The Romance Genre on the Web

Researching online romance genre communities and their perspectives

Outback (mis)adventures, and reading lists

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bron at 9:26 pm on Monday, May 28, 2007

After two weeks with only occasional, very brief (and expensive) internet access, I’m now back home and trying to catch up!

Our trip didn’t turn out quite as we’d planned it. On the third day, we arrived in Innamincka, in the north-east South Australian area of the Outback, just as it began to rain. Innamincka is a tiny town, with probably about 5 permanent residents, and all roads leading into it are dirt, hundreds of kilometres long, and with no such conveniences as bridges or even causeways across the many creek beds, which can fill rapidly after rain. The rain came down quite heavily for an hour, and we watched from the porch of our little cabin while the guy from the shop drove up to the large road status sign on the road out of town and changed all the ‘road open’ signs to ‘road closed’ – which meant that no-one could get in, or out, of town.

To cut a long story short, along with about 150 other tourists, including a bus with 18 seniors, we were stranded in Innamincka for a week. After the second night, we had to move from the 2-’bedroom’ cabin we were sharing with the couple we were travelling with into a motel-style unit – yes, it was somewhat crowded with four adults, but fortunately we’re good friends!! The hotel had plenty of food (and beer, not that we put much of a dent in that supply!) so the experience wasn’t too daunting, although by day 7 we were starting to suffer from cabin fever – there’s only so many walks that one can go on around ‘town’.

All in all, it was something of an experience, and we had the opportunity to get to know some of the people we were stranded with, which was great. My writer’s imagination received plenty of inspiration to play with, as well as ‘research’ data about the realities of such outback situations. A week after we arrived, we were finally permitted to leave on the one passable road out of town, the convoy of vehicles escorted by a police vehicle, to ensure that everyone drove carefully on the very boggy roads and the creek crossing which was still up. That road took us back along the route we’d come, but since the road south we’d planned to take was going to be closed for days longer, we had to give up the plans for the rest of our trip and improvise – so we saw a number of Queensland outback towns and areas instead of South Australian ones!

One of the upsides of a week of enforced idleness was a chance to do some reading – fortunately I’d taken four books with me from my TBR pile. I’ve now filled some more gaps in my romance-genre experience by reading (finally!) Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm and Nora Roberts’ Naked in Death, and have increased my sampling of more recent releases by reading Nora’s Angels Fall and Anna Campbell’s Claiming the Courtesan.

I love the fact that my reading now counts as ‘research’ :-)

Which brings me to a question – given that a researcher should be well-read in the genre, what books do you think a romance researcher should be familiar with? What books or authors would you suggest represent the various aspects of the genre – classics, ground-breakers, standard-bearers, or good examples of various sub-genres?

Research vacation

Filed under: General — Bron at 10:42 pm on Friday, May 11, 2007

This blog will be a little quiet for two weeks, as I’m off on vacation – in the Outback. We’re heading into the north-west corner of New South Wales, then across into South Australia.

It’s amazing country, and I’m looking forward to the trip. We did a similar trip last year – there’s a series of photos from that trip on my photoblog.

I’ll have few opportunities, if any, to access the internet, so I’ll have to catch up with news and happenings in the romance bloglandia when I return.

(NB – if any potential burglars are lurking, let me just say – housesitters, with dogs.)

GuestBlogs, Bellas, and heroines

Filed under: Discussion questions,General — Bron at 8:42 pm on Thursday, May 3, 2007

I’m GuestBlogging over at Romance By the Blog today, so if you haven’t come from there, please pop on over and join the wonderful RBTB Bellas in some lively discussion.

And for the Bellas who’ve come over here to visit – a big welcome! All the discussion questions are open for comment, so please feel free to browse through and add your thoughts and views

Also, another big ‘welcome’ to students from my uni’s COMM 323/423 New Media unit, who I’m looking forward to working with next week. (After you’ve had a browse around here, click that link above to RBTB – a great example of an active, positive, and warm online community. There’s also some links to other romance genre sites in the links over on the right of this page – have an explore, and we’ll talk about some of them next Thursday.)

Last week’s post about heroes and the responses to it got me thinking more about heroines in romance novels. Like heroes, much of our discussion uses only a few labels, that probably kinda work okay for our ‘insiders’ purposes as a kind of shorthand, but not so well for those who don’t read the genre, or who want to explore it more thoroughly. And some of the commenters on the previous post agreed that we seem to label heroines more negatively – TSTL, Mary Sues, ‘feisty’.

So, if we were to think about the types of heroines we see represented in romance novels, what would those be?

I’m just brainstorming here, but I’m coming up with:

The Innocent
– she’s usually young, with less experience than those around her, but she’s got courage.

