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Let’s Talk About Sex (and Love and then Sex Again)


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I just watched the first episode of Bones which I downloaded from iTunes. I’d been thinking about watching it for some time and was holed up in the basement working on a project and thought that running the show while I was working would be a great way to pass some time. Before I downloaded it, I googled the show and saw that David Boreantz said that what made the show were its relationships

"For me, I’ve always maintained that the show was the [Booth-Bones] relationship, maintained that the show was about the characters and I maintained that the show is about the two of us learning through the crimes and that journey that we take," he said. "That, to me, is the most important part."

After watching the first episode, I agree. The characterization of Bones was forced in places (the ‘I don’t know what that means’ meme got a bit tiresome). The mystery was resolved in about two seconds. I couldn’t decide if I liked the eccentricities of the secondary characters or whether their quirkiness fell under “trying to hard.” But the dynamic between Bones, the scientist who dealt with hard facts, and Boothe, the cop who deals with the soft ones, is very engaging.

There isn’t a TV show that doesn’t revolve around some romantic entanglement and there are few books that don’t have an undercurrent of sexual tension between the lead and someone else. Heck, even the eternal hound dog Lucas Davenport got married at some point in the long running “Prey” series. So why are romance novels, which are all about relationships, deemed to be culturally bereft?

I asked Ilona Andrews, a UF crossover author, who has read gobs of romance in the last couple of years what she thought of the genre. She said “Romance makes you a better writer. Romance is all about emotion. Readers are emotion junkies.”

But most people think that Romance is all about sex. Consider the MSNBC poll which a number of bloggers and authors discussed with much deserved disdain. The choices you were given include:

  • Yes, yes, yes! Bodice-rippers are my ultimate escape
  • No way. I don’t touch those books.
  • Sometimes, while on vacation or at the beach.

Sadly, though, even romance novels aren’t considered to be good enough for a beach read. Beach reads, as identified by some bestselling authors, include The Great Gatsby, Nancy Drew and The Stand. (Thanks for the links Jill F). Maybe they should have asked SB Sarah about her choices like Tango did.

Lynn Kerstan wrote about the fear of the sex based book for women.

All they know are the cliches. The Myths of the Seventies and Eighties have become ingrained in their saucer-deep minds. Romance novels are all about a silly female and her clothes, her advancement in society, her search for a handsome, wealthy tycoon or sheik or pirate to fulfill her fantasies, and sex.

Mostly about sex. That’s what really interests the journalists and the uninformed public. Especially in America, which is simultaneously hung up about sex and obsessed with it. Sex is forbidden, irresistible territory.

I think Kerstan is right. In the past couple of weeks, there was a huge storm that arose over a picture of pink high heels that a young woman wore to welcome her soldier home from Iraq. Apparently there were some who found the picture of the shoes cheap and trashy and wished that the paper had picked a different picture. As SB Sarah noted, ” I’m struck by two things: one, the seeming desire to asexualize a homecoming.”

Again, the idea that the woman was some sexual being was offensive to some. Are we going to be forced back into corsets and coverings from head to toe? I do not understand the fear behind women claiming their sexuality. I would think that men would want women to be more sexual. What is seriously so terrifying about a woman is sexually empowered? Although I’m not sure whether romance reading women are more sexually in tune than another woman – obviously that’s a perception and I have no idea whether it is actually backed up by empirical evidence.

Even among romance readers, the highly sexualized character is not universally favored. The reviews of Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase, a book that is recommended by nearly every reviewer here at Dear Author, have, as Candy has succinctly summarized included this criticism: OH MY GOD THE HEROINE IS A WHORE YOU GUYS THIS IS TOTALLY GROSS.

“I agree with some of the other reviewers who got sick of hearing the heroine call herself a w…… I will not read Chase again, or at least, I will not purchase another one of her books.” LINK

I do not like a book where the main character proudly admits she is a “wh____e”. At that point I stopped reading the book. LINK

i started skipping pages after about 80pgs. who wants to hear a woman say constantly “I AM A WH…? yes she was treated badly, so move on, and find a way to use the letters constructively. everybody has their opinion, but with morals so lax today who wants to read about a courtesan who admits that she is a WH… and proud of it, even if some is for show. LINK

A sexualized female is dangerous to both women and men in large enough numbers that it is still acceptable to insult the millions of women who read romance by reducing their chosen hobby to a couple of sexually degrading terms (‘bodice-rippers’). As Ms. Kerstan said, “The ingrained bigotry chafes my hide.”

What is it going to take for romance to be considered on the same cultural level as say a trite but engaging television show like Bones?

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

53 Comments

  1. Ana
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 06:09:23

    What a great article Jane.

    So why are romance novels, which are all about relationships, deemed to be culturally bereft?

    I think that it can’t be only about the sex or about the romance. As you say, there is sex and romance in pretty much every book out there. Even in the much acclaimed Dan Brown’s The da Vinci Code, there is an element of romance. Prize winners TV Shows like Grey’s Anatomy are all about the relationships aren’t they?

    So it seems to me, that it has got to be something else as well that brings out the disdain against romance novels and in my opinion it is the fact that ALL romance novels, have to follow at least one rule: that there will a HEA regardless of how we get there. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with it, in fact that is one of the reasons why I read romance novels in the first place – the reassuring fact that there will be a happy ending for the couple that I am reading about. Even though there are a myriad of ways of getting there and each of them is what keeps me reading the genre.
    I have no problems with this “rule” and I take that the millions that read romance don’t either.

