Thoughts on the Week That Was

It’s another gorgeous morning here in Maine. What an unbelievable summer we have had. We’ve been trying to get out and enjoy it as much as possible. In fact, today I don’t have much time to write this b/c the spouse and I are putting on our hiking shoes and heading into the woods for a few hours.

I have a post up this morning at Book Riot, Hot or Not: Trends in Popular Romance which is a summary of things I heard at RWA.

Speaking of RWA, I wanted to share a random observation. The line for Susan Elizabeth Phillips at the literacy signing was very short every time I walked by it. She got a special spot along the wall reserved for the biggest names. She was next to Nalini Singh who had a line that snaked past SEP’s table and well beyond. I mentioned this to someone and they said it’s partly geographic, and that SEP draws huge lines when RWA is in southern states. Anyway, it got me thinking about how it might feel to get moved from the outskirts and put back into scrum late in one’s career.

As for the other big RWA discussion of the week? This sums of how I feel:

giphy

I’m sorry I can’t be more articulate than that, but many others, both inside and outside Romanceland, have.

Ridley, Meoskop, Rameau and Rebekah are looking for reviewers for Love in the Margins. I’m on record promising one post a month if they need it, but I know they really want reviewers writing from a range of perspectives and experiences and identities.

Our hospital Literature and Medicine group picked the books for this year (the group meets monthly September – May, excluding one of the middle winter months). Here they are:

The Tennis Partner, by Abraham Verghese

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

The Stranger, by Albert Camus and The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

The Lost Child, Wes McNair (Maine author, poetry, will visit our group to discuss it)

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

On Immunity: An Inoculation, Eula Biss

I’m putting together a blog for the group, but it’s mainly just for people to refer to which book and which date, and I’ll put up a couple of links for further reading.

I finally downgraded my Audible subscription to the Secret Super Low Level (small $$ per year to keep all your books in the cloud and have access to all sales). I got Scribd, which, although the functionality isn’t as great as the Audible app, I am really loving. I listened to the Holly Madison memoir on audio, something I never would have used a precious Audible credit on. Although, I got a new car with a free Sirius radio subscription and listening to talk radio, music from specific decades, and channels devoted to my favorite artists is really eating in to my audio time.

I’m listening to Venetia right now (on Audible. ). Of course, it is great. I would listen to Phyllida Nash read the phone book. Heyer is such a keen observer of moral character and fairly obsessed with the difference between mores and morals. I get the sense that she thinks the greatest failing of character isn’t to commit moral wrongs (even grievous ones) but to miss the moral forest for the mores trees. (sorry!)  And I think it has something to do with the value she seems to place on real human connection, the way that slavish devotion to social mores and attendant moralizing puts a person at a distance from others. In the few Heyer books I’ve read that seems to be a salient distinction between the hero and the rejected suitor.

I’ve been reading some “dark romance,” mostly out of curiosity. Am in the middle of Stay by Emily Goodwin. Its claim to fame is having been twice banned by Amazon. I can’t tell who the female protag will end up with but if it is any of the guys I’ve met so far, it’s very depressing. My thoughts on this subgenre are percolating.

I hope you had a good week. In honor of the end of The Daily Show, here’s a Moment of (Maine summer) Zen:

Socioeconomic Class at RWA

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I had a great time at the Romance Writers of America conference. I went as press for Book Riot and attended panels, spotlights, and social events with my blogging ears and eyes open. I have a lot to share about forthcoming books and current trends I’m excited about (and a few I wish would go away).

I’ve been following discussions in the aftermath of the conference. Just a few things I’ve seen so far: Rose Fox has been tweeting about being persistently misgendered. Tweets —trigger warnings for the Locke link — about the “Nazi romance” that was nominated for a RITA award (I recommend India Valentin’s and Katherine Locke’s excellent streams). Would love a Storify on those, but have no idea how to do it.

I recommend Alisha Rai’s Storify on one of the fantastic panels on diversity in romance publishing. I also recommend Suleikha Snyder’s RWA15 in NYC:  A Tale of Two Conferences. She was either too kind or too overwhelmed with similar incidents to put it in her post, but when I was introduced to Suleikha at the conference, she was standing with Sonali Dev, and as I shook Suleikha’s hand I told her I loved A Bollywood Affair.

