San Francisco Chronicle Covers RWA

I was volunteering at the RWA Registration Booth when a woman stopped by looking for credentials for a photographer. Her name was Heidi Benson, and she was from the SF Chronicle looking to write an article about the conference. She and I got to talking, and she told me she was so impressed with the conference, and having a good old time talking to everyone at RWA. In my estimation, she seemed like she was genuinely curious about the organization and the women who are writing and working within the genre, and didn’t seem to be starting from any specific assumption about romance novels, its writers, or the genre as a whole.

Thanks to Marta Acosta, I have a link to her article, which ran today (that’s a little late, no?) under the headline Romance-writing hopefuls discuss craft in S.F.:

Forget scones and Devonshire cream. Red meat is on the menu in the new generation of romance novels. According to fall book promotions, “the alpha male is back,” paired up this time with a “kick-butt heroine….”

…The genre couldn’t claim a 26.4 percent share of the book consumer market if it didn’t deftly reflect the times.

That vigor may be due, in part, to the member-supported Romance Writers Association, an authors’ advocacy group that cultivates talent. Regional chapters provide members with supportive communities and educational opportunities, while the annual conference offers face-to-face access to editors, agents and famous authors.

Benson’s article includes a quick examination of the subgenres in romance, and the manner in which authors market themselves online. It closes with a peek inside a workshop on writing the sex scene, and features Toni McGee Causey, CJ Lyons, and Roxanne St. Claire discussing the constructive use of a sex scene in a romance, as well as the construction of the scene itself.

Of course any media examination of romance novels will mention the sex, but this one seems a cut above, because it acknowledges the craft and the humor of the writers working that craft. The article did a better job than most I’ve read of revealing what RWA is: a whole mess of women mentoring one another in the process of creating romance fiction and potentially building a career out of that fiction.

Well played, Ms. Benson, well played.


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    L.C. McCabe says:

    Whaaa?  This article said that the Speed Dating for Agents included “eight minute pitches.”

    Eight minutes?

    Are you kidding me?

    That’s five more minutes that they give writers at the San Francisco Writers Conference.

    Wow. Like you could have a real conversation with an agent for eight minutes.  Tell me that’s a typo. It’s gotta be.

  2. 2
    Leeann Burke says:

    I like the way she talked to authors of different genres and not just the popular authors who make all the list.

    Thanks for the link Sara!

  3. 3

    Eight minutes?

    Are you kidding me?

    Nope.  I don’t know about the speed dating panel.  But the individual pitches I’ve gone to, with editors or agents at RWA conferences are all about 10 minutes long.

    (There are group appointments as well.  Those are very short because you are sharing 15 or 20 minutes with 6 or 8 people).

    You don’t get an unlimted number, especially not at the National conference.  There were a couple of years where I signed up too late, and couldn’t get a slot.  But the appointments are included in the conference price.

  4. 4

    I was on the Speed Dating panel with Kathynn who was our fearless leader and she did say eight minutes during the presentation, saying that we’d gotten feedback that three minutes was too short.

    That came as a bit of a surprise to the rest of us and when we did the sample speed dating we used the standard three minutes which should be enough. (I played the agent, while my buddy Mardi did an editor… I’m sure the tape will be bizarre for this since we had all mikes working simultaniously.)

    If you go too slow, you can’t promise to get everyone through the lines. When we do speed dating at next year’s Prepare To Pitch conference in San Jose we will likely use the shorter time.

    I did enjoy the article this morning and I’ll have to propose that we make sure to invite Ms. Benson to our convention.


  5. 5
    Barb Ferrer says:

    I’m just Captain Crankypants this morning because I wasn’t that nuts about the article.  Felt like most of the tired clichés were trotted out (really—did you have to use the term bodice ripper?) and that the conference was for 2100 aspiring authors, when that’s not the case.  In fact, that really did annoy me because one of the absolute hallmarks of RWA Nationals is how published and unpublished alike mingle and learn (and drink!) together.

    Feh—I must be PMSing because objectively, I recognize it was a better article than most.  Just felt as if there were a few sloppy bits in there.

  6. 6
    SonomaLass says:

    It was a better article than most.  I don’t think you’re going to avoid the clichés, including “bodice ripper,” because that’s what the non-romance reading public recognizes, and that’s the primary audience for a newspaper article in a big city paper.

