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VIRTUALLY HERS came out Oct. 2009. Get it at SAMHAIN Publishing. VIRTUALLY ONE coming soon.
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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Well, Now I Know I Don't Write Books

New knowledge of the day: You haven't been reading books. In fact, you have been reading stuff that are sort of like Soduku or Hustler Magazine.

While discussing/ranting about a particularly stupid and misogynist Washington Post article by a woman whose premise is "women really are dumb" (and she wasn't joking), a popular political blogger wrote:

"romance novels*...are not "books", as that word is normally used. They are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn. They should therefore be compared not to War and Peace, but to either Ultimate Sudoku or the Hustler centerfold."


Many of the following comments ignored this little nugget in their agreement with said blogger about her rant, till Gary Farber, who is made of teh Awesome:

"So I hate to stand up in the middle of a good rant.

But, well, although I've never worked on romance novels myself -- although I've worked on stuff with cross-over appeal for a variety of companies -- I spent years working as an editor for a company, Avon Books, whose bread and butter was romance novels, as well as freelancing for many years with my houses with romance lines.

I worked every day for years side-by-side with romance editors. We had offices and desks next to each other, just a couple of handfuls of editors. I learned a fair amount about the field, and its similarities and differences to other genre fiction over the years.

What Hilzoy said is, I regret to say, a load of class-based, ignorant, anti-genre, elitist, crap. It's the identical kind of crap dumped ono genre writers of every sort, be they mystery writers, sf or fantasy writers, children's books writers, romance book writers, or what have you.

In every genre, there's a lot of crap, there's a lot of mediocre stuff, there's some good stuff, there's some great stuff, and there's some occasionally brilliant stuff. That's as true of the genre of "literature," or "mainstream" fiction as it is of any flavor of fiction or nonfiction.

There are no firm boundaries or borders between genres, and there's no homogenity of quality whatever.

There are no divisions into "this genre is all worthy" and "this genre is such garbage that we can't even call what we put it in "books," let alone call the producers "writers."

[...] "Second, romance novels are not 'books', as that word is normally used. They are either tools for relaxation or the female equivalent of porn. They should therefore be compared not to War and Peace, but to either Ultimate Sudoku or the Hustler centerfold." And what does that make the writers, and the editors?
This is seriously offensive stuff, Hilzoy. How would you feel about someone writing a rant like this about philosophy professors, and their work?

Should I give you some phone numbers of romance novel writers and editors, so you can tell them you've carefully considered their careers, their decades of work, and their individual novels, and that you've evaluated them, distinguishing the quality of one writer and none novel from the next thoughtfully, and that this is your valuation and verdict on their work? Or should they just come by the blog, maybe after some links, to read your opinion of what they do?

I hope you'll consider rewriting this. I realize that I'm really seriously offended by it; wait until some of the actual romance folks see it, if you want a real unhappy reaction.

But it turns out that us folks who produce such horrible and worthless nonliterature are actually really people, who have weird delusions that their work isn't pseudo-porn trash to be pissed on by people who feel superior to it, and to its readers.
The upper end of the romance genre is Jane Austen. What's appealing is the stories, and the characters, and the writing. Want to pick on an individual work, or writer, as lousy? Fine. Go do it.

Want to trash an entire genre, and all its writers and readers?

This arouses unwelcome responses, including impulsive and rude imperative suggestions involving recommended actions, that I shall decline to make.
But they weren't terribly original suggestions, and thus I leave them to dwell in the reader's imagination.

Ironically -- but not -- War And Piece is stuffed with romance genre elements, by the way."


He couldn't have said it any better. And--you know it's bound to happen--as word got out in Romancelandia, linkages started way, way earlier today and we have Nora Roberts, Ann Aguirre, and other authors weighing in. Okay, I did too, but only one small post, so there, and was certainly in no way as eloquent as Mr. Farber, La Nora, and the others.

You can find the whole LONG-ASS THREAD HERE.

But you didn't know, did you, that those thousands of things in your bookcases are really NON-books and that they are porn. Tell me, do you think the romance books you buy aren't books but actually sort of Hustle Magazines for women?

*********************

Speaking of Mr. Farber, since he mentioned he was an Avon junior editor, I clicked to his site. I'm always willing to help out a fellow human down on his luck and it seems Mr. Farber is having some truly bad times. I may be an out-of-work roofer, but at least I'm not living on desperation yet. So, if you would like to help out this man (you can read his story HERE after you scroll past his Paypal buttons, which can be a bit offputting to some readers, but scroll down anyway, and read what he has to say).

