious about your target audience for the book. I’m appalled by the elitism within the academy toward romance, so I say this with reluctance, not approval — but it seems to me that because of the nature of your contributors’ qualifications, academe is more likely to treat the volume as ethnographic evidence than as a solid theoretical contribution.

    Is your target audience the romance reader, then? Or, to put it another way: what do you hope to achieve with the book within your discipline?

    Also, maybe I missed it, but I’d love to know who’s publishing the volume. I’d feel very warmly toward the academic press that took this.

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  2. LinM
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 06:25:10

    Wow – I started reading this groaning at the length and I’m still groaning because this was too short – there are so many points touched on but not explored. One highlight (out of many):

    My theoretical interest, however, is in examining how women write their male characters, an interest which transcends the centuries.

    The biggest criticism has come from the male students, actually, and it's about the heroes: they say that they're “caricaturesâ€? of masculinity, not enough like real men.

    The majority of the books I choose to read are written by women in any genre – both because of the portrayal of the female characters and because of the focus & development of the storyline. Crusie’s experiment with co-authoring may address issues with characterization but doesn’t address differences in plot development.

    BTW: Glad to see DearAuthor back. Will the preview feature come back? (I’d say that I don’t want to complain but that’s a lie.)

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  3. Jane
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 06:38:54

    Thou asks and thou receives. ;) I had forgotten. When I read the interview answers, I felt like there were a hundred and one follow up questions to ask. We might have to cobble together another interview.

    Emma – you have a good point that so many of the papers are from educators, authors and so forth. I think that one of the problems may be that readers are intimidated and think that their works aren’t to the caliber of the other included papers. But as a reader, reading other reader’s thoughts, particularly in a collection like this, would be fascinating.

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  4. Devon
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 06:53:29

    Great interview. A lot of what I find completely fascinating about romance was touched on–what they say about social mores and female sexuality, and the utter diversity of the genre, bound together by certain conventions and the HEA. And the why of it all, why are romance so perenially and widely appealing. I do find romance novels inspire a certain amount of self-examination: what is it about this sub-genre, hero or particular story, that worked so well for me? What is it about this particular fantasy that appeals to me and why? What does that say about me (if anything).

    I love 19th century domestic novels too, Prof. Frantz! Good luck to you both on your academic ventures.

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  5. Sarah S. G. Frantz
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 08:25:36

    Actually, at this point, we’re soliciting article proposals from *anyone* and we hope to have a wonderful mix of theorists and what Emma terms “practitioners.” Two articles I can say with confidence that will be included are one by Glen Thomas and (hopefully!) one by Mary Bly/Eloisa James that are both very theoretical in nature (you can see a summary of Glen’s paper here and a summary of Mary/Eloisa’s here. And Mary/Eloisa is wearing both her academic cap and her romance author cap. Ideally, the book will BECOME the new theoretical foundation for understanding romances–that’s our ultimate ambition. The thing is, WE’RE also appalled by the elitism of most of the academy toward romances and we’re hoping to start changing that with this book.

    Publishers are usually solicited for academic books after it’s been written. We’re going to start hunting after we’ve accepted proposals and we’re starting with the top academic presses. So I guess our audience IS academic, but we’re also hoping that interested romance readers will take a look at the volume.

    LinM, I’m actually writing an article for Eric’s OTHER book about Jenny Crusie that addresses her collaboration with Mayer and how it affects the characterization of the male characters. We’ll let y’all know about that, too, when it comes out.

    Devon, thank you!

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  6. Eva Gale
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 10:00:53

    LinM, I'm actually writing an article for Eric's OTHER book about Jenny Crusie that addresses her collaboration with Mayer and how it affects the characterization of the male characters. We'll let y'all know about that, too, when it comes out

    I’m very interested in reading that one. (It goes along with my magic hoohoo theory :) )

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  7. EC Sheedy
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 10:10:28

    Fabulous interview, great questions–and answers!

    Now I am really looking forward to reading Dr. Frantz and Dr. Selinger’s book. I’m guessing we can count on this blog to inform us of its release date? :-) Thank you, Jane, and all for some very informative and interesting reading.
    EC

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  8. Anji
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 10:22:10

    The biggest criticism has come from the male students, actually, and it's about the heroes: they say that they're “caricaturesâ€? of masculinity, not enough like real men.

    I found this really interesting, and I’d be interested to hear what students think of books like Nora Roberts’ Seaswept, which is often cited as a books that depicts male interactions realistically. Or other books written from the male POV only.

