Home Forums Let’s Talk Romance Books Unlikely to Published Today: A Good or Bad Thing?

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    • Dabney Grinnan
      Keymaster
      Post count: 128

      Today’s Way Back post is from Patricia Gaffney talking about how much, all the way back in 1997, the hero of her iconic book To Have and To Hold upset readers.

      Sebastian is, in the beginning of the book, pretty abhorrent and his treatment of Rachel, horrifying. He, of course, is redeemed and it is his love that saves Rachel so, by the book’s HEA, the reader is to have forgiven him. That plot line would today be called out as glorifying sexual assault. And yet To Have and To Hold has consistently been voted by readers as a fan favorite. It’s definitely a book that many older romance readers cherish.

      Bunny Planet Babe wrote that the book would never be published today and I suspect she’s right.

      Neither would, at least not by any major publishers, Prisoner of My Desire, Claiming the Courtesan, The Wolf and the Dove, or The Price of Innocence.

      Obviously, where some readers see a fictional forced seduction they love, others see a glorification of rape.

      Does that mean such books shouldn’t be published or, if they were, should be pulled?

    • Carrie G
      Participant
      Post count: 28

      I’m very interested to see what books people list here. I came late to the romance genre, about 10 years ago, and have never read the “old skool” romances. Since I didn’t cut my teeth on these books, I don’t have any attachment to them or their authors. I think if I’d read them 20-30 years ago, I’d probably have a soft spot for many of them, like readers do. At the same time, my reading tastes have changed quite a bit even in 10 years, and I find I don’t enjoy books, like some of SEP’s Chicago Stars series, that I enjoyed when I initially read them. I also read a lot of romantic suspense, seal-military type books with alpha males that I can’t even get through today. But none of that would make me take to Twitter (which I don’t have anyway) and rant.

      I think I’m going to pick a couple of the books, like To Have and to Hold, and read them just out of curiosity. I want to pick ones that people loved and are well written, even though they might not fly today. I can’t see getting mad at something written 30 years ago, so mainly I’m just curious. I also find, rightly or wrongly, that I’m more critical of contemporary romances with dubious consent than historicals.

    • Nan De Plume
      Participant
      Post count: 30

      Great topic of discussion! It has certainly come up before, but moving it over to the Agora is a great way to let it all hang out.

      For those who have followed my comments over AAR in the past, my stance on publishing controversial subject matter in romance or any other genre probably won’t come as a shock to anyone. I have often lamented what a shame it is for art, media, and literature that certain topics have become all but untouchable. So, should forced seduction romances be published in 2021? I say, that if a publisher is comfortable with greenlighting such content and a writer wants to explore that avenue, go for it. I certainly don’t believe in forcing anybody to write or publish forced seduction narratives, but if a publisher chooses to release that work, they need to stand behind it in the face of controversy rather than firing authors they approved in the first place. I am seeing way too many literary careers get ruined not so much because of online complaints but because of publishers’ craven reactions to said complaints.

      As for pulling already published books- or soon to be published books- publishing houses need to honor their contracts instead of caving into online peer pressure at the slightest whiff of controversy. Instead of making their authors issue theatrical apologies, I would like to see more publishing houses issue statements to the effect that they are aware X book is controversial, but they have a commitment to letting adult readers decide for themselves whether or not that story is for them. If they don’t like it, they are perfectly free to read something else. And, by the way, we publish a variety of content to serve various tastes, etc.

      If, however, the book in question is out of print, and they do not wish to rerelease it because of controversy, the publisher should return the rights to the author or estate to do with as he/she sees fit. What I don’t like is this increasing practice of pulling books that are 20+ years old so nobody can access them anymore. I’m not saying they should be forced to reprint them, but at least have the decency to not hold the copyright hostage. If they were to instead say, “We cannot in good conscience continue to publish this book, so we will be reverting all rights to the author/author’s estate,” I would be far less hostile to the practice. Then let the original author or the rightful owner decide if there is still a market for the controversial work instead of some big publishing house utterly afraid of the perpetually offended crowd.

