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Does an Author Have to Live It to Write It?

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This is the third in a three part series of what part the author plays in the marketing of a book. In the beginning of Crystal Hubbard’s book, Mr. Fix It, Hubbard’s heroine suffers a crisis of confidence. She is a romance writer but has stopped believing in love, let alone romance. Because of this, she doesn’t know that she can be a writer of romance books anymore. She feels that she is a fraud, writing about love and togetherness and happy ever after when she doesn’t believe in those concepts anymore.

The question is a great one. Does an author have to be in love to write romance? Extrapolating this a little further, does an author who writes from a male point of view be a man to have an authentic voice; does an author have to be gay to write the m/m books for the stories to be authentically homosexual; does an author have to be married, wildly in love and a parent in order to write romance; does an author have to experience the out of the mainstream lifestyle in order to be able to write about those out of the mainstream activities (I.e., BDSM, threesomes, etc.)   How much of a writer’s real life have to mirror the story in order for the reader to buy it?

First, my own biases. I rarely read books written by men, regardless of genre designation. I’d rather read a female author’s voice whether it is mother/daughter writing team, PJ Tracy, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and JD Robb in the police procedure sub genre or YA or it’s romance. I’ve read men before: Jeffrey Deaver, John Sanford, Thomas Harris, Brett Easton Ellis (I still have nightmares from reading American Psycho), George RR Martin, and a few authors.   But it’s very few.   As an aside, the creepiest books I’ve ever read were by men writing about characters doing horrible things about women.   I stopped reading Deaver after A Maiden’s Grave and the milk/snake/deaf girl scene!   

More importantly, though, I have a bias in that I don’t believe that a man can know, intimately, the female path to self actualization and thus articulate it in an authentic manner even in fiction. I think I can acknowledge from an objective viewpoint that it doesn’t really matter who the writer is as long as the writer is good, but I believe that is why I reject the male author. I believe that they can’t speak to me in a way that another woman can.   I suppose that is how men feel about female authors.   According to John Howell of Waterstone, “Subconsciously, I think men stick to male writers. They think that what women write doesn’t appeal to them.”

This particular study suggests  (word doc) that male readers are more likely to dismiss an author based on gender than women.   (read the quotes, it’s an article in and of itself).   ”While 40% of women surveyed said they would read books they believed appealed mainly to men, only 25% of men said they would consider a book they felt was for women.”   In the romance genre, I’m guessing the percentage of women that would pass over an author based on gender would increase otherwise there wouldn’t be a need for the female pen name for male romance authors. Conversely, there are female authors such as Devon Monk and Rob Thurman  or PJ Tracy and JD Robb whose gender seems to be disguised by their pen names to attract a broader male readership.   

There was the discussion on the review by Jayne of Dangerous Ground by Josh Lanyon  as to whether Laanyon was a gay male or whether she was a female author who has created a gay male persona to help sell books. Teddy Pig noted that  

  

I think most people know I am a very nitpicky hardass reviewer who not only reads but likes Gay Romance which is written mostly by women but I also have some experience in the area of Gay Sex and being Gay and I must admit I am far harder in my reading of Gay male writers because I for one expect a Gay writer to have the total experience of being Gay and I guess I expect he probably should be able to riff on all that in unique but realistic ways even in a fictional story.

  

I for one would never say women cannot not write Gay men or even Gay sex well. They probably have to make more of an effort in framing the story and characters to get that authenticity and maybe they should get a little more respect for that when they do it well.

I think what TP said “I expect he should be able to riff on all that in unique but realistic ways” points out what I think is the difference in the authenticity of a story.   Maybe it’s that a female writer writing about love and relationships from a female point of view can be less perfect, less articulate and still evoke a positive response. Maybe it is easier to write at a deeper level if the author has actually experienced what she is writing about and that translates into a reader (like me) thinking hey, this author person really knows what she is talking about even before the book is cracked open.

However, even as I say that I think of Kathleen Gilles Seidel, an author who has made me believe that she must have been an Olympic figure skater (Summer’s End), a soap writer (Again), a famous rock and roll band groupie (Till the Stars Fall), a well connected player in the film industry (More Than You Dreamed), and a former beauty queen (Don’t Forget to Smile) even though her biography states that she has a Ph.D. in literature.   Part of Seidel’s gift is in her details. In Don’t Forget to Smile, the female protagonist thinks to herself how a young beauty queen in the making has to learn to do makeup for black and white stills and how beauty queens are rarely blonde.   In Till the Stars Fall, Seidel includes excerpts from a biography of a rock and roll groupie that sound so authentic that you might as well be reading Rolling Stone.   Summer’s End  has the hero noting that the heroine’s training as a figure skater made her more athletic with better endurance, despite her small stature, than any other adult in the group.   In reflecting on Seidel’s work, I can acknowledge that an author’s background has very little to do with her ability to make a story authentic, yet I am beset with certain prejudices.

The author bio and the author picture all feed into certain bias held by readers.   They are designed to make the book more attractive and appeal to a reader’s desire for purchase.   The author bio might sell to readers that the author is fully in love with her own white knight (you read alot of this in the dedications) and thus her true love story is really from the heart or that she or he has some degree on the subject matter in which she is writing to lend instant authority to the topic (even if there is a better written book by a less credentialed author).   The ironic thing is that the more that an author’s life parallels her book, the less likely I am interested in reading it.   Memoirs make me uncomfortable, I guess.   (Although I love the “Based on a True Story” Disney movies – clearly I am a mass of contradictions).   Generally, when an author’s biography closely tracks that of the storyline, particularly in terms of looks, I’m thinking that the author is inserting herself into the book and I’m reading some strange fantasy.   I guess that is a bit how Robert Pattison feels about Stephenie Meyer’s books.

It’s hard to shake off those biases.   It may be that these bias are inescapable. Over time, they become ingrained beliefs rather than loosely held opinions.    The question might be how much those learned beliefs turn into expectations that effect the reading of the story.   Obviously, my own feelings are conflicted.   I want to not be biased and recognize that I should not be biased but somehow I can’t shake loose of at least the author gender bias (although it doesn’t apply for me in regards to m/m fiction).   

Does it really matter, though?   Should we, as readers, look at the book and solely the book without regard for the author in anyway?   Isn’t that the true reading experience?   To what extent does the author and the author’s experience affect your view of the book?   Does it matter when you find out about an author’s background (either before reading or after reading the book)? What affects you, if anything, the most?   I.e, gender of author, background of author, author looks, author bio?   I’m interested in seeing whether we, as a readership, believe like Crystal Hubbard’s heroine did and that is the author must live it to write it.

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

327 Comments

  1. Ann Somerville
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 04:30:44

    Interesting you should mention Lanyon, because I and gay friends of mine are convinced he’s female (despite protestations to the contrary.) I find ‘his’ sensibility in writing m/m identical to other female authors (though this is undoubtedly a talented writer), and very different from gay authors writing gay lit, like Timothy James Beck and Steve Kluger. I see nothing in his writing, no special focus, over what decent female m/m authors have, and moreover, his writing lacks the focus on physical and emotional matters that I see in gay writers. Over and over I’ve read a ‘male’ author and bet myself they’re female (at least chromosomally) and been proved right every time. So either Lanyon’s a woman, or ‘he’ has decided to imitate the female style of gay romance to sell to the primarily female audience.

    Please note – this is not intended to insult Lanyon, though it’s not a practice I care for.

    I don’t believe straight women can write gay lit per se. I believe they write perfectly credible relationship stories, and romance being mostly a fantasy on relationships, being gay isn’t really necessary to make a story appealing. However not many female m/m authors cross over to appeal to gay men – gay friends of mine complain the sex is unrealistic and boring, the guys unlike any gay men they know and so on. Some do cross over, certainly, but m/m isn’t primarily aimed at gay men, so it doesn’t matter that much if it’s not terribly authentic. So long as an author doesn’t delude themselves they’re the genuine voice of gay existence, then no harm is done.

    Interestingly, I believe it’s possible to spot female voices in other genres. When I learned it was highly likely that Dick Francis’s wife had written most of his novels, it suddenly made sense of something I hadn’t understood – why his ‘male’ voice was so very different from the Trevanians, the Alastair MacLeans, Jack Higgins and so on I’d hoovered up. Reading Francis’s novels now, you can see how the most intense relationships and characterisations are of men – they’re tremendously slashy in fact :) I could be talking out my backside, but I do believe they’re written by a woman.

    I don’t expect an author to have a professional background in the subject they’re writing about. I don’t have a gender bias in what I read, though I mainly read female authors now simply because we dominate m/m writing. In science fiction, the gender of the author is the last thing I notice.

    I think the key for any author is extrapolation. I’ve never had a child or lost one – but I’ve lost relatives and friends, so I can build on those emotions. If I had never suffered grief, I don’t know if I could write it credibly. Same as I doubt I could write about being in love if I’d never experienced because it’s such a unique, overwhelming insanity. I’ve never read convincing erotica written by confessed vrigins, though I’m told over and over it exists (the examples I’m then shown are usually horrible.) But I don’t need to be abducted by a desert prince to imagine what that might be like :) I tend not to write detailed child characters because I don’t know any children and have never been close to any after I became an adult, but that’s more because children in m/m stories tend to lead to sappiness.

    This also brings us back to the concept of whether people lacking empathy, who are sociopaths or psychopaths can write convincing romance. In my personal experience of these people, yes they can. They’re extremely good mimics and fakers. There’s no reason why someone who is not pathological couldn’t learn to do the same thing – and as many a man has done in writing romance, they do.

    You can drag the lower right hand corner of the comment box to expand its size.

    Not in Firefox 3 on a Mac you can’t :(

  2. Mrs Giggles
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 06:56:36

    Romance isn’t the most realistic depiction of love and marriage, so I’d say that the success of a good romance doesn’t lie in how real the depiction of the idealized love is as much as it depends greatly on how well the author sells the fantasy to the reader. Whether this is through good comedy, well-done tearjerker melodrama, or both, I doubt the author’s real life knowledge of HEA has anything to do with it.

    Sex scenes are a different matter – not that I am saying authors have to experience the whole nine yards to write about them, but when the authors get simple things like the location of the clitoris wrong, that’s when we have a problem.

    I don’t care about the background of the author. She can be a multiple divorcee but it won’t have me thinking that she can’t write a good romance because of her divorces. It’s not as if she’s selling me motivation books on how to make a marriage work, after all. Romance is fiction.

    About women writing MM romances, I am not too concerned about the authenticity of sex scenes at the moment as much as I wish more of these authors will STOP making their male characters come off like women. I wish authors who excel in writing male voice, such as Rachel Gibson, would give these MM authors a class or two. At the moment, so many “guys” are running around psychoanalyzing their feelings like guests on Oprah.

  3. Jayne
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 07:53:18

    This comment might veer slightly off topic.

    As an aside, the creepiest books I've ever read were by men writing about characters doing horrible things about women. I stopped reading Deaver after A Maiden's Grave and the milk/snake/deaf girl scene!

    Recently I got an suspense arc written by a male author that looked interesting. I started flipping through the first chapter and quickly saw that this was part of a series and that in previous books the hero’s former wife had been brutally murdered while his current lover/girlfriend had been savagely attacked and nearly killed. It was at this point that I said, “screw this. I don’t want to read any more books in which most of the female characters are raped, attacked, savaged, killed, etc. ” Why do male authors feel the need to treat their female characters this way?

  4. Moth
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 08:02:42

    As far as women liking male authors, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are two of my most favorite authors. But they’re not exactly writing romance novels. They’re not even writing “man books” per se. I think I would be disdainful of a man writing a romance novel. The same way my boyfriend doesn’t really understand the romance novel.

    I don’t know that most men can “get” what love and marriage really mean from a woman’s perspective. The same way I’m not sure women always understand a male perspective of the same. Even as I say this I am fairly certain there are exceptions. I know I think Bujold writes damn good men and their points of view seem believeable to me. But then I don’t have a penis and I haven’t gotten the boyfriend to read one of her books yet.

    As far as an author bio turning me off to the book I also dislike it when the author bio too closely mirrors what is being billed as a novel (as opposed to oh, a memoir). I mean, as an aspiring author myself I have to say there is usually a little bit of self-insertion but only small stuff, little details like Crusie using her real-life pets for inspiration. Or taking the experiences of a bad break-up and fictionalizing that for your novel.

    Stuff like that’s fine and adds to the book, I feel (as long as you do NOT make the fictional boyfriend the carbon copy of the real life ex). But if you’re a thirty year old divorcee with two small children, a heart-shaped face and wavy brown hair I’d rather your heroine not be a twenty-nine year old divorcee with a small child, a heart-shaped face and straight brown hair. D’you see? It comes off as, dare I say it, a little pathetic? And, further, it squicks me out to read love scenes when I’m picturing the author as the heroine. I also think you can usually tell when this is occurring, even without the bio or the picture to clue you in. Might be wrong, though.

  5. Moth
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 08:04:41

    Did my comment get eaten?

  6. Nora Roberts
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 08:09:23

    I think writer is a word without gender, and a good writer observes, absorbs, hopefully empathizes then translates that into character and story.

    You don’t have to do or be or have experienced, traveled to, but you have to imagine all of that, very well–and believe it completely during the bubble of the work.

  7. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 08:27:08

    That’s a really interesting question. There definitely seems to be the idea out there that all writers should be qualified for what they write about.

    In general, I’m with those who’d say ‘write what you know’, but one certainly wouldn’t expect a mystery writer to go out and kill a few people so they can write convincingly from inside the head of a killer. Consequently, expecting a romance writer to be happily married/in a relationship seems really weird to me.

    I believe with good research one can write about things one hasn’t experienced, be it police procedurals, relationships, far future societies, historical lives.

    Most erotic romance writers I know personally have said that no, they have not done all the things their characters do and how incredibly annoying it is that many readers equate their lives with their characters’.

    Some authors are more successful at writing about things they haven’t personally experienced than others and some things I may not recognize as inauthentic as a reader because I lack familiarity (kids for example, since I don’t have any, although I occasionally notice kids that seem *very* precocious).

    I read almost exclusively female authors and I think that in at least one case I didn’t enjoy romances as much because the author was male which I found out only after complaining that there was something just not quite right in these books.

    I definitely am harder on an author who has qualifications and still gets things wrong (Eloisa James with a PhD, who seems to be thanking (blaming really?) her research assistant in her acknowledgments); I have to say there’s something really wrong about a historical romance writer with a PhD in English literature who can’t be bothered to do her own research!

    On the authenticity of males written by women, I’m leaning towards the fantasy element. I really don’t want ‘real’ males who don’t ever talk about their feelings; I like to cling to the idea that there are guys out there who are willing to share what’s going on inside them, so I have never had issues with guys who come across as ‘females with penises’ to others.

    I’ve seen this accusation leveled at some of my favorite SF and romance authors and I’ve always kind of gone, ‘huh, really? I didn’t see that.’ Maybe I’m just too naive.

    Overall, how successful a writer is for me depends on the amount of work they put into their details and how much I as reader know about the environment, professions, emotions, and relationships described.

  8. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 08:31:49

    Hmm, my comment got eaten, too! :(

  9. Jennifer Estep
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 08:35:22

    I agree with Nora about what a good writer does.

    Male, female, gay, straight, an alien from another planet — I don’t care who they are. If they can tell a good story, then they’ll get my money and reading time. I read tons of male authors — Robert Parker, Donald Westlake/Richard Stark, Ian Fleming, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, etc. — not because they are or aren’t writing about women but because I like the stories they tell.

    As for whether you have to be married, etc. to write romance, I don’t think so. The main thing is to have a great imagination and be able to translate what’s in your head into book format. I also think you have to be empathetic too — you really have to be able to put yourself in another person’s head and imagine what their life/thoughts/feelings are like. But this goes for any book/character an author would write.

    In the end, though, it really comes down to the author and what story he/she wants to tell. It may sound cliche, but the more excited/interested/invested an author is in a story, then the better it will be because they have a passion/enthusiasm for it. And that’s what I’m ultimately interested in — reading (and hopefully writing) good stories.

  10. Jane O
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 08:37:54

    I don’t think an author must have personal experience of the subject matter -’ in fact, it may be preferable that an author not have such experience. Think of all those dreadful semi-autobiographical first novels out there. What an author needs is the imagination and empathy to make the characters, setting and story convincing.

    That said, I suspect there are limits to what empathy can achieve. Didn’t Jane Austen say something to the effect that she never had scenes in which men conversed with no women present because she didn’t know how men talked when there were no women present?

    Also, I have found that my husband and I tend to find different things problematic. He is apt to find male characters created by female authors unconvincing, and I am apt to find female characters created by male authors unconvincing.

    Of course, there is the enormous popularity of books about vampires, shape-shifters, etc. Ought one to be nervous about attending gatherings of authors?

  11. Selene
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 08:39:42

    Interesting subject. I think that, in general, readers are very quick to assume things about authors based on their characters. Too quick, perhaps. (Or, as a writer friend of mine once put it: whichever character you would least like to be identified with, that’s the one readers will assume is your alter ego.)

    I don’t think you need to have personal knowledge of something to write it. The basis of writing is emotion. If you have at some point felt hate or love or disappointment or what have you, you have all the foundation you need. The rest is research, imagination, and, most of all, a willingness to step into someone else’s shoes. (And of course, skill enough to bring the whole thing alive on the page. :))

    Some characters will always be more difficult to write than others. I’d personally have a hard time pulling off a deeply religious character, for example, and I know it would take a lot of work on my part to put myself into the proper mindset to write such a character with honesty. (Another key ingredient to good characterizations.) I think, overall, it’s too easy to bunch writers together by gender. I’d say a modern American man has far more in common with a modern American woman than he would have, say, with an English farmer from 1750.

    As to the authors behind the books I read, I prefer not to know anything about them. Sure, when I love a book I’ll sometimes look the author up to find out more. This tends to backfire more often than not–I’d rather not know the author of an uplifting tale I just read committed suicide last year, for example. Or that the author is really arrogant. Or that he or she has some political agenda I totally do not agree with.

    In other words, I’d rather have separation of artist and art, and the best way to achieve that is not knowing too much about the former.

    Selene

  12. Joyce Ellen Armond
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 09:04:43

    Thomas Harris wrote Clarise Starling, one of my favorite characters. He captured the tension between trying to fit in professionally in a male-dominated situation and the need to express feminine facets of personality.

    And Bujold, as mentioned, wrote some of my favorite heros in The Curse of Challion and The Hallowed Hunt.

    I had a friend ask me if a female author could have written at the ending of the novel Hannibal. I said of course. What happened to Starling was consistent with her character and internal needs. But my friend insisted that the ending betrayed women as heroines, and few female writers would do that. I still think she’s completely wrong.

  13. Keishon
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 09:12:46

    I don’t think I have biases but I do have some expectations. Historical fiction novelists I _expect_ to have degrees in history because that’s a genre I think requires it, quite frankly.

    I gravitate towards men and women in mystery but in romance, I prefer a female voice. I thought David Payne, a southern writer of one of my favorite southern romances, EARLY FROM THE DANCE, did an excellent job of writing with a female voice.

  14. Teddypig
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 09:34:06

    review by Jayne of Dangerous Ground by JL Langley

    Dangerous Ground is written by Josh Lanyon not J.L. Langley.

    J.L. Langley is definitely a woman and straight and a very good writer of M/M Romance and also a friend of mine.

  15. Lori
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 09:40:58

    How many teachers have started off their students writing by saying “Write what you know.”

