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When a Snark Is Ruined by a Bad Rant

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Source: Karen Scott’s blog

Mrs. Giggles emailed me a snark of the Ellora’s Cave writing guidelines (scroll to the end of the document). We both agreed that the guidelines fall into the ridiculous realm at various points, particularly when Tina Engler proclaims: “Don't worry excessively about grammar usage to the point where you are stifling creativity in the name of technicality.” It’s a writing guide that deserves snarking. It’s full of ridiculous generalizations.

I will be the first to admit that snark is not in my natural repertoire such as it is in some bloggers. If I ever come across as humorous, it is largely by accident and hardly ever by design. I might have a few inspired moments but generally being funny is not my thing; unless of course, you witness my oft clumsy attempts to maneuver my body around on the physical plane. For example, if you attended RWA National, you would have seen me trip on the stairs to the lounge nearly every single time. See: Unintentional (and embarrassing) physical humor.

I throw out this proviso because I am about to be critical of someone else’s attempt at making fun. The rant entitled Sporkage: Guidelines is hosted at a review site run by authors of gay romances. I believe that the author, Erastes, is the one who penned most of the “spork” in the article.

The problem is that the rant is filled with inaccurate information and poorly crafted examples to support the thesis that romances today are too restrictive. The romance genre is not perfect and there needs to be legitimate critiques in order for the genre to become stronger and healthier. I think that there is a certain dependence in the genre, a certain reliance on shorthands relying on embedded reader information.

However, we already get so much insulting criticism from those who are ignorant of the genre; it’s almost beyond belief to see those who are claiming to represent the genre make such poor arguments. At one point, the authors invoke the name of Nora Roberts but spell it Norah Roberts. I began to wonder if the entire article was a satire and all the arguments were intentionally inaccurate. It seemed so inconceivable that they could not spell Nora’s name correctly.

There is a certain sense of superior disdain that permeates the article as if by writing gay romances, these authors are so much cooler and better than the mundane hacks that dominate the romance landscape. At one point, one of the authors state “People cheat. If a writer is worth his/her salt then they'd be able to include this antiquated "taboo" and still make a story work.” Obviously the implication is that those who don’t include infidelity scenes aren’t good writers or those who do and it doesn’t work for the readers because readers simply don’t like that sort of book, the author isn’t capable.

Erastes says in the comments:

I have to say that if this is what Ellora's Cave wants, then I certainly have no interest in writing for them. Why would I want to read the same book over and over again, but then I've said that about Romance, many times.

The complaint that all romances are the same, however, is a tired and weak argument portraying the one making the assertion as without imagination or knowledge of the genre. The romance genre is the broadest in scope of any genre as it can include shapeshifters, billionaires of industry, and, oh forget it. I can’t reiterate enough that anyone who includes the statement “all romances are the same” has zero credibility with me because it points to one who is not well read within the genre.

Let me address, though, a few specific points made by the authors at Speak Its Name.

The first complaint by the two is that Romantica, as a term, cannot be trademarked:

I love the conceit that she owns the term Romantica, too. The only Romantica I know that is trademarked is the font "Romantica– .

This argument is ironic because these authors portend to place emphasis on the need for historical accuracy but can’t be bothered to employ a simple Google search on trademarks. I love the conceit that the bloggers are talking about trademark law as if they knew something about it which, by the above sentence, shows that they do not. Without getting all technical – oh, what the heck, technical is in my repertoire. I love the technical, pedantic shit.

A trademark is

word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

According to the trademark database, Romantica

IC 009. US 021 023 026 036 038. G & S: DOWNLOADABLE ELECTRONIC PUBLICATIONS IN THE NATURE OF FICTION BOOKS AND NOVELS, NAMELY EROTIC ROMANCE. FIRST USE: 20001100. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20001100

IC 016. US 002 005 022 023 029 037 038 050. G & S: PRINTED ADULT FICTION IN THE NATURE OF EROTIC ROMANCE BOOKS, NOVELS AND PUBLICATIONS. FIRST USE: 20001100. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20001100

Just as a matter of example, Patrick Riley trademarked the term “THREE PEAT” after the Bulls third championship in a row and has successfully defended this commonly used term in the court of law.

Just a few statements into the article and I am just wondering at the level of a) research abilities and b) knowledge of the authors.

Point 2 of the guidelines discussed :Strong heroines are a must. Women are much more interested in watching an independent female give a hero a run for his money and then submit than in reading about a weak creature who is a pathetic empty vessel waiting to be filled:

The poster says “I am looking at this here from a historical fiction perspective, and frankly my dear, I don't want my historical heroine to be kick-arse.”

What in the heck does “Strong heroines are a must, etc” has to do with the kick arse historical heroine? If you are going to complain about a guideline, make the complaint germane to the issue. I.e., the idea of submission is certainly a charged concept but “kick arse historical heroine” is practically a non sequitur at this point.

Point 3 is that romance readers don’t want bitchy heroines.

The authors state that of course bitchy heroines sell and cite for example: Scarlett O'Hara (non romance heroine), Becky Sharp (another anti romance heroine), Alexis Morell Carrington (um, TV character?), Colby Dexter Rowan (TV character), Erika Kane (TV character).

The problem, of course, is by failing to provide authentic romance examples to support their claims that romance readers love bitches (a very ambiguous term), the authors actually prove the point they are decrying which is that romance readers do not like the bitch heroine.

Personally, I do like a bitch heroine. I think Eve Dallas is a big bitch. I heart Eve Dallas. As do many other romance readers.

Point 4: Monogamy = good, faithlessness = bad. This "unspoken rule" is for protagonists only.

One of the authors comments I much prefer to have characters behave in a way that's REAL. People cheat. If a writer is worth his/her salt then they'd be able to include this antiquated "taboo" and still make a story work.

Notice to all you authors out there that don’t include this antiquated “taboo”. You suck. I love how fidelity is deemed to be antiquated. Just call me old fashioned then because I actually prefer my romance novel protagonists to be able to a) keep their zipper zipped and b) be faithful. I know, it’s so pedant of me, but I did state earlier how much I enjoying the pedantic things in life.

What's wrong with the heroine getting frotted and loving it and STILL running into the arms of her sickening hero and submitting to him? Hells bells, people this is 2007. *despairs* says another author.

Yeah, fidelity and honor. It’s so 1800s.

Point 5: It doesn't matter who his heroine is– the hero is always yummy.

Responds the author: WHY. Why why why why why why why? Oh– . I know. It's because books with ugly heroes, like those stupid books with Rochester and Heathcliffe never EVER sold.

Of course, because Rochester and Heathcliffe aren’t the embodiment of the tall, dark and bad to know heroes that have dominated the romance landscape since romance rose to genre prominence.

9. Use condoms wisely and if it fits the storyline. . .

Why? To prevent fictional STDs? And again, I've never seen a protagonist use such a thing. The only time I've ever seen condoms in science fiction or fantasy was in Terry Pratchett's The Fifth Elephant,in which a manufacturer of "sonkies" is immersed in a vat of latex rubber and suffocates.

I've seen them in gay erotica and porn and chick lit. . . .Again–"never seen a condom used at all in fiction. I'm not sure why this advice is even being given.

I have to say that maybe I’m just reading a different type of book (it’s called contemporary romance) than the authors are reading. These days, if a romance contemporary does not include a condom scene, I am wondering when I am going to hear the “I’m clean” talk or the “I’m worried about pregnancy” talk. It’s another point of high irony that on the one hand these authors want realism, i.e., cheating characters and on the other, can’t understand why condoms would ever be included to protect a “fictional STD”.

Anyone whose read romances can relate a book with a classic condom scene: Susan Johnson’s historicals are replete with the sponge and the french letters; Open Season by Linda Howard; more recently Charlene Teglia’s Wild Wild West incorporates many a great condom scene.

The whole article reads like a critique from someone who has never read a genre romance. No condoms? Fidelity is old-fashioned? Norah Roberts? If you are going to criticize romance conventions and say that readers within the genre want more, you can’t use books outside the romance genre to prove your point. It only serves to prove the point to which you object.

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

62 Comments

  1. Kat
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 06:40:01

    Rather ironic to want reality in your story and then invoke fiction when it comes to condoms. One would think that condom use would be even more important if characters are cheating left, right and centre.

