Monday Morning Stepback: Condoms with Teeth, Addiction, and AAR's new look

The weekly links, opinion and miscellaneous post

1. Links of Interest (from the past 2 weeks)

It’s Jean-Paul Sartre’s birthday today. In honor of the occasion, I will link to that beloved old chestnut, The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook:

I have realized that the traditional omelet form (eggs and cheese) is bourgeois. Today I tried making one out of a cigarette, some coffee, and four tiny stones.

All About Romance’s redesign is on display today. The aesthetics are not my cuppa, but I think it is much easier to navigate and read. What do you think? I am planning a major redesign and am intensely interested in these things at the moment. It’s like when you are shopping for new light fixtures or a new car and suddenly you notice every make and model on the road.

What You Talk about when You Talk About Not Having Time to Read by Minnesota writer Jodi Chromey (from @bookladysblog)

I hate “have time to read” for two reasons. First, it insinuates that the reader does nothing but fritter away his/her time lazing about reading . . . books! Books! Oh, just think of all that lascivious self-indulgence. If only we too had the time to do something so decadent. But no, we are much too busy and important to have time to read books.

It was only a matter of time. From On Fiction, a report on a presentation about the neural bases of creative writing. Follow the link for an image of your brain on writing.

Mrs. Giggles on the Hierarchy of Nationality in Romance. Guess who comes out on top?

Over at Unusual Historicals, author Lisa Yarde on What Surprised Me: Ancient and Medieval Prostitution

Author Jeannie Lin links to a discussion about Asian characters on covers.

I liked this post from The Reading Experience on John Dewey and Perception. Dewey identifies the function of and two common errors in criticism. The post makes me want to re-read Art as Experience.

A brief but compelling defense of the claim that Romance is THE genre from Karen Anders over at the Blaze Authors Blog.

At Abe Books, Beth Carswell on Literary Towns, with a discussion of the effect of The Twilight Saga on Forks, Washington (via Books Inq.)

Forget zombies: Minotaurs are the New Vampires. From The Onion.

Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader asked What Is A Book Blogger? Is an author blog a book blog? Good question.

An older post, but as a Buffy fan, I found it really interesting. At Feministe, “How Come It’s Never Joss’s Fault?

What [a critic of season 5 or 6] wants to talk about is not characterisation, plot, embedded contexts in the show, but what a horrible person Marti Noxon is, and how she ruined everything, and how Joss never should have abandoned Buffy, leaving the show in the hands of a woman. How it’s obvious that Marti and other female creators involved in the show are to blame for everything that went wrong. They’re ‘working out their issues’ or they are just not capable of handling a big television show all on their lonesomes or Joss gave them too much leeway.

Penelope is talking about the ARC conundrum:

So, in conclusion, you can probably tell that I am really conflicted about this whole issue. On one hand, I hate having the magic wrecked by so many folks reading books before I get my hands on a copy, and on the other hand, I am eternally grateful to reviewers willing to read them from an author’s perspective.

I’ve mentioned the new series on Philosophy at the New York Times. Well, this week it’s feminist political philosopher Nancy Bauer on Lady Gaga.

The tension in Gaga’s self-presentation, far from being idiosyncratic or self-contradictory, epitomizes the situation of a certain class of comfortably affluent young women today. There’s a reason they love Gaga. On the one hand, they have been raised to understand themselves according to the old American dream, one that used to be beyond women’s grasp: the world is basically your oyster, and if you just believe in yourself, stay faithful to who you are, and work hard and cannily enough, you’ll get the pearl. On the other hand, there is more pressure on them than ever to care about being sexually attractive according to the reigning norms. The genius of Gaga is to make it seem obvious — more so than even Madonna once did — that feminine sexuality is the perfect shucking knife.

When we were in South Africa earlier this year, we spent a lot of time talking with our tour guides about the social and political issues facing the country today. One of them was rape. A child is raped in south Africa every three minutes. When you have a country in which 1 in 4 men admits he has raped someone, you have a very big problem. Is a female condom with teeth one way for women, at least, to fight back?

2. Addiction in romance: a minirant

Holly at the Book Binge reviewed a book in which the hero is a gambling addict. She didn’t like the book for legitimate literary reasons: because she felt the relationship with the heroine was abusive, and because she didn’t believe in the hero’s recovery, which was addressed in a brief unpersuasive epilogue. You can read the full review here. A month or so, there was a similar discussion about a book by Stacia Kane, whose heroine was compromised by addiction. Some folks made comments along the lines of not wanting to read about addicts.