    Obviously there are some writers who can write 8 foot insects on the planet MRRGH! and make them sympathetic and fascinating characters. But let a writer write something you, the reader, have experienced first hand and not write it to your experience and see that book make a dent in your wall.

    I love when Jayne Ann Krentz has written books based in Seattle; she knows the city and catches the ambiance of it and I live here and know of what she writes. But a writer who has never been here and just writes about the constant rain, I question that they’ve seen the glorious evergreen part of the state that exists because of that rain.

    And that can echo in certain emotional sentiments too. Authors who write children as angels forgetting the tantrumming side, men written as women with a penis…

    I don’t believe an author has to live it to write it but I actually do think sometimes it makes for better writing. JMO

  16. Jane
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 09:42:43

    @Jayne: I wonder if it is the genre. Karin Slaughter does horrible things to her female characters. Perhaps it is just easier to victimize women to generate horror or dismay or some other strong emotion.

    @Nora Roberts: The concept of writer being genderless is a great one, but one that is apparently hard to overcome. I think that there is something ironic in the separation of the author and the book when it comes to genre fiction. What I mean by that is when I studied literature and art in college (and philosophy as well), we always studied the time period, the political and social influences of the day, and the personal life of the author/artist. We were asked to contemplate, in a way that I think would be viewed as totally inappropriate, about the author/artist’s personal life, relationships, influences on world view.

    @Jane O: The Jane Austen antidote is pretty fascinating. I think I remember reading an article about Jane Austen on the speculation of her love life and how there is a romanticization of her relationships with some men as a way to explain her writings.

    @Ann Somerville: I think I am understanding you to say that at least for m/m fiction that a straight woman can’t write an authentic experience, that she can only mimic? I suppose that is what non transgendered women are doing when they are writing from a male POV – a sort of mimic?

    @Mrs Giggles: I think it was Dr. Vivivanco who noted in one of the previous conversations how many times female writers get the placement of the hymen incorrect. It’s like one of those urban myths read in one romance story and then retold in a thousand more until it becomes a truth unto itself.

    As to your point about Romance being unrealistic, that’s true, to some extent. But I think romance, at least the core of it, is about the retelling of a universal experience of falling in love.

    @Moth: I’m totally squicked out if I think that I am reading some author’s fantasies (particularly if I’ve met them before – even worse). The idea of an erotic memoir I find even more distasteful. It’s too invasive, I think. I don’t know exactly.

    @GrowlyCub: I do think it is odd that James doesn’t do research for her own books! Does she just have the RA fact check perhaps?

    @Selene: We readers probably do assume things. Perhaps its because we’ve heard of the mantra, “write what you know” so the more authentic the voice sounds in a particular area, the quicker we are to assume that the author has personal experience in that regard?

    @Joyce Ellen Armond: You are right re: Harris’ rendition of Clarice Starling and her struggle for acceptance within a male dominated sub culture. Having not read Hannibal, I can’t comment on whether his ending was a disservice to females. Harris is one author who spreads his violence fairly amongst genders.

    @Keishon: I’ve never read Payne. Did you do a review on it and I totally whiffed?

  17. Ann Bruce
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 09:55:52

    It’s called fiction, right? I don’t need to actually kill someone to write about it.

  18. Laura Vivanco
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 09:58:11

    I think it was Dr. Vivivanco who noted in one of the previous conversations how many times female writers get the placement of the hymen incorrect. It's like one of those urban myths read in one romance story and then retold in a thousand more until it becomes a truth unto itself.

    I did discuss it in passing at Teach Me Tonight. I quoted from Kalen Hughes, who’d written about the issue at the History Hoydens’. I may have mentioned it in conversations here, but I can’t remember.

  19. Jane
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:01:58

    @Ann Bruce: There was a Tiffany White category, or maybe Elise Title, which featured a mystery writer heroine who was at a bar trying out various methods of killing people like dropping a drug in someone’s glass. The hero is watching her and tries to stop the drink from being consumed by her “victim”.

  20. Alyssa Day
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:03:14

    >>Does an author have to be in love to write romance? <<

    This is interesting – I had a romance writer friend whose marriage was disintegrating in a bitter way and she became totally unable to write. She didn’t believe in happy-ever-after any more and so she couldn’t write it in a believable way. Her characters became more and more bitter and she eventually dropped out of writing romance altogether.

    Imagination and careful research can fill in details – I’ve actually had people ask me for help getting into the television industry after reading American Idle; they thought I must have insider knowledge. But basic worldview and belief in love and happy endings? Maybe that *is* a necessary ingredient.

  21. Selene
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:04:27

    Jane–

    “Write what you know”–gah, I hate that phrase! I think it is often misinterpreted, and causes beginning writers to think they must write a novel about a timid housewife and her daily life (or whatever), just because that happens to be what they know best.

    I think it would be better to say not “write what you know” but “know what you write”. Ergo, if you need to do research, get moving, but write what you are passionate about and what moves you, not what you happen to know a lot about already.

    Selene

  22. Moth
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:06:02

    I can’t get my head around someone not doing their own research! How then do you stumble across those little nuggets of detail that spark inspiration? I love finding stuff like that, I can’t imagine leaving it to someone else.

    Also, if you’re not fascinated enough by the subject to do your own research on it maybe you shouldn’t write a book about it? I suppose she might be too busy to do it herself but really…wow. Just wow.

    (Glad to see my first comment ended up not-eaten after all :D)

  23. Laura Baumbach
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:09:57

    I recently attended a booksigning for a fellow author in San Francisco at one of the popular leading gay bookstores in the country, A Different Light. The book buyers there are overwhelmingly gay men.

    While discussing the books carried in the store with the manager he informed me that his top 10 best selling authors in the entire story, in any genre, were women authors. His top three sellers were female authors of M/M erotic romance.

    Book sales speak to the facts. Skilled female authors writing M/M works just find for a lot of gay men.

  24. Moth
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:12:56

    “Write what you know”-gah, I hate that phrase!

    I concur. There’s a great quote from Ursula LeGuin:

    “As for ‘write what you know,’ I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them. I got my knowledge of them, as I got whatever knowledge I have of the hearts and minds of human beings, through imagination working on observation. Like any other novelist. All this rule needs is a good definition of ‘know.’”

    I agree with the person who said it’s about writing with honesty- whatever you write. If you can have something come from an honest, legitimate, imaginative place then you can write anything.

  25. Kathryn Smith
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:24:55

    I don’t think you have to live it to write it, but you have to believe it. You have to be able to imagine it. In that respect I can see how someone who is going through a bitter divorce might not be able to find it within herself to write romance in such circumstances.

    As for male or female preference in authors, I’ll read both. But I’m also biased in that I prefer romance to be written by a female author. I also prefer YA by female authors. Mystery and horror I can go either way, the same for sci fi and fantasy. My husband and I listen to Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman audio books when we’re driving — it’s great to share the stories.

  26. Anne Douglas
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:31:17

    I’ve taken the ‘write what you know’ adage to mean that I should use my experiences – be they everyday or extraordinary – to colour my work by giving it depth. Show, not tell, I guess. The little things, like say my protags walk into an old church and they are admiring the stained glass windows and one of them notes how the glass has run/rippled and is showing its age (because glass is not solid, as you might think – it just moves very, very slowly). Or maybe he is bemoaning the bugs invading his lawn, or she does something quirky like makes her own sausages.

    Okay, they all sound like bizarre little points all by themselves, but put them in context and its these little things that can really make the experience for the reader.

    So no, I might not write a heroine in the process of procrastination as I always seem to be, but I do write in little things… such as those above.

    (yes, we make our own sausages, and they taste damn good, too!)

  27. Marianne McA
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:32:18

    I read more female writers than male writers – but I think that’s because I read more books from genres dominated by female writers.
    But at least half of my favourite writers are male. While on occasion I’ve felt that disconnect with a male writer – especially with bad action adventure, where the women tend to be beautiful and easy, and then die – it’s no more than the disconnect you get with bad romance, where the men tend to be beautiful and articulate, and then marry.

  28. Ann Bruce
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:33:30

    There was a Tiffany White category, or maybe Elise Title, which featured a mystery writer heroine who was at a bar trying out various methods of killing people like dropping a drug in someone's glass.

    Ugh.

    It always bothers me for writers to feature writer heroines or heroes. I can’t help but wonder if they’re writing about themselves. As for the above, that’s a little disturbing and not the norm. Writers, despite what we tell you about the voices in our heads, are generally sane.

    Personally, if I want first-hand accounts of things outside of my experiences, I just corner friends and friends of friends, like retired undercover DEA agents, and pick their brains.

    As for “write what you know”? Blah. Never underestimate the power of research. I had a woman tell me after reading one of my scenes that she had to simply get in her car and drive to the beach because the setting, the sights, the sounds, the scents were exactly like I’d described. She lived in a part of Canada I’ve never stepped foot on.

  29. Nora Roberts
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:34:38

    I’m baffled by the ‘write what you know’ business, and have always found it limiting. I’m more a write what you what to find out sort.

    Jane, for me the genderless writer is more in the process than in reader bias or expectation. I don’t think hey, I’m a girl so I write this when I’m working. I just think about the character–whoever they are. For me, it’s all about getting to know the character–whoever they are–to understand them, care about them (even the bad guys). Then, it just doesn’t matter if I’m writing from a male or female POV.

    Absolutely nothing I can do about what the reader brings with him or her into the story. Once the reader opens the book, the book is his or hers.

  30. MS Jones
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:43:09

    Hmm – not sure what to think – some of the best stuff I’ve ever read was written by people who didn’t live the life. Jane Austen never experienced an HEA. Annie Proulx never had a m/m relationship. Shakespeare was never a king.

    Then there’s people who have experienced all the above but can’t write worth beans.

    Mostly it doesn’t matter to me, although some authorial history can color my reading of the text – like the whole Alice/Lewis Carroll thing putting a different spin on the rabbit down the hole imagery, not to mention the slithy toves gyring and gimbling in the wabe.

    I don't want to read any more books in which most of the female characters are raped, attacked, savaged, killed, etc. Why do male authors feel the need to treat their female characters this way?

    It isn’t just the male authors; it’s all over romantic suspense, too. I really like Brockmann, but Into the Storm had a serial killer who had offed 20 or so women in the most horrible way.

    Maybe the Ja(y)nes could do a post about upping the romantic suspense body-count ante. I’d rather read 20 gratuitous sex scenes than read about 20 gratuitous murders.

    What is it about the public that people are more grossed out by graphic sex than by graphic violence?

  31. Anne Douglas
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:45:35

    I just had a thought:

    You know nothing about everything…until you research it, and then you can write what you now know.

  32. Jenre
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:50:02

    I read a mix of male and female authors. Most of the romance I read comes from female authors because, as was said previously, the genre is dominated by them.

    I’d like to read a historical romance written by a man, just to see if there is a great difference in the way that the characters are portrayed. Much of the historical fiction I read by male authors such as Bernard Cornwell tend to be focused on action or battles and the relationships are relegated to ‘evil women spies’ or are used to provide sexual relief for the male protagonist.

  33. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 10:51:45

    by Laura Vivanco November 18th, 2008 at 9:58 am

    I think it was Dr. Vivivanco who noted in one of the previous conversations how many times female writers get the placement of the hymen incorrect. It's like one of those urban myths read in one romance story and then retold in a thousand more until it becomes a truth unto itself.

    I did discuss it in passing at Teach Me Tonight. I quoted from Kalen Hughes, who'd written about the issue at the History Hoydens'. I may have mentioned it in conversations here, but I can't remember.

    My pet peeve . . . my new one is women writing about uncircumcised men when they’ve clearly never encountered one. HINT: The foreskin doesn’t peel back from an engorged penis like the plastic wrap on an English cucumber. I have serious trouble with some of the historical erotic romance out there because the authors just don't grasp Anatomy 101.

    And don't get me started on the lack of understanding of how the clothing went on and off, how hoops work, how corsets open and close, etc.

  34. Teddypig
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 11:10:52

    The 3 Simple Top Reasons Teddypig likes Josh Lanyon…

    * No Chicks With Dicks or Stupid Stereotypes as characters.

    In Josh’s supreme series The Adrien English Mysteries the two romantic heroes are…

    Adrien English, short, scrawny, even physically fragile and relies heavily on his intelligence rather than physical abilities and seems to have no real solid connections to the surrounding Gay community in LA and I think he has serious relationship issues.
    BUT! He is not effeminate, swishy, affected, or constantly in some weak damsel in distress mode.

    Jake Riordan on the other hand is big, strong, alpha, straight acting in extreme and seems to have a lot of friends and sexual contacts in the Gay community and let’s face it folks he is a cop and let’s just say from having run into a few in my life Gay Cops are a little um shell shocked up there if you get my drift.
    BUT! He is also homophobic, dark, hard drinking, self denial queen supreme, who is also physically violent and a lying sack of shit who not only dates but then marries a woman.

    Now if you as a man or a woman were writing an easy formula Gay Romance would you or anyone else even go near these characters as your Romantic Heroes? Probably not. That is the genius to The Adrien English Mysteries because it is a Gay Mystery series with strong Romantic Elements.

    * This is not a OK Homo World.

    Even though it is fiction The Adrien English Mysteries are not set in an OK Homo World where all the characters presented are either Gay or Gay Accepting. In fact the main obstacle in Jake and Adrien’s relationship is Jake would rather not be Gay. In fact he does everything in the series to undermine any chance of a HEA Gay Relationship because inside he has to reject who he is to be a real man.

    * Gay is a spice of life not the whole enchilada.

    At no time in Josh’s narrative are we forced into paragraph upon drawn out paragraph of “WHAT IT MEANS TO BE GAY”. You want my biggest harshest criticism of Gay Romance? Gay people do not sit around defining themselves this way even in thought. They live their fucking life and happen to be Gay. This does not mean we do not have battle scars. Jake and Adrien obviously do. We just do not sit around contemplating our navels questioning what it means to be who we are. Do you sit around defining what it means to be a woman? Or do you just live your life as best you can?

    As far as the whole line of questions, is Josh Lanyon a woman?

    As with the whole Prop 8 stuff… Why does it fucking matter to you so much? Who does it hurt if he is? Why is this such an important issue?

    Review the writing not the writer.

  35. Jane
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 11:19:17

    @Teddypig: What does Prop 8 have to do with this discussion in any way at all? I know that is an important issue to you but it seems a total non sequitur. As for why it “fucking” matters, I don’t know if it does but apparently, if Lanyon is a woman, then it matters enough to create a faux persona in order to gain authenticity through the personality which I find to be an interesting concept. It’s no different to me than a man writing romance under a female persona (which is different, in my opinion, than a pen name).

  36. Victoria Dahl
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 11:39:31

    I am not a romantic person in the traditional sense. My husband and I forgot our anniversary two years in a row. We were very proud that we remembered it this year, as it was the big 10-year-anniversary (according to him, anyway. I can’t keep track of these things.) But then we had to get out our marriage license to check the date. I said it was the 21st and he said it was the 20th. It was the 22nd. D’oh!

    But I do name my husband as my Prince Charming in my bio, even if that is totally cheesy romantic crud. Because for me love and happily-ever-after is not about flowers and hearts… It’s about true respect and regard. That’s not something I could have written about (credibly) in my younger years. So in that respect, I do think I have some sort of authority in my own writing. BUT (and that’s a big but) it doesn’t really have to do with being in a healthy relationship right at this moment. It has to do with knowing who I am. Even if I went through an ugly divorce, I’d still know what love is for me.

    Not sure this makes any sense, but I’m gonna post it anyway. Booyah.

  37. Teddypig
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 11:43:18

    What does Prop 8 have to do with this discussion in any way at all? I know that is an important issue to you but it seems a total non sequitur. As for why it “fucking” matters, I don't know if it does but apparently, if Lanyon is a woman, then it matters enough to create a faux persona in order to gain authenticity through the personality which I find to be an interesting concept. It's no different to me than a man writing romance under a female persona (which is different, in my opinion, than a pen name).

    Because as a Gay man to me the underlying argument is about equality.
    Because I do think in some ways there is a line being crossed here.
    There is a public accusation being made about Josh Lanyon without grounds for doing so.

    To me wondering if a woman could ever write as well as a man in any genre is as silly as wondering if a straight person could ever play a gay character in a movie.

    Not only has it been done already but there have been major mainstream awards given out for it.

    Review the writing not the writer.

  38. Lori
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 11:48:08

    Even writing what you know is still going to be filtered through your own personal perception. So if you’re a deep sea diver writing about deep sea diving, there’s still the aspects of the experience that work for you or are difficult that will probably be what your character experiences also.

    I see nothing wrong with Write What You Know because it doesn’t have to be taken so literally. But it does suggest that sometimes the best thing a writer can do is pull from themselves.

  39. Jane
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 11:50:10

    @Teddypig:

    How is this about equality? Not everything is a slur against gay people and certainly not this post, although you are free to take it as such which totally derails any honest discussion as to why subterfuge is necessary in order to be taken as an authentic voice in any experience. Authorial identity is not the sole province of m/m fiction. Many people have speculated as to the gender of Lisa Marie Rice.

  40. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 11:56:33

    I think Mrs. Giggles’ comment:

    I'd say that the success of a good romance doesn't lie in how real the depiction of the idealized love is as much as it depends greatly on how well the author sells the fantasy to the reader.

    and NR’s comment:

    I think writer is a word without gender, and a good writer observes, absorbs, hopefully empathizes then translates that into character and story.

    Pretty much sums up my feelings on this topic. I don’t need to indulge in a menage relationship to write about one, nor do I need to go out and kill a person to write about a murder taking place. It takes an imagination, observation skills, etc.

    I don’t really want to be able to ‘connect’ with the author as I read. I want to be able to connect with the characters.

  41. Sarah Frantz
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 12:09:09

    Sigh. Jane Austen. Okay, yes, there is a rumor that Jane Austen never wrote any scenes without any women present. Not true. Mostly true, TBH, but not all true. There’s a scene in Mansfield Park in which Edmund, his father, and his brother discuss the play staged at MP after Sir Thomas (the father) comes home from Antigua. There’s one other somewhere, but that’s the one I can remember.

    As for her having been in love in order to be able to write about it. Personally, I think she does a fabulous job of writing about relationships, but not so hot with the actual process of falling in love. Anathema to say so, I know, but think about it….there’s always been speculation about Elizabeth’s feelings for Darcy and when and why she fell in love. Anne and Wentworth in Persuasion are the best, IMO, and that letter is one of the most romantic things ever written, but up until then, she hadn’t really shown true, lasting, believable love.

    And whether the current crop of films about her live tell us anything about her? Remember, they’re ALL FICTION. Totally made up. Pure speculation. Very little to do with reality.

  42. Jill Myles
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 12:29:08

    @Kalen Hughes:

    My pet peeve . . . my new one is women writing about uncircumcised men when they've clearly never encountered one. HINT: The foreskin doesn't peel back from an engorged penis like the plastic wrap on an English cucumber. I have serious trouble with some of the historical erotic romance out there because the authors just don't grasp Anatomy 101.

    Ha! This also brings to mind the whole ‘Virginity’ myth that is constantly perpetuated — that it’s some sort of plastic-wrap like membrane INSIDE your vajayjay that only a mighty peen can bust open (after butting against it, of course).

    Which makes me wonder. All of us were virgins once and the vast majority of romance authors are female, and yet this is portrayed incorrectly 9 times out of 10. We lived it, we wrote it, but we’re…writing it wrong? How terrible is it that we don’t even write our own anatomy properly?

