Not Just a Drive By

Bitchery reader Winterlyre sent me a link to this Times article that explores the extended partnership between Harlequin and NASCAR.

You know, honestly, I don’t get HQ. On one hand, they’re bloody everywhere. On the other hand, as Jayne so marvelously put it, they manage to embarrass even the most devoted fans of romance with their myopic vision of what romance readers want. On the third hand, there’s the success and omnipresence of NASCAR. On the fourth hand, how far will fans of romance or racing go – will they buy every new release or will it be a novelty that wears off?

Perhaps instead of unlikely fanfic couples, we need unlikely romance hybrids. Candy is desperate for Atheist Romance (her yen for it makes me crack up every time she emails me about it). Kate Duffy mentions American Idol as a pop culture phenomenon – do we need the Paula/contestant or Simon/backstage beefy stagehand romance?

And, really, as always, I have to wonder if HQ knows what it’s doing. Their report on romance readers seemed to demonstrate that they are desperately out of touch – and my initial reaction to NASCARomance was definitely accompanied by a cocked eyebrow. But perhaps I’m wrong, and they do have their finger on the pulse – of a romance fan completely different from me.

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Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Jane says:

    I think it makes sense.  There is a huge number of female Nascar fans.  You have the Nascar racers, cute ones, endorsing the books.  Nascar female fans will love this stuff. 

    I’ve read two of them: Pamela Britton’s In the Groove (bad) and Roxanne St.Claire’s Thunderstruck(not bad).  They, despite their branding, have the same type of familiar content only with different jobs for the hero/heroine.

    Its not challenging reading by any means, but it may be good to read while you are waiting for the race to start or to recapture whatever magic exists after the race ends.

    I don’t really get the Nascar allure but my roommate from law school went to the Brickyard 500 several times with his father who had infield access.  He said that the speed and the power of the race is tremendous and that you can’t help but be swept up in the moment.

  2. 2
    Miri says:

    It always seems like HQ is a day late in their “What’s Hot”  Nascar? For real? even my sister who is so country fried she bleeds sausage gravy is sick to death of Nascar!  When Disney hops on the bandwagon, a YEAR ago. You know it’s over! Over I say! 

    Great googley moogley! I just saw the covers of these “new” books…The big NASCAR logo at the top…Oh yeah that will get’em to buy!
    And the blurb for the book:  “an ex-kindergarten teacher, falls in love with a Nascar driver after first being hit by his car and then driving his enormous motor coach from race to race.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong but are these guys supposed to know how to drive?

  3. 3
    jmc says:

    NASCAR was utterly unknown to me until college, when my roommate (extreme fangirl of the entire Petty racing family) indoctrinated me.  Meh, I’ll tolerate it but never go looking for it.  I guess it can be romantic in the right author’s hands.  Look at what SEP has done with football.  I agree though, with a poster above, HQ is a little behind the curve.

    Tangent:  back in December, one of the seasonal clerks at Borders made a snide comment to the clerk ringing me up—he’d been asked to search for a NASCAR romance. Hhe didn’t see the connection between the two.  Being constitutionally unable to keep my opinion to myself, I offered to explain the connection and pointed out that the female market for NASCAR is one of the fastest growing markets, if not the fastest.  Got an eye roll.  So if HQ is behind the curve, so are lots of booksellers.

  4. 4
    Sarah F. says:

    I have nothing to add about NASCAR—I DO NOT get it—but, Sarah SB, you didn’t finish a sentence there in the third paragraph and I want to know what you were going to say, dammit.

  5. 5

    I looked at one of these (“Speed Dating”) and spend some time wondering if it was a deliberate parody before putting it back on the shelf.

  6. 6
    Robin says:

    I’m not a NASCAR fan, and the whole racing thing just makes me think of Days of Thunder, which just makes me think of Tom Cruise, which kills any assocation I might have between sexy and car racing.

    I asked a question about this line on AAR, wondering if the authors themselves were fans of the sport.  One author (Pamela Britton??) assured me that she is, which made me feel better, since it seems less overtly exploitive to me if the books are actually written by people who understand and appreciate the sport.  Of course, I don’t know why I still feel shocked at the idea that publishers are exploiting readers left and right, so clearly I’m behind the curve, too.