I don't personally know Mr. Farber and really can't vouch for him. The blogging community appears to know him well enough. However, after reading his plight, I'm compelled to show some compassion for someone whose current options are few. If every one of my readers donate a dollar or two, he should have a couple of months' rent taken care of while he works to straighten out his disability paperwork. I know how it feels to live on the verge of calm desperation. Besides, his awesome post at the initial site to which I linked is worth my couple of dollars! :-)

Bear with me while I learn. The first button likes the POST. The second button likes the BLOG site. Please help me by "liking" me. Thanks!

14 comments:

Kim said...

Quel surprise! All this time I thought I was reading books!

LadyZannah said...

I agree with Farber, there is crap in every genre. Some books are just boring and yes there are romance novels out there that are just gratuitous porn and have no story line.
My bookcases are full of books from authors such as yourself Jenn, C.L. Wilson & Lora Leigh right next to names such as Tolkien, Dante, and Homer. As a matter of fact V-His is right next to la Vita Nuova :).
I love reading and I don't care the genre if I like it, I like it and if I don't it's gone. Oh and War and Peace is not in my collection, cannot stomach it.

Gary Farber said...

Thanks most kindly.

You make me regret not proofing my typos in a blog comment, though. :-)

"Speaking of Mr. Farber, since he mentioned he was an Avon junior editor, I clicked to his site."

For the record, that was for a handful of years in the mid-Nineties. And I've not even been freelancing by mail with NY publishers in the last five years.

(But my first fulltime and also freelance publishing work was in 1975, when I was 16, with a long list of publishing work, mostly freelance, a few brief inhouse jobs, after that, although I was never more than a junior editor, or a freelance copyeditor or consulting editor or proofreader or copywriter, or whathaveyou. To be clear.)

Anyway, thanks muchly again; my own blogging at my own blog is regrettably infrequent at present, but I have hopes of getting back to more posting sooner, rather than later.

Ithaka said...

LOL! I read (and enjoy!) erotic romances and to me, they ARE literary porn. Ok, 'literary' in that they are words, not pitchures. I always thought, though, that I (and all the other women who love their erotic romances) are smarter, not dumber, than men who buy Hustler. Why? Because books (if it looks like a book, feels like a book and has lots of words, it's a book to me) don't use real-life people. Authors do not abduct women and children for purposes of testing out their plots but if Jenn has a Jed lookalike chained up in her dungeon...

Know what I mean? I have no problem with my romance novels being considered porn but there's great porn and there's lousy porn. Some are hardcore, like Lora Leigh's work, and some are soft, like Jenn's though I would never think to associate the word 'soft' to Jed McNeil.

I have to say I did not bother to read the article or posts but if I'm not wrong, that woman doesn't read many romances and I'm going to do what she just did to me - assume something that's quite hurtful. I'm assuming that because she doesn't read romances (and most likely never read an erotic romance) she doesn't have much, if any, romance in her life, much less in her soul...AND, if she did have a partner who entertained romantic aspirations towards her, he's doomed to disappointment. And don't he even hope she'll do any of that stuff I love reading in my literary porn.

Whatever, that's my view - I don't care that my reading material is porn because the author and I are much, much smarter than the people who lambast us. We are the ones who know what's fantasy and what's real and we don't kidnap someone and destroy that real life to feed our fantasies. Of course, I'm not speaking for those who claim they were abducted by aliens with two penises.

vince said...

Typos or no, Mr. Farber provides a magnificant reposnse to the original post.

I despise snobbery, whatever form it takes, and despise it most when disquised as academics.

My bookshelves are full of books of all kinds. My favorites are SF and mystery, but in the past few years I have come to appreciate Romance as a genre. Admittedly, I prefer my romance with a supernatural or other twist. I liked Virtually His not only because it was well written, but because of the SF elements and how well they blend with the romance.

As a male reader of Romance novels, I often get harrassed about reading "women's soft pron." My response has usually been to offer the person several books for them to actually read. Sadly, few take me up on the offer.

Yes, there's a lot of dispoable Romance books. But there's a lot of disposable mystery books, SF books, fantasy books, etc. And Romance, like all other genres, have their very good and great authors.

So thanks to the women in my life who kept pushing various Romance novels in front of me saying "you know, if you gave them a chance, I think you'd like them." You've introduced me to some great reading.

