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text 2018-02-21 20:46
Modeling agencies
A Natural History of the Romance Novel - Pamela Regis

I could do this as a "currently reading" title with periodic updates, but too much is going on, so I'm just going to leave a few notes here and there.  You can follow, or not, as you choose.

 

 

Regis bases her analysis of the content of romance novels on the literary theories of mid-20th century critic Northrop Frye.  She seems, therefore, to be trying to fit the popular fiction form of the romance novel into the academic model of "literature," as though the two were almost entirely distinct.  Any prose narrative that has already been accepted as "literature" by the credentialed academic community -- such as Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre -- has been granted respect.  Regis seems to be attempting to squeeze romance novels into the same mold while at the same time insisting they are so different from literature that they cannot be considered literature, but if they can be seen to share some characteristics, then they might be worthy of some respect.

 

Yes, it's contorted logic.  But Regis never comes out and admits romance novels -- as they are written, published, read, and enjoyed today -- are essentially no different in content or form from "literature."  That would be academic sacrilege.  A kind of "separate, but sort of equal" compromise that would allow her to sell her book without losing her academic standing.

 

Jane Austen didn't write "literature."  Neither did Charles Dickens.  Neither did Wilkie Collins or Victor Hugo.  Maybe it's time to look at more than a few samples from "literature," samples which already have the stamp of "romance novel," and look at more than a few samples of real romance novels from the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and compare them to a more neutral standard, and perhaps a more universal standard.  Then see how both of them stand up.

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text 2018-02-21 00:24
Planning to read -- How do you feel?
A Natural History of the Romance Novel - Pamela Regis

When I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis about romance novels in 2000, this book was still three years in the future. Though I had an academic publisher interested in a book-length version of Half Heaven, Half Heartache, I never followed up on it and ultimately saw the Regis book as what mine would/might have been.  So my "book" sat on the shelf.

 

A few years ago, however, an odd set of circumstances brought my attention back to A Natural History, and so I bought a copy.  The opening pages took me aback.

 

Rather than "a natural history," the Regis book opened like just another post-modern analysis of a varied genre that the author didn't really know, understand, or care about.The University of Pennsylvania imprint, of course, hinted that the tone would be academic rather than popular, in rather stark contrast to UPenn's 1994 anthology of essays by actual romance novelists, Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women.

 

Romance novels don't write themselves; they are written by people -- usually women -- who have read other romance novels and other romantic novels and other novels written by other people.  The Happy Ever After (HEA) ending continues to be disparaged even as it's deemed absolutely essential to the genre, and even while readers and writers proclaim novels without HEA are still romances.

 

It's not enough to subject a few selected novels to a Procrustean post-modern literary analysis and declare that to be the natural history of an entire genre.

 

I'm not sure how many romance novels I've read.  More than a few hundred certainly.  I've written (through to the HEA) a dozen or so; the unfinished starts are uncountable.  There are great romance novels and there are horrible ones.  Some are well-written, some are not.  They are short, they are long.  They are contemporary, they are historical, they are futuristic.  They are sweet, they are sexy, they are erotic.

 

Romance novels, however, still don't get respect.  Pamela Regis's book was supposed to give the genre the respect it deserved.  As far as I can see, it fails rather miserably.

 

I didn't want that to be the case.  I wanted A Natural History of the Romance Novel to succeed.  I wanted to see my favorite books and authors given pride of place in a serious, detailed analysis of the good points and bad points.  That's not what this book is.

 

So, it all comes back to my little thesis.  I guess I have some major reading to do.

 

 

 

 

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text 2018-01-27 19:50
Hoping to start a discussion: Correct me if I'm wrong. . . . . .

I'm back on the couch with the heating pad, having messed up my back again.  It's not nearly as bad this time as in the past, but I'm going to take it easy for at least a few hours.

 

Some comments on Twitter this morning got me to thinking about the whole issue of negative book reviews, and I'm not sure if I'm coming at this from the right direction.  I almost dismissed my concerns until I went back and reread Debbie's comment on my earlier review here.

