Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Perfect Girls of YA Paranormal Romance

In a recent MA thesis, "Monsters in My Bed: Accounting for the Popularity of Young Adult Paranormal Romances," Whitney Young argues that "the discourse which emerges from the novels overlaps with popular discourses and narratives on girlhood and young adulthood in the US" (46). In Young's opinion many "white, privileged girls and young women" (7) are encouraged to feel that they should be "Perfect Girls, exceling in every facet of their lives: physical appearance, athleticism, and academic achievement" (29) and to think of themselves as "'can-do,' ambitious, goal oriented, and consumerist" (5), as
planners, [who] do not engage in promiscuous sex or delinquent behavior. This category of girls, white, privileged girls, is subject to this discourse and learns to tell it about themselves—they place themselves into this discourse. These discourses are not just a set of characteristics told about these girls but are part of a narrative which the novels reflect [...] and so, these novels are popular now because they reflect to the story the white, privileged girl readers learn to tell about themselves. (7)
Young argues that the common scenario in which
the heroine and her friends must deal with the supernatural by themselves, without adult support [...] parallels the narrative of emerging adults upon entering the adult world, parents can no longer help their adult children fix problems like they once did. (39)
The moment when
the supernatural enters the heroine’s life [...] can be seen as a metaphor for the narrative about emerging adult Perfect Girl’s experience upon entering the adult world [...]; they were raised to believe the world would function a certain way—that people would recognize their specialness and they would go on to do great things—but they learn that this is not the case; they are just another employee. (37)
However, the novels reassuringly offer their readers "instances in which the ideologies of specialness and doing great things can be temporarily restored" (40) and "The protagonist’s potential to change the world can offer hope to the reader that one day they still might change the world" (44).

Although these aspects of the novels might seem to reinforce the discourses about "can-do" and "Perfect" girls, Young found that, by the conclusions of the novels or series of novels
The heroines seem to be uninterested in trying to be perfect, effectively having rejected the Perfect Girl discourse. This may be because the girls are not entirely in the ideological system anymore. One reason being that facing these life-or-death events puts the heroine’s previous worries into perspective. Another reason may be that because many of the heroines in the novels end up becoming supernatural, it is they possibly don’t feel the pressure to conform to human standards like they used to. However, the most persuasive reason that the heroines are not interested in trying to attain perfection is because they have learned that they can be content, loved, and find where they belong without having to be perfect. (50)
You can read the whole thesis here.
Young, Whitney A. "Monsters in My Bed: Accounting for the Popularity of Young Adult Paranormal Romances." MA Thesis. Georgia State University. 2013.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Beyond the Happily-Ever-After, Sociologists at Large, Bujold, and Feral Feminism

Romances are increasingly being written as part of series and in "Happily Ever After ... And After: Serialization and the Popular Romance Novel," published this month in Americana (which is freely available online), An Goris argues that this means there is more opportunity for writers to explore what happens after couples have declared their love, made a commitment to each other and achieved their "happily ever after":
The post-HEA is a very interesting narrative space. It is developing into a fictional locus in which the romance genre is expressing in new and previously unavailable ways the romantic fantasy and ideology around which it revolves. In doing so, analyses of post-HEA scenes reveal the genre is not merely representing a clear-cut, pre-fixed fantasy of a romantic Happy Ever After, but actively exploring and negotiating what such a fantasy might look like beyond the climactic yet inevitably formulaic moment of the HEA.
She focuses on novels by Nora Roberts and J. R. Ward. I had a few thoughts in response to some of the more general points An makes about series so I plonked them down at my blog.

Sarah Wendell has put up a podcast (scroll to the bottom of the post for the play button - no transcript is available) of a conversation she had with sociologists Joanna Gregson and Jennifer Lois
about their research, the things they've learned about the romance community and the patterns of behavior they identified as they gathered data. We also discuss whether romance is feminist, which led to discussion of valued work and devalued work, plus maternity leave policies in the US vs. other nations.
Gregson and Lois have set up a Facebook page and a joint Twitter feed.

Biology and Manners: The Worlds of Lois McMaster Bujold 20th August 2014 
Potential contributors are invited to submit an abstract for a one-day conference to be held at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, on August 20th 2014. This inter-disciplinary conference will explore the works of Hugo and Nebula Award winning writer Lois McMaster Bujold, encompassing both her science fiction and her fantasy novels.
One of the suggested topics is "science fiction and sexuality." More details here.

