Review: Bad Case of Loving You, by Laney Cairo

Bad Case of Loving You is an erotic m/m romance by Laney Cairo. You can purchase it from Torquere Press or read a sample here. I read it on the recommendation of several romance readers whose opinions I trust, and I’m glad I did, but I have some reservations about the actions of one of the heroes. Here’s the blurb:

Matthew is a medical student, trying to ignore his various roommates’ wild parties and get through his classes. Andrew is his instructor, a doctor at a prestigious British hospital. They’re not supposed to be attracted to each other, but they can’t deny their undeniable chemistry.

They come together with a heat that surprises them both, and through doctor’s strikes, dealing with Andrew’s teenaged son, and hospital red tape, Andrew and Matthew learn to live, and love together. Is their relationship just what the doctor ordered?

Mature readers continue after the jump…
Continue reading

Monday Morning Stepback: Rigged contests, Guided reading, Harlequin's Enhanced Online Reputation

The Weekly Links, Opinion and Personal Updates Post

Annoyed with bloggers who do constant giveaways to increase readership? Feel sure these contests are rigged? Their time may be at hand, if this angry person or this one has anything to say about it. A third post, Are Bloggers Conducting Illegal Lotteries? also raises interesting questions about how blog contests should be regulated. (via @myfriendamy):

Go right on ahead then honey because when the feds intervene, when state law governing sweepstakes intervene, I will be sure to grab some popcorn. Because I spoke about this issue once, about whether the sweep was a sham, and I was right then, I am right now. Bloggers are rigging their giveaways for winners based on whom THEY want to win, not by chance. Which technically if you as a blogger are conducting yourself in such a manner you are violating federal and state sweepstakes laws by crossing into lottery territory.

[Edited to add: Author and attorney Courtney Milan blogged about this a year ago. The post is called, "How to run a blog contest without going to jail."]

*****

Have you ever read in a genre, noticed a trend, and thought, “I find this really weird, but since no one else is mentioning it, I’ll just keep my mouth shut.”? Well, that’s what I’ve always thought about the “bra suck” in romance. Luckily, SuperWendy has proven once again that the truth shall set us free, with her post on The Soggy Bra Epidemic, followed up by a somber and thoughtful discussion of this very important issue with her man. This is a matter of public health and sexual education, people. Go forth and read.

*****

Library Journals’ 10 Must Read m/m romances (via @katiebabs). Was happy to see Sean Kennedy and Alex Beecroft there. Many of the others are unknown to me.

*****

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, by Jaclyn Friedman, in The American Prospect on the Assange charges and the media’s coverage of them (via @moirarogers(bree))

Here’s how it works: As soon as a rape accusation makes it into the news cycle (most often because the accused is famous), it’s instantly held up against our collective subconscious idea about what Real Rape (or, as Whoopi Goldberg odiously called it, “rape-rape”) looks like. Here’s a quick primer on that ideal: The rapist is a scary stranger, with a weapon, even better if he’s a poor man of color. The victim is a young, white, conventionally pretty, sober, innocent virgin. Also, there are witnesses and/or incontrovertible physical evidence, and the victim goes running to the authorities as soon as the assault is over.

But let’s face it, actual rapes almost never match up to this ideal. Most rape victims know their attacker (estimates range from 75 percent to 89 percent), most rapists use alcohol or drugs to facilitate the assault (More than 80 percent, according to researcher David Lisak), not weapons, and most of the famous men whose accusers receive media attention aren’t poor men of color. But once the accusation hits the news cycle, whatever pundit gets there first uses the non-ideal details of the alleged assault to argue that surely, we shouldn’t take this seriously, and other pundits nod their head in agreement.

*****

At Novel Readings, Rohan Maitzen weighs in on the debate over Oprah’s choice of Dickens for her book club. The literati are worried that the common folk won’t understand the book, apparently.

Maitzen rejects the idea that Oprah readers are too unsophisticated to “get” Dickens, noting that Dickens was once a “popular” author. Yet, as an English professor, she believes that guidance can enhance the reading experience. I especially appreciated her point that:

novels that don’t immediately gratify your taste may be revealing some of your own limits, not just theirs. Sometimes, you’re asking the wrong questions, for instance. Here’s where ‘real guidance’ might come in handy, at least in training you as a reader to stop and think about why the book is as it is, what purposes its aesthetic and formal choices serve, what ideas shape it. You might not like it any better, but you would understand a lot more about it.

