Please Remove Your Assumptions, They’re Sitting On My Genre

Apr142007

There’s a huge hoo-ra (not Hoo Ha) going on right now about rape in romance, spurred by a book whose title I will not mention because I’ve never read it and neither, I think, have a lot of the people who are outraged by it. What they’re outraged by is the apparent imminent return of the rape romance. So outraged that they’re arguing that rape should be barred from romance fiction because it’s not romantic. This is where I make my disclaimer: I hate rape romance. I also hate those romances where the hero is emotionally abusive to the heroine; those aren’t romantic, either. And I loathe baby romances; anybody who’s ever had a baby knows what a kid will do to romance. Also I don’t like badly written romances; I think people should learn to write well and publishers should only publish books with good writing. And while we’re on this, any romance novel that makes God more important that the romance story is not a romance, it’s an inspirational novel with a romance subplot, and I don’t like them, either. And you know that romance plot where the heroine fights another woman for the hero? Catfight novels. Hate those. And . . .

Where was I?

Right. The return of the rape romance. Not the best news I’ve had all week, but not the end of the genre, either. I heard about the book, heard from friends of mine who loathed it and friends of mine who loved it, and then I pretty much shrugged and moved on. Until people started saying, “Anything with rape in it should not be sold as a romance.” Then I came out to play because as much as I loathe the abusive hero-baby-hack-proselytizing-catfight novel—there’s a nightmare for you—I will defend to the end of my laptop battery the right of romance authors to write it. I don’t like that stuff, but that doesn’t mean that my personal squick meter gets to define romance.

The argument that everybody’s using is an old one: rape romances are a bad influence on romance readers. I find this inexplicable. Yes, of course our books influence readers, but I’m not seeing the Armageddon here. If romance readers read books in which the hero rapes, they’ll come to see rape as acceptable? How? Bob and I just finished a book in which the hero is a hitman. I don’t see anybody coming after us and saying, “You know, women will read that book and think that men who kill for a living will make great husbands.” How dumb do these people think romance readers are? This is a cousin to that old paternalistic argument that romances are bad for women because they can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. What disturbs me is that so many romance writers are making it in the name of feminism. It’s not; it’s anti-feminist in that it assumes a child-like reader who absorbs whatever we put in front of her. I don’t think an argument can be more wrong.

First of all, the impact on readers will depend on two things: their own squick meters/fantasies and how well the book is written. To bar rape from romance is to bar a very common fantasy for women. (If “rape fantasy” makes you twitch, try “surrender fantasy” or “lack of responsibility fantasy” or “Alan Rickman Showed Up At My Front Door and Even Though I’m Happily Married With Two Kids He Ravished Me and There Was Nothing I Could Do About It fantasy.”) Very few women fantasize about being attacked in a parking garage by an overweight drug addict with a bad skin rash and an STD. It’s always somebody gorgeous who smells good: Russell Crowe/Brad Pitt/Daniel Craig/Sex Object of Your Choice Here. It is, in short, a fantasy, and women know that. They know that when they think about it, they know that when they play the game with their lovers, and they know that when they read a freaking novel. The best comment on this one came from Susie Bright years ago. I’m paraphrasing here because I’m too lazy to go find the source, but she was playing games with a lover and suggested that he dominate her and force her. He was appalled and said he couldn’t possibly do that, that it was wrong. Bright pointed out that it was only wrong if she didn’t want it, if she asked him to do it, it was okay. In the same way, for us to say rape shouldn’t be part of the genre is essentially telling that reader that her fantasy is appalling, wrong, and doesn’t belong in the genre she loves. That’s a bias in the observer and has nothing to do with what happens between a reader and her book; she gets to read what she wants.

But the hell with the readers, I’m really upset about what it would do to writers. You’re telling me that if I put rape in a book, I’m not writing a romance? How do you know that? You haven’t read my book. The modern historical genre was founded on the rape romance, Kathleen Woodiwiss’s 1972 novel The Flame and the Flower. People can rant about the dangers of the rape romance all they want, but a novel that stays in print for thirty-five years is doing something right. I’ll confess I’m not a fan of that book, but Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold is one of the finest romances I’ve ever read, and reducing it to “a rape romance” because the hero rapes the heroine would be a travesty of narrow-mindedness and an insult to the author. And what about all the novels with heroes who try to rape and are thwarted? Do they get a free pass just because something stops their heroes, even though their intent is clear? Vidal in Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub has every intention of raping Mary Challoner; the only reason he doesn’t is that she shoots him (read that excerpt here). Heyer leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind, Vidal intends to rape. And yet he’s a much-beloved hero (I must have read that book at least a dozen times and I plan to read it a dozen more in the future) precisely because he has so far to rise through the romance. He’s a rotter, but Mary’s going to reform him just by being Mary. And by shooting him. Georgette Heyer was my biggest influence as a beginning romance writer in large part because she never took the safe route, never did what was politically correct, always went her own way. But if the people who want rape out of romance are honest, that would include any hero who intends to rape, and there goes Vidal. I know I’ll never be as good a romance writer as Heyer or Gaffney, but give me the same clear playing field, please.

But in the end, all of the hoo-ra won’t matter because the readers will have the final say. Glen Turner from Queensland University of Technology, in his excellent paper delivered at the Pop Culture conference last week, pointed out that all the hand-wringing over what romance does to readers (he was referring to the abysmal Radway study and other critics who argued that romance novels were a bad influence on women) was pretty much backwards. Romance novels do not determine what readers think; readers determine what romance novels get published. Glen pointed out that the romance industry is more responsive to reader feedback than any other genre. Through reader boards and blogs, listserves and e-mails, and even snail mail, readers let publishers know what they think, but the biggest message they send is what they buy. Readers determine what a successful romance novel is, not writers with a political or moral agenda, and they do that by reading. The books they buy in stores, the books they check out of the library thereby encouraging the libraries to buy in great numbers, send a clear message in the only language publishing speaks: Sales. So I’m annoyed by the people who want to make some topic off bounds for me as a romance writer; they should get their cotton-pickin’ hands off my genre. But I’m not worried about it. I know romance readers too well to think they’ll let anybody push them—or me–around.

Although I might argue for some restrictions against the abusive hero-baby-hack-proselytizing-catfight novel. (I can’t help but think of titles, though: That Bitch Is Trying To Take The Secret Baby Some Arrogant Asshole Left Me With But God Is On My Side!!!! Hmmm. Needs to be pithier.) No, no, asking for restrictions would be wrong. My personal tastes do not define my genre, even if I feel passionately about them. Romance is bigger than me. And I’m really happy about that.

Filed in X (Everything Else)

173 Comments to 'Please Remove Your Assumptions, They’re Sitting On My Genre'

On April 14, 2007 at 12:14 pm Camilla said...

Amen!!! Can I get a witness?????

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On April 14, 2007 at 12:17 pm Lurker-no-more said...

I want to read the That Bitch Is Trying To Take The Secret Baby Some Arrogant Asshole Left Me With But God Is On My Side!!!! When is the publication date? :)

gina

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On April 14, 2007 at 12:22 pm Jill said...

“I don’t like that stuff, but that doesn’t mean that my personal squick meter gets to define romance.”

I really like that . I like this better :

“Readers determine what a successful romance novel is, not writers with a political or moral agenda, and they do that by reading. The books they buy in stores, the books they check out of the library thereby encouraging the libraries to buy in great numbers, send a clear message in the only language publishing speaks: Sales.”

Off to re-read To Have and To Hold so I can get a handle on this whole thing. ‘Rape’ was a big part of early romance . Why the fuss now ? I don’t see myself as being warped by romance novels. I am in charge of my own morals ,thankyouverymuch.

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On April 14, 2007 at 1:55 pm Office Wench Cherry said...

I have a friend who firmly believes that the pyramids in Egypt were built by aliens or using alien technology because she doesn’t think that humans could have done it. I, on the other hand, think humans can accomplish pretty much anything they want given enough time and expendable slave labour.

It all boils down to not giving anyone else credit for having a brain and knowing how to use it.

To say something shouldn’t be marketed as a romance based on your idea of the squick factor of the plot is like saying that Celtic/Viking type historicals should be marketed as fantasy because none of the main characters stink to high heaven or have bugs.

No one threw open the doors and let all the convicted rapists out of jail after the ratings for General Hospital went sky high while they were doing the Luke and Laura thing.

It’s fiction and people know the difference. I’m an adult, don’t pat me on the head and tell me you know better than I do what I should be reading and what genre it should be in. Rape romances don’t interest me so I’ll express that view the best way possible – I’ll buy That Bitch Is Trying To Take The Secret Baby Some Arrogant Asshole Left Me With But God Is On My Side!!!! instead.

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On April 14, 2007 at 1:58 pm GatorPerson said...

My 2 cents: I think rape was important in earlier novels because it gave the heroine an excuse to have premarital sex. At that time any female having sex before marriage was a slut, but a rape could be forgiven. Then the two became lovers, and that was ok because of the earlier rape.

Ya know, one might think Jenny is pro-freedom of speech. Yep, sales. Sales forgive any writer. Lack of adequate sales leads to unforgiveness.

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On April 14, 2007 at 2:27 pm Bryan said...

Sounds like the same group of people screaming that you can’t have any erotic content in romance and all references to actual sex must fade away to waves crashing on the beach, Slot A must be referred to as “dewy folds”, and Tab B must only be called a “manhood”.

Since “rape” is no longer allowed in romance, does that mean that Gabaldon’s Outlander series is no longer romance. As I recall, it was the hero who was raped in that one.

There’s something out there for everybody. If it’s not your thing, don’t read it. But don’t tell me what it must or must not contain in order to be officially recognized in a genre.

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On April 14, 2007 at 3:01 pm marta said...

This is an awful high wire for me to walk with ease, but I’ll step out anyway. I am adamantly opposed to any medium that promotes, or seems to promote, the idea that there’s a lighter side to rape. There isn’t, and to suggest there’s a romantic side to rape ought to be considered criminally negligent.

Yes, we have the right to free speech, but there’s a flip-side to that coin. It’s called responsibility, something in damned short supply these days. It’s our responsibility to make certain in exercising our own rights we don’t infringe or compromise the rights of someone else.

On the other hand, how does romanticizing rape differ from romanticising war? Or some other crime? Unless your actively advocating rape, there is no difference. Rape just seems sleazier than war. Lois McMaster Bujold handles the real ugliness of both in Shards of Honor, and an unlikely but fitting resolution in Warrior’s Apprentice.

What I want to know is why romance novels were targeted on this issue. The soaps went down that road back in the seventies with Luke and Laura, and they haven’t come back since.

No matter how repellent the subject, how the author handles it makes the difference between whether I sniff in distaste and turn my back, or come after them with a torch and a pitchfork. An example of the latter occurred in February when our local state college newspaper ran an op/ed piece titled ‘Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It’ about the glorious experience of rape and its benefit to society, prisoners, and ugly girls. The author was John Petroski.

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On April 14, 2007 at 3:11 pm Jenny said...

I don’t think most rape romances look at “the lighter side of rape,” (actually, I’ve never read any that treated it lightly), but I’m with you on everything else especially that college newspaper article. I’m just not sure that writing about rape in romance novels is automatically irresponsible.

Romance novels are the at the core of the argument this time because there’s a new historical out that features a lot of rape. Somebody whose opinion I value very much and who is definitely a feminist said she read it and it was fantastic, beautiful writing exploring really dark themes. Another friend read it and was very vocal about how appalled she was. That’s where the storm center is. I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on it, but when people started saying all rape should be barred from romance, I joined the argument.

And thanks for the dissenting opinion. We need both sides for a dialogue, so it was great of you to step up to the plate.

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On April 14, 2007 at 3:14 pm Shawn said...

What I can’t wrap my mind around is the concept that any man who would consider forcing himself on a woman could still be called a hero.

I guess its one thing if the villain does the raping but a hero who rapes is no longer a hero to me.

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On April 14, 2007 at 3:18 pm Jennifer Talty said...

I’m playing catch up since I’ve been on the road for two weeks and all I have to say right now is, well…love the posts I missed and wished I could have joined in the fun on the last ones. HooHa! Go Lani (I love Lani! You’re the best babe.)

Okay, now about “rape romances” Hmmmmm, can’t say I’m fond of rape and not sure I think it’s a characteristic that is redemiable, but it’s been done, many times. I’ve seen it in historicals, but mostly on soap operas. General Hospital did it with Luke and Laura when he raped her in the disco to the song Rise and their TV wedding was like as popular as Princess Dianas – how screwed up is that. One Life to Live did it with Todd – his character never got together with the girl he raped, but in order to keep him on, they’ve made him good guy, bad guy, good/bad guy all in one. But I think the key here is IT’S NOT REAL! It’s for entertainment and the point is to envoke emotion form the reader/viewer.

I read a lot of books and some of them might be considered a bit different, but it’s my choice and has to do with me and what I enjoy reading. I’m living outside my “life” in a “fantasy” world. There are many things in life I wouldn’t do, like hurt someone, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the movies SAW or the book HANNIBAL. I actually liked Hannibal in a weird way, not that I’d ever want to be alone with the man, but he had his interesting points.

Now, I do not enjoy reading books where people are getting raped and the rape is okay with the world. Rape is wrong. I do however enjoy other books that bring me outside my life and propell me into my own fantasies. I have a close friend who writes erotica and I love her stuff. She has one book where the hero uses brute force to control his lifemate which includes hitting and taking. It’s a bit harsh, but in the world she created, it works really well. It doesn’t fit in the “real” world, but there you go, back to IT’S NOT REAL. I think the people who read romances know that. It’s fantasy. It gives us a break from the real world.

Now I’m just talking in circles. Must be that 15 hour drive home that we did straight through.

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On April 14, 2007 at 3:33 pm Jenny said...

Shawn, I would have said the same thing. And then I read To Have and To Hold and Devil’s Cub. There’s a temptation to say, “Well, they change so they’re not really rapists,” but yeah, they are.

Having said that, I have the same problem. A hero who rapes should be shot in the first scene by the new guy who takes over as the hero. I don’t like rape romances.

Except To Have and To Hold and Devil’s Cub, neither of which is a romance about rape. They both just have heroes who are capable of it (one does it, the other gets shot or he would have). So they should hit my squick meter hard, and yet they were both great books. I can’t explain either. No is no.

But those two books . . .

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On April 14, 2007 at 4:04 pm Christina said...

It’s FICTION, as in not real. Characters are aloud to have quirks and do things that may not be acceptable in real life because it’s not real life.

I love books with ultra dominating/bad boy heroes and there are a fair number of rape books on my bookshelf with my favs. I guess I fit into the surrender fantasy/rape fantasy area. But I know that it’s not real. Books are the place that you go to escape the place that you are.

When I read I may fall for the burglar in the night, but in reality I double-check the locks on all my doors to keep the burglars out.

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On April 14, 2007 at 4:16 pm McB said...

Its not a theme I’m comfortable reading, but as you said, Jenny, its pretty much how romance got its start so its silly to ban it now. I think GP had it right. If you look at the genre back when, they were usually historical. You couldn’t have a virtuous heroine from the 1800s who slept around so the authors came up with the domination theme. What I was opposed to, more than the rape theme, was the dumb-as-rocks heroine who put herself in stupid situations all the time (yeah, months crossing the ocean in a male-only vessel filled with obvious lowlifes … and she really expected to remain virginal?) but somehow always seemed pure and virtuous.

And Jenny, I’m with you on the lost baby books. Talk about a theme driven into the ground, stomped on and buried.

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On April 14, 2007 at 5:02 pm orangehands said...

I hate rapes in books, but i’m not for censorship (because sooner or later i will be barred and me not talking is like the end of the world). :)

however, one of things discussed at…ummm…blanking on the name of the blog is when books that have rape, especially when the “hero” repeatedly rapes the heroine, and the back cover/review/etc never mentions it. i have a problem with that. i don’t like reading rape scenes at all, no matter how well written the book is, so i like to be warned when there will be one. haven’t read the book everyone is talking about and don’t plan to, but i’ve read books that are fine, maybe don’t like the hero that much but i’ll give it a try, and then there is a rape scene. i am unprepared for it, and i get a sick feeling that stays with me.

so can there be romances with rape out there? sure. i don’t like it and i don’t understand why others do, but they have the right to it. but i want to be warned so that i don’t have to deal with it.

ummm, baby books?

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On April 14, 2007 at 5:02 pm orangehands said...

oh, and marta, i really agree with on the flip-coin thing.

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On April 14, 2007 at 5:03 pm orangehands said...

with you.

geez. need to review more.

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On April 14, 2007 at 5:22 pm Kyrathered said...

I would vote with my wallet on this one. I don’t buy books where the “hero” is a rapist. Maybe I read too many of the type in the early 80′s Harliquin Romances, but they always treat rape as so easily forgotten and forgiven. My ass. I loathe those books but play domination games with my hubby … the human is such a complex animal.
But I agree that authors have the right to write that crap. And other have the right to read it and even enjoy it. I also think Marta is right and people who write about the ‘fun’ of rape should be chased with pitchforks and torches.
In my opinion, women can be influenced by cultural clues — including what they read — just like men. Women are more likely to report date rape now, but not so much in the 70′s and 80′s where they assumed they had somehow asked for it. And romance novels did promote this ideology then. And studies have shown repeatedly that rapists usually start out on violent rape porn. Rapists interviewed in prison also insist that their victim really liked it. Even when they had murdered the victim. Really.
You know, I would have never dated a guy I knew enjoyed rape porn. Men who watch that are icky icky icky and I will stand buy that. Sweet Babou just pointed out (reading over my shoulder) that domination requires permission of the submissive and rape is involuntary and degrading. One of many reasons I adore him.
But long live the first ammendment and free speech. Even if gross and icky media come from it. I just won’t buy it, and in the end that’s where you fight back.

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On April 14, 2007 at 5:27 pm Sarah Frantz said...

See, now I WANT to have your baby, Jenny! Anytime! Thank you for this.

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On April 14, 2007 at 5:49 pm Jen Erik said...

Great post. And yes to Alan Rickman, particularly if – in some bizarre hopelessly-lost-while-filming accident – he appears at my door in Snape’s shape.

Sitting on the fence. Yes, I think authors should be able to write almost anything – but I feel there is a place for outraged readers. As Kyrathered said, the romance genre did, in the past, condone some unacceptable behaviours. If readers were outraged by that, and therefore pressurised writers and publishers for change, wouldn’t that have been a better course than simply withdrawing their financial support from the genre?
I can’t see it as censorship. If an author writes a book where the hero is a misogynistic stalker, and a reader says ‘this shouldn’t be sold as romance’ then that’s not censorship, that’s a valid opinion.

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On April 14, 2007 at 6:09 pm Jenny said...

I don’t think it’s censorship, either. I don’t think this is a free speech argument. I haven’t heard anybody say, “Those books shouldn’t be written” or “Burn this book.” The argument I’m concerned about is the one that says rape shouldn’t be in romance novels.

And I absolutely agree, readers should express their outrage if they feel it. If a lot of romance readers express the opinion that rape is not a romance topic, the publishers will listen–as long as a lot more silent romance readers aren’t buying the rape romance novels. This really is a place where the real vote is what the reader buys. And I keep going back to The Flame and the Flower. I’m really proud that a romance I wrote in 1993 is still in print. Woodiwiss has me beat by 21 years.

But I definitely don’t want to squelch any dissenting opinions, either, because both sides have really valid arguments. My take on it is not that it’s a free speech issue–it’s not–but more of an issue of who gets to define the genre. We’ve had some real nightmare people in RWA try to define out of it things they don’t like, and this strikes me as the same twisty road.

And thank you, Sarah!

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On April 14, 2007 at 6:11 pm orangehands said...

i agree jen erik.

i was just thinking about JR Ward’s Zsadist book. i guess i should amend what i said that i hate reading rapes, but if a character was raped and it was in their past, i like when authors deal with that.

yep, humans are complex weird-dos (among other things).

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On April 14, 2007 at 6:12 pm orangehands said...

jen erik: i meant about the second paragraph.

what is with you all and Alan Rickman? i like him but geez.

and again, will someone clarify what is meant by “baby books”? because i can think of a couple different scenarios that involve babies…and now i’m really curious

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On April 14, 2007 at 6:16 pm Debra G said...

Okay, I can’t help but add my two cents here. First, freedom of speech dictates that we allow people to write/read whatever they want, and I fiercely support that. Once you start deciding what’s unacceptable, you’re off and sliding down the slippery slope to censorship hell on a greased toboggan.

Having said that, the words “rape” and “romance” are mutually exclusive. I haven’t read the book, but I hope it’s playing off a domination theme. In domination, the woman *wants* to be dominated, she just might not be willing to admit it. In rape, the woman wants nothing of the sort. Rape is vile, disgusting and painful; no woman who has been raped would feel fondness of any sort for her attacker.

Let me fall back on my favorite subject: chocolate. Now, I love chocolate cake. However, there are many rational reasons why I might reject it: My ass will start to cover the metro area, for one. My pleasure centers, on the other hand, absolutely crave it. While I might be telling the waiter “No,” secretly I’m thinking “Yes, bring it on!”

So, I think it would be sexy for a lover to tempt me, to push past my boundaries, to get me to give in against my better judgment. Because, underneath it all, I really do want the cake. However, do I want someone to start cramming cake down my throat? No.

There’s a huge difference between “against my better judgment” and “against my will.”

Now that society is no longer prudish and heroines need not be raped as a plot device, writers should forgo true rape scenarios in favor of dominance and seduction.

I’m going to shut up now and go eat some cake.

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On April 14, 2007 at 6:23 pm colognegrrl said...