I would just like to be a voice, right here, for recognizing the right of addicted people to love and be loved, and to have their happily ever after. I understand that we are genre readers, and just as having a heroine who is battling cancer or poverty or partner abuse lose — or appear to lose — her battle at the end of the book violates our legitimate genre expectations and disappoints us as readers, so I can understand why an unrecovered addict might do so as well (unless, as is apparently the case for Kane’s book, it is the first installment of a series). But unless you have a personal experience which makes reading about addiction struggles triggering for you, to say “I won’t read about addicts”, sounds, to me, an awful lot like a negative moral judgment. Addiction in the US is a major issue, not just to drugs and alcohol, but to nicotine, to gambling, and even, dear reader, to the internet. People can become addicted in all kinds of ways, including by being introduced as children by their parents, as patients by their doctors, and as victims by their abusive partners. Today, we understand that addiction is a disease, like any other disease. We know that addicts’ brains are different, sometimes before (thanks to genetics) and always after the addiction. Addicts are struggling against chronic and sometimes terminal disease, just like someone with cancer. But, unlike someone with cancer, the addict has to face discrimination and negative moral judgments as well. I am glad that romance writers are writing characters who struggle with addiction, and I hope they keep doing it.

3. On the blog this week

I have so many ideas for blog posts and so little time to write them! But watch out later tonight or tomorrow for my post on iconic romance novel covers, inspired by Abe Books’ post on 25 Iconic Covers. (posted it here)

I also have some reviews, of romance and nonromance. You may have noticed that, despite my name change, I’ve hesitated reviewing the nonromance, for the really bad reason that I am afraid people won’t read those reviews. I’ve decided not to care. *shrugs*

HAPPY WEEK!

25 responses

  1. I read Mrs. Giggles’ post yesterday and had a good laugh. What’s funny is that I am a complete Francophile, and want one good Napoleonic-set romance where the French are the heroes. *g*

    I’ve always blamed Joss. He is notorious for bailing on his longtime shows when he delved into a new project (Buffy went down the tube when he focused on Angel; Angel went down the tube when he focused on Firefly), but most blame Marti Noxon because we all knew that Joss was more interested in his new show, and Marti was left in charge.

    As for Gaga, she is marketed as “ugly-pretty,” but in the process, she’s become “pretty.” But she is still a skinny, blonde popstar–conforming to the norm in a way someone like La Roux or even Amy Winehouse do not.

    As for addicts in romance, I’m all for writing real and compelling characters, but (getting personal here) I recently reconnected with my father after twelve years. He was a drug addict and an alcoholic for most of his life as well as my own, and I just don’t see addiction as a disease or as a believable lifestyle choice/character flaw which can be gotten over by the end of a romance novel. Granted, I read the Kane book knowing Chess was a drug addict, but the only reason I didn’t care for the book was that Chess was pathetic in her addiction and it wasn’t interesting to read about someone who was emotionally, mentally, and physically crippled by drugs. After all, once you get clean, there’s a big fat mess of issues the addict must deal with (mainly, how their addiction affected the lives of their family and friends).

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  2. AAR’s new layout is good, as you say, for navigating. But that purple/lavender is just too much. In my personal color scope it borders on hideous as it makes my eyes hurt. I couldn’t get off the page fast enough. At least it’s not some busy pattern in the background. About the only place I don’t mind those is on Blogger blogs that only use a busy pattern on it’s outside edges and not behind the text. AAR uses solid colors behind each box, but the boxes are so small that the purple is still overwhelming.

    Good luck on your redesign! It’s such a headache deciding sometimes. Are you planning to go mainly with a typographical/clean layout again?

    The article on “have time to read” comes off as kind of insulting…but I dunno, maybe they’re coming from a place where they felt insulted? I dunno. Ive still got a headache from that purple.

    I’m one of those readers that was a little put off at first by the heroine’s drug use in Stacia Kane’s Unholy Ghosts. Not because it was there, but firstly because of how it was portrayed in a couple of scenes. It came across as unbelievable to me. It happens to all readers at some point, our belief systems within the book’s context. Secondly, I do have a personal family experience with drug abuse and while thoughts on that cropped up while reading Unholy Ghosts at first, I soon got lost in the book. It’s a good book. Controversial re the heroine’s addiction, makes you think and I kind of wish I was reviewing it now instead of a few weeks ago. I might give it a higher grade because I’m still thinking about it and looking forward to the next. That to me is a positive sign whether or not an aspect of the book turned me off.

