Defining Romances: No Ickiness, Please

There’s currently a very interesting discussion going on right now about narrowing the definition of romance in the comments section of our Gayle Wilson interview. Go check out the whole discussion, but I’ll excerpt the bits that interest me most here.

Reia kick-started things by saying this:

If there are no boundaries as to what may be included in the genre called “romance,” what exactly are asking for?  A non-genre genre?

I replied:

Come, now—that’s engaging in some slippery slope reasoning. Nobody’s calling for the RWA to be completely inclusive and without boundaries. The thing is, the RWA already has a definition of romance that I think does the job quite handily:

“A romance is a book wherein the love story is the main focus of the novel, and the end of the book is emotionally satisfying.”

And then Robin stepped in and kicked ass all over the place:

(…) I think sometimes in Romancelandia there is a confusion between what constitutes a Romance novel and what’s romantic to a particular reader.  If it’s not romantic to us, we may not see a book as a Romance.  Of course all sorts of ideological considerations play into this judgment (from the race and sexual orientation of the protagonists to questions of how dark is dark in Romance, etc.), but in terms of generic definition, I think it’s essential to divorce the notion of what’s romantic to each of us from what constitutes the genre of Romance, if for no other reason than basing the second question (what constitutes Romance) on the results of the first will, ironically, defeat the fundamental need for formulaic coherence in the genre, since so many of us find different things romantic.

Robin has articulated something very, very important: just because it makes you go “ick” doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong.

Oh, hey, a chance for me to come up with a really silly analogy that hopefully illustrates the point:

What we consider a “cake” is usually defined by a combination of sugar, eggs, flour, leavener, and liquids in very specific ratios and baked for a certain amount of time. We know what a cake is, what it’s supposed to look and feel like. A cookie isn’t a cake (though if you drastically decrease the amount of water for just about any cake recipe and dab the resulting batter on a cookie sheet, you’d get a cookie). A loaf of bread isn’t a cake. A pie isn’t a cake. Some quickbreads like muffins tread the twilight zone between cake and non-cake.

But let’s say somebody decided to do something sort of wacky to a conventional cake recipe. Instead of using chocolate, vanilla, lemon zest or any of the other flavoring agents we normally associate with a cake, somebody decided to use curry paste, kaffir lime leaves and garlic. For whatever reason, they wanted to make a curry-flavored cake.

Now, the thought of a curry-flavored cake makes me go “Ick.”

Is it edible? Not to me, but hey, there may be others who love it.

Is it still a cake? Well, yes. It’s gross as all hell (just the thought of mixing kaffir lime leaves into cake batter makes me want to cry at the sacrilege), but hey, it’s still a cake. It has a cake-like crumb, and it was made and baked as a cake. Dude. IT’S A CAKE.

Things took a really interesting turn when bondage was brought up. Reia said:

(…) [A]n almost identical debate popped up on the old AOL Pet Peeves board.  The subject was whether or not RWA was being too vague in it’s definition of Romance.  I only lurked since I was more interested in the debate about whether or not Fabio helped or hurt the industry, so I’ll recap as best I can.

There was concern that without firmer definition of the genre, RWA was not setting a clear boundary between romance and erotica and/or bondage stories.  The opposing view was similar to your slippery slope reasoning comment with a slight difference.  It was believed that the approved publisher’s requirement would prevent erotica or bondage stories from blending with romance.

And further down, after I explained how one would be able to distinguish bondage erotica from bondage romances, Reia said:

And even if there are sixteen bondage scenes, some nonconsensual, or even some bondage scenes that would be considered rape, you still have a genre romance according to the current RWA definition.  Is that best for RWA?

And at this point, thoughts started percolating in my head about what’s “best for RWA” and this instinct many, many people share about excluding what are perceived as undesirable elements from the romance definition—all in the name of “what’s best” for the genre and the association that is allegedly the genre’s greatest advocate. And since I’ve waxed on and on and on in the comments already—seriously, check out my comments, they’re, like, HUGE! (said the size queen)—I thought I’d make this into a full-length article.

First of all, like I said in the comments, if the concern is with non-consensuality, why bring up bondage at all? After all, we have plenty of non-bondage romance novels that feature rape.

What I didn’t say was: if it’s not the non-consensual nature that’s freaking people out (and if it were, then Ye Olde Bodice Rippers should’ve been brought up, not bondage stories), then let’s be honest and say up front what is.

