New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction

Book Cover for New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction - EssaysIn March, a book of acdemic essays was published by Mcfarland titled New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction (McFarland | Amazon). There are many different perspectives included in the book, including an essay I wrote about the use of the word “bitch” to describe ourselves, the website, and its community. I asked Sarah Frantz and Eric Selinger, the editors of the book, some questions about it so they could share some information about it and how it might be of interest to more than just the academic community. 

What are 5 things the average romance reader who is not an academic might find interesting in this book? 

Eric Selinger: There are four amazing essays about individual romance novels:  The Kadin, Flowers from the Storm, Dark Lover, and Joey Hill’s Holding the Cards.  If you’ve ever wondered what it would look like if an English professor or a history professor finally took  a romance novel seriously, really thought about the history in it, or the ideas about love, or the way that a book can capture the spirit of the times, these essays show you that.  They’re not by professors showing off; they’re by professors trying to figure out what makes the novels they love so fascinating.  (In one case, the essay on Dark Lover, it’s romance author Eloisa James writing as her real-life alter ego, Shakespeare professor Mary Bly.)

An engagement ring reflecting on white - Image courtesy of BigStock2)      There are essays that take romance fiction seriously as a place where people talk about war and its costs (Jayashree Kamble’s essay), or about what marriage is and where our ideas about it come from (my piece), or about sexuality, including LGBT and BDSM orientations.  Instead of looking at romance novels simply as cultural symptoms, they assume that romance novelists are smart, interesting, thoughtful people who have ideas that might be worth considering.

3)      There are surprising discoveries about things you already know and love in the genre:  Georgette Heyer’s heroines, for example, or the way romance novels toss in bits of Shakespeare, or the “Covers Gone Wild” discussions at SBTB.

4)      There are wonderful essays that finally get us past the old “romance novels are bad for you / good for you” arguments.

5)      Thanks to Laura Vivanco’s essay on “Ring Symbolism,” you’ll never look at an engagement ring in quite the same way again.

On a lighter note:

  • Our index includes “Cunt” as a title, and multiple entries for variations of “bitch.” (Thank you, SB Sarah.)
  • You can play the “Spot Dr. Regis' Eight Essential Elements of Romance” game with almost all the essays.
  • The index is a Who's Who of romance authors. Is your name there?
  • Alternative sexualities in romance get three chapters.
  • Nora Roberts and Georgette Heyer also have an entire chapter each.

More seriously (maybe?):

  • This collection is a way for you to see the romance you already knew existed: the cleverness of the books, the smartness of both authors and readers. It's something tangible you can push on naysayers and scoffers (those who scoff?) and say, “Here, THESE are all the amazing things romance is and does.”

And it has a Picasso on the cover. What more could you want?

Anything else you'd like to highlight?

Sarah Frantz: My favorite chapters from each section:

Eric's amazing essay about the incomparable FLOWERS FROM THE STORM that details the complexity of the book. It's awesomeness (both book and essay) can be summed up in the short discussion of chiasmus: “Maddy, who is a Christian, [is paired] with Christian, who is mad; likewise, after his stroke Jervaulx is a soul trapped in a body, while Maddy's sexuality is hemmed in by her religious scruples, a body trapped in a soul.”

I adore An Goris's essay examining romance novel writing handbooks. She basically says, okay, let's trust that romance authors know what they're doing (thank you!). So, let's figure out what they think is important. Which turns into a great discussion of voice in romance writing.

I'm so excited that I finally get to use Kathleen Therrien's essay about GLBT characters in heterosexual romances. She demonstrates how GLBT characters are used as barometers of the transgressive power of love. Does your favorite book use GLBT characters to say, “well, we cross boundaries, but at least we're not as perverted as them,” or to say, “if love is so wonderful and necessary, then everybody should get to experience and keep it”?

And finally Christine Valeo's essay about how and why we enjoy Nora Roberts' trilogies is just fun and happy and celebratory of Roberts and romance and community while still saying some very astute things about why trilogies work so well in the romance genre.
So, there you go. Personal favorites and why I think other people will like them too.


It's amazing to me that the examination of romance critically is expanding every year, as are the ways in which it is examined. Would you be interested in reading a book like this one? 

Thank you to BigStock for the image of the engagement ring, which is rather huge!

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Carolyn says:

    Yes, I would be interested. I was looking for the buy button, until I realized there wasn’t one.  :-(

  2. 2
    Venetia says:

    How do I get a copy?!

  3. 3
    Sugarless says:

    I was looking for where to buy too!

  4. 4
    Sarah Frantz says:

    Thanks so much, Sarah, for the opportunity to talk about our book! We’re very excited about it.

    It’s available here from Amazon and here direct from McFarland. It should be available in digital edition soon (but not yet).

