Friday Five: Jean MacLeod, Judy Mays, AAR, Joanna Russ, Bangable Men of Brit Lit

Friday Five: Jean MacLeod, Judy Mays, AAR, Joanna Russ, Bangable Men of Brit Lit

Is there a theme this week? I don’t think so, but three of the links are to women writers, all of whom faced struggles of one kind or another to get and stay published.

1. Mills & Boon author Jean MacLeod died this week, at age 103. A resident of England most of her adult life, MacLeod was born in Scotland the year Mills & Boon began, and, according to Jay Dixon, it was on one of her books — 1974’s The Black Cameron — that M&B’s famous rose logo debuted (I wish I could track this cover down. I can only find the Harlequin version. Anyone?). According to her obituary in The Telegraph, MacLeod’s heydey was from the late 1930s to the 1970s, although she working on her 131st book when she died. Alan Boon, son of the founder of the company, gave her advice that guided her her entire career: “never write anything a mother would not want her daughter to read.”

2. AAR contributor Leigh Davis has written a post called More Than I Bargained For — When Books Come with a Message. Davis’ take-home message is sensible:

For me even with non-controversial topics, an author can cross the line when the book loses balance and the message overwhelms the plot, no matter how much how much I agree with the message. Some very controversial subjects are more problematic for authors to handle even with a light touch, not that it can’t be done.

But I absolutely knew before even reading them that the complaints from readers would mostly be about liberal politics, Suzanne Brockmann’s advocacy for gay rights being a prime suspect whenever these discussions arise. I found myself asking what readers call “political”. It tends to be topics they disagree with. For my part, I think all of romance is very political (and often quite conservatively so — pronatalist, heteronormative, pro capitalism, you name it). But putting that aside, I don’t hear anyone complaining about all the Regency era dukes who believe in merit over blood, or all the 19th century heroines who try to help the poor, or all the other ways politics enters the genre. It is very interesting to me what counts as “political discourse”, and, more importantly, what doesn’t. I liked Elaine Mueller‘s comment, which states in part:

And I could be wrong but it seems to me that romance fiction contains its own political message – that the One True Happiness (especially for Woman) is to be found in the one man, one woman exclusive relationship and its happily ever after promise. There are other, slightly lesser happinesses to be found, but they just aren’t quite as good as the One True one.

3. 111 Male Characters of British Literature, in order of Bangability, from the Awl. Our colloquium series speaker two weeks ago claimed that women cannot actually sexually objectify men, so if you feel bad about reading the list, I can try to reconstruct her argument. In a bit of a shocker, Darcy is third. Can you guess who 1 and 2 are?

4. Many of us have been following the Judy Mays story this week. Judy Mays is the pen name of an erotic romance author who also happens to be a 10th grade English teacher in Pennsylvania. Some disgruntled parents got the local paper to write a story about Mays’s sideline, as if writing erotic romance was somehow newsworthy, or, worse, incompatible with teaching high school English. Today we have an impassioned, and amusing, video defense of Mays from one of her former students:

She can’t teach because she has wild sexual fantasies? If Mrs. Buranich can’t teach because of that, then I don’t know who can.

Your child is between the ages of 15 and 17. They know what sex is. And they know that Mrs. Buranich doesn’t want it from them.

5. Joanna Russ, science fiction writer, Hugo and Nebula award winner, academic, and feminist theorist, has died after a long illness. It was announced just a day or two ago that she had entered hospice care. It’s too bad that she did not have more time to benefit from hospice, but this is often the case for a number of reasons. I’ve only read her short story “When It Changed“, about a world without men, which left an impression. In 1998 she wrote a long essay called What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism. She showed the world that science fiction — who writes it, who gets published, how they write —  is political. Two short excerpts:

First, caricature stops when confrontation stops. When the air no longer rings with horrid tales of ball-breaking dykes, man-hating neurotics, vicious and parasitic wives, and the rest of the tiny train of male-imagined phantoms, that’s not because feminism has influenced patriarchy but because patriarchy has influenced feminism almost out of existence.