Now after finding out that obesity is killing more people than famine and malnourishment, I think the next step might be to ban cooking in novels. So you might want to change Agnes’ profession, quick, before the book goes into print (or is it already?)

You still insist on your literary freedom? But think of the many readers who will be inspired by the thought of food and open their fridges and prepare and consume much more stuff than is healthy for them. They will gain weight and need new clothes on which they must spend a lot of money which they need to work for very hard and then they get sick and it’s all the novel writer’s fault.

I can’t believe you want that to happen.

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On April 14, 2007 at 6:37 pm roben said...

Having been a registered nurse for many years and doing my stint in the E.R. I can tell you right up front, right now, there is nothing romantic about rape. NOTHING. Not one damn thing.
For those who need to fantasize rape to get their jolly’s, fine, go ahead, but I’ve seen my sisters shattered, degraded, humiliated, cut, burned with cigarettes, had items inserted deep into their bodies. I’ve seen them torn to pieces … shattered mentally and physically, nothing romantic about it. You want to talk men going to war and post traumatic stress disorder, think women and rape and nightmares for years. Think of all of the women murdered after the act. The families left in pain. Nope. Still can’t quite catch the element of romance.
I’m with OH on this one, you want to write rape fine, as a writer you get to choose, but put a disclaimer on it. Call it general fiction. Call it Rape fiction. I don’t care. Just don’t embed it into something with a hearts and flowers cover and a cute title, making it a story someone like me would rather burn than read. The beauty of romance fiction and its many sub-genres, (at least to date)has been that we can pick and choose, read those we love and ignore the rest.

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On April 14, 2007 at 6:39 pm Jenny said...

I gained thirty pounds writing Bet Me. Of course I was also going through menopause, but I blame Krispy Kreme, not my deathless prose. I also got a lot of comments from people who said, “I hate Krispy Kremes. I don’t get it.” None of them started eating them anyway.

The books described as rape romances are romances with rape in them. They’re not bondage games or coded so that the reader knows the woman agrees. She says no and means it, or is in a position where she can’t say no but clearly does not want it. It’s rape. One of the many reasons I don’t like them. Except for To Have and To Hold. Argh.

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On April 14, 2007 at 7:07 pm Keziah Hill said...

The book in question puts the rape firmly in a moral context of condemnation. The rape is not romantic, it’s not a forced seduction and the hero is quite clearly wrong. I see no problem with having a rape depicted in a romance. Romance is about life and in life women get raped. The challenge for the writer is making it plausible that the heroine can fall in love with her rapist. In my view the author in question succeeded in doing this, largely because the book is a lot more sophisticated and darker than the bodice rippers of days gone by. BTW no one has condemned Anne Stuart (nor should they) for her hero almost drowning the heroine – he was interrupted – in Ice Blue. Is homicide ok and rape not?

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On April 14, 2007 at 7:16 pm BCB said...

Rape is not a sexual act. It is physical violence. Can you have a romance with violence? Yes, of course. Many women, in fiction and in real life, love and forgive the men who do them violence. Whether physical or emotional. Torture is torture. Yet our society has deemed it more acceptable to inflict emotional torture than the physical torture of rape.

What I find interesting is that women are writing about physical torture, about rape, within the context of a romance. In doing so, they are in a way harnessing some of its power and destructiveness and making of it what they will, saying about it what they need to say. They are telling stories of love that somehow incorporate and attempt to reconcile the reality of this awful physical brutality. Some do it horribly, without skill or sensitivity, and some do it brilliantly, but that inclusion does not make a romance less of a romance.

Intentionally inflicted emotional anguish can be just as devastating as physical abuse; its effects can be just as lasting. Yet we have no trouble imagining the tragic heroine suffering emotional torture at the hands of the hero and ultimately forgiving him for it. We admire her ability to “get past it” and often respect that as strength. Why should the ability to overcome physical abuse be any different?

Of course, I don’t have a lit crit degree and I may be way off base here. But I’ve read an awful lot of fiction over the years. I think it is hypocritical to give a nod to certain types of abuse in romance and screech in outrage over others. Romance and violence are not mutually exclusive concepts. Never have been, never will be. JMO.

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On April 14, 2007 at 7:21 pm Laura Vivanco said...

The books described as rape romances are romances with rape in them. They’re not bondage games or coded so that the reader knows the woman agrees. She says no and means it, or is in a position where she can’t say no but clearly does not want it. It’s rape.

Robin, over at Dear Author, was arguing that as it’s the reader’s rape fantasy, the reader gives consent. Which still leaves the reader who doesn’t consent because she doesn’t have rape fantasies in a potentially very awkward and unpleasant position.

I have the feeling that sometimes the ‘rape fantasy’ is coded by putting the romance in a fantasy setting (e.g. involving a werewolf, an alien, or perhaps set in a ‘fantasy’ version of a historical period so that it’s in some way distanced from ‘real life’). But when that element isn’t there (i.e. the setting is one that’s clearly intended to be read as ‘real’ or the reader has emotionally accepted it as ‘real’) and the reader isn’t one who has a rape fantasy, then the reader is being told that the heroine can get over what the hero did and that they’ll have a HEA.

Of course, not everyone identifies very closely emotionally with the heroine so they may not be particularly upset by this, and some readers perhaps identify with the hero, so are more ready to forgive him, but if reader identification with the heroine/using the heroine as a placeholder is what makes the rape fantasy work (I don’t know if it is), where does that leave the readers who don’t have a rape fantasy and who identify with/put themselves in the place of the heroine? Potentially quite traumatised.

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On April 14, 2007 at 7:28 pm Laura Vivanco said...

we have no trouble imagining the tragic heroine suffering emotional torture at the hands of the hero and ultimately forgiving him for it. We admire her ability to “get past it” and often respect that as strength.

If she’s a ‘tragic heroine’ doesn’t she end up dead, like Ophelia? Personally, if a hero is really abusive, either emotionally or physically, I’d tend to be thinking that the heroine should run away from him as fast as she can.

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On April 14, 2007 at 7:30 pm Jennifer Talty said...

I went on vacation and lost 10 pounds in a week and a half. I had so much fun I forgot to eat, I guess, but I don’t think I could pass up a Krispy Creme if I tried. Those little donuts are awesome. I make a mean german chocolate cake and can eat a whole one too. I guess it’s the sugar because stick a hamburg and french fries in front of me, yuck.

Okay, back to rape romances. I don’t like it when women fall for their rapist, unless it’s one of those pyschological things and in the end, the rapist gets what is coming to them, but I don’t mind a little game playing. Pushing and proding the women into it. That ying, yang, push, pull can be very hot, but in the end, the woman has to say yes, I want this, otherwise, not good.

Rape itself is a hot topic, and one that people tend to be very emotional about, but taking it out of a good book that is well written just because it might distrub someone? No. I disagree. I don’t think anyone has the right (well, the publisher does) to tell someone not to write it. I guess you can compare it to some horror/thriller books. Over at the CherryForums I had been discussing my problems with my twisted antagnoist and how hard it has been for me to write him because he is so sick and what he is doing is distrubing to even me, the author. But damn it, it’s good stuff (I hope). It fits the story, my vision for the story and in the end, I’m hoping that the reader will a tad bit of empathy for my nasty character. I want you to see how he got to the depths of hell.

What’s my point? Rape in the real world, bad, very bad and well, anyone who commits it, well, lets just say I have very strong opinions on the subject. But, we’re talking about fiction and when anyone buys a fiction book, I don’t care what genre it is, we know it’s fiction and if the reader is satsified at the end of the day, well, they got their money’s worth. And if more people buy it, the publishers will continue to publish it.

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On April 14, 2007 at 7:32 pm Jenny said...

True.
But it’s not our place to protect the reader.
I know that sounds callous, so let me put it in another context. There are editors–not mine, thank God–who insist that everything in the novel be accessible to all readers, no references to anything anybody might not get. It’s a dumbing-down of content in order to serve one kind of reader.
I think barring rape on the grounds of not traumatizing some readers is the same thing, on a much more dangerous scale, of course.
I once started to read Rumer Goden’s In This House of Brede. At the very beginning something horrible happens to a child. I put the book down and never read on, even though I understand it’s a wonderful book. That scene haunted me for years. But she had clearly begun the book that way to set up her story, the violence was part of the story, and even when I read it, I wouldn’t have said, “She shouldn’t have written this, it traumatized me.” I just wished I hadn’t read it.
There’s another scene that had a similar impact, but this one was excerpted in Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction, a scene where a boy leaps into a lake full of snakes. It was incredibly powerful writing and I can’t shake that one, either. It’s horrible, but wonderful writing, it really illustrates what Burroway was talking about.
But that’s literary fiction. Nobody would dream of restricting literary fiction in any way. It’s only in romance that we feel we have to protect our reader, which I find truly insulting to the reader. She picked up the book, and she can put it down again.

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On April 14, 2007 at 7:36 pm Jane said...

The book in question does not romanticize rape. It is a dirty ugly act and the author in no way makes this “okay”. It only “romanticizes” rape if the writing of a romance which features a rapist finding redemption and having an HEA.

I started a historical today that featured a man who is a celebrated rake. There is no one that he can’t seduce, be it fair innocent maiden, lecherous madam, or noble woman. (I suppose this character is patterned after the Vicomte de Valmont). There is not real redemption for this character. No comeuppance. He gets upbraided in the second to last chapter but really suffers no adverse consequences for his rakishness.

I find the romanticization of the male slut quite as bit as offensive as some find the redemption of the rapist.

These, of course, are all personal value judgments.

I just think its hard to make a claim for literary respectability when there are some topics just too awful for a delicate woman to read.

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On April 14, 2007 at 7:37 pm marta said...

Jenny, I wasn’t aiming at romance with the ‘lighter side’ comment. I really meant any medium, and even though I’m still steamed at the ECSC article, I think television has a lot more to answer for.

Flame and the Flower, now, there was a case of too dumb to live. But Devil’s Cub, well, I’ll have to read it again, but I never thought he’d do it.

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On April 14, 2007 at 7:41 pm BCB said...

Well, Laura, I guess I’m not defining “tragic” the same way you are. I’m frankly not the scholarly type.

I just know I’ve ready plenty of romances where the hero completely devastates the heroine emotionally, leaves her in a sobbing heap of hopeless agony, and the reader is desperate for her to give the sadistic SOB a swift kick and MOVE ON already. But ultimately he comes to his senses and grovels, she forgives him and they have their HEA. I figure it lasts about a week. The point is that no one is saying that is not a romance. I’m saying I don’t necessarily see the difference.

And I need to go on vacation with Jen. Ten pounds? Geez.

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On April 14, 2007 at 7:56 pm Laura Vivanco said...

But that’s literary fiction. Nobody would dream of restricting literary fiction in any way. It’s only in romance that we feel we have to protect our reader, which I find truly insulting to the reader. She picked up the book, and she can put it down again.

But the RWA say that romance is about a central relationship and every romance should have an

Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending — Romance novels end in a way that makes the reader feel good. Romance novels are based on the idea of an innate emotional justice — the notion that good people in the world are rewarded and evil people are punished.

So if it’s not ‘emotionally satisfying’ for the reader, and the reader feels bad/traumatised, and there isn’t justice because the person who does bad things is rewarded at the end, does that mean the book should be in literary fiction or some other genre, but not romance? Or is it the RWA that’s limiting the genre, and romance shouldn’t be required to have an ‘Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending’?

I’m not sure this is really about censorship or ‘protecting the reader’ so much as (seeing as we’ve got the food comparison going) making sure that the food matches the packaging. If someone’s expecting an ‘emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending’ and doesn’t get it, that reader will be annoyed and upset (and not just because of the content, but also because she/he will feel as though the ‘contract’ of genre expectations was broken). In a mystery, the reader would be annoyed and upset if he/she didn’t find out who committed the crime. Doesn’t mean that you can’t have books which leave a reader feeling sad, or books in which crimes remain unsolved, but it’s probably best not to market the first as romance or the second as a mystery.

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On April 14, 2007 at 8:14 pm Jenny said...

“So if it’s not ‘emotionally satisfying’ for the reader, and the reader feels bad/traumatised, and there isn’t justice because the person who does bad things is rewarded at the end, does that mean the book should be in literary fiction or some other genre, but not romance?”

But justice is often in the eye of the beholder (much like the GHH.) Clearly the rape romances (some of them) do give some readers an emotionally satisfying ending. The book hasn’t been written that gives ALL readers an emotionally satisfying ending. There are a lot of very popular romances that were wallbangers for me. Doesn’t mean they’re not romances because they didn’t give ME an emotionally satisfying ending.

The RWA definition was written for RWA’s purposes; that is, they needed a definition so they could define what they were representing and accepting for the Rita and GH. It isn’t necessarily the industry’s definition and it definitely isn’t all readers’ definition. The “emotionally satisfying and optimistic” part was added to keep out Madame Bovary. No, I’m not kidding, I was on that committee. An unhappy ending in a romance is like an unsolved ending at the end of a mystery. It kind of misses the point of the genre, as you said:

“Doesn’t mean that you can’t have books which leave a reader feeling sad, or books in which crimes remain unsolved, but it’s probably best not to market the first as romance or the second as a mystery.”

Exactly, which is why Flaubert will never win the Rita. But just because SOME readers don’t find the redemption at the end of a rape romance a happy ending, that doesn’t mean it fails for all readers or even a majority of readers.

There are a lot of romances out there that failed to give ME a satisfying ending. They’re still romances.

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On April 14, 2007 at 8:20 pm Jane said...

So if it’s not ‘emotionally satisfying’ for the reader, and the reader feels bad/traumatised, and there isn’t justice because the person who does bad things is rewarded at the end, does that mean the book should be in literary fiction or some other genre, but not romance?

Isn’t this a value judgment – the “emotionally satisfying” part. In Claiming the Courtesan, the two main protagonists are shown to have fallen in love and the implication, of course, is that they have an HEA.

Therefore, the idea of whether the male protagonist is worthy of his HEA is a value judgment on the part of the reader. Other commenters who have decried CtC as not belonging in the romance genre point to other books that do feature rapists and said something akin to the argument that the redemption happens sooner in those other books, or perhaps, as marta argues, you never actually believe the hero would do such a despicable act.

Those sound like reader reaction and reader reaction is so widely varied. The exclusion of certain types of romances at the “gate” (i.e., the editor’s doorstep) seems to smack of a protectionist attitude rather than worrying about whether the book falls within the RWA guidelines and therefore is considered a “romance.”

I didn’t know when I went into the book that there was a rape and I didn’t believe in the redemption either. But that’s my own perception. Other readers felt it worked for them and that it was romantic. I suppose the dynamic at work is that you take the worst possible being (rapist, murderer, thief, liar, cheat, rake), and one woman’s love is enough to redeem him. That’s a powerful concept and I can see it’s appeal. Further it’s a concept that dominates romance books. Whether it is the beast (Rhage in JR Ward’s book) that is tamed by Mary or the Devil in Heyer’s book tamed by, again, Mary.

Hmmm. Perhaps there is some divinity in the Mary Hoo Ha.

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On April 14, 2007 at 8:35 pm heather said...

While I managed to not comment on the whole GHH discussion (that’s why I’m single, I need to go to the craft store…), I have to comment now.

I completely disagree with banning rape from romances or cordonning them off into their own section. Personally I can’t stand the books by Kathleen Woodiwiss that I’ve read, but back then I didn’t know better. I just read the back cover (which doesn’t mention the cheerful rate scenes) and then got side swiped when I came across the rape scenes. (Didn’t one of her books not only have a rape scene, but a rape scene in front of a crowd? Or am I thinking of someone else? Grrrrr. In either case, I didn’t finish that book.) I was the only one in my crowd who read romances, so I couldn’t get anyone else’s opinion about books I though looked interesting. I don’t have that problem anymore. With the internet I can read reviews, join discussion groups, read the author’s blog, etc, and get a well rounded picture of what kind of book I’m about to read.

And, honestly, rape is not always the worst thing to read in a romance. It all depends on how it’s portrayed. There’s the boy kidnaps girl – boy rapes girl – girl spits in boy’s face and procedes to do mean evil things to boy with weapons close at hand – boy realizes girl is not doormat – boy discovers the GHH – boy spends 450 pages trying to win back girl. Add a pirate ship and stir. Am I offended? Nyah. I just think those stories are silly. Other stories, where boy is an emotionally abusive jacka$$ the entire time make me want to teach the heroine how to use a gun with the hero as target practice. (I love Elizabeth Lowell’s books, but her “Granite Man” just drives me crazy. What an a$$!)

Someone mentioned Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I just love the part where Claire gets raped in one of the later books. Not the rape itself, because I hated that part, but afterwards, when Jamie proceeded to kill all the rapists? Aaaaaaw, how romantic. I want a man who will kill those who hurt me. But I’m a primitive at heart and believe heroes should have to kill lots of people to win the heroine (which means Zsadist and the Brothers are HOT!!)

I was going to bug Jenny for the name of the book, but then she said that it was a historical. I can handle rapes scenes. But historicals? Yuck!

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On April 14, 2007 at 8:37 pm Vicky Dreiling said...

I’m only commenting generally on the issue of rape as a fantasy in a romance novel, since I’ve not read the book in question (and don’t know the title nor the author).

The back cover copy on a romance novel isn’t going to spell out a warning that the book contains a rape by the hero. Can you imagine the reaction of a rape victim when she unknowingly purchases a romance novel with a rape scene? I think it’s safe to assume no rape victim will view it as fantasy.

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On April 14, 2007 at 8:45 pm Jenny said...

I think the rape in front of a crowd was Rosemary Rogers’ first book. Damn, can’t think of the name of it. I accidentally bought it for my mother-in-law, a sweet, lovely but very conservative woman. She loved it and asked me for more. I said, “Sure,” and then I read it. Jesus wept. But I bought her more.

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On April 14, 2007 at 9:04 pm heather said...

LMAO!!! I have a few relatives that can be described as sweet, lovely and very conservative (my mom being one), and if I ever saw that book on her shelf I wouldn’t be able to look her in the eye.

But seriously, maybe that mindset is the one who buys these books? I believe that once a schmuck, always a schmuck, so I don’t believe in the redemptive powers of love. But maybe those who do believe in redemption can feel a certain amount of emotional satisfaction from reading a story about someone whose faith and love can reform a jerk that much? I’m trying to avoid a religious allusion or discussion, but there is a very popular religion out there that is based upon those values.

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On April 14, 2007 at 9:06 pm Laura Vivanco said...

Isn’t this a value judgment – the “emotionally satisfying” part.

Of course. Someone once posted on TMT that he felt that it would be an optimistic and satisfying ending for some characters to end up dead (we’d been discussing a book with French aristocrats in it, pre-Revolution). I can see his point – if you’ve hated the characters, it might seem emotionally satisfying and just for them to be killed off at the end of the novel. In which case, if someone happened to think that Emma Bovary deserved to die, would that make it a romance?

Genre definitions are always difficult to pin down.

I suppose the dynamic at work is that you take the worst possible being (rapist, murderer, thief, liar, cheat, rake), and one woman’s love is enough to redeem him. That’s a powerful concept and I can see it’s appeal.

Yes, but there are still some taboos that probably haven’t been broken or wouldn’t be generally acceptable. How many romance heroes kill pet animals or are paedophiles? How many of them commit adultery after they’ve married the heroine? And I wonder if part of what’s going on here is about expectations and shifting societal attitudes towards male violence against women. Gradually some behaviours/attitudes become less acceptable, and so their depiction in romance will become less acceptable. I’m sure when the age of consent was lower, stories featuring 14-year-old heroines would have been acceptable. In fact, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet is not-quite-14. Nowadays, I’m not sure how many readers would like to see a romance with a heroine who’s that young. And would that be acceptable in a romance because (a) we know it’s a fantasy and (b) we can choose not to read it? Possibly, but maybe not.

Anyway, from some of the comments that I’ve read, such as Eileen Dreyer saying that ‘It yanks us right back to the years when women were powerless and only good for subservience and obedience. And if it’s all the same to you, we’ve worked too damn hard to climb out of that pit to go back there’, I get the impression that a lot of the anger is caused by the suspicion that perhaps rapist heroes in romance reflect wider social attitudes towards rape, like a canary down the mine. It’s certainly true that rape and violence against women are more recognised and condemned now than they used to be in the days when rapist heroes were common in romance. Not that there’s necessarily a direct link, but there may be some sort of correlation, just as there is between attitudes towards 14-year-olds and the lack of 14-year-old heroines in modern romance, and I wonder if that’s why this development is particularly concerning to some readers.

[I know that some people, have argued that this novel is different from the older romances containing rapist heroes, but it still gives him a HEA, and maybe that's enough to set some people's alarm bells ringing. I'm speculating - I haven't read the book. And apologies if I've not worded that clearly. It's rather late here and I feel like I've turned back into a pumpkin.]

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On April 14, 2007 at 9:15 pm Jamie said...

Rape “romances” are not for me. That said, I think that to tell someone that they cannot write in a genre they love amounts to violating their free speech rights. For myself, I cannot fathom a heroine who would fall in love with her rapist. That is simply inconceivable to me. Right there with you, Jenny, on the abusive “hero” as well. But, same thing with abortion, just because I wouldn’t do it doesn’t give me the right to stop someone else. (Not trying to engage an abortion debate, just making a comparison. I know not everyone agrees.) I may not like romances with rape storylines, but I can’t stop someone else from liking them. Also, woman are not stupid, they know the difference between a fantasy and a real rape. Jenny had it right when she said they are not imagining the thug on the street corner, they are most often picturing their spouse being an aggressive, alpha male which many men have moved away from as the times have changed. (Stepping away from the soapbox now.)