The sex toys? The whipping/spanking/finding pleasure in pain? The restraints used? The (oftentimes willing) abdication of physical control?

Second of all, once somebody starts asking questions like “is it best for [insert organization/country] if we allow so much openness in a definition?” I almost always get a massive case of the heebie-jeebies. For a long, long time, people have used questions like these as a prelude to excluding and marginalizing groups, from women to people whose skin color registers as something darker than “khaki” on a paint chart to gay people wanting to marry.

Not that what’s been going on in the RWA is even close to the Civil Rights movement in terms of importance. Not remotely close. But I think the desire to exclude certain elements as inherently undesirable or distasteful stems from a similar urge that causes people to want to exclude groups that are viewed as somehow undesirable. The desire to practice a species of literary eugenics is overwhelming for many people, and frankly, I think that’s the impetus behind the whole “tighten up the definition of genre Romance” thing. It’s not a unique impulse.

There are people who would not consider genre fiction novels as worthy of being considered literature because they’re trashy—junk food for the mind, debased writing that lacks intelligence and insight, etc. ad nauseam.

There are people who read and write genre fiction who think romance novels in particular are not worthy of being considered part of literature for various reasons, not least because of the “ew, girl cooties and mushy crap!” aspect of the stories.

And then there are people within the romance genre who think BDSM romances, erotic romances, ménage romances and gay/lesbian romances aren’t somehow good for the genre and should, therefore, be excluded. Usually, there’s a lot of squawking and squeaking about how these stories are too much like porn, which in turn is oftentimes accompanied by squawking and squeaking about how they don’t want these books to corrupt their wee chilluns. The latter argument always makes me want to say, “HEY! Do you have any idea how many kids found their parents’ stash of stroke magazines and/or videos at a young age and somehow still managed to grow up sane, law-abiding, non-sex-crazed citizens?”

What’s best for the RWA? I can think of any number of things that would help the RWA.

Not throwing a horrorshow of a prize ceremony that becomes the embarrassment and laughing stock of the romance community, for one. All right, that cock-up was due to certain select people in the RWA and not the organization as a whole, but unfortunately, it reflected poorly on everyone.

Ditto not instituting wide-reaching rules such as, ohhhh, graphical standards without consulting the membership at large.

Narrowing the definition of romance so that all icky elements are purged is pretty low on my list of “things that would be best for RWA.”

As always, Robin says it best:

When you think about different genres, you don’t immediately come up with long lists of requirements.  Even sonnets, which have notoriously restrictive requirements, aren’t as finely detailed as what some seem to be asking for in the Romance genre.  If the RWA wants to arbitrate what they feel to be “romantic” Romance, or morally upright Romance, or ideologically acceptable Romance, then I think as a dues-based organization, they have a right to do that.  But outside of that, I think we’re beyond the limits of generic definition and into taste.

Categorized:

Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    JEA says:

    I love you guys for distracting me from producing shitty first draft copy.

    RWA provides great and wonderful help to authors at all levels of their careers, but it doesn’t define the genre. Readers do that, by purchasing books. Editors do that, by choosing what books to publish. The most RWA can hope to do is influence the genre by training writers to produce stories that follow their definition. Like everything else, RWA will eventually need to shape its definition of romance to the choices of readers and editors if it means to accomplish its goal of author advocacy.

    Personally, I think a book belongs in the romance genre if the main conflict is one between, or among, lovers, and it resolves on a hopeful note, as opposed to having the final pages strewn with woe and corpses. To define what kind, or how many, lovers need apply, or to limit what sorts of conflict are appropriate—not RWA’s place, IMO.

    Joyce

  2. 2

    I’m concerned about making the definition of romance too narrow, and yet if we cease to define ourselves, do we cease to be an identifiable and marketable genre?  When asked how I define modern genre romance, my stock answer is that the focus of the story is an adult relationship, that at the end of the book you have to believe the relationship will be lasting, and that the story is about the journey, not the destination—that’s the romance part, getting from Point A to Point B and then convincing the reader they’ll live reasonably contented lives after Point B.

    Let me also add my $.02 as a author—I never think “Gosh, is that going to offend my readers?”  I write the story first, and then figure out if it works.  What I do ask while I’m writing is, “Could I see myself marrying this guy?  Is this woman someone I’d want to spend time getting to know better?”

    I remember reading a romance by a hot ‘70’s author, and all I could think of as the hero’s behavior disgusted me was “Euwww!  You’d let this rapist_putz_ father your children?  What kind of a dishrag heroine are you?”