    But I can see how people can look down on this rule as see it as one that cheats some readers from a more exciting read where the unknown outcome is what keeps them going. One can retort that every genre has its own set of “rules” – but I don’t think any of them have a clear rule in how things must end and that is what sets them all apart from Romance novels.

    This is of course, my must humble opinion.

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  2. Jules Jones
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 06:37:40

    Oh, there’s at least one other genre where the ending is expected to follow a rule. I read a lot of mysteries, and one of my expectations is that by the last page I will know whodunnit and how. An author can do a lot of things to play with or even break the genre expectations, including showing that it was all a mistake and there was no murder; but I will *not* be happy if I get to the end of something that is marketed as a mystery and have the author effectively say, “No, I’m not going to tell you what really happened.” And I’ll be even less happy if someone claims that the dictionary definition of the word “mystery” means that the author is entitled to ignore this basic genre convention.

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  3. Jackie
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 06:43:05

    What is it going to take for romance to be considered on the same cultural level as say a trite but engaging television show like Bones?

    Part of the problem? Covers that depict the hero/heroine in a state of undress or in an act of passion (or more accurately, a passionate pose). Romance may be all about the emotion overall, but as long as the covers focus on the intimate, that’s how non-romance readers are going to continue to think of them: the Yes! Yes! Yes! Bodice Rippers.

    But you know, it’s way more than that. It’s American culture overall. In a society where sex is used to sell everything from dolls to clothing to food, people have come to expect the covert message of BUY THIS TO FEEL SEXY. Maybe it’s because it’s a COVERT message — no one’s actually using the marketing message of “Buy this to feel sexy” or “Buy this to have strangers desire you,” as far as I know — and romance novels aren’t covert at all. Romance novels give readers what other products (and many novels) only hint at: sex. And not meaningless sex: sex between people who love each other. Sex with love, as opposed to the covert sexy, lust-driven messages we as a society have been bombarded with.

    Maybe part of the discomfort here is that romance novels make people, on some level, aware of just how sexualized we are as a society, and that makes people squirm. We really are backwards in so many ways, when it comes to sexuality and the human body overall.

    (I hope this makes sense. I haven’t had coffee yet.)

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  4. Nora Roberts
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 06:46:42

    The sex, the HEA, the sex, primarily for women so can’t be important or valuable, the sex, bodice rippers once were and so will always be because it’s fun to smirk about, the sex, nursing mother and man-titty covers, the sex, squishy feelings like love, authors and readers who talk about how HAWT the book is. And the sex.

    That’s the short run-down of why I think Romance as a genre still gets bitch-slapped. It’s short-hand, and more fun to sneer and smirk than to think about it and say: Hmmm, books that celebrate human emotion and relationships, and sex ARE valuable. Plus fun.

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  5. GrowlyCub
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 06:50:58

    I agree that the HEA is what detractors have the biggest issue with (maybe because their own lives are not happy and they grudge others even the vicarious experience of happiness), but I disagree with the idea that other genres don’t have rules or that they are less clear. Mystery readers expect a solution of the crime, thriller readers want to see the good guy put away the bad guys, Western readers expect their loner hero to ride off into the sunset for further adventures and Fantasy readers expect some variation of good triumphing over evil.

    It all comes down to romance being mainly by women for women and there’s nothing women like better than putting down each other as regrettable as this is and as much as this reinforces the patriarchic, undesirable underpinnings of (Western) society.

    While the loudest scoffers are often men, the more insidious ones are other women. Those who righteously voted ‘I don’t touch those books.’ Women who keep telling me I should stop reading ‘this thrash’ all the while happily reading Pilcher and Steele from the library and being convinced that their reading material is superior to mine because it comes in hardcover and doesn’t say ‘romance’ on the spine.

    There are many examples of dis-empowering and outright abusive practices that are enforced by women in societies all over the globe. Often those practices and attitudes seem to be perpetrated with a subconscious thought of ‘if I had to suffer through it, why should the next generation have it any better?’

    I’m not sure there’s really anything we can do beyond proudly showing what we read, review and invite non-romance readers to the dark side with our cookies and, maybe most importantly, being non-defensive about our tastes, which is the hardest thing to do.

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  6. Christine Merrill
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 07:33:42

    I think, until society in general, and women in particular, can overcome the need to conform, to be popular, and to be liked, we’re kind of stuck being the butt of the joke. There is no change, in content or cover or ending, that will make society accept us. Because if we change the covers, people will refuse to look, and assume that they are still there (like the bodice ripper plots). If we remove the sex, the people who don’t read will not notice.

    And those that do notice will assume we sold out, because they were right and we were wrong. We finally wised up, and stopped being loud, tasteless and embarrassing. And perhaps they will let us be second class citizens, instead of totally déclassé.

    No matter what we do, I think we will continue to be judged by a stereotype that was created in 1975. At least, we will until the bullies get tired of the joke, and go pick on someone else.

    In the mean time, the only thing we can change is our reaction to the criticism. The Today Show thinks we’re pop culture trash for bored housewives, and beneath the notice of right thinking people?

    Well, pot meet kettle, Today Show.