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On April 14, 2007 at 9:28 pm McB said...

What it comes down to really, is as you said Jenny, its up to the readers to decide. And if they are reading the rape-romance books, then they consider them acceptable. Others won’t, and they don’t have to read those authors again. Or from that publishing house if they feel strongly enough about it. An author can write any story he or she wants to. We don’t have to read it. And besides which, people living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. If its rape-romance today, it might be premarital sex that is targeted tomorrow.

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On April 14, 2007 at 9:29 pm Jenny said...

“In which case, if someone happened to think that Emma Bovary deserved to die, would that make it a romance?”

With the lovers parted and everybody in misery? A heroine who takes a WEEK to die of self-inflicted arsenic poisoning? No, even if you think poor brainless Emma deserves the death she deals herself, it’s still not a romance. It has to be a love story, and it has to end optimistically, which pretty much presupposes the lovers will be together. Maybe we should have put that in the definiton: They’re both alive and they’re together. Or in the same state of walking deadness.

IT WASN’T EASY WRITING THAT DEFINITION.

“Nowadays, I’m not sure how many readers would like to see a romance with a heroine who’s that young. And would that be acceptable in a romance because (a) we know it’s a fantasy and (b) we can choose not to read it? Possibly, but maybe not.”

I think the heroine in Elswyth Thane’s TRYST is young. Seventeen maybe? Loved that book.

Krissie and I once did a panel where we talked about what made a hero irredeemable, but then we remembered we’d been talking about the anti-hero of American Gothic, who was literally Satan in the guise of a sadistic small town sheriff, and we’d both been laughing because we were secretly sure the love of a good woman could save him because he was so hot. Krissie and I are not deep.

I’d say pedophilia and animal torture is beyond the pale but I still wouldn’t say, “If you put these in a romance, it’s not a romance.” That’s too slippery a slope. Or the thin end of the wedge if you’d rather. Cliches. I have a million of them.

I really don’t believe this is a free speech issue. Nobody’s saying these books shouldn’t be published. They’re arguing that they shouldn’t be sold as romances. I’m arguing that people shouldn’t tell me what to put in my romance novels since the readers will let me know if I’ve gone too far. Which they often do. I got a lot of grief on the stalker in Crazy for You; people kept saying, “Stalking isn’t funny.” Hey, did I make it funny? No. And she beat the hell out of him at the end with a piece of porch rail.

Maybe that’s why I’m arguing this. Somebody has objected to something in every one of my romance novels. Allie shouldn’t have had a gay roommate. Nell shouldn’t have slept with Riley. Nell shouldn’t have kissed Suze. Sophie shouldn’t have said, “Fuck” so much and Phin certainly shouldn’t have said it to his mother. I could go on but you’re bored. Bottom line: Genre needs parameters not taboos. Tell me I have to deliver a satisfying ending with the lovers together, I have no problem. Tell me they have to say “I love you” and get married and there can’t be any rape or foul language or gay characters or girl-on-girl fooling around or rough sex or a hero that kills people for a living, I’m going to get cranky.

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On April 14, 2007 at 9:53 pm Laura Vivanco said...

IT WASN’T EASY WRITING THAT DEFINITION.

I got that impression from the essay you wrote about it. I was just pushing the definition to see how far it would go.

people living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. If its rape-romance today, it might be premarital sex that is targeted tomorrow.

That’s too slippery a slope. Or the thin end of the wedge if you’d rather.

I understand that, really I do. But I wonder if one could also argue it the other way, that rapist heroes are the thin edge of the wedge and if people don’t protest against them, the next thing will be paedophile heroes, or heroes who mutilate the heroine or…

And again, I’m just trying to see how far these arguments will go, in either direction. Probably on here everyone is in agreement that censorship is bad, rape is bad and people have a right to their fantasies. What the discussion seems to show is that people will have different initial responses to this issue, depending on which of their hot-buttons it sets off first (whether that’s fear of censorship, anger at criticism of particular sexual fantasies or abhorence of violence against women).

Oh, and I’m working on a post about Crazy for You. I won’t be arguing that you make stalking seem funny.

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On April 14, 2007 at 10:30 pm Jenny said...

“Probably on here everyone is in agreement that censorship is bad, rape is bad and people have a right to their fantasies.”

I know. That’s what makes this so interesting to me. There are no bad guys here. I really can see the other side. It’s wrong, of course (g), but I can see it clearly.

Your hot button point is dead on: I’ve seen people blowing up on lists about this, but there’s no one central argument throughout the internet discussions. It just seems to have simultaneously pushed all those buttons you talked about, and people are going off in different directions. Which is really interesting.

And good point about the wedge cutting both ways as it slides down the slope.

Thank you for not getting indignant about the stalking. I said he was bad. I punished him. He wasn’t the hero. Although the parallels were there in the hero, of course. And boy did I get complaints about that scene on the stage. Which, for the record, I rewrote and made tamer because my editor said the original version was “icky.” Too close to rape.

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On April 14, 2007 at 11:00 pm downundergal said...

Well now my head is spinning. And I didn’t think that was possibly after the GHH.
I guess it’s all in the execution. And a good point about literary fiction being able to tackle any subject. Why not romance?
Actually not really sure how I feel about this now I’ve read all the comments. Rape bad, yes. Very bad. Should it be a taboo subject? Hmmm….fence sitting.
I read a category romance recently that was kind of disturbing for me. The writing was excellent, very tight and technically sparkled but the hero left me feeling conflicted. He was the hero so your supposed to like him, right? And he had many admirbale qualities but there’s a scene where he basically blackmails the heroine into bed. Okay fine, that can work, read it in lots of different books but to punish her (his ultimate goal) he made the sex particularly degrading when he knew she was only doing it to secure something very dear to her. Yes, she’d given consent so technically it wasn’t rape but he knew she didn’t want to do it and never would have if she’d felt like there’d been any kind of a choice. It left me feeling very, very disturbed. I doubt I could have been any more disturbed had he raped her.
Sorry….also talking in circles.

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On April 14, 2007 at 11:03 pm roben said...

Okay, so think of it this way, if you’re going to see a movie, you get to read about it, maybe see a trailer, if it’s violent, full of bad language etc. and that’s not your bag, you don’t go. Film has a rating system, so therefore it’s your choice. If you don’t like movies with murder and rape, you choose the sweet story, the Disney or the Romantic Comedy instead. What’s so different about fiction? No rating. RWA with its subgenres is the closest thing to rating of a novel. You don’t get it with literary fiction. But that’s why romance sells, the reader knows what she’s getting and she only gets pissed off when the rules change.

Plus, I think writing a violent scene in a book and calling it romantic misleads. We’ve come too far and had too many battles to step backward and say no means yes. Has anyone any idea of how many romance novels make it into the prison system in this country?

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On April 14, 2007 at 11:46 pm Miranda Heart said...

I couldn’t make it through all the comments here, wow. For those who believe it will give some ideas, all I have to say is. Really?

Otherwise, if one book has caused this much emotional hype then I now have to say kudos to the author. I read a short story once, that I swear I didn’t know what it was about many years ago, the girl had sex with her dead boyfriend because that was apart of their play. It totally made sense and I even respected the woman still, after the story. To me that’s good writing. No matter what happens it’s believable. Evidentally this rape scene was so well done that people are talking. Good or bad, people are talking.

It’s a crime, I think quite literally, to tell people what they can and can’t write. However, it isn’t the writers censoring, it’s the publishers. Publishers say what will work or what won’t. Possibly Avon needed some sales and they knew if they brought back the tried and true it would bring them sales.

It’s our responsiblity to decide what we like and don’t like. However, there needs to be writers for everything. If not we’re stuck in the same rut. I’ve read so much of he same lines of romance I think I’d read a good story about a rape just to toss in some creativness.

And now I begin to ramble. Good for the author, good for the publisher. Bad to those who try to say what is and isn’t romantic.

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On April 15, 2007 at 12:44 am inkgrrl said...

Rape bad.
Fantasy good.
Knee-jerk/proscriptive/censorious reactions bad.
Intelligent exploration of dark themes good.
Historicals good. Mostly. If they’re not too peppered with anachronisms.

So what’s the name of that book? I gotta read it. There’s more good than bad here.

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On April 15, 2007 at 1:18 am Reb said...

Jenny said “I got a lot of grief on the stalker in Crazy for You; people kept saying, “Stalking isn’t funny.” Hey, did I make it funny? No.”

No, you made it understandable. I expect that pissed some people off, but of course, understanding someone doesn’t mean approving of their actions.

I think – just speaking personally – I’m okay with threatened rape in a romance like in Devil’s Cub but not with actually-happens rape. And DEFINITELY not with scenes that start as rape and turn into fantastic sex. I’ve read a few of those from the 70s. They make me want to spit. But I’m a reader who likes romcom and sweet romances. And freedom of speech. So someone has the right to write a rape scene into a romcom/sweet romance, I’ll just ceremonially throw the book into the rubbish bin (not the book exchange) and never ever touch another by that author.

But that’s just me.

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On April 15, 2007 at 1:24 am Christina said...

Keziah Hill wrote-> BTW no one has condemned Anne Stuart (nor should they) for her hero almost drowning the heroine – he was interrupted – in Ice Blue.

Spoiler!! that book is next in my to read pile!!

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On April 15, 2007 at 1:55 am Keziah Hill said...

Keziah Hill wrote-> BTW no one has condemned Anne Stuart (nor should they) for her hero almost drowning the heroine – he was interrupted – in Ice Blue.

Spoiler!! that book is next in my to read pile!!

Sorry! But it’s pretty early on in the book! A lot happens after that! :-)

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On April 15, 2007 at 2:14 am Kim said...

To defend Taka (the hero in Ice Blue) he was supposed to kill Summner, the heroine. It was his job. (Not a spoiler.) It wasn’t some way to punnish or torture her. He hadn’t considered her a love interest, just an assignment.

BTW, ICE BLUE will be up for discussion in the Cherry Forums starting May 1. Please join us.
————
Inkgrrl: WTG on summing everything up in one little bitty reply. I believe a couple of people mentioned the name of the book a few comments back.
————
Thank you Jenny for your thoughtful post and replies tonight on this very difficult subject. I don’t think there’s anything worse than rape, but I agree with you 100%.

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On April 15, 2007 at 5:10 am Chloe said...

This is the first time I thought about writing on this but I really love these discussions so I thought I would try it.

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On April 15, 2007 at 5:21 am Chloe said...

Sorry about this my computer is rubbish. I wanted to say about the rape stuff.
I have read many romances that have the woman who has suffered violence and then falls for someone that is violent and not exactly the nicest guy in the world (practically all of Diana Palmer but the book that I meant was Rage of Passion).
Is this is not more disturbing in a way that the male does not really understand the females plight BUT the sex scenes are really well written.
I could name many more where the female gets raped then falls for the violent guy. But these are okay in my book, as the sex is WITH the woman’s consent after this has happened to them. And no one is saying that rape in the real world is okay.
This is exactly the same arguement that I had with my teacher, who says that women cannot read romance because they are all written by men (Er WHAT?) and that they teach women false ideals. Er what can I say I am not stupid and love romance novels they are escapist but they are really well written novels. Above all I know that they are not the real world.
That does not mean that I cannot enjoy the hot sex and the great writing!
Hope I have not blathered on too long.

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On April 15, 2007 at 6:31 am Inge_ Cherry Pi said...

Jenny, have you read the Lymond Chronicles? Talk about an evil hero. I almost threw the book across the room. A friend convinced me to keep going. And I was hooked. i

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On April 15, 2007 at 7:36 am Barb said...

You’re telling me that if I put rape in a book, I’m not writing a romance? How do you know that? You haven’t read my book.

As a writer, this is the core of the argument for me and why it makes me crazy insane when The Objectors come out with their torches and tar and feathers in hand. Without context, and by context, I mean the entire flippin’ book, how on earth make a judgment like that. And even within context, how can they make a blanket judgment, as in “This is not romance.” It’s a matter of individual choice and the squick-o-meter. You can say, “For my taste, I didn’t see this as a romance,” and that’s groovy and wonderful and you can go your own way, especially with so many fabulous books out there to read.

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On April 15, 2007 at 8:18 am Kyrathered said...

The Rosemary Rogers’ book with the gang rape and crowd rape was The Insiders. I read it when I was 15 and even then I did not get the heroine at all. And the hero, even though he was emotionally traumatized from his favorite aunt (the one he was banging) getting run over by a taxi, was a prick even without the rape. I did finish the book just to see what would happen but I didn’t like it.
I started casting my mind back to romances I have read that had any of that theme I might have enjoyed. Did anyone else read Johanna Lindsey’s Prisoner of My Desire? The heroine, under the threat of her mother’s death, rapes the hero first … and then he rapes her back. The irony is it was plotted so that the characters each had motivations to provide the other person with sexual pleasure. That book was definately encoded bondage with o-goodness-I-can’t-help-myself permission. It was a million miles away from the heorine in The Insiders gang rape while drugged. I’ve also read an 80′s romance … set on pirate ships of course … where the hero rapes the woman for her own good. I filed it under ‘stupid’ and pitched it. So writing and context are everything. I would still hate with a passion to see the ‘women really want to be raped’ mindset of the earlier novels to come back though. It is destructive … not because women are more easily influenced … but because humans are influenced by what are presented as mainstream cultural norms. So I would not buy any book if I had even an inkling there was a rapist hero in it.

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On April 15, 2007 at 8:22 am McB said...

Jenny you did NOT make stalking funny in CFY. In fact every time I read this book I admire the deft way you handled it. A serious subject shown realistically (they often seem like pillars of the community; the community often sees their obsessiveness as devotion) and didn’t set off my squick meter – which has a very sensitive setting when it comes to violence against women.

Laura V. – people will do their protesting with their wallets. And if they don’t, its because it doesn’t bother them regardless of where it hits on my personal squick meter. Its not for me to say that romance writers can’t include certain things if someone else out there is willing to read it.

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On April 15, 2007 at 8:49 am Jennifer Colgan said...

This is absolute gold! I don’t read anything with rape in it, period. Nor do I read westerns, or books about NASCAR drivers, but I don’t care if someone else wants to write them or read them or turn them into hit movies. I’ve long agreed that if you don’t like something you read, stop reading it. That’s that. Thanks for the great post!

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On April 15, 2007 at 11:46 am Selah March said...

If someone’s expecting an ‘emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending’ and doesn’t get it, that reader will be annoyed and upset (and not just because of the content, but also because she/he will feel as though the ‘contract’ of genre expectations was broken).

Hmm. I loved Welcome to Temptation, but I was seriously pissed off and left utterly unsatisfied by the ending that essentially lets a murderess continue to walk around scot-free. Does that make Jenny’s book not a romance?

“Emotionally satisfying and optimistic” is in the eye of the beholder, just like anything else, methinks.

As for the wedge that cuts both ways as it slides down the slippery slope, when editors put out a call for pedophile heroes and the women who love them, we can address that. I don’t see it happening, because while the “rape fantasy” is a common one among some women, and one they apparently feel they can safely explore within the realm of Romance (hence the introduction and survival of the trope), the “pedophile lover” would seem to be…not so much. Unless there’s a niche market of which I’m unaware.

In other words, the readers win. Just like Jenny said.

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On April 15, 2007 at 12:14 pm Robin said...

Bottom line: Genre needs parameters not taboos.

I would go even further and say that those parameters should be formalistic and not ideological. Deciding what’s Romance should not be the same as deciding what’s *romantic* and IMO it too often is, especially when we start getting to the margins. Of course it’s tough because the genre isn’t ideologically neutral, but that’s one of the most important reasons for keeping the definition broad, IMO.

I don’t think this is a free speech argument.

And yet what we’re really talking about here is a potential chilling effect, yes? I actually think there are free speech dimensions to the issue, because artists have been long given tremendous latitude in writing provocative and often offensive things without being prosecuted for obscenity (which is not considered “speech” under the first amendment). That’s one of the reasons the whole “reader feedback” mechanism in Romance kind of scares me, because I already think the genre takes too few risks, and is that because publishers and authors don’t want the hassle of hate mail and angry bloggers? And if that’s the case, is Romance really a *genre* at all or simply an *industry*?

Which brings me back to that idea of what’s Romance v. what’s romantic. Oy, it kind of depresses me, because it seems to me that reader feedback has been more successful in *limiting* the genre than broadening it. Which is really sad, precisely because of a statement like yours in which you say you hate rape Romances, except . . . . To me, the important part of your sentence is the “except” because it locates the judgment in the book and not the trope itself. I fear we’re (the reading community as a whole) not paying attention to individual books but instead somehow simply reading certain tropes in a generalized way without even looking at how they’re applied in particular books by particular authors.

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On April 15, 2007 at 12:59 pm Jenny said...

That’s a great point that defining the romance genre and defining “romantic” are not the same thing. The association is there, of course, but too many romance novels have non-romantic themes for it to ever have a strong correlation.

The chilling effect is in effect here, or at least an attempt at it, but that takes place in any genre because of editorial and reader demands. There was a time when a female detective was a very hard sell in mystery fiction because editors and readers rejected them. I remember an editor declaring in an essay that the female P.I. was gimmick, like making a P.I. blind. Loved that essay. Then I read a couple of years ago that mystery couldn’t get enough female detectives, that they were almost the only thing editors were buying. I’m okay with the marketplace determing what’s published, because publishing is about selling, so of course the marketplace determines it. What I’m against is writers/editors acting as gatekeepers for subject matter. I love what Selah said about the pedophile lover not being much of a fantasy for romance readers because that nails the whole argument for me: the rape fantasy IS a fantasy for many romance readers and has been for decades (when was The Sheik? In the 20s?) and for people to say, “That fantasy shouldn’t be in romance” when it’s clearly in women’s minds is an attempt to put political correctness in front of reading satisfaction, in effect telling women that their fantasies are unacceptable. I’m against that.

As for whether romance is a genre or an industry, publishing is an industry. Romance is a kind of fiction. The industry shapes the current manifestation of the genre, but the genre stays at heart the same. That’s true of any genre, not just romance.

“I fear we’re (the reading community as a whole) not paying attention to individual books but instead somehow simply reading certain tropes in a generalized way without even looking at how they’re applied in particular books by particular authors.”

I don’t think so. First because readers are very clear about what books they like or don’t like within a particular subgenre. They may read in one particular subgenre because they like that context and kind of community, but they’re still judging each book on its own merits. Readers are not sheep, they’re contrary as all get out because they want what they want, and they know it when they read it.

Beyond that, I think 99% of the reading community doesn’t even know about the controversy because they’re at home reading, not talking about this. Which is why, although I love the debate and think it’s valuable, it’s not going to have an impact on the genre overall. Readers will find that book without the controversy. They’re going to read it. They’re going to love it or hate it, and based on that they’ll buy or not buy the author’s next book. If a lot of them buy, editors will start looking for books with that kind of content. If they don’t, the author’s editor will say, “Maybe not so much with the rape in the next one, okay?” and the author will decide what she wants to do. She won’t be shut out from publishing; everything I’ve heard about that book from both sides carries the comment that it’s beautifully written.

I think it’s absolutely valid that readers determine the market. Writers do not have to write for the market (and IMHO shouldn’t), so it’s not a chilling effect for the writer unless she’s writing solely to sell, in which case, obviously, she writes what people are buying. The thing that endears me to this author without knowing her or having read the book is that she clearly wrote a book she felt strongly about, not one that was politically correct or aimed at the historical market. She’s pushing the envelope because, I’m guessing, that’s where her story led her. Good for her.

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On April 15, 2007 at 1:24 pm Jennifer Talty said...

Jenny wrote: “the rape fantasy IS a fantasy for many romance readers and has been for decades (when was The Sheik? In the 20s?) and for people to say, “That fantasy shouldn’t be in romance” when it’s clearly in women’s minds is an attempt to put political correctness in front of reading satisfaction, in effect telling women that their fantasies are unacceptable. I’m against that.”

Very well said and I totally agree. This is what bugs me about all this. I have lots of great rape/surrender/submission fantasies and I don’t think they are wrong or unacceptable. I also have a few where the tables are turned and I get to be the one doing the taking. It’s a fantasy people and there is nothing wrong with that. Telling me that I can’t read those fantasies, or put them in my books, or even act them out with a willing partner in my own personal life, well that is wrong.

While discussing this topic with a few friends this morning one asked me if I would let my daughter read some of these rape romances. Well, my daughter is 15 and we’ve had all the talks and then some. She’s a smart girl with a good head on her shoulders. Do I want her reading them at this age? Probably not. Do I have a problem with her reading them? Nope. I read them at her age. I remember stealing my sisters historicals and hiding in my room reading just those scenes. I was probably 14 or so. And the arguement went on that it is sending the wrong message to these young girls and I’m helping to perpetuate this because I just happen to write sex in my books. Now I’m pissed. No I’m not.

One final thought about fantasies. I think part of the idea behind the rape fantasy (at least for me) is to tame the bad boy. To peal away the layers of the man who is a bit rough. A bit unacceptable. To find the “real” man and make him your own. It’s a fantasy and maybe in real life, well not such a good idea to try and find love this way. But lets face it. Many of us like a bad guy. A dangerous man. And again, we’re not talking about making statements here, we’re talking about fiction that at the end of the day is supposed to be entertaining. Nothing more. Nothing Less.

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On April 15, 2007 at 1:56 pm Robin said...

I’m okay with the marketplace determing what’s published, because publishing is about selling, so of course the marketplace determines it. What I’m against is writers/editors acting as gatekeepers for subject matter.