Oh, and thanks, Jenn, for linking to Mr. Farber's site.

vince said...

Uh, that would be ":women's soft porn." I'd like to blame that on what's left of the flu. But it's pobably not.

vince said...

Crap. I can not type tonight. But you know what I mean.

Jenny said...

Thanks for the link. I sent him some money. Sadly, our healthcare system is crap.

Gennita said...

Kim,
I know. It was a revelation to me too.

Lady Zannah,
Totally agree with you. I bunch all my books together too, except for Philosophy. But since I was a Philosophy major, that's understandable ;-). I read all kinds of books, from really boring non-fiction to memoirs to fiction, but I've never thought less of any genre. I might not like a particular kind--like slash-horror--but it's more because of personal taste rather than looking down at the authors and readers who enjoy it.

Gary,
Welcome! I realized you spoke in the past tense, but I was still interested, since I was an Avon author from 2002-05. Again, I want to thank you for your eloquent defense of the romance genre. Your pieces were very reassuring to me, that there are others outside the few InternetZ crowd I hang out with, who care enough to try to correct the misconceptions about the genre.

That said, I want to add I enjoy going through your blog and hope that you'll find time to post again. I also hope that my publicising your current problems help you. I don't have a huge readership but most of my readers are kind and generous and hopefully, they'll lend a helping hand.

Gennita said...

Elaine,
No, actually, without reading the piece this woman wrote, you did her a disservice. She actually composed a very well thought out article about the offensive piece in the Washington Post. She made ONE mistake, and an ironic one-- since she was talking about misogynistic assumptions--and it sort of ruined the rest of her piece for those of us who are both political, but are also knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the romance genre.

Whether the reader cares about her reading material being regarded as porn is really not a problem to romance authors. But to be put in a bunch and waved away as PORN, and derogatorily so, is not acceptable. And that's why Nora Roberts puts herself on the line time and time again, stating that she DOES NOT WRITE PORN. Nor do I. Because to allow the entire genre to be put under one heading (all romances are women porn) is doing a disservice to all the top-notch authors writing so many DIFFERENT kinds of books.

As I pointed out in my comment at Obsidian Wings, there are many faces to romance, as anyone could see from the RWA HONOR ROLL. I cited Nora Roberts, James Patterson, Jennifer Crusie, Lisa Jackson, Bob Mayer, Suzanne Brockmann and Debbie Macomber as examples of how incredibly multi-facet we are. Romance books are about relationships, some of which involving sex, and erotic sex at that, but they are not porn in the sense that those that derogate us tend to classify us. I'd like them to read a Debbie Macomber book and tell her to her face that she writes porn.
Again, I have no problem with readers not having any problem with how people judge their reading material. I do have problem with people classifying MY WORK and MY GENRE as porn, and porn only.

Gennita said...

Vince,
It's always such a pleasure to find a convert ;-), or be part of it. I have had the most fun converting the construction fellows I meet who do read, and they have been pleasantly surprised at how they actually did enjoy the stories. Of course, some still make fun of it, but there's a difference between good-natured ribbing and "oh God, you write romance?" attitudes.

Gennita said...

Jenny,
Yes, the red tape is incredible. I hope he gets the government help he needs.

Lauren Dane said...

I don't write porn. I really get annoyed when that assumption is made. Like what I write is dirty and wrong and the people who read me are as well - that offends me. Not because I think porn is awful, but because why should women's desires and preferences be automatically branded as dirty and somehow not as good as what men read? Like Tom Clancy isn't about a good story that sweeps the reader away?

I think Farber hit the nail squarely on the head when he called the comment on its classism as well as its sexism. It's so very easy to make millions of women the other when we can dismiss them as horny housewives who "don't know any better" to read something "more worthy"

I could recount my education and the loads of "worthy" titles on my shelves but I'm not going to bother. I'll just say I write books and my readers read books.

Elaine said...

I'm such a moron. My apologies to the lady. Not only did I not click on the link and read everything, I obviously did not read what you posted properly either!

I do get accused by my sons of reading porn because of those covers of half-naked people until one son read one of your books and another son read a Suzanne Brockmann. Both agreed that it wasn't much different from an action flick. Then another several of Feehan's GhostWalkers and thought they were great. Were they porn? Not at all and they tried to get another brother to read one but failed because that brother only reads serious fiction and romances are at the bottom of the rubbish heap of fiction. I suppose leaving a copy of my gay romances on his bedside table would be doing us ALL a disservice, too?

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