Opinion

Mrs. Giggles is bored with the internets:

I decided to look for new titles to buy using online hype when I got home. I hit up the Web and… sigh. Is it just me or have all the major romance blogs are now collaborating to hype up the same 5 authors over and over again? I mean, come on. I’ve read those 5 authors already. I want to see the spotlight on someone new. Someone who isn’t published with Harlequin, please. Seriously, have Harlequin bought over the blogs when I wasn’t watching? It used to be that we laugh at the titles of their Presents books. Now, it seems like everyone is reading Harlequin category romances like they are serious business.

I have four things to say about her post (too annoying to try to comment over there. HATE LiveJournal):

1. It’s true that this is a small community and we like to read what our peers are reading, in order to have shared experiences to talk about on Twitter and our blogs, and so some books get overexposed. But this is not just an issue with genre fiction. Anybody notice a little book by Jonathan Frantzen this year? And how that was the only book anyone in the literature/general fiction universe talked about for a month straight? Plus, if a book is good, of course we are going to rave about it, and increased chatter will be the result. And if a book is good and does something NEW in the genre? You do the math.

2. Luckily it is very easy to fix that sense of sameness: start reading other blogs. It is really quite simple to cut out of your life a blog that bothers you. I wonder why more people who complain do not try this? Alternatively, ask your readers to help you find new and unique books. You can see this last strategy at work in Mrs. Giggles’ own thread. (But see point 4 below). Or just surf or shop randomly, picking out what interests you.

3. I have only been on line a few years and even I have noticed the increased respect given to Harlequin, much of it driven by things other than the quality of its books, such as its marketing savvy, its embrace of digital, and its responsiveness to the online community (Blogger Bundles, etc.). But, unlike Mrs. Giggles, I think this is mostly a natural and good thing. Some Harlequin books are great, some not so great. To lump an entire publisher or line together is to do the same thing on a smaller scale that non romance readers do to the entire genre. Harlequin is our major genre publisher. Does it make sense to turn our noses up at it?

4. It’s kind of interesting how many commenters on that thread say they don’t read romance, and do not recommend any romance in their responses. I don’t know why, but I always find it kind of surprising how many people in the romance community don’t seem to read or even much like romance.

Personal

Hanukkah and both birthday parties are over. At his birthday party on Saturday, my 11 year old received a copy of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games from a friend, and to my shock, it turned out half the boys had read it.

I have a bit of grading to finish today, and then it’s break until January 10. We aren’t traveling, but we might toss some beach sand on our new kitchen floor, don sunglasses, and play some Jimmy Buffet.* (*actually, I hate Jimmy Buffet. Sorry Parrotheads.)

No idea what I will be blogging. Hope everyone who celebrates has a wonderful Christmas holiday!

I leave you with this very amusing Andy Samberg video, lyrics NSFW:

Sexual Desire

One of the most popular readings I assigned this semester was “Sexual Desire”, by Chistopher Hamilton (“Sexual Desire: Some Philosophical Reflections”, Richmond Journal of Philosophy,Vol 7, Summer 2004). He is a lecturer at King’s College London. Since romances have a little something to do with sexual desire, I thought I would share a bit about it here.

Hamilton, by the way, who has strong research interests in the intersection of philosophy and literature, is also a “philosophy misery memoirist” whose latest book is Middle Age (Guardian review here). Hamilton was profiled last year in the Independent UK.

In this essay, Hamilton starts with what he considers “the most profound philosophical account of sexual desire”,  Jean-Paul Sartre’s.  In L’Être et le néant [Being and Nothingness], Sartre rejects the idea that sexual desire is just about pleasure. Normally sexual desire attaches itself to an object. Otherwise, masturbation would be as fun. Remember the scene in Sex and the City (Hot Child in the City, Season 3, Episode 15) when Charlotte finds husband Trey  — who has had trouble getting aroused — masturbating in the bathroom?

Later during a visit to the therapist…

Charlotte: He said he wasn’t a sexual person!
Trey: It wasn’t sexual! It was tension release. It helps me sleep.
Therapist: I understand. This may be difficult, Trey, but I want you to tell me specifically which magazine you were using.
Trey and Charlotte in unison: Juggs.
Therapist: All right. We can try and see this as a positive thing.
Charlotte: How? How is this a positive thing?
Therapist: Trey was masturbating to Juggs. At least we know he isn’t gay.
Trey: Excuse me, what exactly is the problem here? It was tension release, it had nothing to do with my wife.
Therapist: Interesting choice of words, Trey. Maybe that’s the problem. We have to find a way to integrate your wife into your sexual routine.
Trey: How are we supposed to do that?

