Thursday, February 21, 2008

A New Novel from Pam (and a little about how Molly W. discovered romance)

I always get a little nuts waiting for The Revision Letter from my editor, so my thoughts are a bit scattered today...

So in lieu of a coherent post I thought I'd unveil the cover of the book, front and back, since that's what they've sent me thus far.




Isn't it pretty?






In Regency-speak, isn't it devilish pretty?

As you can see, the book is called The Edge of Impropriety. (I like the way the end of her shift gets tangled up with the title lettering, don't you?)

It'll be out in November, a erotic historical story whose heroine is a silver fork novelist (those were glitzy novels they read during the Regency -- the Regencies they read during the Regency, if you will; I love playing self-referential games). The hero's a classical scholar turned Mediterranean adventurer (anything to get those guys outside and give them a good, sexy suntan); he's one of the people responsible for hauling back all the spectacular Greek art you see in the British museum, though of course -- being one of my guys -- he's developed a conscience about it.

In fact, my couple meets cute among the Elgin Marbles.

And banter their way into each other's hearts (and bed) amid dinner-party discussion of Greek eros and esthetics -- and a little about the British empire as well (all of which was big fun for me to research).

But until I find out what revisions I have to make to the text, I better not tell you any more about The Edge of Impropriety.

Or worry too much about those revisions (though if you think I'm not worrying, perhaps there's a fixer-upper temple on a big hill in Greece that I can sell you).

So instead, I'm trying to prepare a set of comments to deliver at the Popular Culture Association Meeting next month. I was invited to speak on one of the romance panels; yes, there are academic scholars who study popular romance fiction: you can find out more about what they think and say and do at the blog Teach Me Tonight (and follow out the links from there).

The title I sent them was "From BDSM to Erotic Romance: Observations of a Shy Pornographer." Well, I figured it would get people's attention, anyway. And it has the virtue of limiting what I say to the work of one author I know a great deal about (moi) -- because to me one of the most daunting aspects of romance scholarship must be knowing how to define the field, popular romance being so huge and so driven by the prevailing winds of an ever-changing market.

But the core question for my presentation will be how a writer of hardcore BDSM porn came to turn her attention to romance writing. I wasn't a romance reader at the time, though I was vastly curious about the bodice-ripper covers it seemed I'd been seeing everywhere for a decade or so, and which seemed to seethe with the sort of repressed passion on the verge declaring itself (see my last post as well, about Mr. Darcy and repression -- gosh, I'm already learning to footnote myself). And my point (one of my points, anyway) will be that certain elements of the romance novel form sort of sprang forth from under my pornographer's hand...

(but some of you Molly Weatherfield readers probably know where this is going already)

...at the moment when, at the end of Carrie's Story, Jonathan makes his unwilling and hitherto-repressed declarations to Carrie (he's even pale -- god help him and his author -- and has been chain-smoking). Whereupon Carrie (cruel healthy young hyper-intellected smartass that she is) muses angrily that when he'd promised to give her a narrative form for her fantasies, she didn't think it would be "a goddamn Harlequin romance".

Which was the same moment when I (older, more compassionate, hyper-intellected smartass that I was), decided that I'd better find out what those "goddamn Harlequin romances" had to tell me (I thought of them generically back then -- Harlequin was like Kleenex).

True story. I still have to figure out how to tell it (among others).

In my spare time, when I'm not finding revisions and better ways to tell my tales of eros, esthetics, and empire, at The Edge of Impropriety.

If you want to find out more about the Popular Culture Association conference, it's here.

And as for questions... oh lord, in my disheveled state, you want questions?

Well, how do you think BDSM and romance fiction hook up? Or do you?

And isn't that cover for
The Edge of Impropriety just fiendishly lovely?

32 comments:

Jane Lockwood said...

Pam, your cover is stunningly beautiful--interesting that they're classifying it as historical romance, and not erotic historical romance. The detail is just exquisite, especially the flowers.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks, Jane. Yeah, I love the flowers too, and like to think of them as sort of an echo of Monet's Olympia.

As for erotic or not: maybe these days you're historical romance if you don't get a male torso on the cover. Damned if I can figure it.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Oh lord, I really did say Monet's Olympia, didn't I? Manet! Manet! Really! I knew that!