Feminism is something you do, not something you are. Women who say “I’m not a feminist” and proceed to do feminist work are allies no matter what they call themselves.

39 responses

  1. I’m so glad that you linked to the video by Judy’s former student. I think the fact that her former students say they all knew shows how much of a non issue this really should have been. I can believe some parents looking to make drama got upset. I still can’t believe anyone thought it was newsworthy.

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  2. Mr. Rochester? Really? Also, I think Strider/Aragorn is all about Viggo Mortensen. Frankly, most of the characters on that list are ones I would only consider bangable if playing FKM or similar drinking games.

    I absolutely agree that genre romance is inherently political, and is so in ways that are much more conservative than I am. (In that I am not pronatal or even promarriage and try not to be heterosexist.) But I think even very good authors fall down when it comes to choosing a specific political issue and integrating it into genre fiction without alienating even readers with similar political views. The balance between proselytizing and plot can be difficult. For example, I absolutely agree with Brockmann’s stance on gay rights…but still tired of the soap box aspects of some of her books. She isn’t wrong (IMO) to try to persuade readers to think of different political perspectives, but after a while it felt like the plot was overtaken by the political message.

    In historicals, it’s easy to overlook the merit over blood stance that “progressive” dukes seem to take, I think because of the distance/time difference. What was shockingly liberal or heretical at that time is a natural assumption today, so we graft our own political/social expectations into the historical. Slavery: all heroines heroines are enlightened about the humanity of the slaves they own, working to free them and treating them like family members, while only bad guys work to perpetrate the institution.

    I had a point when I started this comment. But I’ve lost it.

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  3. For my part, I think all of romance is very political (and often quite conservatively so — pronatalist, heteronormative, pro capitalism, you name it).

    I know I’ve mentioned it before, in the comments here even, but this is why I rarely read contemporary romances, and love them so much when they’re not latently conservative (hooray for Brockman and Dahl).

    I can write off so many things in historicals as being “period,” even when the books are wallpaper historicals, and still enjoy them. With contemps? The treatment of gay people and condoms often leads to the moment the book meets the wall.

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  4. Thorn Oakenshield will move up out of the 90s, I predict, when played by Richard Armitage. Such an odd list. Aslan? Um, no, not really for banging.

    Joanna Russ was a great lady. I have such admiration for those early women science fiction writers;it is sad to be losing them.

    I think a lot of teachers out there are wondering, “If I were under attack, would my former students be so outspoken on my behalf?”

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  5. @Laura Vivanco: Hm. In Jay Dixon’s The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon: 1909-1990s she writes, “In 1974 they introduced, for the first time, their now-famous rose logo, on Jean MacLeod’s The Black Cameron” (p. 21, via Google books). The mystery deepens!

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  6. The mystery would appear to have even more depth to it because the black rose is featured on the cover of Elizabeth Ashton’s Parisian Adventure (1970), which is included in The Art of Romance: Mills & Boon and Harlequin Cover Designs. I found a very small photo online. TAofR features another book from 1970 which has an older style of paperback cover. So it’s looking to me as though perhaps the black rose covers came in in 1970. I took a quick look at my shelves and I’ve got more than one “black rose” M&B from 1971, so they were definitely being published in that style before 1974.

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  7. So, they have the Duke of Avon at #18, and Vidal didn’t make the list at all? Who came up with this list?

    And I agree with JMC; I think all the LotR and Harry Potter characters on the list have more to do with the actors who played them in the movies, rather than the characters in the books. For that matter, the same may be true of Darcy and Col. Brandon. After all, Brandon was played by Alan Rickman, and you only have to look at the picture accompanying the list to know which Darcy they had in mind. It’s certainly not Lawrence Olivier.

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  8. That list is highly suspect. Who’d want to have sex with a lion that’s an allegory of Christ? Creepy. Blasphemous even, and not in a hot way. Plus I’d totally do Frankenstein’s monster before Uriah Heep.