  43. Teddypig
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 12:30:34

    honest discussion? Gossiping about Josh Lanyon’s private life is honest discussion?

    *headdesk*

  44. Jaci Burton
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 12:30:52

    I never think about the gender of the author when I’m reading–unless they screw it up. Then it takes me out of the story. If a female author can’t write a male POV, or vice versa, then epic fail.

    Really, as a writer, it’s all about living in your imagination, when your fingertips (or pen) becomes the characters, the scene, the storyline. We can’t possibly write entirely what we know or the books would be boring (at least mine would). We write what we imagine, what we research, and also to the extent of where we’re able to go.

  45. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 12:31:56

    Okay, wait: Eloisa James has a research assistant?! Seriously?

    There’s a version of this inquiry that occurs in literary studies,
    especially around figures like Emily Dickinson — that is, the
    persistent need to make them lonely spinsters who never knew a man’s
    (or woman’s) erotic touch. With Dickinson, it’s becoming clear that
    such a thesis has resulted in the ignoring and suppression of
    some good evidence that she was no stranger to love or passion.
    So these questions — what gender is the writer in RL, what is their
    experience, etc.– are not limited to Romance by any means. Although
    what happens with the inquiries might vary from genre to genre. And
    what we’re looking for when we ask them is of real importance, IMO.

    And am I the only one who has to hard return now because
    when I type my response runs off into the space where I cannot see it,
    even if I try to forward space over the invisible text?

  46. Jane
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 12:33:20

    @Teddypig: I had no idea that discussing gender of an author was considered gossiping about someone’s private life. I think it is also interesting that you refuse to address the issue of whether the creation of a faux persona is required to be taken seriously within the m/m fiction circles.

  47. Laura Baumbach
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 12:41:55

    I believe, that all that is required to be taken seriously within the m/m fiction circles is to be a good author.

    I write, promote and publish within this circle and an aware of what is needed to succeed. Good authors writing great stories with memorable characters–just like any other genre. And if we’re talking M/M erotic romance — kick-ass, hot sex scenes help. In my humble opinion.

  48. Moth
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 12:43:09

    honest discussion? Gossiping about Josh Lanyon's private life is honest discussion?

    *headdesk*

    You’re rather missing the point of this discussion aren’t you?

    Speculation about whether an author is male or female cannot rightly be termed “gossip” to me. Especially because we are in the midst of an (i think) intelligent discussion about how reader expectations of the author’s life affects they’re interpretation of the material.

    I’m curious what seemed so offensive and gossipy to you about any of these comments?

  49. Gennita Low
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 12:48:28

    @Kalen Hughes:

    HINT: The foreskin doesn't peel back from an engorged penis like the plastic wrap on an English cucumber.

    Bwah! Spew moment ;-).

    ****

    I am in awe of writers who can think of so many innovative and violent ways to kill and then write those scenes with such cold efficiency. However, I certainly don’t stop to think that maybe they’d killed before to be able to do that.

    Sometimes, though, a writer’s ignorance does seep through, as in Kalen’s example above or if a writer is using an ethnic character, like, say, an Asian (Being one myself, I enjoy picking up books with Asian characters). Research can only help so much. Sometimes, certain topics just betray the lack of “real” knowledge. But this might be just small nuggets that most unfamiliar with the subject wouldn’t notice or it might be big smackeroos of stupendous stupidity like the wandering hymen.

  50. Tessa Dare
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:00:40

    It always fascinates me that every author was (ostensibly) once a child–but I then I come across plenty of precocious fictional children who don’t act or speak like any child I’ve ever met.

    So I agree with what many above have said: Living through an experience doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll write it convincingly, and if authors can only write about experiences they’ve lived through…I had better find a time machine, or I’ll have to switch subgenres!

    I think every author’s life experience informs her writing process, and sets up a unique set of advantages and challenges. I mean, if you’ve been in a committed relationship for years and years–sure, maybe it’s easier to believe in HEA. But it may also be harder to remember just how it felt to be in that first giddy rush of attraction. Or what it was like to stay up all night canoodling and talking, instead of dosing your feverish toddler with Motrin.

  51. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:02:20

    If an author is going to great lengths to *pretend* a gender for the sake of perceived authenticity in his or her writing, IMO that’s not gossip, that’s *about* the writing, or at least about its marketing, about what and should sell, and about that sticky “authorization” problem I was talking about in Jane’s first post on this issue. If you want to throw the “why doesn’t only the writing matter” to readers who are curious about a writer’s gender, then why not throw that same inquiry to the writer who pretends a different gender? Because if you’re going to those lengths to create someone else as your public persona, then you can’t really think it’s only the writing that matters, either, can you?

  52. Amanda
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:04:19

    Most academics (like Eloisa James) have research assistants who run to the library and pick up books and articles for them or look things up. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t do her own research. Or, it means that research doesn’t mean working in a solitary state poring over old tomes. And how different is is for an author to ask a research question on an email loop like The Beaumonde, than to ask an assistant or a librarian to help her find something? I don’t really think there’s much difference at all. But I’m a librarian so I think all research is collaborative. Almost ALL authors of scholarly books thank their research assistants–and if they don’t they should.

    As far as women writing as men and vice versa, I read an erotic romance recently that I am convinced was written by a man. There was talk of farts. And to paraphrase Tom Hanks in A League of their Own: There’s no farting in Romance! Also the author bio states that this authoress does not exist until the computer is turned on. If that’s not a tell, I don’t know what is.

  53. Dana
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:05:26

    I definitely was biased towards female authors when it came to romance/mysteries, but didn’t care what the gender was when it came to other genres such as horror and fantasy. As far as writing what you know (and I hate that term too), I’ve found through painful personal experience that sticking to close to the facts, ma’am, make for more unbelievable characters and dialogue than creating them from my imagination. As a reader, it always makes me uncomfortable if I think I’m reading someone’s Mary Sue adventure.

    Great topic, btw!

  54. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:11:07

    Amanda, I’m an academic, so I understand the RA concept reasonably well. But even RA’s don’t (or shouldn’t) be doing a scholar’s *research* per se. Not that I’m suggesting James’s RA is doing her research. I’m just startled, that’s all. REALLY startled. Okay, and unsettled, too.

  55. DS
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:12:28

    Don’t have time to read past Ann’s reponse, but I do remember having a discussion in the mid 70′s with a bisexual man about whether Mary Renault was female or male. The Persian Boy had just come out. As a fan of Renault’s– I had read most of her British contemporaries by that time– I knew she was female but I couldn’t convince him at all.

    I’ve recently bought a book by Lanyon so i think I need to take a look at it and add my own guess to the mix.

  56. Lissa
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:17:54

    Over the years I have moved from reading exclusively female authors, to reading exclusively male authors and have since settled into a happy medium of both. There is a distinct “gender voice” in books for me – an obvious tell, if the book is written by a man or a woman. I think it has less to do with the subject of the book, as with the life experience of the author.

    It would be hard for a male to write a romance from a female point of view, since the male is obviously not female, and vice-versa. I don’t think you need to only “write what you know”, so much as you need to research, research, research!

    There are several male autors that I adore – but their work is from a very male perspective. I don’t think the same, exact story, written by a woman, would work or feel the same. I find that in some instances I like the male perspective, the less emotional aspects of a good story, the sharper tone and pace of a male-written book. Books written by females, whether romance or some other genre just seem to be softer, more emotional to me.

    As for an author projecting themselves into the book – for me, please don’t. I don’t want to know about your personal life, I don’t want to know about your fantasies, your dogs, your children, etc. If you must include a picture and a bio – make it as generic as possible. Tell me your history as an author; your other works, your awards, your educational background – and leave it at that. For me, you are just the vehicle by which the story is told. Knowing about you inserts your preferences into the book and I want to be able to insert my own preferences there. If I want to know more about you as a person, I will track down your website and find out, otherwise in this instance, less is definately more.

    By the by – just as a curious aside, where exactly is the hymen located? I have to admit that I have never given it any thought outside the romance genre, and having read literally hundreds of books that include “deflowering”, I have taken it on face value, that the placement of the hymen is as indicated there. I guess it is time for me to do some research of my own.

  57. MD
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:19:52

    As far as the whole line of questions, is Josh Lanyon a woman?

    As with the whole Prop 8 stuff… Why does it fucking matter to you so much? Who does it hurt if he is? Why is this such an important issue?

    I get the impression you either A. know something we don’t know =D or B. you’d personally prefer not to find out whether the author is male or female. Do you think finding out that Lanyon is a woman will color your view of that author’s work from now on or “ruin” it for you? If you don’t care whether Lanyon is male or female, then why is it such an important issue to you that we don’t talk about it? It just seems you’re taking it incredibly personally.

    As far as pseudonyms go, a lot of female authors are given a hard time about using a male pseudonym, which isn’t always fair. I know of at least one pro author, traditionally published, who was pressed by her editor to use a male name. It isn’t always the author’s idea. Apparently there are publishers who do feel, as Jane says, that a faux persona is necessary to be taken seriously by some readers.

  58. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:27:45

    I definitely am harder on an author who has qualifications and still gets things wrong (Eloisa James with a PhD, who seems to be thanking (blaming really?) her research assistant in her acknowledgments); I have to say there's something really wrong about a historical romance writer with a PhD in English literature who can't be bothered to do her own research!

    I’d want to know the wording of the acknowledgment… does it thank an assistant? Or specifically a research assistant?

    A lot of writers have assistants. I yearn for the day when I have one…somebody to make the post office runs, get my promo mess organized, reorder books, etc.

  59. Noelle
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:28:01

    Here is my take having not read through all the comments before hand. (Commenting on my lunch hour, sorry).

    In my personal experience romance writers fall into two categories. Those that write romance from a place of personal experience and those that write from a place of personal longing and maybe some do write from both places. And I’ve seen both good and bad writing from those that know and those that want.

    I might not have done all the things my characters do but that doesn’t mean a hell of a lot of research hasn’t been done. If you are writing D/s, BDSM, multiples etc and you don’t have personal experience then I do believe you need to do your research, meaning seeking out NON-FICTION sources.
    I think some writers just buy a big stack of other romance/fiction on the same subject and then try to write from there and who's to say which of those writers did their homework. I'm not saying that's not a market savvy thing to do, just that it shouldn't be all you do.

    On another point as an historical writer I feel a lot of pressure to set things in England. I am I huge Anglophile but I’ve never quite gotten there. Anytime I try to set a story there it’ stalls because I am not comfortable with my lack of knowledge to be able have a livid and believable setting. Has this hurt me? Oh you bet. But I'm committed to trying to be an advocate for non England/Scotland/western historicals.

  60. Married to one of those
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 13:42:46

    My pet peeve . . . my new one is women writing about uncircumcised men when they've clearly never encountered one. HINT: The foreskin doesn't peel back from an engorged penis like the plastic wrap on an English cucumber. I have serious trouble with some of the historical erotic romance out there because the authors just don't grasp Anatomy 101.

    Wait I’m married to one of those. And I think it’s all about perception. I have 20 years experience and I can see what someone means describing it that way. No it doesn’t come off or have a split in it but I can totally see what they mean. But I do agree that people should at least ask someone about it if they have never seen one. We’ve actually had someone ask to see it once because she never had.

  61. Amanda
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:01:51

    Amanda, I'm an academic, so I understand the RA concept reasonably well. But even RA's don't (or shouldn't) be doing a scholar's *research* per se. Not that I'm suggesting James's RA is doing her research. I'm just startled, that's all. REALLY startled. Okay, and unsettled, too.

    Okay, I’m home sick today and my brain hurts so I may not be making myself clear. All I’m saying is that her acknowledgment of the RA doesn’t imply that James, herself, doesn’t do her own research. It implies to me that she has an assistant who helps her with her research, which technically is what everybody who has ever asked a reference question would have to say. James just asks the same person every time. And thanks her in the acknowledgement, which is to me a way of acknowledging that she didn’t do all the work herself, or get to THE END alone. I’m reading a Karen Rose book right now and she thanks three pages of people for their help on this book. And lots of the thanks seem to be for research help.

    Off to rest my head.

  62. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:15:49

    Most academics (like Eloisa James) have research assistants who run to the library and pick up books and articles for them or look things up. It doesn't mean she doesn't do her own research. Or, it means that research doesn't mean working in a solitary state poring over old tomes. And how different is is for an author to ask a research question on an email loop like The Beaumonde, than to ask an assistant or a librarian to help her find something? I don't really think there's much difference at all. But I'm a librarian so I think all research is collaborative. Almost ALL authors of scholarly books thank their research assistants-and if they don't they should.

    I was my godmother’s research assistant for awhile (yeah, she's a historical fiction author too). All this meant was that she'd say: I need a list of newspaper articles and headlines about blahblahblah from Dec 1890 . . . and I'd go find ‘em. She still had to read ‘em and decide how to incorporate them into her book.

  63. Jane
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:17:08

    @Kalen Hughes: Didn’t James suggest that her original errors in the pleasure series were the result of a RA?

  64. Nora Roberts
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:18:20

    ~In my personal experience romance writers fall into two categories. Those that write romance from a place of personal experience and those that write from a place of personal longing ~

    I honestly don’t feel I fall into either of those categories. I write from my chair, and about characters who have certain experiences and longings. I’m not writing from my experiences or toward my longings, but from and to theirs. When I write Mystery, it’s not because I have personal experiences with solving crime, or any longing to do so.

    I often feel people put too much ‘other’ into writers of Romance than they do with writers of any other genre. Because we write about love and an emotional journey, it seems to strike some as a personal statement or need, rather than the work.

  65. Amanda
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:19:59

    Thanks, Kalen! That’s exactly what I meant.

  66. Jessa Slade
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:20:42

    I like the idea of ‘write what you know’ when what you know is YOUR story, in YOUR head, so of course you know it. Otherwise, whatever with WWYK.

    I guess this is ultimately a diamond vs cubic zirconium moment. If it sparkles enough, does it really matter if it’s “real”?

  67. Jane
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:24:07

    @Jessa Slade: If you take the cz/diamond analogy farther, though, you could say that some authors (say male authors writing a female POV) can provide the same superficial emotional overtones, but can’t get the depth and hue of a female author.

  68. Noelle
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:37:04

    @Ms. Roberts.

    I think there were a few authors in particular that I was thinking of when I made that statement. And maybe I wasn’t looking at a big enough picture. I apologize.

    And I think that when you have a talent like yours you can write from an outside place that lets the characters’ emotions and needs guide the work but I have read lesser works that clearly felt like the writer’s personal longing or questioning.

  69. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:39:36

    @Kalen Hughes: Didn't James suggest that her original errors in the pleasure series were the result of a RA?

    I've never heard her blame her RA. My understanding from hearing her speak of the experience, is that she honestly didn’t think as a first time romance author that the historical stuff was all that important (and Regency England wasn't her specialty, she's a Shakespearian scholar). When she got crucified by readers, she BEGGED her publisher to let her go back and fix the book for the mass-market edition.

  70. Ann Somerville
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:40:25

    I believe, that all that is required to be taken seriously within the m/m fiction circles is to be a good author.

    Agreed. Which begs the question as to why so many in the genre decide to use male pen names, and in a few cases, concoct an elaborate persona as a gay man. I don’t know or care if Lanyon has done this, but there are others who have. They seem to believe what I stated, that women can’t write gay lit, forgetting that’s not what they’re attempting to do.

    Teddy, I don’t want to pry into Lanyon’s private life. I have no interest in it. All I’m saying is that his gay sensibility, compared to other gay writers, is nonexistent. All you mention about the non-feminised heros, the non-OK homo world building, the non-centralism of the gay existence etc, I’ve read in other, female authors. A lot depends on how sound the author is as a writer, and also how knowledgeable they are about gay politics and gay men.

    Let me give you an example of what I mean. Women writers in m/m focus on certain physical attributes appealing to women – hair, eyes, hands, the face. Gay men will focus on physique, the butt, the cock, different areas – by that, I mean they draw attention to what a gay *man* will find appealing, or pay notice to. Lanyon does the former. His sex scenes, while well written, follow the tropes of female writers, not gay writers. This is why I say I believe he’s either female, or imitating female writing. It could easily be the latter since his work has been successful for its appeal to women. But this different focus, the different approach, is what I mean about the different sensibility.

    I do beg your forgiveness for causing offence. I didn’t intend to, and if I have out of ignorance, I’m very sorry. I’m only expressing out loud discussions I’ve had with gay friends about Lanyon and other writers in this genre. I’m absolutely not saying a gay man can’t write in a way which appeals to women, because the success of gay male writers with women readers contradicts that firmly.

    I write, promote and publish within this circle and an aware of what is needed to succeed. Good authors writing great stories with memorable characters-just like any other genre. And if we're talking M/M erotic romance -’ kick-ass, hot sex scenes help. In my humble opinion.

    Ironic then that so much m/m erotica is downright laughable and not erotic at all.

    Book sales speak to the facts. Skilled female authors writing M/M works just find for a lot of gay men.

    And a lot of gay men find m/m dull, sentimental and not speaking to their experiences too. Here in Queensland (which is the land of free-ranging homophobia) Borders is the only major chain of bookstores with a gay fiction section. In the men’s section, there are no female authors at all. I presume Borders is stocking what they think will sell, or they’ve been requested to stock – and they don’t think women writers appeal to gay men.

  71. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:44:13

    Okay, here’s a comment from James from a Risky Regencies 2006 interview (emphasis mine):

    5. How do you do your research?

    Well, a great deal of it comes to me through my scholarship in the early modern period. For example, Desperate Duchesses features a series of chess games – the idea for that came through scholarship that’s being done on the chess game in Shakespeare’s Tempest. Once I have a vague idea of the areas I’d like to know more about (say, chess in the Georgian period), I ask my research assistant to start scaring up some material for me. One of the consequences of being a full-time professor and director of the graduate program in English is that I don’t have time for much research myself; instead I hire brilliant people to find out interesting facts for me.

  72. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:48:59

    My understanding from hearing her speak of the experience, is that she honestly didn't think as a first time romance author that the historical stuff was all that important (and Regency England wasn't her specialty, she's a Shakespearian scholar).

    You know, I just don’t get this attitude, *especially* from a scholar. I am way too much of a control freak to let someone else determine my research direction in the first place (and you learn so much about your own ideas when you do your own research), but I hate the idea that someone who studies history for a living might think of the history in historical Romance as not much more than a collection of “interesting facts.” That someone else looks up.

  73. Ann Somerville
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 14:50:39

    The foreskin doesn't peel back from an engorged penis like the plastic wrap on an English cucumber.

    I have this insane urge to wake my husband up and remind myself exactly what it does look like :)

    @Jayne:
    Violence, especially rape, towards male characters is incredibly common in fanfiction, actually. I’ve, cough, written fan and original fiction like it myself, though I’m kinda done with that now. It doesn’t squick me half as much as the idea of a man writing violence against women, because the chances of a man doing that to a female is a lot higher than a woman doing it to a man. The reason for it is catharsis, I guess, as well as a feeble excuse for h/c. Why men write this stuff, I don’t know, but if all a male author’s strong female characters end up pummeled into the grown, I would say he has Issues.

  74. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 15:11:47

    she honestly didn't think as a first time romance author that the historical stuff was all that important

    If that’s indeed what she said, then that’s probably the most insulting attitude I’ve seen by an author towards her readers in a while. [And it shows that editors are not doing their jobs any longer.]