      For a specific book that couldn’t be published today, P.S. Your Cat is Dead immediately comes to mind. I consider this campy 1970s novel to be a proto-m/m romance because of its improbable but fun HEA, not to mention its surprisingly positive attitude toward bisexuality. But holy cow! No publisher today would want to run the risk of promoting a story that involves a homeowner slinging ethnic slurs and rape threats to a burglar he captured and tied to his kitchen table! And yes, the two of them end up together. It must be true love… ;-)

    • Caz Owens
      Keymaster
      Post count: 55

      I read To Have and to Hold a few years ago for the TBR Challenge (for the “Old School” prompt) and while it was obviously problematic I didn’t dismiss the book out of hand and enjoyed it. It’s well written, the issues are explored well and Sebastian’s redemption is convincing. Like Carrie, I came to romance relatively recently – probably 15 years or so ago? – so I haven’t read many of Ye Olde Boddyce Ryppers either, so it’s hard for me to judge one way or the other. One I’d add to the problematic list that I HAVE read, is Whitney, My Love. I don’t think books should be pulled because they’re not PC by today’s standards, and I do take issue with older books being rewritten simply to erase problematic material – but that’s another issue. (We can only learn and make progress if we’re able to make comparisons with the past and learn to do better.) I imagine many authors today wouldn’t write the sort of problematic content we’re talking about, mostly because it’s not something they would feel comfortable (or be interested in) writing, and I think we’ve moved on.

      • Carrie G
        Participant
        Post count: 28

        I think we’ve moved on, too, at least for mainstream publishing. I know there are niche markets for content that some people feel problematic, but most readers today aren’t interested in forced seduction situations, or even verbally or emotionally abusive characters. At the same time, if someone wants to write that, then fine. No one has to read it. If someone does choose to read it, and they are shocked by the content, I think it’s fine to write a “I was shocked by the content, so FYI, here’s a warning” review. What I don’t think is appropriate is a “this author is an awful person who shouldn’t be allowed to write” review. The unfortunate truth is, however, that people these days love to be outraged and have social media to vent on. It’s like their 15 min of fame! “Look at me! I’m spouting an opinion!” I deal with it at home, as I have daughters (sexual assault victims) who go pretty ballistic at any dubious consent themes. Understandable though it is, it’s exhausting. (Although I admit when it’s real life situations ::cough::Brock Turner::cough:: I go pretty ballistic, myself.)

        As far as rewriting problematic themes/scenes in older books, I don’t have a problem with that if authors want to do it. I don’t think they should be forced to.

        • Nan De Plume
          Participant
          Post count: 30

          I agree with you 100%, Carrie, especially this: “What I don’t think is appropriate is a ‘this author is an awful person who shouldn’t be allowed to write’ review.”

        • chrisreader
          Participant
          Post count: 35

          I understand completely how real world issues are both triggering and enraging. I have seen news stories about so many topics lately that have me shaking my head in bewilderment. Even more so because many lately involve some diverse young people with behaviors we have pegged as “old white guy” stuff. But that’s another whole issue.

          I give fiction it’s own separate category, particularly romantic fiction because, as we’ve discussed, the human mind is a very complex and twisty place. As Nancy Friday examined so many years ago, it’s taken a lot for women in particular to feel like it’s OK for them to fantasize and to fantasize about “unladylike” or even iffy things. It doesn’t mean they want that to happen to them “in real life” and we all know a scenario you create in your mind or you read about is something you have total control over. You are either creating the scenes and the people so you are controlling all the behavior (even if you cast yourself in a “passive” role) or you are reading something you can just close the book on literally when you don’t like it.

          By all means decide what works for you and what doesn’t. Write a scathing review if you think it’s a pile of bilge. But ultimately let others decide what they want to occupy their own head space. I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist but I do know people have millions or trillions of ways of working through things in their own mind. If it takes a politically incorrect Bertrice Small book to do it, then have it.

          One of my pet peeves in particular is people who take truly ridiculous fiction and try to say it’s “worrisome” for young women. Like how Edward from Twilight was basically considered the devil. And how a fictional hundred year old vampire who never pressures Bella for sex, to drink or take drugs, and 99% of the time does everything she asks or tells him to was the worst thing that ever was marketed to teen girls. Puh-lease.

        • Dabney Grinnan
          Keymaster
          Post count: 128

          I love this article–and what Lil’ Nas X is trying to do for queer kids.

          https://slate.com/culture/2021/03/lil-nas-x-montero-video-satan-shoes-explained.html

        • Carrie G
          Participant
          Post count: 28

          I loved that discussion/article. What I think I loved most was the intelligence of it, the savvy way they broke it all down and explained it, What Lil’ Nas X is doing and how good he is at doing it. I don’t know him, and I wasn’t familiar with the uproar, but I’m glad I am now. All these people think these are dumbass wild kids, and they are ruining our “culture” but here is this savvy media manipulator who keeps right on spinning all the criticisms into gold. Good for him.

        • Dabney Grinnan
          Keymaster
          Post count: 128

          He’s SO smart–read his Wikipedia entry. It’s awe inspiring.

