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Podcast 51. An Interview with Drs. Joanna Gregson and Jen Lois...

I’m behind in posting the podcasts. This one is with Drs. Joanna Gregson and Jen Lois about the gendered community of romance.  Given the discussion  in the comments to the review of Suddenly You by Sarah Mayberry where the issue of gender and hetero normativity arose, I thought this podcast would be of particular interest.

One of the things I’ve always struggled with is outsider’s criticism of romance.  We argue that both romance is equal to all other genres in terms of quality but also that certain types of stories can only be appreciated when you understand the paradigm.  Does literary fiction require paradigm shifts in order to understand and measure its quality?

Some of the books referenced in the podcast aren’t even good examples, in my opinion, of romance as a feminist structure.  I always find it odd when Brockmann, for example, is used to portray feminism in romance. Brockmann’s heroines, particularly in her earlier works are weak characters and Brockmann herself has been known to state that she was more interested in the male characters of her books than the females not unlike JR Ward who was inspired by Brockmann.

I have had increasing discomfort with Higgins who, of all the authors I’ve read, seems to reinforce heteronormativity.  And frankly that is what makes listening to this interview so interesting.  The viewpoints of these two sociologists and their research into the genre and how they are interpreting it, even at this early stage, is sometimes at odds with my own opinions and sometimes aligned with them.

I’m not sure either of us are wrong but rather shows how complicated this whole issue is.

The following is from SmartBitch Sarah.

I sat down with Dr. Joanna Gregson and Dr. Jen Lois, two professors of sociology who are doing a years-long study of the sociology of the romance writing community. I attended their session at RWA and tweeted the pants off it (you can read the Storify collection of tweets if you’d like to learn more about their research and data). Later I begged for a few minutes so I could interview them further.

We talk about about their research, the things they’ve learned about the romance community and the patterns of behavior they identified as they gathered data. We also discuss whether romance is feminist, which led to discussion of valued work and devalued work, plus maternity leave policies in the US vs. other nations. It’s a fascinating discussion, and I hope you enjoy it.

Some of the terms we mention come form their presentation and I wanted to make sure I defined them so you knew what we meant:

Altercasting: You can read the Wiki definition, but for more details, I asked Prof. Jen Lois for some help with this definition. She wrote: “Altercasting refers to an interactional dynamic where you try to cast the other (“alter”) into a specific role or identity.  It can be intentional or ignorant, explicit or implicit, but it basically amounts to “offering” a role to someone else during an interaction.  We found that those outside the romance community tried to confer a shame-deficient identity on writers because of the sexual content of their work–in other words, outsiders altercast writers as sexually ‘shameless.'”

Prof. Gregson adds, “An example often used in Soc 101 textbooks is when parents say to children ‘I know you can be a big girl when we go to the doctor (or wherever)’; they don’t actually know that, they’re just hoping to convince the kid that they can be that person because that’s who they (the parent) want them to be.”

Contagion of stigma is another term I was unfamiliar with, though now that
I know what it is I have seen it live and in person in so many forms. Prof. Joanna Gregson explains it as “the idea that we not only stigmatize deviants, we also stigmatize those who interact with or are otherwise associated with them. It’s like being guilty by association.”

Here are some of the books we discuss in this podcast:


Book  Crazy for You - Jennifer Crusie Book Kate  Brady - One Scream Away Book Kristan Higgins - The Best Man

Book  Suzanne Brockmann   - The Unsung Hero Book Sarah MacLean  - A Rogue by Any Other Name

And here are their published books:

Book  Home Is Where the School Is: The Logic of Homeschooling and the Emotional Labor of Mothering Book Heroic Efforts:  The Emotional Culture of Search and Rescue Volunteers Book The Culture of  Teenage Mothers


Our music is provided by Sassy Outwater, who is awesome. This track is called “Percolator” and it’s by The Hanuman Collective from their album Pedal Horse. You can find them at iTunes as well.



Our podcast is proudly sponsored by Penguin, and they’d like to tell you about this new book
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If you like the podcast, you can subscribe to our feed, or find us at iTunes. You can also find us at PodcastPickle.

Want to suggest a topic or ask a question? Have an idea where the characters can keep their condoms? You can email us at [email protected] (WE LOVE EMAIL! Send us some!!) or you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number: 201-371-DBSA. Please don’t forget to give us a name and where you’re calling from so we can work your message into an upcoming podcast.

Thanks for listening – hope you enjoy!


Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. cleo
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 09:27:54

    I liked this podcast (I subscribe, so I listened to this awhile ago). I mostly remember the discussion of stigma and stigmatized groups, which fascinated me. It gave me a new way to think about some of the kerfuffles in the mm community – a stigmatized group that’s come together to support each other strongly but that hasn’t necessarily supported / responded well to criticism of the subgenre from within the subgenre.

    One of the things I’ve always struggled with is outsider’s criticism of romance. We argue that both romance is equal to all other genres in terms of quality but also that certain types of stories can only be appreciated when you understand the paradigm. Does literary fiction require paradigm shifts in order to understand and measure its quality?

    I think literary fiction requires / assumes a familiarity with Western literature / the literary canon. Since the literary canon is the mainstream, understanding it doesn’t require a shift – it’s the thing you shift from. According to my English lit major friends, you can’t ‘get’ James Joyce or Ezra Pound if you’re not familiar with what was written earlier in the canon (I haven’t read them or much of the canon, so I may be way off base).

  2. Willaful
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 11:18:10

    Intrigued to see they’re discussing The Best Man. I rather sadly passed up Higgan’s latest at NetGalley; I just can’t support the kind of humor she writes any more.

  3. Jen
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 13:39:12

    I don’t know, when I hear people saying you can’t criticize romance unless you understand the genre and it’s idiosyncrasies, I feel uncomfortable. To me, it smacks of the kind of thing people pick on sci fi/fantasy fans for doing. “You can’t possibly understand this until you’ve reached X level of familiarity” or worse “Your opinion isn’t valid because you haven’t read the books I think you should have read.” I think that kind of attitude shuts down discussion and creates a myopic view in a community.

    I agree that at least a basic level of familiarity with the genre helps a reader appreciate a work more and see the nuances they might not otherwise see, but I also think books should stand on their own for an open minded reader. (A closed minded reader will probably never enjoy their first romance, but then again they probably wouldn’t enjoy books in any genre outside their preferred one.) Even new readers should be able to at least appreciate a well-done romance, whether or not they love it or ever read another one.

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