    I liked Elaine Mueller’s comment too, and it made me think of the comment thread on Janine’s review of Petals and Thorns at Dear Author. Liza Lester’s comment linked this to the recent rape fantasy discussions there and talked about a book where the forced seduction bothered her because of the overall gender relations in the book–in that context, the sex didn’t read to her like a fantasy, but as of a piece with the book’s depiction of power relations outside the bedroom, and perhaps even as “endorsing” male dominance.

    I think the political parts of romance that fly under our radar, because they’re seamlessly woven into the storyline and characterization, are just as interesting–maybe more so–as the hot-button ones that pop out at people. I certainly think they affect us more, because they do so unconsciously. Interpellation, anyone?

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  9. @jmc:

    In historicals, it’s easy to overlook the merit over blood stance that “progressive” dukes seem to take, I think because of the distance/time difference. What was shockingly liberal or heretical at that time is a natural assumption today, so we graft our own political/social expectations into the historical.

    That’s where it goes horribly wrong with Scottish historical romances. Not only the majority of authors misunderstood Scottish politics, they went and imposed a “modern” spin on them (usually via the Highlands vs the English cliché or all that “clan feud” crap), which basically chucked Highlands’ core “progressive” beliefs, philosophy and principles into the gutter.

    Basically, almost all authors imposed the English/American cultural, legal and social historical quirks (fewer women’s rights, restrictive marriage laws, social etiquette, the general perspective and value of virginity, etc.) on Scotland (Highlands, especially), making it pretty much the Scottish version of England.

    I wish authors wouldn’t do that because it’s basically erased the political and cultural differences between the north and the south of Scotland as well as the difference between the north of Scotland and England. It’s also erased Scotland’s “progressive” nature, such as many peerages can be passed on to female heirs (which wasn’t the case in England and Wales), but we don’t see this in Scottish historical romances. This lack of acknowledgement is a political slap in the face.

    Furthermore, key people, e.g. chieftains, of the old clan system were elected by their peoples, for instance, which isn’t a surprise as the clan system was a form of government with all its divisions and branches, but Scottish historical romance novels have us believing otherwise. Yes, it was hierarchic, but not all. It was also heavily democratic. Think of it this way: the Kennedy family, the Bush family or the Clinton family in U.S. politics. These families aren’t always elected, which is same as it was in the old clan system. Some families were chosen repeatedly and some families weren’t.

    It wasn’t until the Georgian/Victorian era that Edinburgh and England “devised” a new clan system, making it very English styled. As in making it hierarchic only. Some authors used this new system in old Scotland, which didn’t and still doesn’t make sense. Insulting, even!

    Basically, romance authors (and readers) tend to make the old clan system all about titles, estates and “feuds” (all English elements, IMO) when in fact the system was all about politics and government.

    On a less cranky note, I’m somewhat amused by a thought that many Scottish historical romance authors may not realise that they have been romanticising, in essence, politicians (chieftains, chiefs, “lairds”, etc.) all this time. :D

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  10. It’s worth remembering that The Awl’s lists of this type (the general category is Listicle Without Commentary) are written by individual contributors and therefore completely subjective (that’s the point, and the lists are often charming). But there are too many Tolkien characters in this one, and way too many choices based on how they are portrayed in TV/movies. Not up to their higher standards, frankly.

    There was a list of Best Pies this week and Cherry was at the bottom, at #14. I therefore conclude that the lists are crap. Unless they are written by Alex Balk. And I’m still pissed at him for putting Armagnac lower than Vodka. Sheesh.

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  11. @FiaQ: Now you know perfectly well that if they portrayed 18th/19th century Edinburgh the way historians do, it would completely screw up all the Romance Tropes for Scotland. Although I think Elizabeth Mansfield (or is it Marion Chesney, or both?) has a novel in which the hero is part of the Edinburgh Enlightenment.