  2. TeddyPig
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 07:08:43

    Patrick Riley trademarked the term “THREE PEAT”

    Yeah but was “Three Peat” originally a Spanish word?

    As someone who took classical guitar lessons from a Spanish instructor (Sonata Romantica anyone?) when was young I thought it was high-sterical myself when I saw they had actually trademarked that as some brand new made up word. What next, Fantasia, Magico, Classico?

    Anyway the whole condom thing… I am still trying to figure out how the hero used a condom in The Strength of The Pack and yet the heroine still got pregnant. The guy failed to notice anything wrong with the condom when he went to take it off. It’s a mystery I have yet to solve.

  3. Jessica Inclan
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 07:16:02

    Try writing a condom scene when your characters are magical–shouldn’t there be a way to get over that issue with a spell?

    I have issues with the grammar guideline. I like good grammar in a novel. Helps a lot with the reading experience.

    Jessica

  4. Charlene Teglia
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 07:30:49

    Thanks, Jane! I’m giggling over the condoms because Linda Howard’s Open Season has my favorite condom scene EVER. But yeah, in general, if condoms aren’t mentioned in a contemp, readers are going to wonder why. And are going to want to see some other reference to testing, safe sex, other forms of birth control, because they don’t want to think the hero and heroine are irresponsible idiots. Makes it hard to bond with them and root for them.

    I am shaking my head at fidelity being out of step with the times. If so, plant me in a time capsule, please.

    Must read the guidelines snark now. I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever read them. (The real guidelines, that is.)

  5. bitchy
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 07:35:45

    as an FYI, the other ‘sporker’ is Gehayi. Gehayi is well known through LiveJournal as being a supremely bitchtastic feminazi that makes even the most angry feminists with a hard case against men, The Man, and Male Establishment, look like Strawberry Shortcake. I won’t go into how she will rudely rip into anyone who doesn’t write historically like she does.

    once I saw Gehayi as the ‘co-author’, this venom from them does not surprise me in the least.

    Erastes isn’t much better, I’m afraid.

  6. ilona andrews
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 07:36:19

    The author seems to be projecting a bit.

    Point 3: I think a lot of people like bitchy heroines, but then we come to the definition of bitchy: is it bitchy as in not taking any crap or is it bitchy as whiny? Because few people like whiny heroines. :P But the validity of bitches in romance can’t be proven with references to TV.

    Point 5: I’d like to see a romance with an ugly hero.

    The rest of the points seem mostly personal issues. If we run through the list, we end up with a weak-willed bitchy slut who likes unprotected sex and digs ugly men.

    I an sure there may be a small niche market to whom that sort of thing would appeal, but I don’t really plan on hitting it. I think hero and heroine should have traits worthy of admiration. YMMV, but I want my protagonists to have a moral code. It might be twisted, but unless they have one, I don’t really want to read or write about them.

  7. JC Wilder
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 07:45:13

    Reality in romance? So the next time I pick up a m/m romance I can expect to read about hemorrhoids?

    Think I’ll pass…

  8. Treva Harte
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 08:00:46

    Hey, speaking from a publisher POV (though I’m not talking for Loose Id and this opinion is my own) I’d say that publishers will break certain romance conventions when 1) they’re sure the author understands he or she is actually breaking a romance guideline or convention, is handling it carefully and can take the flak that will ensue and 2) when it SELLS. Usually those who do break the romance conventions can’t follow those two rules.

  9. Michelle
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 08:46:33

    They probably just want the attention/blog traffic/publicity. Spelling Nora’s name wrong probably wasn’t accidental but a purposeful slap in the face. They are just used to their own little world where reality doesn’t intrude.

  10. Sarah McCarty
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 09:03:22

    Well, *blinking* that was certainly a fine display of ignorance by Speak It’s Name, wasn’t it? Should, as someone mentioned, get them a fair amount of traffic, though.

    You know Charlie- I don’t think I ever read the guidelines either.

  11. Angela James
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 09:15:25

    Linda Howard has done several interesting condom scenes. Let’s not forget the much debated scene where the hero has the condom on before the seduction begins (Kill and Tell). I love that scene. A lot of people hate it. But hey, it’s there!

    I think hero and heroine should have traits worthy of admiration. YMMV, but I want my protagonists to have a moral code.

    Yes. What you said. Emphatically yes.

  12. Charlene Teglia
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 09:15:40

    Sarah, I’ve read ‘em now and pretty much anybody writing a menage is breaking rule #4. *g* I do think you can handle that relationship dynamic and still include fidelity, though. I.e, nobody’s cheating.

  13. ilona andrews
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 09:28:23

    Charlene,

    I completely agree with you about writing a menage: I think there is a way to write it so nobody is cheating. It’s simply not defined as a one-on-one relationship.

  14. Jackie L.
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 09:43:56

    Since Erastes hates romance so much, maybe he should write mysteries. I adore the French movie, Cousin/Cousine, which is all about infidelity. So I guess the French can make infidelity work for me. And I suspect if Nora wrote a book about infidelity, I’d buy it and read, just because.

    I read romance for love relationships, not just sex. Otherwise, isn’t it all just f*ucking? I guess a person could be in love with two people at once (although I never tried it myself, just one guy is enough work for this woman). But “in love” with 20 or 30 people at once? Not gonna work for me. I think it would be erotica if well written and porn if grammar and plot and characterization are ignored.

    But romance is about love. And love and fidelity go hand in hand.

  15. Jackie L.
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 09:49:20

    Oh and in my real life, I was talking to a pregnant young woman about protecting her legal rights regarding the instantly absent FOC (father of child). She thought she’d need to know his last name to go after him for child support.

    Another young woman with an STD told me she didn’t know the guy involved well enough to ask him to wear a condom. (But she knew him well enough for vaginal penetration?)

    Erastes, if you want real life, try working an Emergency Department for a week. This is why I read fiction to relax.

  16. Nonny
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 10:31:17

    Oy. :roll:

    1) “Strong” does not equal “kick ass.” Some of the strongest female characters I’ve read in fiction aren’t like Buffy and crew. They have a quiet strength, and it shows in ways other than physical prowess and martial skill. (I’d quote references, but the ones I can think off off the top of my head aren’t romance.)

    2) I think there’s a difference between a heroine who is “bitchy,” and one who is a bitch to the hero. I don’t want to read about a heroine who treats her guy like shit, walks all over him, and basically acts like the consummate asshole that we complain about in certain depictions of alpha males. I like bitchy heroines. They’re usually sassy, smart, funny, and take no shit.

    3) Errm. Well, I don’t mind stories about open or polyamarous relationships, where the partners are consenting to sexual activity / emotional commitment outside of their primary relationship. But that’s a far cry from cheating. Cheating is deception, a lack of respect for your partner, and betrayal in one of the worst possible ways. I am personally in an open polyamorous relationship, and while I don’t mind if my guys have sex with other women, there are certain restrictions because some things I’m not comfortable with. Mainly, if they want to sleep with somebody, I want to know about it. If I were not informed and one of them tried to cover up the fact — well, frankly, I would be devastated. Infidelity (even in such an alternative relationship!) is not something a couple easily recovers from. The thought is always there: Will he do it again?

    The popular adage comes to mind: “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” This isn’t entirely true, but it is the way most people look at a man — or woman! — that cheats. I could see storylines involving infidelity that would work, but the author would have to be a master storyteller to pull it off so that the reader could trust in the hero again, because romance readers tend to emphasize with the heroine and put themselves in her shoes. (At least I do.)

    Though, I have to directly respond to this quote: “Yeah, fidelity and honor. It's so 1800s.” I don’t normally do this, but it reminded me very strongly of a scene in one of my stories, where a vampire alien to our culture is confused by the overall lack of honor. He questions the heroine if Americans even have the concept. The heroine’s response: “Oh, we have the concept. We just decided it was antiquated and tossed it out the window. We replaced it with Egocentricity 9.0.”

    5) There are plenty of disfigured or disabled heroes in romance fiction. Hell, take a look at the comprehensive lists of books featuring such that All About Romance has put together: Less Than Beautiful, Less Than Perfect, and for shits ‘n giggles, Plus Size Heroines. (Yes, I know the quote was directly related to heroes but the same could be said of heroines…)

    9) Condoms are a tricky one. Some readers find them necessary; others don’t. If they aren’t used, the heroine had better mention something about the pill or, if she’s older, having had her tubes tied. There’s still the question of STDs, but it’s a romance. I’m willing to suspend disbelief that this man is trustworthy enough to sleep with without worry of infection. Paranormals are a different story, depending on worldbuilding.

