Monday Stepback: Big News! Links! And way too many Opinions!

The weekly links, opinion, and personal updates post

Links of Interest

Macmillan’s new Romance site is up. It’s called Heroes and Heartbreakers, and yours truly will be blogging there on occasion, along with a bunch of other folks:

Heroes and Heartbreakers is a community website featuring daily content for serious fans of the romance genre in all of its forms.  Not everyone can understand the desire to argue for thirty minutes about Dain vs. Derek, to challenge the casting for the latest Jane Austen movie, or to debate whether the True Blood love triangle worked better on paper or on TV.

Heroes and Heartbreakers understands the woot! and the squee! of all of that.  Add in the original short stories and excerpts from upcoming romance novels, and it’s like a romance enthusiast’s paradise (the kind with extremely attractive men bringing you umbrella drinks).

Like our science fiction/fantasy sister site, Tor.com, we are publisher-neutral in our selection of books, authors and materials for coverage and discussion. We don’t play favorites because we think a real romance community site should be all-inclusive.  You don’t want to miss a thing, and neither do we.

Advertising Age has a story on Heroes and Heartbreakers, and similar sites such as eHarlequin. It’s 100% snark free! Apparently romance is “future proofed” (via @jafurtado):

It helps that romance was well prepared, in many ways without trying, for the challenges that would come. Its fans like to talk to one another, to the eventual advantage of the romance sites and social-media plays that have now emerged. And its books were typically priced pretty low. There’s more free content every day, but romance publishers are proving that cheap can be pretty persuasive, too.

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The program has been posted at Teach Me Tonight for the International Association of Popular Romance Studies conference this summer in NYC, and registration is now open. I’m so excited for this!

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Borders True Romance blog (Please don’t close your Bangor store. Please don’t close your Bangor store. Please please please.)  is giving away tickets for RomCon in Denver in August. I went last year and had an amazing time. Highly recommended.

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SFF author Carolyn Crane is offering tips to stay on track at her blog.

4. Social media like twitter has to be a decision, not a default mode. I can’t just go on twitter or whatever because I’m between things.

I think that one could be a life changer for me.

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At Things Mean a Lot, Ana/Nymeth has a Sunday Salon post, Not All Readings Are Created Equal, where she tries to balance respect for literary training and expertise with an acknowledgment that no degree or credential is required to say something important about a book:

The reason why I believe in democratising critical discourse is not because I think every single person in the world will make incredibly insightful, relevant and well-argued points about literature at all times (however you define those). It’s rather because I believe that we should recognise who does and does not make sense based on what they’re saying, not who they are or who they associate with. I’m not arguing against anyone’s right to take some viewpoints, readings or interpretations of a book more seriously than others; merely against following a pre-packaged formula to decide who you take seriously or not. It saddens me to see intelligence and insight be defined solely by the right sort of allegiance. This inevitably results in the dismissal of a lot of excellence points, and also in a lot of badly disguised idiocy being treated with subservience.

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At the Book Bench, Reviewers on Reviewing

I was at an event last week featuring an interview with Zadie Smith, co-sponsored by N.Y.U. and Harper’s, where Smith has just become the reviewer for the New Books column, at which she said many interesting things about book-reviewing. She insisted on being called a reviewer, in fact, and not a critic, a distinction I understood as being between an all-powerful and hoity-toity judge-type (the critic) and a sort of fellow-traveller (the reviewer), one who approaches a book in a spirit of camaraderie and aims to represent that book in a piece of writing as carefully crafted as the book itself (which is not to say “softly”). Smith cited Virginia Woolf, who reviewed whatever caught her fancy—trashy romances, if she wanted—and whose reviews were as much about her own perceptions of the world as they were about the book.

Do you know, did Woolf ever review a “trashy romance” (note the suggestion there is no other kind)? I would like to read that.

But a comment on that blog post caught my eye. It’s a call for authors to fight back:

My recent experience as an author of a book with a malignant review on Amazon was very instructive, and suggests that these reviews shouldn’t be taken lightly or ignored. Amazon is the largest single source of consumer information by review on the Internet. Like it or not, we authors of other than bestsellers have to understand an Amazon review as a sign of warning or encouragement right at the most important point of sale of our intellectual product. …  In the case of my bad review I responded to the review in a signed comment that diplomatically suggested another way of looking at the reviewer’s complaints. In return, the reviewer rewrote the review to make it worse, reduced it to one star and made it appear to be the original version of his review instead of a rewrite. I returned the serve by adding a sentence to my comment noting and dating the evidently angry rewrite to which he responded by revising it again and taking it, as I expected he would, off the deep end and far beyond an image of just an old man railing at clouds. After a long struggle, Amazon finally agreed that it had to be taken down. I can see great advantages to Amazon for authors and I’m trying to get better at using them. But I think that those of us who write books have got to start taking back the night, so to speak, from the wild west that Amazon book reviews have become. [emphasis added]