I guess my point is that IMO writers and editors are ALREADY acting as gatekeepers for subject matter, so the marketplace isn’t really deciding what’s being published, because already we’re got a select pool of prospects. For example, no Westerns in historical Romance — isn’t that Avon’s rule? Why? Supposedly because Regencies sell better. Well who would even know when the market is so swamped by Regencies and no one will put that kind of effort into Westerns. That’s why I see the tension point between the genre and the industry in a more cynical light than you do, I guess.

“I fear we’re (the reading community as a whole) not paying attention to individual books but instead somehow simply reading certain tropes in a generalized way without even looking at how they’re applied in particular books by particular authors.”

I don’t think so. First because readers are very clear about what books they like or don’t like within a particular subgenre. They may read in one particular subgenre because they like that context and kind of community, but they’re still judging each book on its own merits. Readers are not sheep, they’re contrary as all get out because they want what they want, and they know it when they read it.

To me this isn’t about readers being sheep, but rather about individual books classed as a “type” and then viewed as either acceptable or unacceptable. Keziah Hill pointed out that in the book that shall not be named, the act of rape is placed very clearly in a “context of moral condemnation” (I hope that’s how she phrased it — too lazy to scroll back up the list of comments). On a purely superficial level of words present on the page, that’s absolutely true. It’s true in the same way that saying the sky is blue is true. Now, that doesn’t mean the book itself is off the hook. It doesn’t mean that people won’t legitimately loathe the book or that Campbell is entirely successful in carrying through the dynamics she sets up with her characters. And beyond that, we can have a legitimate debate on whether portraying rape in a Romance novel legitimates it and excuses it, or whether a rapist hero can be a hero, or whether anyone who rapes is redeemable, or whether an author victimizes a heroine by subjecting her to rape by the hero, etc. But even those arguments require some careful analysis of individual books, don’t they? What I see going on in some places, though, is this huge conflation of the book itself and all these other questions, such that there’s NO consideration of that first level — the level of the book itself, which frustrates and confuses me, because it doesn’t even seem to be about liking or not liking a certain type of book, but rather about making generalized assumptions about the value and effect of a book, without paying any attention to the book itself!

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On April 15, 2007 at 2:16 pm Jenny said...

Absolutely, I agree with you that the whole discussion denies the most important part which is that the effect of rape in romance depends on the individual author and story, not on rape as a concept. I think the other side of the argument (not sure since it’s not my side) is that even rape done well with in the context of a story that demands it is Bad For The Reader and Bad For The Genre, so that the fact that rape works well in the context of some stories is moot; rape should not be in romance, period. And we all know how I feel about that, so moving on . . .

The reasons Westerns are being stopped at the gate is because Westerns stopped selling. My editor Jen Enderlin has stated publicly several times that she’s looking for great hot Western romances, so it depends which gate you’re knocking on. I have no idea why Westerns stopped selling, but all markets are cyclical. If your subgenre takes a hit, give it a couple of years, it’ll be back, different but still there.

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On April 15, 2007 at 2:28 pm BCB said...

Completely, totally off-topic here, but in case some of you didn’t notice, Jo Beverley added a lengthy comment to the last post that I found very interesting.

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On April 15, 2007 at 2:29 pm Patricia said...

I knew nothing about this particular book until I was referred to Ms. Crusie’s blog at another forum. And it took some time to track down this book. Since then I’ve checked out the author’s website and the book at Amazon.

I agree with all the statements condemning rape. I also agree with Ms. Crusie that romance authors should not be dictated to as to what they can or cannot write in the pages of a novel, whether you love or hate the contents of the book.

At Amazon I couldn’t find any kind of warning that the book contained rape scenes. The warnings came from the reviews posted there. Most of the reviewers did warn potential buyers about the rape scenes. A few glossed over the subject matter of rape.

Since I haven’t held an actual physical copy of the book in my hands I don’t know if the publisher added any kind of warning about the content of the book. I think to be fair to readers something as appalling and traumatizing as rape should be noted so that readers can take a pass on the book if they choose.

The book has a good sales ranking at Amazon. I also see that it’s a debut novel.

The controversy surrounding this book has certainly caught my attention.

At this point I am very curious as to what motivated the author to write this book. Shock and awe? Delving into the dark side of human nature? Big sales? Etc.?

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On April 15, 2007 at 2:46 pm Mary the CB said...

Go Jen! Reality is for people who can’t handle romance novels.
I do like the idea of the Mary Hoo Ha. That just sounds right.

Um, Jenny? You mentioned In this House of Brede as having a scene early in the book where something awful happens to a child. I’m puzzled. In the edition that I read, that scene comes about three-quarters of the way into the novel. I’m wondering if she had originally put it in as a preface and then rewrote the book to place it more toward the climax. Yet another argument against having a preface.

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On April 15, 2007 at 3:18 pm liz said...

i didn’t read all the comments, so if i repeat something, my apologies. i should be doing homework but the sun is shining and the snow is melting so i don’t feel like it!
back to the topic, i don’t get the whole rape fantasy thing but hey, that doesn’t matter. i read what i like to read and yeah ok, you might not like it but that doesn’t mean i can’t read it or someone can’t write it. i wasn’t even born in the 70s or early 80s so i haven’t read the romances from those days and i’m thinking i never will but that is my choice. i have never liked when anyone has tried to tell me what i can or cannot do and i HATE it when someone tries to tell me what to read. for me, reading is personal. it is something i do because i enjoy it and if someone starts deciding what i can read then i wont enjoy it as much anymore.
jenny, i LOVE CFY!! stalking isn’t funny, and you didn’t make it funny. yes, the book had funny, snarky, entertaining parts, but the stalking wasn’t.
i tried to read Lolita in high school for my AP english class and i couldn’t finish it. yes, i know its not a rape fantasy, but the whole slippery slope and pedophilia thing got me thinking. are people suggesting removing that from bookshelves because it has pedophilia in it? no, it has been around for years, so you know what? back off my romances!
one more thing, i wanted to thank you jenny for writing such a well thought-out and honest post and comments. it is nice to know that i can admire you as a person as well as a writer.

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On April 15, 2007 at 3:26 pm Jenny said...

Mary, I read it so long ago that I may even have the wrong book. The little girl in the well? I’m positive I didn’t read three-quarters of the book, though, so maybe this is a different book. I’m hazy on the title and the author, but I remember the rocks.

And thank you, Liz. You might want to hold off on admiring me as a person. I just came back to my desk to find my dog on it, licking the cookies I’d put there for a snack. They were the last cookies in the house. It was a quandary, but in the end, I ate them. See? Never jump to conclusions about people based on their blog entries.

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On April 15, 2007 at 3:48 pm Diane (TT) said...

I think context is critical. How the characters arc. I adored Vidal in Devil’s Cub, but he definitely had a lot of growing up to do – and Heyer, in An Infamous Army showed that the alliance of passionate temperament with solid common sense and wealth and high position STILL left family members with a lot of issues who needed to do their own growing up.

I still read Gabaldon, but my sister won’t anymore, because pretty much someone gets raped in all the books. Portrayed as icky (not H/H), in all cases, but she doesn’t want to read about it.

An example of H/H rape is in MM Kaye’s Trade Wind. It is a book that has a lot of really tough, emotional issues – such as slavery and epidemic disease. Both of which are bad, by the way, and I don’t like romances that include slavery in any form, but especially not the heroine by the hero. But that’s just me. Anyway, the hero is in a state of justifiable rage when he commits his unjustifiable act. And the heroine, eventually, forgives him (both suffer, quite a lot, battling the aforesaid epidemic disease). Because that’s what forgiveness is for – not the justifiable, but the unjustifiable things that people do sometimes, as a result of whatever stresses are motivating them.

But it’s not about enabling them to continue the unjustifiable behavior. One of the few Mary Jo Putney books that you never see in used bookstores (and I’ve been looking, because after getting rid of mine, I think I want it again) is The Burning Point. And I may pick it up from Amazon, because there appear to be several used versions available for a penny! Can one “spoil” a 7 year old novel? It’s about domestic violence, and the heroine does not stick around to redeem the hero by her unconditional love and forgiveness. But when he has redeemed and remade himself, she does, eventually, manage to reconcile with him. So, context.

I don’t much like Westerns, though I’m not sure why (or Vikings, or Elizabethans…).

I loved the stage scene in Crazy for You. Very hot.

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On April 15, 2007 at 3:54 pm liz said...

i firmly believe a little dog spit never hurt anybody! but i will keep your advice in mind while i read your blog (since this one and the unfortunate miss fortunes are the only ones i read).
hope the cookies were yummy!

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On April 15, 2007 at 5:07 pm Jennifer Talty said...

Jenny wrote: “I just came back to my desk to find my dog on it, licking the cookies I’d put there for a snack. They were the last cookies in the house. It was a quandary, but in the end, I ate them. See? Never jump to conclusions about people based on their blog entries.”

Now I know I’m in love you! Did you know that a human bite is more dangerous (infection wise) than a dog bite? You ask how do I know this? Nevermind. It’s really off topic. Then again, maybe not.

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On April 15, 2007 at 6:23 pm ZaZa said...

BCB said…
“Intentionally inflicted emotional anguish can be just as devastating as physical abuse; its effects can be just as lasting. Yet we have no trouble imagining the tragic heroine suffering emotional torture at the hands of the hero and ultimately forgiving him for it. We admire her ability to “get past it” and often respect that as strength. Why should the ability to overcome physical abuse be any different?”

I read, well, started, a couple of those old style romances when I was a kid. The rape thing was bad, but that emotional abuse was, even then, a huge hot button with me, enough so that the rape was barely a blip on my radar. That widespread approach to romance was what kept me from getting into romance for a couple decades. Et voila! The romance written in the late 90s was so different, so much saner (at least the first stuff I picked up), that I was hooked.

I don’t believe any sane woman can forgive and forget that kind of behavior unless she believes it won’t happen again. And, duh? Abusers, of whatever stripe, don’t just stop. It’s in their blood and bone. I’m not talking someone who’s had a bad day or is pushed into a corner and verbally, or otherwise, strikes out, I’m talking about the chronic abusers. That is an automatic throw against the wall for me.

Jane said…
“Whether it is the beast (Rhage in JR Ward’s book) that is tamed by Mary or the Devil in Heyer’s book tamed by, again, Mary.
Hmmm. Perhaps there is some divinity in the Mary Hoo Ha.”

The Divine Hoo Ha. Okay, who’s up for this paper? It really does cover a whole range of redemption-type romances.

Okay, having read a few more of the comments, I have to admit that the obnoxious, patronizing, just plain nasty guy who spends 400 pages working to change, while we learn that he has reasons for his rotten disposition, yeah, I can buy his redemption. I can’t think of any right now, but I’ve read a few in the last couple years where, against my natural inclinations, I was brought to believe that he was a changed man, changed in a fundamental way so that he wouldn’t backslide because he has seen the cause and overcome it. Run on sentence, much?

Re: the reader voting with their wallets, the only way for that to work, without “rape” labelling – and can you see that happening? would you really want to see it? – is for the reader who is offended, appalled, traumatized, or whatever, by the content of a particular book to take it back to the bookstore and get his/her money back. Of course, if it’s clear you’ve read the book a dozen times, well… /;+) Otherwise, how would a publisher know that the book was offending people? But how many of us are willing to do that? More like use a pair of tongs to carry it to the garbage.

Judith Ivory, in Untie My Heart came close to having me drop the book very, very early on when the hero’s carriage runs over and kills a baby lamb and goes on as if nothing had happened. What can I say? I’m a sucker for baby critters. BUT I have read everything she’s written and loved all of it. I knew she’d get me past that, so I flinched, made a conscious effort to forget about it, and kept reading. And Stuart turned out to be one of my all-time favorite heroes. But that’s because I trusted the author. Someone I didn’t know, it might have gone in the circular file.

Hmmm. Come to think of it, I was a huge Lovejoy fan until one of the books had a bad thing done to one of his pets. I liked those books a lot and liked the author, but it was many years before I dared to pick up another one. After breaching that barrier, I was afraid of what I’d find in the next one. We all have our own emotional quirks, and I know my level of tolerance for some things is very low, but that’s me. I’m not going to try to tell anyone else what they can or can’t read.

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On April 15, 2007 at 6:38 pm Jill said...

This not about rape in romance but about Jenny’s reference to the Pop Culture conference she went to in Boston. An interesting article by a Philadelphia reporter about Nora’s books but with comments on Pop Culture writing.
http://www.philly.com/inquirer/entertainment/books/20070415_At_first_suspicious__but_now_appreciative_of_NR.html

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On April 15, 2007 at 8:11 pm McB said...

ZaZa – that was me with the wallet line. And yes there will be some books bought by unaware readers. Hey we’ve all bought some at one time or another that we wish we hadn’t. But do you buy another one by that author? I don’t. So if the bulk of the reading public is truly offended it will show up in the sales ultimately.

Also, I rarely buy a new author unless it has come highly recommended by another reader. I do my experimenting through the public library. With a new author, especially romance, I think word of mouth plays a big part in their sales.

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On April 15, 2007 at 9:16 pm Reb said...

I’ve been thinking about this whole question of whether romance novels determine what women think, or whether they reflect it, or neither.

To state the obvious, it doesn’t only apply to rape.

Lately I’ve read a few books from a popular NZ Mills and Boons author in the 60s/70s. Her heroines are paragons. Like a city woman who ends up on a back-country farm and manages to feed umpteen farmers, including working out how to bake bread when a storm cuts them off from supplies, while fixing a bratty child’s problems, and applying her accounting background to sorting out the farm accounts. Waaaaaaaay too perfect for me.

So why the perfection? I’d like to think society was working out that women could be accountants and still cook. Or maybe women just liked reading about how competent, hard-working women got the HEA they deserved. But I really, really, really hope it didn’t just reinforce the expectation that women would be perfect in the kitchen no matter what else they put their pretty little minds to!

Me, I find that portrayal of perfection threatening and harmful to women. I’m very glad society has moved on from that, at least from it being that overt. But does that mean perfection should be banned from romance novels? Of course not, though I’m guessing it wouldn’t sell now.

That’s all theorising about the genre in general – in the particular, one of the things I definitely like about your books, Jenny, is how little they conform. And there are plenty of other authors like that too, even in category. I just think authors who write rape scenes need to make sure their books give a message they’re happy with.

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On April 15, 2007 at 9:27 pm BCB said...

Jenny wrote: They were the last cookies in the house. It was a quandary, but in the end, I ate them.

You know there aren’t that many people who can even spell quandary correctly, let alone use it in the same sentence in reference to dog slobber and cookies. My admiration for you is just growing by leaps and bounds. Hey, going with the dog theme here. I’ll bet you shared those cookies too, didn’t you?

I think your blog entries leave us with much to admire. Or at least a possible resource for dog-sitting next time we go on vacation.

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On April 15, 2007 at 10:14 pm Reb said...

And just to be different, dog slobber is higher on my personal squick level than rape in romance novels. Before everyone jumps on me, that’s rape in romance novels, NOT in real life.

Rape fantasies? Whatever turns you on baby. Dog slobber on food? Yurk, that’s just gross!!

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On April 15, 2007 at 11:20 pm Jenny said...

Wolfie is not a very juicy dog. The cookies were dry. If that helps.

Probably not.

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On April 15, 2007 at 11:48 pm roben said...

Well, at least they were human cookies, not dog cookies.

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On April 16, 2007 at 12:05 am micki said...

Deep, dark issues that are handled well can be really useful to people fighting deep dark issues. OTOH, deep dark issues used as handy plot devices can cause people to explode. I once read an article about murder investigation, and a family member of a victim said something about how murder is so trivialized in popular culture. I must say, that comment put me off murder mysteries for quite awhile.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s handling of the psychopathic side-character Bothari is amazing. He’s a rapist and a murderer, but I really believed in his redemption.

So, if there’s a rape in the novel, but the average reader is still left with warm fuzzies at the end, isn’t that the whole point of romance? And if it helps women work out some issues along the way, that’s gravy. The rape should really be considered on a case-by-case basis. Along with homicide, animal torture (not crazy about it, but it seems to happen in vampire novels in particular), pedophilia and any other bad stuff.

And that’s the thing about any fiction. Censorship is part of the game — the manuscript has to make it past who knows how many editors (not to mention the writer’s inner censor) before it hits the marketplace — which acts very much as a censor in its own right.

That said, people need to protest, and provoke other people to think about deep dark issues. It’s really important to say loud and long that rape reality is wrong, and should be punished. Because some people are very good at fooling themselves that it’s actually OK.

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On April 16, 2007 at 1:36 am Reb said...

Jenny said “Wolfie is not a very juicy dog. The cookies were dry. If that helps.”

Yep, that helps. Dry cookie, okay. Wet cookie, yurk. I’m weird. :-)

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On April 16, 2007 at 2:56 am Anne Gracie said...

There is a wonderful post Laura Kinsale made last year (I think) which is very relevant to this discussion (the one about the book, not the cookies):
http://tinyurl.com/n5r2g
Click on ‘more more more.’

Jenny, you said: The thing that endears me to this author without knowing her or having read the book is that she clearly wrote a book she felt strongly about, not one that was politically correct or aimed at the historical market. She’s pushing the envelope because, I’m guessing, that’s where her story led her. Good for her.

I know the author. I’ve read the book. You have it exactly right — it was where these characters and this story took her. She wasn’t writing about an issue — she was writing about people.

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On April 16, 2007 at 3:44 am Shoshana said...

Okay, but, if we vote with the sales and our wallets, you at least have to mark the ballots so we can actually do so -I can’t count the times I’ve bought books based on the back cover, inside cover, and first chapter, and not been able to finish them because of something (yes, like rape) that happened later on that there was no warning for.
And then, of course, I feel like I’ve wasted my money so I go get in-store credit at a used book-store with it instead of tossing the thing, thereby sending it into circulation again when what I REALLY wanted to do was vote ‘no’.
And please don’t tell me to look up every book I buy on-line first or ask about it. I don’t have time to do that! My book budget is literally the largest line-item I have; I spend more on books than on rent. I go through an average of four a day and I’m a tax preparer and the filing deadline is tomorrow. In the time it’d take me to find a computer that works and check each one out I could have read the first two!
That’s why I like blurbs, recognizing author names, and being able to rely on genre types, even if it’s a sub-genre type.
(For instance, no one is suggesting that those thriller-romance mixes aren’t romance, but I don’t buy them, and I know not to buy them because they are CLEARLY LABELED.)

So my vote goes towards making rape-fantasy a sub-genre with its own cover-type or whatever. Then you can actually see how the market votes!

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On April 16, 2007 at 6:57 am Imogen Howson said...

Rape-fantasy could, quite easily, be labelled as a sub-genre. E-publishers do currently label books for content, and I’ve seen ‘forced seduction’ used as one of these labels.

But not all books containing rape are rape fantasies. Devil’s Cub isn’t, for instance–the rape is presented as unequivocally bad. The hero intends to do it for revenge, because he’s lost his temper. The heroine doesn’t want it–on any level, even though she’s in love with him–and she takes decisive action to prevent him.

To a rape survivor, even this scene–mild as it is–could be disturbing. But how on earth can you label it without giving away a chunk of the plot or making it sound an awful lot worse than it is?

Rape fantasies are not my thing. Redemption themes, however, are. So in Devil’s Cub (and in its precursor, These Old Shades), I love that the hero is really, really bad and the heroine redeems him. In real life, I’m sure this is very rare (although even then, abusers *can* change their behaviour).

My redemption fantasies may be as out of touch with reality as someone else’s forced seduction fantasies. But, even if rape appears in both types of plot, they’re not the *same* type of plot, and to label them all as ‘rape fantasy’ just because they contain rape or references to rape would be misleading and unhelpful to readers.

In This House of Brede, btw, does have the full account of the tragedy later on. But it’s heavily hinted at from the beginning, and it’s pretty obvious throughout that something terrible has happened to the protagonist’s son. Just FYI. :-)

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On April 16, 2007 at 8:39 am Jane said...

I think that the best thing for a reader to do if she is unhappy with the book she purchased is return it to the store where she purchased it and state the reason for the return. That would send a message quickly if enough readers do it.

My knee jerk reaction is that labels, or an ingredient list, is self limiting. A few years ago, werewolf romances interested me not at all. Then I picked up Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten and I couldn’t get enough of WW books.

I am not really a fan of BDSM but then I read Joey Hill’s Natural Law and was struck by the emotionally powerful nature of the relationship between the h/h and I wanted to read more of those.

An ingredient list is more likely to turn me away from good books than to help me find good books. And this is not to say that I want to be challenged, shocked, or moved beyond my comfort zone with each book. I certainly do not. But I also know that if there was an ingredient list, I would be more apt to miss books that I would probably enjoy.

I.e., if the ingredient list for Fast Women featured the heroine sleeping with the hero’s best friend I don’t think I would have ever picked that book up. Now, it’s not my favorite Crusie book, but it was a good read.

For truth in labeling, all I want to know is that the couple ends up together – or at least I can convince myself of that when I close the book. Anything else and my own human nature is going to limit my book selections.

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On April 16, 2007 at 9:07 am McB said...

While it would be nice to know that the book contained something that might squick you out, where would you draw the line? What about violence, explicit scenes, child abuse … yeah I’ve picked up my share of books I couldn’t finish, but I don’t think I want a ratings system in place either. Its like buying a badly written book … its a waste of my money but I agreed to take the risk when I purchased something by an unknown author. And what if you’re someone who isn’t bothered? Why should you be made to feel that you have to hide your purchases so that other people can’t see that you like “those” kinds of books?