    She didn’t think it was important? Hello? She’s a literature PhD? She thinks details aren’t important? I wonder if she’s as sloppy in her own field. Admittedly she not a history scholar but a English lit one, but still!

    Shiloh, here’s one of the acknowledgments:

    “With profound thanks to my research assistant, Franzeca Drouin, who labored far beyond the call of duty on this book. … Further thanks to the large circle of researchers whom she consulted about various issues…”

    I was the one speculating that she’s covering her ass by ‘thanking’ her RA in the acknowledgments in case something else is as egregiously off as it was in her first book. I don’t know that she blamed her RA for the mistakes in that first book, but the cynical side of me could not help but notice that the RA would make a nice fall-gal if some other serious error popped up.

    I have a handful of her books; fortunately all used, because after what Robin posted above, hell will freeze over before I give her a penny. She’s so important she doesn’t have time to worry about the quality of her books? Ehm, yeah, well, whatever! I’ll take my historical romance from people who can be bothered!

    I was already squicked out by the whininess of her author bio. I’m sure it’s supposed to be funny, but it shows me a person who takes herself way too seriously and it ties in nicely with the ‘I don’t have time to do my own research’.

    “Author of twelve award-winning romances, ELOISA JAMES is a professor of English literature who lives with her family in New Jersey. All her books must have been written in her sleep, because her days are taken up by caring for two children with advanced degrees in whining, a demanding guinea pig, a smelly frog, and a tumbledown house. Letters from readers provide a great escape!”

    Now I’m starting to wonder if it isn’t the RA who’s really writing the books, because it seems the professor is just too busy, between her career and her whiny kids.

  75. RfP
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 15:18:45

    I don't have time for much research myself; instead I hire brilliant people to find out interesting facts for me.

    Some supervisors call the literary legwork (hitting the library) “research”. Some call lab work or conducting interviews “research”. Some think “research” is the creative process of formulating ideas. Some use the word “research” to mean “everything done to support research and not for course credit”.

    I just don't get this attitude, *especially* from a scholar.

    I don’t think it’s that unusual. A scholar can be a demon for detail in her field, but dismissive of the complexities of other fields. Usually out of ignorance. “Being a scholar” isn’t a magical pass out of making assumptions or presuming too much.

    This kind of attitude happens all the time when people try to cross disciplinary boundaries: they write papers full of nuance and detail and thoughtful exposition in their core area, accompanied by a shallow gloss on the other field. Usually specialists in the second field go to town on the author, and often she adapts accordingly.

  76. Nora Roberts
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 15:19:49

    ~I apologize.~

    Oh, please don’t apologize! I might disagree with your opinion on this, but that doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to the opinion.

  77. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 15:33:45

    I don't think it's that unusual. A scholar can be a demon for detail in her field, but dismissive of the complexities of other fields. Usually out of ignorance. “Being a scholar” isn't a magical pass out of making assumptions or presuming too much.

    But to me, this *is* her field, even though the historical period is different. Because I share the field (literary studies), it’s even harder for me to understand, which probably makes me more critical than others might be.

  78. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 15:37:23

    she honestly didn't think as a first time romance author that the historical stuff was all that important

    If that's indeed what she said, then that's probably the most insulting attitude I've seen by an author towards her readers in a while. [And it shows that editors are not doing their jobs any longer.]

    She didn't think it was important? Hello? She's a literature PhD? She thinks details aren't important? I wonder if she's as sloppy in her own field. Admittedly she not a history scholar but a English lit one, but still!

    To be honest, I put the blame more on her agent and editor. She was new (we're talking about her first book), they should have known better. She got ripped a new one and learned a lesson. I don’t think she was being insulting. I think she JUST DIDN’T KNOW (clearly she was new to the genre as well, or she’d have known already). She wrote a romance on a lark and it got published. I think she's earned a little forgiveness for surviving a trial by fire that I don't think most of us could have withstood.

    To this day I see some amazing errors in published books. Stuff that leaves me truly speechless (and not just historical errors, stuff as basic as the fact that “colt”, “filly”, and “foal” are not interchangeable words). Stuff that writers of historical fiction (and editors and agents of same) really should know. But since those books sell like DAMN WOW WIZBANG, clearly Eloisa was mostly correct. This stuff really DOESN'T matter to the vast majority of readers. If it did, I could name you a double handful of bestselling authors who shouldn't have careers.

  79. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 15:54:28

    This stuff really DOESN'T matter to the vast majority of readers.

    I have come to the conclusion that if an author believes she doesn’t have to do the research because it doesn’t matter to readers, nothing is going to change her mind. What I would prefer, of course, is that it mattered *to authors* simply out of a sense of pride in one’s work (and yeah, I’m, probably going to hold people who make their living in knowledge-centered fields to a higher standard, fair or not). I know we *all* make errors, and perfection is not achievable nor perhaps even desirable. But it does disappoint me to see authors justifying superficial researching on the basis of reader knowledge or tolerance. That may not be a realistic view, but it’s one to which I am deeply attached and not likely to shake off, either.

  80. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 15:58:31

    Kalen,

    we have a saying in German that goes something like this:

    ‘Not knowing that you are breaking the law, does not protect you from the proper punishment.’

    If I think about the many fabulous writers who cannot get published at all/any longer/or had a heck of a time finding a new publisher for their well researched historical romance (Gellis, anyone?), I get hives to think that this woman who cannot be bothered not only found an editor but is ‘award-winning’ and keeps being published.

    If you read agent/editor blogs you see how many folks are turned down, and how these agents and editors stress how important it is to do things right, to do your research, to deliver an error-free product and then we get somebody published who’s too busy with her career and her family to be bothered?

    Sorry, I don’t mean to whale on you, Kalen, but there’s nothing anybody can say that excuses her attitude in this reader’s mind. Nothing! The good news is, I didn’t think her stuff was that great to start with so I’m not losing much by giving her a pass.

    Rofl, on the foreskin. :) I had no clue that most guys in this country are circumcised until I moved here at the ripe old age of 27. I’d say a fully erect penis doesn’t look all that different on an uncircumcised male vs. a circumcised one. Now, when it’s not erect, the differences are rather obvious. :) There are other differences, for example it took me a while to figure out why lubrication was so prominently mentioned in erotic romance in connection with hand jobs…

    I’ll readily admit to my total ignorance on the location of the hymen. Where exactly is it located? I just know I had one and then I didn’t and when it went the situation came with all the usually described circumstances of bodily fluids and such. Guess that’s another good reason for saying that just because you’ve lived through it doesn’t qualify you to write about it. :)

  81. RfP
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:12:05

    But to me, this *is* her field, even though the historical period is different. Because I share the field (literary studies), it's even harder for me to understand, which probably makes me more critical than others might be.

    it does disappoint me to see authors justifying superficial researching on the basis of reader knowledge or tolerance.

    But is that what happened here? From what others posted above, it’s quite possible but perhaps not fully supported. In both your statements above, it’s possible you’re ascribing motivations that she didn’t share. You see scholarship and authorship as falling within the same field, but perhaps she doesn’t–or didn’t at the time.

    To clarify…. Perhaps she did write cynically to meet minimal reader expectations. OTOH, perhaps she thought it “didn’t matter” because she thought of fiction as entirely fiction, and the setting as not necessarily Representing History but a piquant backdrop to a story. On that basis, I can imagine a scholar writing a romance and feeling pleased at getting to use pieces of her research without getting too serious about deep authenticity. I’ve seen authors say things along those lines–that it was fun getting to use their special expertise in [Ginsu knives, herb gardening, whatever], but without getting madly into the world of knifery or herbery.

    Perhaps I should add: I don’t read her books, so no personal interest in defending her. However, I’m fairly accepting of a variety of attitudes toward history in fiction.

  82. theo
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:13:12

    We've actually had someone ask to see it once because she never had.

    Totally OT here…

    Okay, I’m sorry, I realize curiosity killed the cat as the old saying goes, but I gotta ask:

    Did you? Show her?

  83. kirsten saell
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:18:28

    Curiosity not only killed the cat but grabbed it by the tail and hurled it off a cliff.

    That said, yeah–did you?

  84. Paul Bens
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:25:55

    Hmmm…my long, rambling comment on the subject seems to have vanished into the netherworld. Perhaps I’ll try to recreate it later.

  85. Paul Bens
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:29:47

    Thank goodness for internet cache…

    For me “write what you know,” I think has always meant something different than how most “teachers” mean it when they pound it into their student’s heads. For me it has always been about what you know to be the truth of people and how they would react in a given situation, the emotional realism. For me that is what leads to good writing. Sure, there are the specifics you have to know about when writing a place or a time you’ve never experienced. If you are going to write gay regency, you damn well better know the historical period and how gay men and women would have acted and been reacted to in that time period. If you don’t you’re going to get grilled for it..and probably deservedly so.

    I think many people take the “write what you know” too literally. If you aren’t “A” you can’t write about “A.” Hell, I’ve written about suicide, murder, incest, being a straight woman, being a foot fetishist in the extreme, being raped, being a musician and–at least to my knowledge–I am none of those things. As a writer, I hope, though, I’ve hit the emotional truth of all those people, the honest human reaction one would have in those circumstances.

    Can people write what they don’t know? Yes. Should they? Hell yes, else we’d have no one writing the great sci-fi or fantasy stuff, and, yes, contemporary stuff that’s out there.

    As to the is he or isn’t he a gay male question in m/m romance–or any other–arena. Can non-gay male writers write convincing gay male characters? Absolutely, as long as the truth is in there. Poppy Brite (who was a horror writer who moved into foodie lit) has written some of the best gay male characters I’ve ever read and while she has been forthright about her life-long gender dysphoria, she does not pretend to be a gay male. In the male/male romance arena out of all the material I’ve read (and by no means have I read the totality of what’s out there), I’ve discovered only a handful of non-gay males who write the breadth of the gay male perspective well and those are the writers I return to. When I read m/m romance, I can almost immediately tell when a gender neutral pen name belongs to a woman. There are tell-tale signs. Does it matter to me if the story is well told and the characters rich and full. Nope.

    What bothers me most about the m/m romance/erotica area is that 85% of the stuff I’ve read is absolute crap from a story-telling and character side of things whether the writer is female (venturing to say 90% of the time) or male. If I ready one more mooney innocent bottom or one more macho top who have only an interest in sticking their parts into one another, I think I will vomit. If I read one more piece where the author has their characters say “I am the alpha in this relationship,” I think I’ll be sick. I just read a 55 page novella by someone who I’m guessing is quite popular (given what I’ve since discovered on the web). Out of those 55 pages, 40 were devoted to long, laughable sex. The plot was an after thought. The characters were non-existent. Is this because the writers don’t know about what they are writing. In some respects, 100%. But most of the time it is shared equally with the fact that these writers don’t know how to write.

    As a gay man, I cringe a lot of the time when I read m/m romance/erotica. Granted, the genre generally demands more sex than plot, but it does not demand characters which a little more than stereotypes that we’ve been fighting for years. Yet, that is what alot of it becomes even though the writers themselves are pro-gay people.

    And I’ve wandered so far off the point…never comment when you’re on muscle relaxers.

    As far as going to excessive pretending to be something you’re not in order to increase your sales. I simply have a problem with that from an honesty level. In most businesses that’s fraud (and, no, I am not talking about creating a pseudonym and writing under that…writing under a pseud is vastly different that going to elaborate length to create an entire persona.) The masters behind JT LeRoy did it just to get published and increase their sales and I personally know many authors who have written books and actually lived the life “JT” pretended to who cannot get published because of it. Because the publishers got duped in the whole LeRoy mess and refused to pick up anything remotely similar (even stuff that is clearly fiction!). Now, that is an extreme case, but it does have repercussions.

    The other thing that bothers me about authors who create elaborate ruses comes more from the people who react to any discussion of the subject. It does matter to people, but when it is brought up, some people over react with “how dare you” and “by golly, you’re talking outta you ass.” They take it as a personal affront to themselves as readers and lovers of that author. They take it that any discussion of the question is sacrilege or a forbidden topic. It isn’t if it is a question readers have. And throwing in equations to homophobia is the ultimate in non-sequitur and frankly tends to come off as a diversionary tactic that doesn’t behoove the author. Questioning an author’s persona does not take away from any reader’s enjoyment of that writer’s work. It doesn’t take away from the writer’s talent. And, honestly, what bothers me a lot when some fans over react to the questioning of an author’s persona is that it intones that the absoulte worst thing you can be is a woman writer who convincingly writes gay male characters. It isn’t. And I’m not sure why some need to react as if it were.

    Some of my favorite female writers write gay characters like I wish I could. And if some female writers feel compelled to create an elaborate gay male persona, that is up to them. But that does not mean that we do not have the write to question it if we as readers sense something different than that presentation.

    OK…I’m on muscle relaxers and I have gone so far off point it isn’t funny.

  86. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:37:30

    perhaps she thought it “didn't matter” because she thought of fiction as entirely fiction, and the setting as not necessarily Representing History but a piquant backdrop to a story. On that basis, I can imagine a scholar writing a romance and feeling pleased at getting to use pieces of her research without getting too serious about deep authenticity.

    This is my take on what happened, and is what many authors will tell you when you ask them about some historical impossibility in their story.

    I have come to the conclusion that if an author believes she doesn't have to do the research because it doesn't matter to readers, nothing is going to change her mind. What I would prefer, of course, is that it mattered *to authors* simply out of a sense of pride in one's work

    Me too. As a reader this stuff matters tremendously to me, so when I started writing my own books, that history-wonkishness came with me (and I still make errors *sigh*).

  87. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:38:09

    But is that what happened here?

    I don’t know. I’ve tried to be careful to use the comments I’ve seen from James and others in this thread to craft general responses about authors who . . .

    You see scholarship and authorship as falling within the same field, but perhaps she doesn't-or didn't at the time.

    If that’s the case, then why market yourself based on your academic qualifications? This goes back to that whole “authorizing” issue, IMO. I’m going to be hard to convince that the academic angle doesn’t make readers feel more confident in the historical world building of a HR author.

  88. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:46:13

    @Paul Bens: I don’t think your comment was off-topic at all; in fact, I think you’re getting at the relationship between *authenticity* and *authorship* in all of its tortured iterations.

    First there is the “write what you know” admonition, which, as you point out, can range from a sense of emotional authenticity to one of actual personal experience.

    Then there is the issue of how a work is authorized as authentic, and that’s where we get into these questions of authorial persona.

    Despite the drugs, your points were very clear, IMO, and very relevant, too.

  89. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:51:44

    GrowlyCub, you're slaying me, LOL!

    we have a saying in German that goes something like this:
    ‘Not knowing that you are breaking the law, does not protect you from the proper punishment.'

    We have that here too (Ignorance of the law is no excuse).

    Sorry, I don't mean to whale on you, Kalen, but there's nothing anybody can say that excuses her attitude in this reader's mind. Nothing! The good news is, I didn't think her stuff was that great to start with so I'm not losing much by giving her a pass.

    No worries. I totally *get* what you're saying, and as a reader, I'm marching right along with you. As a writer though, I really try not to beat up my peers (at least not when they've been called out by name, it's poor form).

    Rofl, on the foreskin. :) I had no clue that most guys in this country are circumcised until I moved here at the ripe old age of 27 . . . it took me a while to figure out why lubrication was so prominently mentioned in erotic romance in connection with hand jobs…

    *snort* I'm right there with you, hippie commune child that I am. First time I encountered a guy who was circumcised I ruined it all by stopping to ask what was wrong with him. Not what a guy wants to hear, LOL!

    I'll readily admit to my total ignorance on the location of the hymen. Where exactly is it located?

    Most novels describe it as being INSIDE the vagina (frequently in deflowering scenes he's already part way in when he realizes she is/was a virgin; this is IMPOSSIBLE). If a woman still has one (most don't by the time they're in their teens) it's literally on the very outside of the body (it's just a bit of web-like leftover skin that didn't finish dividing as the fetus/girl/woman grew).

    You can read the full post and all the crazy comments HERE. I really should do Anatomy 102: The Penis, but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to post that . . .

  90. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:52:56

    It ate my post again! I think it doens’t like naughty words (like P E N I S).

  91. Paul Bens
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:54:13

    Despite the drugs, your points were very clear, IMO, and very relevant, too.

    @Robin: Thanks. I’d hoped it made sense, but the haze was fogging my vision. =-)

  92. Paul Bens
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 16:58:39

    Most novels describe it as being INSIDE the vagina (frequently in deflowering scenes he's already part way in when he realizes she is/was a virgin; this is IMPOSSIBLE). If a woman still has one (most don't by the time they're in their teens) it's literally on the very outside of the body (it's just a bit of web-like leftover skin that didn't finish dividing as the fetus/girl/woman grew).

    @Kalen: This is exactly why I don’t write male/female (or female/female for that matter) sex scenes. I haven’t been down there is 20 some-odd years. I wouldn’t know my way around with a map.

  93. Janice
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 17:02:38

    Eloisa James is not the only writer who uses a research assistant. So do J. R. Ward and Iris Johansen. I'm sure there are others that I'm unaware of. Having an assistant locate sources or find answers to particular questions is a common practice among writers in various fields. James frequently refers to her research reading as part of her preparation for writing her novels. I think it is a gross misrepresentation of her process to suggest that she is indifferent, unethical, or lazy because she makes use of an expert in research to find information she needs.

    In writing her first book, she did what many writers have done. She wrote a book in a genre she had loved as a reader, but she knew little about the industry. She admits in her essay “My First Year as a Published Author” that she had no idea historical accuracy in details such as pajamas and a Hookers Ball mattered to many readers. But when she was made aware of just how much such accuracy did matter, she corrected what she could, learned from the outraged readers, and worked diligently to ensure historical accuracy in her other books. In fact, the desire for historical accuracy motivated the hiring of a research assistant.

    As for an acknowledgement to a hardworking research assistant being a way of avoiding responsibility for errors, I think James's Mea Culpa section on her website shows that she accepts responsibility for errors she makes. She does make them sometimes. If any of you can recommend any perfect books, I'd love to take a look at them.

  94. K. Z. Snow
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 17:05:48

    Yikes, so many intertwined threads here!

    “Write what you know,” as far as I’m concerned, should not mean “lift all your stories from your own life and/or world.” To me that’s indicative of a severely limited imagination. Borrowing or spinning off of little bits and bobs drawn from one’s experience is to be expected — how, after all, can we avoid it? — but if an author is heavily dependent on his or her own life for material, that author is veering from fiction into memoir territory.

    Male versus female writers? Not an issue for me and never has been. It’s the quality of the writing that counts. I do fully agree, however, that male writers who take grisly delight in female objectification, domination, and/or mutilation are odious. I can’t, don’t, won’t read that kind of shit.

    M/M fiction? Love it, love it, love it. That subgenre is absolutely packed with talent. It’s truly humbling for me to write m/m stories. As a reader, I don’t give a rip about the author’s gender. Again, it’s quality that counts. BUT . . . any writer who intentionally engages in gender deception simply for the sake of lending an aura of legitimacy to his or her work will rocket to the top of my shit list. I’d be so freakin’ put off that degree of manipulative dishonesty, I’d rant about it all over the ‘Net. My hand to god, it would be boycott time. I don’t like being played.

  95. theo
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 17:12:04

    @Kalen,

    Absolutely not to say anything offensive here! But having worked in the medical field for a looooooooong time (I’m old! Can’t help it, happens to everyone sooner or later) I can say that assisting with gyn exams, not all hymens are directly on the outside of the vagina. It does depend on the woman’s personal configuration, size of labia, etc. But that’s through my own ‘experience’ in assisting.

