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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 2017-11-18 18:59
Where we were, and where we still are
Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media - Susan J. Douglas

This is another of those 10-star books.

 

My original review, on the transfer from GR, is here.  But it's not much.

 

When I went back to college in August of 1998, this was one of the texts for one of my classes.  According to the syllabus, we were assigned to read a couple of chapters.  Something about the book grabbed my attention, however, and I began to read it from the beginning.

 

Maybe it was the picture on the cover.  I remembered going to see the movie Where the Boys Are and I remembered being confused by it at the time.  But as soon as I started reading Susan J. Douglas's book, I was hooked.  I read almost non-stop.

 

 

Douglas is a bit younger than I, just as Hillary Rodham is a bit older.  We all grew up in that same era, however, and this was our reality.

 

I know where I was in, say, 1964, and I still have the diaries written in spiral notebooks to back me up.  I was never a cheerleader, and couldn't afford the latest fashions, but I absolutely did sleep on my face when my hair was in rollers.

 

My acquaintances today who are half a generation -- ten years, roughly -- older than I didn't go through the maelstrom we boomers did.  Virtually all of them were married and raising children by the time The Sixties hit.  They had come of age before the explosion of television, of rock 'n' roll, of The Pill. 

 

My acquaintances today who are half a generation -- ten years, roughly -- younger than I reaped the benefits of the maelstrom.  They came of age when birth control was available and acceptable, when the idea of having a career instead of a family was not shocking.

 

But there is still something somehow unique about those of us born in that relatively narrow window of (roughly) 1946 to 1956, and Susan J. Douglas captures it perfectly.

 

We were the first generation raised on television, and it had a profound effect on us.  Not just the comedy shows like I Love Lucy (which I personally hated because I thought Lucy was so fucking stupid) that seemed to remain a hallmark of the so-called Golden Age, but the news shows that brought events into the living room, everything from Hollywood fires to political campaigns to The War.  Television also gave us commercials that made us much more consumerist than adults who had read advertisements in newspapers and magazines.  Sponsors of children's shows could target us so much younger, and for so many more years.

 

I wrote in my earlier review that I needed then to reread the book.  I've reread parts of it many times over the years, and maybe a full reread is in order.  Then again, I actually lived through those times.  I still have the diaries, though there are few extant photos of the teen-aged me.  (And yes, the diarist was obsessed with boys and sex.)

 

Maybe that's why I tend to be a little less of an absolutist when it comes to girls and women and boys and men and sex.  Oh, not about whether no means no.  It does, and that is an absolute, even if it wasn't always taken that way.  Nor do I deny that there is such a thing as rape culture; there is, and it isn't yet going away.  But the ambiguities and double standards that girls grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s were the same ambiguities and double standards that boys grew up with then and which still pervade our culture to this day.

 

We all got mixed messages.  Some of us tried to sort them out.  But none of us escaped the culture that was all around us, and few of us were ever given the tools to analyze it, deconstruct it, resist it.  Is it worse today?  Probably.  And it's not going to get better if we don't understand how we got where we are today.  This book is a good starting point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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text 2015-03-08 20:17
Reading in Progress: Without Lying Down - Just One More Quote
Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood - Cari Beauchamp

I know I'm enjoying a book when I have the urge to tell someone "oh this bit, check this out, isn't this fun?!" Plus this quote gives you an idea of Marion being a normal woman, as well as understanding how women think differently. Neat story all round.

 

Backstory: Marion is on her third husband (she's in her 20s), and totally in love and happy - they both have careers in film, they both love each other's intelligence, all the good stuff. But she has eyes, and this sense of humor. (Never fear, she's not the type to have an affair - that's not where this goes. Her current husband, Fred Thomson, is a former Olympic calibre athlete/Presbyterian army chaplain turned cowboy star. Yes, his biography is just as interesting as that sounds.)