Jane Lockwood said...

Aha. I think we're onto something here.
Naked male torso = erotic romance
Naked female shoulderblades = historical romance.
So glad you weren't FB'd.

Kate Pearce said...

I did write a lovely reply to this earlier Pam, but Blogger let me down.

The cover is BEAUTIFUL!

And yes, I can absolutely see how you could get to erotic romance from BDSM. I'm currently taking the journey the other way round from steamy romance to homo eroticism :)

I got a naked man and a woman on my cover-what does that mean? alhough I have been asked if I think it's really 2 men :)

muse said...

First off, I love the blog. Second off, the proposed cover is wonderful because of the way it deals with edges and margins itself. Third off, I keep thinking that if you go back far enough in literary history you will get to a place where the Kleenex- excuse me, Harlequin -romance and the erotic novel are essentially the same genre. And wouldn't that be the seventeenth century?

Tumperkin said...

Big question Pam. (The first, I mean. The second is easy: 'slovely)

This touches on my current fascination with the whole question of consent in romance novels. Not really BDSM as such but there is a connection I think: forced seduction and the silent complicity of the heroine; the unacknowledged but plain submissive desire. And - crucially - the importance of that desire BEING unacknowledged.

So far as Harlequin is concerned (or Mills and Boon as we call them in my part of the world), the author who most effectively explored this was Charlotte Lamb in her late 70s/ early 80s heyday. For me, the high point of that would be the challenging 'Dark Dominion'. (Yes - challenging)

Pam Rosenthal said...

Jane, So glad you weren't FB'd????? I'm sure this is something very obvious in the romance cyberworld, but... enlighten me, please?

Kate, they don't do two guys on a cover, do they? Or do they, say in EC? So strange, that...

muse and tumperkin both, I feel blessed that this blog has such astute participants. Edges and margins 'r' us, muse (or me, or Molly and me). And which authors are you thinking of re the 17th century? (My husband finds "amatory novelists" like Eliza Heywood and Delariviere Manley and the Defoe of Roxana apposite here and someday I'm sure I'll get around to reading them)

And yes again to tumperkin -- consent is very important indeed. Both in the bodice-rippers (or not) and in those double-proposals in Jane Austen, where the heroine has to feel her way to consent)

Laura Vivanco said...

I don't know a lot about the older precursors of the modern romance but Deborah Lutz has written about the theme of the "Dangerous Lover" (details here) and she mentions that

In her study of early romance genres (from 1674 to 1740), Ros Ballaster creates two categories of use here: didactic love fiction and amatory fiction. [...] Ballaster’s category of didactic love fiction—romance that has a didactic project, is future-directed, and attempts to represent a moral way of living, a “just” kind of love (depending on what constitutes the “morals” of the particular time period in question). On the opposite extreme, the dangerous lover type falls under the rubric of amatory fiction. Amatory fiction cannot be, generally speaking, recuperated morally, nor does it play out in a socially sanctioned realm. (2)

My impression of the modern romance genre (and I don't claim to speak with any authority on this (see below for the many disclaimers and limitations I include when discussing the genre ;-) ) is that it includes quite a lot of texts in which there's mixing of the amatory and the didactic, and the result can be the creation of some interesting/odd tensions (see my comments below regarding a Charlotte Lamb novel, for example). In some cases the mixing might be an attempt to challenge conventional morality by demonstrating how people who seem like amoral "dark lovers" actually have their own moral code.

I know you've already read the Lutz, Pam, since you mentioned it before on this blog, but they seemed relevant to the discussion, so I thought I'd mention them.

Re this point:

to me one of the most daunting aspects of romance scholarship must be knowing how to define the field, popular romance being so huge and so driven by the prevailing winds of an ever-changing market.

which echoes something from a previous post:

how can you have read enough to authoritatively discuss so huge a field as popular romance fiction? I'm not sure how romance scholars get around that one

I think the answer is that we don't "authoritatively" discuss the whole field, apart from in the broadest terms. I think it would be easy enough to say that romance, as currently defined, is about a central love story and has an optimistic outcome for the central protagonists. That definition is based on consensus between authors (as represented by the RWA), readers and scholars. Other stories with different outcomes may be related to the modern romance genre, but they aren't part of it, as currently defined. One always has to define boundaries, and some people won't agree with them, but that's where they are on the issue of "romance" for most of the authors, readers and scholars I've seen discussing the issue.