    Friends think we read or write trash? I find a direct stare and total lack of embarrassment or defensiveness, will shut just about anyone up. I've got nothing to apologize for, no reason to cringe. And not much time to devote to people who take such an avid interest in my recreational reading, or cheap shots at my job.

    If we hold our heads up, and refuse to change things we don't want to change, then eventually the world will either move on, or come over to our side.

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  7. Leslie Kelly
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 07:47:32

    While talking about some of the ways the media smacks romance…I just read the EW issue about the “best entertainment of the past 25 years.” Including the top 100 books and top authors. Not a single romance on there anywhere. Pop fiction, yes, including books like The DaVinci Code, but not one romance. (Cold Mountain came the closest–and it’s not a romance novel!)

    They also had a “most prolific authors of the past 25 years” and Stephen King was there as well as a few others. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I have the feeling Nora has more titles under her belt than he does.

    I just don’t see why EW needed to entirely ignore such a large part of the fiction market.

    Then again, they chose The Simpsons as the best TV show of the past 25 years. Which says a lot about EW’s lists.

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  8. Nora Roberts
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 08:09:06

    ~I just don't see why EW needed to entirely ignore such a large part of the fiction market~

    I have to say, unfortunately, I’m used to it. It’s frustrating, occasionally infuriated, but mostly it’s just same shit, different day.

    I deal with it by trying to write good books, by presenting myself as intelligently and honestly as possible in interviews. By NEVER saying how hawt the books are, how I just looove researching them with my husband. (And I’ve read too many interviews where writers do some variation on that) And at the same time never blushing away from the fact that yes, there’s sex in the books. I combat it by making clear, if the other person uses the term, that I do NOT write bodice rippers, and the term is both dated and insulting.

    I’ve done countless interviews with countless media–and I know that there will be times when that interview has been solid and intelligent and professional and on sides. And when it goes to press or airs, the editor or producer will decide to title it with something like: Passionate Pages! or All She Desires–or some other foolish crap.

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  9. Gennita Low
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 08:10:31

    Like Nora said, it’s the shorthand and many people just like to give an opinion, especially negative ones, about things of which they know very little. For example, I can’t count the many times I’d say “Florida” and someone in the group would bring up “those horrendous hurricanes,” even if he’d never lived in the state or been through our hurricane season. And no matter how I’d explain that it isn’t quite that bad, giving facts and figures, including my experience of having lived here for 20 years with only one especially bad year, the impression left by the consensus is that hurricanes = Florida = bad.

    So it is with “romance.” All those facts and figures we love to toss out to strangers and haters roll off their shrugging shoulders like so much water down a duck’s back. To me, after listening to the same conversation about “bodice rippers/trash” or reading the same type of articles over and over, I’m of the opinion that there is just a need to say something about something, even though it’s all white noise. Those who use shorthand have no/very little idea of what they’re talking.

    The Bones/Booth dynamic has grown more interesting as the sexual tension between them amplified. I remember how the TV forums exploded in anticipation of their kiss under the mistletoe. So I think romance done right is still what sells.

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  10. Corrine
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 08:12:46

    Part of the problem? Covers that depict the hero/heroine in a state of undress or in an act of passion (or more accurately, a passionate pose). Romance may be all about the emotion overall, but as long as the covers focus on the intimate, that's how non-romance readers are going to continue to think of them: the Yes! Yes! Yes! Bodice Rippers.

    Thank you! In addendum to this: some of the series romance, synopsis-in-under-ten-words titles don’t really help either: The Italian Billionaire’s Revenge on his Pregnant Virgin Mistress. Honestly, would you take that seriously? I’m not disparaging the quality of these books, because I’ve read some that I very much enjoyed, but newcomers to the genre probably don’t immediately equate these with quality.

    No matter what we do, I think we will continue to be judged by a stereotype that was created in 1975.

    In a way I agree, and in a way I disagree. I think if we keep on keeping on, we could lose the potential readers that feel ashamed every time they peruse a romance. If we change the look, at least, to a less gratuitously sexual one, those shame-faced potential sales might be lured in before they realized, hey this is romance.

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  11. Keishon
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 08:28:58

    No matter what we do, I think we will continue to be judged by a stereotype that was created in 1975

    What about those authors that give the critics the material to work with, eh? Admittedly, we have authors who continue to write to those stereotypes but it is not indigenous to the romance genre. Almost anytime there’s any media attention given to any romance novel, they go and pick up a Connie Mason or Cassie Edwards book. Blech.

    I would think that Nora Roberts among a few others would represent the best the genre has to offer. I always recommend her books to skeptics and a few come away liking her books.

    I had a moment where a co-worker from x-years past, gave me a Sandra Brown book to read and classified it as “good white trash.” The book was great and I was put off by her classifying it like that but I didn’t ask her why she would call a book she liked “white trash.”

    I’m of the mind of correcting the misconception when it happens. Educate where you can and move on. I love romance. I may criticize the lack of originality in the genre (another topic) but I love the genre and I am a emotional junkie that Ms. Andrews is talking about. I have to have that connection, the emotional reward at the end of the journey and romance does just that.