    But on your personal thoughts on addiction in books and reality, you have a very valid point.

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  3. I like the new look of AAR – mostly because they ironed out the hot mess that was their front page (which was always WAY too text-heavy IMHO). Admittedly I haven’t played around on the site too much since the re-launch, but at first blush, I like it quite a bit.

    Re: Addicts in romance: it’s a theme I like to see explored in all genre fiction (romance or otherwise), but it’s such a tricky subject to write about – especially in a genre like romance where everything needs to be sunshine and roses by the final page. Also, it’s a subject that is particularly loaded, because, sadly, a whole host of readers have personal experience with it.

    I’ve been lucky enough to have not been touched by addiction, which I think is a large reason why I can “read” about it. But I also want an author who handles the subject well, with maturity and respect, and doesn’t sugarcoat it for me. In other words, I may not have been touched by addiction, but that doesn’t mean a book gets a free pass if it insults my intelligence.

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  4. I think there is a major difference between characters who are in recovery, or working hard at trying to control their behavior, and addicts who are not doing anything to change their behavior. The way I read the reviews of the two book, the reviewers were put off because the main characters weren’t trying very hard (or at all) to alter their behavior, and in the Daniels book, the gambler put his ex-wife in danger. That seems to me to be pretty comparable to abuse.

    Does anyone remember a movie called Clean and Sober? It had Michael Keaton and Kathy Baker in it. I remember really liking it when it came out; I don’t know how it’s held up. But it was everything 28 Days was not, within the constraints of a Hollywood movie.

    I don’t agree with the Feministe take on Joss-worship v. Marti-bashing. Oh, yeah, Marti got bashed all the time, but it was pretty Marti-specific. I don’t remember discussions on the boards hammering the women while praising the men. Other women writers/directors (like Jane Espenson) were not nearly as reviled, and the dislike of Marti preceded Josh’s abandonment. And Evangeline is totally right. The reason Firefly is so good is that it only lasted one season and Joss didn’t have something else to go away to.

    Romance is the only genre where the main characters are called heroes and heroines, not protagonists. We have anti-heroes, of course, but they’re still pretty heroic, or at a minimum they’re somewhat softened by the end. But even those cause problems for some readers (e.g., the reaction to Anne Stuart’s Into the Fire a few years ago, or one of the Ice guys). So I’m not convinced that refusing to read about unrepentant addicts in romance novels is an indication of having negative moral judgments about addicts in general.

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  5. I thought Stacia Kane’s book Unholy Ghosts was urban fantasy, not romance. Would that make a difference on opinions regarding the heroine’s drug use? I tend to call them heroes or heroines no matter the genre. But in urban fantasy I see a lot of moral ambiguity as a running theme, which Chess’ drug use in Unholy Ghosts fit into, to me anyway.

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  6. @KMont: Ach, of course you’re right. What I should have said was that in romance they *have* to be heroes and heroines. In other genres they might be, but it’s not required (e.g., lead characters in mysteries, like Dalziel or Wallander, are frequently alcoholics). Well, maybe it’s required in some subgenres of fantasy. But not all.

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  7. My ongoing gripe about Romancelandia is the lack of reality in it’s worldbuilding. So many novels gloss over the problems people face in the real world – job loss, unplanned pregnancy, addiction, the impact of people you love being addicted. It’s like they doubt their ability to give the reader a happily ever after if their characters don’t live in a utopia, and if the villians aren’t absolutely evil and the protagonists absolutely good.

    The lack of addicts in romance (especially sypathetic characters who are addicts) is part of that. To me, that’s part of what makes the real world real, and adding those issues to a romance novel would make it stronger and more believable. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s really hard to write. AA has an anonymity clause that I don’t fully understand (not being a participant, just knowing a good number of people who have mentioned they attend) and I think that makes it harder to get a good view of people who have successful recoveries.

    A friend of mine started a blog on news and issues, from the perspective of a recovering addict: http://stark-raving-sober.blogspot.com/ and I think it’s very interesting.