Continue reading

Behind the Lines: Shannon Stacey on Exclusively Yours

Welcome to the second installment of a new feature, Behind the Lines, in which I ask an author to reflect on a scene of her choice in her work. Here’s Shannon Stacey, talking about a book I really enjoyed, Exclusively Yours:


My writing process is somewhat messy and difficult to nail down in a few words, but one thing it’s definitely not is analytical.

I’m analytical neither as an author nor as a reader. My reaction to a book I’ve read is often a simple emotional one: I didn’t like it, it was meh, I liked it, or I loved it. If you were to press me, I’d find it hard to articulate why I had that reaction, which is probably why I can’t write a decent review, but enjoy reading analytic reviews written by others of books I’ve read.

I write the same way. A scene either works or it doesn’t. How do I know if it’s not working? When I’m reading through it and I’m twitchy with the urge to check Twitter or make a phone call or fling some Angry Birds on my iPod Touch, I assume a reader’s going to feel the same way. I don’t worry about themes and symbolism and all those other things I didn’t pay attention to in high school English class. I write the way I read: emotional gut reaction.

So when Jessica first mentioned this idea for her blog to me, my immediate reaction was a brain cramp. Analysis and introspection aren’t really a part of my process. But then a scene popped into my head from Exclusively Yours that I think illustrates how my subconscious mind steers the crafting of my books.

In this scene, Mike and Lisa (brother and sister-in-law of Joe, the hero), are having an argument about the possibility of having a fifth baby after the subject was brought up in front of the family by Mike and Joe’s dad. Mike doesn’t want another child, but Lisa thinks she does. (Joey is their oldest of four sons.)

But everybody froze when Mike made a frustrated growling sound and plowed his fist into the side of his camper. Joey was on his feet in an instant, freeze pop dropped in the dirt as he stepped in front of Lisa.

Joe watched the boy—so tall, skinny and scared shitless—facing off against his dad, and felt an odd tightening in his chest. Lisa wasn’t in any danger. Mike had a bit of a temper, but he’d throw himself under a bus before he raised a hand to his family.

But his oldest nephew had just taken a giant, irreversible step toward the man he’d become, and it was an awesome and yet incredibly sad moment to watch.

On the surface, this scene could be considered nothing more than the catalyst for Joe’s emotional confession during a subsequent conversation with the heroine, Keri:

Joe smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes or make his dimples pop. “Do you want kids?”

The question flew at her from left field and she didn’t even have time to get her glove up. “I don’t know. I guess I stopped thinking about it at some point. By the time I meet the career goals I set for myself and then go daddy shopping, I’ll have to deliver in the geriatric ward. How about you?”

“I guess not.”

“Why not? Family’s always been everything to you, and you’d make a great
dad.”

He shrugged. “I was pretty self-involved for a while. Drinking and writing were my entire world. And then, after Lauren, I… I’ve got Steph and the boys, and being Uncle Joe’s been good enough for me.”

But there was an unhappiness in his eyes that she’d never seen before, and
it went deeper than concern for his brother’s woes.

“They’re growing up,” he said abruptly, pacing in front of the fireplace. “Joey tonight…I was so damn proud of him. And it hurt that he’s not mine to be proud of. I almost hated Mike right then, for getting to be Joey’s dad.”

But it was much more than a catalyst to me. Joey’s scene was one of the most emotional for me to write and to edit, and I think it was because a child’s transition from boy to man was much on my mind.

One day I was walking in the Wal-Mart parking lot with my sons. A car started to back out of a parking space in front of us and my teen stepped forward and put his arm in front of me to stop me. It was a simple gesture, something I’d done to him countless times, and it was over in seconds, but it shifted my entire world.

In those few seconds, I saw a glimpse of the man my son is becoming. I remembered my husband doing the same with his mother. Telling her to watch for a crooked step. Taking her elbow to steady her if the sidewalk was icy. My son, with that one gesture, had taken that first irrevocable step toward becoming a man and the emotion of that moment carried through into writing a scene in which Mike’s son took that same step.

That’s almost like a theme, isn’t it? And the freeze pop dropped in the dirt? Symbolism! I wish I could say I did it purposely, but that’s simply how the scene formed on the page. It wasn’t until I considered talking about my process that the emotional underpinnings of that scene really coalesced in my mind.