 

She wrote:

 

Lots of publicity enterprises making money generating positive reviews that illegally (on U.S. sites) don't disclose were reviewing for the publicity firm, for the author, for the publisher or as an exchange of reviews between authors or group of authors (FTC considers that a service received, I.e., payment the same as a cash fee). Always suspicious when a flurry of 4-5 star reviews are around release dates, promotions, blog tours or other events (or release date of still yet another new edition.

 

Yes, there are bloggers and semi-professional (getting free books) reviewers who only post positive reviews.  We've been through this before.  There are also the genuine consumers who leave reviews, sometimes honest, sometimes dishonest but kind.  Authors, including Roger Hayden who wrote The Haunting of Saxton Mansion, often leave requests for reviews in the digital books themselves:

 

As an indie author, Amazon reviews can have a huge impact on my livelihood. So if you enjoyed the story please leave a review letting me and the rest of the digital world know. And if there was anything you found troubling, please email me. Your feedback helps improve my work, and allows me to continue writing stories that will promise to thrill and excite in the future. But be sure to exclude any spoilers.

 

I would love if you could take a second to leave a review: Click here to leave a review on Amazon!

Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 8053-8059). Kindle Edition.

 

(I won't comment on the dangling modifier in the opening sentence of the above snippet.  Oh, I guess I just did.  My bad.)

 

Because of Amazon's policies regarding reviews by other authors -- which are actually in line with FTC restrictions, too -- some of the more knowledgeable people about the quality of the writing are not permitted to express their opinions when the quality falls short. Negative reviews all too often attract reprisals and/or retribution, and thus honesty is discouraged.  A culture has developed of "If you can't leave a positive review, don't leave any at all."

 

In some cases, it's justified/rationalized/excused by respect for the author's effort.  "Even a badly written book required the writer's time and effort.  I have to respect that."

 

My question, however, is this:  What obligation does any reader have to refrain from expressing a negative opinion?  And to whom is that obligation owed?

 

Years ago, I noticed what appeared to be a pattern of bad behavior by one of my son's teachers.  When I spoke to other parents, they agreed that her actions were problematic, but they weren't willing to make a formal complaint. They didn't want to rock the boat or risk retaliation against their children.  The teacher's behavior worsened, to the point that I finally took my concerns to the principal.  I presented evidence of the teacher's blatant favoritism and her constant belittling and harassment of the students who weren't her favorites.  The situation reached a crisis point with the principal (of a K-5 school!) calling me a lying bitch in front of a dozen students, and the teacher exploding in a temper tantrum at me in front of her entire class and most of the students' parents.  Only later did I get an acknowledgement from the principal that yes, I was right and the teacher had shown grossly unfair favoritism.  The problem was going to be addressed, but it was too late for too many students.

 

Is there some kind of equivalency between poor teaching techniques and poor writing?  Probably not.  So let me take it another notch higher.

 

Of the more than 150 young women who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar, many reported his behavior over the decades of his abuse.  Decades.  Those young women, some of them really only girls, were either ignored, or not believed, or dismissed.  Many others didn't even know that what he was doing to them was wrong, because no one told them.  Many others said nothing because they knew they wouldn't be believed.  Some even kept silent because they thought they themselves were somehow to blame!  University officials knew, but for their own reasons they, too, chose silence.  The governing body of the gymnastics sport also maintained silence.  We don't yet know who else protected themselves and their own interests through silence, while hundreds of young people suffered.

 

Is there some kind of equivalency between sexual abuse of children and writing a lousy book?  No, of course not.  But is there some kind of equivalency between the silence with which many people treat the wrongdoing that they see in front of them?

 

Have we all developed a habit of self-preservation through silence?

 

"First they came for the _______________, but I said nothing because I was not a _______________."

 

When a book is badly written, when it has numerous typographical errors and misspellings and grammatical mistakes and factual inaccuracies, when it has gaping plot holes and character inconsistencies and logical impossibilities, what do we accomplish with our silence?  Have we given that author an "A for Effort" trophy without even knowing if she/he made a sincere effort rather than just slapping something together and putting a 99-cent price tag on it?  Are we just giving ourselves the protection of not having to say something bad about someone who has, essentially, done a bad thing?