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  12. Not even going to bother with the rest right now as I am too broken up over Joanna Russ’s death. She was the writer who first made me realize science fiction could be beautifully written and socially probing. That it could speak to me as a woman and a social scientist and a feminist. It was because of her novels like ‘The Female Man’ and ‘We Who Are About To…’ that I eventually discovered other important writers like Le Guin, Delany, Suzi McKee Charnas and Jame Tiptree, Jr (aka Alice Sheldon). And it was because of Russ and her wonderful essays and short stories that I continued to read science fiction and still buy and vociferously support female, feminist sci-fi/speculative fiction authors like Gwyneth Jones, L. Timmel Duchamp, Vandana Singh, Nalo Hopkinson, Joanna Sinisalo, etc. Russ was a remarkable and important writer, her influence was deep and wide. She will be greatly missed.

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  13. @Jessica and @Laura Vivanco: :

    I wonder if the confusion lies with the debut of the black rose and the debut of the inverted rose? The inverted rose – an outline of a rose inside a black box – was probably debuted in 1970 (the earliest I could find is Mary Burcell’s Love Made the Choice, published in January 1970, but it’s one of three M&B books published that month so I have no idea what other two were).

    The black rose showed up later. It had the same design as the inverted rose, but solid black and it eventually became solid-pink during 1980s. So perhaps Jay Dixon was referring to the solid-black rose, not the inverted rose? Otherwise it’s an Oops! on his or her part.

    @Sunita: :D I have to admit, I wrote that post when I was tired and cranky after experiencing possibly the world’s worst train journey. Sat in a carriage full of emotional drunks singing God Save the Queen and Glory, Glory!. Gah. It was like being stuck in a carriage full of football fans going home. Oh, wait…

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  14. @Jocelyn Z.:

    …and this is why I don’t read f/m contemporary unless someone twists my arm. If I read contemporary these days it will be m/m so I don’t have to consciously ignore the politics that are built into the story. I often think that m/f contemporary books are just as much a fantasy as any PNR.

    Interestingly at my romance readers book group last night we talked about the first book in the Maya Banks military rom-suspense series ‘the darkest hour’. Most of the conversation was a semi-horrified discussion of her right wing politics as evidenced by the book. One group member even said “give me a pen I am going to write republican voter on the cover”. We also talked about how the male/female roles are reinforced by the politics and reinforce the political views in turn.

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  15. @FiaQ:

    I wonder if the confusion lies with the debut of the black rose and the debut of the inverted rose? The inverted rose – an outline of a rose inside a black box – was probably debuted in 1970 [...] The black rose showed up later. It had the same design as the inverted rose, but solid black and it eventually became solid-pink during 1980s.

    I’m still confused. The sequence I’m seeing is firstly (1) a big rose (colour varies), inside a solid black box, then there’s some overlap between that and (2) the same rose (colour still varies; I’ve seen pink, purple, green, brown, red and turquoise) inside a white box with an outer rim of the same colour as the rose and then (3) a smaller, pink rose with a longer stem and a leafy bit that appears between “Mills” and “Boon” appears (and seems to have overlapped a bit with the other two).

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  16. Coming back to talk about that blog post over at AAR. I didn’t read it when it was posted because I thought from the blurb on the front page of the site that it was going to be the same old thing, with the same old comments. Then I read your Friday Five and thought, oh, maybe it’s more insightful than that.

    Uh, no. The take-away message you excerpted is almost entirely devoid of substance. The best result is when it’s a little bit, woven into the story, but not too much that overwhelms the plot. Who defines less, more, too much, just right? It’s like Goldilocks, except each reader is a distinct Goldilocks. Poor authors. They can’t win if they include real life, and if they don’t, they’re accused of writing empty fantasy.

    And don’t get me started on the supposed distinction between social and political issues. And I bet some of the commenters have even taken a political science course in college, or majored in it!

