Hearts, Flowers, Hunks

October 9th, 2004 · 2 Comments
by Booksquare

Jill thought it would be fun to attend the Romantic Times convention and drag us along. Apparently she can’t get enough of our sarcasm in real life. We suspect, without any real evidence, that said convention would bring out the worst of our cynicsm. Jill has a warped sense of humor; we suspect she hasn’t given up the idea as much as she’s waiting for the next perfect moment to spring her plan.

For years, we’ve read about this convention. It sounds, frankly, awful. Perhaps you have to be there, but the descriptions make the whole experience sound like every stereotype of romance readers and authors ever written. It is the antithesis of our encounters with those same readers and authors; we’ve found both to be well-educated and thoughtful. There’s a difference between having a good time and bordering on ridiculous. While we admire the male physique as much as the next person, we think cover model contests are pretty lousy ways to spend a weekend.

In defense of the RT convention, we feel the same about the magazine. It does not represent the genre well, in our opinion.

This thought arose because this week’s New York Times Book Review looks at the latest Nora Roberts book (Northern Lights). With the exception of a heaving bosom tossed into the analysis (reviewer Elissa Schappell was refering to sex, so perhaps it was appropriate), the review takes Roberts seriously as a novelist and views the book on its own merits. Which is to say it critiques strengths and weaknesses in the work. Romance wants to be taken seriously in the book world — thoughtful commentary and critical analysis, not cover model contests, is the way to do it.

Each genre of fiction has a set of touchstones — words, images, even colors — that define it. Romance, unfortunately, got the cutesy end of the spectrum; it’s like being a big-breasted blonde…getting people to move beyond the package takes concerted effort and, sometimes, extraordinary wit). When you’re dealing with an emotion as complex as love, hearts and flowers can be trivial. While such imagery serves a purpose, it creates the impression that the subject isn’t given an in-depth analysis. There has to be a way to convey genre while projecting a more mature image.

Society places incredible pressure on humans. Writers look at this squeeze from many angles. Romance fiction deals primarily with the family aspect: you’re expected to meet someone, fall in love, have kids, live happily ever after. Except, if you’ve ever done even one of those things, you know it’s not that simple. To do what’s expected means to give up a part of yourself; to say “I’m going to approach your world in my own way” requires an act of bravery. Were romance to be just about boy meets girl, it wouldn’t have survived this long or developed such a devoted readership (of both both genders and every possible sexual orientation). If other fiction explores a person growing up or finding him or herself, romance addresses the next phase: you’re a big boy now, what are you going to do about it?

We don’t particularly dislike hearts or flowers (or hunks, as noted), but we wish the romance genre were presented in less simplistic terms. When so many books are dealing with such complex subject matter, isn’t it only fair that be represented as well?

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

2 responses so far ↓

  • Brenda Coulter // Oct 10, 2004 at 1:34 pm

    “For years, we’ve read about this convention. It sounds, frankly, awful. Perhaps you have to be there, but the descriptions make the whole experience sound like every stereotype of romance readers and authors ever written.”

    I’ve never attended a Romantic Times convention because costume parties at which a bunch of silly women drink too much and fawn over shirtless cover models has never been my idea of a good time. But I don’t believe RT owes it to the romance industry to present a more dignified convention or tone down the giddiness of their magazine. They are who they are, and plenty of authors and fans love them for it. I might roll my eyes at their silliness, but I recognize their right to define the genre in their own way.

    Many of us may wish for (and work to gain) more respect for romance in the literary world, but as long as there are fans and authors who delight in donning pink feather boas and drooling over clinch covers, the sensation-seeking media will continue to focus on that segment of the industry, no matter how small it becomes. So although we may triumph in a battle here and there, we “serious” romance writers are fighting a war we can never win.

  • booksquare // Oct 10, 2004 at 9:52 pm

    I don’t think RT owes the industry anything, but I do, quite sincerely, wish it wasn’t the leading trade publication for romance because I truly believe it isn’t representative. Others may disagree with me — in fact, I’d love to see debate on this issue.

    I also, honestly, believe the (as a boa owning and wearing person; I love my boa because it represents something special to me) RT fans are not representative of the genre’s readership. I also don’t believe romance can’t win the war. The first step is authors, especially, treating the genre seriously, and that starts with serious criticism of the genre. Just in the past two or so weeks (sorry, this work thing has destroyed my sense of place and time), I read a posting from a newly published author who declared (and I paraphrase) she can no longer “criticize” her fellow authors because she’s joined the club….

    What??? If we cannot be honest about the work, the genre, no, it’s never going to be seen as serious. You do not have to be cruel to be honest. But I think we’ve lost a lot of honesty in the attempt to be polite. This comes from authors participating on readers’ lists (where it is taboo to criticize), but also from a belief in solidarity in the genre.

    RT and its convention serve a purpose, and, for some, is probably a lot of fun. For me, no. I don’t think what’s largely a fan publication needs to change its tactics. But the romance community wants respect — there’s nothing wrong with that — and I’m not sure this convention is the ideal way to achieve that goal.