    I have no idea where my was. I was date raped and never really had a chance to have a loving ‘deflowering’ of any kind. *sigh*

  96. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 17:18:09

    @Kalen: This is exactly why I don't write male/female (or female/female for that matter) sex scenes. I haven't been down there is 20 some-odd years. I wouldn't know my way around with a map.

    *snort* Paul owes me a new keyboard!

    @ Janice: Did you read the whole thread? Quite a few of us defended James and using a RA.

    For the record, James is one of the few I know who is very upfront about admitting to errors and I applaud her for it! When I started History Hoydens, I used to ask every author I interviewed if they had any mea culpas to confess to . . . only two of them every did. All of the others blew off the question with replies along the lines of Oh, no. I research very carefully and am careful not to make mistakes. I didn't respond by pointing out the errors I'd spotted by casually reading their book (cause that's rude, coming from another author), but in pretty much every case, I so could have (and yes, as I’ve said before, I’ve got errors in my books too!).

  97. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 17:21:17

    Absolutely not to say anything offensive here! But having worked in the medical field for a looooooooong time (I'm old! Can't help it, happens to everyone sooner or later) I can say that assisting with gyn exams, not all hymens are directly on the outside of the vagina. It does depend on the woman's personal configuration, size of labia, etc. But that's through my own ‘experience' in assisting.

    Since it’s formed by the body dividing, and it’s skin, it certainly can’t be an inch or more up inside the magic whoha (which is where many/most romance authors seem to believe it is).

  98. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 17:25:47

    Thanks, Kalen! That was most informative. I had no idea! :)

    And I concur it’s time for a workshop at RWA; it seems highly necessary for both female and male parts. Maybe send a ‘fact-sheet’ to all editors of romance too? :)

    Paul, thanks for your informative post. I’d love to read some m/m romance written by men. Do you have any recommendations?

  99. Married to one of those
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 17:27:17

    Totally OT here…

    Okay, I'm sorry, I realize curiosity killed the cat as the old saying goes, but I gotta ask:

    Did you? Show her?

    LOL it’s such a long and funny story I wish I had the time and patience to type the whole thing and that it wasn’t so OT to the thread. But the Answer is Yes he did. ( I got the play by play after the fact)

    But to make everyone more comfortable and for a for a side by side comparison I suppose her husband dropped his pants too. According to him he moved the skin up and down a couple of times and then everyone put their stuff away and vowed to tell no one else but me. Her only comment was about how big his jewels were not the extra bit of skin. I think the word “bull” was used in comparison.

    The next morning she and her family were leaving for a beach trip together and when he went back over the next morning to pick up a tool (ha ha) he’d left, her sister and two of her cousins all had something to say about it. Oh and she told a big group of our childhood friends that had all gathered at a bar after a funeral a couple of weeks later.

    What are you going to do, it’s the south we’re all a bit curious and crazy.

  100. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 17:28:28

    Kalen: I agree with you about the virtue of authors being willing to admit their mistakes.

    Also, I think Romance authors re-positioned the hymen as a way to create all those scenes of “almost” intercourse — the ‘whoops I did it again’ defense of partial penetration:

    “Oh, please, Brick, take me, take me!”

    “No, no, my fragile flower petal, your chastity and purity must be preserved, despite this little scene, and now that I have proved my virility and nobility, in a few chapters we will be able to do this properly!”

  101. Lori Borrill
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 17:35:02

    I don’t think an author living what they write automatically brings authenticity to their work. After all, authenticity is in the eye of the reader.

    In my short experience as a writer, one of the things I’ve found interesting is what readers deem plausible in terms of plots or experiences. Sometimes, what a reader has cited as implausible did indeed come from my imagination and might have been a stretch for the sake of story. But other times, it came straight from my real life as I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I either lived it, or was given the account from someone else who had lived it. Yet, if a reader believes differently, the immediate assumption is that the plot must be implausible or the writer didn’t research.

    I think the question to analyze isn’t only an author’s ability to write believably, but the reader’s assumptions of what reality is. The more I write, the more I learn that often readers expect a story that has more logic in it than actually exists in the real world. Characters are expected to act based on understandable motivations, or follow logical rules, when sometimes, normal people do things for no reason at all and smart people do stupid things.

    That is a part of the craft of writing I wrangle with the most. Not writing authentically, but shaping reality in such a way that a) I have a plot, and b) that readers will empathize with my characters and be entertained by them. It’s not as simple as writing what you know or being able to back up your writing with signed statements from people who will attest that what you’ve written is factually based. It’s part of the craft that is often difficult, particularly when an author chooses to take risks or stretch outside his/her comfort zone.

    I remember reading a review of one of my books where the reviewer mentioned my heroine acting too over-the-top in one particular scene. Then the reviewer went on to say that she reconsidered her initial reaction to that after remembering acting that way herself back in the days when she was young and in love. I very much appreciated that! But my point is, I don’t believe it’s straight authenticity readers want. They want that authenticity siphoned through a filter of rationality that coincides with their own personal beliefs about how things work.

  102. Anthea Lawson
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 17:42:37

    A good author, as many have pointed out above, can imagine in such detail that the experience feels authentic to the reader. It’s in the ability to dream that vivid dream, whether it be M/M sex, a botanical expedition to Tunisia in 1847, or flying a space-ship–and then having the craft to communicate that dream through words on a page.

    On gender: My husband and I co-author Victorian-set romance and I know our books are stronger for having some of that ‘guy’ input. Especially in the scenes written from the hero’s POV. On the other hand, we both contribute equally, so he’s probably written as much of the heroine as I have the hero. The one thing he leaves almost entirely in my court is the love scenes… And he is a little uncomfortable about the fact that we’re now published in romance, with a PINK cover showing a tasteful but expansive amount of nudity. I’m just lucky to have a guy with enough sense of himself that he can go into Romancelandia with me and escape (basically) unscathed. :)

    Want to know more about being a husband-wife writing team? Visit our website (I think you can click through Anthea Lawson above). Oh, and our pen name is both of our first names together. Awww

    -Anthea

  103. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 17:45:12

    <

    And I concur it's time for a workshop at RWA; it seems highly necessary for both female and male parts. Maybe send a ‘fact-sheet' to all editors of romance too? :)

    I’m WAY too afraid to teach that. You should have seen the flutter in the dove cot when I explained autoerotic asphyxiation in my historical underwear workshop, LOL! Besides, I think this falls under the “I know that stuff, I don't need a workshop about it” rule.

    Also, I think Romance authors re-positioned the hymen as a way to create all those scenes of “almost” intercourse -’ the ‘whoops I did it again' defense of partial penetration:

    You're giving them way more credit than I'm willing to do. I think someone who didn't know, or couldn't remember, repositioned it in a way that made sense to them and it simply took on a life of its own. Heck, lots of writers I know were baffled when I explained it on my blog, and these are modern, educated, sexually aware women! Clearly their mothers didn't buy them a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves for their tenth birthday.

  104. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 17:49:36

    Janice,

    I’m still waiting for that perfect book. :) I applaud James for her willingness to admit her errors, but I nevertheless do not like the fact that she was showing disrespect to her readers by assuming details didn’t matter. She would not have done the same in her career field in the works she expected her fellow scholars to read and I just really have an issue with a writer who does have other people do his/her legwork.

    I admit I’m curious about what kind of research Ward’s RA is doing. :)

    In all that excitement, my main point kind of got lost, as it relates to
    author authority with regard to authenticity in their writing.

    I, as a reader, feel it’s not necessary that a writer have experience in all that they write about, but I am more critical when an author who is an expert in the field s/he writes about makes egregious mistakes. When these errors happen because the author thinks his/her audience is too dumb to notice, or that the readers do not care, I, as reader, do not buy their books, because I feel disrespected.

    I have a long list of authors whose books I loved who went on the never-to-be-bought-again list when I felt their behavior or utterances displayed disrespect or condescension towards their readers. And James is just the newest addition to that list.

  105. theo
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 17:52:08

    @Kalen,
    Agreed! Can be a bit more than an inch actually, but you’re right. I didn’t mean to question you. Just…when you work with a gyn, you get to see lots of…things. :-P

    @Married to one of those: Hysterical! Reminded me of all the little boys lined up outside in the snow, trying to write their names. And thank you for answering. You didn’t have to :)

    Anyway, I think that to WWYK for me would only be rape scenes because of my personal experience and since I personally feel those have no place in romance (and even if it’s the antagonist that does it, I still question the validity of it) so for me, it’s a matter of writing what I *wish* I’d had, not what I got.

    And boy, do I have a headache today so if you can make sense of that, I have a bridge…

  106. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 18:02:02

    Anthea,

    very interesting. So, what was his reason for not wanting to collaborate in writing the love scenes? And did he give input/edit/suggest changes after you wrote them to make them more appealing/authentic to male sensibilities?

    I find husband/wife writing teams really intriguing and always want to hear how they divide the work. I attended a fascinating panel on this topic at Denvention (World SF Con) in August with several couples who all had different approaches.

  107. WTF? Review The Writing Not The Writer | The Naughty Bits
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 18:06:16

    [...] off this is in reference to this rather strange discussion brought up over at Dear Author by Jane. Who goes on about having a bias against reading books [...]

  108. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 18:07:12

    Can be a bit more than an inch actually, but you're right. I didn't mean to question you. Just…when you work with a gyn, you get to see lots of…things. :-P

    Now I’m curious . . . Maybe we're not thinking of “inside” and “external” the same way. I’ve actually researched this quite a bit, as have friends in the medical fields, and what you’re saying seems biologically impossible to me. For the hymen to be up INSIDE the vagina, there would have to be some kind of major physical abnormality. But the location IS inside the folds of the labia. Are we saying the same thing and confusing each other?

    Not that Wikipedia is a perfect resource, but their page on the topic of hymens seems to cover it pretty thoroughly IMO. Grey's Anatomy certainly does, and Grey's makes the location pretty clear.

    From Wikipedia:
    During the early stages of fetal development there is no opening into the vagina at all. The thin layer of tissue that covers the vagina at this time usually divides to a certain extent prior to birth, forming the hymen. That layer was the Müllerian eminence before, and thus, the hymen is a remnant of that structure.

  109. Anthea Lawson
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 18:11:50

    @ GrowlyCub

    He feels strongly that since the love scenes are at the core of Romance, those scenes need to be filtered through a female perspective. Men don’t experience sex the same way–and that may be a generalization, but it’s also a biological truth. Plus, he’s shy and I’m not. LOL!

    After they’re written, he gets to put on the editorial hat. But I have to say, either I am a total ACE at writing hot and emotional sex, or he holds back a little. Ok, probably some of both. ;) And since our target readership is generally not men, we don’t try to slant the writing toward male sensibilities.

    Great questions! Drop me a line if you’d like to hear more about our writing process. :) anthea(at)anthealawson(dot)com

    And on hymens… since I never had that ‘de-flowering’ experience, blood, bursting, what-have-you, the heroines I write don’t either. Regardless that it’s de-rigeur in Historicals. As if Maidenheads were as prevalent and required as corsets and sidesaddles… In this case I write what I know.

    -Anthea

  110. Elyssa
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 18:27:24

    GrowlyCub, I think it’s a big leap to say James is “showing disrespect to her readers by assuming details didn't matter.” It seems you’re overstretching here to assume it’s “disrespect” when honestly, she wrote her first book in a genre she’s always loved and read. James thought people would enjoy and read it; obviously, her agent and publisher agreed. But the readers noticed inaccuracies, and she corrected the mistakes she could. Now, I don’t know if you’ve read anything of hers recently (and from your comments, it seems like she’s not your cup of tea and your opinion won’t be changed regardless), but there are lots of details in her books regarding Regency or Georgian times. Sure, there are mistakes (and nothing I would have picked up without her mea culpas) but no book is perfect. I think it’s unfair to make such judgments about an author when you know nothing about him or her. But that’s just my two cents.

  111. theo
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 18:37:27

    @Kalen,

    Perhaps we are. I grabbed my copy of Grey’s which has a hand-drawn (of course) picture and an explanation.

    You have the labia majora and labia minora and it’s behind that labia minora where the opening to the vagina is and consequently, the hymen. Per Grey’s:

    The hymen varies much in shape. Its commonest form is that of a ring, generally broadest posteriorly; sometimes it is represented by a semilunar fold, with is concave margin turned toward the pubes. A complete septum stretched across the lower part of the vaginal orifice is called “imperforate hymen.” Occasionally, it is cribriform, or its free margin forms a membranous fringe, or it may be entirely absent. It may persist after copulation, so that it cannot be considered as a test of virginity. After parturition the small rounded elevations known as the carunculae myrtiformes are found as the remains of the hymen.

    Unfortunately, in the drawing, it shows a parturitioned vagina. However, like I said, after seeing several working with the gyn, all I can say is, I’ve seen them cover almost the entire area, including enclosing the labia minora, to being buried quite far inside, causing unfortunate menstrual problems.

    That’s all I can go by.

    And now, back to the regularly scheduled discussion…

    Sorry, Jane> *sheepishgrin*

  112. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 18:40:17

    @theo: Yep, we’re saying the same thing, just round-about and in circles, LOL!

  113. kirsten saell
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 18:43:25

    Honestly, there are all sorts of inaccuracies that authors don’t get called on, like how during many historical periods the H/h would quite possibly have had lice, and the h’s hair might go weeks or even months between washings. Oh, and you almostnever see a hero admiring the thickness and lustre of her armpit hair, either, do you?

    *one exception to this hygenification of history has been Diana Gabaldon, who has her men hawking loogies into the fireplace and her hero lamenting the waxing of his lady’s pits and legs. Ickily refreshing…

  114. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 18:46:13

    Elyssa,

    I have quoted her own bio and acknowledgments and other posters in this thread have posted relevant quotes on her ‘research process’ namely letting somebody else do the work because she’s too busy being an academic and mom. I don’t need to know her personally or have talked to her to take her comments on her writing process and form an opinion about whether or not I like what an author does.

    Any author who would write a book just because they feel like it and not worry about whether their readers will be upset about the writer not giving it their all, because ‘most readers don’t care’ is not deserving of my book dollars. It’s a hot topic button for me, obviously, and I’m sure many other people disagree.

    I have read the last 3 she wrote and yes, there’s a lot of period detail, but the detail and even the accuracy or lack thereof are not the point I’m making here.

    It’s the fact that I have the impression that the author does not care enough about her writing and with it her readers to do the actual preparatory work that’s necessary to produce a historically sound romance. That’s what I’m objecting to and that’s what I consider disrespect.

  115. theo
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 18:47:26

    @Kalen…I’m really good at circles! LOL

    On an aside: did you (general ‘you’ not you personally) know that they are now performing plastic surgery to replace the hymen for those men who want a virginal experience?

    @Kirsten, Ickily refreshing is the perfect description. But then, maybe that’s why she has fans that wait two years for another book. She’s more ‘realistic’ in much of her portrayal than most.

  116. kirsten saell
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 18:56:26

    On an aside: did you (general ‘you' not you personally) know that they are now performing plastic surgery to replace the hymen for those men who want a virginal experience?

    Not just for men, but for women who think a little surgery can make them virgins again. WTF? Almost as messed up as having plastic surgery to make your vulva prettier…

  117. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 19:00:27

    they are now performing plastic surgery to replace the hymen

    This is one of those really scary cultural developments and I cannot see any good coming out of it for future generations of women. What does it say about the self-respect of women who count on a piece of reattached/reconstructed skin to make them feel like worthwhile beings filtered through the eyes of men…

  118. Elyssa
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 19:02:53

    GrowlyCub, her bio is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. But we’re at cross purposes here, I see an author who respects and loves her readers, as is exemplified on her Bulletin Board and you see someone who is disrespectful.

  119. theo
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 19:09:16

    @kirsten and GC; Yup, that’s one of those s*** for brains things people with waaaay too much time and money decide to do. And yes, the cosmetic plastic surgery there is…I don’t know, but it makes me think they’re going to hand their partner a flashlight every time so it can be admired. Ugh!

    Sorry! I keep dragging this off-track and I don’t mean to.

    It’s the migraine drugs. Honest.

  120. Elyssa
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 19:16:57

    Sorry, I couldn’t leave these topics untouched:

    I don't need to know her personally or have talked to her to take her comments on her writing process and form an opinion about whether or not I like what an author does.

    No, you don’t have to know her personally to form an opinion. But when you make ignorant comments, then you’re not the one doing your research.

    Any author who would write a book just because they feel like it and not worry about whether their readers will be upset about the writer not giving it their all, because ‘most readers don't care' is not deserving of my book dollars. It's a hot topic button for me, obviously, and I'm sure many other people disagree
    is untouched:

    First of all, this is a gross overstatement. And utterly wrong to say. You don’t know Eloisa James, and it seems like you’re grasping at thin straws to suit your purposes and beliefs of her. As a writer, you give it your all every single time. Eloisa does this in her books and she gives so much back to her readers and the romance community. She is refreshingly honest and kind.

    And as to her research assistant, it’s an assistant . . . someone who fact checks and/or brings files to an attention she might otherwise not find. It’s not being too much of an academic or mom that she can’t be “bothered” to do it. A lot of authors use research assitants. A lot. I think you would be surprised by how many. I know you said this wasn’t the point, but then how can you make the leaps that you have about her? It is your opinion, but I don’t think you’re being fair to James.

  121. K. Z. Snow
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 19:18:13

    Honestly, there are all sorts of inaccuracies that authors don't get called on, like how during many historical periods the H/h would quite possibly have had lice, and the h's hair might go weeks or even months between washings. Oh, and you almostnever see a hero admiring the thickness and lustre of her armpit hair, either, do you?

    How true! I’ve given this a lot of thought while reading (and, in a much more limited way, writing) historical romance. For most of human history, people were reeking scumbags. Emphasis on personal hygiene is a fairly modern development.

    But, hey, we want romance. Romance by our standards. So the fudging is understandable. (I doubt a book would sell if it contained a line like, “When Aram pulled his hand out of Ellisandra’s nest of nether-hair, his nose wrinkled at the smell while he blew a host of tiny, six-legged residents off his fingers.” And how many readers want to hear about smegma, body odor, and ass-matter?) Historical and cultural accuracy, let’s face it, has its limits in today’s society.

    Know what I mean? (Damn, I managed to disgust myself with that post!)

  122. Victoria Dahl
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 19:35:43

    In defense of “one inch inside” hymens… Whenever this topic is revisited, it occurs to me that, assuming it’s an incomplete hymen or one that has been stretched by exercise or riding, etc., I think it could very easily SEEM one inch inside. The man isn’t really breaking through the membrane. It’s more like he’s stretching the ring until it pops or tears, isn’t it? (Nice visual. Mmm. Sexy.) The tip of the penis is usually the narrowest part. (I say usually, because I know some guys have big fat heads and narrow shafts.) One would assume that it might slip in quite easily until it broadened out at the base of the glans, or perhaps even broader at the shaft. Hence, a resistance felt about one inch inside. I don’t have any problem with this description!

    Whew. So glad I finally got that off my chest.