    Sorry, I must be extra grouchy today. Blame it on rain, tornadoes, reactionary author-bashing, people who think “long-form” is important, and the complete takeover of my twitter stream yesterday by royalists. I’m glad you all enjoyed the coverage, but my best discovery was the toggle button for royalists/republicans on the Guardian front page.

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  17. @FiaQ and @Sunita: I’m a huge fan of Scottish historical romances, even though I *know* they get so much wrong – it completely depends on the day how much the factual incorrectness annoys me. Do you know of any books or authors of Scottish historical romance that get these details right? (or at least have a better than normal ratio of correct details to wrong!)

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  18. @aq: I didn’t realise that the Fantastic Fiction site had been down. It’s a very useful resource so I’m glad it’s back.

    I wonder if the cover I found on the Singapore eBay site (which said Mills & Boon on the cover, but used the Harlequin layout) was from an Australian edition?

    Anyway, the one you’ve found must be the one Dixon was referring to because it features what I’ve been calling a “black rose” and what Fia was calling the “inverted rose.” We seem to have ascertained that this isn’t the first time that design was used, but the cover does have the number “1” on it, so I suspect it was the first in a new M&B line and maybe that’s why Dixon singled it out?

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  19. @Laura Vivanco:

    The sequence I’m seeing is firstly (1) a big rose (colour varies), inside a solid black box, then there’s some overlap between that and (2) the same rose (colour still varies; I’ve seen pink, purple, green, brown, red and turquoise) inside a white box with an outer rim of the same colour as the rose and then (3) a smaller, pink rose with a longer stem and a leafy bit that appears between “Mills” and “Boon” appears

    Yes, that’s right. Here are my clarifications, from then to now:

    1. the inverted rose (an outline of a rose) with a straight stem inside a solid-black box.
    The colour of the rose depends on the rest of the top part on the cover.

    2. the solid-coloured rose with a straight stem inside an outlined box.
    I have seen it in black, pink, purple, blue, gold/yellow, etc. I don’t think I had ever seen it in green, but would be surprised if there weren’t any.

    3. the standalone rose with a loop as a leaf and a curved stem between the Mills & Boon name.
    Usually hot pink, but I have seen it in other colours, similar to the design principle of the original rose: the colour depends on the top part of the cover.

    4. the white rose with a longer wavy stem and a leaf in almost abstract style, lying sideways, beneath the Mills & Boon name.

    5. No rose, just the M&B name. (late 1990s and 2000s, I think)

    6. M&B goes retro by mimicking the original rose (without the straight stem): the inverted rose in a solid-black circle.

    I’m quite sure I forgot two more, though. I hope it’s clearer now.

    Late 1990s and 2000s were pretty much a barren land for M&B, design-wise. I think this was when they wanted to break away from the public’s “M&B is for the blue-rinse brigade” mentality? I’m not sure. Whatever their reason, it was a mistake. Anyroad, I still like the original rose the best. :D

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  20. @Marie B.: I stopped reading Scottish historical romances a long time ago. It was either that or stab my eyes repeatedly with a pencil. I think I still have an old list for those who asked the same question about five years ago. Is this okay or would you prefer more current releases?

    A side note:

    It wasn’t until the Georgian/Victorian era that Edinburgh and England “devised” a new clan system, making it very English styled. As in making it hierarchic only.

    The heck? Where was my brain? Oh, that’s right – it was left somewhere in the train carriage. What’s the correct term, anyroad? Male primogeniture?

    (Sorry for spamming your thread, Jessica.)

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  21. @FiaQ:

    Sorry for spamming your thread, Jessica

    No, you’re not. This is all very interesting, so thanks everyone. But it’s soccer soccer soccer today. Won’t be able to reply until this evening.