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  12. Toddson
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 08:38:26

    I think there are a number of factors at play. First, romances usually focus on a woman and what she wants. Second, they focus on emotions – while there will be a plot, the emotions and relationship between the hero and heroine are the point of the book. And, yes, there are a lot of books that fit the stereotype. But you know, there are a lot of dumb, shallow books for men – westerns, thrillers, etc. – that don’t get the level of condescension that romances do.

    Maybe if romance had more explosions and car chases ….

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  13. Linda Banche
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 08:57:55

    In reply to Corinne,

    I remember when I started reading romance novels, I felt ashamed, too. Society brainwashes all of us to some extent. Some people eventually think for themselves, some don’t. Unfortunately, the small-minded people also seem to have the biggest mouths.

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  14. KCfla
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 09:02:05

    some of the series romance, synopsis-in-under-ten-words titles don't really help either: The Italian Billionaire's Revenge on his Pregnant Virgin Mistress. Honestly, would you take that seriously? I'm not disparaging the quality of these books, because I've read some that I very much enjoyed, but newcomers to the genre probably don't immediately equate these with quality.

    OMG- I’ve been reading Romance since I was about 13 ( I’m now pushing 50-hard!), and those titles have always bothered/annoyed/embarassed me.( no offense meant to the authors- I’ve read alot of them, and many ARE really good. But the titles….. :-0) And my non-Romance reading friends will always point those books out first as to why “Romance books are crap”, or remarks of that kind.

    While the loudest scoffers are often men, the more insidious ones are other women. Those who righteously voted ‘I don't touch those books.' Women who keep telling me I should stop reading ‘this thrash' all the while happily reading Pilcher and Steele from the library and being convinced that their reading material is superior to mine because it comes in hardcover and doesn't say ‘romance' on the spine

    I’m with you there GC.

    As a reader, I do the only thing I can ( which Keishon also mentions). I talk rationally, try to dismiss the *stereotypes*, lend them one of the best ( Nora, SEP, etc) and see if I can bring them around. Doesn’t always work, but I’ve had more good luck than bad.

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  15. Christine Merrill
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 09:19:12

    What about those authors that give the critics the material to work with, eh?

    There is nothing we can do about them.

    If we take the stand that author X Y or Z needs to be taken out behind the barn for crimes against literature, then what do we do next: ask the entire subgenre of erotica to go stand somewhere else, because we don’t want people to think we are together? And then, could someone please cover up all the nekkid covers, put some tape on them, or something? And cross out every other word on those 3 paragraph titles, until there are no billionaires, sheiks, babies, mistressses…

    Where do we draw the line, to get down to the short list of romances that critics can take seriously?

    The reason all these things exist in the first place is because people are buying them. Publishers will change it all in a heartbeat, if they can make more money by doing it a different way.

    To reject the tacky stuff (by whatever definition of tacky you want to use) is to reject part of the audience we already have, in an attempt to gain the audience that we don’t have. And the audience we have is HUGE, compared with the audience for mainstream fiction.

    I think we are better served in encouraging the existing readers to be unashamed of their reading habits. Never mind what the neighbors think. Do what makes you happy. And romance will make you happy. Because that’s the whole point of the genre.

    But don’t wear a negligee to parent teacher conferences. We can be supportive of what we’ve got, by not creating any new stereotypes. We just need to demonstrate for as long as it takes, that romance fans are the majority of the book buying public, and they look and act just like everyone else.

    Considering how long it’s taking to get rid of racism, sexism, and a bunch of other, more serious biases, it’s going to take a while to get the point across.

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  16. Anji
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 09:29:09

    What about those authors that give the critics the material to work with, eh?

    There is nothing we can do about them.

    Actually, I was thinking that that question was more about public representation, i.e. how authors present themselves, rather than the subject matter.

    But I’m over-medicated (nasty cold), so my brain is not working properly right now…

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  17. K. Z. Snow
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 09:43:22

    Given the current breadth of variety in the genre, it really is quite astonishing that so many readers (and critics/reviewers) can’t find something they like. I mean, hell — paranormal, inspirational, contemporary, traditional fantasy, urban fantasy, historical, Western, sci fi, BDSM, GLBT, EIEIO. The list goes on and on, and it covers the sexual-content spectrum, too.

    One can’t be much of a reader if nothing appeals.

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  18. Jackie
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 09:44:53

    By NEVER saying how hawt the books are, how I just looove researching them with my husband. (And I've read too many interviews where writers do some variation on that)

    Heh. I admit, I did this in the acknowledgments page of my first book. But I wasn’t talking about researching sex. It was an inside joke about how he came with me to a strip club, which I went to when I was researching them for Hell’s Belles. His rationale? He wanted to help me with my research. (But oddly, when I offered to buy him a lap dance and pulled out my notebook to take notes, he said no — his support of my research would only go so far.)

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  19. Jackie
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 09:46:17

    Maybe if romance had more explosions and car chases ….

    …then they’d be romantic suspense. :)

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  20. MoJo
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 09:54:46

    What is it going to take for romance to be considered on the same cultural level as say a trite but engaging television show like Bones?

    For a man to write it and stand up and say, “It’s genre romance. Get over it.” And maybe not even then, though HIS books will hit the NYT list in a flat second.

    I work in a female-dominated industry where the pay goes down every year, and somehow the suits convince the majority of the workers that it’s okay. I don’t know how they do this. It’s a pink collar ghetto and every industry that has become dominated by women has come to be devalued and undermined somehow: If not in money, then in status. If not in status, then in respect.