Getting back to scholars of romance, we can talk about a variety of sub-genres in broad terms, always acknowledging that we're making generalisations. But when we want to go beyond that, we have to clarify which areas we're talking about. So if, for example, I'm writing about Crusie, I'll just focus on her novels. There's no need for me to pretend to have authoritative knowledge about the entire genre if I'm writing about a few specific texts. And when I wrote about Harlequin Mills & Boon and feminism, I very carefully limited my study to two lines within a short period of time (maximum 7 years) and acknowledged that I'd read what was a relatively small sample (about 60 novels in each line). It's the same when you do a PhD. You don't try to write something which spans vast areas of knowledge. Instead, while informed by what's going on elsewhere in the field, your main focus has to be on a very, very specific area. So although I might have been a "medievalist" or, to narrow things down a bit, a "hispanomedievalist," my real area of expertise was ideas about death in 15th-century Castile. I wouldn't have claimed any expert knowledge about death rates in the period, or tomb art, or a variety of other areas which, while related to mine, were still different from it.

Hmm. I'm not sure if you really wanted to get a long and detailed answer to your question, but as you'd brought up the issue twice, I thought perhaps you did.

Tumperkin, re Charlotte Lamb, I'd already read a couple of her novels, but when you recommended Frustration over at the SB's, I followed that up. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that this story works much less well for readers who don't have a "fascination with the whole question of consent in romance novels. Not really BDSM as such but there is a connection I think." The novel read to me like BDSM without a safe word for the heroine. As in the Lamb novel reviewed by SB Sarah, the motivating force in the plot is "the power of his [the hero's] tornado of burning, somewhat stalkery and utterly insane love." In other words, it read to me like an emotionally abusive relationship because the heroine had no idea where the boundaries were (at times she feared for her life, given the extent of the hero's rage) and she had little control over him/limited ability to make him stop (there was no safe word). Obviously it works, and works well, for some readers, but if you think about it as approximating reality, then there's no denying that the hero's behaviour is abusive (and the heroine would have very strong grounds for a prosecution on the grounds of sexual harassment). Read as "didactic" love fiction this would be a failure. Read as a narrative about a fantasy of the dark lover, it works well.

Celia May Hart said...

Fiendishly, deliciously lovely! When does it come out again?

Pam Rosenthal said...

The easy question first: Celia, it's supposed to come out in November.

Pam Rosenthal said...

OK (deep breath), Laura.

First, thanks for responding in such length. Yes, I'm a huge fan of Lutz, though I need to read it more thoroughly and even then, I'll have to take the philosophy parts on trust.

And yes, some day I'll get to Ros Ballaster as well (my husband's on me to get to that too -- pillow talk in our house can be strange)

As for the possibility of a romance canon and how useful it would be -- I'm still confused about that.

While it's true that your dissertation is only about a sub-sub-subset of a bigger subject, Laura, your dissertation committee doubtless scrutinized your bibliography for gaps in your general expertise. A canon was recognized even as some members of your field might hope to be skillful or lucky enough to change or clarify its boundaries.

I'm still not clear what works for scholars of a form whose boundaries are changing monthly.

And I moreover confess to being pretty impressed by what Franco Moretti and his minions are doing at Stanford (I once heard Moretti speak about his book Graphs, Maps, and Trees, and found what he had to say about, say, Conan Doyle, more apposite to my own problems as a romance writer than just about anything I'd heard before or since -- in fact, after the talk he came over to find out why I'd been doing all that silly-looking hello-kitty nodding at all his points).

But that's a much longer discussion (for anybody who hasn't already dozed off, Moretti's involved in this prodigiously well-funded thing at Stanford where graduate students account for enormous numbers of novels, sometimes just counting how many of what sort are published by year -- it seems to me that there's a lot to be learned from looking at a commodity as... a commodity -- as when romance writers try to figure out which of us are Brava and which are Aphrodisia, and why we get the covers we do)

While as for issues of consent -- that'll have to wait until I catch my breath.

Jane Lockwood said...