I suppose my process is to be aware of the elements of craft, plot and motivation and character arcs and such, and think about them while driving and showering and whatnot, but when it comes to sit and write, I trust my subconscious to bring it all together, as it did with Joey.

Thank you, Jessica, for inviting me to share a peek behind the scenes of Exclusively Yours!

Shannon

Thank you Shannon!

Review: Exclusively Yours, by Shannon Stacey

Exclusively Yours was published by Harlequin’s digital imprint, Carina Press, in June of this year. I listened to it on audio, and I was underwhelmed with the narrator’s performance. She tended to pause too frequently, and emphasize the wrong words. Honestly, I felt she was “phoning it in”.

Exclusively Yours has gotten a lot of buzz in the online romance community, being featured in a Smart Bitches Sizzling Online Book Club, and being reviewed lots of places. Click on Sarah of MonkeyBearReviews for Sarah’s review as well as a list of other reviews.

Reading EY was a lesson to me in how important it is to try the same author in different subgenres. I had read one other book by Stacey, a Devlin Group romantic suspense, which was fine, but didn’t inspire me to read more. In fairness, rom suspense is my least favorite romance subgenre. However, Stacey’s voice in EY is so much funnier and crackling that she almost sounds like a different author.

Exclusively Yours is exactly the kind of romance I love to read: contemporary, sexy, smart, funny and touching. It’s the story of Keri, a big shot celebrity weekly reporter, out to get an exclusive from Joe, a reclusive multimillion selling thriller author. The interview isn’t Keri’s idea: it’s her editor’s, an alpha shark among predators, who has discovered, with a little unsavory blog hopping, that Keri and Joe dated back in high school in New Hampshire.

Keri and Joe didn’t just date, they were deeply in love. But Keri needed to spread her wings and head to L.A. after graduation, while Joe was rooted in New Hampshire with his close knit family. They split up on bad terms, sending Joe into a drunken depression. But he’s never forgotten Keri, and, for reasons he doesn’t want to investigate too closely, he proposes that she join him and the entire Kowalski family on a two week camping trip in the wilds of New Hampshire.

Unsurprisingly, there are funny scenes of Hollywood sophisticate Keri getting mud soaked during an ATV ride and being terrified of making her way to the bathroom outside in the dark. But most of the humor isn’t situational, it’s dialogue and character based, which I much prefer. I laughed out loud too many times to count listening to this book. When it comes to Keri and Joe, this is a light romance, with fairly low conflict … so low, in fact, that it becomes a bit of a mind bender to reconcile the depth and intensity of their passion with their decade long separation. Luckily, the high sexual tension makes up for it.

Surprisingly for such a short book, Stacey manages to include a secondary romance, between Joe’s sister Terry and her estranged husband Evan, and even a third, between Joe’s brother Mike and his wife, who wants to add yet another child to their large brood. There is also Joe’s brother Kevin, whose mysterious past sets him up nicely for his own book, Undeniably Yours, released just this week.

I marveled at the way the complex family dynamics were handled in this book. They felt incredibly real to me, and, perhaps because I am middle aged and in my 15th year of marriage, with kids getting older, while I delighted in the sexy and funny relationship between Joe and Keri, I was emotionally drawn to the impasse faced by the two secondary couples, whose intense focus on child raising had changed their marriages in so many ways, not all of them positive. In short, although there is plenty of heat and fun, this is a romance which is not afraid to show us what happens after the HEA, and that there may be more than one HEA for committed relationships between flawed human beings who live recognizably human lives. In this aspect, I would compare Stacey to Jennifer Crusie, who uses humor to inject that element of realism that so many contemporary romance lack.

Many reviewers have noted that the author’s decision to tell the story of the entire Kowalski family took some of the focus off of the main romantic relationship, and this is true. If you are a reader who likes a “pure” contemporary with intense focus on the h/h, EY may not be your best bet. In trying to interpret the trajectory of Keri and Joe’s relationship, I was torn between thinking either (a) the conflict was too superficial, so why have they been apart so long, and (b) the conflict is deep and significant, but then why did it get solved so easily? In the end, if the conflict wasn’t rendered to suit my tastes, I did believe completely in their love, which, for me, is what matters.

My final comment is about the cover:

I love it. It’s perfect for the story, and it’s not the kind of cover anyone has to hide. ;)

Monday Morning Stepback: The Location of the HEA

The Weekly Links, Opinion, and Personal Updates Post

Links of Interest:

I don’t have too much this week. Either I was very picky, or the content wasn’t there.

