/Tag: romance

The secret history of Harlequin.

The very secret history of Harlequin, the most famous–and most misunderstood–name in romance. Interesting to note that, while a man founded the company, its tastes were formulated by his wife and female business partner. Women know what women want,1 which has always been both the romance genre’s strong suit (it’s almost entirely driven by women) and the reason everyone shits all over it (“ew girl cooties!”).

On the flip side, there’s an interesting quote from a mid-20th century editor in the article that reads, “You have to know who your reader is, be identified with him, know how to attract and hold him in bondage to the almost unbreakable habit (and habit is everything) of buying your product”. Not unreasonable, yeah? What’s interesting is that this is a male editor of the magazine (wait for it) Women’s Own. It’s possible there’s a bit of extra context around the quote that the article doesn’t include–it’s quoting from something that’s quoting from the dude–but the juxtaposition of the pronouns in the quote with the title of the magazine was… interesting.

Anyway, the article is long, but keep reading, because the ending talks more about the romance genre’s links to feminism and female desire, which I think are always topics worth thinking about.

Also one of the things worth thinking about is why there aren’t really “romance books for (straight) men”. I mean, why not? What would you even call a contemporary fiction novel told from the POV of a grieving cowboy widower who falls slowly in love with a high-powered city-living CEO? Or a novel told from the POV of a badass vampire hunter who falls for the very thing he’s supposed to be hunting? Gee. Let’s think about that one for a moment. I can’t possibly imagine what we’d call those books if not “romance”. Hmm.

… Yeah. Funny, some things, innit?

  1. Obligatory disclaimer: not all women know what all women want, obviously. But women know what they personally like, and thus tend to have a good idea on what other women like them will like. []
2017-11-16T11:19:57+10:008th May, 2015|Tags: publishing, romance|

It’s not real until a man does it.

The cherry on top of the condescension sundae is when [JA] Konrath seems to imply that the ire directed toward him by erotic romance authors is one of financial envy. The concern was never that [his] book would sell so incredibly well that all of us would be out here wailing and gnashing our teeth in seething want of the same professional success. The concern was that Konrath had made the statement that a book like his couldn’t have been written (again, not published, not self-published, not successfully marketed, but simply could not have been written) ten years ago, because the “mindset” didn’t exist. And when faced with the overwhelming evidence that yes, the erotic romance “mindset” existed prior to the time he had the idea to make money off it, he chose to repeatedly ignore both the proof of that and his own words. He blatantly refuses to admit that the “mindset” that creates feminist friendly, kinky books existed prior to the time he believes it did.

–Jenny Trout on men “discovering” things.

A bit old now, but still. (And when I say “a bit old” I mean “by centuries, at least”.)

2015-02-04T08:38:45+10:0011th February, 2015|Tags: jenny trout, romance, writing|


[My sister] brought me bags full of [romance novels] and I started reading. I thought, because academia had trained me to think so, that they would be dull and suburban and the opposite of hip. In some cases, they were.

But in many others, they were not. They were fresh and exciting, about women in towns all over America, doing all kinds of things, and about men who were engaged in as many pursuits, with as much damage as the women. I studied the writers I most admired, like Rebecca Flanders (who writes now as herself, Donna Ball) and noted when they broke the rules. I took apart the best ones and figured out why I loved them.

Mostly, I recognized was that I could write about plum jam and the pleasure to be found in finding a good partner and in children. Is that a small subject? Not when you’re engaged in it.

–Barbara O’Neal on romance.

While I think O’Neal elides over the obvious–romance is reviled because it is (considered) a “women’s thing for women”–I can’t help nodding along with the article and thinking of fanfic.

Fanfic, which has emerged largely organically, as the cultural product of women, and is very romance-focused. I think most readers looking for fic are looking by ship first, other considerations second.

But within those “other considerations”, there is so much variation. 500-word fluffy “missing scene” character vignettes? Sure, we got those. 10,000 word explicit first time pesudo-PWPs? Here’s a whole rec list. 50,000 word borderline-genfic that may as well be a series episode? Done and done. And 100,000 word epic romance/drama AUs with a complex layered thriller-style plotline ready to make your head explode? Oo-oo-oo-oh yes. (Bonus points: this one here also has MPREG!)

These hypothetical fics are all “romances” in that their drawcard is a romantic/sexual relationship between two primary characters and there is almost always an HEA. But some are “straight” (a-har) romances, while others are political thrillers or space operas or body horror gorefests or high school dramas or just flat-out literary fiction. (These latter ones are often called “coffeeshop AUs”, and tend to be about modern-day 20- or 30-something hipsters with Ordinary Life Problems… who just happen to be named after and based vaguely on, say, the crew of the Enterprise. Somewhat amusingly, coffeeshop AUs–and their related subgenre of “hipster AUs”, which are sort of like “what would The Avengers be like if it was written by John Green?”–are insanely popular in a whole host of SFF fandoms.)

Like I said, fanfic is interesting here in that it really is an unmoderated expression of the zeitgeist of girls and young women. Fics are the stories women and girls write when they’re filtered only by the cultural expectations and gatekeeping of other women and girls. They’re the refashioning of male-packaged capitalist cultural product by the collective unconscious of a nebulous non-commercial female collective.

And what comes out? Tends to lean heavily on not just romance, but expressions of sexuality–including non-mainstream sexuality–in general, even as it leverages the tropes and trappings of every other genre imaginable.

… Just an observation, I guess.

2018-11-26T07:52:25+10:0015th August, 2014|Tags: books, fandom, fanfic, romance|

Honestly awkward sex fics are some of my favs.