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  9. Monica
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 10:37:57

    Fabulous interview. I look forward to reading the book. I was wondering whether either of you has ever looked at the issue of labeling and how it affects our perception as readers–for example, historical genre romance v. historical fiction. The latter is perfectly acceptable to most people while the former is often dismissed as “trash.” Yet to my mind there is very little difference between Phillipa Gregory, Anya Seton, or Elizabeth Chadwick and many historical-heavy romance writers such as Marsha Canham or Penelope Williamson. I won’t use Diana Gabaldon because although she is shelved in romance and most people I know would characterize her as romance, from what I understand, she doesn’t consider her books to be romances.

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  10. Love and Romance » Blog Archive » Interview at Dear Author
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 11:15:01

    [...] by Jane Litte at Dear Author. The interview, in all its lengthy glory, can be found here. Notice the 1-6 at the bottom of the screen: if you get two academics at their computers answering [...]

  11. Jackie L.
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 13:33:40

    “(Why not actually read the whole poems that characters quote one line from? That's what I do when I hit them in a “realâ€? novel!)”

    Dr. Selinger, I had profs like you back when I was a lit major in college, who considered it fair game to test us on books that were only mentioned in the footnotes of the text that was assigned. ‘Nuf said about that.

    Ann Maxwell who also publishes under Elizabeth Lowell frequently co-writes (or co-wrote) with her husband Evan. I find her male characters are more believable–possibly as a result.

    Interesting article. One problem I have as a fan is that thinking critically about romance “ruins the glow” for me at times. Maybe that old lit major thing again. I wonder if you two experience anything similar?

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  12. Sarah Frantz
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 13:42:06

    Monica, while I haven’t thought about that myself, we’d love for someone to propose it for our volume….::whistling innocently::

    Jackie L., I’m now pretty much completely INcapable of reading without analyzing, so I’ve learned to get my glow through the analysis. Mostly, what that means is that if there’s a book I wouldn’t like anyway, I know more WHY I don’t like it. Ditto books I do like. And I can now read and enjoy books as a critic that I wouldn’t normally like as a reader, so I guess that’s a plus.

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  13. Eric Selinger
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 14:27:27

    Jackie, I promise, I’d NEVER put something like that on a test! I just think it’s, well, fun–and I always find out new things when I do my homework (grin).

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  14. Robin
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 19:40:34

    Okay, totally OT, but I can’t resist: Eric, what do you think of the Dershowitz/Finklestein tenure mess?

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  15. Eric Selinger
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 20:34:48

    You know, it’s all too reminiscent of those 70s bodice rippers to me. (Grin.) I’m actually so swamped with projects right now, Robin, that I’m watching it from the sidelines–I don’t have time to go and read Finkelstein’s work to judge for myself, and I’m not about to take Dershowitz’s word for it, so it’s hard for me to say much of any interest. I’ve certainly been approached by faculty to take a stand, and have been practicing my Bogart impersonation: “I stick my neck out for nobody.” Who knows–maybe if I repeat that often enough, Lauren Bacall will show up and make an honest man of me!

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  16. Robin
    Apr 16, 2007 @ 21:41:48

    You know, it's all too reminiscent of those 70s bodice rippers to me.

    Ha, but will true love win out in the end??

    Regardless of the players involved, the idea that one scholar would try to intervene in the tenure process of a scholar at an entirely different university scares me on levels I cannot even access all at once. I can only imagine what the pressure is like for faculty on the DePaul campus right now, especially given the real-world political issues involved. Who knew that academic politics would eventually involve something important?? No romance, but passion, nonetheless.

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  17. Eric Selinger
    Apr 17, 2007 @ 06:04:44

    It is pretty horrible–and long-planned. I (and other Jewish faculty) were approached a couple of years ago by an outside organization to get us fired up against NF so that we would work to block his tenure case from within. The university is weighing, I’m sure, the black eye of a lawsuit against a wave of publicity that says DePaul is a bad place to send your Jewish kids, because of NF’s presence on campus. Ugly stuff.

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  18. Robin
    Apr 17, 2007 @ 10:12:21

    Eric, you have no idea how much I understand about what’s happening on your campus. I have the law school debt to prove it. De Paul is not by far the first or only campus to experience these tensions. Me, I’m firmly in support of academic freedom for everyone — it’s the only winning and ethically imperative “side,” as far as I’m concerned.

    ReplyReply

  19. The Stalker on Saturday « Milady Insanity
    Apr 21, 2007 @ 08:58:37

    [...] Dear Author interviews romance book professors Dr. Frantz of Fayetteville State University and Dr. Selinger of D…. [...]

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