    Fortunately, I seldom see books like that anymore.

  3. 3
    HelenKay says:

    I’m still not understanding the need for a definition.  Enlighten me – do the mystery writer and SF writer associations engage in this in-fighting in an effort to come up with a concrete definition of either of those genres?  I can’t imagine the mystery folks say a novel only qualifies for recognition under its guidelines if someone actually dies before the end.  The defnition must be broader than that. 

    Isn’t the point of RWA to support romance writers, give them tools to get published and stay published, give them opportunities and spotlight successes?  Why does an organization built on those prinicples need a definition other than a broad idea of romance?  My fear is that in the rush to define, we end up not supporting writers but, instead, trying to define them with sentence or two that will never make everyone happy.  Let the reading public define the work.  RWA should stick to supporting the writers, no matter where the romance of a particular novel falls on the spectrum from sweet to burning hot.

  4. 4
    Suisan says:

    Question: Who decides (in general) how the books which are published get shelved?

    I know when Gabaldon ended up in Fiction years ago some romance readers had a cow—felt like someone was trying to “hide” good romance over there in Generic Fiction. (Good may need to be in quotes too—I don’t actually like Gabaldon, but that’s another comment for another day.)

    I naively think that whatever it is that ends up being shelved in Romance is what the RWA should be training/encouraging its members to write. If that decision is solely up to various store managers, then perhaps the RWA needs to determine what the mindset of the managers is. If that decision is basically up to the various publishing houses, then RWA need only communicate with publishing houses to work out in what way they can be useful to authors.

    My take is that RWA is trying to influence authors to write a specific type of book, which may no be what bookstores, publishers, or readers are looking for all the time. (I dunno about the kaffir leaves, but I think curry in a cake could work. Black pepper in a very sweet vanilla ice cream base was all the rage a few years ago on the culinary scene.)

  5. 5
    Candy says:

    “I’m still not understanding the need for a definition.”

    I’ve heard a lot of reasons given for why a definition is needed, from tax reasons to the reason Reia gave, i.e. to determine who’s eligible for RITAs and who’s not.

    I’m not sure I buy any of these explanations. I think it all boils down to the ick, and people not wanting Those Dirty Stories associated with romance. I remember Teresa Medeiros saying something to the effect that she had spent years defending romance as Not Porn and Not All About Sex, and that erotic romances make it very hard for her to continue that defense.

    Dude. This is a genre that FOR DECADES had books in which women were finding happiness with their rapists and brutalizers. OK, they were handsome and rich rapists and brutalizers, which was oftentimes the only thing that separated the heroes from the villains.

    The history and relatively widespread acceptance of rapist heroes in romance is a much more important and, frankly, a much more embarrassing issue we need to confront and discuss than a heroine sticking a butt plug up the very willing hero’s ass, tying him up then screwing him six ways to Sunday. But that’s just my opinion.

    “I dunno about the kaffir leaves, but I think curry in a cake could work.”

    Infidel. Obviously you’re not a baker or gourmand; savory cakes are not real cakes. Only cakes with the following approved flavorings will be duly considered cakes:

    - Chocolate, cocoa or chocolate-flavored essences
    – Nuts and nut-flavored essences
    – Alcohol and alcohol-flavored essences
    – Vanilla and vanilla-based essences
    – Zest from the peel of approved fruits (please contact me for a full list)
    – Juice from approved fruits (please contact me for a full list)
    – Pieces of approved fruits, either fresh or dried (please contact me for a full list)
    – Cinnamon or cinnamon-based flavorings
    – Nutmeg or nutmeg-based flavorings
    – Cream, ricotta or neufchatel cheese—no other cheeses are acceptable

  6. 6
    mapletree7 says:

    I’ve never understood what ‘emotionally satisfied ending’ means.  Does that mean a ‘happy ending’?

    And with the bondage….if a book has 15 bondage scenes, is the focus the ‘love story’, or the sex?  Isn’t that a good enough way to draw a distinction?

  7. 7
    AngieW says:

    if a book has 15 bondage scenes, is the focus the ‘love story’, or the sex?  Isn’t that a good enough way to draw a distinction?

    um. No.

    If there are 15 find the murderer scenes, is that enough to label a book a thriller rather than a romance?

    Just because erotic romance has hotter sex or more sex doesn’t mean the focus isn’t on the love story.