I vote by not buying that author again. Or if it was a library book, I don’t check that author out again, or purchase future books. If it bothers me enough I might avoid that publishing house. If those books are still on the shelves, then I’m in the minority because publishers won’t market books that won’t sell.

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On April 16, 2007 at 10:07 am McB said...

I also like what Jane says above … “My knee jerk reaction is that labels, or an ingredient list, is self limiting.”

Lots of themes I generally don’t care for, but there have been books so well done as to be the exception to the rule. If they had been labeled or rated, I might not have bothered and would have missed a really good read. Now that would have been tragic.

Jenny, hope Wolfie enjoyed the cookies.

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On April 16, 2007 at 10:34 am Shawn Reed said...

There’s another Shawn out there … hi there! Since she posted first, I added my last name to differentiate us. ;=) (Of course, you can also tell the difference because she is coherent and succinct & I am constitutionally incapable of being concise as the following post demonstrates.)

My basic requirement for a romance novel is that there is a happy ending to the love story. I like the security of knowing that whatever comes, the primary male and female characters will have a HEA.

Whether I *like the book* depends on how you get from “who the hell are you” to “where have you been all my life” to “beloved honey bunnies for all eternity.”

I choose a book by reading the synopsis. If it appeals to me, I buy it & read it. (and I have a narrow range — it has to be humorous, and I prefer regency, contemporary, and some paranormal settings.)

I’ve picked up plenty of books only to be disappointed by the journey. I’ve given those authors another chance, sometimes 2 or 3. If I have the same reaction to those authors’ subsequent works, no matter how appealing the synopsis reads, I won’t buy their books again because I learned that we don’t enjoy the same journies.

For some authors, I’ve learned that I only like select story lines. Johanna Lindsay’s Mallory books are faves. The vast majority of her other books I disliked intensely. I didn’t find them at all romantic, because *in my opinion* the heroes in her other books that I have read were insensitive, misogynistic, borderline abusive pricks. Does that mean that she needs to change her style? Does it mean that publishers need to stop marketing her stuff as romance and move it to some other category? Absolutely not! It means that her path to HEA generally doesn’t mesh with mine. She should continue to write HER books (which her fans will continue to love), and I will need to find other authors. (But I always check her stuff for new Mallory novels and I snap them up in a heartbeat.)

Some authors, I’ve learned I don’t even bother reading the synopsis. If I see a book of theirs I haven’t read, I pick it up automatically. Crusie, Krentz, Julia Quinn, a few others, I pretty much know their style and I know that said author and I tend to enjoy the same sights and gift shops on our trips to the HEA. Even if the initial situation is something that I would avoid in an unknown author, I’m ready to read it by a trusted author.

But even there, my favorite and trusted authors sometimes take divergent paths. I like a lot of Christie Ridgway’s work, it’s light and funny. But one of her recent Christmas books, which was marketed as light & funny like the other books, featured an H/H pair that came across to me as way bitter, unhappy and whiny. Maybe it was just me. But I didn’t like the characters, I couldn’t find any lightness or humor, so I dumped the book.

I’ve bought plenty of books that I gave up on part of the way through. I like vintage Stephen King … except for “The Stand”. I got 700 pages into that one, I even kept reading after he killed off my favorite character. But I finally hit a point where I just didn’t want to follow him on the rest of the emotional roller coaster, even knowing that the end, good would win over evil. So I closed the book and got off the ride.

All of my friends loved that book. None of them could believe that I despised it and never finished it.

I’ve bought novels of all kinds that I gave up on (on occasion threw across the room in disgust) because the situations were stupid or uncomfortable, the characters were hopeless idiots or neurotics, the plot devices drove me nuts, or I just plain got bored. I do the same thing with tv shows and movies. I avoid the ones that I think will make me uncomfortable. If I get an unwanted surprise, I have the option of walking away and have done so on occasion.

But I don’t want or need other people to protect me from unexpected twists or turns in a work of fiction. If I bump up against situations that push me out of my comfort zone, then it’s up to me to decide to retreat or keep pushing on. I have a couple of traumatic hot buttons (like most people), and I do what I can to avoid topics that will hurt. But life isn’t neat and tidy, and it’s not the rest of the world’s responsibility to look after me. Sometimes I’m gonna hit those hot spots and there’s nothing to do but deal with it.

That’s the price that I have to pay as a responsible, free adult who wants the privilege of reading/ watching/experiencing things that meet my tastes. The minute I approve of sanitizing situation “x” from a specific genre is the minute I give leave to sanitize situations “a”, “b” and “c” down the line. Eventually what I like will be culled too.

I don’t want or need a ratings system or special labeling on my literature. Besides, rating & labelling systems aren’t perfect either.

The new James Bond movie, Casino Royale, got a PG-13 rating. There is a relatively short (thank god) torture scene that in *my* opinion should have bumped this flick to an R all by itself. That’s my opinion, and apparently a bunch of professional raters disagree with me. They clearly labeled this flick as okay for 13 year old kids.

I’ve seen books labeled as romance that *I* consider to be chick lit; I’ve seen books labeled as romance that *I* consider to be mystery or thriller; I’ve picked up books in the young adult section of the book store to vet for my nieces and nephews that were appallingly adult in my opinion; I’ve read books that were marketed as witty and humorous that I have not been able to find the “funny” in with nightgoggles or a pick axe. I’ve been to “dramatic” movies that I ended up nearly wetting myself laughing while everybody else in the theater was in tears.

So I would prefer not to waste time putting extra labels and ratings on my genre fiction.

For those who advocate sanitizing or labeling a genre to “protect” the unwary reader, I say put on your big girl panties and accept the fact that the world comes with the occasional bump, bruise, and unpleasant surprise. Opinions and tastes vary, and there is no way to make even a small and specific slice of the world function to meet everybody’s needs and expectations in every arena.

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On April 16, 2007 at 10:54 am Stressed-Out Cherry said...

I’m finding this argument ironic. Rape in Romance is essentially the heroine saying no, her right to say no is ignored. And the rights of the reader is what to these books? Hmmm.

Anyway, I’m with Jenny on the secret baby thing. I find it funny that the heroine’s rights are more important than the hero’s to some extent. In a secret baby scenario most times the hero knows nothing about the child, and most of the novel the heroine is keeping the child’s identity from the hero.
WTF?

She’s forgiven with no fuss. She just kept a father from his child. Rape is about control not sex and just for the heroine own sanity(shame what have you) she keeps the baby secret, is that not control? Why are stories like these considered romance?

Rape is not okay but in fiction it’s not realistic. Most times after the heroine is raped she takes a bath and lies down. Nothing is ever mentioned that she may be ripped from here to Cancun. Nothing’s ever mentioned about the heroine wanting to take a bat to the hero’s Magical Hoo-Hoo. But if the author is able to get you to buy into it then they are okayed into the genre. That’s crazy. I have to say there is no gray area. Let writer’s write. The choice is yours whether or not to read it.

I say this argument has been blown out of proportion. We should be more angered by too stupid to live characters, badly written books that are published, the Magical Hoo-Hoo being called anything velet, the heroine having to be practically a virgin or her sexual history non-existant, or my book possibly being named The Cowboy and His Bride. These are the stereotypes that makes romance a laughingstock shouldn’t we be outraged by that? That our genre isn’t even taken seriously by outsiders. I’m more outraged that what I write and read is called fluff, smut, soft porn, and a literature novel that drivels on for 200 or so pages gets more attention, more respect.
Jeez, I really digressed. Rape is not okay and that just means I won’t read it.

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On April 16, 2007 at 12:09 pm Jennifer Talty said...

Shawn Reed wrote: “But I don’t want or need other people to protect me from unexpected twists or turns in a work of fiction. If I bump up against situations that push me out of my comfort zone, then it’s up to me to decide to retreat or keep pushing on.”

Interesting because this is what brought me back to the romance genre in general. As a kid I read it because I was interested in sex. I know, that doesn’t make the genre look good, but I was like 13. It’s normal. But as I got older I got heavy into science fiction which brought me to military stuff and the book WITHOUT REMORSE by Tom Clancy actually sent me looking for a good romance. Weird, I know. But the main character actually had two decent romances in the book that I wanted more. PLUM ISLAND by Nelson DeMille did the same thing for me and I ended up searching for romantic suspense books and loving them. It was that unexpected twist in those books that got me here. Unexpected twists can be good.

but now I’m way off topic.

I think I’ll got eat that boring weight watchers bland cake/cookie thing without the dog slobber.

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On April 16, 2007 at 12:51 pm LisaM said...

Okay, here’s my gripe. I agree with the free speech arguments in regards to how rape is handled in romance – free expression must be allowed to flourish. But the defense that “Hey, it’s just entertainment, and entertainment doesn’t matter in the ‘real’ world,” doesn’t fly with me.

There are writers around the world, right now, who are being dragged to court, arrested, jailed, beaten, even killed, for the fiction they write. Visions and ideas MATTER. They can change people’s lives. Totalitarian organizations crack down on writers not on a whim, but because they know that they can be a genuine threat.

If a writer feels called to write a rape scene in her book, I’ll defend her right to free speech with everything I’ve got. But if she says, “Hey, I’m just an entertainer,” I’ll start yelling at her.

No matter how humble the written piece, whether fiction and nonfiction – all writing is an art and a craft. And it has a latent power in it whether a writer chooses to embrace it or not.

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On April 16, 2007 at 1:00 pm Jenny said...

Okay, really, this is NOT a free speech argument.
Nobody is denying this author the right to publish.
Nobody is saying books like this shouldn’t be published at all.

What they’re saying is that they shouldn’t be marketed as ROMANCE.

There’s no censorship argument here. Censorship is bad, free speech is good, and neither one is part of the argument. I keep saying this because I don’t want the people on the other side of the argument to be demonized.

And of course books matter, words matter, of course they have an influence. I wouldn’t write if I didn’t think it mattered. Well, yeah, I would. Gotta write.

The question is, if rape is common in romance (and it always has been, just how common is what has fluctuated throughout the years), then does that send a bad message to readers (95% female) and should we protect them by banning it from the romance genre altogether, lest we send a message that rape is romantic/erotic/acceptable?

Should any romance with rape in it be barred from the genre since what we read DOES shape our attitudes?

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On April 16, 2007 at 1:36 pm Selah March said...

…I have a couple of traumatic hot buttons (like most people), and I do what I can to avoid topics that will hurt. But life isn’t neat and tidy, and it’s not the rest of the world’s responsibility to look after me. Sometimes I’m gonna hit those hot spots and there’s nothing to do but deal with it.

That’s the price that I have to pay as a responsible, free adult who wants the privilege of reading/ watching/experiencing things that meet my tastes.

…For those who advocate sanitizing or labeling a genre to “protect” the unwary reader, I say put on your big girl panties and accept the fact that the world comes with the occasional bump, bruise, and unpleasant surprise. Opinions and tastes vary, and there is no way to make even a small and specific slice of the world function to meet everybody’s needs and expectations in every arena.

There is not enough YES in the world to express how much I agree with your remarks, Shawn. I say this from the point of a view of a survivor of sexual abuse and rape.

Thank you.

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On April 16, 2007 at 2:05 pm McB said...

Should any romance with rape in it be barred from the genre since what we read DOES shape our attitudes?

No. Romance readers ARE reading these books, and there always has been a market for them within the genre. I think that’s an answer in itself.

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On April 16, 2007 at 2:21 pm Stressed-Out Cherry said...

“Should any romance with rape in it be barred from the genre since what we read DOES shape our attitudes?”

Absolutely not. I can say our genre is the only one that is heavily based on hope. That even though ugly horrible things happen to us we can still find our own idea of love. Maybe this books will be better marketed as something else, but honestly its so controversial, it’s so taboo, I think its perfect in the romance genre. It’s the only genre that isn’t specifically defined. I have yet to find a sub-genre romance hasn’t used. There’s Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller. The real argument is what is Romance? Go ahead define it and I’m sure there will be 10 post saying its not with examples.

When we can define Romance then maybe we can give a clear cut answer of whether or not rape it should be apart of the genre.

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On April 16, 2007 at 2:44 pm BCB said...

Jenny wrote: “The question is, if rape is common in romance (and it always has been, just how common is what has fluctuated throughout the years), then does that send a bad message to readers (95% female) and should we protect them by banning it from the romance genre altogether, lest we send a message that rape is romantic/erotic/acceptable?”

Wait a minute. Is this the rationale being used, that rape should not be included in the definition of romance so as to PROTECT the sensibilities of readers? My God. So what is the next step? Cordon off entire sections of bookstores and libraries so we delicate creatures do not accidentally pick up a thriller or murder mystery?

How incredibly arrogant. Are they assuming that because 95% of romance readers are women that women read nothing else? And that it’s OK for men (and the assumed 5% of women who read something other than romance) to read disturbing scenes in fiction because they are better able to discern what is and is not acceptable behavior in society? Better able to differentiate what is fantasy and what is reality?

Please tell me I just misunderstood all that.

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On April 16, 2007 at 2:57 pm LisaM said...

Hmm. I think I kept blathering about free speech, since it’s my guide in how I view this Romance definition controversy. I loathe abusive men being protrayed as the hero of a Romance, but I don’t feel right driving writers out of the genre because their vision of relationships doesn’t match mine.

There’s always an exception to a rule – Jenny and other posters have mentioned several books that would have to be kicked out of the genre if a “no rape in Romance” definition was put into place.

However, I’ve been forced over the past 4 years to learn and put into practice a LOT of behavioral and cognitive psychology to help my son who has Autism. I’ve witnessed first hand how pervasive deliberate changes in a person’s environment and how people interact with that person can change that person’s behavior.
My son has gone from being mute and self-stimming to talking all the time, as well as other fundamental behavioral changes. Putting behavorial techniques into practice with real people can be kinda scary once you realize what you can do with it – a lot of power for good and bad.

It’s had the side effect of making me take a good hard look at the books, video games, movies, organizations, etc. around me. These don’t control how we think and act, but they can influence our perceptions of the world unless we’re consciously thinking about it.

For example – Most people I meet (and this includes some pediatricians) have a distorted, cliched view of autism. That’s changing, but only because the Autism Society of America has pushing hard media-wise these last 5 years to get the word out.
I have a friend and a cousin who’ve both been recently to Africa for long periods of time, and both have come back and mentioned to me how most Americans they meet still think of “famine” or “war” when they think of that continent.

Unless researchers come up with some hard data showing that rape in romance is sending a dangerous message, I’d be reluctant to ban it outright from the Romance genre. But, I’ve become a lot harsher and demanding as reader – if the hero is abusive, the writer has to have a strong character arc to keep it believable for me that a self-respecting heroine would stay around. Otherwise, I just toss the book and move on.

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On April 16, 2007 at 3:00 pm Robin said...

The question is, if rape is common in romance (and it always has been, just how common is what has fluctuated throughout the years), then does that send a bad message to readers (95% female) and should we protect them by banning it from the romance genre altogether, lest we send a message that rape is romantic/erotic/acceptable?

Should any romance with rape in it be barred from the genre since what we read DOES shape our attitudes?

But would that be protecting readers or acting on completely unquestioning suppositions about *how* books affect readers and, for that matter, about how *readers affect books*? Those doctors who prescribed that lovely “rest cure” thought they were protecting women, too. And jurisdictions that practice “no drop” policies in domestic violence cases think they’re protecting women, too, by taking over the agency of the victim to prosecute the batterer regardless of the victim’s position or wishes. Necessary intervention or re-victimization of the victim? Especially when the actual knowledge about DV is often so limited within the legal community.

I wonder, sometimes, if we’re so worried about protecting people from various things that instead we don’t really focus on creating the kind of conditions that make people healthy participants in a diverse, challenging, provocative, sometimes offensive social dynamic. Because seriously, if we’re going to shut down, shut up, push away or otherwise take over those things that might offend or emotionally impact someone in a negative way, how can any of us expect to have the kind of powerful agency we keep talking about as a by-product of women’s fiction? We all have the power to skip a scene, close a book, change the channel, or walk away, and we all have things we are personally sickened or emotionally affected by in a negative way. IMO if we seek to declaw any form of creative expression because we’re afraid of offending someone, soon none of us will know how to NOT be offended by an offensive situation, and at that point, we’re way past reading and into a discussion on the survival of participatory democracy. And yeah, I definitely think those two things are related.

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On April 16, 2007 at 3:10 pm Robin said...

Hmm. I think I kept blathering about free speech, since it’s my guide in how I view this Romance definition controversy.

I definitely think there’s a free speech component here, Lisa, or at least a corollary, but that could be my own legal training!

Where I see the strongest correlation is in the language of “offense” and “protection” because very often these are exactly the justifications forwarded for limiting speech. And as I said above, that disturbs me, both because no one is legally protected from being offended within a space they enter voluntarily and also because I think it’s more important that people learn to be in the presence of offensive content without being offended or using that offense as a means to censor the offensive party. To a large degree, I’d argue (as the Supreme Court has) that that marketplace of ideas, which is the foundation of our society, REQUIRES conflict, requires passionate disagreement, and even offense sometimes, because the the balance is always struck between the extremes. And you have to know where those margins are, because even the most offensive position can shed light on an issue and push awareness forward on a mass scale. Since art has always been an arena that is especially dependent on and involved with first amendment issues, I think the analysis applies here, too, even if we’re not talking about censorship by state actors.

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On April 16, 2007 at 3:15 pm BCB said...

In her original post, which I went back re-read, just for the fun (ie, educational value) of it, Jenny wrote: “If romance readers read books in which the hero rapes, they’ll come to see rape as acceptable? How? //cut// How dumb do these people think romance readers are? This is a cousin to that old paternalistic argument that romances are bad for women because they can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. What disturbs me is that so many romance writers are making it in the name of feminism.”

Ok, I apologize. I will learn to pay better attention. That really says it all.

I do not know anyone who is going to read a piece of fiction with either a brutal rape scene or a rape fantasy scene and somehow translate that into, “Oh, gee, I think it would be fun and exciting to be raped.” Or anyone who reads such a book and who does get raped, and who then is going to think, “Oh my, I should really have enjoyed that.”

I do not need to be protected from fiction of any type. I do not need a special label so certain types of fiction won’t damage me.

This argument in the guise of protecting (women) readers is shameful.

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On April 16, 2007 at 3:33 pm LisaM said...

I totally agree with you, Robin.

BTW Jenny-

I would love to read “That Bitch Is Trying To Take The Secret Baby Some Arrogant Asshole Left Me With But God Is On My Side!!!!”

Anyone out there want to write a comedy I could read about this? Please??

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On April 16, 2007 at 3:38 pm McB said...

And if you start setting the parameters for what’s included in the romance genre, start setting them too narrowly or defining too rigidly, its going to knock a whole lot of other stuff out of the genre as well. Seems to me that if you take the rape scene out and its still a romance story, then its a romance story regardless of what other elements are there. If they really want to knock out a subgenre, let’s make it the TSTL gothic heroine. Talk about setting bad examples.

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On April 16, 2007 at 3:40 pm Bryan said...

As Jenny has said several times, I don’t think this is a free speech/censorship type of movement. I think it is more a matter of being “exclusionary”.

As I mentioned very early in this discussion, if you change the “objectionable” content from rape to erotica, this is the same argument the RWA has been having since I started writing again. To me, as an outsider looking in, it appears to be the old guard circling wagons to control the genre.

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On April 16, 2007 at 3:41 pm Bryan said...

Instead of thinking along the lines of censorship, think along the lines of who is permitted to join a club.

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On April 16, 2007 at 3:54 pm heather said...

I agree, censorship bad.

I agree, dog licking squicky, but if the dog does not leave evidence behind, the cookie can be eaten.

I also agree, that if an author feels the need to go into a direction where the hero rapes the heroine then he/she has the right. Although it would be interesting if for once the heroine rapes the hero.

I do not agree that rape should be banned from the romance genre. Yes, what we read is very influential, and if someone only read one book in their life and it happened to be a rape romance, then that could definitely skew her views of romance. But we don’t. We read many, many books, and our views become balanced. I also find it very patronizing that someone would determine that a rape romance is “bad for me”, and to protect me from thinking that rapist/rapee could have a HEA, would ban it from the genre. Extremely patronizing, especially since it’s said of a genre in which the readership is predominately women. I doubt we’d be having this conversation if the readership were more equitably divided between men and women. (Come on, Bob, get some more men over here!) Yes, some women are more delicate than others and do not appreciate that plot line because of that delicacy. But that’s based upon the individual and not upon the gender.

JD Robb’s books are terrific romances, but there’s a scene in almost every book where Eve relives the brutal rapes of her childhood. I can’t stand those scenes! But they are integral to the growth of the character and do not interfere with the HEA factor. In fact, the HEA is better because you realize how much she has overcome. Although if we apply the logic that rape romances would make rape more acceptable, then there’s a problem with the In Death books because it might make pedophilia more acceptable. Hey! Be raped as a child and you too might land the richest hunk in the world! While I am not married to a rich hunk, I do not regret not geting raped as a child. Also, I’m certain that if I were raped tonight, I would not fall in love with my rapist, no matter how sexy his marauderness. But fantasies? Oh I’ve had some good ones, but I’m an adult I know the difference between the two.

Romance is at its heart fairy tales, and there are no good fairy tales out there without a component of evil. Sometimes the evil is within the hero/heroine. If we wanted to eliminate that, then we eliminate a lot of what draws readers to romance. (And speaking of evil heroes in romances, bye bye Beauty and the Beast! How is that not a disneyfied rape romance?)

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On April 16, 2007 at 4:01 pm heather said...

Web site comment – If we are going to be having marathon comment sections again (reminiscent of HWSW days), then inserting the time when a comment was left or the entry number would probably be helpful (IMHO). That way when we come back after a few hours, we know where we’ve left off in reading the comments.