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  8. I can see the points being made on wanting to give addicts a more fair chance in books, but I also have to speak up for those that wish for reading to be an escape too. Personally, that part of reading tends to depend on my mood. I can attest to many a time where I want to just escape, and not deal with heavy issues while reading. Maybe some others are coming from that area of thought regarding addicts and similarly heavy issues as well? Sometimes I really don’t want my reading to be that realistic. I had to kind of get in the right mood for Unholy Ghosts, and I just seem to know when that mood is right or not. Somehow.

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  9. The aesthetics are not my cuppa, but I think it is much easier to navigate and read. What do you think?

    Re the front page of AAR I think that in my screen (which is presumably smaller than the size AAR’s assuming most users will have), some of the main titles squash those below them (rather than them all running in a nice neat line across the top) and I have to scroll backwards and forwards, and up and down, in order to be able to read the whole of the front page. Also, unless I scroll down just the right amount, some of the drop-down menus drop down further than the bottom of my screen.

    The other pages work fine, and most of the content seems the same.

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  10. “Some folks made comments along the lines of not wanting to read about addicts.”

    I think writing an addict really well might make a HEA impossible – because there are not ‘Ever Afters’ when you’re dealing with an addiction. Every day is a new fight to stay sober, and addicts know this. But Happily for Now? Why not? And we’re so hypocritical – how many books with heavy drinking/alcoholic male leads are insanely popular? I’m following a paranormal series (free to read but now being published) about a guy who pops pills like candy (though he’s a shapeshifter and it’s not going to kill him), a clear and explicitly described addict, and I don’t think any of the readers of this series will have the slightest issue with that. But if the guy was a woman? You bet. Being sniffy about addicted heroines is just slut-shaming.

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  11. Am not crazy about the new AAR look at all. Have yet to see any difference in actually using it.

    Perhaps readers who don’t want to read about addiction are trying to hide from themselves. :- I think book addiction/hoarding/compulsive buying is a serious issues amongst many of us romance fans but most people treat it as a joke. I have compared it for myself to being similar to a gambling addiction (interestingly, I am reading Stuff right now and they have found many commonalities amongst hoarders and compulsive gamblers.)

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  12. I like the new AAR look.

    I don’t think I could write an HEA, or even a HFN, for an unrecovered addict. It wouldn’t be realistic. I’m not saying that drug use is evil or that addicts don’t deserve love. I’ve just never heard of a “happy” hardcore drug addict.

    This is also touchy subject for me. If the hero and heroine were unretired assassins, I might be okay with it! Because that character type/situation is totally outside of my own experience, not grounded in gritty reality.

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  13. I like the new look at AAR. I especially like that they have a picture of the latest book(s) being reviewed. As more of a visual type person, I like seeing the cover right off the bat.

    And I agree with Sunita as to how to handle addiction in books. It’s one thing if the character realizes they have an addiction and are working on it, even if they slip now and then. Mary Jo Putney’s The Rake/The Rake and the Reformer is an excellent example. We really see Reggie struggling to overcome his alcoholism. And I really love that book. But in the review that Holly did, I can see why she was upset with the book. The hero was constantly endangering people around him and wasn’t even making an attempt to change his ways until the very end.

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  14. @Evangeline: Thank you for sharing your perspective on addiction. Maybe it’s one of the privileges of NOT ever getting personally close to addiction, but I just don’t see it as a character flaw, so I don’t have a problem with reading a hero/ine who is addicted. I DO think an addict is sick, so if I don’t believe that s/he is making real steps to recovery by the end, the HEA is tainted.

    @KMont: I had forgotten you reviewed it! I was thinking of Kane’s own comments about reviews on her blog. I will definitely have to read this one, and I like your point about books that make you think. And yes, the urban fantasy makes a big difference, I think.

    As for the redesign, I am working with someone, so I am not sure what it will look like. I’m giving her colors I like, adjectives that I think describe the blog, and functional things I want, and hoping she comes up with something great. But it will still be text based and not very exciting. LOL.

    @Wendy: Agreed. I think it’s interesting though, that readers can believe a rake reforms with one encounter with the magic hoo hoo, or a violent hero stops being violent after he meets the heroine, or a depressed heroine gets un-depressed, or a h/h after years of torture (100 years in some paranormalsl!), has like 5 minutes of PTSD, etc., but the demands for “realistic” portrayal of recovery can’t be met within romance.

    It seems like addiction is caught in a catch 22. If it is too realistic, people don’t want to read it. And if it is not realistic enough people don’t want to read it.