 

Marion is working for Goldwyn on the 1926 film The Winning of Barbara Worth. (Ebook here!) Goldwyn's secretary asks Marion to see if she can't put in a good word for the secretary's boyfriend, as he's trying to get one of the parts in the film. (Also backstory: Hopper has been a friend of Marion's for years. Which is how she knows Marion's reaction in this story.)

 

p. 182-183: 

“At six foot four, with brown hair and chiseled if irregular features, the young man appealed to Frances immediately. Hedda Hopper claimed that he was so “her type” of man that when Frances first saw him standing against the wall of the studio building, “she gave him a second look and as she went through the door, even risked a third.”

 

[The actor boyfriend had sent a screentest for the part but the male execs didn’t think much of it.]

 

...Frances concluded it was because male stars still tended to be “pretty boys”; the director and producer didn’t think women would be attracted to what she was the first to admit was a “gaunt, slow moving self conscious young man.” But knowing how both she and Sam’s secretary reacted to him, Frances suggested organizing a screening of his and other actors’ tests in front of a group of female office workers at the studio. The immediate response from their collective libido proved that the two women were not alone and Frank Cooper, changing his first name to Gary so that he would not be confused with another actor with the same name, was hired at fifty dollars a week.

 

...Yet when she viewed the daily rushes, Frances suddenly realized they had a problem on their hands.

 

“This guy is going to steal the picture,” Frances announced to King and Goldwyn after watching Gary Cooper’s dramatic portrayal of an exhausted man collapsing.“

 

While Cooper had a somewhat awkward time learning to act, he had improved so quickly (and took to direction so well) that Marion had to write him out of a later scene or he would have been mistaken for the hero of the film. And of course Cooper went on to become a major star quickly after that. Goldwyn was mocked by the industry for not giving him the salary raise Cooper asked for - Paramount snapped him up days later.

 

I did have to eyeroll at the concept of two men being so completely sure they knew what type of man all women would and wouldn't find attractive. (Not to mention that Marion had to get backup responses - but the way she chose to do this was brilliant - using women already working for the studio.) Again, this sort of thing didn't end in the 1900s - and it works for all genders really. We've all heard varions of (mix the genders as you will, or substitute your own): "Wait, women/men like him/her?! Why?! Ugh, not attractive at all."

 

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text 2015-03-08 17:51
Reading in Progress: Without Lying Down by Cari Beauchamp
Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood - Cari Beauchamp

Once again I'm having fun with multiple-book-juggling! I now have three sometimes-overlapping book reading needs:

1) commute reads: reading for the train, can't be too engrossing or I'll miss my stop (I am NOT exaggerating about that),

2) evening reads: something I can put down easily so I can remember to get sleep, and

3) paper books that aren't portable and have to be read at home.

 

Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood is in the third category because it's just heavy enough to be a pain to carry, along with all the other items I'm toting to and from work. At the moment it's also an evening read, but that's a problem because I'd classify it as almost too interesting.

 

Wikipedia: Frances Marion

 

[On the book cover Marion is on the right and the woman on the left is Mary Pickford.] 

 

It's completely normal to have never heard of Frances Marion. The only reason I have is because I studied film history, and because I've read a handfull of books about women writers in the 1920s. Marion was one of many writers who wasn't exactly part of the Algonquin Round Table but was tied to it by living at the hotel for a time and by knowing some of the "members." (It wasn't exactly an official club.) She was also conscious that she wasn't really part of "that crowd" because her writing was often dismissed because it was only for film. Even today some people consider writing for film/television/etc. not "real" writing. (I am soooo into scare quotes suddenly, yerg.)

 

The one thing that you find over and over is how many witty, bright, and interesting women writers were involved in the magazine and film writing industries in early 1900s America. This isn't the first book I've read to posit that one reason women were able to be taken (somewhat, for the times) seriously in these fields was because of how disreputable the business was - women were let in because no one was taking those fields seriously. Because no one respected writers. There's a weird myth of that being a respected career, and that's never been the case. There's a very narrow field of Writers of Literature that got some respect, as well as certain types of academic writing - but there were thousands of other writers making a living who weren't considered valuable members of society, or even artists. And whose names we don't know today. If you think anything has changed, go read interviews of writers working in the film and television industry. Not the ones whose names you've heard of - again, that's a very small, select group. Most screenwriters are rarely are known by name and are just as disposable to the studios now as those writers in the 1900s. Something doesn't work? Fire the current writer and bring in someone else.