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  22. @Marie B.: I’m afraid I don’t read much of it either, for similar reasons. Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea is a terrific novel set in Scotland which has two storylines, one set in the early 1700s and one in the present. Helen MacInnes has a novel that was more or less contemporary when she wrote it but is set in the 1930s: Friends and Lovers. Very different from her spy novels; it’s OOP but available used and in libraries. Marion Chesney set a number of her Georgian/Regency era romances in Scotland or used Scottish characters, and while it’s still a fantasy world, she doesn’t use most of the annoying OchLassieLand tropes.

    My own rule of thumb is that if the title contains the terms Highland, Tartan, or Laird, I run far, far away.

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  23. @jmc: No sense in typing up my own thoughts on the AAR thread when JMC’s second paragraph sums up how I feel on this sort of thing to a T. And then the take-away from @Sunita comment – is that she’s also right. What one reader thinks is “too much” or “not enough” is going to vary wildly. For me – it’s a matter how much I “know” about the author behind the book. For instance, I don’t even read Brockmann and I’m well aware of her stance on gay rights, so if I encountered that in her books – no matter how well it may be handled – it would probably annoy me. It would feel like soap-boxing to me even if she just had a little throwaway sentence buried on page 256 – because I “know” (perhaps too much?) about her beliefs. It’s like actors who become tabloid fodder. After a while it can be hard to watch them playing a character in a movie because you don’t see the character – you see the guy who jumped on the couch, or overdosed, or started dating an empty-headed bimbo.

    Right or wrong – that’s always the risk.

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  24. @aq: Thank you!

    @Sunita:

    The take-away message you excerpted is almost entirely devoid of substance.

    That’s what I meant by “sensible.” some of us are less cranky than you! ;) I do think people carry on with these discussions of “when is a book too political?” without ever examining what they count as “political” and what they don’t, as if we all agree. That was the main thing I wanted to say about it.

    @Julia Broadbooks: @SonomaLass: I totally agree on how impressive it is that a former student took to her defense like that.

    @jmc:

    But I think even very good authors fall down when it comes to choosing a specific political issue and integrating it into genre fiction without alienating even readers with similar political views. The balance between proselytizing and plot can be difficult.

    Agreed. It just comes down to good writing, like anything else. I am not even sure I would separate this out as uniquely challenging.

    And I completely agree that the Awl’s list was unduly influenced by film and TV portrayals.

    As @Sandra says,

    you only have to look at the picture accompanying the list to know which Darcy they had in mind. It’s certainly not Lawrence Olivier.

    @Liz:

    I think the political parts of romance that fly under our radar, because they’re seamlessly woven into the storyline and characterization, are just as interesting–maybe more so–as the hot-button ones that pop out at people. I certainly think they affect us more, because they do so unconsciously. Interpellation, anyone?

    You can’t tell, because I wrote it for shit, but this is exactly what I was trying to say. Thank you!

    I’d totally do Frankenstein’s monster before Uriah Heep.

    I am filing this bit away for future reference.

    @Jocelyn Z.:

    With contemps? The treatment of gay people and condoms often leads to the moment the book meets the wall.

    LOL. I can see why you have a harder time with contemps. Since I am a lefty who completely agrees with your point on how conservative romance is, it’s a wonder contemp my favorite subgenre. Clearly I need some psychoanalysis.

    @FiaQ: Thank you so much for that bit of rosy history!

    @Sunita: Have got to read Winter Sea.

    @Wendy:

    It’s like actors who become tabloid fodder. After a while it can be hard to watch them playing a character in a movie because you don’t see the character – you see the guy who jumped on the couch, or overdosed, or started dating an empty-headed bimbo.

    I totally agree with this. But I do think liberal points of view are singled out more.

    @Merrian: That is an interesting discussion of Maya Banks. I have trouble with SEALS books and other military type books because I am so horrified by US foreign policy. (so jealous you have a romance reading group, tho!)

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  25. @Laura Vivanco:

    Did another search. Wasn’t able to find much information but I suspect the cover you found was the one from 1964. Not sure if the hardcover version was the same as the paperback version though.