        • Dabney Grinnan
          Keymaster
          Post count: 128

          Wow. There’s a WaPo article about Lil’ Nas that’s amazing.

          https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/03/30/lil-nas-montero-queer/

          Among other things, it says:

          Being queer is not about sexuality or gender identity; like anything that truly matters, it’s about freedom and control. At 41, it took me half my life to come out as gay. I’m still working on coming out as queer. Queerness demands an understanding that nobody’s existence is bound by someone else’s comforts. You can be whatever you want to be. Supposedly, as former senator Rick Santorum famously argued, being unbound by strangers’ discomforts is an invitation to all manner of monstrosities, including conservatives’ go-to sins of bestiality, pedophilia and slavery. Those are crimes, and the people who conflate self-determination with crime are telling on themselves.

          ….Actual queerness is indifferent to other people’s preferences.

          I’m queer. Lil Nas X is queer. And Madonna is queer, as was a cadre of pop artists she rose up with in the ’80s, including David Bowie, Prince and Freddie Mercury. Madonna’s queerness was rooted in her daring to presume the same freedoms as a woman that male artists already enjoyed. In “Montero,” Lil Nas X presumes the same freedoms in his homosexuality that heterosexual artists already enjoy in music videos suffused with naked bodies and allusions to, and pantomimes of, sex.

        • Dabney Grinnan
          Keymaster
          Post count: 128
        • Caz Owens
          Keymaster
          Post count: 55

          A tangent about Bertrice Small – the audio publisher Tantor has, over the last year or so, put out a number of her books in audio format, and there are still more to come. They’re new recordings and obviously Tantor wouldn’t be recording an author’s entire oeuvre if they didn’t think there was a market for it. Not my thing but nobody’s going to force me to buy them, and good luck and enjoy! to those who do like them.

      • Dabney Grinnan
        Keymaster
        Post count: 128

        Well, book sales at Amazon would argue there is still a huge market for romances with serious power imbalances and forced seduction.

        • Caz Owens
          Keymaster
          Post count: 55

          That doesn’t really surprise me. I think it’s easy to forget that those of us who frequent places like AAR or who see the dumpster fires of outrage on Twitter are only a minority of romance readers and that a lot of them have no idea what RWA is (for example), let alone that it imploded last year and why.

        • chrisreader
          Participant
          Post count: 35

          Absolutely, I’d say all of online combined is at best a niche, or small percentage of romance readers. I’d guess the huge percentage of readers are still the people picking up a novel at Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco or a drugstore/bookstore/supermarket.

          Those of us who read compulsively and analyze themes and messages in the novels can complain about wanting less Dukes or more average people but the bottom line is a lot of readers clearly want Dukes and Earls and castles and the publishers are going to push what makes money.

          They probably don’t even know what RWA is, couldn’t care less about it or the people involved and just want to grab some escapist reading with a nice cover and some fun sexy stuff. And more power to them. We all have our “things” maybe theirs is gardening or volunteering or venture capital.

          I’d say our group is like professional film critics compared to voters in the People’s Choice awards.

        • Caz Owens
          Keymaster
          Post count: 55

          I agree with what you say about the online romance community being at most a niche group or minority. But unfortunately, it’s a group that has many of the big publishers by the balls right now, terrified to incur the wrath of the Twitterati and, as Nan says here somewhere, ready to cave to pressure and drop authors at the earliest sign of controversy.

        • chrisreader
          Participant
          Post count: 35

          Unfortunately that’s a thing across the board. And these days with people (here in the US for sure, and in other places it seems as well) so diametrically opposed on things, companies and institutions really are in a position where they need to have the pulse of their clientele or be willing to suffer the losses.

          I don’t really know much about Piers Morgan (apart from the fact he’s quite controversial and people either really like him or really hate him and Sharon Osborne got caught up in his wake as his friend defending him).

          I must click on UK articles on Facebook quite a bit (I’m a huge history buff and a lot is published by UK sites) so all kinds of things have been popping up from UK sites about him and the Royal Family in my feed lately. From what I have read, he had the largest number of complaints about him at his network about his comments on the Harry/Megan Markle interview before stepping down, something like 40 thousand. But since he left, hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions demanding his return and the shows ratings have significantly decreased.

          Now I don’t know if both the complainers and admirers were people who even watched his show to begin with or just people who feel strongly either way and wanted their voice counted. But the question now is what will the network do?

          Something similar happened here in the U.S with a restaurant chain called Cracker Barrel several years back.

          Again, I don’t remember all the details but there was a reality show called “Duck Dynasty” about a Evangelical Christian family from Louisiana who makes duck hunting equipment. It was a huge hit on cable TV. Their demographics in rural areas were through the roof.

          They were famous for their long beards, “country” ways and being Christians that adhere strictly to the Bible and consider anything written in the Bible to be a sin, as a sin. Can you see where this is going? Unsurprisingly, on an interview one of the guys (I don’t know his name because I never watched the show) said something along the lines that he considered being gay a sin along with adultery and a lot of other things. He also said something along the lines that he would never treat anyone differently or disrespectfully blah, blah.