 

What I love about Marion is her attitude. She can do it all - write, direct, produce, edit - and she chose writing as the thing that made her happiest. (Since she was pretty they tried to nudge her into acting - which she always knew wasn't her thing.) She kept control of her career by not signing up with just one studio, and instead freelanced so she could choose who she worked with and what projects. She managed to become one of the best known screenwriters of the time - a recognized name in the fan magazines and newspapers.

 

I haven't yet read to the part in the book where the entire film world undergoes a Big Change with the coming of sound. It's one of those earthshaking industry moments - like television suddenly competing with film (and film fighting back) or mp3s changing the entire music industry (and the music industry fighting back). I honestly love reading about these moments because

1) everyone in the industry always flips out about them initially (in extremely dramatic ways, because careers suddenly undergo massive change, businesses rise and fall, etc.) and

2) each one always makes the media more interesting for consumers and more complex for scholars/workers in that field.

And I do love a good, meaty history-of-tech story.

 

Oops, this was all leading up to a quote from the book - got a bit carried away with history squee. Well, I'll just pop that in after the break.

 

(Also WTF is this one week it's snowing us in and the coming week it's going to be 60 degrees?! And here I thought I was being overly careful bringing some summer clothes along with me. The US east coast is winning the changeable weather award - given by me - over west coast - well, for this season anyway.)

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text 2015-03-05 20:28
Snowed in with a Book!
Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood - Cari Beauchamp

We had a heads up it'd be bad today and so stayed home from work - but I didn't really think it'd be snowing ALL day. (Remember, I'm the person who's not lived in a place with snow for decades now. I've lived in Kansas and Massachusetts, but you grow out of practice with snow and stuff.) So I'm about to leave the computer and go back to where I spent my morning - snuggled up with a book under a blanket, with the curtain open so I can see the snow fall and appreciate what I'm not going to walk through outdoors. Also I have several Cadbury Creme Eggs. Am very pleased about this.

 

I'm assured that all of this doesn't mean we can't make it out of our area and in to work tomorrow, but I feel skeptical.

 

Have been hopping from this book about Frances Marion to various Le Fanu ghost stories. Ghost stories just go with snow somehow - if I had a fireplace with a fire they'd be perfect. But Marion - well, I'm quickly becoming a fangirl. She's very focused on pursuing her writing in a field that's new to her, and doing it by herself. Not to mention being divorced twice by her mid twenties.

 

In 1915 she participated in the march for suffrage parade in NYC - historical background:

 

PBS This Day in History

New York Historical Society 

(Both links have photos of the parade. Though not of the hecklers - it was not always a safe thing to take part in these, and in some cases there was violence. And the police weren't necessarily going to help out.) 

p. 55: "Francis and friends like Adela Rogers had marched in parades before, yet they nursed a nagging suspicion that women were "trading superiority for equality." Women had been voting in California since 1911 and it seemed such an "obvious right" it was almost insulting to have to convince others."

It's always good to remember that no matter the state of women's rights there were always times when practical women would ask "is this really necessary - it's clear we're capable." Also that, in the early days everyone still clung to the idea that "women are special" (the whole putting the gender on a pedestal, sacredness of motherhood, etc.) and that that attitude could be a positive. (Nope, for the most part it tended to be used to argue that women should stick to "their world" - meaning wife/mother/housekeeping.)

 

I also forgot the whole part about many states allowing women to vote in regional elections long before the national law passed. Which reminds me I have a paper book on women's suffrage I've been meaning to read. Meanwhile this book on Marion mentions SO many interesting women in the arts - and as usual I'm noticing  a lot of them don't have their own biographies. Not that I'd have time to read them all, of course.

 

Ok, off to my blanket and Cadbury eggs!

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