    Fictiondb has the same cover but for the 1964 Harlequin version. Here’s the Harlequin Classic version at Amazon from 1981.

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  26. @Jessica: At the moment I think *everyone* is less cranky than I! But since to me “sensible” is a compliment, not just a description, I reacted to it by that metric.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the rest of your points, especially about the directions the comments would/did take.

    And if you don’t think The Winter Sea totally rocks, I will buy you the book of your choice in return. Yes I pimp this book relentlessly. Your point?

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  27. @Jessica:

    I just read http://www.geekosystem.com/superman-renouncing-us-citizenship/ that Superman is renouncing his US citizenship because he did not want his actions to be seen as American interventions.

    It was pretty feral meeting but in the mess of that I was chuffed that I wasn’t the only one who had this response to the book. I think what is interesting is not the overt stuff that someone like Suzanne Brockmann writes (Yay Jules!) but how much is implicit in the story the author chooses to tell, the plot points and the things that come out of their character’s mouths. In the old analogy that fish don’t see the water they swim in, neither do writers nor readers half the time. Just because you may not have intended to write from a particular political viewpoint doesn’t meant that it isn’t present because we are creatures of our culture. I don’t think Maya Banks set out to write right wing propaganda but that is what a round dozen of us think she achieved.

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  28. @Sunita:

    I don’t know. At the very least I think I’m giving you a run for your money in the crankiness arena.

    @Merrian:

    I find the military conversation interesting (I’d even extend it to cop shows on tv). I tend to avoid military romances because the statistical reality I read about military personnel and my personal interaction with people from the military interfere with the fantasy portrayed in these books. That typically extends to law enforcement as well. Interestingly enough when the term is changed to warriors, I don’t have the same issues. It’s like my mind can turn a switch and say this is complete fantasy.

    I’m also remembering the Harlequin that Jessica & reviewed where the both the heroine and hero state that they are against the morning after pill except of course that they both engaged in a one-night stand with a stranger. The entire underlying premise of that book sounded like it was reliant on a very specific political/social viewpoint. That particular book sounded like it was blatant but I’ve found many of the books from that particular imprint to have similar underlying premises.

    As far as historical romances are concerned, I’ve rather come to think of them as existing within the worldbuilding sphere rather than the actual historical time and place. In fantasy we have the LOTR world. Well in romance we have the Regency world, the Victorian Age, etc. as created by the authors who came before. (I’d say that for the most part the worldbuilding is pro-imperialism/empire with many underpinings in current American morality as portrayed by certain cultural viewpoints. For example, how often do we see Gosford Park worldbuilding within historical romances?)

    After listening to this conversation and others online, I’d be curious to know how much of what is found in the Scottish historical romance subgenre can be directly attributed to the Outlander series? (Having not read the Outlander series or many Scottish romances this is a blind question from me.)

    I’m of two minds on the newest Superman tangent and I’ll leave it there.

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  29. @Marie B.: OK! Let’s hope that the old computer – abandoned somewhere in our basement – works. :D

    @AQ:

    After listening to this conversation and others online, I’d be curious to know how much of what is found in the Scottish historical romance subgenre can be directly attributed to the Outlander series? (Having not read the Outlander series or many Scottish romances this is a blind question from me.)

    Surprisingly little. If anything, the only clear influence is Jamie as well as his name (which is hilarious odd because abandoning ‘Jamie’ for ‘James’ or ‘Jim’ after fourteenth birthday was, and still is, very much a rite of passage or a “mark of maturity/masculinity”).

    I think the huge influences on the American Scottish historical genre would be Hannah Howell, Arnette Lamb, Amanda Scott, and Julie Garwood. (I’m still on a fence about Marsha Canham, Tanya Anne Crosby and May McGoldrick.)

    If I had to choose the biggest influence, it’d be either Hannah Howell (who’s been writing Scottish historical romances since the 1980s) and Arnette Lamb because many fictional ‘facts’ in their books were heavily recycled in other later authors’ Scottish historical romances.

