A Quickie from Jo Beverley

Upon reading both Judy Cuevas’ and Patricia Gaffney’s Quickies, Jo Beverley weighed in with her opinion. Since I’ve admitted in Readers Respond that I am admittedly apparently dense about this particular discussion, I asked Jo additional questions. Here is our correspondence:

Jo Beverley: I agree wholeheartedly that it is the execution of a story or scene that matters. However, I’m disturbed by the concept that simply being outrageous — which I think we can say is a synonym for breaking the boundaries — is of itself praiseworthy. Being outrageous is ridiculously easy. In fact, at the lowest level it’s a real cheap shot. Execution, as Judy Cuevas said, is everything.

I’m not sure if there was any intent in any of the posts (by Cuevas or Gaffney) to criticize readers for saying that they don’t like particular books, or storylines, or scenes, but I think that’s way out of line. Readers are surely free to share their opinions on the books they buy. They certainly aren’t obliged to be reverent just because a writer has been courageous.

My main point is in reference to Pat Gaffney’s post. I don’t see that breaking the boundaries is good in itself. It’s only good if it works – which is what Judy Cuevas was talking about, as I see it. The execution.

I’m curious as to how much most readers want the boundaries broken. Gently stretched, yes. But broken? What do you think?

LLB: I’m putting together the page of reader responses to the Quickies you wrote in about. As someone who always comes down on the side of the reader, I’m just not picking up on what you and the others who wrote about it are getting at! I thought both Judy and Pat’s comments made a lot of sense and didn’t think they were talking about being outrageous just to be outrageous.

Here’s a question for you – you are someone who has definitely written books that would mark you as outrageous. First you stretched the Regency boundary. Then you wrote a romance that many didn’t even call a romance – The Shattered Rose. Do you recognize yourself in the category Judy and Pat are talking about, as one who doesn’t listen to moralizers?

I’m really interested in your response because I don’t get it this time!

Jo Beverley: Please don’t make it sound as if I’m accusing Judy and Pat of being outrageous for the sake of being outrageous! That’s not what I meant at all. I was merely reacting to what I took to be Pat Gaffney’s comment that anyone who takes risks and breaks boundaries is to be praised. My point is that it’s easy to do that, so the judgement has to be on the quality not the act.

For example, anyone could write a “romance” about a mentally ill man who lives at the Salvation Army and an alcoholic tennis player whose career is on the skids, within which they decide to ritually sacrifice his two children and her cat, then end by deciding they’re bad for each other and she’ll join a convent. Coming up with the idea is easy. Writing it wouldn’t be that big a strain if I could stomach it. Making it work would be the trick.

If I’m outrageous, I see myself as doing it from within the genre. I love romance. I love stories that are about people falling in love and making relationships work. I love books where the couple are admirable, and where they spend most of the pages together. I want a sexy book (though there doesn’t have to be sex). And I want a happy ending, which means one in which I can believe that these two people are going to be as happy as humans can be, and able to deal with the knocks life is bound to send them with grace, charity, and humor.

Within that, I’ll break rules if the characters and story call for it. Sometimes some readers think I’ve gone too far. That’s the risk we take when we break rules and I accept it. I don’t grouch at readers for their valid opinion. However, I never think I’ve broken out of romance, or I wouldn’t sell it as romance. That, to me, would be like selling peanut butter cookies in a bag labeled chocolate chip.

A genre has to have limits or it isn’t a genre. We can stretch it, but we have to know when we’ve wandered into something entirely different. A genre is defined by the readers not the writers, but writers are free to choose what genre they write in. And they can often take readers along as they stretch the limits of any particular genre. But the readership may not accept the new dimensions, in which case the boundaries will stay where they are.

All, as ever, in my opinion. Debate is the life blood of art.

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