    I haven’t read Loretta Chase’s book yet, but I’ll be damned if I don’t pick it up now. A woman who’s honest enough about it to charge for it AND MORE IMPORTANTLY knows how much she’s worth so that she can become independently wealthy doing it? I’m so on board with that.

    IMO, women can sometimes be like crabs in a bucket.

    /cynic

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  21. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 10:05:38

    Even among romance readers, the highly sexualized character is not universally favored.

    I haven’t read the Chase book, although I’m a fan of her work, but there’s a difference between a highly sexualized character and a woman who sells her body for money. In today’s society, (or any society) how many women do this because they are “highly sexualized”? Prostitution is about having no other options, in my opinion, and it must be incredibly damaging to the psyche. I would have trouble believing that such a heroine doesn’t have any hang-ups.

    As far as the “romance is just sex” stereotype, I’m one of those readers who likes it HAWT and am pretty vocal about it. Sometimes I feel as though authors would rather be appreciated for their prose or characterization, but I think a well-written love scene deserves praise, too! Romance is underrated because it’s all about love, and sometimes, sex. I will never understand why these are considered unimportant, unworthy subjects.

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  22. roslynholcomb
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 10:10:53

    Jackie, that’s so funny I did the same thing, but my dh wouldn’t go. His explanation? The women would pay more attention to me than they did to him. (He was right. Who knew that strippers would show off for other women?) I did take my brother in law, and took notes while the young lady did her job.

    I can’t believe anyone uses the term ‘bodice ripper’ anymore. I’ve been reading romances for 35 years and I don’t think the term was ever appropriate, outside a certain subset of romances.

    My books are sexy, and I enjoy sexy books. I think it’s totally sexist that we as a culture have a problem with a woman liking sexy books. I focus primarily on the story, of course because no matter how hot the sex is without a story I won’t keep an audience for long. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with women liking to read books that have hot sex in them, and it’s damned unfair that we have to be like Caesar’s wife in that regard.

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  23. Nora Roberts
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 10:20:32

    Jill, I’m saying when writers and readers talk about the hawt, hawt, hawt, then it becomes about the hawt–and not about the sex within the context of the story. It’s that the detractors and the media will jump on, while they disregard all the rest.

    I don’t want to be known as a writer of hawt books. I want to be known as a good writer–whose books contain well written love scenes as well as good characterization, strong dialogue, a solid story, etc.

    But if I go into an interview saying: Oh yeah, this one STEAMS! the gist of the interview is going to be steam.

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  24. Toddson
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 10:25:29

    Given the current breadth of variety in the genre, it really is quite astonishing that so many readers (and critics/reviewers) can't find something they like.

    I think for some people it’s not that they can’t find something they like, but that they think anything they don’t like or approve of shouldn’t be written or published. And, of course, there are those who hear “romance” and automatically think “trash” without having read the book in question or, possibly, any romance at all.

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  25. azteclady
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 10:40:13

    And, of course, there are those who hear “romance” and automatically think “trash” without having read the book in question or, possibly, any romance at all.

    And then there are those who read a romance, like it, and on the spot decide that it cannot be a romance. Why, they liked it, it cannot be trash! ergo, it cannot be a romance.

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  26. Janine
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 10:45:53

    Given the current breadth of variety in the genre, it really is quite astonishing that so many readers (and critics/reviewers) can't find something they like. I mean, hell -’ paranormal, inspirational, contemporary, traditional fantasy, urban fantasy, historical, Western, sci fi, BDSM, GLBT, EIEIO. The list goes on and on, and it covers the sexual-content spectrum, too.

    I don’t think it’s astonishing. I went through a phase almost a decade ago where, after years of reading romances, I got more and more picky and it became harder for me to enjoy them. I was so frustrated that I started reading literary fiction and classics instead and even started making negative generalizations about the genre, I am ashamed to say.

    I think for me this came partly out of frustration with the difficulty of finding romances I enjoyed (though there were some, they were far few and in between), and partly becasue I lacked the self-confidence to not care what other people thought, and I didn’t want my friends who read literary fiction to look down on me.

    So I think there is a social, peer-pressure aspect to it too — the more people pile on romance, the more pressure there is to not admit that you read it and enjoy it. And since I wasn’t enjoying much of it at that time, I caved to the pressure, which I now think was immature and insecure of me.

    What changed my attitude was finding review sites like AAR and TRR, which helped me find a lot more books I enjoyed, and got me to meet other romance readers who traded recommendations with me and helped me find even more books I loved.

    But I can definitely see how people who don’t know about review sites may not have much luck finding the books that appeal to their particular tastes at the bookstore.

    The variety of subgenres may make it easier to find a type of book, but it doesn’t necessarily make it easier to find what you crave — especially if what you crave is a particular style of prose, or a heroine like the one in the Loretta Chase book.

    Yeah, we here online all know about Loretta Chase, but the people who criticize romance may not. They may have just picked up a few romances off the bookstore shelf at random, and since there are so many books published, the chances that they would pick up exactly what most appeals to them are slim. And if they ended up with a weaker book or books, they may just decide that they don’t want to keep spending their money on more such books, and then they don’t read further in the genre, but write it off instead.