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  30. I was one of the commenters over at AAR. I don’t really care about the agenda of the author – I don’t mind fiction which includes as a plot point some social issue (eg gay rights) but there is a point (which I agree is subjective) where it doesn’t feel like the character is talking and that is the point where I get a bit thrown. It’s the difference between reading about a character talking to (or even lecturing) another character or me feeling that I’m the one being lectured but by the author. It doesn’t happen often – I didn’t have any issues with the latest Brockmann for example even though others did. For me, it is much the same type of criticism as when there is inconsistency in character or world building or there is something else which just feels like it doesn’t belong. The effect is that it throws me out of the story. It is totally subjective, but then, I think many aspects of reader experience are subjective. Aren’t they?

    Holly over at Book Binge posted recently about the new Lori Foster book and she objected to a section where the main character (an author) was explaining about how she’s had an adverse reader reaction to her previous release (something which actually happened to Foster) and it cut too close to the bone for her – it wasn’t a social or political thing but she felt it was a “message” directed to those who had been disappointed in the previous Foster book.
    Holly said, in part:-
    “Molly’s rant about readers and reviewers really stood out to me as out of place and a way for the author to get the last word about negative reviews…
    …As I said, taken on it’s own this probably isn’t that big of a deal. But it seemed to come out of left field in the book, and when you look at it knowing about the controversy over Foster’s last novel…well, it’s suspect and it offended me.”

    It’s that “left field” in the book comment in the book which I relate to with “messages”, political, social or otherwise – is it “organic” to the story (to me) or does it feel “manufactured”?

    Anyway, that’s me defending myself :)

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  31. @Kaetrin:

    It’s that “left field” in the book comment in the book which I relate to with “messages”, political, social or otherwise – is it “organic” to the story (to me) or does it feel “manufactured”?

    I think we can all agre this is the main thing, when it comes to reading enjoyment. It takes a skilled writer to sink her bully pulpit (or hatchet, in Foster’s case) so far down in the narrative that we don’t notice it’s there.

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  32. @FiaQ: I love the conversations and tangents we have here. I was absolutely fascinated by the historical conversation contained in this thread. I love history and although I read many historical romances in my youth I tend to avoid them now that I’m older.

    Many times within my reading I find that I’m reading about rather generic people. Oh, they can have extraordinary powers and adventures but I’d be hard-pressed to actually “know” them. That means when the authorial soapbox comes out it’s by far more jarring because it’s author intrusion. But I have to wonder which is actually worse, the jarring messages or books which rely on unspoken underlying premises.

    One of my big objections to military romances is that I feel like the characters are generic action stars. Which *might* be okay if I’m watching a motion picture. But romance tends to focus on the internal motivations and behavior patterns of characters and my reading of these characters is nothing like I’ve experienced in real life. Hence why I can’t read them and since I don’t read them I can’t comment on the blatant or unspoken politics found within them.

    I also tend to the same problem when reading about lawyers within the romance genre. I’ve worked in a few law firms over the years and have seen how lawyers break information down and interact with it, I rarely feel that this thinking pattern is captured.

    So when I talk about romance novels existing within worldbuilding sphere rather than time and place, it’s this piece that I’m trying to get at. (Oh, I have a tangent here. Oh, oh oh oh. lol)

    I know this issue can be found in other genres as well. For me I think the difference resides in the internal emotional/thinking access that we get in romance and perhaps the fact that most characters are only tested within the sphere of the romantic relationship. When one considers the intimate access given, one has to wonder about all the forgettable lead characters there are. (This question comes from a long ago post on another site which tangented into a conversation about how romance novels are like potato chips.)

    So let me ask this: is it more worse to have an occasional authorial soapbox moment or entire worlds premised on inaccurate depictions of internal characterization? Or is/can that be outweighed by the story the author is trying to tell or even the compelling nature of the story itself? Finally is author intrusion more damning when a reader can’t/doesn’t leave the real world behind?

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