  123. Franzeca
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 19:49:10

    I have never been discussed in such energetic terms since my mother-in-law found out I was going to marry her son. I have always kept my head down, thinking I could fade into the background, but do feel compelled to explain my (still tiny) role in Eloisa James’s books.
    I had nothing to do with EJ’s first two books, made some suggestions for the paperback edition of her third book, and copy edited her fourth book. She hired me to help her as a research assistant with her fifth book, Fool for Love. It has been a learning process for both of us, and I hope I am still learning to provide better assistance. “Amanda” has it entirely correct. (full disclosure: I recently retired from many years work in a public library; not an MLS, but I worked for years on the reference desk, answering questions from the public that frequently resembled the type of questions EJ asks me.) For example, EJ’s forthcoming book has a hero who has been gone exploring for many years. I suggested a possible historical figure, she liked the idea, and I pointed her toward a biography of the explorer, and his own writings. She read them all; I didn’t. I suggested a possibility; she did the research. And I can attest that we both make considerable efforts to Get Things Right. Details of food, clothing, language, politics, travel–all are scrutinized for each book.
    Despite my best efforts, I have made my share of errors, and, alas, EJ has had to take the hit for them. But the fact that she has brought me into the process is an indication of how seriously she pursues accuracy. You can’t really smack her from both directions, both that her first book contained a number of errors, and for her having obtained some help to improve the factual accuracy of her writing.
    I chose not to go into more detail, as I think a writer has a right to much privacy in her practice, and the small part I play in the process is not worth the virtual ink that is being spilled here.

  124. Sherry Thomas
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 19:54:28

    I made it a point not to use anything from my real life. Case in point–my first three books are all reunited-lover stories. In real life, I’ve never taken back a boyfriend, ever, no matter how much they begged. :-) I figure people break up for a reason, and if the old doesn’t go, the new doesn’t come.

    But in fiction, it’s a whole different ball of wax. :-)

  125. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 20:06:34

    Case in point-my first three books

    Three? When is 3 coming out? Tell me more! :) I loved PA and have Delicious on my TBR pile.

    I’d never take an old lover back either, but I love reading those kind of stories, go figure (Paula Detmer Riggs is fabulous at writing them).

  126. Jane
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 20:54:57

    @Elyssa: I guess I view James’ attitude toward romance as one of disrespect initially. I can’t really say how she views it now. You’ll never convince me that if James had written a book for any other genre, i.e., mystery like Lyndsey Davis or a historical lit fic ala Phillipa Gregory that the book wouldn’t have been subject to rigorous fact check. The mere fact that she assumed that historical accuracy wouldn’t be of import to “romance” readers does suggest a certain disregard for their taste and intellect.

  127. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 21:01:03

    It's the fact that I have the impression that the author does not care enough about her writing and with it her readers to do the actual preparatory work that's necessary to produce a historically sound romance. That's what I'm objecting to and that's what I consider disrespect.

    Growlycub, you’re entitled to your opinion and I think you know me well enough to know I truly believe that.

    However, I don’t really think you’re being entirely fair, either. Yes, you’re making your opinion based on stuff you read on her site and other commentary and I can see where you might be basing these opinions.

    But I’ve had some interaction with Eloisa James and I’d have to say I very definitely disagree with the opinion you’ve formed of her. She came off to me as very devoted to her craft and I’d say she cares about her writing and her readers.

    All this, of course, is my opinion, others may vary, etc…

    But I gotta say, sometimes it feels like authors are expected to walk a very fine line-it’s almost like you slip up, make a mistake or just get misunderstood and people start shooting you down. We’re people…we’re not perfect.

  128. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 21:05:51

    On the issue of surgically regenerated hymens, I would like to offer another perspective to that of the vain, insecure woman trying to recapture the past. How about a young woman who was serially raped as a child and who would like to symbolically recapture her sexual innocence with a man she loves. Or how about a woman from a very conservative religion who has, for reasons not at her fault or on account of her actions, wants to be “presentable” upon examination for a prospective husband — you know, in cultures/religions where such things can mean the difference between a decent marriage and ostracism. Some of these values may seem barbaric to the more progressive among us, but I don’t believe every woman born into societies around the world should have to escape those societies to be afforded the best life possible within those cultural constraints. In other words, not all young girls around the world are going to even *see* the constraints as bad, let alone find the courage or the opportunity to escape them.

    As for the historical purification of Romance in the ways of body odor, lice, etc., I have never found this a convincing reason to advocate a free for all in historical Romance. For one thing, people *within* a society smell much different to one another than they do to an outsider from a different century, so it’s not really a fair comparison (would they even register some of those smells?). Also, I remember Mary Reed McCall talking about how important bathing was during the Middle Ages. I think we sometimes have a minimized idea of how *much* people bathed in the past, because of a tendency to see people outside our current time as backwards, uncivilized, etc. That certain details may be expunged from Romance does not, IMO, make it okay to make everything optional. That said, I would love a bit more gritty realism in historical Romance — sometimes it can engender tenderness or identification among readers, IMO (I’m thinking of some of the less romantic details in Pam Rosenthal’s The Slightest Provocation, for example).

    Now, as for the research question, from a pure PR perspective, I wonder if it might come across better to say something like: “My respect for historical authenticity is so profound that I employ a historical research expert to help me make sure everything is as accurate as I can get it.” As opposed to: “I’m just so damn busy I can’t afford the extra time it takes to research these freakin’ books.”

  129. Ann Somerville
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 21:09:00

    @Jane:

    I think I am understanding you to say that at least for m/m fiction that a straight woman can't write an authentic experience, that she can only mimic? I suppose that is what non transgendered women are doing when they are writing from a male POV – a sort of mimic?

    Depends on the experience. Women know about love and grief and all the common human emotions. A lot even know about common gay sex acts like fellatio and anal sex. Where I think the ‘authenticity’ comes in – why claiming you’re walking the walk is or isn’t important – comes from stuff like experiencing prejudice, the gay sexual scene and so on. Even BDSM in the gay context is very different – very much rougher often – than it is for m/f. So either the woman had to extrapolate, use imagination, or do a hell of a lot of research. But she can’t really internalise every issue, just the same as a man can’t. The degree to which that’s important, depends on the story they want to tell.

    Teddy’s upset by OKHomo stories – but most of mine are because they’re set in the future or alternate universes, where I have made a deliberate choice to make gay marriage, relationships, existence, absolutely ordinary and accepted. It’s my way of saying to my readers ‘this stuff shouldn’t scare you’. Writing OKHomo stuff in the real world – particularly real America, except in extremely small enclaves – is simply ridiculous. That’s a mistake a real gay person would not make.

  130. Jane
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 21:15:54

    @Ann Somerville: It’s ironic that you and TP would say that OKHomo stuff doesn’t exist in the real world. Maybe that’s true. I just went and saw “The Little Dog Laughed” – a play written by Douglas Carter Beane. In it, the movie star hero believes he suffers from “homosexual” experiences and the rent boy who falls in love with him says he’s not “gay” but he might have feelings for the actor.

    While not wholly OKHomo, it certainly addresses those topics. (The play was a Tony nominated one).

  131. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 21:27:24

    how about a woman from a very conservative religion who has, for reasons not at her fault or on account of her actions, wants to be “presentable” upon examination for a prospective husband

    Most definitely that may be a valid reason, but in reality I don’t think those are the women to whom this surgery is available. From what I’ve read about this topic recently, it’s really only available in the Western world and those women/girls in societies where this reconstructive surgery might prevent a death or social ostracism do not have access nor the financial means to get this surgery done.

    My gut instinct is to say that we need to change those societies so women aren’t subjected to this useless and objectifying practice (easily said, impossible to do from the outside and seriously colonial in outlook) and that the fact that the surgery here in the U.S. and in other developed countries is marketed at making women ‘feel pure’ again and wiping out their pasts is a serious step back for women’s rights. It ties in with general trends in evangelical fundamentalism and other ugly things I try not to think about too much because they scare the dickens out of me.

  132. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 22:05:47

    the surgery here in the U.S. and in other developed countries is marketed at making women ‘feel pure' again and wiping out their pasts is a serious step back for women's rights. It ties in with general trends in evangelical fundamentalism and other ugly things I try not to think about too much because they scare the dickens out of me.

    IMO it’s not just religion or patriarchy — it’s also women who judge other women by their sexual experience. I don’t think the way to make women accept and feel comfortable with their sexuality is by doing away with these kinds of surgeries, although in my ideal world no woman would be made to feel pain, shame, or punishment for her gender or sexuality.

    As Romance readers, we have so much to offer to this issue, IMO, at the very least by offering more generosity to heroines for having healthy sex drives and robust sex lives. Or by not relying on labyrinthine plot twists to create virgin widows and the like. To no longer equate virginity with virtue, or to demand our heroines be purer than their male counterparts.

    That’s one of the reasons I’m so insistent on paying critical attention to tropes in Romance novels. Books may not have one to one impact with RL, but they certainly reflect many attitudes that are so ingrained in our society that we take them for granted and don’t even *see* them when they’re presented to us.

    IMO, as attitudes change, so will all those things we may see as assisting certain aspects of self-negation. But I think you have to treat from the inside rather than eradicating the symptoms.

  133. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 22:26:37

    “IMO it's not just religion or patriarchy -’ it's also women who judge other women by their sexual experience.”

    Absolutely agreed, the worst offenders in the overturning of women’s rights seem to be other women, but couldn’t it be argued that women judging other women is an outgrowth of patriarchal societies that are fueled by many different but patriarchal religions?  In other words, the judging women are so indoctrinated they are happy to condemn their fellow women (or maybe secretly jealous?) or propagating the status quo out of a certain deep-seated feeling of if it happened to me why shouldn’t it happen to them.

    I also agree with you about the underlying societal mores and cultural values that while they may not necessarily influence readers on a conscious level, are most certainly absorbed subconsciously and reflected back into society by readers.

    Which seems to tie in with the OKHomo concern (although I’m not entirely sure I’m correctly grasping the meaning of this term). 

    It could be argued that stories that depict a current society where homosexual love, marriage and child rearing are not the issue we experience in our daily life in the U.S. might work as a subconscious ‘inoculation’ to readers to consider it a normal part of their society.   The argument kind of breaks down when we consider that the people who need the most ‘inoculation’ are the ones who’d never in a million years read a gay love story to start with, but if more neutral people could be subconsciously ‘converted’ to consider it normal…

    The ‘virgin widow’ trope has never bothered me that much beyond some eye-rolling, but coming at it from this angle, I can see why it would be a really, really good idea to do away with it.

  134. Elyssa
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 22:36:21

    @ Jane, is this the same Phillippa Gregory who plays fast and loose with historical accuracy in her novels? 

  135. Ann Somerville’s Journal » Blog Archive » Wearing medals you haven’t earned.
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 22:41:32

    [...] here about these discussions: at DA and at Teddy [...]

  136. Ann Somerville
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 22:44:52

    “is this the same Phillippa Gregory who plays fast and loose with historical accuracy in her novels?”

    Why is it okay to criticise Gregory and not Eloise James? There’s a lot of ‘don’t touch <i>my</i> author’ going on here and in related posts.

  137. Jane
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 22:48:17

    @Elyssa – Perhaps both Gregory and James have no respect for their readership.  I would think that a scholar should respect the accuracy of history no matter what form the writing takes.  Further, I think that the default position for an author should be respect of her readership rather than the assumption that pesky historical details are of no import.  I also think that, in publishing, the burden is on the publishers and authors to care about things like historical accuracy and whether historical accuracy is included SHOULD NOT BE dependent on whether it is perceived to matter to readers.

  138. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:02:20

    but couldn't it be argued that women judging other women is an outgrowth of patriarchal societies that are fueled by many different but patriarchal religions?

    My question is how long can we not be held accountable for things we claim we want to be free of?  IMO it’s up to us women to break the pattern, because we have the ability, having gained the right as part of our ongoing equal rights movement.  While I believe, absolutely, that we still labor under many vestiges of patriarchy, our attitudes are something we each have the absolute power to recognize and change.  Then we can work on some of our institutions . . .

  139. theo
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:11:03

    Sorry, Robin. I can appreciate your thoughts, but until you can rid the ‘free world’ of self-indulgent, vein, misguided women who bend to the whim of society’s current idea of perfection, you’re barking up a leafless tree.

    And the people who utilize and ‘benefit’ most by this plastic surgery are those self-indulgent, vein, misguided women with more money than brains.

  140. Jane
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:12:54

    @theo: Wait, plastic surgery is wrong? Because when I get older and if I have the money, I’m not seeing anything wrong with a little nip and tuck.

  141. theo
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:21:27

    @Jane

    LOL! No! Are you kidding? I stand in front of the mirror every morning and wish for a tummy tuck and an eye lift but when I open those tired eyes, nothing’s changed.

    No, I see nothing wrong with it, I was just making an observation because to me, there’s a huge difference between a tummy tuck and wanting to ‘reclaim’ you’re virginity.

    Let’s face it, you can’t erase your first time, just like you can’t stop time. You might be able to make the time look a little better, but that first time will never go away so why spend $10K on something like that? There are women out there who do it though. Every day. Just for the one time sensation. That’s what I’m talking about with S*** for brains and more money than they know what to do with.

    Nope, I might nip and tuck here and there, but I don’t ever want the memory of my first time to resurface. I’ve spent a lot of years getting past it. I want to leave it there.

  142. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:23:40

    Sorry, Robin. I can appreciate your thoughts, but until you can rid the ‘free world' of self-indulgent, vein, misguided women who bend to the whim of society's current idea of perfection, you're barking up a leafless tree.

    But why? I feel like we can’t get rid of one judgment without relying on another prejudiced perception. I’d be too scared to let anyone operate on my face, but I don’t begrudge women who do it. What may look like vanity where I sit might be something else entirely to the woman having the surgery. I don’t think any amount of liberation is going to rid us of our individual insecurities, and until we alter our ageist prejudices, I don’t think we can expect people to be suddenly enlightened. Bad habits are much harder to break than good ones, IMO.

  143. Robin
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:28:19

    Nope, I might nip and tuck here and there, but I don't ever want the memory of my first time to resurface. I've spent a lot of years getting past it. I want to leave it there.

    I used to rail against virgins in historical Romance until an author (Sabrina Jeffries, I think?) commented that the virgin heroine can serve as a revisionist experience for women who did not have a great first time, for whatever reason. I remember the author in question talking about what I think was her own life experience as the daughter of religious missionaries who did not enjoy a wonderful first time experience, and writing about that ecstatic first time gives her a chance to change that in her mind each time. While it’s not my particular fantasy, I don’t think it’s an invalid one, and it helped me feel less inherently resistant to virgin heroines. Now STOOPID virgin heroines, or heroines whose virginity is equal to their virtue — that stuff pisses me off. But if I want people to accept my desire for sexually liberated heroines, don’t I have to accept someone else’s fantasy of a wondrous first time?

  144. theo
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:28:51

    @Robin, you missed the operative phrase in my comment; women who bend to the whim of society's current idea of perfection, you're barking up a leafless tree.

    But I’m not here to split hairs. I was just making that, an observation and comment.

  145. theo
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:32:42

    @ Robin, your comment #143, Why are you questioning me? If you look back to my post at #105 (I think) you’d see what my personal feelings are on virgin heroines:

    Anyway, I think that to WWYK for me would only be rape scenes because of my personal experience and since I personally feel those have no place in romance (and even if it's the antagonist that does it, I still question the validity of it) so for me, it's a matter of writing what I *wish* I'd had, not what I got.

  146. Ann Somerville
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:33:36

    I think condemning women for plastic surgery comes perilously close to the anti-abortionist stance of telling women they don’t have the right to choose what they do with their own bodies and lives.

    Being a feminist means accepting a woman has absolute dominion over her own health and her own body. Therefore if a woman wants to spend her money – or her husbands or lover’s – on tightening up their vagina, reconstructing their hymen, or for that matter, turning their face into a replica of Cruella deVille’s, it’s her choice and no one, but no one should tell her it’s evil.

    It might be bad for her health, in which case it’s a decision for her and her physician. It might make her look weird – her decision. But god almighty, who the hell does it hurt other than herself, if at all?

    It’s right to examine where the pressure to be an eternal virgin comes from. It’s quite wrong to condemn any woman for wanting to recreate the illusory virginal state for herself, for whatever reason.

  147. Evangeline
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:35:39

    @ Growlycub:

    she was showing disrespect to her readers by assuming details didn't matter

    Isn’t it pretty common for the “average” reader of historical romance to stress their lack of care of “historical accuracy”? That they don’t want to read a “history tome”?

    IMO, if James’s debut book was set in any setting outside of Regency England, I’d bet the furor would have been close to nil–most of the scandal was born from plain old jealousy of a debut author receiving a huge advance, a HC deal and reviews from People Magazine. But I digress.

    I nearly threw my hands up in defeat two years ago when I realized that based on the growing number of “wallpaper” historicals flooding the market, neither publishers nor readers greatly care about historical romance. Romance is expected to come first, preferably with beloved tropes, and historical background (McRegency England, McScotland or McMedievals, please)is sketched in enough to give the story some color.

    I believe the long-lost Maili ranted about the horrid inaccuracies seen in Scottish-set historicals, but those inaccuracies continue to be prevalent in historical romance and no one cares enough to rectify a thing. That leaves us with a readership, throughout the years, who has been convinced that “historical accuracy” equals boring, thereby lowering the bar for historical romance. Despite my determination not to insult my readership with “wallpaper” historicals, based on the presumption that becoming published is a near-impossible wall to climb, it’s easier for that new writer, or even the discouraged writer, to rely on creating the sort of characters and plot situations that are currently popular simply to sell and have a shot at success rather than risk remaining unpublished because you write “dry, boring history tomes.”

  148. theo
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:42:12

    @Ann, you know I agree with you more often than not. I’m not ‘condemning’ anyone. You’re absolutely right, we all can make our own choices. But making the choice based on society’s perception of perfection is about as far from feminism as you can get. At least, as far as the definition of feminism that I know, is concerned.

    Adding to that just for kicks and grins, I might believe in equal pay for equal jobs, but by god, I’m female, feminine and all woman and I have no intention of giving that up or the perks that go with it.

    And with that, I have nothing else to say, I guess.

    Sorry. I think I’m the one who started this.

  149. Ann Somerville
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:46:56

    making the choice based on society's perception of perfection is about as far from feminism as you can get

    Well I disagree, because the *reason* for the choice is less important than that the woman should have the freedom to choose – even unwisely – because women are always being told what’s best for them, as if they’re children.

    But I completely agree that there’s something needing fixing about the expectations of perfection in both men and women’s minds. The freedom to choose and arguing against crushing ideals, are not inconsistent ideas.

    have no intention of giving that up or the perks that go with it.

    There are perks? All I got was this lousy menstrual cycle. There could at least have been a toaster :)

  150. theo
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:51:48

    @Ann…um…sorry? I don’t have one of those anymore…but I have a toaster!! I’ll gladly lend it to you. :)

  151. Ann Somerville
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:55:05

    @theo:

    You got a toaster. I didn’t get a toaster.

    ::sulks::

    You can have my menstrual cycle if you want. I’ve proved my feminity enough now :)

  152. GrowlyCub
    Nov 18, 2008 @ 23:59:17

    Ann,

    my personal concern about this surgery comes from the effect this may have on the rest of us and our female offspring, who are not interested in reliving their first time, are not interested in ‘becoming pure’ again, if this procedure becomes more socially desirable over the next, say, 50 to 100 years. Couple that sentiment to ‘wash away your sins’ (notice how men don’t need to wash anything away or become pure again) with the rising religious fundamentalism all over the world and all of a sudden it may no longer be an optional surgery but a required one. Or if not the surgery, a resurgence of virginity=virtue, women being deprived of their freedoms so they are guaranteed ‘pure’ when they get married, or female circumcision as a means to keep women even purer instead of re-virginizing them.