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  27. Christine Merrill
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 11:01:10

    Actually, I was thinking that that question was more about public representation, i.e. how authors present themselves, rather than the subject matter.

    I’m not sure we can do much about them, either. There are always people who manage to be inappropriate, where ever they go. They talk too loud, drink too much, and always say the wrong thing. They are the center of attention, especially if it’s negative attention. I’ve met women that only missed being drag queens by an accident of gender.

    Maybe it looks worse, if it’s a romance author, but it’s not like we corner the market on colorful personalities. I’m sticking with ‘Don’t wear your negligee to parent teacher conferences’.

    But if you were doing it before you started writing? Well, just be yourself, I guess. But know that the camera will always be on you, because you are the one who chose to stand out.

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  28. Dana
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 11:01:46

    But I can definitely see how people who don't know about review sites may not have much luck finding the books that appeal to their particular tastes at the bookstore.

    I think that that’s a big hurdle for some people. I think all of us have read at least a few romances that were DNFs or thrown at wall. And this happens to even savvy romance readers. I often browse in a bookstore and pick up whatever sounds good, without reference to reviews, and the results can be mixed. So, there is every chance that a reader picking up a romance at random may stumble upon a book that is, for them, unreadable. Such a person is not likely to give many more chances to the genre, figuring that that’s all there is to offer. A male friend of mine said “Don’t tell me that Author X is the best in the genre, because I onced read a few pages of one of her books in the airport and couldn’t read any more.” Now, I do happen to like many of Author X’s books, but there are some weaker ones, and her style is not for everyone. I doubt I could convince this guy to like any romance, because he’s just too “cool”, but certainly picking up a book left at an airport and reading a few pages at random is not likely to sway anyone who is not already inclined to want to read the genre.

    Similarly, my husband often reads random sections of books I have left in the bathroom, and is always coming upon sex scenes out of context. He’s open minded, and would read a romance novel if I recommended it, but his current impression of the genre based on his reading is that it features men with abnormally large penises and silly sexual dialogue.

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  29. Dana
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 11:11:25

    I am trying to be an embassador for the genre, but I really don’t know what to recommend to male friends who say “okay, I’ll give it a shot- tell me what the best book in the genre is.” Well, that’s very hard, because my favorite book is not likely to be the one that would appeal to them the most.

    So, can anyone recommend a romance book that is likely to most appeal to sciency 30 year old males, who watch sports, and read mainly fantasy, if anything. Paranormal or Fantasy romances aren’t likely to be good for them, because the fantasy elements or world building will usually be weak in comparison to what they’re used to reading. What I’m looking for is a really well written novel (that’s key- quality of writing is number #1), which also contains elements that may be liked by geeky or sporty males.

    As a point of reference, my hubsand’s favorite author is George R. R. Martin, and his favorite leisure activity is watching baseball and playing video games.

    Can anyone help a girl out?

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  30. Jackie
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 11:33:01

    Dana, I love George R. R. Martin. (When, oh when, will DANCES WITH DRAGONS come out???)

    I have tons of authors to recommend. But so as not to get off topic here, feel free to email me, and I’d be happy to chat offline.

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  31. Gennita Low
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 11:46:19

    My trucker neighbor reads JD Robb and enjoys her books (futuristic romantic suspense). I enjoyed the Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson series (shapeshifter, suspense, romantic elements, fantasy elements). If they like a bit more bombings and action, there is Suzanne Brockmann’s SEAL Team series. I have a SEAL series too, if they like more exotic locales (Asia, Eastern Europe). There’s fantastic world building in Lilith Saintcrow’s Danny Valentine series (demons, hunters, urban fantasy). And oh, Marliss Melton, another SEAL series. Cindy Gerard’s books. There are more, and I’m sure the others will be chiming in with many more suggestions. ;-)

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  32. Michelle
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 11:53:47

    Dana,

    Have you read any of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s football hero novels? They may appeal. (or some of Rachel Gibson’s hockey heroes) Two other contemporary romance authors who are amazing story tellers are Nora Roberts and Jenny Crusie. If a straight-relationship/romance story would be too “slow” for the guys, pick one of Nora’s books that has a strong suspense sub-plot. I do know of several men who really like the J.D. Robb stories. That’s another option.

    I do think that some of the historical romance authors are amazing world-builders and story tellers. Do you think one with a suspense or action-adventure story subplot would appeal more than a straight romance/ relationship story? (That’s a common critique I’ve heard from guys who are genuinely giving a romance novel a shot – usually to please a girlfriend.) Given your husband’s appreciation of fantasy and George R.R. Martin, I think that he might like english-set historical romances.

    Some ideas with a suspense/action-adventure story subplot are:

    Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s lady
    Jo Beverly’s Malloren Novels – particularly the first five
    Mary Jo Putney – particular favorites of mine are the bride trilogy, the silk trilogy, one perfect rose and angel rogue
    Loretta Chase
    Madeline Hunter

    I also adore Mary Balogh, but they aren’t plot-intense – and I always think of guys being into plot.

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  33. Dana
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 12:19:26

    Thank you. I am sorry, didn’t mean to hijack the thread for my own ends- the discussion just made me think of the trouble I have getting people to try romance, even open minded people who might enjoy it. Please send me an email (I put it as my “website”) if you would like to discuss this offline.