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On April 16, 2007 at 5:09 pm Jenny said...

“Where I see the strongest correlation is in the language of “offense” and “protection” because very often these are exactly the justifications forwarded for limiting speech.”

Yes, but nobody is limiting speech. Nobody is saying the books shouldn’t be printed. Nobody is saying she should change the content. Speech is not the issue.

The issue is whether the book should have ROMANCE stamped on the spine. The most you can get the other side for is restraint of trade since a book with ROMANCE on the spine sells more copies than the same book with GENERAL FICTION stamped on the spine, everything else being equal. No writer in any part of this argument has tried to restrict anybody else’s speech.

I like Bryan’s club analogy.

Time stamps. Now you want time stamps. Let me look into it.

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On April 16, 2007 at 5:47 pm Robin said...

Yes, but nobody is limiting speech. Nobody is saying the books shouldn’t be printed. Nobody is saying she should change the content. Speech is not the issue.

The issue is whether the book should have ROMANCE stamped on the spine.

Obviously this isn’t a legal issue at all. But to some of us, the logic employed here does have strong echoes in first amendment issues, especially when you look at how certain expression is classified as “speech” and therefore as protected or as “not speech” and therefore as unprotected. But yeah, it’s not an issue of the state denying first amendment rights, that’s for sure.

On the surface, I’ll agree that we’re talking about whether a certain element can be contained within the genre of Romance. For proponents of the labeling strategy, it’s not an issue of censorship, because they argue that books featuring rape can be published elsewhere. What I’d argue, of course, is that labeling would create a chilling effect on creative expression that goes way beyond the presence or absence of a single element in Romance. If rape goes, can I start a campaign against heroes who are assassins, covert agents, paramilitary operatives, and mercenaries? Purely from the perspective of genre, once we cross the line of actively excluding certain controversial content that has a strong history within the genre, IMO we’ve moved beyond genre definition and dangerously close to the realm of overt discrimination similar to the “one man, one woman” controversy within the RWA a few years ago (of Romance v. romantic again). I know proponents of labeling don’t see it that way or have any discriminatory intent, but I think the effect would be much more limiting and inhibiting to the genre than they believe.

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On April 16, 2007 at 6:37 pm Laura Vivanco said...

can I start a campaign against heroes who are assassins, covert agents, paramilitary operatives, and mercenaries?

But they’re already labelled. The back-cover blurb almost always tells you the profession of the hero and, if something’s romantic suspense then you know that there’s almost certainly going to be crime/violence/a villain.

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On April 16, 2007 at 6:49 pm Jenny said...

“If rape goes, can I start a campaign against heroes who are assassins, covert agents, paramilitary operatives, and mercenaries?”

Hey, I have a book out with a hitman hero in August. You’re killing me here.

I think you can argue that the marketplace always has a chiling effect on creativity. That’s why it’s so important to write the book as it needs to be written, not to write to market. So yes, if the powers that be (can’t imagine who that would be but stay with me for the sake of the argument) said, “No rape,” that would be chilling, but so are all the other romance assumptions that editors make and people buy, like no historicals after the 19th century because people don’t want to read about WWII. It’s dumb, but people aren’t writing WWII romances because of it. Genre always has a chilling effect, we’re just arguing about the validity of adding another ice cube.

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On April 16, 2007 at 6:59 pm orangehands said...

I think what some of us in the “labeling group” are asking after is a seperate sub-genre of romance for the books where the book is about the H/H and the feature of rape in the book (as in, the hero raping the heroine or the heroine raping the hero) as part of their love story. And I think most books about assassins, covert agents, paramilitary operatives, and mercenaries are under a different sub-genre (military or suspense romance), and if not do mention what the hero’s job is in the back cover/within the beginning of the story. It’s not a matter of excluding books where a heroine falls in love with her rapist from the romance genre, just finding a place for itself like other romance books have done.

I do think this is a slippery slope. On the other hand, I don’t know much that isn’t.

As for protecting readers so as not to defend their delicate sensibilities, I don’t see it as such. Most readers pick up books for entertainment, as someone said. (I think if it’s a good book they normally get a lot more out of it than that, but for most that is why they picked it up in the first place). Some people aren’t entertained by rape, just as some aren’t by slasher movies, or comedies, or disney (and I could go on about what disney is sending out there, believe me). And so they avoid those kind of movies. People who pick up books and don’t like westerns don’t pick them up. Now maybe they miss a great western, one that would have been their favorite read, but if someone doesn’t wnat to read fifty westerns to get to that one, they can easily avoid them. (This isn’t to say it takes fifty westerns to get to a great one, just that someone who doesn’t like westerns may see it as such). What’s wrong with seperating other books? It’s not banning them from a genre, just creating a seperate sub-genre.

…For those who advocate sanitizing or labeling a genre to “protect” the unwary reader, I say put on your big girl panties and accept the fact that the world comes with the occasional bump, bruise, and unpleasant surprise.

Yes it does. Which is why some people use books to get away from the real world. Am I expecting every book I pick up to not touch on any of my hot button issues? No, of course not. But when I pick up a book I’m trying to put aside the shit I have to deal with (part of which is being a survivor) and relax. This isn’t about someone protecting me, this is about helping myself.

Even if we did create a seperate sub-genre for rape fantasy books, not all books with rape scenes of H to H will be in it, or have that label. But I know I have a better chance of avoiding something that makes me physically sick. And why is that a bad thing? How is it diferent from people avoiding reading true crime, or sci-fi, or murder mysteries? They’re going to hit on the occasionally mystery when they pick up a different genre, but they have a better chance of avoiding it.

uh, it’s 4:57 pm on the west coast, heather.

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On April 16, 2007 at 7:07 pm orangehands said...

Sub-genres- as you’ve point out Jenny- come back. Heck, Suzanne Brockmann has subplots on WWII in her books.

when people write to write, and not for the market, you also get new and interesting things. No, not Bob’s Slasher-Nun-Lesbian book (though hey, if you’re really feeling it, go write it), but the romance-adventure category Crusie and Mayer both started.

Romance and the sub-genres in it are fluid and are still being created. Even with seperating genres more, you still get new ones coming up.

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On April 16, 2007 at 7:08 pm Robin said...

But they’re already labelled. The back-cover blurb almost always tells you the profession of the hero and, if something’s romantic suspense then you know that there’s almost certainly going to be crime/violence/a villain.

But what if I no longer want them to be featured in Romance because their violent backgrounds make them poor role models and unfit partners for the heroine? It wouldn’t matter then if the guy gives up his killing ways for his woman, would it? What about the military hero who suffers from PTSD and emotionally and verbally abuses the heroine? What about the assassin who is ordered to kill the heroine, and even though he doesn’t follow through, he attempts it several times or even just contemplates it in detail before he falls so far in love with her that he saves her life instead.

On a purely visceral level, I sympathize with the desire to open a book and find nothing to create trauma or some other negative emotional effect. I have my own experiences with books that have stayed with me and at the time were surprising and emotionally traumatic. But I still think that for the most part labeling should be limited to reviews, and that labeling in general will chill creativity in the genre and make authors feel that they are not free to write about certain things because the label functions as a surrogate censor, even though it’s not intended to function that way, or if, more likely, it’s intended to be a *benevolent* censor. I’m actually not opposed to the idea of more specific or detailed cover blurbs, but even then I’d object to the inclusion of the word “rape,” for example, since readers inevitably argue over the meaning of that term in so many cases. This is a tough issue, there’s no doubt about it.

The more extreme version of this argument, that certain elements should be excluded entirely from the genre (despite a long history) is really what I was addressing in my comments, Laura. Especially because I think there’s the level of the symbolic in Romance we really haven’t touched on — that is, the level of myth and archetype that seems central to certain tropes and even character types. It’s interesting to me how we acknowledge and even embrace violence in fairy tales as symbolically important for the purpose of social interpellation of children but not so much in the adult version of those stories.

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On April 16, 2007 at 7:15 pm GatorPerson said...

I totally agree with writing whatever you want and then having the market determine what to buy of that author’s works.

Look at it completely differently; I’m not sure what I think. Jodi Picolt’s latest novel, Nineteen Minutes, has to do with a bunch of students being shot. Numerous are dead; numerous are wounded. I hope the person responsible for today’s terrible disaster in VA didn’t read it. The impact of that might have extreme ramifications across many novels if someone decides her novel played a part in his/her thinking.

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On April 16, 2007 at 7:24 pm Robin said...

Genre always has a chilling effect, we’re just arguing about the validity of adding another ice cube.

I think there’s a difference between filtering and chilling, but maybe I see that difference here because we’re talking about removing something from the genre rather than adding something in. Or because “it doesn’t sell,” as imperfect a filter as that is, feels different to me than “it offends or affects the reader in a negative or disempowering way” even though it sells.

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On April 16, 2007 at 7:34 pm Sally J. said...

In my experience, being raped was neither fun nor romantic. The only acceptable HEA for the hero & heroine in this scenario is she takes a shotgun and obliterates him. Let God forgive him. I won’t.

The thing that really bothers me, and has bothered me about this whole genre, ever since I started reading it again, is the number of readers who admit to sharing these books with their teenagers. Some books may be acceptable for young readers, but many just are NOT. For grownup women, women who have watched the news, women who know there are currently 33 missing college age people in Iowa (could be Idaho, whatever), the fantasy of taking our fun where we find it is okay. Young girls might not see the possible downside of getting naked with a stranger on a remote riverside dock. For adults, it’s a great fantasy; for kids, it’s a really bad idea. The fact that the hero & heroine wind up HEA, or even the fact that they had a good time, will entice some youngsters into dangerous behaviors. And, yes, that’s a personal experience, too. When my friend brought me her romance novels to read during an illness, neither of us knew they would fall into the hands of a seventh-grader.

Now, apparently, we are looking back to the bad old days, the story lines that made me really HATE romance, and we’re all here taking very cool sides, putting on our Big Girl Panties, and just deciding this–rape to romance–is okay. It’s not okay.

And it’s damn sure not romance. It’s crime. Rape is a crime. It is not courtship.

I really wish there were some kind of hint on the cover on just inside the cover that would let us know a bit about the work inside. Even if you take the book back, or use it for kindling, you’ve still put anywhere from $5 to $30 into the pockets of those nice folks that sold it to you.

FWIW, I see NO PARALLEL whatsoever between soldiers and rapists. There may be some overlap, but it’s just that: overlap.

Now, if my daughter starts dating a hit man,–I’d have to talk to her.
Or, maybe I could just get him to take care of a certain jerk I once dated. Yeah, with that, I’m cool.

I can tell, have been able to tell all along, that my squick meter is a tad more senstive than most here, and I did look into the religious romances, but they are not my thing, either. Way, way, not.

So what, then? I still want some indication on the book jacket. Right now, I just avoid historicals & paranormals because that seems to be where the ickiest (this is my personal taste, remember, and not a literary criticism) material lies.

I don’t care a whit how well written is it, rape is not romantic. EVER.

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On April 16, 2007 at 7:47 pm BCB said...

I have problems with labels. Right of the top of my head here are two:

1) How do we decide who gets to define and apply them?

2) Labels limit choices and discourage discovery and growth.

Example: A couple years ago I picked up a book at random from the library. I knew nothing about the author and the jacket blurb didn’t really tell me all that much. Had I known it was about murder and depravity and drug use and had a scene graphically describing cruelty to small animals and was full of [shudder] baseball references, I never would have picked it up and read it. And that would have been a damn shame because it was one of the finest pieces of first person writing I’ve ever encountered. OTOH, I tried to read this guy’s next book and couldn’t make it past the second page.

Another example: Karin Slaughter’s books are chock full of violence (including a rape/murder/mutilation that made me ill) and broken lives and damaged people who have so many problems it makes you weep with despair. Had I known this, I might not have read the first one, let alone every single one that has followed. And I would have missed some of the best damn writing ever. What she does with words is often painful, but it is also magical and powerful and true.

I don’t want judgmental labels on my books or restrictions on my choices within any genre, romance or otherwise. I’m an intelligent adult. I am perfectly capable of putting a book down if it offends me. I do it all the time. But I am much more likely to be offended by the ones that are poorly conceived, badly written and sloppily edited. Find a label for that and I might support it.

And that is just my opinion as a reader. Do not even get me started on what I think about all this as a writer.

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On April 16, 2007 at 8:03 pm Jennifer Talty said...

Rape is wrong. Murder is wrong (I suppose that includes hitmen). Wife beating is wrong. Child beating is wrong. The list goes on and on. No one is suggesting that these things are okay.

But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to put them in a book. Regardless of the Genre.

I’m with BCB on this one. I’m a grown woman and can think for myself and make my own decisions. If a books doesn’t do it for me, then it doesn’t do it for me. My choice to read it, not read it, toss it against the wall and never read that author agian. My choice.

Robin, I understand what you are saying and agree, children shouldn’t necessarily be reading these romances. Or maybe romances in general, but I think I’d have just as much of a hard time if my daugher was dating a hitman as a rapist. I’m not saying dating a rapist would be okay, because it wouldn’t. But I don’t see the difference. Hitmen kill. Rapist rape. Both bad. Yet, in a book, it can work. Very nicely I might add too. Again, I revert back to the idea of fantasy. Fiction. It’s not real. Taming the bad boy. Reedeming characters. If possible. I’m talking in circles again.

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On April 16, 2007 at 8:10 pm Robin said...

Robin, I understand what you are saying and agree, children shouldn’t necessarily be reading these romances.

Uh, that was Sally, not me. My views do evolve, but that would be a 180 within an afternoon, which doesn’t fit with my incredibly stubborn nature.

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On April 16, 2007 at 8:19 pm Jennifer Talty said...

Oh God – I’m sorry. My mistake, and please forgive.

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On April 16, 2007 at 8:55 pm Robin said...

Oh God – I’m sorry. My mistake, and please forgive.

No need to apologize to me, Jennifer.

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On April 16, 2007 at 9:08 pm Reb said...

BCB said:

“I do not know anyone who is going to read a piece of fiction with either a brutal rape scene or a rape fantasy scene and somehow translate that into, “Oh, gee, I think it would be fun and exciting to be raped.” Or anyone who reads such a book and who does get raped, and who then is going to think, “Oh my, I should really have enjoyed that.”

This argument in the guise of protecting (women) readers is shameful.”

I agree. Completely. But what about men reading books like this and thinking, “gee, women find this romantic, next time my girlfriend says no I’ll ignore her”? That’s a much worse outcome than offending rape victims. Like GatorPerson says about today’s shootings.

But the thing that worries me most is the potential effect on society’s general background attitudes and perceptions. Romance novels and all other popular media feed into this. Insidiously. And circularly – attitudes and media feed each other.

I think there’s a risk that having rape in the romance genre means that society in general takes rape less seriously. If people have never been a victim or known one, do they have a realistic image of rape, or do they picture something like the fantasies?

Same kind of thing: I know someone who expected sex in Real Life to be so good they’d faint from it, because that was the descriptions in the books they read as a teenager. Does that mean fantastic sex shouldn’t be in romance novels? No, but I think authors need to think about the attitudes their books encourage. Nothing is just entertainment!

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On April 16, 2007 at 9:18 pm CM said...

I have read the book in question, and I loved it. Even though it was obviously rape. It was a frightening book and it made me want to take a shower, but it was a great story, and at the end I believed the two–bless their twin sick little hearts–worked well together.

I like great stories. What can I say?

I don’t have rules or regulations about what can or can’t be in my romance novels. Why bother? There are fewer great romances produced every month than I have time to read. So now I read it all–everything I can get my hot little hands on, and when I find a new great author, I glom.

Write faster, Jenny. Write faster!

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On April 16, 2007 at 9:33 pm heather said...

Comment 130 at 10:32 pm EDT. I believe in self-empowerment.

I think we are arguing two seperate issues. One is, rape romances are an oxymoron and should be thrown out of the romance club. The other, that rape romances can stay as long as they are marked.

I’ll take the second one first. I think that it’s already marked, or at least it was in this case. I tracked down the back cover, and while it doesn’t have in big letters HERO RAPES HEROINE, it doesn’t sound good. The telltale phrases? “he kidnaps her”; he “vows to bend her to her will”; and he then “seduces her anew.” (Strike three.) Reading that without knowing anything else, I know those phrases mean that while there might not be a knockdown, drag out rape, there will be at the very least one of those vile seduction emotional rapes going on. Ew. So as long as we can read the backcover code, we should at least have some idea what we are getting into. Now I agree that the backcover code has to be written correctly. If it said that she had his baby and he didn’t know until the fateful night they came back together, without alluding that the pregnancy was due to RAPE!, then I would agree that the purchaser of said book should take back the book with a demand for a refund.

The other issue is, should we kick out rape romances? I find myself defending a book that I would never personally read. But I can’t agree to kicking out a type of romance that has pretty much been around since the beginning, because as long as the book follows the standardized structure – boy meets girl, they fall in love, boy and girl overcomes difficulties, and they have their HEA with suitably emotional satisfaction-ness, then how they get there is up to the writer and the reader. Sally J says she doesn’t like paranormals. That’s fine. But I happen to LOVE them. They are my favorite kind of romances. What if the powers that be became evil Sally clones and decided that paranormals weren’t really romance and that they should be banished to general fiction, making them harder to find, lessening their sales, and denying those silly people like heather those books, because “of course” those aren’t TRUE romances. That would be bending the rules in the middle of the game, which I find patently unfair. I’m going to reiterate that we are all adults, and we do not have to be “protected” within our genre. I completely understand the tendency to not want to deal with the crap of the world (which is why I changed the channel from MSNBC to Dancing with the Stars tonight), but I want to ultimately make that decision myself.

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On April 16, 2007 at 9:45 pm Eric said...

Hi, Jenny! I’m just noticed this little aside in your comments:

“Boy did I get complaints about that scene on the stage. Which, for the record, I rewrote and made tamer because my editor said the original version was “icky.” Too close to rape.”

You do realize, of course, that you could probably make a bundle selling bootleg versions of that original version? My students would be lining up. And of course I can think of five or six of us romance scholars who’d dearly love to study it–purely for research purposes, you understand.

Thanks for swinging by Michelle’s blog today to chat! Love the lovely romance community–

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On April 16, 2007 at 9:50 pm Eric said...

Oops–sorry for the repetition–make that “bootlegs of that original version.” Or “bootleg versions of that original scene.” You get the idea, anyway. Cask-strength Jenny: pour us a dram!

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On April 16, 2007 at 10:10 pm Jennifer Talty said...

Heather – well said.

BCB wrote: “I think there’s a risk that having rape in the romance genre means that society in general takes rape less seriously. If people have never been a victim or known one, do they have a realistic image of rape, or do they picture something like the fantasies?”

I do not beleive that having rape in romances, or any book for that matter will make our society take it less seriously. Unfortunetly, rape hasn’t been taken seriously anyway in the past. She asked for it. She said yes at first, but then it was too late. She was wearing clothing that indicated she wanted it. And people believed this crap. But that is not my point.

I have been a victim of voilet crimes and I know victims. I have a very realistic veiw of rape. I also have had a “rape fantasy”. Okay, so that fantasy isn’t really rape because it’s game played between two willing participants, but it’s about being taken. Being pushed into it. It’s a fantasy. I can read a “rape romance” and not be offended by it as a survivor. It doesn’t change my perception of rape. It’s wrong and I’m all for castration. But then there is that damn fantasy again.

I have not read the book in question, but now I will. Hmmmm, controversy always generates sales, doesn’t it?

BCB also wrote: “I know someone who expected sex in Real Life to be so good they’d faint from it, because that was the descriptions in the books they read as a teenager. Does that mean fantastic sex shouldn’t be in romance novels? No, but I think authors need to think about the attitudes their books encourage. Nothing is just entertainment!”

I’m sorry, I seem to be picking on my dear friend tonight, but these are hot buttons for me. As a mother, I’ve told my daughter and my boys all about sex. Maybe too much, but hey, I don’t want my daughter thinking she’ll faint from the perfect orgasm the frist time. It doesn’t work that way. Lots of things lovers need to teach each other along the way. And I want my boys to learn that, well, they just need to understand a few things about women.

This is way TMI, but I’m on a role here. My point is while it may not be just entertainment, I’m not sure when I write a romance novel I’m thinking about the moral of the story. I’m thinking about how the heck am I going to get these two people from this point to the HEA and leave the reader satisfied. The journey.

I do not think it’s my responsibilty as a writer to protect the reader, or even worry about the attitudes my books might give off. And it’s not necessarily my attitude either. It’s the characters.

I think I’ve started talking in circles again. Must be all the snow.

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On April 16, 2007 at 10:11 pm Sally J. said...

Evil Sally clones?

Oookay.

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On April 16, 2007 at 10:27 pm micki said...

RE: labelling. The nice thing about living in this day and age is that you *can* search a book’s title, and find all sorts of reviews — professional and amateur — that clue you into any squicky bits. A publisher is not going to voluntarily put on a book “warning: rape scenes” because it’s going to be an instant rejection for many readers (no matter how well the conflict caused is overcome).

Cutting-edgers who read the books first won’t have this option, of course. And it *is* an option, so people who don’t want to get spoilered-by-accident, and people who don’t mind the gamble don’t have to search for the book and vet it first.

I think the Romance genre already has enough gatekeepers; it doesn’t need another person vetting the books for rape.

As for the argument that crazy people will read books and get ideas, so we need to sanitize all books — well, it is worrisome, but I think there are a lot more factors involved than a book (or a movie or a song).