    All in all, I have to wonder… what kind of shit is this person smoking?

  17. Bonnie
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 10:34:04

    I guess if fidelity is passe, I should just divorce my husband right now because he’s just going to cheat on me. Hopefully I find out about his infidelity before he finds out that I’ve been boinking everything that moves. ::rolls eyes::

  18. Alex Beecroft
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 11:36:08

    I think it’s quite true that those of us who don’t read m/f romance cannot have an accurate opinion about the genre as a whole. But I don’t think that this sporkage was aimed at the romance genre as a whole. It was aimed specifically at those guidelines, which are – I don’t think anyone could deny – quite restrictive and silly in parts.

    My own objection to alpha males is not based on wide romance reading, only to my experience as a reader and reviewer of m/m romance, where the dark, powerful, obsessive alpha male is going very strong. Obviously it’s something that appeals to a lot of people – and that’s a good thing. But if these guidelines are followed no one would ever write a hero who was *not* an alpha male – and as I hate these arrogant characters with a passion, I would have to give up reading romance altogether.

    In much the same way, Erastes isn’t saying that he wants *all* romance to contain infidelity, he’s objecting to these guidelines saying that *no* romance should contain it. That is a terribly restrictive guideline, and automatically acts to reduce the number of different types of stories which can be told.

    Equally he isn’t saying that no heroes should be masterful and obsessive, he’s just saying that a guideline which says *all* heroes should exhibit rather scary stalker-like behaviour is automatically reducing the number of different romance stories that can be told. I honestly don’t see how that could possibly be a contentious statement. These guidelines rule out any number of different characters and create a uniformity of theme. It is, of course, the perogative of a single publishing house to create its own house style, and no one could deny that. But I also don’t think that it can be denied that these guidelines are quite restrictive, and likely to work against a wider variety of romantic themes. That’s really all that Speak Its Name is saying. There is no intention to talk about the larger romance-writing world, and I think you do it wrong in taking it as such.

  19. Mrs Giggles
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 11:55:20

    Alex,

    Perhaps what you say is true, but the blog entry itself is full of inaccuracies about the genre that it is very easy to see that the authors are bashing the entire genre. The very fundamental concept of the romance genre is that a happy ending is a must and that the main characters should have a happily ever after. This means: no infidelity, divorce, et cetera. It’s not just an “Ellora’s Cave” thing. And if these writers aren’t aware of that and they honestly believe that they are just making fun of EC, they are more naive than I imagined.

    I hesitate to say this, since one work alone is not representative of the author’s work and what I said could be taken as a personal attack on the author, but I am puzzled by Erastes’ stance in that blog entry since the work of his that I’ve read, Standish, is a most melodramatic and purple bodice-ripper gay historical that would make Emily Bronte cringe. The main characters are beautiful. They have impossibly perfect sex. What makes Standish so different from a typical 1980s bodice-ripper apart from the main characters being gay, I have no clear idea. It may be possible that the author’s future books are different, but when I read his comments, I can’t help thinking of people in glasshouses throwing stones.

    It has been said many times before and I agree with it: people who think they are too cool, too cynical, too realistic, too talented or too creative to write in the romance genre are free to write in another genre. Nobody is stopping them or think less of them. But it will be nice if they will at least check out a few details before coming up with a blog entry full of inaccurate details to “spork”.

    How will the writers like it if I have a blog entry which says something as grossly unfair as the many generalizations about the romance genre in that blog entry? I bet Erastes will come with swords and guns blazing if I say, “Gay romances are awful gender-switched romance novels written by angsty slash-fiction writing silly girls and emo gay boys on the Livejournal circuit.”

  20. Nonny
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 12:01:28

    Hmm.

    I posted a quite long reply that doesn’t seem to have gone through. I’m wondering if it got marked as spam because there were a few links in it…? (I have had this issue with my WordPress.)

  21. Alex Beecroft
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 12:25:03

    the blog entry itself is full of inaccuracies about the genre that it is very easy to see that the authors are bashing the entire genre.

    Hm, I think I’ve read it differently from you then. I honestly don’t see it as an attack on the entire romance genre. It’s possible, though that there’s a definite disconnect between Erastes’ idea of what ‘romance’ is, and what the majority of romance readers might think it is. A disconnect that makes it look as though he’s criticising the whole genre, when really what he’s interested in is writing romances which don’t necessarily follow the unwritten (or in this case the written) rules.

    The very fundamental concept of the romance genre is that a happy ending is a must and that the main characters should have a happily ever after. This means: no infidelity, divorce, et cetera. It's not just an “Ellora's Cave” thing. And if these writers aren't aware of that and they honestly believe that they are just making fun of EC, they are more naive than I imagined.

    Hm, I’m probably very naive myself. I *prefer* romance to have a happy ending – to be frank I’m not in it to be depressed! But I’d accept a tragic ending if it was uplifting and beautiful (like Romeo and Juliet.)
    As for infidelity, what about a story which begins with the characters married but seperated by war – the heroine thinks the hero is dead. She grieves but takes a lover to fill the emptiness of her husband’s absence. He comes back, and is horrified by her infidelity – and the plot revolves around the way he learns to forgive her, and they fall in love again, only to emerge out of the experience stronger. I think that could be a romantic story, myself – and complete with a happy ending, of course :)

    What makes Standish so different from a typical 1980s bodice-ripper apart from the main characters being gay, I have no clear idea.

    Well, to be fair, both main characters cheat on each other in the course of the book, and the ending is left deliberately ambiguous. It could be happy if you want it to be, but it’s equally plausible to think that the characters are so messed up by that point that they just walk away from each other and don’t look back. Erastes definitely practices what he preaches!

    people who think they are too cool, too cynical, too realistic, too talented or too creative to write in the romance genre are free to write in another genre.

    I don’t really think that’s the case here at all. I do think that Erastes would like to see the definition of ‘romance’ widened so that it also included (for example) works in which the heroine is not particularly feisty (maybe she’s got insecurity problems, or something, and can’t believe that this good man could be interested in her?) and the hero is not particularly overbearing (maybe he needs to be gentle and patient and a good listener to bring the rather timid heroine out of her shell and allow her to shine?)

    I don’t see it as a dislike of romance, but more as a desire to push the edges a little because so many different things could be quite cool.

    I bet Erastes will come with swords and guns blazing if I say, “Gay romances are awful gender-switched romance novels written by angsty slash-fiction writing silly girls and emo gay boys on the Livejournal circuit.”

    LOL! Well as a silly girl from the Livejournal circuit myself I would disagree that slash fiction is necessarily awful – some of it’s pretty good! But I don’t think I’d object too much if you said that. There’s certainly some truth in it.

  22. TeddyPig
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 12:34:45

    I bet Erastes will come with swords and guns blazing if I say, “Gay romances are awful gender-switched romance novels written by angsty slash-fiction writing silly girls and emo gay boys on the Livejournal circuit.”

    Now Mrs Giggles, actually you said…

    I find this one on the boring side but if you like the current crop of gay romances out there by every other slash fiction writer given a publishing contract, you probably may enjoy this one.

    At the time though you were attempting to find something, anything, positive to say about Carol Lynne in a review of one of her masterpieces so I figured you had to be on your fourth alcohol laced drink of choice by then. I would have Damn It!

    After reading the article in question I took what was said as Erastes venting on Ellora’s Cave (A noted purveyor of Carol Lynne) and those guidelines. Which I think they do not seem to follow much themselves in practice so big whoop.

    Then again those guideline were written by someone who implies they know so much about Romance and yet slapped a trademark on the word Romantica I see used all the time in Spanish like they honestly think they created it or something. Not the sharpest knives in the drawer, check Google next time.

    I have to admit I sometimes struggle with the old wanting to yell HOW COULD THEY PUBLISH THIS CRAP? myself. Then I remember what you said in the last Carol Lynne review about her flinging poo at a wall and some of it sticking. I figure Ellora’s Cave does that pretty often.

    I hope though guys if I do lose it someday in a review you will not take it as an attack of all Romance.