The Nurturer
– she looks after everyone else, and cares deeply
The Battle Maiden – well, Maiden’s probably the wrong word; this is the kick-butt, take-no-prisoners kind of heroine
The Capable Woman - she gets things done, often behind the scenes, but can neglect her own needs because of her ‘duty’
The Artist – she’s a free-thinker, often unconventional, sometimes quirky, and will probably turn the hero’s ordered world upside-down.
The Scientist/Genius/Scholar – this is the dedicated, very intelligent heroine. who because of her special gifts has focused on her talents and missed out on other aspects of ‘normal’ life.
The Princess – she’s rich, privileged, adored by many – and she knows there’s more to life than money and fame.
The Crusader – she’s passionate, and dedicated to a cause

What do you think? Do these broad ‘types’ fit the heroines in romance books you read? What others would there be? What ones don’t you agree with? Or are heroines really too diverse to even contemplate identifying ‘archetypal’ characters?

Heroes – Alphas? Or Leaders? Or what?

Filed under: Discussion questions — Bron at 7:06 pm on Wednesday, April 25, 2007

There was a great, lively discussion last week in response to Sarah Frantz’s post, Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know; or, Just a Jerk? on Romancing the Blog.

Personally, I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with discussions in the romance genre about the ‘Alpha’ hero. Part of it is my reluctance to pigeon-hole anyone, fictional or otherwise, and to slap a label on them – particularly when there’s only a choice of three labels: alpha, beta and gamma. I think there’s some confusion, also, about what the terms mean, particularly with ‘alpha’, and this was highlighted in the above discussion, with some interesting but conflicting views. I’m not sure that the wolf-pack or animal origin of the ‘alpha male’ term really translates effectively to humans and human emotions and interaction. I also worry – maybe unnecessarily, but it’s there – that if WE, readers and writers of the genre, confine our discussions of male characterization to these three types, then are we providing fodder for those who criticize the genre for cardboard-cutout characters? If we can’t articulate the depth and variety of characterization within the genre effectively, how can we ask others to comprehend it?

I love complex characters, and I read characters in books as complex people, not as stereotypes or even archetypes. Yes, I like characters – male and female – to have strength and power of some sort, whether that be physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. Emotional strength and confidence – the ability to accept, respect and value oneself AND the other – is, to me, an essential ingredient in a committed relationship, so in order for me to have faith in the ‘HEA’, both the lead characters need to attain this somewhere along the way of the story.

I was musing on the whole ‘Alpha male’ thing last night while I was lying awake with a spasming back, and it occurred to me that perhaps the notion of leaders and leadership could be applied to many romance heroes, and that there are different types of strengths that are displayed by various characters. When I got up to get some painkillers, I also woke up the computer and jotted down some different types of heroes: Warrior, Commander, Strategist, Servant leader, Dynastic heir, Techno-genius, Entrepreneur, Scholar. Then I got thinking about some of the key positive characteristics of each broad type:

Warrior: physicality, and courage

Commander: leadership, courage, and responsibility

Strategist: intelligence, risk analysis, conviction

Servant Leader: commitment to duty, integrity, compassion for others (NB, this is a term from leadership theories which is not about servants in the employer/servant concept, but rather describes a style of leadership in which the concept of service to others is a prime motivating factor).

Dynastic heir: pride, self-confidence, commitment to family/cultural traditions (?)

Techno-genius: intelligence, ‘out-of-the-box’ or creative thinking, focused

Entrepreneur: imagination, audacity, confidence

Scholar: intelligence, broad knowledge, questioning

Now, I’m not pretending that that’s a complete picture, or that these are the only archetypal heroic figures. Tami Cowden came up with a different list of eight hero archetypes (and eight heroine archetypes) that go beyond the standard alpha, beta etc, but, while they work a bit better, they never quite did it for me entirely. There are also a range of other archetypal characters identified in literature, although not necessarily applicable to the romantic hero (or heroine).

When I thought about the heroes I’m writing, I could place them in the broad framework above, whereas I’ve never been able to label them as ‘alpha’, ‘beta’ or ‘gamma’ or anything else in that framework. Elliot is a mix of Commander and Servant Leader; Cole is a mix of Warrior and Scholar; Ronan is a Techno-genius Warrior. For Gil, I might have to add a ‘Lone Wolf’ type, although the mix of Strategist and Warrior probably works for him.

So, there’s some pain-killer-assisted ramblings about the nature of romance heroes. It’s very much initial thoughts, and comment, criticism, and additional ‘types’ are welcome. (Perhaps we need to add the Hedonist…)

Do we need to think beyond the traditional alpha, beta, gamma etc in our discussions of heroes? Do those traditional ‘labels’ help or hinder our understanding of the genre, and the perceptions of it? Does it matter, as readers, or writers, or academics?