  7. 7
    Kaite says:

    I am a NASCAR fan, personally, but even I cringe at the HQ books. Mostly because a) I don’t want NASCAR associated with Harlequin! That totally kills the cool factor right. There. and b) Well, see reason A.

    In my mind, granted as a bigger NASCAR fan than I ever was a Harlequin fan, NASCAR has the edge on cool if only because, as Clint Bowyer demonstrated quite aptly yesterday, sometimes, cars catch on fire and do hellish rolls through the infield before stopping and allowing the driver to calmly disembark. Harlequin is dashedly short on flaming *anything*, even romance, imho. Even the Blazes feel rather tame after you’ve read one or two. :-p

    Before anyone comments on my apparent blood thirst—yes, I know. People could get hurt doing a two mile oval at speeds topping 180 mph, but really—how often do they actually get hurt? Mostly, it’s spectacular because the cars are designed to evaporate to dissipate the forces of the impact. And the drivers are practically strapped papoose-style into their seats, so all they usually do is go along for the ride. And, hell, it’s not like they aren’t paid well enough for their time. But, yeah, I’m a bit blood thirsty. I chalk it up to inadequate socialization during my childhood.

    And my password is “larger75” Heh, heh, heh.

  8. 8
    Teddy Pig says:

    “Drivers wear fire-retardant suits with geeky ads plastered all over them. The 13-second pit stops are not bathroom breaks. If they gotta go, the drivers just go in those suits.”

    How romantic I can see it now. Kiss me honey I won, as the smell of pee and poop wafts over through the air.

  9. 9
    Teddy Pig says:

    Dang it no… “gently in the breeze” that’s more romantic.

  10. 10
    dl says:

    Agree…HQ is totally out of touch with readers.  IMO opinion the only reason they still sell books is 1. witness to the difficulty of breaking bad habits (see old LKH posts), 2. testimony of a segment of consumers willing and eager to accept mediocrity, and 3. HQ occasionally gets a good author (Although they dumped Gail Dayton), Nalini Singh and Suzanne Brockmann (others also) started with HQ before moving on.

    I couldn’t care less about NASCAR.  If that bone tingling rumble is a turn on for you, there are other methods…jets (at one time we lived under a Blue Angles venue, for one glorious week every summer), Hydroplanes, even live rock & roll. 

    HQ is your grandmothers romance.

  11. 11
    Amy E says:

    Well, I guess if women are fantasizing about hot NASCAR drivers, they should be able to read stories about humping said hot NASCAR drivers.  However, a whole line devoted to it?  Maybe I’m underestimating the number of NASCAR fans who read multiple books a month, every month.  Hell, yesterday I bought 2 books in my local grocery store and both the checker and the bagger looked at me like I was Crazy Book Lady.  (Which I am, but still, is it THAT unusual for someone to buy 2 books along with their Cheetoes and breakfast cereal???)

    So, I dunno.  I used to fantasize about rock stars, and the lack of rock-star romances pissed me off.  (Of course, now I fantasize about a man who likes kids and has a job with fantastic health insurance benefits.  Goddamn I feel old.)  I guess trying something new to see if you pick up readers is (usually) a wise move, even if this particular trend misses me by several miles.

  12. 12
    Deb Smith says:

    IMHO there’s only one reason Harlequin rules the series romance world. They are the 800 pound gorilla. They buy the shelf space in the big grocery chains. They do the big distribution deals with WalMart. They pump extreme amounts of marketing money into their lines. The other major pubs gave up competing with Harlequin for shelf space years ago. The payola system of retail book placement makes that too expensive. So, thanks to Harlequin’s monopoly on series contemporary romance, readers can either pick Harlequin or . . . Harlequin.

  13. 13
    Kimber says:

    As a fan of several racing series that are monumentally unpopular in the States (road cycling, MotoGP, rally), I would love to see more romance novels based on racing themes. (I’m actually trying to work up an idea myself, natch.) Although I gather that “athletes” are unpopular as romance heroes according to the Powers That Be.

    Once you become a rally fan, however, NASCAR seems unbelievably boring and pointless so while I appreciate the effort, It wouldn’t be my cup of tea. And I dislike Harlequins in any case. Plus, I doubt too many of their books are about women who drive race cars. The cool thing about motor sports is that men don’t have an intrinsic advantage. In fact, in motorcycle racing, women ought to be faster, all things being equal, because they are lighter.