    Trying to label a book by one component is as impossible as trying to label a person by one facet of their personality. Don’t do it, you’ll only end up pissing someone off.

  8. 8
    Fair says:

    Is there any real danger of books with content that most people would find offensive receiving RITAs?

    After all, doesn’t the mainstream membership decide the winners, and therefore wouldn’t mainstream taste prevail?

    If mainstream taste allows an offensive book to win a prize, doesn’t that suggest the book is actually not offensive to the mainstream?

    So why waste all this time trying to define what’s offensive? Why not just leave the RWA definition of romance as it is, let publishers publish what they want, and let readers and RITA judges decide for themselves what they like?

    As a reader, I know what I personally find romantic, and I know I’m not finding it in most romance novels. This discussion seems to center totally on sex. I think we no longer have much of a romance genre – instead we have an erotica genre that goes under the name “romance,” and the argument is about the boundaries for acceptable erotica, not really about what constitutes a romance novel.

    I think there is a difference between sex and romance, just as there is a difference between love and marriage. What IS romance (as distinct from love or sex) and why isn’t THAT an issue in the romance community, if romance for some reason has to be redefined now?

    Candy’s comment about decades of rapists heroes hit home with me. Those books (which I found mostly troubling) were about heroines building emotional relationships with their rapists (the sex was the motivating factor but was not described in detail). Today the books are mostly about woman building (explicitly detailed) sexual relationships with men who aren’t rapists. Which type of book is more “romantic”? Given those definitions, I’d pick the current type of book as more romantic. I would call the old rapist-as-hero ideal far more perverted than any type of sex between two consenting partners.

    But the books contain other elements, too, that make many readers feel the old books were more “romantic” (exotic settings, for example, which are omitted from current books). So what is romance ASIDE from sex? IS there anything else left in the genre today? If so, WHY the obsession with defining the exact degree of sex allowed????

    So much confusion around this. Obviously writers are confused too. I hope it leads ultimately to better thought-out books.

  9. 9
    Gabriele says:

    Question: Who decides (in general) how the books which are published get shelved?

    Not to mention other countries have different shelving habits altogether.

    In Germany, Historical Fiction is considered a genre of its own and not messed up with fiction/mainstream whatever. And while Regencies end up on the Romance shelf beside the chick lit, Gabaldon is shelved as Historical Fiction.

    MZB’s Darkover series is mostly shelved as Fantasy, while Dune is Science Fiction. The amount of technology involved in SciFi decides about shelving books, and that ESP stuff in Darkover is considered Fantasy rather. But because the amount of magic, Mists of Avalon is Fantasy, too, not Historical Fiction, while Bernard Cornwell’s Arthur books are His Fic.

    Of course, bookstores and libraries sometimes make odd decisions if no one bothered to read a book before shelving it.

  10. 10
    Stephen says:

    I was wondering about the whole “emotionally satisfying ending” bit too. Let’s take a book that is most definitely a love story. I have one here as it happens.  It’s called Love Story and seems to have been written in 1970, before that sort of title became ironic. How does it begin?

    What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me.

    How does it end? They live happily ever after.  Wait a moment, they don’t.  Is it emotionally satisfying? Personally I’d say, “you betcha!”

    Compare that with a more recent film on the same theme: somebody dying young.  I have one here.  It’s called, er, Dying Young.  How does it go?  Something like this:

    Hilary: Fight for us. I will never leave you Victor, but you have to fight. And if you get well, when you get well, I’ll be there with you. And if you die, I will hold your hand. I’ll hold your hand and the last thing you will ever see will be me because I love you.

    Certainly sounds like a love story. And how does it end?  He dies. No, wait a moment, he doesn’t die, and they live happily ever after.  Is it emotionally satisfying? Frankly, I have had more emotional satisfaction from a Family Circus comic.

    But I wonder which of those two storylines would pass the RWA’s current standard?

  11. 11
    Candy says:

    “This discussion seems to center totally on sex.”

    Yes, it does. Sex has probably been THE most contentious subject when it comes to romance novels.

    How much is too much?
    How explicit is too explicit?
    Rapist alpha heroes: Yea or nay?
    Is there a difference between rape and forced seduction?
    Can menage stories be considered romance?
    And what’s with all the goddamn virgins?

    When it comes down to it, the recent attempts to narrow the definition of romance have everything to do with who and how many people it’s acceptable to boink, too.

    Sex is a pretty highly-charged subject in general, and lord knows we loves to talk about it.