    @Laura Vivanco: Laura, I was following the AAr thread and Jeanne, the web designer, said that was because most readers have big screens. Maybe your screen is smaller than what they are considering the default size of their readers?

    @Victoria Janssen: I worry about that ALL the time.

    @Ann Somerville: I think there may well be a gendered component to some of this, but Holly’s review was of a book with a male addict.

    I guess my view is clear by now, but for the record, I’ll be explicit: people don’t like addicted h/h because they think addiction is a character flaw, an immoral state, from which it is nearly impossible to recover (for the reasons you state), and heroes and heroines have to be, at best, morally perfect, and at worst, nearly morally perfect with minor but lovable flaws. Prejudice and misunderstanding about addiction in our society is rampant, with real life terrible results. For example, that research into treatment and recovery from addiction is woefully underfunded, and that addiction, a brain disease, has been criminalized, leaving addicts to “dry out” lying on concrete floors of overcrowded prisons. In my opinion, the reluctance of readers to read about addicts is often related – in complicated, often subsconscious ways — to real life, widely held, judgments about the value and worth of a person with a substance abuse problem.

    @Sunita:

    Romance is the only genre where the main characters are called heroes and heroines, not protagonists. We have anti-heroes, of course, but they’re still pretty heroic, or at a minimum they’re somewhat softened by the end. But even those cause problems for some readers (e.g., the reaction to Anne Stuart’s Into the Fire a few years ago, or one of the Ice guys). So I’m not convinced that refusing to read about unrepentant addicts in romance novels is an indication of having negative moral judgments about addicts in general.

    Maybe I am misunderstanding you, but I think you are making my point!

    Anyway, this is an issue for me, as you can tell. I’ve published on it, spoken on it, taught about it, and work with addicts in the context of my work at the hospital. The discrimination and suffering of the addict is much more salient to me than the harm that addiction causes to loved ones, and that affects my judgment.

    And yeah, I think the Feministe article is looking for trouble. This is one of the reason I don’t have a feminist blog or read too many of them too often: I don’t want to be mad all the time.

    @willaful: I do feel that AAR is easier to navigate. Agree with @KristieJ on the helpfulness of the pictures. I personally think the banner with the different icons is cartoony, not adult enough for my tastes.

    @Jill Sorenson: Yeah, I do think the point you have made, which several others have made, about the personal experience with addiction, is operating here as well.

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  15. Laura, I was following the AAr thread and Jeanne, the web designer, said that was because most readers have big screens. Maybe your screen is smaller than what they are considering the default size of their readers?

    I saw that response, and yes, I’m sure my screen is “smaller than what they are considering the default size of their readers.” I have the same problem with the SBTB site, and when I mentioned it there I got a very similar response to the one Jeanne gave at AAR.

    I tend to read quite a lot via my feed reader anyway, so I’ll just avoid the front page as much as possible. At SBTB the smaller screen has the unintended but positive effect of cutting off all the advertising on the right-hand side (unless I deliberately scroll to the right to see it, which I don’t).

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  16. I am digesting the vagina dentata condom link – nothing coherent except sadness that this is almost certainly going to feel for some, many women maybe, like a self assertive step.

    Re the addiction. I have no problems with reading about addiction, addicts getting a happy ending, and no disagreements with the position that addiction is addiction and not a moral failing. But, from my pov, that’s irrelevant to the damage that addicts do.

    I read the both the Stacia Kane thread at DA, and Book Binge review and going from that I agree with Ann Somerville that there is an element of slut shaming involved in terms of reader reactions differing between addicted hero/heroines. I also agree that some of it is general knee jerk moralistic misunderstanding of the causes of addiction.

    I would have struggled with the book Holly reviewed (which I don’t intend to read – the Stacia Kane is in my TBR) because it seems to me that the author failed to sell the redemption arc part of the story, which leaves the hero and heroine in an abusive/enabling relationship.
    I have a number of personal hot button issues, which I can and do read about, provided those issues are dealt with in the book. To have a long-term, hard-core recidivist addict say (as he has said many times before) ‘I’ll stop,’ and have the heroine just take him at his word for it, even though he has proven that his word on this is worthless – well, that doesn’t count as a happy ending to me, regardless of how many happy epilogue pages the author tacks on.
    I’ve read a few romances with addiction as part of the storyline, and from my personal perspective I approach them warily because most of them have done the same thing – her accepting his word that this time it will be different is shown as conclusive proof of true love. In other words, him giving her the words and her taking it on faith that he will fulfill them is a de facto promise of happy ever after.
    It reminds me of the old skool romances where he’s abusive allllll through the book, and then at the end he says he loves her (and sometimes that he’s sorry), so it’s ok.