In the old days, reading a book was often a communal affair — the family would gather around the fire while one person read a chapter in the evening. There was a chance to discuss the content, and to notice any inappropriate reactions. People just plain talked more in those days, I think, than we do now when we interact with the TV, or books, or magazines. I think the Internet is helping some people get back to a free exchange of ideas. Places like this — you know, there’s no way I could have talked over this issue with 100plus people in the last few days. But here, I get to hear a wide variety of opinion, and various subtle shadings. That’s just a miracle.

OK, drifting OT here. Sorry.

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On April 16, 2007 at 10:57 pm Jenny said...

You know, this is also a VERY good argument for good booksellers who know their customers and can steer them away from the wrong kind of book for them. Back in the good old days when booksellers knew their customers and their books, the people who are so upset would never have gotten their hands on it in the first place.

I don’t know, I’m almost starting to go over to the people who are arguing for ratings. I hate the idea, but I hate the idea of people who are capable of choosing what they want to read not being given the information to choose.

An argument for Amazon’s reviews, definitely.

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On April 16, 2007 at 11:50 pm BCB said...

Ms. Talty, dear, you know I love you. But you have attributed two quotes to me that are not mine. And frankly, my dear, you know me well enough to know I would never say either of them. Go clean off your reading glasses.

Reb (who quoted me accurately): I think you need to give more credit to men in general. And in particular to men who read fiction, especially those rare few who read romance fiction. Call me crazy if you must, but I think you could interview a couple hundred convicted rapists and not one of them would say, “Well, I was completely sensible until I read this really provocative romance novel…” Similarly, you could interview a couple hundred victims of rape and I’d wager not one of them would say, “You know, I thought I’d give this victim role a try, but it’s just not like they portrayed it in the book.”

Jenny, dear, you know I love you too, but you are trying my patience here. I could not finish reading Tell Me Lies. Not because of the quality of the writing, but because it cut too close to home. It felt like an invasion of privacy, though I could not tell you whether it was yours or mine. Perhaps I think it should come with a warning label, so that sensibilities are not offended and the unwary are not caught unaware. Do you want to argue with me about who should write that label?

The choice of what to read should not be predetermined arbitrarily by committee. It should not be made by others and I know it is a contradiction but it should not come before the book is read. If that means some readers stop mid-sentence, so be it. That is the risk of daring to read. And certainly it is the risk inherent in daring to write.

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On April 17, 2007 at 12:41 am Robin said...

The choice of what to read should not be predetermined arbitrarily by committee. It should not be made by others and I know it is a contradiction but it should not come before the book is read. If that means some readers stop mid-sentence, so be it. That is the risk of daring to read. And certainly it is the risk inherent in daring to write.

YES!! Praise the lord and pass the ammunition! Whatever the literary equivalent of patriotic fervor is, I’m feeling it now.

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On April 17, 2007 at 12:54 am Stressed-Out Cherry said...

BCB said, “Jenny, dear, you know I love you too, but you are trying my patience here. I could not finish reading Tell Me Lies. Not because of the quality of the writing, but because it cut too close to home. It felt like an invasion of privacy, though I could not tell you whether it was yours or mine.”

She couldn’t finish reading Tell Me Lies?! That’s like saying the Bible was fluff and soft porn. But that’s just my opnion which puts me back on topic.

The moral of the arugment is for publishers to be more honest about what the book is about on the back blurb.

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On April 17, 2007 at 1:03 am Reb said...

Yes, I probably am giving too little credit to men, and I doubt any rapist has been directly influenced by a romance novel. Crazy thought!

But they are indirectly influenced by society’s attitudes and I do believe that romance novels affect that, even if not much.

I just got a bit sick of people saying that romance novels are pure fantasy and readers know the difference. Most readers, yes. All readers, no. My friend (a guy, by the way) was young and naive and didn’t know the difference. He said his unrealistic expectations seriously damaged his first sexual relationship. I don’t think he’s an isolated case. I’ve read about sex counselors saying that they get clients with unrealistic expectations fed by popular literature too. So I think there is an issue there for a small minority of readers.

That said, I DON’T think authors should be gatekeepers and base their writing on this. As people said, we’ve got to be true to the characters. And it’s a slippery slope – if you’re careful about this, you’ve got to be careful about everything else too. That’s bad.

I didn’t expect what I was saying to be so controversial, because I’m against anyone censoring the genre. Maybe I’ve been wording it too negatively. How about this: People who write romances are sensitive people with their fingers on society’s pulse, and often are pushing the edge of women’s experiences. We don’t need other gatekeepers – we can trust most authors to get the genre right.

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On April 17, 2007 at 1:30 am Robin said...

Yes, I probably am giving too little credit to men, and I doubt any rapist has been directly influenced by a romance novel. Crazy thought!

But they are indirectly influenced by society’s attitudes and I do believe that romance novels affect that, even if not much.

If men are influenced by Romance, then why aren’t more of them steadfastly faithful, brought to their knees by THE ONE, and passionately attentive to their woman?

I know you’re not simplifying the relationship between Romance and RL to a one-to-one equation, but I often wonder when we talk about influence on male attitudes toward women why that analysis kicks in most often when we talk about RL violence toward women. I wonder if it just seems more appealing to talk about negative influence rather than positive influence, because it seems to me that when Romance gets the most negative attention it’s in the context of either unrealistic expectations on the part of women or denigrating attitudes toward women on the part of men. But what about those images of love and fidelity and self-empowerment and healing and emotional growth? Why do we think people are more strongly and directly influenced by negatives rather than positives?

I agree there is *some* relationship between fiction and RL, but I don’t think we’ve begun to examine that relationship in ways that do justice to the complex dynamics that occur in both individual and communal psychosocial transactions.

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On April 17, 2007 at 1:58 am ZaZa said...

Shoshana said…
“so I go get in-store credit at a used book-store with it instead of tossing the thing, thereby sending it into circulation again when what I REALLY wanted to do was vote ‘no’.”

I think when a book is returned to the store, they have to take it, and they can’t resell it. I could be wrong, though. Any booksellers on here?

Robin said…
“And jurisdictions that practice “no drop” policies in domestic violence cases think they’re protecting women, too, by taking over the agency of the victim to prosecute the batterer regardless of the victim’s position or wishes. Necessary intervention or re-victimization of the victim?”

Isn’t the idea behind that to protect children, the innocent victims of their parent’s dysfunctional relationship? The woman is an adult and can make her own decisions – which is a generalization, people, so don’t jump down my throat /;+) – but the children can’t. So should they be subject to abuse, perhaps killed, or have to watch one parent abuse/torture/kill another? I knew a woman who saw her father beat her mother to death and another who saw her father shoot and kill her mother. Neither of these were first instances of abuse/violence, they’d been going on for years.

If they’d had those kinds of laws then, those women would be in better shape emotionally, and their mothers might still be alive. And boy have we wandered from the topic. But in the communities they lived in, one woman’s father fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution. The other woman’s father, the one who beat his wife to death, never did a day of jail time. He was a big deal artist, in a small community, and that community would rather turn a blind eye to vicious murder than lose their one claim to fame. Hmmm. Maybe this should be over on HW/SW.

A couple thoughts on women being influenced/confused by the presence of rape in romance. This very furor now, over the CC book, as well as the furor over the Luke and Laura thing back in the 70s (?) just proves that women/readers are NOT confused or misled by it. If they were, there’d be no debate.

On the idea of a man being raped, there was a movie way back when, starring Paul Sorvino, who is raped by an aggressive woman. He presses charges, and she goes to trial. I don’t remember a lot about it, but a lot of it was how other men laughed at him for complaining about having free sex, the way women were often treated years ago after a rape. The title was, It Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Guy.”

Excluding books with rape in them from the Romance label is exclusionary in more ways than one. It’s denying that physical label (Romance) on a tangible object, the book, but it means, by extension, that authors who write those books cannot be part of RWA, does it not? And isn’t the label of “Romance” on a book determined by the publisher? So, what is RWA even doing in the debate? Or have I totally gotten the wrong end of the stick?

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On April 17, 2007 at 2:49 am orangehands said...

Sally J. said “Some books may be acceptable for young readers, but many just are NOT…Young girls might not see the possible downside of getting naked with a stranger on a remote riverside dock. For adults, it’s a great fantasy; for kids, it’s a really bad idea. The fact that the hero & heroine wind up HEA, or even the fact that they had a good time, will entice some youngsters into dangerous behaviors.”

I agreed with some of what you said, but I want to raise a quick (and mostly OT) point. “Protecting kids” is insulting to kids, just like the idea of “protecting women” from romance is insulting. Some of my favorite books have been banned because they don’t think kids could handle the content (including Chris Crutcher, who is one of the few teen authors that was telling it real when no one else would). While all kids may not get this is a fantasy, may think it’s a good idea, etc, that is something that parents and kids should discuss. I don’t see how you would restrict books that adults could read from kids unless libraries/bookstores censored things. Not all kids can handle the content, but I don’t think those who can shouldn’t be allowed to read it. I’m writing this (OT) comment because when I was a kid (which wasn’t that long ago, I’m 18yo), I had to fight for what I wanted to read. Not with my parents, but with my teachers.

******

BCB said “1) How do we decide who gets to define and apply them? 2) Labels limit choices and discourage discovery and growth.”

What’s the difference between having a label for mystery and a label for western? For a romantic historical and a romantic suspense? Who defines these? This is getting into semantics, but isn’t everything just a fine line? I don’t really like Westerns, and I read them very rarely (mostly a friend who’s book opinion I trust will thrust one in front of my face and blackmail me by withholding other books). Is this limiting my growth as a reader, discouraging discovery? You could say. You could also say with all the books out there, I’m ok missing a couple of greats in a genre I don’t read to discover more in a genre I do read. There’s exceptions to every rule…does that mean the rule itself isn’t sound? One of the things mentioned at HWSW is that it’s ok to break a rule, just know why the rule is in place and be sure you have a good reason for breaking it. And I think I started to float there but I’ m really tired. Good night.

(12:48 am, west coast, USA)

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On April 17, 2007 at 2:55 am orangehands said...

2 points zaza, and then i’m really going to bed (after homework).

1) Anne Bishop’s Black Jewel’s Trilogy deals with male and female rape in the culture she created. and somebody mentioned a book where the “heroine” rapes the hero.

2)”Excluding books with rape in them from the Romance label is exclusionary in more ways than one.”

Most people aren’t saying to exclude rape from Romance, but to put H/H love stories that involve rape as part of their love story (H raping H in the name of love) in a different sub-genre, or by warning readers that rape is an integal part of how they fall in love (with raping each other) or…there were more ideas. But for the most part it wasn’t taking rape out of romance, just warning readers about it.

oh, and in above comment, i’m 19yo, not 18. (recent b-day, still not used to it).

ok, night. 12:55 am

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On April 17, 2007 at 4:21 am Laura Vivanco said...

I’m going to do lots of quoting and put in lots of dialogue tags (I’ve been reading the He Wrote, She Wrote posts). Apologies in advance for the length of this, but I got back online this morning and found a lot of posts, they got me thinking, and as I don’t want to misrepresent anyone’s opinions it seems safer to quote them directly.

Robin said: “I’m actually not opposed to the idea of more specific or detailed cover blurbs, but even then I’d object to the inclusion of the word “rape,” for example, since readers inevitably argue over the meaning of that term in so many cases.”

Sally J said: “I really wish there were some kind of hint on the cover on just inside the cover that would let us know a bit about the work inside.

Heather clarified that in the particular novel which started this discussion: “I think that it’s already marked, or at least it was in this case. I tracked down the back cover, and while it doesn’t have in big letters HERO RAPES HEROINE, it doesn’t sound good. The telltale phrases? “he kidnaps her”; he “vows to bend her to her will”; and he then “seduces her anew.” (Strike three.)” [...] So as long as we can read the backcover code, we should at least have some idea what we are getting into. Now I agree that the backcover code has to be written correctly.

Jenny said: “I don’t know, I’m almost starting to go over to the people who are arguing for ratings. I hate the idea, but I hate the idea of people who are capable of choosing what they want to read not being given the information to choose.”

Stressed-Out Cherry seemed to me to summarise all of the above: “The moral of the argument is for publishers to be more honest about what the book is about on the back blurb.”

It seems to me that we’re heading towards a consensus regarding ‘labelling’ via accurate (but perhaps slightly coded) back cover blurbs which say enough to warn readers that there may be disturbing elements in the book, but don’t give away precise details, thus not spoiling the reading experience for the people who like surprises. I think covers could help with this too. The cover for the book in question is fairly dark in colour, mostly very dark purple and black, and it has a quote on the front saying that it’s ‘regency noir’. I think that’s a helpful, descriptive cover, and lots of covers of the vampire romances I’ve seen are also black/dark red/dark purple. I think that helps readers identify at first glance whether the subject matter is likely to be more disturbing to them or not. Jenny’s written about covers in the past, so I won’t repeat that, but she pointed out that a good cover ‘must capture the mood and the content of the story’, and added that it helps both authors and readers if they aren’t misled by covers and blurbs.

I know this topic is one which raises passions on both sides of the debate, but I was quite upset by comments like the following:

Shawn Reed said: “For those who advocate sanitizing or labeling a genre to “protect” the unwary reader, I say put on your big girl panties and accept the fact that the world comes with the occasional bump, bruise, and unpleasant surprise.”

BCB said: “I don’t want judgmental labels on my books or restrictions on my choices within any genre, romance or otherwise. I’m an intelligent adult. I am perfectly capable of putting a book down if it offends me.”

Jennifer Talty concurred: “I’m with BCB on this one. I’m a grown woman and can think for myself and make my own decisions. If a books doesn’t do it for me, then it doesn’t do it for me. My choice to read it, not read it, toss it against the wall and never read that author again. My choice.”

I may have taken all this a bit too personally, but it’s the sort of debate where one can’t help that to some extent, because reading preferences are very personal. As I read them, the implication of comments like those seems to be that those of us who want a bit of a warning about the contents so that we can avoid reading them are somehow not full adults, or not ‘intelligent adults’ or or are not taking adult responsibility for ourselves. I doubt anyone intended the comments to be taken that way, and they’re probably all directed at the people who suggested that romances dealing with rape shouldn’t be in the genre at all, but one could equally well argue that it’s adult and responsible to know one’s limits and seek out cover blurbs etc that will help one make an informed choice so that one’s entertainment is entertaining, not traumatising/upsetting. Everyone has their boundaries for risks they are and are not prepared to take, and hinting that some of us are not ‘big girls’ because our tolerance levels are lower than others on this particular issue is not particularly fair. I’ll leave comments about panties to the GHH thread, but those of us who want to avoid particular topics in the romances we read don’t do so because we’re unaware of reality. We’re often all too aware of it, which, as orangehands said, ‘is why some people use books to get away from the real world’. Jenny mentioned in her rats and islands essay that:

They did a study on depressives, testing them to see how out of touch with the truth they were. The plan was to help these people by showing them that their fears and their depression were based on unrealistic views of life as compared to optimists who were realistic about their futures. What they found was that depressives actually had a better grasp on reality than optimists. That’s why they were depressed.

For people at that end of the personality spectrum, we’re probably more helped by cheerful, upbeat reading which counteracts our innate pessimism and realistic view of the world. As Lisa mentioned, that’s the type of course of action advocated by cognitive behavioural psychology. And before anyone says that depressed people (and people with other mental health problems) are a tiny minority of readers and that their needs shouldn’t limit the enjoyment of others’, can I just point out that ‘Depression is a common and highly treatable disorder affecting over 17 million American adults annually’ (APA). Many others have milder symptoms and then there are the people who just want to be able to find a book which will give them a cheerful, upbeat reading experience when that’s what suits their mood. And I suspect that more helpful blurbs and covers (with coded warnings/indicators but no spoilers) would address the needs and preferences of all readers, not just those of us looking to avoid romances with rapist heroes.

Robin asked: I wonder if it just seems more appealing to talk about negative influence rather than positive influence, because it seems to me that when Romance gets the most negative attention it’s in the context of either unrealistic expectations on the part of women or denigrating attitudes toward women on the part of men.

I suspect it’s because negative influences can have a much more severe impact. In general, it’s easier to destroy something than to create it. As this affects romance, it is a genre which has got didactic tendencies, and I’m not just talking about inspirationals. The whole ‘emotional justice’ and ‘good’ people getting what they deserve implies that in some way romances define what’s ‘good’, or at least good enough to deserve love and a happy ending. It’s also part of the pendulum of analysis of the genre. Some people attacked romance by saying it sets up unrealistic expectations and/or certain standards for female ‘goodness’. The defenders of romance respond by saying it’s empowering. The critics find examples or aspects which are not empowering. Both sides are probably right, because this is a big genre, and all readers are different. So some novels may not be as ‘empowering’ as others, and even the same novel may come across as ‘empowering’ to one reader and not to another.

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On April 17, 2007 at 5:56 am Jennifer Talty said...

BCB – Sorry dear. Glasses are clean but I think going from 85 degree weather to snow did me in. To anyone else I might have misquoted, I am truly sorry.

Still stand by what I said though.

OH said: (if I messed up this quote too, I’m sorry, it’s early, there is snow on the ground and I’m cranky) ” “Protecting kids” is insulting to kids, just like the idea of “protecting women” from romance is insulting.”

I kind of disagree. Kids are clean slates. Their minds growing and developing. Attitudes shaping and forming by what they see and experience. I’m old. But the protecting part is my job as a parent. I do not agree with banning books, although there are some books I do not want my children to read. That is my choice as a parent and I will parent them as I see fit. Do what I think is best for my children. I have only recently left out some romance novels for my daughter (almost 16) and if she chooses to read them, well, that’s okay with me.

I think there are some things children should not see or read. It can be disturbing and scar them for life. As a teenager we got HBO when it first came out. I think I was maybe 12 and I stayed up very late one night to watch Clockwork Orenge. I was not ready for a movie like that. It disturbed me in a very unhealthy way. I had force myself to watch it when I got older so I could understand it.

However, I din’t think that movie should be banned or taken off of television, HBO or whatever. It’s my job as a parent to protect my children from what I think might harm them. Not yours. Not Jenny’s. Not publishing in General. That would be censorship.

Again, so sorry for the misquotes.

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On April 17, 2007 at 6:16 am BCB said...

OH asked: What’s the difference between having a label for mystery and a label for western? For a romantic historical and a romantic suspense? Who defines these?

I think that is different from what we’re talking about. Those labels describe a book’s genre/subgenre based on setting, era, plot line, etc. Even some of those are confusing and overlap each other. For instance, if you write about a vampire on a cattle ranch in 1898, is that a paranormal or a western?

The labels I object to are the ones that make a judgment. The ones that say a book with “X” in it is not a romance — which is really an instance when we are removing a label, in effect ostracizing a book. The ones that say if you put “X” in this book, romance readers should not have to be exposed to it. Just writing that sentence made me feel indignant.

If you had to make a judgment, how would you label Tell Me Lies, for instance? For some that story is “about” betrayal and the destruction of a family. For others it is about strength and survival. For yet others it is about community dynamics in a small town. When I picked it up, it was about things that felt too raw on that day and in that place and I made the choice not to read it. By the way, that is a huge compliment to Jenny for her ability to tell the truth and write a compelling story. Do I want someone to slap a warning label on that to protect me? So I WON’T read it? No. And someday I’ll finish it.

I think this goes back to what Jenny talks about when she says readers fill in the white space. Certain labels are going to serve to color that white space before the reader has a chance to read the book and use their own crayons. That’s wrong.

If someone is making judgment calls, telling me what a book is “about” — what it means or how it will affect me or whether I should consider it a romance — before I get a chance to make up my own mind, then why should I even bother to read it?

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On April 17, 2007 at 6:27 am BCB said...

It’s ok, Jen. Going from 85 degrees to snow in one day has the potential to cause far worse damage than a misquote, I’m sure.

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On April 17, 2007 at 6:31 am Kieran said...

Daniel Pennac’s “The Reader’s Bill of Rights” is all we need. Not Big Brother assessing books for us.

I used to pass this out to all my lit students.

According to Pennac, we have:

1. The right to not read

2. The right to skip pages

3. The right to not finish

4. The right to reread

5. The right to read anything

6. The right to escapism

7. The right to read anywhere

8. The right to browse

9. The right to read out loud

10. The right to not defend your tastes

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On April 17, 2007 at 8:20 am Sally J. said...

I think that anyone who can buy the least possibility of a woman falling in love with her rapist is both sick and stupid, and maybe the whole romance genre IS bad for women–and men, too.

Okay, so rape is courtship.
So, if I get held up at gunpoint, I should hire the gunman to be my accountant?
Some drunk driver clobbers me and costs me my legs, I should hire the drunk to be my physical therapist?
Protecting children is insulting to them. Okay, no more seatbelts, curfews, measles shots, multi-vitamins?

Putting labels on books is BIG BROTHER or EVIL SALLY.
So, from now on, books should be sold with attractive covers without a clue as to what’s inside. Hope you all enjoy space operas or programming manuals or whatever you happen to wind up with in that attractive cover with no hint as to contents.

Last night after I posted, I had to go and take a long, hot, vigorous shower.
Right now I’m going to clean out my bookshelf; if rape is romance, then I want no part of romance.

And if giving a hint as to the contents of the book is BIG BROTHER, well, I guess I misunderstood that book, too.
Out.

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On April 17, 2007 at 8:49 am JulieB said...

TIME: 8:47 CDT (I think having a number for every 10 posts might be another way to help scroll through)

Well, being related to a lot of lawyers, here’s my perspective. I think the practical aspects of a group saying there can be no rape by a hero of a heroine will cause the group to rue the day they said that. There is currently a debate in our legal system as to whether there is a point of no return for men and whether a woman can wait too long to change her mind. I’m not trying to start a debate on this point. I’m merely saying that some day that bordeline scene would be published, and then the next debate will be on the how long is too long issue.