    “I think we no longer have much of a romance genre – instead we have an erotica genre that goes under the name “romance,” and the argument is about the boundaries for acceptable erotica, not really about what constitutes a romance novel.”

    Whoa. Seriously, I’m not trying to be snide here, but I don’t think you’re reading widely enough. There are inspirational romances, category romances, Regencies and mainstream contemporaries/historicals that either leave the sex out entirely, or are only moderately to minimally explicit. Erotic romances that are highly explicit make up a relatively small portion of the genre; most of the romances I come across use up only 10% or less of the total pages for sex scenes.

    “I think there is a difference between sex and romance, just as there is a difference between love and marriage.”

    Yes—but can you have a true romantic relationship without the sex, or at the very least, sexual attraction being a major factor?

    Most people wouldn’t. I mean, if sexual attraction and gratification weren’t important to a romantic relationship, might as well date and/or marry our platonic friends? Hell, why have categories like “heterosexual” or “homosexual”?

    Romance, like it or not, includes sex as a major component. Sexual attraction is what distinguishes romantic love from other types of love, e.g. the love parents for their child, the love people feel towards their pets, etc.

  12. 12
    Danielle says:

    Only cakes with the following approved flavorings will be duly considered cakes

    Pah. I spit on your narrow-minded cake boundaries, which would exclude my awesome ginger & white pepper cake.

  13. 13
    Candy says:

    “I spit on your narrow-minded cake boundaries, which would exclude my awesome ginger & white pepper cake.”

    Pffft. I rest secure in the knowledge that your cakes are deviant and will never be accepted by right-minded people with proper taste in cakes.

  14. 14
    Robin says:

    “The history and relatively widespread acceptance of rapist heroes in romance is a much more important and, frankly, a much more embarrassing issue we need to confront and discuss than a heroine sticking a butt plug up the very willing hero’s ass, tying him up then screwing him six ways to Sunday.”

    Can we do that now?  Please, please, please?  Because I gotta say, I will defend women’s right to sexual freedom something fierce.  And I have arrived—after long consideration, although not in sandals or with a laser pointer—to a belief that rape in Romance is connected to female empowerment (without getting into whether I think it succeeds or not).  But I have not seen so much rape in any other genre, and I find it endlessly fascinating that it’s a genre written largely by and for women.  And boy, do I think we need to talk about this topic.  Because while the bodice ripper might be in significant decline in terms of high end Romance, I still think the rape/forced seduction/rape fantasy devices are at work in the genre, and that they’re largely in the more “mainstream” or even conservative Romances.

  15. 15
    Suisan says:

    “Pffft. I rest secure in the knowledge that your cakes are deviant and will never be accepted by right-minded people with proper taste in cakes.”

    Deviant cakes? Right-minded people with proper taste?

    The RWA wants to have a chat with you. Something about ginger leading to titty-nuzzling…

    And I wouldn’t mind getting into that bodice-ripper discussion, but we’ve got to get this cake definition out of the way.

  16. 16
    Gabriele says:

    Fiction, not Romance. No one has yet told me I can’t have rape, torture, bondage and kinky sex between two men as long as it goes together with character development and plot points. And that’s why two of my NiPs have a nice amount of sex and the third none at all.

    Bacause that’s my point as reader. I want the sex to make sense, not just being plopped into the story because sex sells. *cough, Mrs. Auel, cough* ;-)

  17. 17
    Gabriele says:

    Argh, somehow the first line of my post got eaten:

    Lol, that’s why I’m glad I write Historical ….

  18. 18

    This discussion reminded me of an explanation of genre “boundaries” that I wrote in response to some questions from aspiring authors:

    “Basically, you have to think of genre in terms of the market and how the book is presented to potential book buyers.

    “It’s sort of like, if you go into the store for a frozen pizza, you want all the frozen pizzas to be in the same area, so you can pick which one looks best to you. It might be a fish pizza or a veggie pizza or a diet pizza, but basically it’s a pizza. You eat it for a main dish. There may be variety in the pizza section, but it’s a specific kind of variety. You don’t expect the ice cream to be mixed in with the pizza—if you want ice cream, you know to go to the next aisle. If you found a couple of cartons of ice cream in the pizza section, you would ignore them. That’s what genre is, and why it exists. It’s a sorting method for the buyer’s convenience.