    Reading up, redemption arc is not quite the word I want to use for that, because it suggests an element of choice that is not exactly present in addiction, but the concept remains the same – that there needs to be a demonstrated progression towards control in the addicts behavior or in the case of the HP ‘alphahole’ a commitment to change / acceptance of the heroine’s right to autonomy.

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  17. While I don’t necessarily disagree that addicts need love too, I have to disagree that the addicts themselves are hurt far worse than those who care for them. I will allow that an addict suffers – greatly – because of his/her addiction, but the family/loved ones suffer a great deal more – especially in terms of guilt and, in many cases, abuse from the addicted one.

    I think, too, I have a hard time accepting the “they hurt more” logic, because way too often the addicts intentionally set out to hurt those they love. Or perhaps intentional isn’t the right word, considering they have a “disease” (which I disagree with), but without thought to the consequences of their actions.

    As an example: Someone very close to me married an addict. He was an addict when they met, all through their courtship and engagement and after they got married. He wasn’t a recovering addict, he was just an addict, plain and simple.

    I watched her struggle for years to help him cope with his addiction. She bankrupted herself putting him through rehab (at his request), bailing him out of jail and doing her best to care for him. She loved him regardless of his addiction and took care of him knowing he may never get better.

    And still he continued to go back to it. He’d be clean for sometimes up to 9 months and yet he’d still go back.

    The worst part? They have a little girl. She’s 10 now and she’s been living with this addict her entire life. She knows daddy is “sick” and that he hurts her mommy, but she doesn’t really understand they whys of it. How can she at that age?

    I believe she’s being hurt far more than he is in this case. Especially when he does things like break into her piggy bank, wet in her bed and steal her electronics to pawn for more drug money.

    But, unlike someone with cancer, the addict has to face discrimination and negative moral judgments as well.

    This line, in particular, struck me. Because the major difference – at least for me – is the fact that no one chose to have cancer. I don’t know of anyone who willingly walked into a bar, or a store, or whatever, and said, “Hey, give me a bottle of cancer, will you?”

    There are always exceptions to everything, but for the most part addicts – at one time or another – made a personal choice that led them to be where they are. They picked up a cigarette, or a bottle, or a needle. Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time giving sympathy.

    Over coming addiction isn’t easy – I understand that (I quit smoking a few years ago after having smoked most of my life), but I wouldn’t say an addiction is the same as cancer.

    As for the hero vs heroine angle, I’m not one of those who has more or less sympathy based on gender. It all comes down to the addict themselves.

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  18. @Jessica: No, I think we’re actually disagreeing here, although it’s probably more like talking past each other. The nature of romance heroism is that the characters, and we the reader, can trust the hero/heroine, to love us. Heroes can be deeply flawed in romances, but they have to be redeemable, and we have to be able to trust them. They cannot be unrepentant or not trying hard, which is what the characters in the two books reviewed seem to have been like. KristieJ’s example of Reggie is a great one; he’s a dysfunctional alcoholic but through the course of the book he makes great efforts to control it.

    If you’ve spent a lot of time around badly or mis-treated addicts, and very little time around addicts’ relatives and friends, then I can see how you would privilege the addict’s concerns over those of the people s/he affects. But as Holly points out, there is a big difference between addiction and physical diseases such as cancer. With the latter, there is only so much that agency and willpower can do; either the drugs work or they don’t, either your body recovers or it doesn’t. Patients can affect treatment, of course, most obviously by refusing it. But behavior modification isn’t going to kill cancer cells, or unclog arteries, at least not in the short term. Although come to think of it, continuing to eat things that clog your arteries after you’ve been told not to is pretty similar.

    With mental diseases and illnesses, OTOH, behavior change can make a huge difference. Now I’m wading into your speciality, so feel free to tell me I’m making an idiot of myself. But while I agree that an addict probably has little control over whether s/he has the trait, s/he has at least some control over how greatly that trait determines behavior. Of course it varies by individual: some people can quit smoking the first time, some never can, even with the latter trying way harder and more often than the former.