  14. 14
    Becky says:

    On page two of the article they mention that because NASCAR is a “family” sport the authors have to follow strict guidelines, including no crashes and no sex.  What’s the point of reading a NASCAR romance if you leave out the best part of each?

  15. 15
    Josie says:

    Well, to each their own, but I can’t say I’d be interested in a whole series of books about car racing. Plus as Becky said – what’s the point if there’s no crashes or sex??
    I read the first book of Janet Evanovich’s Metro series and while it wasn’t exactly set in the racing scene as such, I hated the hero who was a NASCAR driver… So maybe that’s put me off?

  16. 16
    Gail D says:

    Nalini Singh would still like to write for Harlequin (she said so in a loop we’re both on). She’s got a Desire out this month, in fact. (Bound by Marriage, I believe is the title.)

    A lot of people do still buy the series romances, but I imagine most of them don’t hang around here too much. Presents and Desires sell a buttload of books, and WalMart wouldn’t do any deals with them if they didn’t make money off them too. I accept that I’m not exactly a mainstream romance reader. I’m a little skewed in what I will read—though I do enjoy a lot of the series titles. Mostly by friends of mine, admittedly, but I enjoy them. I’m not a big NASCAR fan either. Which is what I really like about romance.

    There’s enough different varieties out there that everybody can find something they love, no matter what it is.

  17. 17
    sara says:

    Nascar doesn’t do anything for me (other than irritate me when we style it “Nascar” rather than “NASCAR” in the magazine I work for—it’s an acronym, dammit), but wake me up when Harlequin starts publishing romances about the Professional Bull Riders Tour. Rowr. The day that came to Madison Square Garden was one of the most surreal and hilarious days of my life.

  18. 18
    Angel says:

    Kate Duffy mentions American Idol as a pop culture phenomenon – do we need the Paula/contestant or Simon/backstage beefy stagehand romance?

    Nooo. Paula/Simon.

    I’d pay to read that. 😉

  19. 19

    Do I think Harlequin is out of touch?

    Let me recall their luncheon last year at RT, where they thanked us erotic romance epublishers for establishing the market.

    I was amused that they only then acknowledged and entered a market we’d been gleefully utilizing for years.

    The irony is, the bigger you are, the slower the wheels turn. It’s easier for small press/epubs to go with reader tastes and trends because we can add a new line in a matter of weeks if needed vs years for the big boys.

  20. 20
    Vicki says:

    I have a hard time trying to get a handle on Harlequine. Harlequin tends to have a split personality. On one hand they publish some really fabulous books in many of their lines: Luna, HQN, and Mira.I have noticed that the same lines also have crap. 

    Then there are their monthly publications that publish a gem once in a blue moon.

    Harlequin is an easy target for people to take pot shots at and some of the potshots are much deserved. (Oh God! just look at the Spice Line, Gingerblossom line..ect) However, I would like to point out that they are soley dedicated to publishing romance fiction and they don’t treat it like a cash cow that is to be held in second or third place by more academic or “serious publications”.

  21. 21
    Marty says:

    Ah yes, NASCAR, I found it all funny last year with the release of CARS and Talladega Nights, but romantic is not something I picture when thinking of NASCAR.  It’s also hilarious that they do not allow the most interesting aspects of the phenomenon(crashes and sex) to be written into the stories, very hypocritical of the genre. 

    All the books I have read on the genre have also left me cold, primarily because the heroines are so annoying and do not mesh with the hero.

    If you are looking for a romance with an interesting “racing” angle I would recommend the manga “MARS”, it’s romantic and very well written for a graphic novel series.

    my password is comes54, hmm now that is naughty

  22. 22
    Gennita Low says:

    I was at the Daytona 500 this weekend ::hanging head in shame:: and thoroughly enjoyed the race ::averting gaze::  Just as when I have my geeky fun at Fantasy and romance cons, I had some serious rowdy fun at the races.  And it was rather cool when they all thought I WAS the NASCAR romance author (that’s their term) when I was introduced as a romance author.  LOL. 