If you are interested in soap operas at all, check out the fascinating four part series (part 1 here) at Henry Jenkins’ blog, in which he interviews the editors of a new book on soaps (h/t @jafurtado):

The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations For a New Media Era, brings together key thinkers about this embattled genre from the worlds of industry, fandom, journalism, and academia to share their reflections on the current state of the American daytime serial and to offer their suggestions on what tactics and strategies might allow it to thrive in a new media era.

I don’t watch soaps, but in reading through the discussions, I saw a lot of overlaps between concerns of the romance community and the soap opera community. Unlike romance, though, soaps are in decline. What do you think of this possible two pronged explanation:

I truly believe two main elements work against soap operas and help their decline at the present moment: their cultural standing in the public opinion and the way they are sold to the audience. In the mainstream, the regard for the professionalism and skill of soap operas is quite low. In  a culture that relishes being media-savvy and hip, choosing soap operas is not desirable, quite the contrary. This is an obstacle insofar as, to go against the current, you must truly love the genre. Otherwise, it is simply not worth it, because you do not get “rewarded” for it; you get “punished.” Fans are bullied into thinking they are not cool and, for the most part, they are afraid to come out as defenders of a genre they love. Hence the decline.

*****

A Guardian article by a writer named Edward Docx, Are Stieg Larsson and Dan Brown a match for Literary Fiction? generated a lot of heat over the weekend. You can tell how DocX answers the question by how he asks it. It’s not new, well written, well argued, or even interesting, except for the fact that, inexplicably, it got published. Scathing responses in the comments, as well as by Ed Champion, and The Left Room.

*****

Carolyn Crane’s guest blog over at The Book Smugglers for their month long Smugglivus celebration was hilarious.

*****

Angela at Save Black Romance has popped up with a post on The State of African American Romance. Short and to the point summation of her current thinking on the topic, including this bit:

I stopped blogging because I was preaching to the choir. Plus, the fire lit beneath the so-called movement of authors and readers has largely died due to apathy. Who wants to fight for inclusion when the majority of those segregated don’t care to rock the boat? Also, my reading tastes have veered in the paranormal and mystery arenas, of which AA authors make up a very tiny percentage. But mostly, because I didn’t feel honest waving my pom-poms for a “genre” which honestly, has yet to give me what I need.

*****
Jane at Dear Author changed gears on Sunday to do a non-tech post, All About the Excerpt. I don’t even read excerpts, but I was very interested in the post, and the many comments.

*****

If you have been sitting around wishing more people would write manifestos, you are in luck. Check out this very uplifting, short, free read on What Does It Mean That Your Life Is Perfect? by cancer survivor and author Michale Ellsberg. I especially appreciated his focus on the importance of love.

On the Importance of Place in the HEA

I have been thinking about writing a blog post on those HEAs in which the hero and heroine end up back at the physical spot where they first met, or fell in love, or consummated their relationship, or which has some significance to the relationship. The major example I came up with the Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Match Me If You Can, when Heath finds a missing Annabelle at the lake house where they consummated their relationship.

Any other examples?

Personal

Grading, grading, grading.

But my friend Elizabeth and I are working on a joint presentation for campus in the spring on a comparison/contrast between public perceptions of what women read late in the late 18th (Minerva Press) and 21st centuries (romance). I am really looking forward to it!

In sad news, our tuxedo kitty Goalie (with double paws) followed my husband and I as we walked to a neighborhood party Saturday night and has not been seen since. He often follows us when we walk the dogs, or go anywhere in the ‘hood, waits, and then walks home with us. Weird, I know. But he’s never been away this long. Keep your fingers crossed!

Look for an insightful and moving Behind the Lines post tomorrow by Shannon Stacey. And those m/m reviews I owe you!

HAPPY WEEK!

Mother and Son joint Review: Ghostopolis, by Doug TenNapel

Ghostopolis is a 272 page graphic novel for middle graders published in 2010.  It’s the story of Garth Hale, a boy who is dying of an incurable disease, who gets accidentally plucked out of bed and sent to Ghostopolis by a ghost hunter named Frank Gallows, a downtrodden officer from the Supernatural Immigration Task Force. Garth has to survive in Ghostopolis, an afterlife populated by loads of imaginatively rendered creatures, and ruled by the terrifying Vaugner, with only the “night mare” Skinny as his guide. Meanwhile, a horrified Frank is summarily fired, and tracks down his ex girlfriend, Claire Voyant, who has built herself a plasmapod designed to travel between this world and the next. Who will Garth meet on his journey across Ghostopolis? If he gets home, will be survive his illness? Will Frank and Claire get back together?

