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Open season on Sela

Wednesday, March 16, 2005
It's entirely possible that I've gone and stuck my foot in my mouth over at Romancing the Blog. Alison's article really struck a chord with me. A sour one.

I understand people growing out of a certain type of book, but ... well. This is me, editing myself. Let's just say that I'm offended with the premise that if one woman truly needs her one man and she is necessary for him to breathe, this story is somehow unholy. Or, worse yet, "unrealistic." I think an unladylike snort will suffice for the answer to that.

So go ahead. Smack me around if you need to, agree with me if you can (please tell me I'm not alone!) The forum is open. Fire away.

Here's my post:

So your heroines want a man, but they don’t need a man. And while that sounds admirable, I find a fundamental flaw there. I need my husband. He’s deployed right now and I feel like part of me is missing. I can function without him, but I’m not whole. I like to think I’m a fully realized individual with my own thoughts, motivations and desires. Without him, there’s a hole in my heart. That’s as real as it gets.

But I’m getting from you that if that need, that less-than-wholeness was translated into fiction, that would make the heroine spineless and weak.

I admit, I had a pretty negative reaction to this piece this morning. I hoped that as the day went on, I’d mellow to it or at least be able to “agree to disagree.” But I’m beginning to see a sharp demarcation drawn between those of us who believe that finding the man who finishes us is both real and fantastic, and those who figure that if a man comes along, he’d best know how to heel.

(shaking head) Believe me, I understand that this sounds argumentative. It’s not meant to be, but maybe folks can keep this discussion going on their own blogs.

How and why did the meaning of romance change? Is romance truly dead?



Update: Alison's response:

Well, it’s obvious I’m having a hard time making ANYTHING clear, sheesh, LOL!

I am the MOST romantic person around. Were my husband not here, you can bet there would be a MONSTROUS hole in my life. I would be beyond devastated. I love him. I need him. I adore him beyond belief. Just now, he laughed from the living room, and my heart fluttered. I am over the top in love. He gives me the sweetest cards. He walks by and kisses me just because. We are goofy together. Just totally silly in our affection.

BUT if I had never met him, I would have been able to live my life either on my own or still seeking a mate, but I would not have felt as if I did not have a life if I did not have a man.

Romance novels are NOT about women already in relationships! Ergo, my post. We’re talking two entirely different situations here! I would figure that would be pretty damn clear!

(And the idea of my husband heeling is laughable! Just totally rolling on the floor laughable. )
3/16/2005 07:28:00 PM : : Sela Carsen : : 16 Comments

16 Comments:

Let's just say that I'm offended with the premise that if one woman truly needs her one man and she is necessary for him to breathe, this story is somehow unholy. Or, worse yet, "unrealistic."

How you made that leap of logic from anything I said is beyond me.

I totally believe in such relationships. I'm living and loving in one.

That's not what my post was about. I wasn't talking about people already in love. I wasn't even talking about couples.

I was talking about heroines and my disappointment with them.

By Blogger Alison Kent, at 8:27 PM  

Let's just say that I'm offended with the premise that if one woman truly needs her one man and she is necessary for him to breathe, this story is somehow unholy. Or, worse yet, "unrealistic."

How you made that leap of logic from anything I said is beyond me.

I totally believe in such relationships. I'm living and loving in one.

That's not what my post was about. I wasn't talking about people already in love. I wasn't even talking about couples.

I was talking about heroines and my disappointment with them.

By Blogger Alison Kent, at 8:27 PM  

Let's just say that I'm offended with the premise that if one woman truly needs her one man and she is necessary for him to breathe, this story is somehow unholy. Or, worse yet, "unrealistic."

How you made that leap of logic from anything I said is beyond me.

I totally believe in such relationships. I'm living and loving in one.

That's not what my post was about. I wasn't talking about people already in love. I wasn't even talking about couples.

I was talking about heroines and my disappointment with them.

By Blogger Alison Kent, at 8:27 PM  

Gah, I hate Blogger! *g* I swear I only posted that once, but I got a 404 error and it timed out and said "can't find page".

By Blogger Alison Kent, at 8:33 PM  

I laughed. Blogger's been doing that a lot tonight. I think we'll get this straightened out soon.

By Blogger Sela Carsen, at 8:45 PM  

Well, maybe not. The morning rant wasn't aimed entirely at Alison, although I admit that her post touched it off. It didn't occur to me until too late that I hadn't made clear that my points related to several things I had seen lately in addition to my own musings. I've made the mistake before of making leaps that seem to have no foundation and I appear to have done it again.

It just seems that lately more and more authors are disillusioned with what they're reading in romance. I don't understand it. I honestly don't. Maybe I'm naive. Maybe I'm still too new to this writing business to see how that could happen. And suddenly I feel very, very stupid.