    But if they don’t try? Or try in a half-assed way? [I'm not talking here about people with multiple mental illnesses that make it even more difficult for them to control their behavior, but a person whose main issue is addiction.] Then you bet I’m feeling and expressing negative moral judgment about their behavior. Not about their addiction, but about their behavior. I feel exactly the same way about people with diseases like cancer, when they *choose* not to finish a chemo or radiation course even though that choice reduces their survival rate (I’m not talking about multiple recurrences or late stage 4, I’m talking about the chick who had her port removed so it wouldn’t show at the beach). As long as there are people who love you and depend on you, you don’t get to let your fear and weakness of will trump their well-being without evoking some negative moral judgments from me.

    ETA: As if this comment isn’t long enough (see Maili, it’s not just you!). But I forgot to include the point about why I think readers don’t want unrepentant addicts in their romances. These are not trustworthy characters, and we read romances for positive emotions. Reggie, who is an addict trying to control his behavior, evokes positive emotions. The guy who puts his ex-wife in danger to gamble doesn’t. But again, it’s not the addiction per se, it’s the behavior. An addict in a mystery is interesting; think of Will in P.B. Ryan’s books. But he can’t be reliable and trustworthy as a hero, or even just a lover for whatshername, until he gets a handle on his addiction.

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  19. @Laura Vivanco:

    Hi, I’m the Jeanne Pickering who redid the design layout for AAR. Thank you for the positive comments and the careful criticism as well. I wanted to add something about page width and screen size. Screens now come in a wide variety of sizes but the site statistics show that the majority of visitors are using screens that will handle a page width of slightly under 1000 pixels(px).

    The former AAR home page was (and the current interior pages still are) 775px wide. Blogs tend to still be this width – RRR is, Mrs. Giggles is 728px and Tumperkin is a slim 660px. However, the group-edited and advertising supported sites such as SMTB and Dear Author are set to the larger widths (SMTB at 975px and Dear Author at 960px.) This lets them use larger fonts, add extra editorial and have display ads that are 200px wide. AAR is in that same category of site and its home page’s new width of 976px provides it with the same opportunities.

    The wrapping occurs because AAR also has one of the longest horizontal site navigation lines – nine links vs Dear Author’s six, SMTB’s 8, RRR’s 5. The AAR editors have already said that they will be streamlining the navigation in the coming weeks and I’m sure they’ll be taking the wrapping issue into consideration.

    I’m coming in late to these comments so hopefully I’m not overwhelming too many people with too much information. Even though the web is still in its wild, wild west stage, I did want to show that we website designers do try to inject some sanity into the madness.

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  20. However, the group-edited and advertising supported sites such as SMTB and Dear Author are set to the larger widths (SMTB at 975px and Dear Author at 960px.) This lets them use larger fonts, add extra editorial and have display ads that are 200px wide. AAR is in that same category of site and its home page’s new width of 976px provides it with the same opportunities.

    Thanks for taking the time to explain all this in such detail, Jeanne. I can see that there might be a variety of reasons why site owners might want to make changes which don’t suit me personally.

    The fact remains, though, that I’m not able to change the size of my screen. So unless I scroll to the right, at SBTB I don’t see any of the advertising (because it’s in a column on the right-hand side), at Dear Author I can see about half of the adverts so mostly I don’t even notice they’re there, and I’ll probably just try to get directly to the AAR pages which do fit nicely on my screen.

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  21. @FD:

    there needs to be a demonstrated progression towards control in the addicts behavior or in the case of the HP ‘alphahole’ a commitment to change / acceptance of the heroine’s right to autonomy.

    Yes, I agree. And Holly made it clear that the book in question lacked this. So it was a literary failing.

    @Holly:

    I have to disagree that the addicts themselves are hurt far worse than those who care for them.

    I didn’t say this. What I said was that I may be more attuned to addicts’ suffering than the suffering of their families because I work with them. Often I never see the family: they don’t even bother showing up at the hospital, probably because they have been through this too many times already.

    the major difference – at least for me – is the fact that no one chose to have cancer. I don’t know of anyone who willingly walked into a bar, or a store, or whatever, and said, “Hey, give me a bottle of cancer, will you?”

