Wear the Lilac and Don’t Forget Your Towel for This Good Book Thursday 5-25-17

So it’s This Is a Really Good Book Thursday, but so much more because this is also the day we remember the glorious Terry Pratchett and the fabulous Douglas Adams.  If you haven’t read them, you must, if only so you know why you must carry your towel and wear the lilac.

Then tell us the title and author of something delightful to read, fiction or non-fiction.  The weekend is coming and we need good books!

Good Book Thursday 4-6-17

Due to popular demand (and because it’s a really good idea) we’re introducing  This Is a Really Good Book Thursday.  Come in here on Thursday and tell us the title and author of something delightful to read, fiction or non-fiction.  The weekend is coming and we need good books!

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

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.

RANT: Coulter, Plagiarism, Book Store Bigotry

Most of the time, I’m a sunny, cheerful person. Okay, most of the time, I’m not, but lately I’m even surlier than usual because people are BUGGING me. In particular . . .

1. The Media. Not all of it. Just the part of it that rose to the Ann Coulter bait.

Ann Coulter is the skinny blond conservative who got fired from USA Today for being a lousy writer. She gets press for being outrageous which is always dangerous because real outrage sometimes leads people to actually do something. Bill Maher found this out after 9/11 when he said the terrorists were brave for flying planes into the towers. No, Bill, brave means knowing there will be seriously bad consequences for doing something and doing it anyway. The terrorists thought they were going to wake up with seventy virgins. You can get any fraternity boy to walk off a frat house roof at 2AM on a Saturday night for seventy virgins; the difference between the terrorist and the frat boy is that the frat boy won’t take thousands of innocent people with him because it would, like, reflect bad on the rest of the brothers. So Bill said something outrageous because that’s what he does to get ratings, and then people were outraged and he lost his job, and then he was outraged. I’m not sure why. It seemed pretty much cause and effect to me. Where was I?

Right. Ann Coulter. Ann said the 9/11 widows were enjoying their widowhood or something equally outrageous. I didn’t pay much attention because I knew Ann wasn’t either, she was just being outrageous because nobody had said, “Ann Coulter” on CNN for a long time, and kicking kittens hadn’t gotten her any press. Kicking 9/11 widows? Sure-fire outrage. And I thought, “Suppose Ann Coulter said something stupid and nobody noticed?” Would she escalate? “The 9/11 widows are sleeping with terrorists!” Would her voice become increasingly shrill? “The 9/11 widows EAT THEIR YOUNG!!” Would those gray roots start to show? “THE 9/11 WIDOWS DON’T MOISTURIZE!!!” If Ann Coulter said something dumb in the woods and the media didn’t hear, would she wear sensible shoes? I don’t really care since Ann Coulter never says anything thought-provoking or even interesting, unlike say, Mary Matalin, so Ann’s easy to ignore.

But the media people who say, “Ohmigod, did you hear what Ann Coulter said?” even though they know she’s made of plastic and hair, well, they bug me. Yes, I know, I’m adding to the problem, but I waited until everything had died down so I’m not really contributing anything. Plus twelve people read this blog, so I’m thinking this will not cause a media frenzy, because the twelve people who read this blog are brilliant, insightful people who do not run about shouting, “Ohmigod, did you hear what Ann Coulter said?” they just shake their heads and say, “Her fifteen minutes are about up, don’t you think?” and go on to read Alison Bechdel (see below).

2. Plagiarism I don’t like plagiarists and I don’t like people who say, “Oh, it’s just words, no big deal,” and I really don’t like people who say, “Well, maybe it was just an accident.” Like the woman who allegedly said through her lawyer that she might have accidentally copied three pages from the book of an author who is very close to me. (I am reminded of the West Wing episode in which Sam tells Toby that he accidentally slept with a prostitute. Toby says, “Accidentally? What did you do? Trip?”) What really bugs me is that she allegedly sold the short story she wrote (didn’t write) to an alleged fund-raising anthology for an alleged authors group to which she allegedly belonged, and although most of the other alleged authors allegedly donated their profits as allegedly did the publisher, this alleged word thief allegedly refused and should therefore allegedly fry.

What is it with people like this? “I need it so I’m going to take it and the hell with everybody else?” Or do they not even think about “everybody else”? Does “everybody else” not exist for people like this, bound as they are by the parameters of their own needs? Are they astounded when people object to their thefts? “Why yes, I did take that,” do they say when confronted with the proof of their pilfering, “is that a problem?” Well, yes, you conscienceless bitch, it IS a problem.

Okay, what really bugs me is that people like this steal the work of others and then giggle self-consciously and say, “Oh, sorry about that. No hard feelings, ‘kay?” Hand me that hard feeling, Mabel, I’m gonna use it to beat some moral integrity into that there dumbass plagiarist.

3. Book Store Shelving I just read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. Great, great book, a graphic novel memoir about growing up in a small town with her non-Walton-like family, especially her father who loved restoring their vintage home more than he loved her mother, and loved teen-aged boys more than that. It’s an amazing book about her coming of age, and the drawings are beautiful and the book is funny and Gothic and touching and thoughtful and you should read it.

And I almost didn’t because when I went to the bookstore to find it, I couldn’t. I looked on the New Books table: Nope. (This book is being reviewed everywhere, glowing reviews, that’s why I went looking for it, so it should be a no-brainer to put it on the New Books table. Granted I live in Ohio, and the nearest bookstore to me usually forgets to put my books on the New Books table even though my publisher pays them to, but jeez.) I looked in Fiction under the Bs for “Bechdel.” Nope. I looked in Memoir. Nope. I finally looked in the store’s computer under “Bechdel” and found it listed under “Gay and Lesbian Fiction,” and then I couldn’t find Gay and Lesbian Fiction (I HAVE to find a new bookstore).

Bechdel is a lesbian and her father was bisexual, and the book does refer to these aspects of her life, but I’m from Ohio and my books refer to that often and they don’t shelve me under Ohioana. Why the hell wasn’t this in General Fiction or Memoir or at least cross-shelved? Hell, why wasn’t it on the front table with a sign that said, “This has been reviewed everywhere and everybody is raving about it and it’s a marvelous book and oh-my-God, you should read it”? It’s a beautifully packaged book, too, the kind that booksellers usually climb all over themselves to display just because the cover is so crunchy-looking. So this week, I’m mad at booksellers, too. Unless they’re displaying Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home prominently and handselling it. Then they’re good people and I love them and they will go to Bookseller Heaven, where no one will ever ask them to find that book their friend told them about, the one with the green cover. Or maybe it was blue.

I’m telling you, some days, everywhere you go, it’s nothing but bugs.