It is the readers, we are told, who don’t want small penises or capacious vaginas or expired condoms or crying heroes or functional humans who have been sexually assaulted and are not healed by magical sex. But I am a reader, too, and I want all of these things. I want everything. I want, as a baseline, fiction that is about humans.

–Ruthie Knox on writing reality.

2014-03-30T05:34:25+10:0030th March, 2014|Tags: books, romance, writing|

The fifty-five percent.

This was linked in the previous post, but I thought it was worth reiterating:

Women are responsible for about 67% of mass market paperback purchases. They are also more likely to be book buyers (in general) than men (about 62% of women are book buyers, as opposed to only about 44% of men). Also, a woman is more likely to purchase multiple books per year than a man.

In 2010, romance fiction made about $1.358 billion in sales. The same year, Science Fiction and Fantasy made about $559 million, mystery made about $682 million, literary fiction about $455 million, and Inspirational fiction made about $759 million.

What this means, boiled down to the nitty gritty, is that romance fiction accounts for 55% of the money made by all fiction.

This really shouldn’t be surprising, and yet somehow it is. Because there’s still that thing about how romance isn’t “real writing” and (worse) romance by women is especially not “real writing” (q.v. that one guy who writes romance and has everyone falling over themselves to praise him, also q.v. the disproportionate attention given to male Young Adult authors).

Also pertinent:

Gone are the weak-willed, doormat heroines of the 70s and 80s. In the present day conventions of the genre, both the female and the male lead are strong individuals. The characters improve lives that feel somehow incomplete by merging their lives and futures with a partner– falling in love, and managing to develop a strong relationship without compromising their fundamental core.

Here I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the enormous popularity of shipping in fanfic. Romantic fanfic is by far the biggest slice of the fanfic pie, and the reason I point it out is because fanfic is both, a) largely written by and for women, and b) a cultural product with no gatekeeper, which is to say that fanfic becomes popular because it does, not because some studio exec has thrown millions of dollars into marketing it with glossy posters and a TV series.

And yet, when I write, I still often find myself trying to tone down the romance out of some mistaken belief that it isn’t marketable. Because even I’ve bought into the myth about romance not being “real writing”, despite the fact that it’s something I personally enjoy. It took having a story rejected by an agent specifically for not being “hot and sexy” enough for me to really go back and rethink my attitude on this.

It’s sort of like the video game thing, really, where games can have a seemingly endless torrent of gore and violence and rape minigames, and yet consensual sex gets censored, hidden, and derided.

Why? Why so much hate for something so fundamentally part of the lives of (most) humans?

That was a rhetorical question, by the way. I know exactly why.

And, y’know what? Fuck that shit. I’ve got some romance to write.

2017-07-14T12:00:58+10:003rd November, 2013|Tags: books, romance|

One for sorrow: “The Magpie Lord”.

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.
Eight for a wish
Nine for a kiss
Ten for a bird that you won’t want to miss.

When I was about fifteen, I was obsessed–utterly obsessed–with the magpie rhyme. I don’t remember where I first heard it: we don’t have magpies of the sort it references in this country (Australian magpies are ubiquitous but unrelated to their European namesakes), so it’s not really A Thing kids sing here. Wherever I picked it up from, I became so enamoured with it I based an entire Vampire: the Masquerade chronicle around it, and that was Srs Bizness back in those days.

Since then, I’ve had a soft spot for any other media that happens to feature the rhyme, from Discworld to The Secret World. Thus did I take finding the two most common versions reprinted in the front of KJ Charles‘ The Magpie Lord to be a good omen (two being for joy, after all). (more…)

2019-04-29T11:41:30+10:0025th September, 2013|Tags: books, kj charles, m/m, paranormal, review, romance, thriller|

At the mountains of madness: “Threshold”.

So did I mention last time that I really enjoyed Jordan L. Hawk’s Widdershins? Because, hey. I did. Enough that, as soon as I’d finished, I immediately started reading the sequel, Threshold.

And if Widdershins was good? Then Threshold is even better.

Don’t trust any as have been to the woods.

–Local legend (loc. 919).


2019-01-17T07:59:30+10:0018th September, 2013|Tags: books, h.p. lovecraft, jordan l hawk, m/m, review, romance, whyborne & griffin|

Love in the time of mythos: “Widdershins”.

I was about fifteen when I discovered H.P. Lovecraft.

I came to the mythos in a roundabout way, via a large, slim book in our local genre bookstore. The book was S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Creatures of the Dreamlands, a narrative-only supplement for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. Always a big fan of “monster manual” type things, I remember diligently spending weeks thumbing through the shop’s copy until I’d managed to save up enough to buy it for my own.

(The lady at the counter ended up giving me a discount, due to the slightly tatty pages. I didn’t tell her I’d been the one responsible for their dishevelled state. Oops. Bad Alis.)

Ah, childhood!

Ah, childhood!

A few years later, I’d be devouring down every single story Lovecraft ever wrote, awash in thoughts of cults and signs and shambling horrors from beyond the stars. To this day, “Lovecraftness” is one of the Key Indicators that will make me fall in love with a work: from his influence on Stephen King, to the Secret World and Welcome to Night Vale. If it smells even a bit like Lovecraft, chances are, I’m all over it.

It was actually thanks to the latter podcast that I first heard of Jordan L. Hawk‘s Whyborne & Griffin series. I’ve run across Jordan a few times in other contexts, and she’s a lovely lady who’s done me some solids in the past. I knew she’d started writing m/m romance, but I’d been hugely lax in the reading department until the other day, when I decided to get off my ass and pick up Widdershins on my Kindle.

Holy hell am I glad I did! (more…)

2019-01-17T07:59:29+10:0014th September, 2013|Tags: books, h.p. lovecraft, jordan l hawk, m/m, review, romance, whyborne & griffin|