I bought this one as a Hanukkah present for my nine year old, and he loved it. In fact, he’s already read a second TenNapel graphic novel, Gear. I then had to wait for my eleven year old son also to read Ghostopolis before I got my chance. Here’s what the younger guy had to say:

Jessica: Max, how did you like this book?

Max: I thought it was a very good book, even better than Bunnicula.

Jessica: Why?

Max: Because it had lots of things going on that all ended up into one. And it had lots of action. And mystery.

Jessica: Do you think it is scary?

Max: No, but there are some gross parts. Like when they had the mummified elephant poop. And there is one character who is scary.

Jessica: Would that be Vaugner? The evil overlord of Ghostopolis?

Max: No, but I can’t tell you who because it would be a spoiler.

Jessica: Spoiler? Where did you learn the word spoiler?

Max: I learn things and I have no idea where I learned them.

Jessica: What does “spoiler” mean?

Max: It means it ruins the surprise.

Jessica: That’s how I see it too. Okay, what was your favorite part?

Max: I like the part that was sort of a spoiler.

*spoiler alert*

Max: It was when they found Joe in the Bone Kingdom. Joe is sort of like a god. He built the place.

Jessica: Why is Joe like a god?

Max: Because in the story it said it took him “six days” to build Ghostopolis, which some say it took God six days to build the world.

Jessica: Wow, You were really listening in Hebrew School, weren’t you?

Max: Yes. And when it shows Joe, he has holes in his hands, which is like Jesus.

Jessica: Wait a minute. They didn’t teach you that in Hebrew school. Have you been watching Davy and Goliath again?

Max: *shrugs*


*end spoiler*

Jessica: Is there anything special about Garth?

Max: Yes, Garth has an ability to make a streak of lightening come from his body.

Jessica: Is there any fighting in this book?

Max: Yes, especially at the end where the have they big fight.

Jessica: I liked that there was no blood or gore. Very imaginative fight, visually. Who was your favorite character?

Max:  Probably Skinny, the night mare. I like Skinny because he is in a lot of the book, and Garth cares a lot about him.

Jessica: Who would you recommend this book to?

Max: Well, I was eight when I finished it, but I was almost nine. So, I think you should be nine to read it. I think some younger kids might be bored of the romance.

Jessica: Did you know they are making a movie based on this book, starring Wolverine, I mean, Hugh Jackman, as Frank Gallows?

Max: No. I don’t think I should go see that movie. Because a lot of people I know said, if they make a movie off of a book, the book is better. And that was true for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Grinch who stole Christmas.

Mom’s take (with spoilers):

This is a pretty complex book, with several subplots, that do, as Max said, come together in the end. Garth meets his grandfather in Ghostopolis, who is estranged from his mother. Ghostopolis’s evil ruler actually dated Clair Voyant. And Frank’s boss has an unexpected secret that involves Vaugner as well. The illustrations, even of the humans, very compelling, but they are not pretty. Many different kinds of creatures populate Ghostopolis, as the image above shows, including skeletons, mummies, bugs, aliens, and fairies. I loved the drawings, and felt they told the story much better than the words, which were at times quite crude and clunky.

Looked at one way, this is a very “heavy” read, in terms of death, dying, and the afterlife. But there’s a lot of death and dying in super hero comics and films, too, and romance as well (Spiderman, for example), and it’s all pretty superficial. I would rather have those things treated with a little seriousness, as they are here, than glossed over. On the other hand, I was a little confused about the some aspects of the story, like whether everyone there once lived on earth, and whether Ghostopolis is a way station or a final destination, and for whom, and why.

The one genuinely moving aspect of the story, to me, was the quasi-religious one, which Max alluded to in the spoiler section above. It gives a glimpse of what benevolence really looks like. The god of Ghostopolis, Joe, is a black Tuskegee airman. I loved that.

Can Blog Commenting Survive the Twitter and Tumblr Assault?

I write to you today floating on a wave of delight that my teaching year has just ended. Since I am NOT ready to launch into grading, here’s a short blog post, that somehow still manages to be rambling (it’s a gift):

A year ago, I wondered if Twitter would cause people to blog less. I am not sure whether it has. Although I can certainly name some bloggers who seem more productive on Twitter than on their own blogs, there are new blogs springing up all the time.

Today, I wonder whether the main effect of twitter has been on blog comments.