Is this author just a bit nutty, or is there an author backlash against negative reader reviews? I’m thinking both. Witness the kerfuffle of last week, when an author took to her blog to rail against “unprofessional”, i.e. “negative” review sites (too many people wrote their own blog posts on this dustup last week to even begin to list them. Just Google the author’s name and you’ve got a solid 6 hours of opinions to read. Or maybe 5 minutes, since all the opinions except one are pretty much the same.).

Then you have Carla Kelly taking to the AAR boards to complain about an Amazon review she had removed (I’m not questioning whether the Amazon review should have been removed, only the need to vent in a reader forum with a post entitled “If you don’t like a book…”). And an author, Victoria Howard, correcting a reviewer at the site The Romance Reviews (a site which is GIVEAWAY! after CONTEST! after GIVEAWAY! and therefore not of much interest to me in general. YMMV.).

I wonder if, in the push to get authors to get out there among the digital fandom and promote their own books, to be savvy and skillful — but authentic! and real! –  social networkers, it was not inevitable that authors would turn around and use the same tools — blog, forums, twitter –  to, in their view, protect their reputations against “deranged”, “unprofessional”,  or “angry” readers. If it is important to use social media to enhance one’s reputation, does it follow that one should use social media to protect it?

Luckily authors who aren’t sure what do in these challenging times can just read Meljean Brook’s Internet Survival Guide for Authors. Most of her points are great for anyone on the internets, really.

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Looking for a short list of great SFF for the romance reader? Janicu put one together over at starmetal oak book blog.

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In case you missed the news, Charlaine Harris has announced the end of the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries series … after 2 more books. I think this is a good thing, and I’m a huge fan of the series.

Apparently, working on a video game has been taking up a lot of her time. I’m not a gamer, so I haven’t played the games based on works by Nora Roberts, for example, or the Harlequin games. TV is one thing — at least it’s still long form narrative — but if video games are taking an author’s time away from writing books, I’m not sure I approve.

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After following the threads on men, porn, and sexual dysfunction, I don’t EVER want to hear another word about the dangers of the high expectations for men set by heroes in romance novels:

When you watch porn, “you’re bonding with it,” Kuszewski says. “And those chemicals make you want to keep coming back to have that feeling.” Which allows men not only to get off on porn but to potentially develop a neurological attachment to it. They can, in essence, date porn.

Two women discuss this issue at the Hairpin:

The thing that makes me GROAN SO HARD about this piece is that Rothbart and his group of pouty-faced masturbators feel put upon by porn! A kingdom of women putting all sorts of things in all kinds of holes, and they’re the ones with the sour puss.

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More press for the new book Academically Adrift at NPR:

According to the study, one possible reason for a decline in academic rigor and, consequentially, in writing and reasoning skills, is that the principal evaluation of faculty performance comes from student evaluations at the end of the semester. Those evaluations, Arum says, tend to coincide with the expected grade that the student thinks he or she will receive from the instructor.

“There’s a huge incentive set up in the system [for] asking students very little, grading them easily, entertaining them, and your course evaluations will be high,” Arum says.

I find it very hard to believe that “the principal evaluation of faculty performance” is based on an assessment of teaching, let alone student evaluations of such. It certainly is not true at my university.

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Neil Gaiman has changed his tune on piracy (video). Quoted from Comics Alliance:

“You’re not losing sales by getting stuff out there. When I do a big talk now on these kinds of subjects and people ask “What about the sales you are losing by having stuff floating out there?” I started asking the audience to raise their hands for one question — Do you have a favorite author? And they say yes and I say good. What I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book put up your hand. Then anybody who discovered their favorite author by walking into a book story and buying a book. And it’s probably about 5-10%, if that, of the people who discovered their favorite author who is the person they buy everything of and they buy the hardbacks. And they treasure the fact they’ve got this author. Very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it. That’s how they found their favorite author. And that’s really all this is; it’s people lending books.”

