Friday, August 07, 2009

Defending the Romance Genre

A few months ago, my alumni magazine, The Carletonian Voice arrived. Nestled amongst the usual articles about various things happening on campus was an article entitled True Romance about a senior comps English project where a male student decided to write about his experience trying to write a novel about a woman romance author who was trying to write a romance. Basically, it was a very condescending article which stated that romance author wrote generally in capital letters and used exclamation points. He also gave a strange definition for romance and cited research from the late 1970s and early 80s as being definitive. I suspect he thought he was being witty and amusing.
The article bothered me on many levels, not the least of which was the condescending nature towards an industry where I earn my crust of bread. It depresses me no end that a man born in a post feminist world particularly one attending a top liberal arts college should feel the need to mock a genre that is primarily aimed at women. He could have achieved the same outcome using Guy With Gear Who Go novels. In many ways, it shows outdated attitudes still persist in academia. And unfortunately attitudes in academia influence attitudes in popular culture.
Anyway, I became annoyed and wrote a letter to the editor. To the editor's credit, they published the letter.
I was disappointed to read about the condescending comps paper that Evan Haine-Roberts ’09 has written [“True Romance,” Around the Bald Spot, spring]. He appears to have ignored recent research, choosing to concentrate on research from the late 1980s and early 1990s. A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis or work from the recently formed International Association for the Study of Popular Romance would have formed a better basis for his research.
As an author of over a dozen romance novels, I suggest that a more accepted definition of the commercial romance novel is one where the growth of the emotional relationship of the main protagonists forms the central arc or spine of the story and the ending is emotionally satisfying. I do not know which romance novels Mr. Haine-Roberts read, but I doubt they were of recent vintage, given the nature of his research.

I do try to defend the romance genre wherever possible. Sometimes, all I can do is feel sorry and embarrassed for people who have ignorant prejudices. And at other times, I feel something must be done to challenge the accepted stereotype.
Education is needed, particularly among academics. However, it needs to be in a language they understand. And this is why I am grateful for Romance Writers of America which offers a $5,000 grant to the best research proposal written by an academic studying the genre. Recent recipients include Eric Selinger, Sarah Frantz and Catherine Roach. Frantz and Selinger have been instrumental in setting up International Association for the Study of Popular Romance. Earlier this year, Princeton University held its first conference on the study of popular romance. There is even a new journal dedicated to the study of Gothic Romance being started in November 2009.
Although mostly I prefer to enjoy my romances rather than study them, I am pleased that something is finally being done. I also know the next time I feel the need to defend, I will be able to go on the blog Teach Me Tonight and learn what the current academic thinking about romance. A lot of good things are happening. People are challenging the status quo and hooray for them! It is about time!

Michelle Styles is very proud of writing historical romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon Historical. Her next book, The Viking's Captive Princess will be published in December 09.


EllenToo said...

Unfortunately there are some people in this world that can only feel good about themselves if they are tearing someone else or something else down. I pity the male student who has to tear others down in order to feel good about himself for he has a hard time ahead of him. I am glad you took time to answer him and while I doubt he will see where he went wrong maybe others will.

Michelle Styles said...

Ellen --
I was so angry.
Then there was the editor's attitude of yup, the article was what she expected from a 19 year old male. And that made me angrier still. Why if you know what is going to happen, do you bother to give the oxygen of publicity?
Anyway,I was pleased she printed my letter.

EllenToo said...

I agree the editor was just as much at fault for printing the article as the student was for writing it. I am glad she was smart enough to print your letter even if she wasn't smart enough not to print the article in the first place. And I certainly don't blame you for being angry, I am also. I hate it when ignorance and stupidity are published in newspapers or magazines.

Mary said...

Good for you! Seeing something like that would get me angry too, I am just glad that you wrote that letter. If more people voiced their opinions about things they see, when they know what they are reading is just wrong, I think others will follow and do the same.

Pat Cochran said...

Good for you for taking the stance you took and stepping up for the
romance genre! Far too many persons
dwell in the same land as Mr.'09!

Pat Cochran

Michelle Styles said...

Thank you Mary and Pat.
I also felt highlighting the recent academic research was probably the better way to go. Certainly it appeared to impress the editor.
I suspect it might sometimes be a case of finding a weak point. For example, he did not do his research properly, rather than trying to convert.

Christina Hollis said...

That was a great defence, Michelle. Sadly, controversy equals copy, which equals headlines and sales. That must be what the editor was after.
I've long suspected that those people who snipe the loudest have never actually read a recently published romance all the way through.

BethGray said...

I understand how you felt. The nature of romance writing is changing and that can be a good thing. It makes it come to life more and allows writers to explores different ways of presenting stories.
Beth Gray

penney said...

Oh Michelle I'm sorry that happen, I agree with what Ellen says.
I am looking forward to your new book in Dec,

Michelle Styles said...

Christina,Beth and Penney --
Thank you for understanding.

Penney -- I had the galley proofs about two weeks of The Viking's Captive Princess and thought it read well.
It is something that I really wanted to read well.

cheryl c said...

Good for you, Michelle!!! :-)

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