  23. Shannon C.
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 12:46:45

    I agree with Alex Beecroft. I didn’t take that post as an attack on the romance genre as a whole. Then again, I also see Jane’s point about how some of the examples, say, of bitchy heroines weren’t especially relevant.

    That said, those guidelines really do invite snark. Especially the one about the tall, rugged, musclebound hero. My initial thought on reading that was, ‘Good thing Lois McMaster Bujold doesn’t write for EC.’

  24. Alex Beecroft
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 13:04:25

    Thanks, Shannon! And yes, I rather like average-looking, quirky guys who can hold a good conversation myself, if only because they remind me of my husband :)

  25. Barbara Sheridan
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 13:08:37

    To be honest, I’m still not sure what the point of the initial rant/sporkage was anyway. The article referenced isn’t EC’s “Official Guidelines” it’s an article –five years old at that–by Tina Engler that I’ve always seen as a–hey this works for me and what readers want now (2002).

  26. bettie
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 13:29:25

    The rant evinces a rather limited view of “Romance” from both commenters. Just because one chooses not to read a particular subgenre of Romance, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Also, I've never seen a fat heroine in a romance. In fact, I've never seen one, period. I don't think that fat heroines exist-just heroines who wail about their fatness while the wind threatens to blow them away.

    Never? Not even once? Not even when you were on the EC site to download those wonderfully snarkable writing guidelines? Because it’s not like EC have a whole section for romances featuring Rubenesque heroines, or anything.

    Right?

    Oh. My bad. ;o)

  27. Alex Beecroft
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 13:39:05

    Nonna says

    “Strong” does not equal “kick ass.” Some of the strongest female characters I've read in fiction aren't like Buffy and crew. They have a quiet strength, and it shows in ways other than physical prowess and martial skill.

    I’m totally with you there. I think no one could say that, for example, Jane Austen’s female characters weren’t strong, but they wouldn’t have dreamed of pulling a sword on anyone. I do think that was a case of interpreting the guidelines too narrowly.

    I could see storylines involving infidelity that would work, but the author would have to be a master storyteller to pull it off so that the reader could trust in the hero again, because romance readers tend to emphasize with the heroine and put themselves in her shoes. (At least I do.)

    I think that’s Erastes’ point, though; that if the author was really good, they *could* pull off a story with infidelity in it, and therefore it’s not a good idea for a publishing house to say it ought never to be done. (They might be missing out on a really fabulous novel that way.)

    There are plenty of disfigured or disabled heroes in romance fiction. Hell, take a look at the comprehensive lists of books featuring such that All About Romance has put together: Less Than Beautiful, Less Than Perfect, and for shits ‘n giggles, Plus Size Heroines.

    Yes, exactly – and therefore Ellora’s Cave is at fault for saying it ought not to be done. If anything, that proves that Erastes was not talking about all romance, but just these EC guidelines. Works that *don’t* feature tall dark rugged heroes sell too – so Erastes is right to criticise EC for putting out advice that doesn’t allow these sorts of works to be produced.

    As for condom use, all Erastes was saying was that he hadn’t seen it in what he’d read – which given that he prefers historical fiction is not really surprising. I read m/m too, and I’ve only seen it once. But I don’t think it’s an indictment of the romance genre particularly when you happen to not know that condom use is prevalent in contemporary romance. I saw that as a personal comment about what he’d read and not in the light of some sort of statement about what romance ought to be.

    I really don’t think that the article is the wide ranging attack on romance that Jane has taken it as. I think it’s an attack on a set of guidelines that your own examples have shown to be too restrictive. The tone is probably ascerbic, but it *is* a sporking, and that’s half the fun of it. After all, I reckon those guidelines deserve a bit of criticism :)

  28. Jane
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 14:12:22

    Sorry, I don’t believe that it was a rant directed at EC. The examples provided by the ranters aren’t EC novels or non EC novels within the romance genre. The rant used EC guidelines as a springboard to complain about the things that they find restrictive about the genre only they use non romance examples to justify their positions.

    If it really was about EC, then the way to attack the guidelines would have been to provide non EC examples of romance books that were popular and deviated from the set guidelines.

    The whole rant showed a real ignorance of the genre that at least Erastes chooses to write within.

  29. veinglory
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 14:43:36

    None of the rules are carved in stone anyway. The very first romance I wrote has infidelity and my (Loose Id) editor talked it over with me, and it stayed in. I have never had a negative readers comment well of 1000 sales later.

    It is a ‘spirit of the law’ thing, I think.

  30. Alex Beecroft
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 14:48:50

    It’s rather difficult to provide counter examples from m/f romance when you don’t read it. The people talking on Speak Its Name are united by their love of m/m romance, and yes, of course we therefore are ignorant of the wide variety of m/f novels out there.

    But because we are ignorant of it, we have to use examples from m/f romances we *do* know – so using counter examples from successful TV romances doesn’t seem particularly out of order to me. This may be because I define ‘romance’ as ‘a story about people finding love and happiness together’ – which includes romantic TV programmes and romantic plays and romantic films etc etc as well as novels.

    But also, consider that, *because* we are ignorant of m/f romance novels out there, we could not possibly have been talking about them. We know nothing about them, and we know that we are ignorant. Why would we criticise a genre of books we don’t even read? We wouldn’t.
    Therefore we were talking about the specific instance of the EC guidelines, and relating it to what we liked (and disliked) in the kind of novels we do read, in TV shows, films, ‘romance’ in the Jane Austen/Romeo and Juliet sense and so forth.

    I’m sorry that you see malice where I see none, but honestly, I do not see it. I see people expressing their own preferences – which I hope everyone is entitled to do. And people having a bit of fun laughing at a rather silly essay. I’m taken aback to find out that it could be read otherwise, really.

  31. romblogreader
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 15:01:16

    “I don't really think that's the case here at all. I do think that Erastes would like to see the definition of ‘romance' widened so that it also included (for example) works in which the heroine is not particularly feisty (maybe he's got insecurity problems, or something, and can't believe that this good man could be interested in her?) and the hero is not particularly overbearing (maybe he needs to be gentle and patient and a good listener to bring the rather timid heroine out of her shell and allow her to shine?)

    I don't see it as a dislike of romance, but more as a desire to push the edges a little because so many different things could be quite cool.”

    I can imagine you seeing it that way if you’re as thoroughly unfamiliar with the genre of romance as Erastes (obviously, willfully, proudly) is, because if you or he thinks that these suggestions are in any way boundary pushing in today’s romance market… you’re obviously not familiar with today’s romance market.

    With Erastes, I suspect it’s more of the same willful “too cool for school” ignorance he repeatedly displays toward the genre.

    I don’t think he wants to push the edges a little so much as… he thinks he knows where those edges are and bashing this vaguely conceived, unsupported preconception of romance makes him feel better about the sort of love story he likes to write. I don’t think he’s got any interest in pushing the boundaries of romance because he’s repeatedly displayed nothing but disdain for the ignorant cliched stereotype of “romance” that he clings to.

    Which is his perogative. None of us (romance fans who need the safety net of happy endings, as he puts it) are going after him for preferring cheating and depressing ambiguous endings… at least not until he starts waving his “romance is dumb” flag for the umpteenth time.

    If romance is so limited and retarded, why the heck would he care to expand it. Why would he want to be under that dumb, tacky, cliche umbrella? He’s free to write his love stories the way he wants, obviously. He’s a published author. Every time he pops up again to bash romance, I always wonder, why would he want a club that he’s too cool and radical and literary and adventurous-with-non-happy-endings to enjoy to expand itself. If romance sucks that much, why on earth ask this sucky category to expand enough to include his preferred form of love story?

    But I don’t know him personally, so any reasons I could come up with would be unsupported conjecture (sort of like his bashing of romance) and depressing about human nature, so I won’t bother.

    He’s free to bash romance, obviously. What amuses me most, every time I see him pop up to do it, is that he displays so much ignorance about romance that he does a poorer job of bashing it than most of us who actually enjoy the genre and can identify its actual faults (along with its actual strengths.)

    Many “different things” could be cool (and are cool) in books that are actually romance. And no one’s saying *don’t* write books without happy endings, or that there’s anything wrong with different things that include a love story and non-genre-romance storylines. We are (or at least I am) saying “know what the hell you’re talking about before you bash an entire genre, or someone’s going to call you on your willful, self-congratulatory, ignorance.”