Feminist Un/Pleasure: Reflections on Perversity, BDSM, and Desire
Feral Feminisms, a new independent, inter-media, peer reviewed, open access online journal, invites submissions from artists, activists, scholars and graduate students for a special issue entitled, “Feminist Un/Pleasure: Reflections on Perversity, BDSM, and Desire,” guest edited by Toby Wiggins.
More details here.

The photo of "Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino [who] were the Musical Guests at one of Amanda Stern's Happy Ending Music and Reading Series shows" was created by Hadarvc who has made it available under a Creative Commons licence.

The podcast icon was created by Yagraph who made it available under a Creative Commons licence.

Monday, July 22, 2013

CFP: Symposium on Romance Authorship at Princeton University

The Princeton Department of English &
The Program in Gender And Sexuality Studies Present


The Popular Romance Author

A symposium on authorship in the popular romance genre

Keynote Speaker: Professor Kay Mussell (American University)

Location: Princeton University
Date: October 24-25 2013
Abstract Submission Deadline: September 1 2013

One of the most important developments in the popular romance genre in the last thirty years is the emergence of the individual author as a figure of note in the genre and its community. Over the past three decades both the production and consumption of popular romance novels has increasingly been organized around individual authors. The author-oriented single title romance novel has edged out the category romance as the predominant format in the genre, author names increasingly dominate romance novel covers, faces and names of star authors like Nora Roberts, Jude Deveraux, JR Ward and many others are recognized instantly across the genre’s community and readers increasingly often indicate they select and organize their romance reading on the basis of authorship. Yet despite her prominence in the romance genre’s matrix, the romance author remains a largely marginalized figure in both “mainstream” culture and romance scholarship. Romance authors do not qualify as prominent authorial figures in our culture, even though many of their novels dominate bestseller lists. Studies of individual romance authors are scarce as romance scholars have yet to engage fully with the question of authorship in relation to the popular romance genre.

This symposium invites scholars to think about the figure of the romance author (in general or in particular instances) and address some of the questions that surround her remarkable position in our culture. Possible topics include:
• Romance authorship and gender
• Romance authorship and the constraints of genre writing
• The author in the romance genre’s publishing history
• Particular authors / careers / oeuvres
• Iconography of the romance author in pop culture (including romance novels)
• Romance authorship and translation
• The romance author as romance reader/critic
• Romance authors and their readers
• Romance authorship and digital media

Kay Mussell, Professor Emerita at American University will deliver a keynote address. The symposium will feature ten to fifteen presentations of original scholarship (to be presented on Friday October 25). Submission and acceptance to the symposium will be based on blind peer review of 250-300 word abstract. Please send your abstract and CV to An Goris ( by September 1 2013. All inquiries can be directed to Dr. Goris as well.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sociologists on Romance Writers

Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell has collected her tweets of the "presentation from Drs. Joanna Gregson and Jen Lois at Romance Writers of America 2013 Annual Conference" and they're all available at Storify.

As reported on Professor Lois's Western Washington University webpage, she's
begun a new project (with co-researcher Professor Joanna Gregson, Pacific Lutheran University), interviewing romance novelists about the stigma of the genre and how the preponderance of women in the romance-writing industry affects the subculture as a whole.  In 2011, the project received an Academic Research Grant from the Romance Writers of America. 
The stigma felt by romance writers is mirrored by the stigma felt by Lois and Gregson themselves: "They experience stigma because of their research, because some think it's ridiculous" and "Jen was denied a grant on this project because it was of 'dubious academic merit.'"

Sarah reports that we can "Expect articles on the research soon" but "publication of research in book" form will take longer because "soc books take about 10 years."

Monday, July 15, 2013

Online Romance Writing Program from McDaniel College

Posted on behalf of Professor Pamela Regis

McDaniel College is pleased to offer our Romance Writing Certificate program again this year. Professor Jennifer Crusie, MFA (Bet Me, Welcome to Temptation, etc.) teaches the program. Below is her description of it. Head over to ArghInk if you’d like to ask questions. Or email me, pregis AT mcdaniel DOT edu. I’m the go-to person for administrative help. Here’s Jenny: 

The 2013 McDaniel College Nora Roberts Romance Writing Program begins on August 12, and registration is open now. We’ve made a lot of changes since our first year, and a big thank you to the 2012 McD students who helped me figure out a better way to teach this, to Pam Regis who is the perfect administrator (patience of a saint), and to Nora Roberts, whose generosity makes this program possible. 
Here are some details about the program:

  • The course is “wholly online, completely asynchronous,” which means you’ll never have to leave the house, and there is no set time you have to be online, although you do have to check in regularly.
  • There are five eight-week classes in the program with two-week breaks in between each course. We’ve also added three optional eight-week workshops for a second year because of student interest.
  • The first four courses are designed to give students the tools they need to make their novels better. Please note, that’s “tools” not “rules” and “better” not “conforming to a standard of perfection.” Each course gives the student the theory behind the subject of the course, the writing tools that have developed from the theories, and practice in using those tools.
  • The fifth course is on publishing. We drink a lot during that one.
  • The three second-year workshops are designed to provide the student with a framework and support group for finishing her novel.

Each course is divided into four two-week modules.

The assignments for each first year module are:
  • an exercise or analysis to make the module concept clearer (Mod 1)
  • a scene or synopsis or query letter (aka creative writing) (Mod 2)
  • three critiques of fellow students’ work plus an exercise or analysis to make a concept clearer (Mod 3)
  • the rewrite of the creative writing assignment from [Mod 2]; the publishing course adds a completed book proposal

The assignments for second year workshop modules are:
  • an overview of the novel (plot plan, character arc plan, novel plan (Mod 1)
  • a student-designed project based on a problem in the student’s novel (Mod 2 & 3)
  • one third of the student’s novel finished in draft form (Mod 4)

In addition to the formal assignments, students are required to:

  • Participate in the discussion forums (this has not been a problem for the 2012 students; the problem has been getting them out of the forums; turns out writers like to talk about writing)
  • Write their goals for each module in online Learning Logs and then evaluate those goals at the end of the modules (along with any notes, insights, questions, etc., during the module; your online journal).
  • Write ten pages/ 2500 words of new first draft on their novels each module (this is evaluated solely on quantity, not quality; the idea is to keep students writing new pages for their novels while they’re analyzing and rewriting their work in assignments).
  • Read a lot throughout the first four classes: romance novels, writing textbooks (Robert McKee’s Story, Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction, Renni Browne and Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers), internet posts and essays, and the Lecture PDFs I put up each module. There are also some videos to watch and some screenplays to read which usually leads to watching the films (Moonstruck and “A Scandal in Belgravia” in particular).

Other things you should know:

  • Everything students do in this program is part of a process; none of these assignments is supposed to be finished work. You can’t fix a page until you HAVE a page, and since writing is re-writing (and re-writing and re-writing), it’s important not to waste time and energy worrying about how perfect the assignment is and focus instead on how to make it better each time. Because writers tend to despair when they look at their drafts, and despair is only amplified if somebody’s actually grading the suckers, I repeated, “It’s a process, just make it better each time” as a reminder so many times that the students voted to put “It’s a process” on the McD 2012 t-shirt.
  • I am always, always, always late with the grading, but if a student asks a question on the Discussion boards or on the class blog, she’ll get a (probably long and detailed) answer within twenty-four hours. After five courses, I’m convinced that the real learning in this program takes place in the Discussion Forums and the group blog, but I’m going to make the students do the assignments anyway.
  • I will answer questions about the program in the comments, but I’ve also invited the current students to come over and answer questions, too, since they’ll have a better perspective on the experience. I’ve told them to be brutally honest in their answers, but if you’d prefer, Jill at, Michille at, Kathy at, and Jeannine at will also answer questions privately in e-mail.

Admin stuff:

Tuition is $450 per credit hour; courses are three credit hours. Registration is open now until July 31. The class is limited to fifteen students, and when it’s filled, that’s it because I am not effective with class sizes larger than that. The next opportunity to begin the program will be August 2014, although I don’t know if I’ll still be teaching the classes next year. Click here to apply:

Scarcely Disguised Contempt

I am slowly writing, which means I am spending a great deal of time reading (around my research). At any rate, I've come across another interesting discussion of "popular fiction," which I thought might be worth sharing here. In "Myra Breckinridge and Imitative Form," Purvis E. Boyette writes:
I had first thought to entitle this essay "Myra Breckinridge Is Queer; or the Omission of an Article," so that my title would make two points: that the novel is not about a homosexual and that we have to watch carefully Gore Vidal's facetious use of language. In other words, I intend to take Myra Breckinridge seriously as a work of fiction and, in its kind, as a serious work of art. In academic circles, one is inclined to regard "coast-to-coast bestsellers" with scarcely disguised contempt, and my first impulse is to applaud newspaper critics like Josh Greenfield who dismiss popular novels with "serious criticism need not apply." But if Myra Breckinridge is to be salvaged from the pornographer's bin, we shall have to look at the work rather more seriously than the thousands who have read the book for prurient reasons alone. (229)
As I read this, I am reminded of Pamela Regis's important work on what critics owe the popular romance, and how we should study popular romance. I wonder if it is our role, as scholars and critics, to "salvage from the pornographer's bin" a work of fiction. I'm not entirely certain that I am interested in "saving" texts, after all, as Regis writes, "the most modest work of fiction, including romance fiction, is a greater accomplishment than the finest work of literary criticism."

Works Cited

Boyette, Purvis E. "Myra Breckinridge and Imitative Form." Modern Fiction Studies 17.2 (1971): 229-38.

Regis, Pamela. "Ten Years after A Natural History of the Romance Novel: Thinking Back, Looking Forward." Journal of Popular Romance Studies 3.2 (2013):

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Misc: Scaling New Heights

Professor Catherine Roach "has been awarded the Fulbright-University of Leeds Distinguished Chair, a fellowship of up to 12 months in England, to research romance in pop culture" and she writes (at the RomanceScholar listserv) that "I think this Fulbright is an award for the field of popular romance studies itself, in many ways, as I wrote my proposal specifically to focus on this field."

Carol Borden at The Cultural Gutter has drawn attention to an unofficial online edition of Joanna Russ's "Pornography by Women for Women, With Love." This is an essay about which K. A. Laity has written for Teach Me Tonight.

Moving from an essay in which it is argued that "we have - ingeniously, tenaciously, and very creatively - sexualized our female situation and training, and made out of the restrictions of the patriarchy our own sexual cues" to Thursday's ascent, by six female Greenpeace activists, of The Shard in London, a location chosen because
This building - modelled on a shard of ice - sits slap bang in the middle of Shell's three London headquarters. They don't want us talking about their plan to drill in the Arctic. We're here to shout about it from the rooftops.
I was amused to discover that the "female Greenpeace activists took up the challenge under the code-name Sigmund – 'after Freud and his theories on why people climb tall buildings'" (Guardian).

Jennifer Kloester, the author of a biography of Georgette Heyer, has now turned her hand to romantic fiction:
I have always been a reader, I love books, and I have always loved writing. It was really Georgette Heyer’s novels that I just love, and if you’re a Jane Austen fan then she is considered the next best thing. She writes such a great, witty, romantic, beautifully crafted novel.
So after I had done ten years of research and written my first two books, it was a really natural evolution for me to turn to fiction, which was always what I wanted to write. It was always my hope, and my dream to be a fiction writer, but it was kind of like I had to pay homage to Heyer first and do that work.
The image of Spock and Kirk came from Wikimedia Commons, as did the photo of The Shard, which was made available under a Creative Commons license by Ben Griffin.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

PCA Romance, 2014

Although we're not formally affiliated, there's quite an overlap between the Romance Area of the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association and the community that puts together the Journal of Popular Romance Studies.  At the moment, the area co-chairs for Romance are Eric Selinger and An Goris, who are also the Executive Editor and Managing Editor of JPRS, and they--we--are always hoping to solicit submissions to the journal from the papers we hear at the conference. We're very excited, then, to offer this spiffy new CFP for next spring's PCA/ACA National Conference, which will be held in Chicago, April 16-19, 2014!

Chicago, April 16-19, 2014
Call For Papers: Romance Area

Deadline for submission:  November 1, 2013

The discourse of romantic love permeates popular culture.  The Romance area includes papers on love, romance, and relationships, in real life and as represented in any medium, now and in the past.  From ad campaigns to Supreme Court decisions, Dan Savage to Sweet Savage Love, K-Pop to qawwali,:  if it’s about love, it’s a welcome topic at the PCA Romance area. 

We will consider proposals for individual papers, sessions organized around a theme, and special panels. Sessions are scheduled in 90-minute slots, typically with four 15-minute papers or speakers per standard session, with the remaining time available for discussion.

If you are involved in the creative industry of popular romance and are interested in speaking on your own work or on developments in popular romance culture, please contact us!