 

If you've read through all this so far, I have something to add regarding the book that started it, The Haunting of Saxton Mansion as assembled in the collection Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset. 

 

I had no intention of reading any more of either Roger Hayden's contribution or any of the other three stories in the set, but I did want to see if Hayden had included a request for reviews at the end of his section.  As I skimmed through the Kindle pages, a few odd words caught my eye here and there, enough that curiosity prompted me to stop and read.

 

The Haunting of Saxton Mansion is composed of three "books."  As I posted in my review of Book 0, the setting of the mansion itself is not logical and there are errors of fact (the Dom Perignon stuff), along with a lot of generic writing flubs.

 

But Book 0 opens with Gerald Saxton arriving home; Book 1 opens similarly, but some of the details have changed!

 

Cypress Creek, Florida

December 22, 1982

The fireplace crackled, casting dancing shadows on the wall. The tree in the corner filled the living room with a scent of fresh pine. Lights of green, red, blue, and orange were wrapped from its top to the base, along with silver tinsel and ornaments hanging from the branches. Christmas music played lightly from the stereo. An open bottle of red wine rested atop the coffee table near the black leather sofa where Gerald Saxton and his wife, Annette, sat, glasses in hand.

Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 2291-2296). Kindle Edition.

Same date as Book 0, same location, same characters.  Okay, so the details regarding the Dom Perignon aren't there, and we've got a more generic red wine, but something didn't feel right as I skimmed across the Kindle pages.

 

Gerald had purchased their two-story three-bedroom, two-bath Victorian dream house from his father four years prior.

 

The gated property had a courtyard and fountain, a two-car garage, a large front deck, and even a tennis court. There wasn't a house quite like it for miles--and it was the only home on the narrow dead-end road known as Pennington Drive. Gerald and Annette loved their house and had spared no expense on renovations. The upkeep was, and would always be, a challenge, but that was to be expected with a house over twenty years old.

Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 2299-2303). Kindle Edition.

What the hell?  The details are different!  Now the house is over twenty years old, not twelve!  Is Book 1 a revision of Book 0, or what?

 

Out of a curiosity that was now spiked with anger, I skipped ahead to Book 2.

 

Cypress Creek, Florida

December 23, 1982

 

It was past midnight. The lights were on in the Saxton mansion, an isolated estate at the end of a dead-end street. Shadowed flames from the fireplace danced against the living room wall. Outside, a black BMW sat parked next to the courtyard fountain, where water calmly flowed. A tennis court lay on the left side of the house under heavy shadow, its iron fence barely visible. A two-car garage sat housed on the other side, connected to a long driveway that ran down through the gated entrance.

There was no home quite like the Saxton mansion in the entire neighborhood. Isolated as it was, few ever ventured down Pennington Drive to see it. That night, danger was brewing inside, though nothing looked unusual from outside the gate. It was just another quiet evening in the small town of Cypress Creek, where an evil had descended upon the Saxton family.

The mansion’s elaborate Victorian architectural style included a wood exterior, arched roofs on both sides, and a tiny attic window in the center. The front porch had Christmas lights running along the railing and up the tall white columns that reached to the ceiling. The expansive front yard seemed limitless in its space, while the surrounding forest provided a sense of privacy and tranquility, shielding the mansion from view of the nearby homes that made up the neighborhood. For this reason alone, its seclusion, no one was aware of what was happening until it was too late.

That evening, the Saxtons had received two unexpected visitors. Gerald and Annette Saxton were enjoying the evening together in the living room as their children slept upstairs.

Hayden, Roger. Ghostly Secrets Super Boxset: A Collection Of Riveting Haunted House Mysteries (Kindle Locations 4679-4692). Kindle Edition.

 

How much of each "Book" is a reiteration of the others?  Is the opening just a summary of what happened in the previous books?  If so, then why are the details different?  How much is a recap, and how much is new material?  Does the reader need to buy/read Book 0 and Book 1, or is the whole story contained complete in Book 2?  I'm not inclined to read any further to find out.  How many of the "reviews" on Amazon of each book are just empty but positive blathering about a product?  I don't know.  (Book 2 has far fewer reviews, but it was only released earlier this month.)