    I got questions like:  “Did you meet with #8 (Dale Earnhart, Jr.)?  Are you doing commercials with #20 (Tony Stewart)?  Which book are they going to be in?”  I think they liked it when I knew who they were referring to, even though I had to explain that I wasn’t THE NASCAR ROMANCE AUTHOR.

  23. 23
    SandyO says:

    I’ve never been a NASCAR fan, if I’m going to watch auto racing, I want Formula One and the streets of Monaco.  NASCAR has only been of peripheral interest since my family tree is firmly planted within 50 miles of the Bristol Motor Speedway.

    What bothers me about the current NASCAR is the sanitizing of it.  The roots of NASCAR goes back to the good old boys running moonshine during Prohibition.  It had character, and characters.  Now it has the squeeky clean image of Jeff Gordon.  I think it was last year that Dale Earnhart Jr had points taken away from him when he said “shit” on an interview.  Well, shit.  I can see fining him, but taking points from him?  That’s disgusting.

    The Harlequin NASCAR books, with no sex and no crashes, just furthers the destruction of a tradition.

  24. 24
    Molly says:

    He’s a form-shifting alien on the run from a top-secret government lab! She’s a werewolf with a heart of gold! Together—THEY FIGHT CRIME!

  25. 25
    Molly says:

    . . . note to self: Next time, read the comments before focusing on the “genre mash-ups” part of the main entry.

  26. 26
    Zoe Archer says:

    I don’t know, Molly, sounds like a great fit for NASCAR romance.  Shape shifting NASCAR driver.  Female werewolf who also happens to be the best damn mechanic in this, or any other, solar system.  Huh?  What do you think?  Wait…where is everyone going?

  27. 27
    Molly says:

    I was thinking of it more as a concept as odd in its basic structure as the NASCAR romances.  Though, given how the NASCAR books seem to be approaching it, the werewolf would never be allowed to shift and the shapeshifter would never hear anything from the lab that’s apparently trying to track him down.

    Or teenage sweethearts, reunited at last!  A late-night lover’s lane makeout session was interrupted by a vampire attack.  Betty-jo hit the gas pedal and got out of there as quickly as she could, but Billy-bob was grabbed by the vampires and presumed dead.  The incident leaving her with severe psychological trauma, Betty-jo then channelled the need to drive as quickly as she could when behind the wheel to become one of NASCAR’s top drivers.  But then, the local vampire clan decides to improve its gambling take by fixing the races . . . and Betty-jo runs into a familiar face.  Literally!

    . . . I think this might be more reasonable than some of the plots I heard they’re doing.

  28. 28

    Let me get this straight. Harlequin thinks it’s acceptable to team up with NASCAR, the guys who give us pneumatic babes in wet T-shirts clustered around the “Hero Who Just Turned Left Several Times Faster Than The Other Rednecks He’s Competing With”?

    I mean, aren’t romance novels supposed to be (at their very core) about empowering women and what women want? I just can’t see that NASCAR has very many feminist-friendly or female-empowering aspects, despite all the female fans. It’s a boy’s game, and any women involved are either honorary boys or silent boy toys. How is this sexy, or deserving of Harlequin’s notice?

    Am I nuts?

  29. 29
    Candy says:

    I mean, aren’t romance novels supposed to be (at their very core) about empowering women and what women want?

    Ah, that thorny old question about What Romance Is Supposed To Be. I’d argue that it’s explicitly about the latter, and the former is mostly incidental, and that you’d have to look pretty damn hard in many romances to find the empowering aspects—because what women want isn’t necessarily always what’s empowering, or even what’s healthy. Look at the preponderance of sheikh romances, and romances involving tycoons rescuing their secretaries from a life of drudgery and elevating them to Virgin Boardroom Mistress of the Week. The NASCAR romances are more of the same old, same old. Macho dudes with massive [wealth, horses, cars and other stand-ins for the almighty wang] being all manly-like and getting the girl.

