There’s a trend in romance toward heroines who are imperfect, and who are more “real life” sized. While that’s refreshing, many readers still dig a gorgeous, seemingly “perfect” heroine. But do we lack self-esteem if we dream of being in her pretty place as we read? Read more...
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A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine on the marketing side of the publishing equation sent me a post from Jezebel.com and thought I might write around it a piece about how editorial content has evolved in the romance genre since the book, "The Road to Forever" by Jeneth Murrey was published by Harlequin in 1983.  Jezebel.com contributor Sadie contends that RTF hero Owen Tudor is the "Worst 80s Hero of All Time," or at least from the 20th C, and lays out her case.

While reading the post, "He Hardly Ever Called Her a Vicious Little B*tch Now..." I thought of an interview I'd done recently with a former Harlequin editor who told me in the 80s, she often was overruled in editorial confabs when she complained that some Harlequin heroes reminded her of the stalkers she was concerned she might meet in real life as a young, single woman in NYC.  She said she'd hear over and over from the team: This is fantasy and readers know the difference.

I agree.  Our negative and positive visceral impressions of books we read have everything to do with our experiences, whether or not we've evaluated them, and whether we've gone through or examined the things that allow us to understand where an author might have been coming from - or why a reader might have enjoyed a novel.  

When we reject out of hand old-school romance as dangerous or misogynistic - or any other label easily applied while living in the comfort of times when feminists give our romance reading their blessed seal of approval - we forget that in the 80s and long before, women wrote and read romance when feminists dissed both.

And definitely to put a fine point on things, those old-school romance readin'-and-scribin' women hadn't yet "found their voices." Many were trying desperately to surf the Second Wave, and - if they even understood they had some nasty fantasies -- hadn't the ways to articulate them; erotic fiction, and heck, even Anais Nin, weren't mainstays in their local libraries.

But Harlequin romances were available.

Now, I recently read an erotic romance that I adored, "Skin Deep  ," by Anna J. Evans, which spoke to some sexy elements I and so many romance readers love.  But I want you to understand that you and I have had years to read erom, know the language of sexuality and seduction and have been taught that it's ok to use them.  I mean, imagine the 50+ romance-reading demo in the 80s trying to articulate their bondage/humiliation fantasies!  

When a contemporary hero a la "Skin Deep" says to a heroine something akin to, "You're my dirty little b*tch, aren't you?" it's ok for us to get hot.  When the hero today who is a dominant kidnaps the heroine-even if he's conflicted -- it's cool for us to feel a nice, dirty thrill.  And when the hero humiliates the heroine in a bondage joint by bending her over and wailing on her pretty ass - with her permission, of course - we know she's the one with the real power, so we're "allowed" that sweet ol' body buzz.  

But remember this, girlfriends:  Today, in the 80s and always, the woman with the fantasy is the woman with the power.

Now, when you read the Jezebel.com post, you may want to go all, "But the hero loved his stepsister!  That's creepy!"  Well, maybe it is, and maybe it isn't, and I have my own opinions as a survivor of sexual abuse, and former child protection services worker.  But, again, remember what I said above about our experiences shading how we look at novels - and think about how that could color our feelings about what makes a romance "good."  

It's awfully easy to rip apart a book w/out trying to understand why it might have turned on readers.  And as a fan of all romance, I think it's more interesting to attempt to understand that every author who had the audacity to write a romance when it only was unpopular  - and every reader who bought a book when romance wasn't feminist- or smarty-pants approved  -- deserves our respect, and our gratitude.

What old-school romance did you love and still love?  What old school did your read that mortifies you today?  What are the best/worst things about how editorial content has evolved over the years in romance?

 

 

Sherri Kenyon visits Center Stage this week! Click here to dish w/ her bout "Bad Moon Rising!" Check out my exclusive interview with her here...

Message Edited by Michelle_Buonfiglio on 08-14-2009 10:48 AM
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If you think authors have become rock stars to readers, who do you think writers worship?  I'll tell ya: Book buyers.

Enter Barnes & Noble Romance Buyer Tommy Dreiling, albeit not sporting eye liner or package-cupping leathers.

Nope, this intelligent and engaging guy knows that to move among thousands of worshipping women who'd kill for a slice of his time, it's better to go conservative and have a big knowledge of the genre - and confident understanding of what romance-reading chicks want.