Some possible topics include:

  • Romantic love in political discourse (revolutionary, reactionary, colonial / anti-colonial, marriage equality, etc.)
  • Love, Globally:  local traditions, transnational media, adaptation and translation issues
  • Fifty Shades of WTF:  the reception of popular romance media
  • Romance High and Low (i.e., texts that remix or blur distinctions between “high” and “low” culture, like the Lizzie Bennet Diaries)
  • Love Theory / Romance Practice:  theoretical approaches to love and romance, and popular romance as a place where love is theorized
  • Romancing the Marketplace: romantic love in advertising, marketing, and consumer culture
  • Queering the Romance: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Kink romance
  • Romance communities, IRL and on-line
  • Young Adult, Paranormal, and other emerging genres of romance fiction
  • Individual Creative Producers or Texts of Popular Romance (novels, authors, film, directors, writers, songwriters, actors, composers, dancers, etc.)

As we do every year, the Romance area will meet in a special Open Forum to discuss upcoming conferences, work in progress, and the future of the field of Popular Romance Studies.  All are welcome to attend.

Presenters are encouraged to make use of the new array of romance scholarship resources online, including the romance scholarship bibliography, the RomanceScholar listserv, and the  peer-reviewed articles and interviews published in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies.  

Submit a one-page (200-300 words) proposal or abstract by November 1, 2013, to the PCA/ACA conference database.  
Directions for submission can be found here.  

Please feel free to forward, cross-post, or link to this call for papers!

If you have any questions as all, please contact the area co-chairs:

Eric Selinger
Professor of English
DePaul University

An Goris
Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Leuven

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Studying Romance Fiction in the Philippines

The Department of English and Comparative Literature (DECL), College of Arts and Letters of the University of the Philippines has announced that "the English Department is offering a Special Topics (English 198) course this upcoming semester, on Reading the Romance Novel":

The course is being taught by Dr Lorie Santos and she's shared the full syllabus here. Included on the reading list are New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: Critical Essays (ed. Sarah S. G. Frantz and Eric Murphy Selinger) and Pamela Regis's A Natural History of the Romance Novel.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Love and Death in the American Novel

Confession: I have a bad habit, or a guilty pleasure, of reading critics from years gone by. 

I have spent the past few days reading Love and Death in the American Novel by Leslie Fiedler. A dated book, a controversial book. However, I was struck by one passage that seems relevant to popular romance studies:

Mrs. Rowson’s Charlotte Temple is a book scarcely written at all, only in the most perfunctory manner told; yet it is the first book by an American to move American readers, and certain historians of the American novel, not themselves critics or readers of criticism, have praised it absurdly for its “basic sincerity and power,” or its “simple vividness.” To be sure, the popularity of Charlotte poses a real problem. Why a book which barely climbs above the lower limits of literacy, and which handles, without psychological acuteness or dramatic power, a handful of stereotyped characters in a situation already hopelessly banal by 1790, should have had more than two hundred editions and have survived among certain readers for a hundred and fifty years in a question that cannot be ignored. It is tempting to say that popular taste given the choice between a better and a worse book will inevitably choose the worse; but this is an anti-sentimental simplification no more helpful than its sentimental opposite number. Only certain bad books succeed, apparently not by the simple virtue of their badness, but because of the theme they have chosen to handle badly. (94-95)
I want to say that I love this passage because one could almost take it verbatim to talk about nearly any popular romance novel that has captured our attention. But, what I really love about this comment is about it being "a question that cannot be ignored." It is not to say that Fiedler will necessarily answer the question, which is fair enough, but at least, unlike so many critics, he recognizes that it is a question we would be wrong to ignore. And it is a question that I think many scholars of popular romance are considering in their own work. Indeed, I imagine for many of us that it is this question that motivated our work when we began to study popular romance.

Monday, July 01, 2013

EUPOP 2013

The programme is now available for EUPOP 2013. The papers being presented include:
Annett Holzheid: “The Coming of Age of Postal Pop and the Lover’s Image. Postcards as a means of (post-)romantic discourse”

Naomi Combrink: “The Aesthetics and Commodification of Romantic Atmosphere”

Karin Heiss: “Love erasing boundaries? Romantic love as an unstable means of overcoming difference in Nicola Cornick’s Lord of Scandal (2008) and One Wicked Sin (2011)”

Lucy Dearn: “Perceptions of love in popular music culture”

Amy Burge: “Gender in Popular Women’s Fiction”
 The conference will be held at the University of Turku, Finland, from the 31st of July to the 2nd of August. The deadline for registration is the 15th of July.