    “So let’s suppose that you dream up an ice-cream pizza. It may be a great product, really tasty and popular. The first thing that you need to ask yourself is—if I were looking for this item, would I look in the ice cream section or the pizza section? Cause that’s what the editor is doing, asking what section this book fits into.

    “Personally, I’d say an ice cream pizza ought to be in the ice cream section. It might be a pizza in shape and size, rather than a carton of ice cream, but it’s still sweet and dessert, and that’s the important factor about eating it, rather than its shape. It’s really a variety of ice cream, not a variety of pizza.

    “So, who decides what genre, when it comes to a book? You the writer decide first. As a consumer, would you be expecting this book in the romance section or the SF section? Would you be taken by surprise to find it in one or the other? If you were a pizza buyer who thought you’d brought home a main dish, would you be dismayed to discover it was sweet? Or if you were expecting to serve this thing for dessert, would you be annoyed to open the carton and find it was a mixture of olives and sausage?

    “I don’t mean to say you can’t have a combination of elements—but at some point, you have a either a main dish or a dessert…that’s what you have to figure out for yourself about your book. …You can stretch the boundaries of any genre pretty much to the breaking point in certain areas. But you aren’t going to talk people into having ice cream pizzas for a main dish. You may be creating something that looks like something else, but at heart, it is primarily one thing or the other. You really have to judge yourself which one it is.”

  19. 19
    Gabriele says:

    Curry cakes and ice cream pizza.

    This is a strange place.  :bug:

  20. 20
    Fair says:

    When it comes down to it, the recent attempts to narrow the definition of romance have everything to do with who and how many people it’s acceptable to boink, too.

    Yes that’s exactly what I was trying to say—and yes you are right about the different types of romances, which is really why I wonder why the discussion of “what is a romance” is being narrowed down to just “what types/amount of sex is OK in romance.” I guess for me the answer is “not applicable” because I don’t pick up a book saying “Gee, I hope there’s bondage in this” or “Whew, I see this has the RWA No Bondage Seal of Approval.” That’s not what’s on my mind when I buy romances and that’s why I think RWA is barking up the wrong tree with all this.

    but can you have a true romantic relationship without the sex, or at the very least, sexual attraction being a major factor?

    No—but you can have a book with sex that isn’t romance—“romance” seems, to me, to be really really hard to define and I’m afraid it’s being turned into “erotica” when the discussion only centers on how many people, what sexual orientation, and exactly what do they do in bed… that’s what I was trying (in my usual clumsy way) to say.

  21. 21
    April says:

    Uh … this “happy ending” boundary thing—does that make Wuthering Heights and Romeo & Juliet NOT romances? I was always under the impression that they were.

  22. 22
    CindyS says:

    Just from the comments I can see that we all are coming at it from different angles.  Imagine this discussion a thousand times over and maybe that is what is happening at RWA.

    Like many, I don’t see what was wrong with the original definition the RWA had.

    “A romance is a book wherein the love story is the main focus of the novel, and the end of the book is emotionally satisfying.”

    What I find distasteful is there are people who are judging those who like hotter stories.  As someone who does not read books rated subtle or kisses or even warm, I find myself judged.

    Do I read straight erotica?  No, but then, I don’t think I’ll find romance in an erotica as much as I will find sexual fantasy.

    Is a romance a book where the characters have sex on every page and then the book ends with them sighing ‘I love you’ and all they know about each other is what they look like naked.  I’ve read the stories where at the last 2 pages there is a bunch of nonsense about the man wanting her to have his babies and marriage and stuff.  Uh, okay.

    Is a romance a book where everything is about the love and then one of the characters die.  Not to me.  Trust me, someone would have a bruise on their forehead for placing that in the romance section.

    I’ll compare it to the time Bob and I went to rent a movie.  We wanted a comedy so we went to the comedy section.  There on the shelf was Six Degrees of Separation and Will Smith was in it.  Perfect, I like his brand of humour (this was before he was a big star) and it sounds funny.  Bob and I sit to watch and it is a drama with all the artsy stuff that is supposed to have the watchers ask themselves deep questions.  Let me tell you when I got back to the rental store I explained to them that this movie that they had labelled a comedy was definitely not.

    On that note, I don’t find Titanic romantic or Bridges of Madisson County.  People went on and on about how romantic these movies were.  I was just plain pissed.  Now, the movie Shadowlands based on a real romance I found very romantic although sad.