  30. 30

    Huh. I suppose you’re right. But even in the sheikh romances & stuff (notice how I just lump several subgenres into the same bubbling pot) it was still all about satisfying the girl and the girl getting what was perceived as the prize, not to mention being rewarded for her sexuality (if she was the heroine, that is.) I guess that can be empowering in a weird twisted way, since most other litfic (I’m thinking of Dead White Male Classics) are mostly boy’s stories anyway, even when they have female leads (Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, etc., being cautionary tales and not very empowering…)

    Huh. Must peddle away and do more thinking about my immediate WTF? reaction to this…

  31. 31
    SB Sarah says:

    Like Candy once said when we were discussing criticism of romance: “We have to be thankful they don’t hit us where it really hurts, like in our secret babies and cowboy daddies.” There’s some hellicious misogyny inherent in some romance, even with the caveat that it’s written by women for women and inherent in that contact is some female empowerment. It’s still embracing old power structures and spinning them into sexual fantasy.

    And Lord knows, it sells.

  32. 32
    Molly says:

    I’m not going to argue the basic concept.

    Laugh at, but not argue.

    I just figure that hey, different people have different interests.  If a Harlequin/NASCAR teamup gets soeone’s motor going, I see no reason why they can’t read that.  Odds are, everyone here has at least one subgenre/plot/kink that they adore reading but others are weirded out by.

    It’s like the saying goes: I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will fight, to the death, for your right to say it.

    Romance is what you make of it, and this has the potential to be interesting.

    . . . granted, the absence of both car crashes and sex suggests otherwise, but there’s nothing wrong with the base concept.

  33. 33
    katieM says:

    What I want to know is how well are they selling?  The books at my local grocery store are still 7 deep on the shelves.  Some are being spread to cover the blank spaces of the other Harlequin lines -which, btw, haven’t been seen this month.

  34. 34
    Robin says:

    Ah, that thorny old question about What Romance Is Supposed To Be. I’d argue that it’s explicitly about the latter, and the former is mostly incidental, and that you’d have to look pretty damn hard in many romances to find the empowering aspects—because what women want isn’t necessarily always what’s empowering, or even what’s healthy.

    Yup, and it’s even more complicated by the fact that Romance is so often what women want in their fantasy lives, which unlike the dom/submission fantasies of men, seem to import a great deal of angst and guilt into the whole dynamic. 

    You know, I’m going to break with recent intellectual tradition and suggest that Romance doesn’t reflect the anxiety of women who have come into our own in the public sphere, blah blah blah (i.e. we’re so overextended that we want to give up responsibility, etc. etc. etc.); instead, I think it simply reflects the ambivalence that women have felt about their sexuality from that very first story about that very first apple (and before that, obviously).  Men obviously feel it, too (tell me Viagra isn’t its own fantasy fulfilled), but I don’t think they experience the same ambivalence women do.  What I’d love to see is Romance helping to resolve that ambivalence, when all to often I think it might help perpetuate it.

  35. 35
    LMC says:

    I’m not into NASCAR, but I can see why Harlequin would want to tap into that market.

    When it comes to Harlequins, except for a few exceptions, I genuinely only read Intimate Moments (oh wait now Silhouette Romantic Suspense!). I’ve been pretty pissed off at them since they cancelled Bombshell.

  36. 36
    Amy E says:

    Oh God, me too, LMC.  Bombshell had some hella good books!  Oh well, we can’t have everything, I suppose.  Rather than the female super-spy who saves the world, we can now read about the female super-hottie who, er, poses on the hood of the driver’s car?  That’s… um… totally gonna fill that slot in my reading schedule.  Yeah.

  37. 37
    LMC says:

    Ha, yes, Amy E.—- yay for empowerment! Now I think I want to write one about the bimbo model who poses on cars and saves the world in her spare time. Crossover!

    Also, are any of these books planning on having the HEROINE be the driver? That I might read.

  38. 38
    Jen D says:

    Wow, there are some real stereotypes about NASCAR fans and the sport in these comments!  We spend a lot of time griping about the stereotypes surrounding romance novels, so….yeah, anyway, I’ll stop.

    I am a NASCAR fan and will likely not purchase the books….I’m afraid that being a fan of two things does not make a mash-up of them ideal.  The back cover blurbs make me cringe.  Any teeny detail that rings untrue is going to bother me crazily.  I even have a hard time with the well-done sports hero novels by Rachel Gibson and Deidre Martin.  SEP’s do not bother me because, well, she’s SEP, and I know nil about football.

    PS:  Several of the owners of the teams are female.  That’s power.

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