    I think people are on to something in that the guys I know would probably enjoy a plot intensive story a lot more than one that’s mainly about relationships and which is very talky (which I happen to like). I have read and enjoy JD Robb, but aside from the first book I really would classify them as thriller/suspense/mystery with romantic elements, so I don’t know if that would really serve as a good “sell” for the romance genre. I do love the SEP football books, but fear that they may be too relationship focused, and maybe an action-adventure historical is really the way to go.

    I will check out the recommendations, as I haven’t read some of these myself. Thank you.

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  34. Jane
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 12:23:04

    Ned, who is a big lover of Fantasy (high fantasy like George RR Martin, Terry Goodkind, and so forth), agreed to read one romance in exchange for me reading a book of his. I gave him Claudia Dain’s The Holding, an older romance set in medieval England. He liked it quite a bit.

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  35. Jia
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 12:40:39

    I love George R. R. Martin. (When, oh when, will DANCES WITH DRAGONS come out???)

    End of September. No, I don’t have the date memorized or anything. *coughs*

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  36. Dana
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 12:50:51

    I love George R. R. Martin. (When, oh when, will DANCES WITH DRAGONS come out???)

    End of September. No, I don't have the date memorized or anything. *coughs*

    Well, in his updates and not-a-blog blog, GRRM said he hoped to have the book finished before his trips to Spain/Portugal at the end of June, and if that happened, then it would be out in the fall. He also said he’d post as soon as it’s done. He has not said that it is done, and end of June is upon us. I predict that the release date is about to get pushed back.

    Sorry for once again sidetracking, and I return you to your regularly scheduled discussion.

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  37. Anji
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 13:18:04

    Maybe it looks worse, if it's a romance author, but it's not like we corner the market on colorful personalities. I'm sticking with ‘Don't wear your negligee to parent teacher conferences'.

    I think the difficult part about this is not that you don’t have the right to chose to present yourself how you want to, but that ‘mainstream’ media picks on those examples to justify the “it’s all about sex/bodice-ripper/other stereotypes about romance” commentary. It’s another way to talk about romance, romance novels, and romance authors in dismissive ways…

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  38. Keri M
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 13:32:09

    Kinda of a funny topic in my household. My husband and I are voracious readers and we have our favorite authors together and then I have my romance thing going as he puts it. I have recommended reads to him and the first words out of his mouth are…what is on the cover, because he reads at work as well. So if the cover is to obvious as a romance book he won’t take it to read. But I read passages to him all the time and have caught him in the bathroom reading passages himself out of my books. I cannot convince him that it is ok to come out of the closet on reading romances…no one is judging him…at least not in our household. :-) Keri

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  39. Jackie
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 13:40:36

    End of September. No, I don't have the date memorized or anything. *coughs*

    ***SQUEE***

    Jia, you just made me a very happy camper.

    I cannot convince him that it is ok to come out of the closet on reading romances…

    Heh. Hey, at least he’s reading them…

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  40. kirsten saell
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 13:59:20

    Dana, I love George R. R. Martin. (When, oh when, will DANCES WITH DRAGONS come out???)

    I predict that the release date is about to get pushed back.

    I’m ready to storm the guy’s house and put his head on a pike if he doesn’t hurry up.

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  41. Keri M
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 15:00:24

    Jackie, I said he was reading them, I didn’t say he was putting into practice what he was reading. ;-) K

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  42. Robinjn
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 15:35:03

    I think a huge part of the disparagement of romance ties into continuing chauvinism against women in general. These days it’s non-PC to be verbally demeaning to women to their face, but being demeaning to a genre that is largely written by and for women is totally “different.” It puts one degree of separation between the chauvinistic comment and its true intended audience which, of course, is really not the books themselves but the women who read them. By saying, “this genre is brainless, useless, trashy fluff,” what people are saying is that “any woman who reads this genre is brainless, useless, and trashy.”

    Thus the backlash from some women, who understand that linkage and will stand up and say, “of *course* I’m not the type of woman who would read that junk. I’m smart and capable.” So we are somehow supposed to be ashamed of liking the genre, because only a certain type of woman would read it. The publishing industry aids and abets the image with stupid titles and cringe-worthy covers that only reinforce the chauvinistic stereotype.

    I think sites like this one and SMTB really are helping shine a spotlight on the real issues and show that those women who read romance can indeed be brilliant, capable, and independent.

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  43. SonomaLass
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 17:34:02

    Ned, who is a big lover of Fantasy (high fantasy like George RR Martin, Terry Goodkind, and so forth), agreed to read one romance in exchange for me reading a book of his. I gave him Claudia Dain's The Holding, an older romance set in medieval England. He liked it quite a bit

    Jane, I’m dying to know — what book of his did you read? And did you like it?

    Dana, I love George R. R. Martin. (When, oh when, will DANCES WITH DRAGONS come out???)

    I predict that the release date is about to get pushed back.

    I'm ready to storm the guy's house and put his head on a pike if he doesn't hurry up.

    Poor George! It must be tough to have SO many fans who are SO mad at you because of how much they love your books. I know he wants the book done as much as we do; we just have to remember that we should want it to be as good as he can make it. (I think it helped when the Giants won the Superbowl, though.)

    Yes, he left for the Spain & Portugal tour last weekend, so no work on the book for a while. I don’t think there’s any way we’ll see it before 2009. As soon as he posts the promised “manuscript finished” update, I will start my re-reading of the whole series.