    So there you go, I only really know what I find romantic and yeah, I would be pissed if Shadowlands was shelved in romance because emotionally satisfying means everyone lives Happily Ever After and not until next Tuesday ;)

    CindyS

  23. 23
    Lani says:

    My opinion? The very fact that we can’t decide if endings have to be “happy” or just “emotionally satisfying” illustrates the absurdity of trying to tuck the world of romance into a box. The genre grows. That’s why we have chick lit and erotica and the people trying to define romance are using RWA’s “limited” resources as an excuse to stuff romance back into the ratty old box they used to have it in, because that’s where their comfort zone is.

    The fact is, if your story is romantic, then you belong in RWA. No one who is writing stories that are not romantic is going to fork over $100 to join RWA and use up its precious “limited” resources for their story, because it’ll do them no good. We’re writers. We’re all broke, even the published ones. We don’t have $100 to spend on something that doesn’t apply to us. This whole thing, in my opinion, is really kinda inane and going nowhere.

    My theory? Erotica writers are getting loads of sales and attention and a lot of the old school belles of the ball don’t like all that spooge getting on their petticoats. And, truth is, I think the anti-spooge contingent is a very small percentage of RWA; one of them just happens to be in power, at the moment. So I’m really not worried because I don’t believe they are a) big enough or b) powerful enough to do much more than clutch their pearls and fan themselves at this point. Chick lit writers, erotica writers and mainstream writers who include romance in their stories are part of RWA and they will continue to be part of RWA. And RWA hasn’t seen limited resources until they cut these people out; quite a huge chunk of those limited resources comes from the dues these people bring in.

    Regarding the need to defend romance against the people who think it’s just about sex… who cares about the people who think it’s just about sex? If that’s what they think about my books, they’re not my reader. And if they’re not my reader, then I just don’t care.

  24. 24

    April—_Wuthering Heights_ is romantic literature in the classic sense, ‘cause it’s all about emotions and a response to the rationalist world-view of the earlier period, but I wouldn’t call it a romance under modern genre definitions. Or another way to put it is, _Wuthering Heights_ isn’t a genre romance, _Jane Eyre_ is.

  25. 25
    mapletree7 says:

    MZB’s Darkover series is mostly shelved as Fantasy, while Dune is Science Fiction. The amount of technology involved in SciFi decides about shelving books, and that ESP stuff in Darkover is considered Fantasy rather.

    Hence the invention of the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section.

    Can I have the recipe for the ginger/white pepper cake?

  26. 26
    Stef2 says:

    Here’s a secret:
    That definition over on the RWA website is strictly for folks who drop by to read up on the romance industry – reporters, general public, etc.  Within RWA’s bylaws and policies and procedures, there is no definition of romance.  None.  Zippo.  Nada.  I think the RWA board thought it would be a good idea to have one within policy, in the event there’s ever a question as to what constitutes a romance.  This is for purposes of decisions regarding how the organization’s resources are spent.

    Truthfully, I don’t know where the issue stands right now.  I do know a committee was formed to gather members’ thoughts, and come up with a definition.  But that may have been dissolved.  At the annual AGM, the president said it was the board’s opinion that the romance industry defines RWA – not the other way around.  Makes sense to me.

    I’ve read lots of emails on writer lists, along with many blog postings made since the infamous graphical standards fiasco, and I notice there’s sometimes a hint of criticism toward the RWA ledership – that this was all started with an eye to squeezing out erotic romance.  From where I sit, I can’t say with any amount of conviction that the board as a whole has this agenda.  Are there a few of our leaders who do feel this way?  Perhaps.  But in all of my correspondence with board members, and in fact with other RWA members, I don’t see a huge movement to get rid of erotic romance writers.

    I guess it’s just a lot more fun to yell censorship, or repression, or Hey, these right wing bitches are rainin’ on our parade!  I just don’t see it that way.  As it stands, Ellora’s Cave is an RWA recognized publisher.  Any book published by EC is eligible to be entered in the Rita.  If it has three protagonists, if they’re gay, if they like to tie each other up and spit on one another – it’s eligible.  So what’s the problem?

    I suppose it could be marked NR – Not Romance – by the judges.  But we now have a Mainstream With Romantic Elements category, so a lot of books that might not otherwise fit within the parameters of the contest can fit within that one.

    Maybe I’ve got too much of a knee-jerk reaction here, and this is simply a discussion about the nuances of the genre.  If so, I’ll step off the soapbox and shut the hell up.  But I really do think it’s unfair to criticize RWA – especially on an isuue that’s dead and buried.