    I don’t want to live in a society that demonizes female sexuality even more than the one we currently live in and I associate the marketing for this surgery I’ve seen here in the U.S. with an underlying demonizing of female sexuality and an effort to take away female empowerment by indoctrinating women that they are only worthy of their mates if they come to them with a piece of skin re-attached whose ensuing removal by the male will potentially cause them pain and physical injury.

    If I believed for one second that this were a completely impossible development I wouldn’t feel this strongly about it, but I believe the political, religious and societal climate world-wide combined with birth rates is such that we could see such developments in our lifetime back to where women are a man’s possession with no rights and no way out.

  153. Ann Somerville
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 00:04:15

    @GrowlyCub:

    Your concerns about the prevalence of this surgery, and the motivations, I agree with. It’s a very disturbing development.

    I would like people to stop short of criticising the woman herself for choosing as she wishes, that’s all. If we assume women are adults and can make their own choices, we have to allow them to make choices we don’t agree with. I wouldn’t have this kind of surgery, and wish no one felt the need for it. But I’m not in a situation where it makes any kind of sense anyway.

  154. Mrs Giggles
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 00:30:27

    That leaves us with a readership, throughout the years, who has been convinced that “historical accuracy” equals boring, thereby lowering the bar for historical romance. Despite my determination not to insult my readership with “wallpaper” historicals, based on the presumption that becoming published is a near-impossible wall to climb, it's easier for that new writer, or even the discouraged writer, to rely on creating the sort of characters and plot situations that are currently popular simply to sell and have a shot at success rather than risk remaining unpublished because you write “dry, boring history tomes.”

    My belief is this: many people read romance novels because they are fun. “Fun” in this case equals a high degree of predictability in their fiction, i.e. readers like knowing what they will get in a story. It’s like… I don’t know, why blockbuster movies every year tend to be formulaic and predictable compared to your less successful, more edgy movies that exist in the fringes of mainstream cinema. The problem here is that romance is seen as a moneymaking genre rather than a “literary” genre, so publishers tend to emphasize the bottom line in the genre and as a result, there is less room for authors to be experimental with their stories. The genre is focused on meeting the needs of the majority of readers who want lightweight stories.

    I can’t blame the readers in this case. People read for fun, so if they like taking a few hours to escape into a familiar romantic fantasy, I can’t condemn them for wanting to try something “deeper”.

    The only solution I can think, one that I have held for years, is that some generous sponsor within the publishing industry setting up a line/imprint that allows authors to be experimental even if their books don’t sell as well as your Nora Roberts or Jayne Ann Krentz novel. I used to believe that epublishing may be the answer to this, but as of recently, I have to revise my opinion, sigh.

    Warning, off-topic rant ahead:

    Perhaps a case for less wallpaper historical romances could be made more gracefully as well. This is not directed to you, Evangeline, by the way, but for me, I’ve received enough snobby and pretentious “If you are not enjoying Laura Kinsale/Mary Balogh/traditional Regency/Georgette Heyer/Roberta Gellis, there is clearly something defective with your intellect” accusation from enough readers to the point that I get an instinctive “Eeeuw, no!” reaction whenever someone tells me to pick up a “real” historical romance. I find the books by Roberta Gellis, especially, and Laura Kinsale when she believes she should write in medieval English, so hard to read at times that it’s like trying to decipher an obscure text for academic purposes rather than reading for fun. It’s not fun, seriously.

    And to be told that I’m a flawed reader, or not a “true romance reader”, because of this is annoying. As much as I enjoy academic dissections of romance novels, I get irritated when such treatment of romance novels is used to demonstrate how a select group of readers is intellectually superior over other readers. (In the same way, I get annoyed when a group of readers condemn readers of erotic romance for the subject matter of their preferred reading material, because this is the same situation, only substitute intellectual superiority for moral superiority.)

  155. Robin
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 00:36:18

    theo, now I’m confused. I was simply questioning what I thought was a prejudice on your part about plastic surgery by sharing a prejudice on my part concerning the virgin heroine. Although I forgot it was you who made that comment at 105, it was that comment, among others, that made me remember the incident on AAR in which I was forced to begin re-examining the virgin heroine. Although I think Ann said what I was trying to get in the plastic surgery issue at more clearly and succinctly in comment 153.

  156. Ann Somerville
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 00:42:17

    I get irritated when such treatment of romance novels is used to demonstrate how a select group of readers is intellectually superior over other readers.

    Maybe these authors need to have an IQ test as a requirement to buy the books, or a flash intro page warning, “you have to be this smart to ride this train” :)

  157. GrowlyCub
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 00:58:05

    get irritated when such treatment of romance novels is used to demonstrate how a select group of readers is intellectually superior over other readers.

    See and I get irritated when readers who do not have an issue with 13th century English pet raccoons and potato stew are held up as an example of the uncaring masses and why I should not require accuracy from the perpetrators of wallpaper historical romance and why it’s ‘unfair’ of me to expect historical accuracy from authors with an academic background.

    I easily give you Kinsale and her weird medieval speak, but Gellis? Nope, can’t have her as an example of unreadability due to language, grin. Are her books full of historical details and political events, sure, but the language really is very everyday.

    As to the other examples: I started reading Heyer at age 10-12, I don’t remember exactly, but I hadn’t touched a Balogh or Kinsale till this year and I’m not sure I’d hold them up as examples of ‘real’ historical romance.

    I’m curious when you started reading romance, Mrs. Giggles?

    I’ve noticed that a lot of people who started out in the 90s seem to be really defensive about liking the wallpaper historical romances that exploded onto the scene at that time and really hostile to the readers who came before them who prefer historical accuracy in their romance novels.

  158. Anthea Lawson
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 01:17:13

    The problem here is that romance is seen as a moneymaking genre rather than a “literary” genre, so publishers tend to emphasize the bottom line in the genre and as a result, there is less room for authors to be experimental with their stories. The genre is focused on meeting the needs of the majority of readers who want lightweight stories.

    Mrs. Giggles is absolutely correct here. Publishing houses are the ones marketing these books, and determining the market to some extent. For example, even though our second novel (due out next November) is half set on the Isle of Crete, there is no mention of exotic location in the marketing blurb and back-cover copy our editor put together. Specifically because books with ‘different’ locales are that much harder to place in the ‘big box’ stores. I think this decision was made because our first historical, partially set in Tunisia, was passed on by these stores, and that’s a revenue source the publishers don’t get as a result.

    It’s a self-fulfilling marketing prophecy…

    PS. Yes, there are reference resources about Tunisia in the 1840′s… go ahead, ask me about them!

  159. kirsten saell
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 01:33:01

    See, now, and I would go out of my way to read a historical romance set in Tunisia or Crete. I have to settle for David Gemmell or Guy Gavriel Kay if I want to read that kind of stuff–although their books are so awesome it’s hardly settling, lol!

  160. Persephone Green
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 01:37:41

    Ann said:

    I would like people to stop short of criticising the woman herself for choosing as she wishes, that's all. If we assume women are adults and can make their own choices, we have to allow them to make choices we don't agree with.

    Exactly.

    My question is how long can we not be held accountable for things we claim we want to be free of? IMO it's up to us women to break the pattern, because we have the ability, having gained the right as part of our ongoing equal rights movement. While I believe, absolutely, that we still labor under many vestiges of patriarchy,

    No. No. NO.

    I cannot say this strongly enough, Robin. I really hope you don’t take this personally, because you have some valid points above to argue, but I have to say that this is a classic trap that most of us fall into in our thinking from time to time, and it’s important to recognize it and refute it when we see it.

    It is not all on *our* shoulders to throw off the burdens of sexism and misogyny when society has imprinted them into our brains from day one. There are no ‘vestiges’ of patriarchy today. Patriarchy is still IN FULL EFFECT. We still have laws that make it expected for a newly married woman to give up her name and almost impossible for a newly married man to give up his. We still have countries like the U.S. where groups consisting of mostly rich, W.A.S.P., cisgendered, straight men sit around in rooms: legislating what happens to women after they become pregnant, ruling on whether women can sue for pay discrimination after six months from the start of the problem, even if they don’t know they’re being discriminated against (they can’t, as of this year), and taking about the ‘health’ of the mother in quotes like that as if future people who may be alive someday are more important than those who are already alive. We still have a majority of companies able to legally discriminate in hiring pregnant women, mothers, or women who might soon become mothers and that don’t have to provide reasonable health care, maternity leave, or childcare for employees.

    We have states in this country that say that you have to be *unconscious* (read: choking on your own vomit) when you’re inebriated for the act of a man having sex with you when you’re unable to stand “rape.” I live in one of those, and I just found that out the hard way.

    Patriarchy is alive and well. It is not dead or dormant. It is not even dying. It is making a comeback in a big way and has been ever since Reagan, or if one prefers, Roe v. Wade.

    It’s kind of like women writing those articles that pop up in college newspapers about once every year or so reminding the rest of us that “we’re all in this together, but we have to behave responsibly, or we’re inviting men to rape us.”

    [To delve briefly into another -ism, which I know is like comparing apples to oranges, but it faces similar problems so bear with me: Bill Cosby once publicly scolded other African-American men, mostly those from a different economic background than he (which is classism, but that's the smaller problem), and told them to clean up their acts and get good jobs and stop selling drugs and abandoning their families. That's all well and good advice, but the reasons that many poorer black men in the U.S.A. are drawn into a cycle of poverty and crime has a lot to to with our failing education systems, the unreasonably harsh prison sentences for drug possession for the kind of cocaine more often found in urban PoC areas, the reverse redlining of districts to concentrate PoC in destitute areas, the denials of loans to PoC and other discriminatory hiring practices...etc. It's hard to get people to find better jobs when there's inadequate access to higher education that would qualify them for those jobs. Those factors are society's fault for refusing to let colonialism's offspring die quick deaths. 'Personal responsibility' and 'bootstraps' are straw man arguments that both assume we start from the same starting line and fail to address the real perpetrators who make these problems exist in the first place.]

    The onus of responsibility should never fall upon the victims of prejudice and violence to anticipate their attackers’ actions and shape their behavior out of fear or resignation.

    our attitudes are something we each have the absolute power to recognize and change. Then we can work on some of our institutions . . .

    Yes, many women’s attitudes need to change. The problem is that if we leave the task of changing our institutions and society at large and men’s attitudes for last, it will be for nothing, because our environment will continue to poison us and harm us at will.

    If we want women to stop having hymenal restoration surgeries, we need men to stop treating unmarried non-virgins as if they’ve lost a commodity. We need preists and pastors to stop thinking about virginity as a thing that you lose and start thinking of sex as an act you share with someone else (usually), a performance that doesn’t affect some kind of ‘moral resale value.’

    What women choose to do with their bodies is between them and if they so choose, their doctors and their deity or deities.

  161. Persephone Green
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 01:53:11

    My gut instinct is to say that we need to change those societies so women aren't subjected to this useless and objectifying practice (easily said, impossible to do from the outside and seriously colonial in outlook) and that the fact that the surgery here in the U.S. and in other developed countries is marketed at making women ‘feel pure' again and wiping out their pasts is a serious step back for women's rights.

    I agree, GrowlyCub.

    What may look like vanity where I sit might be something else entirely to the woman having the surgery.

    Exactly.

    I used to rail against virgins in historical Romance until an author (Sabrina Jeffries, I think?) commented that the virgin heroine can serve as a revisionist experience for women who did not have a great first time, for whatever reason. [...] writing about that ecstatic first time gives her a chance to change that in her mind each time. While it's not my particular fantasy, I don't think it's an invalid one, and it helped me feel less inherently resistant to virgin heroines. Now STOOPID virgin heroines, or heroines whose virginity is equal to their virtue -’ that stuff pisses me off. But if I want people to accept my desire for sexually liberated heroines, don't I have to accept someone else's fantasy of a wondrous first time?

    YES. Thank you, Robin. This is why tropes can and should be done well. If ‘surprise baby’ works for some people, that’s fine. I don’t have to read it, but I certainly won’t begrudge someone else their fantasies.

  162. Ann Somerville
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 01:57:10

    @Anne Douglas:

    Something I really need to comment on

    one of them notes how the glass has run/rippled and is showing its age (because glass is not solid, as you might think – it just moves very, very slowly)

    http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/Glass/glass.html

    Old glass is rippled because of the way it’s made, and not because of glass being a liquid. This one is trotted out as often as the ‘we only use 10% of our brain’ thing, which is equally erroneous.

  163. Robin
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 02:08:49

    It's kind of like women writing those articles that pop up in college newspapers about once every year or so reminding the rest of us that “we're all in this together, but we have to behave responsibly, or we're inviting men to rape us.”

    No. No. No

    There is a difference between being a victim and abdicating agency. That women remain victimized by institutional patterns of patriarchy or by incidents of male-initiated violence does not mean we are without agency as women to understand and change our own patterns of cooperation with patriarchal values and institutional structures. As individuals, in what we believe about ourselves and each other, we have agency. To deny this is, IMO, to re-victimize ourselves, not by inviting rape, which is a ridiculous assertion, but by denying our ability to change our own minds about who we are.

    Those who have the lion’s share of power will never, IMO, voluntarily relinquish it, whether that be out of fear or aggression or whatever. So whether it is “right” that those who have been historically oppressed should have to fight for their full independence, it is, IMO, necessary if it is ever to be achieved. We tend to see the word “responsibility” only as conferring a burden, but it also breaks down to something very different, IMO: the ability to respond.

  164. Robin
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 02:21:23

    If we want women to stop having hymenal restoration surgeries, we need men to stop treating unmarried non-virgins as if they've lost a commodity. We need preists and pastors to stop thinking about virginity as a thing that you lose and start thinking of sex as an act you share with someone else (usually), a performance that doesn't affect some kind of ‘moral resale value.'

    But how can those things happen if we, as women, don’t have the beliefs we want men to have? How can we expect them to believe about us — and about themselves — what we don’t?

  165. kirsten saell
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 03:07:36

    The onus of responsibility should never fall upon the victims of prejudice and violence to anticipate their attackers' actions and shape their behavior out of fear or resignation.

    That may well be, but I would no more walk at 1 AM in an urban area without a heavy object to hand and shoes I can run in than I would walk in the woods without a knife and a can of bear spray. There is a world of “should never”s out there, but in real life, I’d rather be safe than unsafe, let alone sorry.

    And I agree, it’s not right to criticize individual women for choosing what they want for their bodies. But in the larger context of the culture, I see nothing wrong with encouraging women in general to ask themselves why they would choose such a procedure, and what that says about them, in themselves and within their society.

    But how can those things happen if we, as women, don't have the beliefs we want men to have? How can we expect them to believe about us -’ and about themselves -’ what we don't?

    Agreed. It’s useless to argue about whose attitude should have to change first. Those in power are typically pleased with the status quo. The ones who want change nearly always have to fight to bring it about. And all in all, I would rather have a bunch of incredulous women staring at me and asking “WTF are you thinking having your hymen restored, what are you, an idjit?” than have a bunch of smarmy, condescending men patting me on the head and telling me the opposite. I’d rather have women try to assert what ideals women should aspire to, than men.

    But I have to ask, how did a discussion on Writing What You Know turn into a debate on the personal and societal implications of hymen restoration, lol?

  166. Janine
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 03:36:55

    I believe the long-lost Maili ranted about the horrid inaccuracies seen in Scottish-set historicals

    I know this is OT, but I have to say I really miss that long-lost Maili…

  167. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 05:40:57

    Being a feminist means accepting a woman has absolute dominion over her own health and her own body. Therefore if a woman wants to spend her money – or her husbands or lover's – on tightening up their vagina, reconstructing their hymen, or for that matter, turning their face into a replica of Cruella deVille's, it's her choice and no one, but no one should tell her it's evil.

    Man, I think the earth is going to tremble here, but Ann, I agree completely.

    If the woman is doing it to please others, then I’d see a problem.

    But if she’s doing it to please herself, I see no problem. And while I have no desire for boob jobs or reconstructing this or that…if I ever have the money to zap some fat cells and sculpt the areas my work out aren’t touching…I’d be very interested.

  168. Anne Douglas
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 07:14:10

    Something I really need to comment on

    one of them notes how the glass has run/rippled and is showing its age (because glass is not solid, as you might think – it just moves very, very slowly)

    http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/Glass/glass.html

    Old glass is rippled because of the way it's made, and not because of glass being a liquid. This one is trotted out as often as the ‘we only use 10% of our brain' thing, which is equally erroneous.

    Huh. Obviously the glass guys that taught me to make leadlight windows weren’t physics majors. I stand corrected.

    I guess this shows, then – you can do the research… doesn’t necessarily mean what your research tells you is right.

  169. Anne Douglas
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 07:21:40

    hmmm… quote within a quote. Well that was pretty dumb of me..

  170. Erastes
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 07:25:54

    No, of course a writer doesn’t have to be experienced in what they write to be able to write it. Whether they can convince is another matter. Heinlein didn’t have to have been to Europa or Ganymede but I was totally convinced in his stories. Anna Sewell didn’t have to be a horse, but millions of people have been won over by Black Beauty’s first person experience without saying “a horse wouldn’t think like that, behave like that and how the hell did he manage to write this without thumbs anyway?” So no. You don’t have to be in love, or even to have experienced love to be able to write it convincingly – that’s not to say that everyone who writes it CAN convince.

    Granted there are a lot of m/m characters who behave like women, but often the writers are male. I point the detractors of women writing m/m romance to the works of Vincent Virga and Max Pierce whose heroes are every bit as girlie as anything I’ve found in some female m/m.

    Also – most m/m authors – not all – will admit that they are writing FOR women. I don’t – but that’s my choice. So if they are writing for women, (and the kind of women who like more emotional men) then people who don’t like that type of man are obviously not going to like them. That being said – I also dislike the ball – scratching farting males that female m/m authors write – perhaps to try and instil a sense of masculinity – because that’s not my experience of men in general. It all goes to show that there are different sorts of people everywhere and something for everyone.

    I would never be influenced as to whether an author was a male or a female when choosing a book – romance or otherwise.

    As to pennames. It’s a matter of public record that I attempted to keep my gender under wraps because I wanted “Erastes” to be gender neutral. Part of the reason for choosing that penname. I didn’t think it was any import whether I was a male or a female. In the days before invasive internet processes you’d get a book – an author blurb and perhaps a photo and you’d accept that information was real. I don’t know or care – for example – what sex P L Travers is. So I hoped that I could create a fictional persona of “Erastes” and leave my own persona hidden behind it – but when people started to make it important I had to come out and say that although in my head, Erastes was a male character – I was a female writer. (It works perfectly well for James Lear/Rupert Smith, but he has the luxury of actually being male, so the persona gels). Whatever Lanyon’s sex is I think that’s his/her business and I find it gobsmacking that people would make such a big deal about such a thing. To me, its as much witchhunting as demanding to know what sexual preference you have – which is designating as illegal and bullying – in the UK at least.

  171. Ann Somerville
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 07:40:59

    To me, its as much witchhunting as demanding to know what sexual preference you have

    Oh bull.

    Why is it wrong for readers to ask why an author needs to maintain an elaborate fake persona, and not wrong for the author to deceive the readers? Over and over today, people have declared they don’t care what sex the writer is – so why is it such a big secret with certain authors to hide it? This is so much like the Cassie Edwards thing, I can’t believe it. Sure, let’s shoot people for asking natural questions, but no one better question our pet authors.