(And why do we spend so much time discussing heroes, and not so much discussing heroines? Our ‘labels’ for them tend to be more negative – TSTL, Mary-Sues, ‘feisty’. About the only one that I can think of at the moment that isn’t negative is ‘kick-butt’.)

Time to read?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bron at 9:19 pm on Thursday, April 5, 2007

I haven’t had any time to read these past couple of weeks – or post to this blog! – so I’m hoping that sometime over our 4-day Easter break, I’ll be able to settle down with a good romance for an hour or two… in between editing a conference paper, finishing judging some writing contest entries, updating my writing website, and catching up with some housework. (That last item may take some time, given that housework has been at the bottom of my list for ages, but as my sister and her family are coming in a week or so’s time, I can’t put it off any longer!) I don’t do anywhere near as much reading as I’d like to these days; juggling a full-time job, with a part-time PhD, and writing as well, means that I’ve had to give up a lot of my recreation time. I miss the days when I’d read 3 or 4 books in a week – or more!

Anyway, pondering the delightful anticipation of a couple of hours of reading got me wondering about when and where other readers do their reading. I’m a curl up on the sofa kind of reader, and Sunday afternoon can be a good time for me, although the evenings sometimes see me with a book, too. However, since I find it very difficult to put a book down until it’s finished, I can’t start one too far into the evening!

I’ve never been able to read in a car or a bus, but I can on a plane, except when its taking off or landing. I always cart several books around with me when I go flying anywhere, especially now that knitting needles aren’t allowed on Australian planes.

So, where and when do you do most of your reading? Do you read in a few minutes here and there, or shut out the world until a book is finished? And is it a significant activity for you, or do you squeeze it in among many other things?

Golden day

Filed under: News — Bron at 8:31 pm on Monday, March 26, 2007

Today’s been a big day. I gave my first PhD seminar, presenting an outline of my research and methodology to my department. Although I’ve been preparing it for a while, workload from the day job and other issues kept getting in the way, so I was up late working on it last night, and realised that I needed this morning to polish it. And then….

…when I checked my email first thing this morning, I discovered that my manuscript, Falling into Darkness, is a finalist in the RWA’s Golden Heart Award, in the romantic suspense category.

Yes, I’ve been grinning all day. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go out and kick up my heels to celebrate, but my cyber friends on various loops have been wonderful in sharing the excitement with me.

My congratulations to all the other Golden Heart and RITA Award finalists!

At this stage I doubt I’ll be able to attend the conference and Awards night at Dallas in July, although I haven’t entirely given up hope. The return airfare alone is well over $3,000, so adding conference fees and accommodation, it becomes a major expense.

Oh, yes, and the seminar went quite well! There were some good questions and feedback from the audience, and I appreciate everyone’s time in attending and supporting my research in this way.

Too diverse for one label?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bron at 8:56 pm on Thursday, March 22, 2007

Recent discussions about the RITA Awards over at Romancing the Blog and the Smart Bitches (here and here) and the inherent challenges and difficulties of determining the ‘best’ romance books brought to the front of my mind a question I’ve been pondering for a while. I still haven’t come up with a definitive opinion, either way, so I’m going to throw it over to you all for your consideration and opinion:

Is romance too broad and diverse a genre to be effectively covered by one ‘label’?

Is there too much difference – stylistically, in content, approach and purpose – across the huge range of contemporary romance novels to call it a single genre? Or is the general definition of romance (a story with a main focuses on a romantic relationship and an emotionally satisfying ending) sufficient to unite that diversity?

I’m not just thinking here about all the subgenres. Obviously, there can be a great deal of difference between, for example, a Christian Inspirational romance and an erotic urban fantasy romance, to pick two ends of the sensuality scale. But is there more to the diversity than levels of sensuality and the key plot themes?

If I can illustrate the question with an example. If you take a look at the amazon reviews for Jo Beverley’s The Shattered Rose, it’s pretty clear that this is a ‘love it or hate it’ book, with not a lot of middle ground. I read this book last year, and I loved it. However, if you’re after a light, relaxing, easy read, a straight-forward ‘traditional’ romance, then this book is definitely not it, and I can perfectly understand people being disappointed if that’s what they were looking for. The Shattered Rose is challenging, and at times confronting, in terms of the main characters, their actions and their motivations. The historian in me (who has read a fair amount of medieval theology and Christian mysticism) loved the fact that the hero and heroine were people of their time, with a medieval perspective on religion, faith and Church, and they dealt with their conflicts – especially their internal guilt, doubts, and fears – within the framework of that medieval perspective. But that made their actions quite challenging to understand, from a 21st-century view of the world.