    Or not. If it works for him, fine. But if he’s trying to put himself across as smarter, more sophisticated or more genre-busting than your average romance reader or writer, he’d do well to actually understand the genre he wants to bust.

    Or, again, not. If posting troll-ish posts like this keep getting him the free publicity he’s maybe looking for. To each his or her own.

  32. Alex Beecroft
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 15:12:47

    My point is that Erastes is *not* bashing romance in general. A post bashing a silly, deeply restrictive set of guidelines has been held up as an attack on romance in general. I do not believe it was ever intended as such.

    But I’ve said my piece now and I don’t suppose it will improve by repetition. I think you’re attacking a straw man, but I can’t stop you if you want to carry on doing it.

  33. veinglory
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 15:14:14

    Alex, I don’t think there is any “of course” between loving MM and being ignorant of MF. Many MM writers and enthusiasts like MF too.

  34. Alex Beecroft
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 15:25:04

    Veinglory, yes, sorry – you’re absolutely right :) I love m/m and don’t read m/f at all, for reasons that aren’t even clear to myself. But you’re quite right that there are plenty of people who read both. I apologize for the wrong assumption there!

  35. romblogreader
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 15:28:41

    Alex, that argument would hold a lot more water if a) Erastes hadn’t used the exact same snark to (repeatedly) bash romance-as-a-genre in the past and b) Erastes hadn’t referenced “Norah Roberts” who even Erastes seems to know is synonymous with romance-as-a-genre.

  36. Alex Beecroft
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 16:17:41

    Ah, romblogreader, I’ll have to bow out there, because I don’t know what Erastes has said in the past (and I don’t know who Nora Roberts is), so I can’t really have an informed opinion on that :)

  37. Barbara B.
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 16:21:46

    I think Alex believes everyone is basing their comments about Erastes on the Sporkage Guidelines. I doubt if that’s true. I’ve read several comments by Erastes about the state of the romance genre in general. I can’t say that I disagree with everything he says, but his profound contempt for most romance writers and readers comes through loud and clear. He’s clearly not in need of a spokesperson, Alex. Here’s what he said at RTB on 10/05/07:

    On October 5th, 2007 at 1:12 pm
    Erastes Says:

    “Haven't we been hearing the same tired assertions for years?

    Yes, but people don't stop to think WHY, perhaps.

    Templates did exist. I had one from Mills & Boon, and much more recently I got one from Black Lace.

    That doesn't make writers feel good because how many mystery writers are giving rules to write by? Other writers dislike this because they have to come up with their own plots.

    The sticks and stones stuff about “unloved” and “sexually frustrated” I shall gloss over but I can't ignore the fact about “real literature.”

    Many books classed as “real literature” are based on Romance – But the fact that has always driven me mad is that the so-called-“real literature” is allowed to have any ending it likes and yet “Romance” (some amorphous term categorized by a bunch of women in America) set rules.

    My stories can't be Romance because Romance is heterosexual only, faithful love only, happy ever after only and so on.

    Then there's the escapism. I understand about the escapism, truly I do. Some people DO want fancy Romance Names and Barbie Wallpaper historicals, but please – don't try and pass them off as HISTORY. If you are going to have categories, then have an “alternate universe” category because so many so called Historical Romances are nothing but Disney-land England

    It's not surprising Romance Novels are ridiculed, because so many are badly written, badly edited (especially the e-publications) as well as historically inaccurate (Kilts, Woad, Viking Horns – every bad Hollywood inaccuracy is faithfully recreated)

    Writer after writer copies and copies Heyer and no-one stops to say “this is unoriginal, derivative – Chinese whisper writing.” Shifters are popular, so everyone writes about shifters. Vampires are popular so everyone writes about Vampires. And so on and so on. Each generation becoming weaker as writers copy the canon from other writers until you are left with books which people will laugh at.

    Where are the communities that are attempting to raise the bar? The Sci-fi community has them, the Mystery community has them. The Historical community is RABID about improving and maintaining a standard. Even the Erotic community is trying its hardest.

    But all the Romance community seem to do is re-write The Harlot's Brigand, The Chief's Harlot, The Busman's Holiday – over and over and over again.

    Those people aren't hurting us. They haven't affected book sales.

    They don't need to. People will still buy tripe. That's fine. Let them. But lets give them some real quality too.

    I am not aware of a single instance in which a defensive romance lover has convinced a shrill critic to recant.

    I agree

    So instead of being defensive, sticking our fingers in our ears and going LALALALA! Everything's fine here in Romance-land – lets be pro-active. Let's encourage people to learn to write well, to study grammar and sentence structure. Let's give them databases to come to when they want to know whether milady would have had an indoor toilet in 1412 – and let's encourage them to WANT to know that.

    Let's frown on the sloppy writers who don't seem to care if they get their facts right, and let's sidle away from the readers who “DON'T CARE!” if the facts are right, because “it's only Romance and it doesn't matter!”

    We are shooting ourselves in the foot in this genre, and yes, I mean WE. I'm a romance writer, and I'm proud to be so, but there isn't a day that goes by when I see some book, or something online to make me wonder if I made the right choice. We are our own worst enemy at times.”

    Pretty unambiguous to me. There’s certainly some truth to what Erastes says, IMO. I wonder though. What would change for Erastes if genre romance was expanded to include non-happy endings? I honestly don’t understand why it’s so important to some people that the romance genre does away with the happy ending requirement. There’s got to be a logical reason that hasn’t occurred to me yet. I know that there are plenty of books with romances in them that end ambiguously or unhappily. I know because I read them all the time. I don’t resent that they’re not labelled as romance because I understand the concept of genres. It’s not by accident that HEA came to be a requirement for genre romance. When I started reading romance back in the early ’70s, for those not writing category romances, practically anything was fair game. Rapes, forced seductions, infidelities by heroes AND heroines, non-happy endings, etc. Romance has EVOLVED to what it is today. Presumably publishers and writers, who after all are in the business of selling books, picked up on reader preferences. If reader preference has evolved to a non-HEA, no doubt publishers will pick up on that eventually. I doubt if it’ll be anytime soon because publishers are notoriously slow to pick up on changes.

  38. Robin
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 16:22:37

    I’ve enjoyed any number of Erastes’s comments on various blogs, but I think the Sporkage rant seriously missed the mark and made its authors look virtually as bad as the EC guidelines they’re mocking. And frankly, I found it disappointing when there IS so much that seems to invite smart snark in genre Romance.

    The rant used EC guidelines as a springboard to complain about the things that they find restrictive about the genre

    I agree, and I think this quote by Erastes is the clincher for that interpretation:

    I have to say that if this is what Ellora's Cave wants, then I certainly have no interest in writing for them. Why would I want to read the same book over and over again, but then I've said that about Romance, many times.

    My point is that Erastes is *not* bashing romance in general. A post bashing a silly, deeply restrictive set of guidelines has been held up as an attack on romance in general. I do not believe it was ever intended as such.

    Alex, I think one of the reasons there is some resistance to your generous interpretation is that the comment made by Erastes above is merely one of many he has made that are virtually identical to that one, on Smart Bitches and other blogs. There’s this comment he made on the recent Fangs, Fur, and Fey Romancebashathon:

    I have written a few, and yet, I don’t get them either to be frank.

    I’ve said this on many forums before but for me the POINT of reading is the journey. I don’t want to know the ending. I HOPE that my protags will end up together, but I don’t want the safety net of it – what the fuck is the point of that?

    I don’t think there’s any argument about the mockability of those guidelines. But if the perspective of the Sporkage rant is m/m writers and readers, then why not reflect that in the examples and the reasoning? And if it’s merely aimed at the EC guidelines, then why invoke Romance or Romantica as general terms? Why use examples that aren’t even Romance-based? I understand that some of the contention here might come from an insider/outsider distinction (that is, each blog and blog community creates a certain understanding among its participants that may not translate verbatim to non-regular members). But given Erastes’s very public insistence that he “doesn’t get” Romance, the Sporkage rant most definitely seems to prove that claim. Not, of course, that “not getting” a genre means you can’t rant about it, but if your position is one of ignorance, lack of understanding, disdain, etc., then it’s difficult, IMO, not to undermine your own points with that lack of familiarity with the very thing you’re attacking. And as someone who supposedly writes within that genre, m/m or m/f (I don’t think it matters as far as the genre limits are concerned, as the true formalistic limitations exist regardless of the gender of the protags), the irony can edge uncomfortably close to hypocrisy, IMO (which I think was Mrs. Giggles’s point).