    I call shenanigans. Nora Roberts doesn’t pretend to be a bloke behind her neutral J D Robb pen name. Jordan Castillo Price doesn’t pretend to be one either. I can only think of a handful of authors who hem and haw about what gender they are when asked – and Lanyon’s one of them. Why? Why jump down a reader’s throat because they assumed ‘he’ was female, and now make a huge song and dance about not revealing what gender he is?

    The only people making this an issue are the people maintaining the pretence when challenged or asked. Readers don’t care about it – but they don’t like being lied to. Writing frauds are unfortunately common – doesn’t mean we have to accept it any more than we have to accept mealy mouthed explanations of plagiarism.

    For the record, I’d respect you and Lanyon a lot more if you just came out and said you thought your books would sell better if people thought you were blokes. That was what the Torquere Press crowd did it for originally, but they’ve since realised it’s not necessary. All this crap about ‘Erastes is a male character’ and the other self-justifications I’ve read today, is nonsense.

  172. Gin
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 07:51:48

    While I hate to go off on yet another tangent I have to just comment again on this:

    HINT: The foreskin doesn't peel back from an engorged penis like the plastic wrap on an English cucumber.

    As a Brit I'm fine with knowing how to handle an uncircumcised penis – but what the heck is an English cucumber?! Or rather, what is an un-English one like?!

    Because it took me a moment to remember that if you buy a cucumber here from a supermarket, yep, it's wrapped in plastic – but on the whole mine come in only their own knobbly, almost plastic-like green skin – and I remove that “wrapping” with a potato peeler.

    So the thought of peeling back any foreskin in that way made mind boggle in a way it has yet to recover from!

    Sorry

  173. Keishon
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 08:38:03

    Re: Roberta Gellis rant from Mrs Giggles and OT:

    Nope, can't have her as an example of unreadability due to language, grin. Are her books full of historical details and political events, sure, but the language really is very everyday.

    I agree with that statement. Ms Gellis is not unreadable and I agree with you Mrs Giggles that reading _should_ be fun. The great thing about romance is that there is something for everybody. If you like stereotypes, wall paper historicals, accurate historicals, Nascar stories, secret baby stories, simple stories, complex stories, etc, you know where to find them.

    As for people saying you’re not a real romance reader for not enjoying Laura Kinsale and Mary Balogh (the latter I quit reading years ago), I wouldn’t give these people a second thought. It’s a ridiculous claim/argument. What in the hell is a real romance reader, pray tell?

  174. Steve Berman
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 09:24:21

    It’s an intersting argument. Certainly there have been women who have written some of the finer gay (male) themed books. I can think of Swordspoint. Of course, Ellen Kushner is gay.

    I know that many gay male writers and readers have discussed the matter with me and the talk has mentioned that they feel the characters written in several of these stories do not resemble any gay male they have ever met. I’m not stating I agree with this. But I have heard the argument countless time.

    As for ADL’s best-selling authors being women, I find that hard to believe across ALL genres. Mystery and Thriller? Wouldn’t more of Christopher Rice’s work have sold? Or Greg Herren’s? Maybe with spec fic, but that genre has always had more female authors. I just imagine Ethan Mordden sells more than Lanyon. And if not, well, it’s very odd (and actually I think sad because Mordden deserves to be read and I think his writing will outlast most romance).

    Certainly at Giovanni’s Room in Philly, the m/m romance titles don’t sell as well as other books.

    Anyway, I want to end with one thing that Teddypig stated: he wanted to read in the work of gay male authors the “the total experience of being Gay.” Now this has to be the biggest crock I have ever heard. Since when is being gay a universal condition. First off, ‘gay’ is a label. People are not born gay. They may be born with an attraction to the same gender but they adopt the label of gay at some point (or maybe not – plenty of men have homosexual relations but never consider themselves gay). And no two gay men have the same experience. Should a ‘gay’ man in his 60s in downtown NYC have the same ‘total experience’ as a teen growing up in the Midwest? Or in the Middle East. I hate that peopel think of homosexual identities as this catch-all. Some of the finest gay male authors tell very different stories. Is Dark Reflections any less literature because the protagonist is fearful of sex?

    I think people should just an author by their work. Will gay men do so? Doubtful. Not when they are so busy being judgemental of everyone else.

  175. Teddypig
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 10:05:35

    Anyway, I want to end with one thing that Teddypig stated: he wanted to read in the work of gay male authors the “the total experience of being Gay.” Now this has to be the biggest crock I have ever heard.

    Quick Steve, you radical you. Call the National Coming Out Day people and tell them they are full of it. That we can never share that experience as a community because you think the world is so much more enlightened now.

  176. Steve Berman
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 10:07:12

    Well, Teddy, you have yet to explain what the total experience of being Gay is. Unless it’s being snarky.

  177. passer
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 10:11:06

    @Ann Somerville: You talk as if you know for a fact that Lanyon is a female. Do you have any tangible proof besides rumors (possibly started by you) and assumptions? Either You are insane or you are doing this deliberately.

  178. Teddypig
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 10:35:52

    Steve,

    “no two gay men have the same experience.”

    I was a Gay Man in the US Military Steve. That is a lot of shared experience you are discrediting there. Sweeping generalized statements tend to do that.

    I am not going to argue with you over your assertion. All I can say is there would be no reasons for Gay Communities or National Coming Out Days or Gay Pride Events or even The Stonewall Riots unless there was a common thread, a common cause.

    Suggested reading list…

    My Country, My Right To Serve
    Mary Ann Humphrey

    Farm Boys
    William D. Fellows

    Gay New York
    George Chauncey

  179. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 11:13:54

    As a Brit I'm fine with knowing how to handle an uncircumcised penis – but what the heck is an English cucumber?! Or rather, what is an un-English one like?!

    Because it took me a moment to remember that if you buy a cucumber here from a supermarket, yep, it's wrapped in plastic – but on the whole mine come in only their own knobbly, almost plastic-like green skin – and I remove that “wrapping” with a potato peeler.

    So the thought of peeling back any foreskin in that way made mind boggle in a way it has yet to recover from!

    Sorry if the image damaged you, LOL. But I read a book not so long ago (an “erotic” historical romance; I use quotes because the book couldn’t have been less erotic IMO) that contains a LOOOOONG description of an uncircumcised penis, fully erect, and the heroine peeling back the foreskin to revel it. I’d had problems with the book before, but that was a total WTF moment. I just couldn't stop thinking Jeebus, if you don't know, please skip over the “erotic” detail and move on to something you DO know. But then after reading about half the book (total DNF), I'm not quite sure what the author in question does know (cause she's clueless about history [on pretty much every level], sex, and anatomy).

  180. Robin
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 11:50:43

    What in the hell is a real romance reader, pray tell?

    I was always under the impression that a “real Romance reader” was the reader RWA surveyed and who found “muscles” to be the most desired hero trait (I think this was from the 2004 survey, lol). The readers who won’t touch anything but an Avon historical and would never read a book without a virgin heroine.

    I don’t know; I’ve read some pretty smart Romance that isn’t so detail heavy on the history. OTOH, I don’t like feeling that Romance isn’t *important* enough to have the history be richly detailed. So for me it’s not about intelligence, it’s about respect. The whole idea of writing a book to the market is not very attractive to me; I want to believe that an author has the utmost respect for her work regardless of whether she wants to write a history-heavy book or a history-lite book — that in either case she plans it carefully and has a vision for her work that is true to all the the elements she has chosen to use, from the time the book is set to the place it’s set to the characters who fill its pages, whether it’s history-heavy or history-lite.

  181. MD
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 12:10:25

    For the record, I'd respect you and Lanyon a lot more if you just came out and said you thought your books would sell better if people thought you were blokes.

    I agree.

    And reading these posts, I can see how all the secretiveness backfires on the author. Readers assume the reason you’re being secretive is because you are a woman pretending to be a gay man. So all you end up doing is alienating the people who’ve enjoyed your work. And if people are enjoying your work, why keep prevaricating, anyway? If they like the end result, they’re not going to stop reading, no matter the sex of the author.

    I’m kind of surprised Lanyon himself (herself?) doesn’t want to clear it up once and for all. If I were an author being so questioned, I think I’d want to.

  182. katiebabs
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 12:26:54

    I, for one, try not to care who the author is, or where they are from or their background. If they can write a believable story that I have enjoyed, that is all that matters. I am with TP, reviewing the writing, not the writer.
    I have met Lisa Marie Rice, and she is not a man.

  183. Robin
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 12:38:56

    I’m always fascinated by these taboo subjects, because they so often make no real sense to me as prohibitions.

    I know the point has already been made, but taking a pen name is not the same as inventing a persona that seems to fit with or authorize the work in question. And reader speculation does not amount to hiring a private investigator to track down an author. Nor, IMO, does it mean one is not “reviewing the work.” Otherwise, any reader who frequents author blogs or attends author readings or drives hundreds of miles to meet their favorite authors would be ineligible to review.

    As for why someone would invent a persona, I am cynical enough to believe it’s sometimes about creating mystique for the author and drawing more attention. That’s a generalization inapplicable across the board, of course, but the mystery certainly can engender more attention and curiosity *about* an author’s and his/her work.

  184. MoJo
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 12:44:42

    I read completely different things by male writers than I do female, although that’s not on purpose.

    Almost all the women I read write romance. The men I read write some strange concepts (oddly, most of the male-written books have either little sex or no sex at all and nothing of the romantic sort).

    I’ll admit, however, that I’m far more choosy about the men I read than the women. I don’t know why; haven’t stopped to analyze it and I don’t think I care enough to put effort into it.

  185. Lori
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 12:52:13

    If identity is so important then why not strip off your pen names too?
    No more nom-de-plumes, let’s have full names, birthdays, marital status and while we’re at it, a brief description of where you think the hymen is located (mine was located on the couch of the living room one sweaty evening but it disappeared and was never heard from again)…

  186. GrowlyCub
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 13:03:23

    http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1859937,00.html

    Since we were speaking of re-virginizing and related issues, what a coincidence that the first thing I see this morning on CNN was ‘plastic surgery below the belt’.

    “After all, one of the most common reasons women cite in seeking the surgery, some doctors say, is a negative comment from a disgruntled sexual partner.”

    Scary. Sad.

  187. Jill Sorenson
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 13:03:30

    I think it’s okay for an author to keep her name, gender, or any other personal information private. Should we start insisting that all authors write under their real names, for the sake of “honesty”?

    As far as male authors writing under female names–I probably wouldn’t buy the book if I knew. But I’d only feel “cheated” if the writing was bad.

  188. kirsten saell
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 13:37:34

    “After all, one of the most common reasons women cite in seeking the surgery, some doctors say, is a negative comment from a disgruntled sexual partner.”

    WTF? If my boyfriend or husband made some negative comment about the appearance of my vulva, he wouldn’t be seeing it for a while, if ever. See if he thinks his right hand is prettier.

  189. Moth
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 13:40:43

    For the record, I'd respect you and Lanyon a lot more if you just came out and said you thought your books would sell better if people thought you were blokes.

    Ditto. The only reason I can see for playing coy about your gender is to build a mystique. Asking whether you’re a man or a woman is NOT on par with asking your sexual orientation or marital status. To me. Readers who like your stuff are naturally curious. (without being familiar with Lanyon’s work) it seems to me that, in general, the only reason you wouldn’t come out and confirm you were a male author would be if you weren’t one and you didn’t want people to know.

    And boy this thread is all over the place…

  190. Kathryn Smith
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 13:45:06

    An obvious reason for have a pen name is if you write one kind of books under one name and are about to write something totally different. Sometimes if an author hasn’t done well, they will decide to write under a different name in the hopes of ‘fresh slate’ syndrome taking over.

    As for the sexuality issue, who cares? I don’t care if you’re male or female if I like your work. I don’t care you sleep with. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I’ve never figured out what the big deal about coming out is. I’ve never felt the need to sit anyone down and tell them I’m straight. I don’t feel we need to justify who we love to anyone.

  191. Tasha
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 14:14:27

    does an author have to be gay to write the m/m books for the stories to be authentically homosexual

    As far as I know, many of the authors of m/m books are not trying to create works that are authentically homosexual–after all, the audience for many of these works is straight women. So if that’s the case, if the author isn’t trying to claim that their stories are authentically homosexual, who cares if the author is gay, straight, male, female, or other?

    Many (authentically homosexual) writers of lesbian literature choose pseudonyms that are gender-ambiguous. Does the perception by mainstream readers that these books are written by straight men constitute some kind of mischief on the part of the authors, given that such gender-ambiguous names are an integral part of lesbian fiction, where you will see ten female characters named Ryan for every Ashleigh?

    @Kathryn: To link your two topics, another obvious reason for a pen name is that people DO care about the sexuality issue. Wasn’t it just a week ago that the story appeared about a couple who was denied permission to buy a home because the community considered m/m erotica to be gay porn and thus the couple undesireable as neighbors? Like it or not, people do have to hide their sexuality to protect their jobs and for other reasons–which is why being able to come out and be open about sexuality is such a big deal. It’s not a big deal to tell people you’re straight because that’s the societal and cultural norm; it’s a much bigger deal for people outside of that norm.

  192. theo
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 14:18:47

    @kirsten

    WTF? If my boyfriend or husband made some negative comment about the appearance of my vulva, he wouldn't be seeing it for a while, if ever. See if he thinks his right hand is prettier.

    ROFLMAO!!! That’s the best comment I’ve read on this thread!

    Sorry, I know I started that whole misguided discussion with my innocently asked question, but that was a great answer.

  193. Jane
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 15:13:17

    For the record, I do not care about the gender of an author when it comes to m/m fiction because I have no experience in the m/m (or lesbian) lifestyle so I wouldn’t know an inauthentic moment if it came up and hit me in the face. But I do think that there is a furor over the gender of an author within that market that makes the point of the article – to some, gender must matter significantly enough that some authors feel the need to adopt a different gender for the purpose of selling their books.

    To not speak about the issue and the problems that these biases create will never solve the problem or make the marketing atmosphere more gender neutral.

    Having said that, if an author trades on something to authenticate their voice for the story, then it is a fair topic for discussion amongst readers. I.e., if an author says that because he is a gay man he can more accurately speak (or better riff of off) a gay male experience, then I think it is fair to discuss whether the author is a gay man. I don’t think that is the same as trying to rip away one’s pen name.

    If an author says she is a former soap writer which makes her book about soapwriters more authentic and it turns out that the only soap experience an author has had in the bathtub, then her fables are fair discussion topics.

    It’s not a personal attack on an author, in my opinion, to examine marketing motives and marketing responses to reader buying habits. When an author sells some part of himself or herself as a reason to buy the books, it’s natural for a reader to discuss it.

  194. Emma
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 15:13:36

    Unless we write under our real names, we are *all* fakers. I’m a faker, absolutely, because I can assure you it doesn’t say “Emma Collingwood” in my passport. That name is my overall which I put on to do my job, just like my ratty old sweater that I wear when I do some painting or decorating. I feel comfortable with it (and in it), it gives me the confidence to write.

    I couldn’t care less what an author’s gender is or what name s/he uses. As long as a story is well-written and I can enjoy it, I’m perfectly fine if the author is a life-form with twelve tentacles from Pluto.

    We’re free to make our own choices, and if an author feels more comfortable writing under a male name though she’s a woman, how does that change the quality of the writing in any way? A book is a book is a book, either a good one or a waste of money. The real or assumed gender of the author has nothing to do with it.

    And seriously, if anybody here would enjoy a story *less* just because the gender of the author is not to their liking, I’d say it’s not the author who has some issues.

  195. Jane
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 15:20:42

    @Emma: Is there something about your pen name that adds extra authenticity for your work? Let’s assume that I decide to write lit fic and I create a persona for myself that I am a direct descendant of Mark Twain. I am Michael Twain. My great, great grandfather is Mark Twain. I am privvy to some of his works that are unpublished and my writing is humorous, satirical, and pithy in the matter of Mark Twain.

    Would you wonder, and would it be fair to wonder, whether that persona is true. Would it matter that I falsely traded on the Twain celebrity even if my writing was Mark Twain-ish? In some ways, creating a false persona is very James Frey-ish to me.

    As for gender of an author, it does matter to me reading romance fiction. I know myself enough to admit that I would prefer to always read a female author of romance fiction. It is possible that I am missing out because of it, but I admit to not being gender neutral in that regard. Thus, it makes sense for male authors to adopt a female persona. However, because I do prefer to read female authors, if I heard that an author was male pretending to be female, I would probably want to know more. I understand that my gender bias is problematic and the only way to rid myself of the bias is to read a plethora of romance books by males so I could be convinced there is no reason for gender preference.

  196. Ann Somerville
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 15:22:31

    Either You are insane or you are doing this deliberately.

    Man, why does it have to be a choice?

    Can’t I be mad and bad?

    I said all I wanted to say about Lanyon’s gender in my first comment on this thread. Helpfully, it’s the first comment.

    Lanyon’s kicking and squealing and generally tanty throwing instead of a simple “Look, I’m a gay man so you can just go f*ck yourself”, tends to confirm my surmise based on the writing.

    The only ones making this an issue are Lanyon, Teddy and the minions. Teddy wants to fight for the right for straight women to pretend to be gay men. Only he knows why that’s important.

  197. Shayne
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 15:26:22

    As soon as I become a vampire, I’ll let everybody know if being one or not is important to the paranormal stuff I write.

  198. Ann Somerville
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 15:40:32

    As soon as I become a vampire

    First step. Go to the premiere of Twilight with a scratched neck and hope Rob Pattinson licks it.

    It might not make you a vampire but it will certainly set you down the path of disturbed and stalkery. Who knows, sparkles can’t be far behind?

  199. Emma
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 15:45:57

    @ Jane:

    Is there something about your pen name that adds extra authenticity for your work?

    But of course. It’s English (my real name is not), it has an Age of Sail connotation, and I don’t feel bad in the least about using a pen name. The name fits the writing, but it’s perfectly clear I’m not a descendant of Admiral Collingwood, some famous cricket player or soap actor. Comparing that to your example of the Mark Twain descendant is comparing apples to pears; you’d falsely claim a kinship, there would be legal consequences coming from Twain’s estate.

    I understand that my gender bias is problematic and the only way to rid myself of the bias is to read a plethora of romance books by males so I could be convinced there is no reason for gender preference.

    Well, why should you if you don’t want to? See, I really understand where you’re coming from. You’re not alone, I’ve heard this from many readers. It’s like “only men can write real Age of Sail” or “only women know how to write real romance” – but what is “real”, after all? Real is what we, personally, enjoy the most. But as you say, this is *your* bias. It has less to do with the author and more with your expectations and perceptions. If the authors are happy with your preferences, why not simply let the authors have theirs?

    Maybe we should just assign numbers to authors – neutral in every aspect, with books only to be judged by the content.

  200. Janine
    Nov 19, 2008 @ 15:55:20

    As far as male authors writing under female names-I probably wouldn't buy the book if I knew. But I'd only feel “cheated” if the writing was bad.

    I remember being shocked to learn that romance author Jennifer Wilde was really a man — Tom Huff. I had enjoyed his books Once More, Miranda and The Slipper (though it’s been a long time since I read them, and I don’t know how they would hold up today) and he had done a great job with the female POV. It had never occurred to me when I read his books that the author might be male.

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