23
May
09

Bitches and Bosoms, oh boy!

I’m doing something a little different here this week. Those of you who’ve followed my posts here for a while know that I have a tendency to rant write about the “ghetto” of science fiction, whether it’s perceived or real, and how much of it is self-created. Well, today I’m mixing things up and interviewing a representative from the neighboring ghetto of Romance fiction. Sarah Wendell is one half of the Smart Bitches at smartbitchestrashybooks.com, and co-author (with fellow Smart Bitch, Candy Tan) of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels.  This book is not only a wickedly fun read, but it also gives interesting and thought-provoking insights into the history, the tropes, the future, and the shame of Romance. (I dare anyone who has ever dismissed Romance as being formulaic or shallow to give this book a read. I can definitely say that my eyes were opened on a number of topics!)

DR: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for me! Sales of romance novels dominate the book industry. Why do you think it’s such a huge market?

SW: Courtships stories have been part of narrative tradition since someone decided it might be a good idea to have a narrative tradition. It’s the most consistent drama humans face that is most often happy – attraction, arousal, allure, and the commitment that may follow are intensely powerful events for people, no matter how blasé or cool they might seem. So reading about that experience and knowing that it ends happily is a consistent element of storytelling. Plus, just about every other fictional narrative contains a romance element. Whether romance is the main focus or an ancillary element, like Prego, it’s in there.

DR: I’ve blogged before about science fiction and fantasy being a “ghetto” of sorts. Do you think that romance is also a ghetto, albeit a much larger one?

SW: As Candy said in this blog post at Powells: http://www.powells.com/blog/?p=5980

…it’s the genre ghetto’s genre ghetto. Romance is the country music of literature: “at least I don’t like romance novels” will justify admiration of anything that skirts the line of questionable taste.

DR: There are many genre readers who will never venture near the romance section of the bookstore, even though they will gladly pick up books in the SF/F section that clearly have romantic subplots. Is there anything you could think to say to these people to encourage them to dip their toes in the romance pool?

SW: Three words: Lois McMaster Bujold. She will lead you to the light and the truth that the romance, it kicks the ass. From there, the world is your throbbing pink oyster.

DR: There’s a pervasive view that romance readers are just bored housewives, and science fiction/fantasy readers are nerds who live in their mother’s garage. Why do you think these stereotypes still persist even when the genres have clearly moved beyond them?

SW: I think deep down we carry high school with us, and are often afraid of being permanently labeled “uncool” or  being marginalized because we enjoy something off-beat and different. It’s easier to stick with stereotypes than actually ponder the nuances and sophisticated elements at work in your average science fiction/fantasy novel, or romance novel.

DR: How has romance embraced concepts that are near and dear to science fiction and fantasy fans? Are you seeing more crossover?

SW: Oh yessssss. Urban fantasy is often a neat blend of two or all three, as are many of the steampunk novels being published. Just about every sci fi or fantasy novel incorporates some romantic elements, even if there’s no happy ever after for the protagonists — the three are very much intertwined.

DR: Why do you think paranormal romance and urban fantasy have become so popular?

SW: My theory: in a world in which we are constantly reminded of the presence of terror, having a villain who is readily identifiable (hairy in moonlight? Driven to commit acts of exsanguination?) and either vanquished by emotional affirmation or utterly and completely decimated is, to put it simply, reassuring. When the villain in the “real world” is unidentifiable, the obvious “other” is captivating in an entirely new way. As for urban fantasy, the reliance on the Kickass Heroine means that a whole new realm of female autonomy, actualization, and sexual agency can be explored, to which I say, HELL TO THE YES.

DR: How do you feel about Cover Shame, i.e. those lurid or obnoxious covers in both romance and sf/f that are almost embarrassing to have?

SW: Neither the authors nor the readers are responsible, and anything that is THAT absurd is epic comedy win.

DR: You have a book! What do you think Beyond Heaving Bosoms can offer people who are not already readers of romance?

SW: The Bosoms? Creative uses of the word “cuntmonkey.” Examinations of what makes a romance novel cover Extra More Gooder.

Seriously: It’s a guide for anyone who loves romance and is tired of taking crap for it, and for anyone who has ever wondered, “What is it about romance novels?” Since, as I mentioned, every fictional narrative contains romantic elements, the appeal is not exclusive, and neither is our book.

 Beyond Heaving Bosoms

Thanks again to Sarah Wendell for stopping in at the Magic District!


19 Responses to “Bitches and Bosoms, oh boy!”


  1. 1 Jennifer Roland
    May 23, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Great interview! It’s been fun to see the romance genre become more mainstream.

  2. May 23, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks, Jennifer! There’s so much crossover between the genres now, that I think that, more than anything else, is going to break down the ghetto walls. :)

  3. May 23, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    You might be interested in this melding of the ghettos site about Science Fiction Romance:

    http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net/

  4. May 23, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    Great interview, ladies! I need to print out interviews like this – or you know, tell everyone to read the SB guide. I’ve gotten so much crap about romances that I just don’t tell people I read them. It’s not worth the 30+ minutes of snide comments before I can even try to convince people they aren’t “trash” and all “bodice rippers.”

  5. May 23, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Great interview! Absolutely agree with Sarah’s sediment about urban fantasy and paranormal romance popularity of late: Hell to the Yes! I’m going to get myself a copy of BEYOND HEAVING BOSOM, sounds like a very interesting and enlightening read. Maybe I need to get a couple to hand out, I know a couple of people who could use an education in this genre.

  6. 6 rachelaaron
    May 24, 2009 at 8:27 am

    OMG SMART-BITCH SARAH!!!! I love Smart Bitches and I don’t even read romance!! Wow, on our blog!!! Joy!