"Romance popularity and sales have increased dramatically in the 13 years I've been buying romance for Barnes & Noble," says Dreiling, whose commitment to the genre is clear in the understated, yet still intense and animated ways in which he talks about his job.  "And what's very exciting is that for September, we've bought 159 romance titles - and that doesn't include series."
 
It's his familiarity w/ readers and book trends, as well as his rep for being a stand-up guy in the biz, which made me jazzed about meeting with Dreiling on a recent trip to B&N's NYC digs.  There, he told me a bit about his journey from BN bookstore manager to his current gig.

"Barnes & Noble's buyers are unique in that they have bookstore backgrounds first," Dreiling noted.  He spent five years as a B&N manager before moving to corporate to work as assistant to Bob Wietrak, VP of Merchandising.  Dreiling was thrilled to be given the opportunity to score romance as his first venture into buying, and he currently purchases all romances by bestsellers and "soon to be" stars.

"There sometimes is a misconception that we don't buy ‘midlist,'" says Dreiling of novels that may not become bestsellers but will make money and help develop a following and future book sales for an author.   "We buy everything great that comes our way, something for lots of our stores, if not all of them. " For example, often Dreiling will buy more of a midlist book to place in the author's hometown area or another store that makes sense.

Since everyone wants to be a rock star, I wondered what Dreiling thinks is the coolest thing about his hi-visibility position.  "Probably to watch as new authors in romance have a chance to become very big, very fast," he said, after giving the question a bit of thought.

"Word sometimes spreads in zero to 60, and in about one-to-two years, a large number of new romance authors break out.  It's fun to see something good happen, to have an opportunity to really put authors out in the market in front of readers."

What trends do you see in romance books?  What would you suggest Tommy consider taking a look at in the future? 



You've got the rest of today to hook up w/ Suz Brockmann at Center Stage to talk "Hot Pursuit," Troubleshooters, Izzy, SEALs and anything else!  BN mod Becke Martin's your hostess, so head over to have some fun!

Don't forget Eloisa James' manly mens @ her Review column: "Alpha Allure":

 

Please: Join me on twitter @michelle_rbtb!  And check out my romance stuff Tuesdays at "Unabashedly Bookish!"

Message Edited by Michelle_Buonfiglio on 08-14-2009 10:51 AM
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Yeah. The answer is a big ol' -- and you heard it hear first cause I just left a little klatch with 'er -- ayup!  Izzy's story is next up in Suz Brockmann's Troubleshooter series, book 16 'bout those popular boys from SEAL team 16.  Oh, and did I mention who Izzy's lady lovah'll be in the read?  Hold on; I'll get to that.

 

Seems Suz has a lot goin' on of late. First, she's got Troubleshooter book 15, "Hot Pursuit" coming out July 28. It's centered around, oh, what are their names, you know...sheesh, all that comes to mind is a big ol' bottle of chocolate sauce. Oh, yeah! Sam and Alyssa.  They star in this read, which is a little diff from other Tshooters in that it's got a bit more of the romantic suspense.  But it's also got a lot of the romance in the form of our boy, Danny Gilman in a secondary love thang, and Suz says we see inside Danny's mind for the first time -- he's a point of view (p.o.v.) character -- and it's quite the "interesting" trip.


Suz also is in the midst of an edit of "Gallagher's Claim," a book she wrote 12 years ago but didn't publish. She loves the kinda 'blended genre' story so much -- as does her publisher Ballantine -- they've decided to release it next summer straight to mass market (paperback) so we readers who are finding our purses a little emptier these days have a little easier time gettin' us our Suz fix. And it's a grand way for folks to try on some Suz for size.  The story's got a contemporary romantic suspense set against a movie being filmed about the OK Corral, a noble contemporary hero who's the great grandson of "Jaimie the Kid Gallagher," who just may have been the hero the history books don't talk about and who happens to show up in present day in ghost form -- and a heroine Suz currently is rewriting cause now that Suz is 12 years the more accomplished writer, she wants to make the chick "wiser, funnier and worthier of being the heroine -- and of getting her man."

 

But who's woman enough to get the man Izzy became a Tshooter book or so ago?  Get ready to win or lose your bets, girlfriends, cause Eden's back, and we get to find out how and whether she can work her way to HEA with one of my fave Italian heroes.  And I do love me some Italian heroes.

BTW, Suz says Izzy's book is the last of the Troubleshooters...for awhile. 

How much do you love Suz' books? Which is your fave Troubleshooter book?  Or do you love her categories (series romances) best?

Message Edited by Michelle_Buonfiglio on 08-14-2009 12:00 PM
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