When I worked for an opera company, a first-time, fairly young audience member was outraged that we printed a synopsis of La Boheme in the program because it "spoiled the ending." As well as being an interesting piece of cultural literacy, this made me think about how we, as readers, anticipate a resolution.

In other words, it's not what you read, it's how you read and the cover art, marketing, and publisher's categorization of the book all play into the reader's preconceptions.

In romance we assume the expectation of the HEA, and decipher the clues that lead us there, while the writer throws up as many roadblocks as she can. In BDSM isn't there always the expectation that the bottom will make a journey of transformation into the perfect submissive? (I'm phrasing this as a question because I've read even less BDSM than romance.) Or, as in the Molly Weatherfield books, the submissive's forays into the role of the dominant create an expectation that the roles could change, giving the reader a different sort of resolution--or a different sort of roadblock.

FB'd--I'm trying to get my unfortunate cover experience into the lexicon...

Laura Vivanco said...

I feel I should confess that I've not read all of Lutz's book, and none of Ballaster's. I'd like to, one day, but in the meantime there are many, many other things on my "to be read list."

As for the possibility of a romance canon and how useful it would be -- I'm still confused about that.

A canon emerges from the process of study, I think. Once one scholar has found a particular text interesting, that tends to stimulate further debate about, and analysis of, that text. This leads to the creation of secondary material which is useful when teaching the text to students. And if the primary text can sustain that level of analysis without getting stale, and there's a sense that there is still more to write/learn about it, then it'll probably end up as part of a "canon."

Laura, your dissertation committee doubtless scrutinized your bibliography for gaps in your general expertise. A canon was recognized even as some members of your field might hope to be skillful or lucky enough to change or clarify its boundaries.

Obviously there were some texts that I couldn't have missed out because they're really, really well-known 15th-century Castilian texts about death. But I was also seeking out less well known texts and texts which are better known/analysed for other reasons and so wouldn't be automatically associated with that topic.

I'm still not clear what works for scholars of a form whose boundaries are changing monthly.

It's really not so very different from the situation I described above. There are some texts which have already stood the test of time and which are still talked about by readers even though they were published many years ago (e.g. Heyer), some are important because they marked a turning point in the development of the genre (E. M. Hull's The Sheik, for example). If I was working on sheik romances, I probably couldn't get away with not mentioning Hull's novel at some point. The number of "canonical" romances one has to mention will vary, of course, depending on how narrowly one defines one's area of study. Pamela Regis obviously had to discuss lots of them because she was writing a history of the genre and discussing the way in which its core features had remained constant over the centuries, but when I've written about Crusie, for example, I was putting the texts in the context of feminism, the "canonical" element was a key moment in feminism rather than other romances.

The genre is constantly being added to, but the core elements (as outlined by the RWA or, in more detail, by Pamela Regis) have been constant for centuries (Pamela Regis starts her detailed analysis of some key texts with Richardson's Pamela (1750), for example).

Even in areas which seem "fixed" in the sense that more primary texts are unlikely to emerge there is still change, because of the ongoing production of secondary material and the ways in which people can start to look at the texts from new perspectives, or decide that some texts deserve greater attention than they've hitherto been given.

And the changing nature of the field that romance scholars have to deal with is not very different from what modern historians have to contend with. They've got new sources constantly becoming available, and history never stops unfolding. Similarly academics studying modern fiction of other sorts have to keep abreast of the works of modern poets, novelists, dramatists etc. And to quote from the webpage you linked to, about Moretti,

"A canon of 200 novels, for instance, sounds very large for 19th-century Britain (and is much larger than the current one), but is still less than 1 per cent of the novels that were actually published: 20,000, 30, more, no one really knows

In other words, there's a huge number of texts in that field which still haven't been explored in any detail. But it doesn't stop people being able to say something significant about specific texts which they have analysed. Just because I'll only ever read a minute fraction of the total number of romances ever written doesn't mean I can't speak with some authority about particular texts, or particular sub-genres/lines which I've spent a lot of time researching. And just because a historian or literature scholar hasn't read every scrap of available literature doesn't mean they won't be able to read enough to get a feel for a particular period of history/the development of a particular genre. Of course there will be gaps, maybe even huge gaps, but if there weren't, there'd be no opportunity for doing original academic work. Academic "expertise" never, ever even remotely approaches omniscience about a subject.

