Friday, June 1, 2007

Forcing the issue

I've been thinking a lot about the whole 'forced seduction' topic and how it has suddenly sprung to life again after all this time. I grew up in the UK and romance novels over there came in two main packages. Mills & Boon and gritty.

One of the most famous British authors Catherine Cookson is almost totally unheard of in the U.S. because she writes stories about women who start off poor and drag themselves up by their bootstraps to become entrepreneurs (or wonder women), usually bringing some complete bastard alpha male to heel along the way. You'd think that these 'rags to riches' stories would sell well in the U.S. because, well, that is the American dream isn't it? but they don't because the U.S. market has generally been more focused on the happy ever after fantasy.

One of the first authors who really inspired me was Brenda Jagger. She wrote awesome historicals set mainly in the industrial north of England when everything was changing so rapidly. In her books, couples fight, have affairs and are not always perfect. I love gritty books where a marriage can even survive infidelity by both couples. I love finding out how that can be resolved and how true love triumphs in the end.

When I first started writing in the U.S., I think I brought that more gritty, realistic element into my writing, with heroes who weren't always talking about their feelings or being very politically correct. My rejections usually mentioned this, implying that the books weren't romantic enough for the U.S. market. I wanted to sell so I toned down those elements, concentrated on different aspects of the stories or found places, such as erotic romance, where those elements were more welcome.

But even at Ellora's Cave, infidelity after marriage is not appreciated by readers and doesn't sell. (Four intergalactic aliens and one woman okay, one man one woman trying to repair a marriage, not okay) Some of my favorite U.S. authors, such as Mary Balogh, who originally came from Wales, still have elements of that more gritty style in some of their writing and I like that realism. I suspect any Australian or Commonwealth writer who grew up on M&B and 'rags to riches' books probably has that underlying bias as well. (I must ask Anna Campbell about that-she is Australian)

So to ramble back to my original point, (kind of), I'm glad to see a return of the more graphic books. I'm not a fan of rape, obviously, but I suspect forced seduction is one of women's number one fantasies. I realized a while ago that I didn't really have a right to grumble about young women who choose to express their femininity in ways that I feel are inappropriate. In the same way, I don't have the right to censure other readers for their fantasies. We all have a right to dream.

Would you be uncomfortable reading more old style 'Bodice Ripper' stories or do you prefer the romance genre to keep moving forward, maybe incorporating elements of the older stories with stronger heroines?


Eva Gale said...

The only thing that pissed me off about the whole hue and cry about forced seduction is that I really realy truly hate to see anyone's fantasy dissed. You know? And some people are of the opinion that there is something wrong with the fantasy of being forced. Great for them, but I would like (for myself and others) the ability to wallow in it if it pleases me.

Go Graphic!

Pam Rosenthal said...

Somewhere in the world, time no doubt whistled by on taut and widespread wings, but here in the English countryside it plodded slowly, painfully, as if it trod the rutted road that stretched across the moors on blistered feet.

I have no objection to The Flame and the Flower ideologically, but stylistically, I don't hope for a revival.

Elizabeth Parker said...

You mentioned stronger heroines, and I see this as part of the changing fantasy. Older books had many heroines that fit the "waif" archetype, and being "forced" kind of went along wit that. Today, the waif is politically incorrect, and you predominantly see heroines who fit the "Amazon" archetype. I get so tired of PC "feisty" heroines with smart mouths.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: Shoot me, but I find the romance genre to be riddled with PC, and it makes the books predictable and less fun in every way -- from characters to fantasies.

Kate Pearce said...

Eva-absolutely-free fantasy for all-wallow away!

Pam-yes, it always surprises me how 'flowery' the language is in some of those older romances as well!

Elizabeth-personally I hate the feisty modern girl who goes charging around medieval England kicking ass-she wouldn't last long-and yes, of course you are right, romance is full of stereotypes-some I like some I don't

Pam Rosenthal said...

Feisty and kickass can certainly get old. But the romance convention that I'm not willing to give up is the smart heroine -- from Lizzy Bennet to Jo March to Willow Rosenberg to my current pop culture goddess, Liz Lemon on Tina Fey's 30 Rock.

I actually never finished The Flame and the Flower, but I might have gotten further if Heather had been a slightly brighter bulb. Though perhaps she smartens up a bit later?