Paranormal romance author Isabel Roman blogged today about the lack of comments on some of her posts, despite getting a lot of hits. She writes:

The thing I notice is that people come. They read. They do not comment. I wonder why that is. Curious. My post on reviews and why you do them, where you post them, and if you comment on others gets hits, but no comments. Hmmm…

Even my guests get hits, especially after the fact, and yet very few comments. Example: Friday Guest: Wendi Zwaduk with 120 page views but only a measly 6 comments. 120 vs. 6…my math seems skewed.

Not too long ago, Tumperkin of Isn’t It Romance? was thinking about shutting down her blog, and named lack of comments as one possible reason (she’s still blogging. Thank God).

I have been emailing a bit with author Shannon Stacey, my next featured author for the Behind the Lines segment. I felt nervous about how many comments she might get, since Shiloh Walker’s Behind the Lines had so few (despite getting lots of hits), but Shannon replied that, in her mind, any place people are talking about a post is all good, be it Twitter or Facebook, or wherever. So look for her post Tuesday.

Here’s an interesting comparion from Mediaite about Tumblr:

A year ago, in preparation for another piece about Tumblr, [founder] Karp told me that the average Tumblr post had five interactions – likes, reblogs, answers – as compared to an average 1.5 comments on the average WordPress post.

I have a Tumblr account, mostly because I didn’t want someone else to take the name*, but I do not know what to do with it.

(*yeah, because someone is really going to steal what is possibly one of the worst blog names on the planet!)

Looking at some of the big blogs, you see lots of RTs but few or no comments. This effect is really extreme at a site like http://www.mashable.com. But even here, I’ve had posts get more RTs than comments.

I’ve noticed that this blog has grown steadily in subscribers and daily visitors, but comments have not grown proportionately. Some folks like to lurk, and some read this blog, but only discuss it on Twitter.

Or maybe it’s just fatigue. At this point, in order to do my Monday Morning Stepback posts, I subscribe to over 300 blogs. It can be overwhelming to try to comment on everything I find interesting. Adding that to Twitter, etc. makes for a packed online schedule.

I don’t have an opinion, actually, on whether this is a good thing or not (if it even IS a “thing”.). Occasionally I do feel let down by lack of comments. The absolute lowest was a post on trends in paranormal romance I spent weeks preparing, even interviewing some very big name authors, and got like two comments. But usually I just go with the flow.

I know exactly what to post if I want a lot of comments (something about sex, something funny, snarky reviews, criticism of other blogs), but I would never force myself to write what I don’t feel like writing.

I recognize the irony in asking for comments on a blog post about comments. And it would serve me right if I get none. But I’ll try it anyway:

  • I’m curious, do you feel like you get as many comments these days as in the past?
  • Do you think Twitter or Tumbrl or even Facebook has affected blog commenting?
  • Do you care whether you get a lot of comments?

And even if you don’t feel like commenting? Thanks for reading!

Can you Believe this Carp? On Today's NYT Story on Romance and Digital Reading

Today’s New York Times featured a story on the front page of the books section about romance readers, entitled Lusty Tales and Hot Sales: Romance E-Books Thrive. Go forth and read it (it’s short) if you haven’t and then come back (if you care) for my take on the good and the bad.

IS THIS YOU?

The bad:

1. Descriptions of the readers of romance. Yet again we are characterized as out of control and possibly dangerous. Readers are described as “devourers” of romance, and worse, in the following quote which also says something about the quality of the books themselves:

If the e-reader is the digital equivalent of the brown-paper wrapper, the romance reader is a little like the Asian carp: insatiable and unstoppable. Together, it turns out, they are a perfect couple.

Note that men who are as enthusiastic about their hobbies are never described as insatiable. In this case, I think it’s the combo of femininity and sex.

In sum: we’re dangerous, out of control, and possibly out to sex you up. Watch it!

2. Patriarchy, embraced.

Romance readers, i.e. women, are, and, implicitly, should be, worried about what people, i.e. men, think about their reading choices:

So [Sarah Wendell] began reading e-books, escaping the glances and the imagined snickers from strangers on the subway, and joining the many readers who have traded the racy covers of romance novels for the discretion of digital books.