    I liked her tone, and I got the impression that she was willing to learn and to have her expectations adjusted, at least to a point.  I don’t think she really understood the scope of the conference, which is a pity, but she wasn’t judgmental or dismissive, which is what I expect from the media anymore.

    The genre couldn’t claim a 26.4 percent share of the book consumer market if it didn’t deftly reflect the times.

    That made me do a happy dance.

  7. 7
    Cat Marsters says:

    But what is this Romance Writers Association?  Were they in San Francisco, too?

  8. 8
    Nora Roberts says:

    I’m with Barb. Co-Captain Crankypants here.

    Glaring mistake on the attendees—we’re published and unpublished, and there are many industry professionals in addition to writers.

    If you can’t resist using the term bodic ripper, it’s a problem.

    Though low on snark, it stuck me as the same old, same old.

  9. 9
    SB Sarah says:

    Huh. I had a totally different impression (obviously). I figured “bodice ripper”, as SonomaLass pointed out, was used because it might be the only moniker under which non-romance readers would identify what genre the report is talking about. I thought the reporter did a fair job of stating that the term is old, because behind that assumption are hard working women who create and support a billion dollar industry. Not only did it mention trends and tropes, but it talked about how authors have to not only write the books but market themselves as well – a facet of the market that’s only beginning to receive sufficient attention in my opinion.

    I think the article was a step towards shredding that “ripped bodice” from the inside. Less “hey look at the nude guy at the Gay Pride parade” and more attention to the individuals working it and working it well.

  10. 10
    Barb Ferrer says:

    I see what you’re getting at, Sarah, but at the same time, when has the genre ever been formally known as “bodice-ripper” which is how she made it sound.  I mean, to me, “romance” is a pretty straightforward term and should have provided enough of a frame of reference for the journo to talk about the growth and diversity of the genre.

    It was a step, I’m not denying that, but there was still some sloppy reporting in there.

    *clearly still Captain Crankypants this morning*

  11. 11
    Jill Shalvis says:

    Having read too many incorrect and insulting articles on romance and the genre (some on me and by my own local newspaper!), I have to say, this article had less mistakes than most, and most importantly, felt like a step in the right direction.

  12. 12
    SB Sarah says:

    *passes Barb dark chocolate*

    I don’t think the genre has ever been formally known as “bodice ripper,” but I think you and I might talk to different groups of non-readers. If I’m talking to people who have absolutely no knowledge or experience (or interest) in romance, they either refer to the genre as “bodice rippers,” or my personal favorite, “those books.”

    Sloppy reporting, yes – I totally missed the mis-identification of “RWA” (bad reporter. no cookie. failing grade at Journo school.) – but I definitely hear the great “bodice ripper” and that may be because I’m not a romance writer. It’s not my career. It’s my hobby. I’m a reader. So it’s not insulting me personally (so they think) of someone uses the term in front of me.

    But then, Candy and I are big fans of the Napoleon battle plan – from SportsNight – search “napoleon” in that transcript) of effecting change: first we show up. Then we see what happens. If by showing up as smart readers of romance and being “out” as such, we force people to revamp their perceptions of the genre and its fans, then we’re half done. Eventually, maybe the genre will be identified by another shorthand term, and “bodice ripper” will cease to be applicable by anyone who knows nothing of the genre.

    Of course, my point is totally muddled by the part where Napoleon’s Plan didn’t work in the end. So ignore that massive giant huge flaw in my otherwise pristine and sparkly pink logic. Or something.

    moar coffee now pls.

  13. 13
    Theresa Meyers says:

    Please, for the love of God, I’m begging the bitchery.  Can some of us go over and make comments on this article? 

    I read through it and it’s probably the most journalistic, most balanced, open-minded piece I’ve seen written on the genre from a newspaper in years.  And the two comments left my utter idiots make my head want to spin.  One is about how their sister, cousin, whatever writes for Harlequin and all you have to do is send them an email and they’ll publish anyone and only pay a few cents. The other is someone saying you need to work on a real life relationship instead. ARGH!

    Can we please, pretty please, flood the box with real romance reader’s comments????

  14. 14
    SonomaLass says:

    Like SB Sarah, I’m a reader, not an author (in this genre). So maybe I have a thicker skin regarding the clichés and stereotypes.  Then again, we all know that the stereotypes come from somewhere—“bodice rippers” specifically refers to historicals, the ones that inspired all those snark-worthy old-skool covers, and I thin those are the ONLY examples that some people know/remember of the genre.