As for Moretti's approach, I think it's useful when looking at particular kinds of facts about books and publishing, but I'd see it as complementing close reading/detailed literary analysis and not replacing it. To choose a metaphor which seems appropriate given that this is a blog about erotic romances, Moretti's approach seems a bit like learning about sex by carrying out lots and lots of surveys of how often people have sex, where they have it etc. But however useful and interesting the findings, they'd not be at all likely to replace personal experience of the activity, and I don't think Moretti's approach can ever replace the richness of the experience of reading texts in detail, exploring them, thinking about them and finding new pleasures in the text each time one re-reads it.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Wow, thanks again for responding at such length -- and of course I intend to speak about certain texts with the authority of close reading as well (be they male-torso-texts, female-scapulae-texts, or... um, how about texts that have been SHOESED, will that do, Jane?)

And I absolutely agree with Jane that expectation and reading practice outside the covers of a particular book have a great deal to do with it -- as does working against expectation, which more of us do, I suspect, than one thinks, and in different ways (chick-lit being one good way into this discussion, perhaps)

Michael Rosenthal said...

As Laura observes, the dominant thrust of romance scholarship has been to emphasize the elements that remain constant across the history of the genre. But mightn’t we also need another, complementary style of scholarship, one hat seeks to identify the dynamics of change within the genre? It seems to me that at least part of this change has concerns shifts in the handling of what tumperkin calls “the question of consent” – particularly when we bear in mind that “consent” includes the dangerous hero’s acknowledgment of his powerless in the face of passion. Certainly, a great deal of the discussion on this blog has concerned flux in generic categories, rather than stability.

By the way, I’m the husband sometimes alluded to.

Caffey said...

Pamela, the cover is awesome! But the wait is so long! I shall try to be patient until then, unless you have a book out in between I missed about.

Pamela, do you think that they really should put it up as a erotic historical romance? I know I read about Jane Lockwood, I think its her recent erotic historical romance book was not labeled that and was reviewed under the wrong area etc. Just something to think about.

Kate, I noticed that a e-book cover may have two male on the cover but when it goes to print, it either puts it very faintly in the back or takes out the second man. Thats what I've seen.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks for the kind words, Caffey. The truth is I don't know how they should market my stuff because I'm as unclear of the shape of the erotic historical market as anyone else. In the face of that changing, fragmenting market we've been talking about, I still do pretty much what I've always done.

Laura Vivanco said...

mightn’t we also need another, complementary style of scholarship, one hat seeks to identify the dynamics of change within the genre?

I'm not sure if by "dynamics" you mean (a) analysis of the factors which cause change and (b) working out how changes spread through the genre, or whether you mean the previous step, which would be to identifying what constitutes a "change". Either way, I agree that these are important topics. Some areas of study would probably be easier than others. It would probably not be too difficult to analyse the rise and fall of particular publishers and/or their output, the sub-genre labels they use/lines that come and go, and the titles of novels etc. But that level of analysis might not tell you enough about the contents.

Once one does try to analyse the contents, one might run into the problem of the way in which what one person thinks of as "change" might make another person think "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose". I know there have been some novels which have come out recently which some people thought were truly groundbreaking. Maybe they were in some ways, but in terms of the dynamics I was interested in, they weren't.

It seems to me that at least part of this change has concerns shifts in the handling of what tumperkin calls “the question of consent”

I've got a vague sense that a more "traditional" (for want of another word) type of story with a very dominant hero went out of fashion/ got toned down in historicals and contemporaries, but has perhaps resurfaced in some paranormals, where you can literally have an "alpha male" werewolf hero, or the hero can literally read the heroine's mind when he makes decisions about what's best for her. My impression is that paranormal, and fantasy elements can make some plots (like rape of the heroine) feel more acceptable again because they indicate so clearly that what's happening in the novel doesn't have any implications for what might be acceptable in real life relationships between people who are not shape-shifters, vampires etc.

That's only my very vague impression, though, as I haven't read enough novels from the 70s and 80s, or enough paranormals, so I don't have much evidence to back up the impression.

Laura Vivanco said...

P.S. Michael, was the word choice in the phrase "the dominant thrust of romance scholarship" deliberate, or was that your subconscious at work? ;-)

Jane Lockwood said...