    I do think there is much mockworthy stuff in genre Romance, but the difference between the Sporkage rant and, say, a number of rants on the Smart Bitches, for example, is that one comes from a place of respect for and familiarity with the genre and one doesn’t. And for me, at least, those two qualities make the mocking that much more powerful and on target and terminally devastating to the target. Ranting about something you admit you don’t understand, aren’t familiar with, and don’t care to understand is tricky, IMO, especially coming from someone writing within the very genre he claims not to get, doesn’t express a lot of familiarity with, and, at least from a number of the comments I’ve read of his (including the rant) doesn’t seem to enjoy or respect.

  39. Karen Scott
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 16:24:00

    word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

    Can I claim ‘Sucks Great Big Hairy Donkey Balls’? I’m not sure it’s actually mine, but I like the thought of having my own registered trade mark. *g*

  40. Robin
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 16:38:13

    Barbara B.: I remember that comment on RtB, and when I read it I felt a mixture of agreement, disagreement, and ‘that’s not even true.’ For example, it’s untrue that Romance is only m/f, although I totally understand that not being mainstream, m/m or f/f Romance is hardly published in the same numbers as m/f (as African American, Asian, Latino, and Native American Romance is not published in the same numbers as Caucasian Romance). m/m, especially seems to be a rapidly growing market. But I totally agree that there should be more emphasis on writing quality in the genre.

    One of the last ranting points on the Sporkage concerns Engler’s use of the word “fantasy” and is based on the assumption that the word is being invoked in relation to a subgenre (sf/f Romance). IMO it’s not, because the issue of fantasy is one that’s invoked so often in regard to general Romance discussion (i.e. it’s a fantasy, not reality). So clearly there is paradigm dissonance at work in the Sporkage rant, and to many of us who read genre Romance, I think that dissonance comes across as disrespectful, even if it isn’t meant that way. And heaven knows Romance readers can be knee-jerk defensive after all the dismissive comments people make out the genre. But maybe it’s not so strange to feel that defensive when some of those comments come from people who do or want to write within the genre or at least cash in on its huge market share. As I said, it’s frustrating to me because of the moments I’ve found Erastes’s comments insightful, well-reasoned, educated, and thoughtful.

  41. Jane
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 17:08:36

    When an author takes on the genre of romance and has no knowledge of the genre, it make the author look foolish because it suggests that the book that are written are poorly researched and poorly reasoned because if the author can’t display adequate knowledge of a subject, how can we depend on his or her narrative ability?

  42. Ciar Cullen
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 17:33:48

    It does seem like “straight” romance has a big target on its back, probably always has and will continue to. Everyone here has pretty much said already what I’m thinking, but I bet someone would really get blasted for making fun of gay romances. Someone who thinks it is passe to stick to monogamy, thinks that cheating is okay somehow in romance, is pretty much missing the target audience. Like someone else said, try a different genre. I’d love to skip over condom scenes once in a while, but my conscience won’t let me, unless it’s a fantasy world in which HIV/AIDS has not devastated so many people. It’s hard to imagine someone in the gay community thinking that’s okay to do. And back to cheating–if that’s okay, then where are you going to draw the line, honestly?

  43. Alex Beecroft
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 17:44:57

    I think you’re right that there may be a dissonance of understanding going on. I hadn’t seen the posts referenced before, and I’m hesitant to get involved in a whole new issue (or old issue – or at least different-though-related issue), if only because it’s late and I’m tired.

    I don’t really read disrespect of romance as a genre there, I read more frustration that it isn’t held in the regard that it ought to be by mainstream readers and critics. And, you know, wondering what to do to encourage the kind of great writing that would demand critical acclaim and win the genre a bit more respect from the rest of the literary establishment. I certainly hear frustration, and contempt for bad writing and bad research – and possibly a lack of understanding that sometimes what people really want is not historical realism, it’s escapism. It’s hard to understand, when – like me – you *love* historical realism for its own sake, that some people don’t like it at all, and they are also allowed to like what they like. But I do think that the paradigm dissonance you mention is a real one. It’s not contempt of romance as a genre, (if Erastes hated romance, he wouldn’t spend so much time writing and reviewing it) it’s simply not being on the same page. Which might well be because, as a Brit, we have slightly different understandings of key terms, and slightly different ways of debating. I don’t know – it might be something like that, maybe?

    As for happy endings, hey, I prefer them. I don’t want to be depressed by a book. I do want to be transported away into a realm where I know things will turn out OK and I’ll end up feeling happy. But I’d never want to say that all books ought to be happy – just in case the rule ended up meaning that a work of genius ended up on the reject pile. Heh, at the risk of betraying my Pirates of the Caribbean leanings, I’ll hope the rules are more like guidelines :)

    But I only found out about the existence of the m/m romance world this spring, when a friend pointed me in the direction of Linden Bay, and although I’ve now read a fair amount of m/m books, I don’t think I yet have the deep immersion in the romance genre to give any kind of informed comment on the state of it today. I’ve read really bad m/m romances, and I’ve read some really excellent ones, and I know *nothing* at all about the politics of the genre. So I’m going to stop commenting here, because as has been eloquently pointed out, my ignorance means that I can’t really have an informed opinion.

  44. Robin
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 18:23:08

    So I'm going to stop commenting here, because as has been eloquently pointed out, my ignorance means that I can't really have an informed opinion.

    If you got that sense from my comments then I apologize, because I mean no such thing. What I object to is generalizations about the entire genre that, say, an author in said genre should, IMO, know are not valid. Or at least should spend a few minutes Googling. Not that he or anyone else can’t speak as they want, but their opinions will not go unchallenged by other genre readers. I think it would have been absolutely hysterical — in exactly the way that the Sporkage rant intended, in fact — if the answers to those EC guidelines had been informed even by m/m Romance, which is the area of expertise of the bloggers who authored it.

  45. Mrs Giggles
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 18:57:05

    TeddyPig, I have no idea what your response to my post has to do with my post. I found Erastes’ points about romance very disconnected from the work of his that I’ve read, Standish, and it’s right on par with some of the bad melodramatic slash fiction on amateur websites.

    So… what does Carol Lynne have to do with Erastes again? How did she even get into the picture?

    So I'm going to stop commenting here, because as has been eloquently pointed out, my ignorance means that I can't really have an informed opinion.

    Alex, not to bash on you, but I don’t understand how “ignorance” and “informed opinion” can exist in the same context. I know what you are trying to say, I see where you are coming from, but I wish you will at the same time try to listen to what others have to say without feeling attacked. I don’t think anyone is.

  46. veinglory
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 20:20:43

    I think there is some over-sensitivity in the romance community–a tendency to assume something is a jab at the genre when benefit of the doubt could be given. But I also see a lot a jabbing that is going on, especially from writers who seems to want the big romance readership without catering to its requirements.

    The border is always being negotiated. I support the convention for HEA but question MF-only or shelve-black-separately. I might snark on those issue and make some generalisations to make a point….

  47. TeddyPig
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 20:56:48

    So… what does Carol Lynne have to do with Erastes again? How did she even get into the picture?

    Simply that is a fine example of the M/M product Ellora’s Cave has been putting out in mass lately (You have reviewed it yourself.), which is what I figure was probably being talked about. Which may lead some people to wonder why and I might go look at the guidelines if I really cared.

    I don’t always agree on all of Erastes opinions (or maybe he just worded it in a way that I disagree with) but some of what he has commented on regarding M/M Romance in the past has got me to think so I respect what he has to say and I leave it in context with the subject being discussed. M/M Romance and Ellora’s Cave.

    I will agree that Ellora’s Cave has a very skimpy hit and mostly miss selection of M/M Romance so snarking on it is not all that difficult.

  48. veinglory
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 21:16:57

    I see them as not really being into the spirit of MM and so what they take is very variable and hit and miss. They came to it late from what I presume is a finance motive. But that is just my own snarky opinion.

  49. Gennita Low
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 21:26:13

    I always scratch my head in puzzlement when a HEA basher, especially A WRITER, starts one of his/her rants about the genre again. Don’t they know, I wonder over and over again, that what they want are simply published under women’s fiction? All those topics that interest them–faithless lovers/husbands, ambiguous endings, mid-life crisis, female empowerment–are alive and well, and published as women’s fiction or just fiction.