  5. 5
    Linda Hilton says:

    Congratulations!  (from someone who is majorly kicking herself right now http://lindahilton.blogspot.co…

  6. 6
    Beth K. says:

    I am really excited to read this once the semester ends!

  7. 7
    Taylor Reynolds says:

    I’m definitely interested! And I just got a gift card to Amazon yesterday – woo!

  8. 8

    Congrats on the release! It sounds really cool.

  9. 9
    Noelle Pierce says:

    This looks amazing, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it! Why does payday never come on a Tuesday?

  10. 10
    jamesgould72 says:

    This looks great!

    http://goo.gl/5EyQR

  11. 11
    RebeccaJ says:

    Ok I have to ask…why in the world is this book forty dollars?!

  12. 12
    Eric Selinger says:

    Thanks for inviting us to talk about the book, Sarah!  Those first 5 bits at the top were actually me, not Sarah—the rest is her, I think, starting with “On a lighter note…”

    I hate to say this, RebeccaJ, but $40 isn’t bad for an academic book these days.  One publisher was interested, but said they’d only publish it hardcover, for close to a hundred!  Needless to say, we went elsewhere—and I hope that the digital edition, when it comes out, will be a little less expensive.

  13. 13
    Bnbsrose says:

    Don’t you just love smart people?

  14. 14
    SB Sarah says:

    My apologies for the absent buy links – they’re restored now.

  15. 15
    Becca says:

    it sounds lovely, and right up what I’m interested in, but … no eversion, and $40? so can’t afford it. *sigh*

  16. 16
    Maggie says:

    I think I’ll be asking my local library and my husband’s university library to order this. It looks very interesting!

  17. 17

    As Eric says, “$40 isn’t bad for an academic book these days” and the Kindle edition of Phyllis Betz’s Lesbian Romance Novels: A History and Critical Analysis, also published by McFarland, is $20.78, so presumably the Kindle edition of New Approaches will be roughly the same price when it appears.

    Pamela Regis’s book, A Natural History of the Romance Novel (2003), which Sarah mentioned above, is $21.95 (paperback) but that price could be lower partly because it’s a somewhat older book; it’s a similar price to Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance (1992). The price of my recent book on Harlequin/Mills & Boon romances is in the same sort of price-range, but I suspect that’s because my publisher is very small and has lower overheads.

    Lots of us have also had work published online which is available for free at the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. Three issues have come out already and I think the fourth will appear later this month.

  18. 18
    Heather says:

    I’m intrigued by the discussion of alternative sexualities. Most romance discussions completely leave out gay or lesbian romances, and even BDSM if it’s not an erotic fic, which does a disservice to both the reader (who may want to read those books if they know about them) and the publishers (HELLO! Money!). Another question: Why do GLBT romances get automatically categorized as erotic romance? Most of the ones I’ve really enjoyed contain no more sex or even a good deal less sex (“False Colors”, anyone?) than your average hetero romance.

  19. 19

    I’ll be looking for it to come out in digital :D

  20. 20
    Sarah Frantz says:

    Heather, we’ve got Deborah Kaplan’s essay on slash vs. romance, Therrien’s essay on GLBT characters that I mention above, Carole Veldman-Genz’s essay on love triangles and menages, and my essay on Joey Hill’s first BDSM romance that starts with a general discussion of BDSM romance before it moves into Hill’s novel. So alternative sexualities are well-represented.

    I’m not sure about your question about classification. I think that has to do with the history of the genre, with societal expectations, and with publisher classifications.

  21. 21
    Eric Selinger says:

    That’s true, Laura!  And everyone, if you don’t know Laura’s book, I think it’s the best place to start if you want to learn about what a literary approach to popular romance can do. 

    She’s got a great eye for romance novels as works of art—really wonderful stuff on style, on metaphor and structure, on romance novels talking about other works of art (Shakespeare plays, for example) and their own genre. 

    It’s also clear and lively and effortlessly readable, which isn’t always true for academic books (although I hope it is for ours, too).  Good stuff, all around. 

  22. 22

    Romance fiction in literature is like an open space, where you’ve enormous opportunities to discover hidden regions in you as a writer, and in you as a human being…

  23. 23

    I want to read it and will ask my library to order it for me.  Forty bucks is a bit much, but I have kids in college so know the textbook drill.  Which is a subject for another rant or two. . .

  24. 24
    Pam Regis says:

    A Natural History’s price was kept as low as possible.  And there are used copies at Amazon for less than $8.00.  Yes, I know I get no royalties from used copies.  But, you know, royalties from academic texts don’t exactly pay the mortgage—at least not mine.  And I am always grateful to be read, no matter how the book gets into the hands of the reader.

    All hail Eric and Sarah F. for their wonderful New Approaches! 

  25. 25
    Sarah Frantz says:

    For those of you who might still be following this thread, New Approaches is now available in Kindle version, and for only $9.99 at the moment: http://amzn.com/B007VXIFLU

  26. 26
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