Pamela, do you think that they really should put it up as a erotic historical romance? I know I read about Jane Lockwood, I think its her recent erotic historical romance book was not labeled that and was reviewed under the wrong area etc

Caffey, Pam is an established name--she has name recognition, she has a niche in this huge and diverse market, and so people who love her writing and know her previous books will know what they're getting into.

My book was my debut as Jane Lockwood and the cover was a real bodice ripper throwback and the back cover blurb misleading--no wonder people were confused. I have no idea why this marketing decision was made.

Victoria Janssen said...

OOH, that sounds like a fun read. Also, the cover is gorgeous.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks, victoria. And thanks, Jane, for reassuring me that I have a niche (obnoxiously, no doubt, there's a part of me that persists in imagining myself in the romance market as the nerdy little fat girl in a high school full of Cordelias and Harmonies)

While as for my husband's choice of metaphor, Laura: LOL, I guess he's still my original dangerous lover.

Michael Rosenthal said...

Laura, I did mean analysis of the factors that cause change, but I had in mind something more extensive than the rise and fall of lines or particular subgenres. Rather, I meant factors internal to the genre itself. To put it very briefly (since this is not really a theory blog in any case): romance scholarship, following Regis, presents the Romance Novel as being entirely synonymous with the Courtship Novel. Now the Courtship Novel emerged in a historically specific time, place and literary context. Part of its impetus was to cleanse the novel of the overt sexuality and licentiousness that had marked that past 60 or so years of fiction about love written by women (Richardson was explicit about this in its title page). The courtship structure served to defer the issue of sexuality to just after the conclusion of the book. I think that the elements that were suppressed by the courtship novel (especially the dance of seduction and consent) continued and continues to operate as a destabilizing force within it, and that the current avalance of explicit sexuality may be pushing that destabilization to the breaking point.

Tumperkin said...

Sorry to stray away from the initial question posed by you, Pam, but I wanted to address Laura's first comment.

Laura - I think that where we differ on the book you mentioned, is that I did not concern myself with the judging the hero's actions against 'reality'. And I think that that is the case for a lot of romance readers (although I appreciate you are reading romance as an academic - I am not). You talk about the definition of the romance novel as being two characters/ love story/ HEA. That's all well and good, but I don't think it follows that just because that is what the story is 'about' that readers (or all readers) are concerned with the authenticity of the central relationship. My own view is that for many readers, it's more about the journey - the roller-coaster if you like. A story arc contains highs and lows that deliver an emotional punch to the reader. A story with a very dark hero (abusive in the real world) might deliver a much more satisfying journey for certain readers. I tend to think of the more lurid examples of this type of story as 'emotional porn'.

Tumperkin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura Vivanco said...

romance scholarship, following Regis, presents the Romance Novel as being entirely synonymous with the Courtship Novel.

I'm not sure that's really what Regis was trying to do. In discussions on the romance scholar list I'm fairly sure she's said that although she phrased her descriptions in terms of marriage, betrothal and hero/heroine, she's really quite flexible about what those terms might mean in the modern genre, so "betrothal/marriage" might just mean some sort of commitment, and it doesn't have to be between a man and a woman.

The courtship structure served to defer the issue of sexuality to just after the conclusion of the book. I think that the elements that were suppressed by the courtship novel (especially the dance of seduction and consent) continued and continues to operate as a destabilizing force within it, and that the current avalance of explicit sexuality may be pushing that destabilization to the breaking point.

What I've seen in the "hotter" romances, and I've also got this impression from what some authors of erotic romances have written about their view of that sub-genre, is that sex often becomes a part of the courtship, and that whereas an Austen heroine might have had to discover, during the course of a courtship, whether her suitor had enough money and the right moral values, the modern heroines in these romances need to discover whether their lover will meet their sexual needs. And of course also her emotional needs, some of which may well be expressed through sexual activity. So although the criteria for eligibility may have changed, I don't think that the inclusion of sex necessarily destabilises the pattern of courtship leading to commitment.

I did not concern myself with the judging the hero's actions against 'reality'.

Yes, that's what I was meaning when I said that the book would work as "amatory fiction."