 

As a writer who truly does put effort into each of my works, I'm appalled that reviewers hold back on bad books.  As a reader in search of good material, I'm frankly disgusted by those who spew out only positives for their own benefit and thereby prove their own indifference to their audience.

 

The gymnasts deserved a whole lot better.  Don't reviewers owe readers honesty, at a bare minimum?

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text 2018-01-02 22:11
Was this really the beginning? No!
The Flame and the Flower - Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

Kathleen E. Woodiwiss's The Flame and the Flower began the flood of paperback historical romances written by and for women readers in 1972, but it wasn't the first historical romance by any means.

 

We can go back to the swashbucklers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, by Dumas and Hugo and Sabatini, as well as the historical adventures of the mid-20th century by Yerby and Shellabarger and others.  These were the books I and my fellow historical romance writers of the 1980s had grown up reading.  We watched the movies of Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, Cornel Wilde and Burt Lancaster.  We weren't into the polite comedies of manners from Georgette Heyer the way we were into the swords and daggers of Edison Marshall.

 

As I detailed in my analysis of Leslie Turner White's Lord Johnnie, there was a subtle feminism in many of these pre-Woodiwiss novels.  Not in all of them, of course, but it's important to remember that women read these books, too, and they watched the movies that were made from them in the 1930s, 1940s, and on.  The books, and the authors, had to keep those women in mind.

 

It was on that foundation that Kathleen Woodiwiss built, to be followed by Rosemary Rogers, Laurie McBain, Jude Deveraux, Rebecca Brandewyne, Julie Garwood, Candace Camp, LaVyrle Spencer, Jo Beverley, Julia Quinn, and so many more.

 

In the spring of 2000, I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis at Arizona State University West on the feminist potential in romance novels.  Eventually I published a digital edition on Amazon, not expecting very much but just to have it easily available.

 

 

 

The changes that have occurred in the romance fiction world since 2000 really warrant another examination of the causes and effects, the actions and reactions.  I stated at the beginning of Half Heaven, Half Heartache that I wasn't going to look at gay and lesbian romances because my focus was on the straight romance and how it affected as well as mirrored real life straight romance.  Seventeen years later, however, there is now a valid and valuable interaction.  The same is true of romances featuring people of color, interracial romances, and all the other "new" forms of romantic fiction, both historical and contemporary, paranormal and fantasy.

 

My collection of romance novels has grown since 2000, and there has been more non-fiction about romance fiction written and published.  Imagine what I could do with that.

 

Watch this space.

 

 

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review 2017-12-29 23:57
The Gebusi by Bruce Knauft
The Gebusi: Lives Transformed in a Rainforest World - Bruce M. Knauft

I am not the intended audience for this book; I read it looking for something set in Papau New Guinea from which I would learn a bit about the country and its people, while the book seems intended for assignment in undergraduate anthropology classes as a supplementary textbook. It did fulfill my goal of learning about the lives of the Gebusi, a small tribe living in the rainforest of Papau New Guinea’s huge Western Province. On the other hand, it’s a shame that academic texts aren’t written or edited with the goal of satisfying the reader; the author’s goal seems to be more about teaching students about anthropology and the realities of ethnographic work than answering the reader’s curiosity. In other words, the gulf between this and popular ethnographies like $2.00 a Day or City of Thorns is huge.

Knauft is an anthropologist who initially lived with the Gebusi for two years, from 1980 to 1982, accompanied by his wife Eileen (whether she is also an anthropologist is unclear; though he discusses his feelings about developments among the Gebusi and relationships with individuals among them, this is definitely not a memoir). Despite sporadic contact with Australian officers, during the time that they colonized the country, the Gebusi at the time retained a very traditional culture, including a tradition of spirit mediumship, all-night dances and séances, and elaborate initiation rituals for young men. They were easily able to provide for their material needs with crops that require little effort in cultivation, and enjoyed leisure time and “good company,” along with a cultural flourishing that resulted from the Australians' subduing a nearby tribe with a habit of raiding their longhouses and massacring their people. But it wasn't an ideal life: while they had enough to eat, nutrition was poor, illness rife and few people made it to the age of 40; the society was patriarchal and women excluded from many aspects of it; and execution for sorcery was rampant. The Gebusi believed that all deaths were caused by humans, so deaths by sickness or accident led to sorcery inquests and often more death. Nevertheless, they weren’t the stereotype of a cannibalistic rainforest people (though there is cannibalism in their past): due process was important, including a waiting period after the death and finding a neutral spirit medium to preside over the inquest.