    As for the argument and fear that a “work of genius” would be thrown back into a slush pile because it didn’t follow guidelines, most buying editors will recognize a “work of genius” and will get the book published under another line within the publishing house. Books that broke a few rules and achieved immense popularity: Gabaldon’s first book of her Jaime/Claire epic saga and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. They aren’t your traditional books found in the romance section but these two authors have made genre-crossing books a trend.

    So, the goal is NOT to bash readers or writers of, or, the genre itself, but to make one’s stories so unique that they appeal to the most readers. By the way, most readers couldn’t care less what genre their favorite authors are published in as long as it’s the kind of story they want to read. And they, romance as well as fantasy readers, seem to be able to find Gabaldon’s and Hamilton’s books quite easily, even though the former is most often shelved under fiction and the latter, under horror.

    I don’t get the using TV characters to illustrate one’s rant either, except that it tells me the writers of that article aren’t real romance readers. And again, so 1980s in their perspective of a rich and ever-expanding genre.

    And uh, GO CLEVELAND INDIANS! :-D

  50. romblogreader
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 21:26:56

    You know what this sort of thing (not just from Erastes, or the FFF pile on, but romance bashing in general) brings to mind?

    (note: For the most part, this is not a specific rebuttal to the above, but a rant at inaccurate romance-as-a-genre bashing in general and attempts to invalidate need for genre definitions in general and the romance-as-a-genre definition in particular).

    “Bla bla bodice ripping, same damn ending, cliche, simplistic, low brow, wish fulfillment hackery that promotes rape and weak women and the patriarchy or whatever”

    I am reminded of that scene in Roxanne, when the guy makes fun of Steve Martin’s Cyrano-nose, and Steve Martin is like, “Bitch, I could come up with twenty cleverer insults than that.”

    There is so much that is snarkworthy in romance that when someone starts hurling inaccurate insults, sometimes it’s not the insult that insults (me as a Romance fan) so much as… they couldn’t be arsed to come up with accurate, non-straw-man insults.

    Or, you know, stay on task with the snark of the thoroughly snark-worthy EC guidelines rather than getting lazy and using it as an excuse to rehash the same old issues with their impression of Romance. Okay, I lied, maybe this is a little bit a rebuttal to the OP’s topic. But my point is this.

    Maybe it’s easier to see this as a non-zero-sum game when you’re on the side of the segment that has a good portion of the market, but frankly, when I go into Barnes and Noble, the vast, vast majority of the floor space is devoted to things that aren’t romance. So what the hell is so wrong with saying, “We like books that have a) a successful love story and b) a non-tragic endings so please if you have those, put them in one place for us.” You want wizards and unicorns, go to fantasy (but sometimes we have them too). You want space ships and alien planets? Go to SF (but sometimes we have them too.)

    You want a love story with an ambiguous or tragic ending? There’s the rest of the damn store, go nuts.

    I don’t see what the problem is with saying “a large enough segment of the book-buying public has a strong enough affinity for a particular type of story (one that includes a central love story that ends with the couple together and looking forward to a future together) that we the publishers and booksellers will draw a circle (aka genre label) around books that fall in this category.” This deep-pocketed segment of the book buying public isn’t saying “Don’t publish stories that don’t fall within this genre”. They’re saying (and continue to say by voting with their pocket books) that they are willing to pay to have this fiction need fulfilled.

    Historical, futuristic, inspirational, erotic, paranormal, contemporary, purple or literary are all welcome within this circle as long as they also are “love stories with non-tragic endings.” Asking to have all the circle-dwelling books in one bin/genre/row at the book store isn’t pissing on all the non-circle dwelling books. Or that you can’t have all the circle-dwelling qualities and decide to go live in the mystery or SF or literature section.

    The circumference of the circle isn’t hard and fast, and many books will be this AND something else or have a lot of the same elements as those in the circle. And what does and doesn’t define those boundaries is constantly up for debate as this is a living art, an active market, and IMHO there are few experiences in art as subjective and prone-to-bias as reading a novel. Add to that the fact that there are few aspects of the human condition as personal and subjective as falling in love (the stated focus of the whole damn genre).

    People who don’t know the circle exists can enjoy books that are in and out and straddling it. And believe it or not (people-who-don’t-get-the-point-of-the-genre) the same holds true for people who appreciate the existence of the genre.

    But there are enough of us romance-reading-book-buying people out there who sometimes have a specific hankering for a non-tragic, successful romantic love story in the novel they’re looking to drop 4-8 bucks and a handful of hours on that a couple of aisles and specific labels (aka “Romance”) have been devoted to that sort of book. It’s not the ONLY need fiction fulfills, obviously, but it’s a specific and persistent enough one to have earned its own category.

    We’re not saying ALL BOOKS should be romances, or even that all love stories should be Romances, we’re just saying that all books labeled Romance should be Romances. You got a non-Romance story you want to tell? No one’s stopping you! There’s fiction, there’s SF, there’s fantasy, there’s mystery, there’s thriller. Go nuts. Have love stories, do whatever you want with them, or don’t have a love story at all. Write your book the way you want it and if it’s good enough and I hear about it and it interests me, maybe I’ll read it.

    But if I’m specifically in the mood for a non-tragic love story, and that doesn’t describe your book, I don’t want to read your book. Right now. Maybe later. And I damn well don’t want to go into your book expecting a romance and getting a tragedy or a touching coming of age story because I will be disappointed and pissed off, no matter how good your non-romance, because the inaccurate label fucked with my expectations. And I do not read romance to get my expectations fucked with.

    You want to dislike all non-tragic love stories or prefer having your expectations fucked with? Fine. We’ve made it very easy to avoid some of them – all you have to do is avoid the romance aisle.

    But if what your (you in general, not the specific ranters mentioned above) inaccurate, half-baked attacks on the genre are trying to put forth is the idea that the desire itself – the craving for a non-tragic love story is a bad thing, somehow weak or lazy or bad… you’re going to have to do better than regurgitating the same preconceptions about the romance genre.

    I am fully aware that love can fail and hurt and damage and turn into hate and simply disappear. I’m aware that life goes on and when the Romance ends, the real life work of relationship begins and it’s hard. I know that love fails and cancer and accidents happen and people grow old and die and betray each other and fall out of love and you can’t always get what you want, k thx. I have life and the majority of narrative entertainment to remind me of that. And asking that the stuff that reminds me that sometimes, love triumphs, be set aside and labeled Romance so I can find it more easily doesn’t mean “destroy and reject everything else”. This isn’t a zero sum game.

    I don’t need everything to be a Romance or follow Romance guidelines. And I have no desire for there to be any less non-romance in the world. I just want to have one freaking aisle/genre I can go to when I have the urge for a successful love story with a non-tragic ending. A good story where one of the answers to problem is love and the good guys win!

    I am never going to apologize for preferring those stories. And I’m never going to insult someone for not preferring those stories or preferring others (even the ones I dislike) because I’m secure in my story-preferences. You’re free to insult my story preferences, but for god’s sake, at least put a little effort/brain power into it, particularly if your point is that my stories are dumb and yours are smart.

    Because the fact is, many of “my stories” are dumb, but when you’re so unfamiliar with them that you can’t even come up with accurate insults… I really don’t think you’re in a position to presume to redefine the genre.

    As for “I don't really read disrespect of romance as a genre there, I read more frustration that it isn't held in the regard that it ought to be by mainstream readers and critics. And, you know, wondering what to do to encourage the kind of great writing that would demand critical acclaim and win the genre a bit more respect from the rest of the literary establishment.”

    Um… No. Not when the people doing the “encouraging” start from a position of (proudly) not understanding or appreciating or “getting” the genre. If that’s what they’re actually doing, presuming to have the answers to “fixing” romance without caring to understand what it is and why people appreciate it and actively looking down on it absolutely *is* disrespectful and dismissive. And presumptuous.

    I’m not saying you have to love romance to have an idea about making it better, but demonstrating a basic understanding of the state of romance today might be a start. Or, not at least not demonstrating a lack of understanding. Because in that case, their suggestions aren’t about making Romance better so much as making it more like what they like.

    They can suggest away, obviously, it’s a free internet, but why not spend their time working on raising the literary quality of genres they like or understand or give a shit about.