By Blogger Sela Carsen, at 9:30 PM  

I couldn't decide whether to post here or at Romancing the Blog. Not that it really matters.

I have, in fact, become a little more disillusioned with romance. Although I rediscovered the genre relatively recently -- in the last three years -- so I think part of it is just that I overdosed. (This is actually a reading pattern of mine. I've done it with Canlit and science fiction and I'm moving towards historical fiction next.) But I also think there's a been a movement towards having the hero and heroine meet on the first page and remain joined at the hip for the entire story -- and this doesn't allow for as much variety in storytelling. I certainly agree that some stories are served best by this structure but not all.

Okay that was a tangent.

But I'm going to admit something else. I like needy heroines, done well. Of course, it's the done well that is the tricky part. But I actually like to have a really messed up hero and heroine and watch them come through to their happy ending. This sometimes requires that they need their man, or woman.

Sometimes, when an author is trying too hard, I feel like they are shouting at me: my heroine is independent and fiesty. (This is not just in romance, by the way. I think there is a movement towards kickass heroines and their attitude is, let's say, not subtle, just in case I miss it.) But, again, this has to do with the done well thing.

I'm rambling. I suppose since I'm nodding my head away whenver you or Alison posts that I'm not really disagreeing with anyone, even if I have different reading tastes.

By Blogger ma, at 10:31 PM  

Jorie, I hate the h/h meet on the first page (or asap) thing! Which is why I'm always pushing it back as far as I can get away with!

Okay, that was a tangent...

Susan, I love romance and I still love to read romance, but I can see the disillusionment thing, too. The more I read over the years (and the longer I'm a writer), I think the higher my standards are. Which is very frustrating since I never feel as if I can possibly meet those standards in my own writing, no matter how hard I try! I have two modes when I'm reading romance. 1) I'm reading an absolutely FABULOUS book and I know that I might as QUIT because I now realize I suck. Shoot me. Or 2) I'm reading a so-so book that isn't carrying me away with the story and therefore I'm caught in writer mode and analyzing what I think is wrong with it.

I also read other genres and I never have those feelings when I'm reading those genres because I don't write in them. In spite of that, I still read far more romance than any other genre because romance is my first and last love in reading, but it does take some of the pleasure away if I'm either thinking of throwing myself off a cliff or analyzing. LOL.

I really wish I could go back to reading romance without thinking ANY of that stuff!!

By Anonymous Suzanne, at 12:45 AM  

I think what's struck me about this discussion is that everything we say seems to be taken to extremes.

When I questionned whether starting the book with a character who was complete precluded character growth, Alison's reply suggested I was wanting wimpish heroines who were pining for a man. Alison's comments about a woman's independence were seen as critical of women in relationships of mutual love and need.

A heroine who wasn't 100% independent became a TSTL heroine. A highly independent heroine became hard and selfish.

Huh?

Can we say feelings running high?

In those circumstances, I'm loathe to try and explain again what I meant. I don't like my fairly reasonable opinions being twisted round into something totally unrepresentative of what I was saying, and what I am.

For me the biggest point is that everyone likes different things!

I was going to put something insightful and intelligent here, honest, but Minnie Kitty is chewing off portions of envelopes on the shelf above my head and spitting bits of soggy cardboard at me.

I'm doomed to incoherence. ;)

But your leap of logic is not beyond me, Sela, it's where I was headed, too. And enough people have made that same leap, Alison, that it's not so incomprehensible, IMO.

By Blogger Anna Lucia, at 4:37 AM  

I loved the passion in your rant. :) Why? Becasue I think ONE of the reasons SOME romances, and the characters in them, are not up to par is because a lot of romance writes have lost thier passion for the industry.

That said...what a writer reads, doesn't matter to me. Unless it's one of MY stories. *g*

As far as putting your foot in your mouth, this is YOUR blog. You can say what you want. And I want to say, you are handling the backlash well. *g*

By Blogger Sasha White, at 1:58 PM  

Thanks, y'all. I appreciate the support. I think my passion may have carried me away a bit, but I think it's vital for a romance reader to stay passionate about the genre, whether she likes or dislikes things about it.