          Well of course it became a huge topic on all the news shows with a large number of people complaining about him and the anti-gay and bigoted talk, wanting the show pulled or censored by the broadcaster A&E.

          Cracker Barrel is a restaurant chain in the US (for those who don’t know) based out of Lebanon Tennessee with hundreds of restaurants in the US but the majority in the South. I don’t think they even made it to the Northeast until last ten years or so and there are very few there. Their client base is overwhelmingly rural and conservative. After the controversy with Duck Dynasty they announced they were pulling the Duck Dynasty goods from the country stores attached to their restaurants.

          Well that decision lasted exactly one day. The outcry from their customers was so extreme and one sided they had to come back and make a very serious apology denouncing their decision and completely reversing it.

          Now that isn’t to say every person in the south or rural areas supported Duck Dynasty, but an overwhelming amount did. And it’s not to say every person in on the coasts denounced them, but a huge majority did.

          I in no way am meaning to say any controversial authors espouse the beliefs of Piers Morgan or the Duck Dynasty guy, just that things are so divided right now, if you are involved in a business that breaks down by geographical and/or political demographics you better do your market research. That’s why you won’t see ads for My Pillow on MSNBC or ads for Twitter on Fox News.

        • chrisreader
          Participant
          Post count: 35

          There’s clearly a psychological reason why those themes still sell. Whether women find it freeing, or titillating or whatever. I’ll leave it to our old friend Nancy Friday to deduce.

          And I don’t think it’s exclusively the “remnants” of “older un P.C.” women. Clearly there are young women or girls who are consuming this type of fiction despite a dramatic change in pretty much all parts of society. Here’s just one reason why I think this-

          I am not really a reader of Manga or a watcher of anime but there are a couple of things I have seen on social media or you tube that were “a thing” for a while. One is “Kabe-don” which started in anime and was transferred into live action. It’s an aggressive move where the guy forces the woman against the wall, hemming her in with his arms and slapping the wall at the same time.

          There is also something similar in South Korean Manga and Anime, I don’t know the name but it’s also an aggressive lean over, power move by the guy. I’ve seen young women on you tube saying they loved it (American and European women as well) when they saw it and wanted to act it out with their boyfriends. Even if it was just the boyfriend kissing them up against a wall.

          Now these are very young women in their early 20’s or younger (who saw or read it as far back as in their teens) who responded to this aggressive, bossy boyfriend behavior and translated it into a fantasy they wanted to read more about or even act out. This doesn’t mean they wanted to be sexually assaulted or harassed. Something about it appealed to them on some level and they wanted to “experience” it in a situation where they call the shots. They’re not going out onto the streets (presumably) to ask random guys to be aggressive. They’re exploring it through fiction or with significant others.

          And to be fair it’s a fairly tame fantasy as far as they go, but in this modern world it’s not a politically correct one to say “I want my boyfriend to slam his hands down on the wall and cage me in his arms”. But it’s definitely along this theme of men being controlling and/or aggressive.

          We all know that no one is going to publicly approve of a woman buying or consuming books with any of these kind of actions from the mild to the extreme lest they be seen as “anti woman” “regressive” or “oppressed” but we can see that thanks to ebooks and Amazon, it is being consumed. So there is a dichotomy, as there often is, between what is acceptable publicly and what is done or consumed privately.

        • Carrie G
          Participant
          Post count: 28

          It doesn’t surprise me, either. I don’t understand the appeal, but I don’t have to. I don’t understand a lot of things. In fact, it’s rather self-centered to think I am so important that I need to understand what makes other people happy. Simply put, I wouldn’t jump out of a perfectly good airplane, either, but I know people love it. If I can accept that, then I can accept people liking stories with forced seduction or power imbalances.

          I do think the mainstream publishers of romance are probably going to keep playing it “safe” given the climate of outrage we have right now. The thing is, fiction (non-romance) gets a by on this stuff for the most part. Awful people do awful things and we can read all about it in any number of depressing fiction novels these days. I understand that the “bad actors” are usually not there to be redeemed, and are labeled as “bad.” It seems as long as you keep the ending depressing and the person/people un-redeemed, you can have them do anything. If you try a story with a happy ending, then you have a problem if your protagonist has done something somebody feels is beyond redemption.

          It’s true I wouldn’t read some redemption stories because of personal triggers.

        • Dabney Grinnan
          Keymaster
          Post count: 128

          I think we read what works for us and what works for us and why vary just as we do.

          I loathe big age gap stories, the Baby Girl/Daddy dynamic, and…. beta heroes. That’s just me. One of the things I love about romance is that there’s a story for everyone.

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