    Clearly we disagree on the question of whether addiction is a disease or a character failing. Your view has not been accepted by the medical/scientific community for several decades. Here’s a good link: http://www.nida.nih.gov/scienceofaddiction/

    Many addicts start out innocently. Here are a few examples:

    1. Mary has a c-section. Or Johnny has a back injury. They dutifully take the opioid that has been prescribed to them (in a much higher dose than they needed because the doctor was not trained in pain management, having gone to medical school prior to the pain management movement) until all the pills are gone. They don’t feel right when they are out of pills. They still have some discomfort. They go back to the doctor. The doctor has to see 25 patients that day to keep his private practice afloat. He is also not trained in addiction medicine and fails to see red flags. He writes another prescription. The cycle begins…

    2. Both genetically and behaviorally, children of addicts are predisposed to addiction. Sam and Missy are both attending their first party. Missy is predisposed to alcoholism, but she doesn’t really understand this. When they both get drunk, different things happen in their brains. What happens in Missy’s brain makes her crave the next drink much more strongly than Sam’s. It is physiologically much harder for her to resist the next drink.

    And yes, addicts can get sober. They do it. But they need support. Do you know what the wait is for an inpatient alcohol or drug abuse recovery program in the state of Maine? 3 months, if you are lucky. And you have to be clean for the intake process. Of course, you can always go to California, to Betty Ford, if you have the bucks…

    I know how hard it is for someone to lose ten pounds. To quit chocolate for Lent. To stop biting their nails. So I am sympathetic to how much more difficult it is to kick drugs and alcohol.

    And as far as cancer goes, well, there are cases and there are cases. What causes lung cancer? What causes skin cancer? Do you eschew red meat, eat 5-7 fresh fruits and vegetables a day, exercise every day for 30 minutes? Because we know for a fact that your risk of many types of cancer will be lowered significantly if you do those things.

    Moving on, how about obesity? Just 15 extra pounds increases your risk for any number of health problems, from back strain to heart disease. I work with several physicians who think health insurance premiums for the obese should be higher than for those who are normal weight, because heavier people put such a strain on the health care system. Others note that obese parents are basically shortening their kids’ lives by teaching them — both through example and by what they put on the table — bad diet and exercise habits, and they often can’t participate in activities with their kids because they have too many obesity-related health problems. Just as an alcoholic mom may “sleep it off” until late in the morning, a 300 pound mom may need to take frequent rests and naps. But I think many of us are very sympathetic to the overweight, because we know first hand how hard it is to lose weight once you’ve put it on. I am just asking for some of the same understanding for people who are substance dependent.

    My own view is that is very easy to sit back and blame addicts for their health problems, when we could all be doing so much more to be healthier ourselves.

    @Sunita: I am very glad you made the point about mental illness, and it gives me a chance to get on another soapbox! many addicts –particularly women — are in fact trying to treat mental illness when they turn to alcohol or drugs (usually prescription drugs). We don’t do a very good job of screening for mental illness in primary care, and as you know, 45 million plus Americans lack health insurance so they never even see a PCP anyway. So when we think of addicts, and how they got that way, we have to see it in the context of the failures of our diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues as well.

    But you are of course right that addicts can make choices and get treatment. I made a comment above to Holly about how difficult it is to access that treatment for people without health insurance, so I think that has to be kept in mind when we have this discussion. It’s not like most of these people are Ben Affleck who can have his agent check him into Promises in Malibu! But you are right, there is an element of willpower, and I would not want to take that away from someone just because they are a substance abuser. It is that very fact of their autonomy that gives them the power to get well.

    I really do agree with you, and Holly, and Kristie that a romance can’t work if you can’t believe the addicted h/h is in recovery, and Holly was convincing in her review that this did not happen in the book under discussion.

    But I also wonder if our standards for a realistic portrayal of recovery are unusually high, given our real world moral judgments and skepticism about people with this particular problem.

    Thanks for your comments!

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  22. @Jeanne Pickering: thank you for stopping by to explain this! I had no idea different blogs were actually different sizes. and damn that Tumperkin for being so svelte!

    @Laura Vivanco: not being able to see the ads sounds ideal to me. hopefully using your reader for AAR will work out.

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  23. Addiction is a hot topic for me.

    Your view has not been accepted by the scientific community for several decades.

    Th scientific community does not factor in emotion. Emotion isn’t science. They look at brain chemistry, brain scans, etc. What they are studying is not wrong, but it’s only a part of it.

    I believe addiction is a disease. In my opinion, a person is predisposed to addiction based on their personality. My dad is an alcoholic. My 25 year old brother chooses not to drink at all b/c of that.

    Addiction isn’t a topic that is black and white. I agree that addicts need support, but you can only give another person so much support if they don’t even want it.

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