There was also a fantastic panel on writing and depression, which was the most crowded one I attended. Lots of questions from the audience. I remembered meeting one of the people who spoke out about her own struggle with depression (it may be have been a panelist or audience member. I don’t want to be specific). At the time, she seemed distracted/uninterested/cold. I realized after her comment that she may well have been suffering a depressive episode — or I’m just not interesting. The point is that it reminded me to be more aware of what people may be experiencing when I encounter them, and refrain from making an assessment of someone based on a brief encounter.  It also occurred to me that while there are loads of panels at RWA on fighting procrastination and tools to increase productivity, the way that disabilities, including chronic mental illness, affects writers remains largely unacknowledged.* For example, what are the effects of the industry push to “write faster” on someone whose output is affected by their experience of disability?

*Edited to add: there wa sa panel on ADD/ADHD which many found very helpful. Thanks to Mary Lynne Nielsen for the reminder.

I’m sure I committed other microaggressions, but those are just examples to illustrate that I am not writing this post in any kind of a position of perfect ally-hood or moral saintliness. Far from it.

One issue I wanted to mention here that really struck me was socioeconomic class issues. Here are a few random examples:

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Thoughts on the Week That Was

UnREAL

So, last week I was lamenting my lack of TV shows. Well, I found one and I’m obsessed with it. I watched all 7 episodes in 24 hours.  I want to write a paper on it. I want Monday’s episode NOW. It’s UnREAL, the Lifetime show about the making of a Bachelor-type TV show. It kind of a comedy-drama, extremely dark, cynical, and often over the top. My favorite thing about the show is the lead character, Rachel. She’s a producer on the show. She rarely washes, changes her clothes or combs her hair. She’s a master at manipulating the contestants in exceptionally ruthless and often harmful ways. Yet she’s extremely self-aware, often caring, and conversant in social justice discourses, from gender, to sexual orientation, to race, to class. She’s a horrible person but she’s also vulnerable and conflicted about her job, and I really want her to be happy.

Rachel has two suitors, one being a cameraman with whom she had an affair before a breakdown during the finale of the last season. The ex is a good, solid guy. He’s moved on but is still deeply attracted to Rachel the complex trainwreck. The other is the star of the reality show, a blond rich English guy who is a fame-seeking cad with unexpected depths. These are two of my favorite romance tropes. The solid guy who can’t stay away from the effed up girl, and the irresistible cad and the woman who calls him on his bullshit. 

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Thoughts on the week that was

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Representation in fiction was a big theme for me this week. At Book Riot, I published a post on US and UK covers. One of them is the cover for JR Ward’s The Shadows. The US cover model could be any race, as he is, appropriately enough I guess, in shadow, with his back to the reader. The UK cover model is clearly black. I wonder why the UK cover makes it visually obvious that the protagonist is not white, while the US cover doesn’t. Is one market more likely to be affected? Why? I always saw the UK and the US as very similar in terms of their racial problems. Maybe that’s wrong, at least in terms of what the UK reader is willing to buy. Either way, I thought the US cover was a missed chance for a best selling author to put her POC protag out in front. If there was ever an author whose book could survive the supposed hit on sales from a non-white cover model, it’s JW Ward. Of course, she herself has stated that her vampires are neither white nor black, because those are human racial categories and the vampires aren’t human.

I read Carolyn Crane’s Behind the Mask, book 4 of her RS Undercover Associates series, which has a half-Japanese heroine and a South American hero. First of all, I loved it just as much as the first three books. The series is generally very violent, the tone dark, with high emotional stakes. I’d almost say it’s like crack but the writing is too good to give it that label. Anyway, the heroine’s ethnicity was mentioned once but played no role in the book and the hero’s was much more significant to his character, the plot, the setting. I was thinking that I’m seeing more white authors write POC characters, and there’s a range in terms of how much it matters to the character and story.

Which led me to wondering, if as a reader I want to read “more diversely”, whether I should be trying to read POC authors rather than POC characters. Of course, in romance there’s a good number of POC authors who write white protagonists. There’s a good discussion of this on the Clear Eyes Full Shelves podcast #29 on diversity. (I enjoy this podcast. It hits the right balance of informal banter, inside bookternet baseball, and serious discussion, although the differences in volume of the different speakers can be hard to take).