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Lots and lots of press for romance novels due to the Valentine’s holiday. This one about a new documentary on romance readers at The Telegraph had the usual good/bad (30/70%) mix, but I was interested to learn about Mr. Sanderson:

I’ve always found the characters unrealistic in their stereotypical attractiveness and conduct. However, lots of women – 1.3 million a month – never tire of the tanned hunks and usually sappy females (however “sassy-mouthed’’ they might be). And this is why Roger Sanderson, who has written almost 50 M&B novels under the pen-name Gill Sanderson, says he would never try to introduce a less than perfect Alpha male as the hero. “He’s got to have a good body, and there’s no way he can be fat or badly dressed,” he says in a new documentary, Guilty Pleasures, which explores the enduring phenomenon of M&B. “And I never have – and never will have – a red-headed hero.”

(via @lizfielding)

USA Today has done a bunch of articles on romance. I tend not to be such a fan of press on romance novels when it suggests that writing — or reading — romance novels makes authors (or readers) experts in relationships, because I’d rather see the books being taken seriously as fiction, not as how to guides. But maybe the line is finer than I like to admit: while I don’t think Margaret Atwood is going to be interviewed for a serious science article on genetic engineering, I could see her being asked to say something about the topic in a “lifestyle” or “health” piece, I guess. Anyway, I found this comment interesting in terms of its contrast to the quote above (although it’s about heroines, not heroes):

And the depiction of heroines as impossibly perfect beauties is an outdated image that “was always unbelievable and has changed and changed quickly,” [author Sarah] Wendell says. “The standard has become much more sophisticated and diverse.”

I’m not sure I would go as far as Wendell on this issue, but this was my favorite article of the bunch, with good stuff also from Nalini Singh and Beverley Jenkins.

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I really liked this post at When Falls the Coliseum on sentimentality versus emotion in art, with a discussion of the copout at the end of Inception:

So, here’s the thing, modern artists: it isn’t emotion that’s the sin in your work; it is the phony conjuring of emotion that is not supported by logic and “circumstances.”

Sentimentality thrives in pop songs when the forlorn lover says he wants to die when she’s away. (What if she’s just in the bathroom?) It haunts movies when poorly-rendered outcasts weep about their exclusion from the world. It surfs on every brush stroke of a painting of a pink dog with eyes the size of pizzas. The problem is not the emotion, it is emotion without intellectual or circumstantial justification.

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Did you know feminists aren’t allowed to flirt? Ayup.

Male or female, if somebody subscribes to the tenets of feminism, they’re shit out of luck when it comes to flirting. Because flirting is inherently objectifying, right? And yet even feminists get lucky sometimes. How does this even happen? Well, I have some guesses…

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Laura Miller comes to Jane Eyre’s defense in Salon (from back in January, via @Infogenium):

For a great novel, “Jane Eyre” has endured more than its fair share of misguided, condescending misinterpretations, but none quite so extravagant as an essay published in the British newspaper the Telegraph last week by novelist Sebastian Faulks. “Jane Eyre is a heroine,” he announces in the opening sentence, while “Becky Sharp, the main character of Thackeray’s ‘Vanity Fair’ (1847-48), is a hero.” Furthermore, “No one seems to question the distinction: it’s obvious.”

For Jane, the “fixed point and priority” of her life is not “her feelings for a man,” but the self-determination expressed in her ability to choose her own truth over those feelings and even, if necessary, over life itself. Her abandonment of Rochester is her coming of age. It’s hard to see how such a personality, and the drama of that personality reaching this apex of despair, clarity and fortitude, could be seen as un-heroic, especially compared to the adventures of a sociopath like Becky Sharp.

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Via Books on the Knob, now’s your chance to grab a free Kindle copy of Pride and Prejudice: Wild and Wanton Edition:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife . . . in bed. Unfortunately, you’ve never been able to see Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam indulging their every desire between the sheets–until now. In this deliciously naughty update of the beloved classic, you can peek behind the closed doors of Pemberley’s master bedroom–and revel in the sexual delights of your favorite couple.

Because really talented writers know that sex scenes have nothing to do with the text and everything to do with readers’ preferences. I’m looking forward to the time when, instead of different “lines” with different heat levels, we just have one book we can order however we want. ;)

Personal

We’re celebrating Valentine’s Day with a drive to Ellsworth and dinner with friends at a Mediterranean bistro we really like.

I am in grading purgatory this week.

I’ll have a review of Jo Beverley’s Forbidden Affections, a novella published … a long time ago (can’t find date. 1996?) … and just reissued by Zebra in the anthology An Invitation to Sin, which features a 16 year old heroine and a 30 year old hero. And a SECRET PASSAGE. (No, not that kind.)

HAPPY WEEK!

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