    Example of recent discussion with my sister:  I say, “I’m working on the worst first line ever for a romance novel.”  She says, “Well, it has to have the word ‘loins’ in it—I remember when I was 14, they all had ‘loins.’”  I say, “I don’t think Nora Roberts uses the word ‘loins’ very often.”  And she says, “Oh, I don’t think of Nora Roberts as a romance writer—she writes best-sellers.”  [yeah, *headdesk*] 

    Point is, I think that when someone is trying to make the (long overdue) point that romance is a lot broader, more substantive, and more popular than many people realize, he or she may use the “bodice ripper” stereotype as a point of departure for that argument. (Along the lines of the book titles we were bandying about last week—beyond the heaving bosoms, et cetera.)  Which is NOT to say that “bodice ripper” was ever an accurate generalization for the genre, but that it’s broadly recognized.  Just like “whodunnit” for mystery fiction (which my sister assures me is a lot broader and more substantive than that).

  15. 15

    Just like “whodunnit” for mystery fiction (which my sister assures me is a lot broader and more substantive than that).

    Not just like “whodunit”  because whodunit doesn’t involve torn clothing.  Or interpreting the contents of the book by the cover picture.

    We know where the bodice ripper tag comes from, and why it exists.  But the stumper is why people continue to use it as shorthand, when it’s pretty obviously demeaning. 

    There are a lot of terms I used, 20 or 30 years ago, because they were part of the common lexicon.  I would, never in a million years, use now those words now.  Because I know that the groups they are directed at would be mortally offended.  I try not to go through life insulting people, just because ‘we’ve always done it this way.’

    And I am not a big fan of trying to regain the pejorative.  You need to change the mindset of the rest of the world before that becomes totally effective.  Doesn’t really advance the case for respectability of the genre, if we act like we’re writing candy-coated smut. 

    Was Mrs. Happy Knickers over here.  Until that Ferrer woman harshed my buzz.

  16. 16
    Barb Ferrer says:

    Was Mrs. Happy Knickers over here.  Until that Ferrer woman harshed my buzz.

    Suck it up, Merrill.

    ETA:  Oooooh, Sarah gave me chocolate!  And dark at that!  Mmmm…

  17. 17

    When I was at the convention I had a chance to walk up to Gayle Callen at the Avon signing and tell her that “it was all her fault”.

    Now that I had her attention I could explain. Many years ago I was in a book store and hadn’t bought a romance novel in decades. So I found the book with the best “man-titty” as the SB’s would put it on the cover and picked it up. The book was “Darkest Knight”, her first book.

    In minutes I was hooked on the premise, a crippled heroine and hero with issues, set in medieval times. I bought the book, and by the time I was finished with it I’d decided that this was what I wanted to do.

    I wanted to write books about interesting characters and premises where the story revolved around the relationship they developed and ended successfully. In short, I wanted to write romance and so I learned how to do it.

    People who believe badly of romance novels just don’t know what they are talking about. I hadn’t expected what I got when I picked up Gayle’s book and was surprised in how things had changed.

  18. 18
    SonomaLass says:

    We know where the bodice ripper tag comes from, and why it exists.  But the stumper is why people continue to use it as shorthand, when it’s pretty obviously demeaning.

    Okay, I can see that it would be demeaning to have one’s book classified as a bodice ripper if it isn’t one, or to have a whole class of books labeled that way when some or all of them aren’t.  But there were books that inspired that label (I read ‘em, I remember), and I don’t see how it’s demeaning to say that the genre goes way beyond that.

    Of course she’s wrong that the genre was ever “known” that way, except by the ignorant, but clearly that label rings a bell with the uninitiated and makes her point about the breadth and variety of the genre today.  From where I sit, it’s more important to give today’s readers an accurate picture of today’s writers than to worry about the correct understanding of the history of the genre or the attributes of out-of-print books.

    I also I think there’s a difference between a tag directed at a certain kind of book and really hurtful speech, that is actually directed at a group of people.  I’m all for some sensitivity, but who exactly is insulted or “mortally offended” here?

  19. 19
    prasala says:

    I am very much impressed by your article.The way you have brought the post is interesting.Really enjoyed reading it.

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