    “But I'd never want to say that all books ought to be happy – just in case the rule ended up meaning that a work of genius ended up on the reject pile. Heh, at the risk of betraying my Pirates of the Caribbean leanings, I'll hope the rules are more like guidelines.”

    Speaking of straw man arguments, I don’t think even the most ardent of romance fans has EVER said that. However, if said work of genius does not include a murder and a mystery and it is sent to a murder mystery editor, said work of genius deserves to end up on the reject pile, regardless of how genius it is. Same as if it had a tragic ending and was sent to a romance editor.

    One day, maybe SOMEONE will explain to me how “All books labeled romance should be romances” keeps getting heard as “All books should be romances,” but today is probably not that day. These “rules” are only rules if you’re asking whether a story should be labeled and sold as a Romance. No one is saying it has to be, even those of us who love Romance to pieces.

    *And I mean “pro-romantic-love-propaganda” in a good way, and in the same way Othello is “anti-jealousy-propaganda” and most mysteries could be termed “pro-reasoning-anti-murdering-propoganda”.

  51. K. Z. Snow
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 21:49:40

    Erastes should’ve addressed his beef to readers, for it is they who determine what publishers publish and, in turn, what writers must produce in order to get published.

    I won’t launch into a point-by-point bitch over what drives me batty about romance publishers, readers, and/or detractors. Anybody who wants to make a career of writing must turn over a saleable product, period. Aside from respect for the language, everything else is superfluous.

    I’ve tried breaking free of often suffocating genre strictures (and, let’s face it, they can be stifling as well as ridiculous). I quite happily wrote several novels that didn’t conform to any content template. Those books went nowhere. Now the same issue is again rearing its head in my two works-in-progress. I would so love not to have plots take certain turns or characters do this or become that, but I’m afraid of adding to my rejection collection if I’m too defiant of existing norms.

    Authors who are independently wealthy, have super-supportive sugar spouses, or have hit it big can afford to cry, “Creativity uber alles!” The rest of us, however, must continually swallow a spoonful of crap here and a spoonful of crap there while we keep our fingers to the keyboard and hope somebody will appreciate our output. Because, when all is said and done, writers write to be read.

  52. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 22:06:52

    Okay, I’m doing my bloghop in a rush here, so if I’m scattered… well, hell. I’m always scattered.

    After reading Jane’s comments, I gotta say… I love Jane. I adore Jane. I think somebody needs to make Jane into a kick-ass bitchy heroine. ;)

    Also need to point out just a few little details, and this is purely from my reader POV, not my writer.

    One of the authors comments I much prefer to have characters behave in a way that's REAL. People cheat. If a writer is worth his/her salt then they'd be able to include this antiquated “taboo” and still make a story work.

    Real people cheat… yeah, real people do. But I don’t want to know them. I’ve distanced myself from friends who cheat because if they can’t respect the most important vow they’ll ever make, they likely can’t respect me and I want no part of them. To be clear and blunt, I’ve ended friendships over that sort of thing with no regrets. And if my husband, a real person, ever cheated… I’d end him. :) And he knows it.

    Whoever made this comment, if that’s his/her official standpoint, I don’t want to see their reading shelf.

    Why? To prevent fictional STDs? And again, I've never seen a protagonist use such a thing.

    Okay, now this might be a little skewed, me coming from a medical background, but if you’re trying to portray real life (man, I hope the person who commented this ISN’T the same one that was knocking fidelity) then you need to face real life facts. STDs happen. Pregnancies happen. If you want your book to be true to life and your characters true to life, then you need to acknowledge basic human biology. Unprotected sex can too often end with pregnancy or disease. If you’re writing a contemporary, glossing over things like sexual safety is going to make a few eyebrows go up. Won’t make people stop reading necessarily, but it does cause some pause. I can say that honestly because my eyebrows have gone up a time or two, or two dozen-two hundred-etc.

    Okay, that’s pretty much all I have to say. I’m going to go back to writing my books that I set in the 1950s where things like fidelity and respect still matter, and there aren’t rampant STDs in the world. ;) And when I’m done, I’ll don my June Cleaver apron and make some cookies for Walley and Beaver.

  53. Miki
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 22:56:11

    (note: For the most part, this is not a specific rebuttal to the above, but a rant at inaccurate romance-as-a-genre bashing in general and attempts to invalidate need for genre definitions in general and the romance-as-a-genre definition in particular).

    Wow. You said it all, and more!

  54. Vanessa
    Oct 21, 2007 @ 23:50:09

    so im crawling out of my creepy stalker/lurker hole i live in while on the internets to say that romblogreader has said everything i wish to say everytime this damn argument comes up. i like my circle, let me live in my happy circle, sometimes i’ll walk to your circle and you are more than welcome in mine, and if my circle makes you angry, then find a circle that makes YOU happy… and again, this is a general “you” not really anyone specific here :)

  55. Alex Beecroft
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 02:14:46

    Alex, not to bash on you, but I don't understand how “ignorance” and “informed opinion” can exist in the same context. I know what you are trying to say, I see where you are coming from, but I wish you will at the same time try to listen to what others have to say without feeling attacked.

    Oh dear! It’s another case of miscommunication, I’m afraid, as I was saying that in a sort of jocular way and I genuinely do believe that I don’t know enough to comment further. Believe me, I wasn’t feeling attacked – I was acknowledging a good point and agreeing with it :) I’m sorry I gave the wrong impression.

    I can talk about why I think the EC guidelines are worthy of being sporked because I know enough to see that they are restrictive, but I can’t carry on a conversation about the whole of the romance genre because I don’t know enough about it. That’s all I was saying! No offence taken, or given (I hope) over here :)

  56. So what do you think…is fidelity outdated? « Trivial Pursuits
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 06:46:17

    [...] had a post…. When a Snark is Ruined by a Bad Rant.  She came across a rant snark aimed at the writing guidelines at Ellora’s Cave.  Honestly, [...]

  57. Jackie L.
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 11:08:51

    Gennita–switch to the Rocks, kiddo, they’re gonna rule! They’ve beaten Boston before!

  58. Gennita Low
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 11:30:05

    Jackie L,
    Heh, that’s my other team ;-D. My friend wants to fly me to Denver to watch one of the playoff games. Bet I’ll be freezing my butt off. I love Denver, though, so I might go.

    See, I’m easy: “Uh, go Rockies!!!” LOL.

  59. Ann Bruce
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 12:09:19

    After reading Jane's comments, I gotta say… I love Jane. I adore Jane. I think somebody needs to make Jane into a kick-ass bitchy heroine.

    I somehow picture Jane as Lucy Liu as the “schoolmarm” in CHARLIE’S ANGELS.

    Anyway, why do the romance genre and romance readers have to defend themselves again? Didn’t this happen just last month?

    And one word about EC: they’re actually not that restrictive. The only comment I get from my editor is, well, more sex. But that’s it. Okay, and no more baby epilogues. Otherwise, they’re pretty open because they can afford to be.

  60. Dusk Peterson
    Oct 23, 2007 @ 22:09:41

    Jane wrote:

    “There is a certain sense of superior disdain that permeates the article as if by writing gay romances, these authors are so much cooler and better than the mundane hacks that dominate the romance landscape.”

    If this article had been written by a couple of writers of heterosexual romance, would you have said, “There is a certain sense of superior disdain that permeates the article as if by writing straight romances, these authors are so much cooler and better than the mundane hacks that dominate the romance landscape”?

    I didn’t see any mention of gay romances in the blog entry. I don’t see how the fact that these authors write gay romance is at all relevant. One’s knowledge of the romance genre is in no way dependent on whether one writes gay romance. If these authors are ignorant of heterosexual romance (and I don’t know enough to assess whether they are), it’s not because they write gay romance. It’s because they don’t read heterosexual romance. As veinglory pointed out above, plenty of people do both.

  61. Pyre
    Nov 08, 2007 @ 01:47:05

    “There are plenty of disfigured or disabled heroes in romance fiction.”

    Either physically or emotionally. Surely for this purpose we’re counting as “romance” such tales as Beauty and the Beast (in all its incarnations), The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Nôtre Dame, The Count of Monte Cristo, Cyrano de Bergerac, and several cinema “takes” on Dracula (e.g. with Louis Jourdain or Frank Langella).

    If not, then “romance” would indeed be a restrictive category label.

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