By Blogger Sela Carsen, at 2:36 PM  

I get where Alison is coming from based on my own life: I'm 20 year old young woman who loves her family to pieces, has a so-so job and is a working unpublished author. I don't have a boyfriend, yet whenever people find that out, they think that I am weird. I'm a HUGE romantic, I am waiting for the One to arrive, but I'm not actively seeking him because I don't want to get distracted by the Frogs. But I am continuously baffled by the fact that because of my age and because I am considered to be attractive, that others are dismayed by the fact that I do not have a man in my life. That is what I think Alison was talking about: the fact that she is not a fan of heroines who have the mindset of those dismayed persons in my life. That if you're a woman(no matter what age you are or how attractive you are), you're not normal if you don't have a man in your life and aren't actively pursuing one. I love romance; that warm fuzzy feeling one gets when the hero and heroine meet and try to ignore their feelings, the thrill of their consummation, the excitement when they finally recognize their love for each other--I adore that. But I don't adore the fact that(even in a historical, unless that is the initial perception of the heroine or the hero) a woman isn't a woman if her mind isn't constantly filled with finding a man and is always dissatisfied with her life because she has no man. But first and foremost, I am a fan of well-rounded, multi-faceted characters in my romances regardless of their stances on love and marriage. I just dislike the trend(chick-lit or romance) for the heroine to be seen as a pariah if her mind isn't focused on men.

By Blogger Temperley, at 3:35 PM  

My background: I am a technical writer by profession. My primary job is to convince federal agencies to give us millions of dollars for technical (science, engineering, math, or education) research by writing proposals of 15 pages or less. Before I had this job, I could read and enjoy science fiction.

Now, I end up throwing most of them across the room before I finish the first chapter--even the best sellers. Even worse, when I read a technical paper, I can't turn off the editor in my head.

I think that was the take-away message from Alison's posts on RTB and her website. When you read within your own genre, you can't turn off your internal editor, and it impacts your ability to enjoy it.

The whole reason for having published romance authors judge Rita awards is because of this internal editor. In technical writing, we call it peer review. The peer review process makes us better writers, but it also makes reading our genre more like work than leisure.

By Blogger Margee, at 3:55 PM  

I think peer reviews are a great thing. I wouldn't belong to a critique group if I didn't. But I look at writing as a vocation as well as a choice. There are other ways for me to be creative and I chose this one. It's certainly not a job I hold down to make money, it's something I do because I love it.

As a personal observation, when I started writing, my reading fell off. Partly because I didn't have the time anymore and partly because of that internal editor. But then I realized that my joy in writing was diminished also. I threw myself back into reading with enjoyment and my writing perked back up.

Evangeline, before I married my husband, marriage was the last thing on my mind. Several of the characters I've written have been the same way. Don't want a man, don't need a man, and until The One shows up, she's content.

My current h, however, is aware of something missing in her life. It's not a feeling of "I gotta get me a man," but more of an acknowledgement that there's a hole somewhere. Frankly, I'm rather proud of her for being so self aware. She tries to fill the gap with other things, but only when she meets the H does she realize, "Ah. This is it. This is what I needed."

It's not a cozy home and family story, it's an adventure comedy. I'm excited to tell this story about a woman who is smart enough, self aware enough, to understand these things about herself.

I know there are readers out there who appreciate both kinds of story. We'll see if I can find a publisher who'll agree!

By Blogger Sela Carsen, at 5:25 PM  

One of the best things about good romance novels is *variety*. If you have too many of the same type of heroine (whether kick-ass or needy - both of whom are extremes anyway) it's boring for the reader. Ditto hero archetypes. (And ditto themes, come to think of it). So maybe that's what's making some authors disillusioned?

For me, the disillusioning thing lately is lack of conflict - I've noticed a few where it could easily be sorted out by the hero/heroine just talking it through. My first M&B ed drilled it into me that *that* sort of conflict is a complete no-no because it doesn't satisfy the reader.

I'm sorry you've been flamed for expressing an opinion. The problem with cyberspace is that it removes two of the biggest communication tools (facial expression/tone of voice) and people sometimes take generic views as a personal attack when they're not meant to be. It's easy to fire off an email/post in reply to perceived hurt, which escalates the situation, and soon it becomes a war. Which is a great shame, as it means more people are going to be frightened of voicing their opinions in future in case they're shot down. Bravo for having the guts to voice your opinion.

As for heroines - my preference is for rounded ones. They might not be at the beginning of a book (otherwise the internal conflict will be missing) but by the end they're complete. Not necessarily by the hero but usually *because* of the hero, who's the one to reveal what she's lacking in her life (whether it's trust, ability to commit, whatever) and SHE does the same for him. But this is my take. Other people may have different views - and I hope so because that's healthy. Otherwise we'd all be writing the same book...

By Anonymous Kate Hardy, at 2:14 AM  

Thanks Kate. Now that things have calmed down a bit, most people are finding themselves able to articulate their feelings in a calmer way. It can't do anything but good to get people thinking. And I appreciate your insight into a heroine's growth arc. Really eye-opening!

By Blogger Sela Carsen, at 2:28 PM  

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