    *pause for fangirling*

    Ok, now that I’m over that, ahem… Awesome interview~!! As I’ve mentioned, I was an English major, and in English academia, liking any genre is considered low class… which is why I went the other way entirely and now completely refuse to judge people on the books they like, because if people don’t read what makes them happy, they won’t read at all, and we all lose when that happens.

    But the pervasive view as fantasy as the paper bag colt-44 of the book world with romance following up as the plastic pack of Black and Milds does smart sometimes, especially when I’m reading in public. It doesn’t seem to hurt sales, though. Even if they’re reading it in the closet, everyone seems to be reading fantasy and romance. Also, with Twilight (much as it makes me cringe on occasion) we’ve got an entire new generation of teenage girls being introduced to both urban fantasy and romance and reading in general as a cool thing. Whatever your feelings about the series, you can’t beat that.

    Again, awesome interview! Come hang out with us more, Sarah!

  7. May 24, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Great interview,

    It does make me smile as a reader and writer of Science Fiction Romance. I firmly believe both sides of the “ghetto” will rise and show they have more power when banded together. You can’t knock the romance for being “brainless” when Science Fiction is involved, and you can’t knock the SF for being “geeky” when it has the sexual allure of a hot Romance.

    Cheers. I love both genres. And the Galaxy Express is awesome.

    Jess

  8. May 24, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Awesome interview!

    I do think there is a massive misunderstanding of the romance genre. Heck, I didn’t understand it a few years ago while firmly lodged in the slightly more comfortable ghetto of Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Now that I write books with the label “Paranormal Romance” I earn snickers from my former SF/F brethren, who pat me condescendingly on the head and tell me it’s nice that I’m having fun, but they prefer to read books where “something happens.”

    SIGH. (Reminds me of the Geek Hierarchy.)

    I love both genres, but I happen to prefer them combined, be it romantic urban fantasy or full on paranormal romance. Those two ghettos have been growing into each other for years, and I love living in the overlap. :)

  9. May 24, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    I love to read genre fiction, and I’m pretty catholic (note the small ‘c’, people!) about it. Fantasy, Romance, Sci-Fi, urban, mystery, whatever. I’m all over that. Mixing all that goodness together across genres? Fabulous. It’s like the old Reese’s commercials – hey! you got your sci-fi on my romance! No way, you got your romance on my sci-fi! oh. wait! this is FANTASTIC!

    I enjoyed the Bosoms book, and recommend it to everyone near and far. DH is getting a huge kick out of reading it.

    Great interview! Thanks for doing it.

  10. May 24, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    “hey! you got your sci-fi on my romance! No way, you got your romance on my sci-fi! oh. wait! this is FANTASTIC!”

    HAHAHA – that’s awesome. But is the romance the chocolate, what with the old-school romance covers often depicting Invisible Buttsecks, or are they the peanut butter, because I love peanut butter?

    Either way – awesome analogy.

    And thanks for the compliments on the review. It’s all Diana – she asks good questions. :)

  11. May 24, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    Thanks for such a fun, insightful interview!

    The way I look at the ghettoization of the romance and SF genres is this: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Romance and SF know firsthand the dismissive attitudes of nonbelievers, perhaps more than any other genre. Therefore, not only do they make a terrific pairing (and have paired up more often than not, albeit on the DL at times) but they could also benefit from forging some kind of, oh, let’s say, a galactic alliance.

    Just as science fiction has been evolving into different subgenres, so has romance. It’s inevitable that we’ll be seeing increasingly more cross-genre stories in the future (pun-not really-but-kind-of-intended). I find that manner of variety to be very exciting, especially for readers who crave the unexpected—yet have it nestled in the warm center of their favorite comfort food.

    I also want to mention the phenomenal support of science fiction romance by SF blogs such as John DeNardo’s SFSignal. I think the key is outreach, namely, finding the common ground where fans of both genres can meet. I also admire when fans celebrate the positives of cross-genre stories, instead of focusing on what they aren’t, or on the stereotypes, as was mentioned previously.

    Lisa, much obliged for the shout out! Jess, you’re too kind.

  12. 12 mentatjack
    May 24, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    I was reading a James Herriot book ( I think it was All Things Bright and Beautiful ) one summer at scout camp. Another boy saw the title and assumed it was a romance novel. A game of keep away ensued and my book ended up in the latrine (a copy that was actually a wedding present to my parents).

    From that moment I’ve had an irrational fear that I’ll be seen anytime I accidentally walk into the Romance section in a book store. Enough is enough. I would like someone to suggest one or more romance novels that I can seek out, purchase and read. My prejudice against this genre is so strong that I have no clue where to start looking for a good recommendation.

    I’m a physics/math/computer geek that’s found himself reading slightly more fantasy than sci-fi as of late. The sharing knife is already on my list, but I’d love a suggestion that requires actually walking into the romance section.

  13. May 25, 2009 at 4:20 am

    I LOVE the James Herriot books!!! And, I’ll try to summon the great and mighty Sarah back here to give us some good romance suggestions. :)

  14. May 25, 2009 at 6:04 am

    Mentatjack, you can’t go wrong with any recommendations from Sarah, but fwiw, below are a few suggestions for science fiction romances (some will be in romance, some will be in SF&F):

    THE OUTBACK STARS by Sandra McDonald (first in a trilogy of military SF with a significant romance as well as fantastical elements. The more the trilogy progresses, the more prominent the romance)
    HOPE’S FOLLY by Linnea Sinclair
    BEYOND THE RAIN (August 2009) by Jess Granger
    MOONSTRUCK by Susan Grant
    SUNRISE ALLEY & ALPHA by Catherine Asaro
    GRIMSPACE by Ann Aguirre

  15. March 27, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Yes! Finally someone writes about romance novels.

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