I also happen to be reading an ARC of Clancy Martin’s Bad Sex, a loosely autobiographical litfic set in Central America about an affair. Someone at Book Riot person offered it up and I grabbed it because he’s a philosophy professor and I was intrigued. There isn’t much philosophy except for a pretty left field reference to Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous violinist analogy to abortion. I’m finding it very readable and I like his voice. However, and this is a big problem, his first person protagonist is supposed to be a woman and I 100% do not buy it. For the first few pages I assumed Brett was a man and I keep having to force myself to think of her as a woman. I’m not sure this will communicate it, but here’s a typical passage I have trouble with:

Brett and her lover Eduard are at a bar and a woman who drums in the lounge band approaches him.

She ordered a Hendrick’s gin and tonic Slice of cucumber. She was younger than me.

“You guys can play,” Eduard said to her.

She was too skinny, and her skin was pocked and covered in heavy makeup. I wasn’t concerned.

“Thanks,” she said. “We’re playing at The Blue Note after this. Eleven o’clock session.”

Eduard looked at me. I looked at the drummer. I looked at her with his eyes, and I could see that she wasn’t too bad.

I’m not saying women don’t assess each other’s looks, or that a woman drummer wouldn’t approach a couple like that, but the way it’s written jars. The voice just feels masculine.

Of course, my conception of “what women are like” is narrow. It’s based mostly on what I’m like and who I know and the stuff I’ve internalized. I’m not sure it’s that much easier to judge whether a character whose gender and race I share is authentic. And that probably has a lot to do with the variety of experiences and outlooks people who even share a gender, race or ethnicity or class can have. I guess as a reader, while reading, it just comes down to whether it works. And in the non-reading time, trying to learn more than I currently know.

Speaking of POC authors, I have been listening to I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot at age 15 by the Taliban for going to school. Of course, that description is so simplistic it’s nearly false. I’m learning a lot about who this young woman is and also how misleading “Pakistani” is in describing her, her family, her background, and her land. It’s narrated brilliantly by the British actor Archie Panjabi, who is on the TV show The Good Wife.

TV: Having a hard time with it. Finally swore off Game of Thrones. Poldark is a dud. Can’t get into Jonathan Strange. I did start watching Ray Donovan, and am enjoying it, but I wish I could find a nonviolent drama. Why can’t I have another Friday Night Lights with strong female characters of various ages, where a fist fight in a burger joint is the extent of the carnage?

It’s another gorgeous summer day here in Maine. A friend’s coming over for quiche in a few, and the Dean and her family for dinner tonight. I have to write a post for Book Riot relating to Go Set a Watchman by 5:00. And visit my Hospice friend, a Purple Heart decorated World War II vet who was stationed in the Pacific. He was on the USS Missouri when Japan signed its surrender with Gen MacArthur. His stories contain not one iota patriotism or glory. What he mostly remembers is how horrible war is for everyone engaged in it.

Not sure how much actual work will get done today. Summer Fridays.

Happy weekend!

Updates, recent and upcoming posts

Greetings! Here’s an update.

Spending many hours here lately

Spending many hours here lately

Since March, I’ve been quiet here, but busy at Book Riot:

Cover comparison: UK v US covers (no pub date)

Slouching Towards Zombieland (June 2015)

Romance Novel Think Pieces for Dummies (June 2015)

Top Responses to the New Fifty Shades of Grey Book (June 2015)

Disney World Guidebooks: A Curated List (May 2015)

Ten Terms the Romance Fandom Taught Me (May 2015)

Buy Borrow Bypass: New Self Help Books (May 2015)

And I’m working on these posts for BR as well:

  • Reading Pathways: Nora Roberts
  • Reading Romance Fiction as Literature
  • Why Romance Fiction Gets so Little Respect (ugh… that title needs to be killed ded).
    • This probably seems easy and maybe overdone to people inside Romancelandia, I don’t think many people have thought much about this. I feel that romance coverage and its reputation has improved a lot, especially in the past five years, and I’m going to acknowledge that in the post, but there’s still a ways to go. Also, it will help a little with a new project, which is modeled after an article called “The Appeal of the Mystery” by Alan Goldman in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.
    • In general, it’s been an interesting experience to write for a large site which has a small percentage of romance readers. It can be a challenge. I want to write one way when I think I am talking to my regular interlocutors and a different way when I picture contemporary lit fic readers who make up a big chunk of BR’s main audience.
  • Untapped History (about historical romances with unusual settings or protagonists. Also probably getting a new title.)