    [/offtopic response]

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  44. Jennie
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 18:13:41

    I wonder – did any of the readers who had a problem with Loretta Chase’s heroine being a courtesan have a problem with the fact that the hero also whored himself? Of course, he was doing it “for England”, but it was actually more distasteful to me (not that either bothered me very much), because he had less choice in the matter. The heroine of Your Scandalous Ways could at least choose her partners based on her own inclinations.

    I have no moral problem with prostitution, but agree that the reality of being a whore shouldn’t be glamorized (as in Pretty Woman). I think being a courtesan is (was?) a very different matter, in terms of social stature, lifestyle (“courtesan” implies a higher standard of living) and control over one’s own destiny. So I’m all for courtesan heroines, “lax morals” be damned.

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  45. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 23:44:50

    I think being a courtesan is (was?) a very different matter, in terms of social stature, lifestyle (”courtesan” implies a higher standard of living) and control over one's own destiny.

    Not sure how common it was for a courtesan to dictate the terms of an arrangement. Didn’t the men usually decide when to visit, and when to break off the relationship?

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  46. kirsten saell
    Jun 24, 2008 @ 23:57:40

    Not sure how common it was for a courtesan to dictate the terms of an arrangement. Didn't the men usually decide when to visit, and when to break off the relationship?

    I expect a courtesan would not have been living three pennies from the gutter, and would have therefore had more financial freedom to break off a relationship, or to be more discriminating with the men she entertained.

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  47. Sarai
    Jun 25, 2008 @ 10:23:39

    I took this quote from LibraryLady “I read 3 books a week what have you read recently?” whenever someone sneers at my cover or blinks when I tell them what I want to write. At least I’m reading. Most people finish a book a month if that and here I am reading 10 to 13 and enjoying it. So to those who put down the genre let them. They don’t bother me because I know what kind of wonderful women and men read romance.

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  48. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 25, 2008 @ 11:34:24

    Not sure how common it was for a courtesan to dictate the terms of an arrangement. Didn't the men usually decide when to visit, and when to break off the relationship?

    For actual “courtesans” it was not at all uncommon for the woman to dictate all sorts of limits and rules (and to have them spelled out in a signed, legal agreement!). You can find all kinds of tidbits and details about the lives of real highfliers in period journals, letters, autobiographies (aka tell-alls), etc.

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  49. MB
    Jun 25, 2008 @ 13:52:53

    Dana, would your husband like Diana Gabaldon? They have lots of action/adventure/history and romance. I think they would be enjoyed by men as well as women. Jamie is a wonderful character and a realistic strong male.

    I think Kage Baker’s cyborg “Company” series would work as well. There is a strong romantic element running through the series, but nothing that would bother a man. I don’t remember any real sex scenes. (Sci Fi)

    Also, what about Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series? (also Sci Fi)

    Long stretch here, but what about some of Georgette Heyer’s novels with a very strong male protagonist? Regency Buck or These Old Shades come to mind.

    Linda Howard’s 2-3 most recently published might work. Strong men, strong women, lots of action.

    Margaret Maron’s Judge Deborah Knott series has a great romance across several novels. I love the realistic relationship between Deborah and her husband. (Mystery) Also, what about Dorothy Sayers “Lord Peter” books?

    I also agree that Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and maybe Jenny Cruisie (try Bet Me first) might work.

    Not exactly romance, but too good to miss is Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series.

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  50. MB
    Jun 25, 2008 @ 19:58:48

    Oops, 2 more for Dana:

    -Lori Foster’s “Say No To Joe”

    -Any of Suzanne Brockmann’s SEAL novels. She has 2 series. The Troubleshooters series is best. They usually show the man’s point-of-view. Lots of action/suspense. The romance elements are realistic and within a man’s comfort zone, I’d think.

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  51. Rebecca
    Jun 26, 2008 @ 19:25:28

    It’s a shame that an assertive woman can’t fill out the necessary form and have her needs taken care of in a timely fashion.

    Re the genre, I don’t and don’t pretend to know to what to ascribe this entrenched attitude to. Perhaps it is in a large part influenced by a lingering disrespect towards the recreational interests of women and the placement of the home and hearth as secondary to the importance of the man’s work place. This is a lingering cultural meme.

    Individually, we all place home and hearth first and go out and work to sustain it. Culturally though, I think that there are still vestiges of that separation of home and work that automatically put “mens’” work outside the home over the “woman’s” work at home.

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  52. Lissa
    Jul 02, 2008 @ 15:11:35

    As a former reader of romance who is just coming back to it – I can say that the covers and titles of books often bother me. If those where changed, then some of the “bodice-ripper” stereotype and the public embarressment (for lack of a better term) over those covers would disapate. Also, no matter how wonderful the content – it is difficult to take a book called The Italian Billionaire's Revenge on his Pregnant Virgin Mistress seriously, or to not feel self conscious while reading it in public!

    As for reading recommends for a male? Try Elizabeth Lowell’s Donovan series, and the books that follow. She is wonderful. Her medievels are to die for also.

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  53. Sex in Romance – Big Deal? « Lurv à la Mode
    Jul 07, 2008 @ 08:58:39

    [...] Author had an excellent post about how A sexualized female is dangerous to both women and men in large enough numbers that it is [...]

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