US Ebook Market: NPD Sees a 31-Percent Jump in Unit Sales in April

From Publishing Perspectives:

On the heels of its second-quarter report on the American book market, which we covered here on Monday, the NPD Group today (July 21) has released new data showing that ebook unit sales in April rose by nearly a third over the previous month: a new indication of how consumers reached for digital retail under the constraints of COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Year over year through April, NPD PubTrack Digital saw trade ebook sales decline by 6 percent, a total 55 million units sold. But Kristen McLean, who leads book industry analysis for NPD, says that when she looks only at April—in many parts of the States the first full month of stay-at-home measures—ebooks made that 31-percent jump in unit sales over March, selling an additional 4.2 million units.

“With brick-and-mortar retail bookstores shut down in the United States this spring,” she says, “the ebook format became more popular during the COVID-19 crisis. Ebooks are easy to purchase, can be read instantly after being downloaded, and eliminate any concerns over infection or availability.”

. . . .

Sales growth for adult ebooks was led by general fiction, which rose 23 percent in April compared to March according to data from NPD BookScan.

The leading general fiction title in April was Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. . . The film tie-in was released in March, the same month that Liz Tigelaar’s Hulu series adaptation with Reese Witherspoon premiered.

The romance category posted 22-percent growth in April compared to March, led by First Comes Scandal by Julia Quinn . . . .

Adult nonfiction title unit sales grew 37 percent in April compared to March 2020.

Categories with the highest ebook unit growth included biography and memoir, which rose 40 percent in April, led by the April 2020 Oprah Book Club selection, Robert Kolker’s Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family . . . .

Cooking ebooks posted the second-highest unit growth, rising 96 percent in unit sales in April compared to previous month.

. . . .

Children’s ebooks declined 12 percent over the first half of the year, with 5.1 million units sold, McLean points out.

But in April, children’s ebook fiction grew 78 percent in April over March, while children’s nonfiction grew 39 percent.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG expects Amazon had a good month for ebook sales in April.

Watchwomen

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

What if we remembered Jack Kirby not for Captain America or Galactus, but for the romance comics that he and Joe Simon produced during the late 1940s and early 1950s in their wildly successful titles Young Romance and Young Love? Kirby’s work in the genre, which he and Simon invented, are marked by Wellesian compositions and subtle character studies. They’re the equal of Kirby’s best superhero stories. Twenty thousand romance comics were printed in this period. One billion copies were sold.

Imagine an issue of What If…, Marvel’s late 1970s series imagining alternative timelines for their characters, in which the romance genre’s fans never disappear. In the 1960s, Kirby moves to Marvel and he and Stan Lee create a universe not of superheroes and mutants, but of heartthrobs who dress like Steve McQueen and strong women who look like Jean Seberg. In the mid-1980s, Frank Miller and Alan Moore produce gritty, revisionist graphic novels that revive the genre for a more cynical era. Moore’s Watchwomen tells the story of a dystopian America in which Richard Nixon vanquished the Vietnamese thanks to a romantic intrigue involving a Minnesota housewife and Võ Nguyên Giáp. Romance, the culture understands, is best suited to the comics medium, and supermarkets don’t sell romance paperbacks.

In the early 2000s, Hollywood, after several false starts, produces lush big-budget spectacles based on classic romance comics. Franchises are born. Film snobs compare the current crop of blockbusters unfavorably to the saturated melodramas of Hollywood’s Golden Age. “Where is our generation’s All That Heaven Allows? Our Written on the Wind?” they write in The New Yorker. “Cinema is dead.” But ticket buyers don’t worry too much about the elites’ complaints. The movies sell toys and video games and they do well in China. Comic-cons are dominated by fans who think they’re rebels for performing romance cosplay.