***

“It’s easier to check out some naughty little title online than in a brick-and-mortar store where your pastor could step up in line behind you,” said Barb Perfetti, the chief financial officer of All Romance. “We’ve had lots of customers write to us and say, ‘Now I don’t always have to show my husband what I’m reading.’ ”

3. By focusing on romance readers’ insatiability and fear of disapproval, the Times article misses two major factors that have driven romance readers to digital:

a.We have disposable income and we will spend it on what WE want. How can they miss the fact that digital reading takes place on expensive digital readers, smartphones, or laptops? And we’re not exactly saving money by reading digital over print most of the time (see lostbooksales.com). This is not a cheap habit, which means we are FINANCIALLY INDEPENDENT CARP.

b. We are intelligent, tech savvy consumers. We can get our ebooks onto pretty much any device, shop for best prices, compare notes using social networking sites and generally blind you with our science.

4. It’s in the books section, but … not really about books, is it? Our books are described as “a happy ending just a download away”, which still places all of the emphasis on how they make us feel (and just ONE way they make us feel. Well, two. Happy and sexy), and not on the books themselves. Romance readers are still way more interesting (and insatiable! and sex-obsessed!) than romance novels to mainstream press.

The good:

1. Relying on experts in the romance community. I am glad of this, because it means that the major press outlets recognize there is something to be expert in.

2. Recognizing that the genre is not some monolith but is diverse and has changed over time:

Romance is a natural leader here. The genre took off in the 1980s, when it expanded from the typical dreamy or bodice-ripping historical novels to include contemporary, plot-driven stories with characters drawn from real life. (Happy endings, though, are still required.)

3. It’s coverage of romance in the Times! In the Books section!

4. Counternarratives messing up the hegemony yo

In doing an analysis like this, I am trying to tease out the dominant social narratives that are in play. I’m not blaming anyone, not even the Times. We live in a certain social world, all of us, that shapes in interesting, sometimes problematic, ways what we can say and how we are heard.

But this piece, like anything, contains within it some counternarratives. We have romance readers referred to as “enthusiastic”, for example, an adjective I enthusiastically approve of. And we have the article explicitly refuting the stereotype that romance readers are “Miss Lonelyhearts living vicariously through fictional tales of seduction”. We have the Times saying that our genre is “a natural leader” in digital, and the CEO of Barnes&Noble calling us “really, really valuable.”

So I am going to try to overlook the carp comment, and refer to myself as “really, really valuable” for the rest of the day. What do you think?

Review: The Ex Factor, by Nancy Warren

The Ex Factor (click for excerpt) is a Harlequin Blaze published in October 2010 which I listened to on audio. The audio was barely competent, and if I hear one more audio in which the narrator pauses after every two words like a second grader nervously reading aloud to her class, I will have no choice but to unleash a rant post devoted to the downward slide of audio performances.

Warren has written loads of Blazes, but this is the first I’ve read. It’s the story of Karen, a wedding planner and her architect ex husband Dexter, who were blissfully married until one night when she walked in on him in a compromising position with a beautiful woman at a party. Dexter pleaded innocent, but Karen, having grown up in a home with a philanderer (her father), could never trust him again and the marriage ended.

Five years later, Dexter walks into Karen’s office with Sophy, a bride to be. It turns out Dex is just pinch hitting for Sophy’s fiance who is in Italy. (I guess Sophy must not be allowed to make wedding decisions without an adult male present?) Dexter’s involvement in the planning of Sophy’s wedding brings him into frequent contact with Karen, and they being sleeping together. But Karen’s distrust of Dexter remains a huge stumbling block to their happily ever after.

This book is well written, and Karen’s friendships with Chelsea, the caterer (and heroine of a previous book), and Laurel, the cake designer, are fun. My favorite aspect of the book was actually the character Ron, a boring accountant whom Karen briefly dates, but who ends up with Laurel in an incredibly sweet romance based on a shared love of spy novels.

There is an inherent problem with a setup like the one Warren gives us. This is a Blaze, so there is never any question that the hero did not cheat. That means we have a heroine who threw out a wonderful marriage based on exactly ONE supposed sighting of a makeout session. Nice, huh? I felt that Karen should have grovelled her way back into Dexter’s good graces, but Dexter was so in love with her, and so willing to overlook her mistrust, the divorce, and her continued insistence that they are just f*ck buddies, that his doormatishness made him less likable, too.

The conflict between Karen and Dexter really ran out of steam by the third act, and the author switched to Karen’s friend’s relationships, which made the flow odd, despite the fact that I enjoyed one of them even more than the main relationship.

Worse, Karen is quite rude to Laurel and sends a text to Chelsea’s fiance telling him he is an “emotional cripple”. A heroine like that needs redemption, but there was none. So while I enjoyed the writing, the setting, and loved the secondary romance, I can’t recommend this one for the main couple.

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