I can also think of the case where a paranomal book was published, and in the hard cover book many readers cried foul saying the scene between the characters was rape. In the soft cover version the scene was different. There was talk (I don’t remember if it was by the author or others — it was a while ago) that the hard cover version had errors in it. I didn’t read the book in hardcover and had been unaware of the debate until after the fact, so I don’t have a take on the origional scene. I remember thinking “file that away for editing later” though.

Anyway, where would that book go? Would it be excluded? Would the soft cover be included?

I remember an author of erotica telling me very strictly that rape was not allowed in erotica. Having only read Anais Nin as my reference, I thought that was pretty ironic, since my squick factor stopped me from finishing it, when there were too many children involved. But I don’t know if there is an erotica guild who made that rule or if anyone enforces it. I have too many other things to pursue to bother to find out. And then, where does that leave the rape-fantasy readers? Are there no books out there for them?

Off topic: Sorry Orangehands, I’m siding with Jennifer Talty on the children debate. Life experience is too important to put things in perspective. It’s been my experience that librarians are generally good, free-thinking people who will fight for the rights of readers. I think that one questioning what you were checking out probably believed in having a little more world experience behind you too. It’s really hard to un-read something.

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On April 17, 2007 at 8:53 am JulieB said...

Why can I only see typos in Ariel? Grrr!

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On April 17, 2007 at 9:01 am Bryan said...

Reb said: “I agree. Completely. But what about men reading books like this and thinking, ‘gee, women find this romantic, next time my girlfriend says no I’ll ignore her’?”

Alright, it looks like I’m one of the few men involved in this conversation, so unless Louis or Bill want to jump in, I’ll represent the 5% today.

Men are no more impressionable than women with what they read. I know you didn’t mean to offend with that comment, but it would be easy for me to rant here.

Men have fantasies too. Most men know the difference between fantasy and reality. Men with the proclivity toward rape, will not be more likely to rape because they read it in a book. They might seek out books with rape in them, but the book will act as a surrogate for rape (for a time) rather than a trigger.

For the non-rapist male, the rape will either be read with horror, or as part of a fantasy, or tossed against the wall, which, due to a prior relationship, is my reaction. My gut aches when I read it. I want to hunt down the bastard and slay the dragon. I am so affected by my relationship with a survivor that I am unable to participate in a rape fantasy. I just can’t do it even knowing that it is “pretend”.

Most men have either never been in a relationship with a survivor, or, if they have, they didn’t know it. Most men aren’t as affected by knight in shining armor syndrome as I have been. But most men still realize rape is bad, and reading it in a book isn’t going to change their mind. True, we sometimes don’t seem too bright, but you have to give us more credit than that. I mean, we are able to read for enjoyment, right?

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On April 17, 2007 at 9:26 am Bryan said...

Sorry to go off like that Reb, as I see you later clarified your position. Still, you said: “My friend (a guy, by the way) was young and naive and didn’t know the difference. He said his unrealistic expectations seriously damaged his first sexual relationship. I don’t think he’s an isolated case.”

I don’t know that Romance novels are any more to blame than the guys in the locker room and Playboy magazine. My first time I had trouble finding the hole for Bob’s sake! Can’t say that I impressed Mrs. Robinson (not her real name by the way) very much that night.

It would be extremely rare that anybody’s first time with anyone else would be a perfect encounter. If I were to do an honest assessment of my own skills as a lover, I would have to say that probably I wasn’t very good at it until I’d had about ten years experience. Not because it wasn’t enjoyable, but because it wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been. Who do I blame that on? I didn’t read romances then, so that’s not it.

Could it be that love and sex take practice? Is it really any different than any other skill? We teach our kids that they won’t be in the major leagues after their second year of little league. They won’t be curing cancer after they take high school biology. Why would anyone believe that they were the perfect lover after reading a romance novel?

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On April 17, 2007 at 9:45 am Bryan said...

ZaZa said: “I knew a woman who saw her father beat her mother to death and another who saw her father shoot and kill her mother. Neither of these were first instances of abuse/violence, they’d been going on for years.

If they’d had those kinds of laws then, those women would be in better shape emotionally, and their mothers might still be alive.”

Okay, another rant coming on, sort of. Lots of hot buttons today.

The abused/abuser relationship is a pschological illness that must be treated in order to be cured. I’m not a doctor, so my views here are based on my observations as a sufferer of Knight in Shining Armor syndrome. For the most part, the abuser, like a child molestor, is a lost cause. It is very rare that he can be redeemed.

The abused woman is a troubling case. Usually, she winds up dead, or subject to a “last straw” moment that finally wakes her up to reality. This is so because the woman has an addiction. She loves him. He loves her. He couldn’t possibly have intended for things to go so far, so she must have pushed him over the edge, etc. We’ve all seen and heard it.

Even if she does get away, she is still more likely than not to find a new abusive relationship.

You ready for controversy? Here it is: the best way to “save” an abused woman would be a law that treats chronic victims as criminals and has mandatory sentences to shelters with phychological help. And monkeys will sooner fly out of my a$$ than that law will ever get passed. So instead, the would-be-rescuer must accept the fact that even after everything they try to do for the victim, the most likely result is death, hospitalization, or a life of misery, because most abused women don’t even want out.

I gotta take a break.

Don’t hate me ladies, these are just my opinions. And now we’re way off topic anyway.

Back to books… buyer beware. Don’t limit the genre.

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On April 17, 2007 at 10:17 am Bryan said...

Thought I was done. Last one, I promise.

Sally J. said: “Last night after I posted, I had to go and take a long, hot, vigorous shower. Right now I’m going to clean out my bookshelf; if rape is romance, then I want no part of romance.”

Sally, it’s your choice, but I don’t think anybody here has stated the equation as Rape=Romance. Keep in mind what the original discussion is about. The book in question didn’t even portray the rape in a positive light. It was a rape that happened to occur in a romance novel. Murders occur in romance novels and nobody is saying Murder=Romance. What we’re talking about here is whether rape as an incident should be banned from the romance genre. If you do that, then you can never have a story about a woman who overcomes the devastation of rape to find her HEA. You’d have to ban Gabaldon and many other writers. You’d have to throw out a good chunk of the early historicals. The question is whether we want to place those sorts of limitations, or is it better to let the author write her story, and the reader make their choices.

Warning labels on everything is not the answer. I know the contents are hot! I order a friggin’ hot coffee!

Caution: book contains the words throbbing, dewy, and lawyer; scenes of murder, rape, and mayhem; a heroine who is Too Stupid To Live; a precocious four-year old; a character named Bubba; cliches about Republicans; and unrealistic expectations about the true nature of love. Read at your own risk.

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On April 17, 2007 at 10:23 am Kieran said...

Sally, When I referenced Big Brother, I was referring to the possibility that someday, someone might actually preview books “for the readers’ own good.” I wasn’t referring to back cover information summarizing the book’s contents. I was talking about rating systems designed to “help” me select books. I was talking about censors removing text passages from books to “protect” me, the reader. That’s Big Brother. You are *not* Evil Sally. You make a lot of good points. Sometimes, like after what happened yesterday at Virginia Tech, I wonder if we are all deluding ourselves as to the power (or lack thereof) of entertainment to influence people’s real actions. Violent video games and movies and books might just beget violent people. I can’t quote any statistics there, but some people have found a correlation. Will rape scenes in novels innure us to the sordid realities of rape? Who knows. Free speech is one thing, but there’s also a responsibility to exercise it wisely. At least *I* think we have a responsibility. In these days of moral relativism, there might be a lot of people disagreeing with me there. Hang tight, Sally.

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On April 17, 2007 at 10:28 am Bryan said...

Oh, and “splayed”. I can’t stand that.

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On April 17, 2007 at 11:32 am Rosie said...

With 157 comments you’ve probably heard it all by now. Bravo for such a good commentary on this latest brouhaha. Get ready to be quoted, or in my case, linked. Thank you for an intelligent argument about letting women choose what they want to read without another woman telling us we are setting the women’s movement back 50 years.

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On April 17, 2007 at 11:40 am Stressed-Out Cherry said...

Bryan said, “Caution: book contains the words throbbing, dewy, and lawyer; scenes of murder, rape, and mayhem; a heroine who is Too Stupid To Live; a precocious four-year old; a character named Bubba; cliches about Republicans; and unrealistic expectations about the true nature of love. Read at your own risk.”

That is too funny and scary in a way.

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On April 17, 2007 at 11:57 am Andi said...

After reading all of this, and there is lots and lots, somethings are obvious… Rape is not romantic, in the gentile, flowery sense. It can be erotic, because it is a dark, traumtic event. I don’t like to read it, especially in a romance book. I don’t want to rationalize why the hero is still the hero; when I know he has raped the woman(I’m assuming here) he eventually grows to love. That is heavy on my squick meter. Just ewwww. As I read only contemporary romance, I can say, rape isn’t a major player in what I’ve read. And I would be upset if I cuddled up with my new book to discover the heroine I’ve attached myself to for the next 4 or 5 hours gets violently assaulted. So I suppose I fall on the side of some type of alert. No type of censorship, but a “hey, some fictional violence is in here” sort of thing. Romance reading is just such a nice brain candy, relaxing, indulgence that I don’t want my experience to be jarred. Do I think rape should be barred from the genre? Nope. But I’d really rather not read it. So, ideally, would I like to be warned? Yep. Except in actuality, you can’t do that because then it does lead to censorship; which in turn stifles creativity. And that would be tragic.

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On April 17, 2007 at 12:02 pm Robin said...

OT Warning

For the most part, the abuser, like a child molestor, is a lost cause. It is very rare that he can be redeemed.

The abused woman is a troubling case.

What my DV Law prof told us is that 25 years of research into DV has turned up a surprising consensus: there is NO profile for a victim of battering, even though the VAST majority of research has been conducted on women victims (isn’t it ironic that we continue to study the victim as the problem?). Now that research is shifting to the batterer, though, we’re finding that there are particular characteristics they seem to have in common: manipulative, jealous, controlling, secretive, etc. So the question of whether the batterer can be reformed or redeemed or whatever hasn’t really been answered yet, because so many of the limited resources have been going into victim services and there’s still a resistance in some jurisdictions to taking DV seriously and really *treating* the batterer instead of sending him to court-ordered anger management.

Isn’t the idea behind that to protect children, the innocent victims of their parent’s dysfunctional relationship? The woman is an adult and can make her own decisions – which is a generalization, people, so don’t jump down my throat /;+) – but the children can’t.

What I learned in both Criminal Law and DV Law is that these policies — along with mandatory arrest policies — evolved out of several big lawsuits filed against jurisdictions that failed to respond to repeated calls for help from battered women, resulting in death or severe injury. Although certainly in some jurisdictions the rationale given might be to protect the children. However, one of the big problems in DV law right now is the issue of children, because women who fear that their children will be taken away from them often won’t call for help (and in those jx’s where CPS shows up with the cops, they have reason to be worried!). And with the problems of batterers who routinely violate protective orders and many jurisdictions not taking DV convictions all that seriously on the sentencing end, there are some big debates going on over how the state can most effectively intervene in DV cases without setting up the victim for later abuse and on how children should figure into the mix.

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On April 17, 2007 at 12:03 pm Jill said...

Jenny said: “I’m almost starting to go over to the people who are arguing for ratings. I hate the idea of people who are capable of choosing what they want to read not being given the information to choose.”

BCB said : “I don’t want judgmental labels on my books or restrictions on my choices within any genre, romance or otherwise. I’m an intelligent adult. I am perfectly capable of putting a book down if it offends me.”

I vote with BCB. Not that labels will limit my choice–I will read the book of my choice no matter what label is on it. There is a wealth of information about books . If content concerns you go do some research before you buy the book.

Re-reading To Have and To Hold and loving it just as much as I did before .

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On April 17, 2007 at 12:14 pm Louis said...

I like Karen’s list from Pennac.
I’m not a fan of Rape in books. Usually I’ll skip through it very fast. I remember a book by James Oliver Curwood that I read in my young teens. H/S were married but the She did not under stand the language that married them and thought She was single. They were trapped in a cabin by snow and a rape occurred. Eventually they had the HEA.
For some reason that has “stuck” in my mind. For the life of me, I can’t remember the title.

Been a reader of “Romance” for more years than I want to remember. Started with Grace Livingston Hill at about twelve, way, way back in the thirties.

This has been a good discussion on a sensitive subject. Censorship is a no-no as far as I’m concerned. Leads to all sorts of problems.
No “Big Brother” for me.

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On April 17, 2007 at 12:16 pm Robin said...

And then, where does that leave the rape-fantasy readers? Are there no books out there for them?

One thing that seems to happen in some of these discussions is that the word “rape” has only one connotation, when in the fictional world of Romance, there’s the rape fantasy, the violent rape of the heroine by someone other than the hero, the so-called “forced seduction” of the heroine by the hero — all of which have different dynamics and meanings within the genre and within individual books.

Beyond my basic opposition to the idea of labeling content generally, I think we run into real trouble when we depend on someone outside the book to parse through how a particular event or motif is used in a particular book. ESPECIALLY when we get into the gray area of forced seduction scenes (i.e. rape fantasy scenes) and in acts of violence perpetrated outside the romantic relationship. What if, for example, the heroine is a rape survivor but there’s no current rape in the book (a la Eve Dallas)? Would the book be excluded from Romance or labeled with a scarlet “R” on the spine? Or how about the mild bondage in a book like Laura Kinsale’s Shadowheart? How much force is too much?

Frankly, I don’t trust anyone but *me* to make the choice about what I deem fit for reading, and I certainly don’t think my opinions on that are going to jibe with some marketing person or editor — or even the author.

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On April 17, 2007 at 12:17 pm Diane (TT) said...

Thanks, Bryan.

I read Forever by Judy Blume in high school. There were lots of people who were up in arms about the explicit sex scenes in that book, but I thought it was MUCH more likely to delay young women having sex than encourage them to do so, because (unlike everything you see in the movies or read in most romances)the sex was NOT great, and was NOT romantic. We’ve gone from a culture of “no sex outside of marriage” in which many “good” women (and probably men) were convinced that they shouldn’t enjoy it, and, in many cases, probably never did, to one in which sex is the most amazing wonderful experience – but kids should definitely wait to have it.

Huh?

I agree with Jen-T that the antidote to this mixed message is not “protecting” people from reading about sex, but a lot more information. And understanding of how poor communication and bad assumptions can become date rape. Which is a crime. The remedy for which is not arguments over “he said, she said”, but teaching (especially) young people to be more aware of their own behavior. There are, undoubtedly, predatory rotten date rapists out there, but there are also, certainly, young men who are horrified to discover that they are rapists (at which point the denial may well come into play, and it would be SO much better if our legal system weren’t set up in the adversarial way it is!).

And I wish films would quit “pushing the envelope” on how much they can get away with and try to be, you know, edifying. But that’s just me.

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On April 17, 2007 at 12:33 pm Bryan said...

Robin said: “there is NO profile for a victim of battering, even though the VAST majority of research has been conducted on women victims (isn’t it ironic that we continue to study the victim as the problem?).”

Since we are way off topic, I just want to say that I do believe you, except that one thing they have in common is that they keep going back. It’s an illness/addiction. There is no “profile” for people with an illness.

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On April 17, 2007 at 12:33 pm GatorPerson said...

About advertising the contents of a novel on the back cover…. In a couple of libraries here the librarians classify novels and shelve them in different locations. It irritates the fool out of me. I think I can better classify them than THEY can. How about “mixed” authors, such as Bujold and Gabaldon and the writers of military/romance novels. Maybe there should be enough copies to be on each category shelf. Nope! Not enough money in the budget.

Let me decide what to read. Alphabetize the whole blooming lot. The back cover might tell a little, but not the whole. Just a few facts, ma’m.

Our young people read for info, as Jen-t did. If it makes sense to them, fine. No harm done. If it doesn’t, they’re too young. No harm done. I had to be over 20 to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover. A really good book. Learned a lot. Off my hobbyhorse for a while.

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On April 17, 2007 at 12:45 pm Jennifer Talty said...

Bryan wrote: “You ready for controversy? Here it is: the best way to “save” an abused woman would be a law that treats chronic victims as criminals and has mandatory sentences to shelters with phychological help.”

Sorry, but I think that is wrong. People look at the abused and ask why? Why do you stay? Why don’t you just leave? He’s raping you! Beating you! What the F is your problem? The person not living the situation doesn’t have a clue. You think you do, but you really don’t. To me it’s like telling an alcoholic or drug addict that their addiction is about control. Nope. Not even close. There are a million reasons to stay with an abuser, none of which make any sense, but they are there. It’s not easy to walk away and let me tell you, love ain’t got nothing to do with it. Maybe in the beginning, but not in the end.

But this is not the issue. Rape should not be banned from books. Any book. I’m writing about a guy who murders children and then takes their body parts – should that be banned? Am I telling people this is okay? That if you have had this life then it’s okay? No. I am not. It’s bad. Very very bad. But it sure as heck makes for good reading.

Distinction
Rape: Not romantic, Bad.

Rape Fantasy: Two people that decide they are going to act out a fantasy with each other. Romantic. Good.

(this coming from someone who has seen both sides of the coin).

FOREVER by Judy Bloom. Read it. Loved it. It’s in my house for my children to read. But I’ve also had the chat with my children about what the frist time is really like, even if it’s with someone you care about. Well, at least two of the three.

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On April 17, 2007 at 1:08 pm Robin said...

Since we are way off topic, I just want to say that I do believe you, except that one thing they have in common is that they keep going back.

One of the first things we learned in DV Law (and my prof is an atty, a recognized expert in the field, an activist, a trainer of law enforcement on this issue, and a composer of judicial guidebooks on DV) is that the majority of victims ultimately leave their batterer. I totally understand your inclination to see the relationship between a victim and a batterer as addictive, but would caution you in this regard: the situations of women vary widely and some women have children with their abuser they are legitimately afraid they will lose, some women have economic considerations, because their batterer will harass them at work or in their housing units (getting them fired or evicted — even though in many cases the terminations are illegal) or otherwise keep them economically disabled; many, if not most women don’t know the ways in which the law can protect them (through VAWA and other programs); many judges are still suspicious of DV cases and under-sentence the batterer; many women do not have citizen or resident status and do not know THEIR legal rights; many women feel shame about their condition or have been convinced the system will not help them.

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On April 17, 2007 at 1:14 pm KLC said...

I find it insulting to say that only romance should have a rating system. It implies that romance readers alone are incapable of seperating fact from fantasy. I see no reason to have labels and ratings in a section that’s intended for adults who are just as capable of putting a book down as they are of picking it up.

On another note, why is it that every element of a romance novel has to be romantic? Again, I think saying that imposes limits on this genre that we haven’t placed on others. No one looks at a Sci-Fi novel with a romantic subplot and kicks it out of the genre. Futuristic mysteries are still allowed to be in amongst the legal thrillers and detective novels. Why should romance be any different from these?

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On April 17, 2007 at 1:15 pm Jenny said...

Boy, you sleep late and your blog explodes.

First, Laura V’s essay just went up because it had a lot of links in it and my spam filter holds any e-mail with a lot of links because it assumes it’s about cheap Viagra. So her long post is WAY upthread because I worked til 6AM and then slept until two, but it’s a really good one and you should read it.

Yes, I know I need to figure out a way to time stamp or number these posts. I’m working on it.

Also, I just up another post to this, but asking a new question. Think of it as another comment, though, and keep talking about whatever you want to talk about on this. It’s really a way of getting a new comment thread. I’ll close this one to keep the everybody on the same page, literally.

And boy do I love these comments. I keep changing my mind every time I read. And I am Strong-minded and Stubborn, too.

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On April 17, 2007 at 1:24 pm Stressed-Out Cherry said...

Bryan quoted “Robin said: “there is NO profile for a victim of battering, even though the VAST majority of research has been conducted on women victims (isn’t it ironic that we continue to study the victim as the problem?).”

Since we are way off topic, I just want to say that I do believe you, except that one thing they have in common is that they keep going back. It’s an illness/addiction. There is no “profile” for people with an illness.”

Then Jennifer T said, “Sorry, but I think that is wrong. People look at the abused and ask why? Why do you stay? Why don’t you just leave? He’s raping you! Beating you! What the F is your problem? The person not living the situation doesn’t have a clue. You think you do, but you really don’t. To me it’s like telling an alcoholic or drug addict that their addiction is about control. Nope. Not even close. There are a million reasons to stay with an abuser, none of which make any sense, but they are there. It’s not easy to walk away and let me tell you, love ain’t got nothing to do with it. Maybe in the beginning, but not in the end.”

Actually I don’t think this is off topic. This whole debate is about opinions and what is best for society/readers. Some things we can agree on and others boil down to opinion shaded by our background. Can I just say I would whether have a label telling me this is a great book that will be a classic.

BTW, I work at a drug rehab center and trust me it is about control or the lack of it.

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2 Pings to 'Please Remove Your Assumptions, They’re Sitting On My Genre'

On 19 Apr 07 at 11:09 am lesliedicken.com » Blog Archive » The Brewing Bruhaha pinged...

[...] Jennie Cruisie points out at Argh Ink that the notion many woman have “rape fantasies,” she makes a strong point for whether [...]

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On 09 May 07 at 5:01 am Dear Author.Com | Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell pinged...

[...] the Courtesan. Arguments raced round and round the blogosphere; discussions sprouted from here to Jennifer Crusie’s blog. After reading comments from people who reviled the book to comments from people who adored it, I [...]

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