Academics hold conferences where they argue for the cultural legitimacy of the romance comics genre. Professors teach Chris Claremont’s classic run on Heart People alongside Pride and Prejudice. Salman Rushdie declares himself a fan of romance, and Michael Chabon turns his own fandom into a career. Romance comics face a reckoning in the 2010s, when a disgruntled fan base points out the genre’s long history of racism and sexism. The major publishing houses introduce a new set of romance comics heroes and heroines who are more representative of the country’s demographics. An alt-right backlash ensues, but Marvel, to its credit, keeps the new characters. Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay contribute story lines about classic romance comics’ few black protagonists. Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly, meanwhile, publish indie superhero comics read by only a select few. The spring box office in 2019 is dominated by the Russo brothers’ Young Romance: Growing Older and Closer to Death. Think pieces in The New York Times, NPR, Slate, and the Los Angeles Review of Books point out connections to the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, the war on terror, and climate change. Alan Moore declares the romance comics genre morally indefensible. Martin Scorsese makes superhero films.

In fact, it’s even more complicated than that. A society in which the culture as a whole reads romance comics is also a society more interested in women’s stories, and thus a society slightly less dominated by men. The industry includes more women creators. It is Margaret Atwood and Zadie Smith, not Rushdie and Chabon, who champion mainstream fare. Hillary Clinton is elected president in 1992 and proves just as inadequate as her husband did in another reality.

. . . .

In our own world, only a very small percentage of vintage romance comics have been reprinted. And the few that you can find are advertised as exceptional, either for their aesthetics or their ideology. In 2003, Fantagraphics released Romance Without Tears, a collection of work written by Dana Dutch for the independent publisher Archer St. John. Several of these comics are drawn by Matt Baker, a gay, black man who was one of the few African-American artists of the comics’ Golden Age. John Benson, who spent years compiling the volume, argues in his introduction not so much for the stories’ aesthetic brilliance as for their proto-feminism. “Dutch’s protagonists,” as opposed to those in other romance comics, “were lively, active young women who, though often naïve and inexperienced, had character, a sense of self worth [sic], and a great deal of common sense.” In 2012 and 2014, Fantagraphics published Young Romance and Young Romance 2, a selection of Kirby and Simon’s work. In the introduction to the first volume, Michelle Nolan calls Kirby and Simon’s issues “some of the most dramatic and emotionally powerful comics of their time.” She also commends the creators for their qualified progressivism, noting that “[t]o this writer’s best knowledge, Simon and Kirby dealt with virtually every type of social issue except the still-forbidden interracial romance.” Twenty-first-century readers accept, even celebrate, this sort of didacticism. Comics should be nutritional, they say. They should make us good, or at least less bad.

. . . .

Romance, by definition, is a genre in which women live to find love. If they didn’t, these stories would not exist.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

Restoring the Sex and Rage to Jane Austen

From The Atlantic:

Demand for Jane Austen far exceeds supply. When the novelist died in 1817 at the age of 41, she left only six full-length novels, plus three unpublished works and a collection of juvenilia. Yet in the two centuries since, Austen has become, as the British writer Alexander McCall Smith once put it, “a movement, a mood, a lifestyle, an attitude, and perhaps most tellingly of all, a fridge magnet.”

She got her first screen adaptation in 1940, with Laurence Olivier playing Fitzwilliam Darcy and the Bennet sisters dressed in American-antebellum corsets and huge frilly skirts. This Pride and Prejudice set the template for what an Austen adaptation was supposed to look and sound like: primly romantic, with both clothes and characters firmly buttoned up.

The 1990s were a boom time for that approach. Think Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma peeking out from under a bonnetor Kate Winslet daintily suffering a chill in Sense and Sensibility. The BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice stuck closely to its source material, and ended with a single, chaste postnuptial kiss between Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy.* The 2005 version, with Keira Knightley, veered into nauseating rom-com tweeness: A special ending for the U.S. market features the couple on the steps of Pemberley, joking about how keen Elizabeth is to be called “Mrs. Darcy.” The next fashion was to transplant Austen’s stories to new locations: Bollywood for 2004’s Bride and Prejudice, Pakistan for 2017’s Austenistan.