After his initial stay, Knauft returned to the Gebusi in 1998, at which point their culture was transformed: many had moved to a nearby town with an airstrip and government services. They converted to various forms of Christianity, sent their children to school, and gave up sorcery inquests and executions entirely. Men’s leisure time now revolved around local soccer leagues, while women sold produce (usually with little success) in the local market. The several tribes inhabiting the town mocked their own traditional cultures in Independence Day celebrations, and Gebusi practices such as dancing and initiation rites seemed to be dying out as young people attempted to embrace the modern world.

But then in 2008, everything had changed again: loss of funding meant government services had largely vanished, and the Gebusi were reviving their traditional culture, including building longhouses and conducting initiation rites; as they retained their land and ability to sustain themselves, they didn’t seem to miss the government or markets much. But spirit mediumship had died out, so that despite lingering suspicions of sorcery they were no longer able to conduct inquests, and many of the Gebusi continued to attend Christian services.

It is fascinating material, and the author seems to have made personal friends with many of the Gebusi and to respect them and their culture. He is aware of his own fallibility and works to distinguish unique incidents from those typical of the culture. And he spends enough time with Gebusi to get to know them and to be able to tell stories in context about incidents that occur in the community.

However, for all the author’s talk about how this is intended to be less formal and more personal than typical academic writing, and for all that the writing is clearer and more engaging than in most textbooks, the content is still basically that of a textbook. Sometimes its information is incomplete, as if the author has made his point and is ready to move on, regardless of whether readers have more questions. For instance, for all that Knauft mentions sorcery executions frequently, I still don’t know how most of these deaths occurred. Both in the book and on his website (which for some reason includes entire stories in pictures that aren’t in the book but deserved to be), he describes instances in which the accused is killed in the forest by a relative of the deceased, which the community accepts because of the “spiritual evidence” against the accused. How common is this, as opposed to public or formal executions? Is everyone given the opportunity to exonerate themselves via trial by cooking, or only some people? In one case described, the sorcerer purportedly comes from another village and the searchers lose the trail; is this unusual, or common?

In other cases, it can be vague in a way typical of academic writing, obscuring specifics behind general language. For instance, a boy and later young man with whom the author is close leaves his community due to “a dispute” and travels to the nearest city, where he works for two years. This is after he and his younger brother are orphaned when he’s about 12. Who raised the boys after that, and what was the dispute? These are human interest questions, but their answers also speak to Gebusi culture. And despite telling us about their terrible life expectancy in the early 80s, the author has nothing to say about how having and then losing a local medical clinic affected the Gebusi. Their lifespans are still much shorter than Americans’, but were there improvements?

And bizarrely, he mentions only on his aforementioned website, in a caption to a longhouse diagram, that rigidly separate sleeping areas for men and women mean that sexual relations happened in the rainforest rather than in bed. Doesn't this deserve to be in the book, rather than only the "alternative sexual practices" (i.e. adolescent boys giving blowjobs because swallowing semen was supposed to help them become men)? But in the book he does mention a couple caught having an illicit affair in a house, so maybe the rainforest sex only applies to those few families who actually live in the longhouse? Knauft isn't too shy to include a scene of a young man propositioning him, so why isn't this in the book?

Overall, I learned from this book, but I think it would be a little off-base for most non-academic readers (the “Broader Connections” bullet point summaries of key ideas in anthropology at the end of each chapter, with much bolded text, are definitely eyeroll-worthy). While it’s not as short as the page count would have it – there’s a lot of text on each page – it was worth my time.

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