Now, I also love and enjoy lighter and less challenging romances, too (like the two I just read yesterday!). I’m not suggesting that there is less ‘value’ in books-as-entertainment than in books-that-challenge. They all have important places and roles in literature. I do wonder, though, about the advantages and disadvantages of calling it all ‘romance’, and whether the sub-genres we have – which seem to focus on sensuality, length and setting as delineating factors – are sufficient to describe the diversity.

So, the floor is open for your thoughts….

Finding books

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bron at 7:17 am on Monday, March 19, 2007

I was all set to post a new post last night, as soon as Miss Marple finished on TV, but 10 minutes from the end, just before all was worked out and unveiled… the power went! We live out in the bush, so after groping for the candles, we phoned in to report the problem, and then went to bed. The power finally came back on at about 3am…. and I still have no idea who the murderer was on Miss Marple, or why.

Anyway, on to the topic I’d like to explore for the next few days – finding good books. In the online survey, (which so far has 498 responses!) the question about how important various activities are for you online, has the following two items with a good percent of you rating them as ‘very important’:

51.31% reading book reviews and news
42.86% discussing books

So, to what extent do you read books as a result of a review or discussion of them online? Do you actively seek out reviews when you’re looking for something to read? If so, do you stick to just certain review sites, or wander around looking for a range of views? Do you just look for reviews for book recommendations, or do you read reviews sites and discussion for general interest, as well?

Online lives

Filed under: Discussion questions — Bron at 9:11 pm on Monday, March 12, 2007

We’ve been having some great discussions about the romance genre in the posts below – why romance appeals to you, whether you regard it as escapism, fantasy or reality, and your thoughts on romance’s reputation. The comments for all the posts are still open, so if you’re new to the blog, or just didn’t have time to comment before, please feel free to add your thoughts to those posts.

In this post, I’d like to ask questions about romance genre activities online that you participate in. The survey responses so far (440 of them – thanks, everyone!) indicate that around 43% of respondents spend between 3 to 7 hours online each week at romance-related sites and activities, and about 24% spend 8 or more hours per week. I confess I’d be in the higher end of the latter group. First thing in the morning, I stumble to the computer, and stare at it with bleary eyes, to see what my friends on the opposite side of the world have been up to while I’ve been snoozing. (These days, I can call it ‘research’, but that wasn’t always the case :-) )

So, can I ask about your patterns of activity online? Where do you visit, how long do you spend on certain sites, do you have particular ‘must visit’ places you visit daily, or do you just ‘cruise’ around as the interest takes you? Do you do all your participation in one or two bursts of time per week, or do you spread it over multiple times during the week? And can you hazard a guess at what percentage of your online time is focused on romance genre activities, compared to other activities?

Romance’s reputation

Filed under: Discussion questions — Bron at 10:58 am on Sunday, March 4, 2007

I’m sorry it’s taken a little longer to follow up on the post and comments about romance as escape or reality than I intended. It’s the weekend, and I had obligations in town, and didn’t get the brain space to craft a post properly. One of the challenges about being ‘the Researcher’ is that I’m supposed to maintain as much objectivity as possible, and focus on facilitating your input rather than imposing my views. This is easier said than done, especially for an opinionated person like myself :-) So it’s taking me a while to think about what I’m going to say and ask, and how.

In the previous discussion question, most of the responses commented on the fact that there’s escapism in most fiction, and I feel similarly. Whether we’re reading/watching CSI, Miss Marple, or Lord of the Rings, I’d say that there is for many of us a sense of taking some time out from other concerns to focus for a few hours on something entertaining, with the comfortable assurance of a positive resolution.

Yet romance’s form of ‘escapism’ – with its focus on (eventually) successful relationships – seems to attract far more negativity than forms in other genres. Challenging local Inspectors, clashing swords with the bad guys (or Orcs, as the case may be), and studying dead bodies are equally imaginary outlets, but are rarely criticised for their unreality, or described in terms such as that used by Germaine Greer on romance – ‘the opiate of the supermenial’.

In recent years, there has been increasing discussion, both academic and more informal (but not necessarily less rigorous) in romance genre communities exploring the themes, plots and concerns of the romance genre – how they can be interpreted, (for example, the recent discussion at the Smart Bitches); why they are valued less than those in other genres, and how this impacts on the genre (eg recent posts by Tess Gerritsen and Helen Kay Dimon.)

What are your experiences and thoughts on this undervaluing and criticism of romance? Does it impact on you, and if so, how? What are your thoughts about the reasons for it, and how do you respond to it?

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