I appreciate you are reading romance as an academic - I am not

I don't think I can blame/excuse/explain my preferences on the grounds that I'm an academic! As an academic I try to look at romances like Lamb's as objectively as possible, and I can see why it might work for you, because you're reading it as "amatory fiction" (I'm using that term because it seems a convenient shorthand). But they're never going to be my personal favourites.

A story arc contains highs and lows that deliver an emotional punch to the reader. A story with a very dark hero (abusive in the real world) might deliver a much more satisfying journey for certain readers.

Yes, I can see how that might be the case. I've read lots of similar comments in the past, though generally people don't state it as clearly as you have, and I don't think I'd fully grasped what they were meaning until you phrased it this way. It's not something I can understand on an emotional level. I've always preferred Austen's Persuasion to either Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. I'm all for sense rather than sensibility.

Lenora Bell said...

Lordy, this is quite a discussion. I'm going to stick to the second question. Your new cover is drop dead gorgeous. I like to shelve my Pam Rosenthals next to my AS Byatts and this will make a most pleasing addition.

Pam Rosenthal said...

It is quite a discussion, isn't it? Thanks, you guys, it's really interesting where these topics can go.

And Lenora, you're making me blush. Thanks so much.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Oh, and one more thing (there's always one more thing, isn't there?)

Speaking about covers, beautiful, misleading, or (as the Smart Bitches might say) WTF:

Tomorrow (Sunday, February 24 -- is the last day for you to enter my contest, for a chance to win a copy of Jane Lockwood's oddly marketed but wonderfully smart and sexy erotic historical Forbidden Shores

Eden Bradley said...

First, that is truly one of the most gorgeous covers I've ever seen!
I'm just barely going to miss you at the conference, Pam! A friend is also speaking there and Lillian Feisty and I are flying in for a weekend of smut peddler's debauchery (and possibly Lacy...? Need to talk to her). Anyway...now that I know the topic you'll be discussing I may have to sit outside the gates and pout, as we won't actually be attending the conference. But enough of my whining.
BDSM vs romance? Well, since I often write both in my books, I see no reason why they can't go hand-in-hand. From my own experience in the BDSM realm, most people in the lifestyle are very relationship focused, and those relationships are extremely intense. I think the trust implicit in these practices make for very strong bonding, so in my mind, romance can be very much a part of the equation.
Of course, there are people who may play together as friends, or who negotiate a scene for one evening of fun at a club, but strong, loving relationships are most common.
In my own BDSM fiction, I focus a lot on those developing relationships, because I think it taps into the most vulnerable places in my characters, and that's where the really interesting stuff happens.
I've written BDSM without the romance and romance without the BDSM, but the common thread for me is what makes people tick? Who are we when we're our most basic, primal selves? How do we learn from life's experiences? How does any important experience affect us, whether it's falling in love, or being tied up and flogged, or both simultaneously? (Which is really quite lovely. But I'm getting distracted now...). I don't think the idea of exploring these factors change whether we write romance, hard-core BDSM, contemporary or historical.
I hope I haven't wandered too far off topic, and I know I'm not at my most literate-I have the flu and my head feels like it's full of cotton. My apologies if I've babbled.
I've enjoyed this discussion very much!

Pam Rosenthal said...

Eden, hi (waving giddily). Sorry you won't be at the workshop, but you know a lot of what I have to say anyway. Maybe you and I and Feisty (and Lacy?) can get together for a drink.

Glad you like the cover, and that you've been enjoying the discussion. My point about BDSM and romance does have to do with points along the process, something as Pamela Regis describes in her book, A Natural History of the Romance Novel -- and also quite differently.

I got interested in all this stuff a million years ago when I was writing a tribute to Dominique Aury, author of Story of O for Salon.com, and wanted to differentiate her work from certain contemporary pornographies, which seemed to me "therapeutic," in a way that perhaps had something in common with mass-market romance fiction (and I was right):

Beauty and her prince cuddle in the saddle in Anne Rice's "Sleeping Beauty" trilogy. Pat Califia's lesbian biker girls ride off clean and sober at the end of "Doc and Fluff." Even John Preston's eponymous leatherman, Mr. Benson, goes a little sappy on us, piercing his young partner with a diamond stud and growling, "I guess we're hitched now, asshole."

If anybody's interested, the URL for the essay (and related non-fiction I've written) is listed at http://www.pamrosenthal.com/essays.htm.