I’m going to RWA in July. I plan to do a couple of Book Riot posts related to the conference. I don’t have any other ambitions or plans. It’ll feel nice going to a conference where I am not expected to contribute anything and can fly completely under the radar. I’m super excited to see a few old friends again and meet some long time internet friends in person for the first time.

After about 6 years of talking about romance and going to PCA I finally have an actual peer reviewed article in print.  Free digital copies for anyone who asks! Just kidding. Not really.

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Review: One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, by Sarah MacLean

One good Earl Deserves a Lover

This month’s TBR challenge hosted by SuperWendy is Series Catch Up. I am so pathetically behind on virtually every series I’ve ever started that my choices were nearly endless. I decided to focus on a short series, and I had read and enjoyed the first in Sarah Maclean’s Rules of Scoundrels series, so I decided to read the second, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover.

I’m about 3/4 of the way through the audio of the third book in the series, and I can say that there is one thing about all of these books that I had to get over to keep reading them: the preposterous premises. I can accept that fallen noblemen run a gaming hell. But the specific set-ups that get the h/h together have been hurdles for me. In One Good Earl, Lady Philippa “Pippa” Marbury is getting married in two weeks to a nice but boring earl. She’s unusual: a bespectacled scientist, uninterested in society or the typical feminine pursuits. She reads the wedding vows and realizes she has no idea about sex. So she decides to go the gambling joint run by her new brother in law and three other partners, one of whom is named Cross.
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Guest Review: The Dream Alchemist by Joanna Chambers

Work kept me from finishing my TBR Challenge book today (a Sarah Maclean), but like manna from heaven, into my email popped a fabulous review of the first book in Joanna Chambers’ paranormal m/m series written by Janet Webb, aka @JanetNorCal, long time romance reader and Heroes and Heartbreakers contributor. Enjoy!

Dream Alchemist

My TBR book for March is The Dream Alchemist. I struggled with how best to present this unusual and fascinating entry into an absorbing new world, then decided the best fallback is to let the author’s words draw you in.

Book description (from the publisher):

When the sun goes down, their passion awakens…and so do their nightmares.

Centuries ago, a man with Bryn Llewelyn’s dreamwalking ability would have been a shaman or a priest. In this time, he’s merely exhausted, strung out on too much caffeine and too little sleep.

Sleep means descent into Somnus—an alternate reality constructed of the combined dreaming consciousness of ordinary humans. A place he’d rather avoid. Trouble is, his powers don’t include the ability to go without sleep indefinitely. At some point his eyes close…and his nightmare begins.

As a teen, the treatment that cured Laszlo Grimm’s sleep disorder stole his dreams—and his ability to feel emotion. Petrified of needing more “treatment”, he clings to familiar rituals and habits. But lately his nightly terror has returned, and when he meets Bryn in the real world, the man seems hauntingly familiar. Not only that, Bryn awakens feelings in Laszlo for the first time in years…

Slowly Bryn and Laszlo realize they are both unknowing pawns in a plan of unspeakable evil. And that their powerful attraction could release the destinies locked within them—or be the instrument of their doom.

Tom’s Midnight Garden, P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins books, the Over Sea, Under Stone series by Susan Cooper—I read all of these books and many more like them growing up. What they have in common is the elasticity of time, space, and history. In its simplest form, for example, Mary Poppins had the power to take the Banks children, albeit briefly, to another world. In more complex worlds, events involving the “same” people happen seemingly concurrently, in different centuries and/or universes. These are time slip books. Which is, says Wikipedia: “… a paranormal phenomenon in which a person, or group of people, seem to either travel through time via unknown means, or appear to briefly enter an alternate version of present reality via unknown means.”

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I’m at Book Binge talking about 5 books Everyone Should Read

5-Books-Project

 

 

 

 

 

Wellll, sort of.

The ladies over at Book Binge have this great feature Five Books Everyone Should Read which I foolishly agreed to participate in. Seriously, who can limit their list to 5 books? I can’t even limit the list of books I am currently reading to five, never mind pick five to recommend out of every book I’ve read. But then I figured out a way to cheat and all was well.

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