... or further thoughts on Jane's mantitty post.
Maybe I find myself so singularly unmoved by those perfect-pecs-and-abs combos adorning romance covers these days because I live in San Francisco -- where not only is the look mass-produced in the gym, but where it's done so well and so often by so many gay men.
While as for clinch covers, I usually find them a bit clammy to the... touch? Well, to the eye, anyway, because among all the clinching there isn't really much touching, is there? I think that what creeps me out is that clinch cover artists are still using techniques from the heyday of the bodice-ripper, when clothes might have fallen away but hands were kept visibly out of trouble: nobody was ever actually doing anything that could even distantly be construed as heavy petting -- because that would be pornographic. And not romantic.
Rather than pull up an example from clinch cover hell, though, I offer instead this dreadful photo that was in Vanity Fair a few years ago, of San Francisco's cute mayor Gavin Newsom and his then-wife, Kimberley.
Doesn't it look like a clinch cover? Same awkward head and neck position, same extreme stiffness and rectitude.
What could the photographer -- or his subjects, for that matter -- have been thinking?
But there's something else, something snarkier and more difficult to explain, that bothers me about both the clinch and to the male torso cover.
Hang in with me while I try to think it through. My starting point is that I don't think it's the job of a book cover to "illustrate" what's going on inside the book of fiction. I think rather that a cover should try to present an image that corresponds in some way to what the author is trying to get at, but not by drawing a picture of it. Rather, it should be a graphic shot at the same idea , atmospher -- the same world -- that the author's trying to get at verbally.
But while the torso covers are certainly suggestive rather than illustrative, they're too generic -- hey, it wasn't for nothing that we used to call the gay men who sported those cookie-cutter perfect bodies "Castro clones."
One wants an image that suggests a way of looking at the world, but is neither a Pavlovian signal nor an illustration. Certainly I don't think of the cover of The Slightest Provocation as a picture of my heroine Mary Penley.
I think, rather, that the painting it was taken from (Sir Thomas Lawrence's portrait of the Countess of Blessington) was a highly successful image of a beautiful and glamorous woman as the Regency would see her. Which is not exactly how we see a beautiful and glamorous woman (though the Countess is certainly still plenty easy on our 21st century eyes). She's just enough of her time and not of ours, to shoot a little spark of mystery, excitement, unfamiliarity, and disjunction through the gap between eras and sensibilities.
Which is the same spark -- well, in this case it's a heavy jolt -- that I got from the Ingres nude that Jane Lockwood posted recently. Like Lawrence's Lady Blessington, he's great to look at. But also like her, he's fascinating partly because I don't understand him fully.
Here he is again -- I hope I'm not boring any of you by bringing him back once more. He's an image from a time that's not ours, but that we can dream and stretch our imaginations (or, oh... our whatevers...) upon. As to what masculinity meant, how a man might try to represent it in his posture and expression.
Because -- and here's the difficult, and for me the interesting part. When we write an erotic romance, we begin with physical attraction and then we put it through the wringer of the disparities of power and sensibility that make love so difficult. The sex scenes aren't only entertainment (though they'd better also be that); they're also stages in the progress of this struggle. And when we write an erotic historical, we draw upon different views of power and sensibility than the ones we negotiate in our day-to-day lives.
So when we write an erotic historical romance, I don't think I want the physical sex to be 100% recognizable, familiar, and of the same worldview as Cosmo's last 30 or 50 or 70 Hints on How to Drive Him Wild in Bed?
Because although we're describing the same basic equipment, because I can't believe that it felt entirely the same two hundred years ago, when social beliefs and customs were so different. Hey, it didn't feel the same to me -- before and after I'd read Our Bodies, Ourselves.
Not that it's so easy to portray these subtle changes in intimate psychology. Myself, I'm usually going for a reasonably accurate themepark sort of rendition. But I do try to imagine what it might have been like to feel -- to be -- beautiful, strong, desirable, or powerful in a time when these qualities had different meanings than they have now.
Because -- just possibly and to bring it all back home once more -- I have this other set of suspicions: that I and we might we actually enjoy seeing ourselves and our times, through the shifting, shimmering veil of other eroticisms and aesthetics.
Friday, March 16, 2007
... or further thoughts on Jane's mantitty post.