    If anyone who’s a member feels really strongly about erotic romance, and wants to be assured that the sub-genre isn’t blacklisted in the future, find out who’s running in the current election (deadline for votes is October 1), find out how they feel about the issue, then vote.

    I’m almost saying that tongue in cheek, because I believe the people who feel erotic romance doesn’t have a place at the table are few and far between.  Maybe I’m wrong.  I’ve been known to be way too naive.  But that’s how I see it.

    I think the romance genre is changing, that many of the old standards are becoming just that – old.  Our readership is aging, and in order to attract younger readers, the genre has to change with the times.  I look at erotic romance as a testament to women coming into their own.  But then, I’m a feminist semi-liberal.  And I don’t look at sexual fantasies, no matter how kinky, as the work of Satan.  Some do.  But that’s okay.  To each his own.  If you don’t like it – don’t read it.

    As for RWA, there are over 9400 members, and until the vast majority of those members agree that erotic romance doesn’t have a place at the table, things will continue as before.  No way a small handful of people will change it.

  27. 27
    Gabriele says:

    MZB’s Darkover series is mostly shelved as Fantasy, while Dune is Science Fiction. The amount of technology involved in SciFi decides about shelving books, and that ESP stuff in Darkover is considered Fantasy rather.

    —-Hence the invention of the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section.

    Yep, they try to shelve the genres together here, but some men complain that they accidentally come across dragons, or – god forbid – relationship stuff when they’re looking for penis enhancer rocket technology. ;-)

  28. 28
    April says:

    Thanks, Darlene. So if someone in this day and age wanted to write something along the same lines as Wuthering Heights, it would NOT be shelved under Romance (or Classics, since it’s new) but under plain jane Mainstream literature?

    Seems a bit illogical to me. A reader can read both the classic Jules Verne and a more contemporary Sheri S. Tepper and can find both in the same Science Fiction and Fantasy section, but a reader who reads either of the classic Bronte sisters and a more contemporary Judith McKnaught would have to look in two different sections to find them—because even Amazon doesn’t list Jane Eyre under Romance, though you’ve said that, unlike Wuthering Heights, it IS a genre romance; heck, they don’t list Jane Austen’s work under Romance either, and I consider her books to be the mother of all romance books today.

    Makes no sense to me at all.

  29. 29
    Candy says:

    “…I notice there’s sometimes a hint of criticism toward the RWA ledership – that this was all started with an eye to squeezing out erotic romance.”

    I, for one, don’t think it’s a conscious or concerted effort to exclude erotic romance, either. From where I stand, however, I get the distinct impression that there are people in the RWA (not a whole lot, like you said, but at least one of them seems to be in power for this year) who want to get rid of icky elements, and coincidentally, the icky elements are disproportionately more likely to appear in or on erotic romances than mainstream romances.

    It’s sort of the same thing when programs are instituted wherein a city decides it’s going to “Get tough on crime! Make the city drug-free!” and they start making arrests on the street, and end up booking a disproportionately large number of poor people, most of them black, almost all of them male, when there are lots of relatively affluent people of both sexes engaging in illegal activities (including drug use) within the city confines too.

    Was the policy racist or discriminatory to begin with? It wasn’t intended to be, but when implemented it turned out that way, for a variety of different factors. There tend to be more police cars patrolling high-crime neighborhoods, for example, and these tend to be poor and oftentimes black. There are also certain stereotypes associated with drug users, which in turn feeds into who the cops tend to eyeball.

    OK, that analogy sort of ran away from me. But do you get what I’m saying? Something doesn’t have to start out with discriminatory intentions to have discriminatory results.

    Reia seems to typify a certain attitude within the organization: They want only what’s best for the organization, and what’s best is narrowing the definition in order to get rid of icky crap.

  30. 30
    Maili says:

    because even Amazon doesn’t list Jane Eyre under Romance, though you’ve said that, unlike Wuthering Heights, it IS a genre romance; heck, they don’t list Jane Austen’s work under Romance either, and I consider her books to be the mother of all romance books today.

    FWIW, I don’t consider Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Austen’s books romances at all. I don’t even consider them part of the history of the romance genre, even though Jane Eyre has a direct influence on modern Gothic romances and such such. 

    Hm. It’s just occurred to me that it may be a Very Bad Idea to jump in, considering the state of my brain at the moment. :D Anyway, that’s my two pennies spent. Thanks.

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