Today’s adapters, though, are tired of seeing the writer dismissed as a narrow chronicler of middle-class domestic gentility, and are turning to her unpublished fragments to make the case for another Jane Austen—sharp, satirical, and proto-feminist.

. . . .

Both Sanditon—which is being broadcast on Britain’s ITV and on PBS in the U.S.—and The Watsons, Laura Wade’s new play, take unfinished texts and canter off with the characters. Along with Austen’s abandoned novel Lady Susan, these pieces are spikier, more difficult, and more resistant to the bonnets-and-breeches treatment than her published works are. (Lady Susan, which was turned into 2016’s Love & Friendship, starring Kate Beckinsale, focuses on a widow trying to secure husbands for herself and her daughter. It is quietly radical: Imagine how different Pride and Prejudice would be told from the perspective of Mrs. Bennet.)

These new adaptations make a simple case: Costume dramas are not about wallowing in nostalgia, and Austen was not writing straightforward romances. Sanditon, for example, has an “acerbic, screwball tone,” according to its director, Olly Blackburn—in it, Austen was trying something new. “It’s like [Bob] Dylan going electric,” he told me.

At first glance, the plot of The Watsons, which is showing at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, is classic Austen—a young woman who has fallen on hard times tries to find a husband. As soon as Wade was commissioned to adapt the fragment for the stage, though, she realized that she had to take liberties with the material. The playwright was enough of an Austen fan, she told me, “to not want to do yet another Pride and Prejudice or whatever.”

In her play, the characters are self-aware—and notice a strange figure, named Laura, creeping around the period setting. Laura is a stand-in for the playwright herself, unable to resist seeing what an Austen story looks like from the inside. Realizing that they are actually in a play, the characters rebel against the confines of the narrative—two begin a lesbian relationship and set sail for India, and the heroine, Emma, rejects all the options available to a genteel but poor young woman in the early 19th century.

The play is funny, surreal, and full of affectionate iconoclasm. Wade sees Austen as a “brilliantly witty friend,” and was fascinated by why she abandoned The Watsons. Perhaps, Wade speculated, its premise was too close to Austen’s own life: The heroine’s father is dying, as was Austen’s when she wrote it. And after Austen discarded The Watsons, there was a gap of several years before she wrote her final three novels. (During this period, she also received a marriage proposal, which she turned down, but her reasoning is unknown, as her sister Cassandra burned her letters.)

Or maybe, Wade suggested, Austen abandoned The Watsons because she couldn’t work out which of the male characters would be a suitable match for her protagonist. “Maybe she couldn’t finish your story in the way she wanted,” the playwright-character Laura tells Emma. “She might have wanted to … make you some kind of amazing, bold, revolutionary feminist, but she thought her readers weren’t ready, or she was scared of it.” Wade said that the end of her script, which lets Emma explore the world without getting married, “felt like the more feminist thing that Jane Austen might have done if she were alive in a world where there were those possibilities.”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

PG wonders what segment of Austen fans wants to see sex and rage.

Fighting the tyranny of ‘niceness’: why we need difficult women

From The Guardian:

Difficult. It’s a word that rests on a knife-edge: when applied to a woman, it can be admiring, fearful, insulting and dismissive, all at once. In 2016, it was used of Theresa May (she was “a bloody difficult woman,” Ken Clarke said, when she ran for Tory leader). A year later, it gave the US author Roxane Gay the title for her short story collection. The late Elizabeth Wurtzel took “in praise of difficult women” as the strapline for her feminist manifesto in 1998. The book’s main title was, simply, Bitch.

The word is particularly pointed since it recurs so often when women talk about the consequences of challenging sexism. The TV presenter Helen Skelton once described being groped on air by an interviewee while pregnant. She did not complain, she said, because “that’s just the culture that television breeds. No one wants to be difficult.” The actor Jennifer Lawrence told the Hollywood Reporter that she had once stood up to a rude director. The reaction to the incident left her worried that she would be punished by the industry. “Yeah,” chipped in fellow actor Emma Stone: “You were ‘difficult’.”

All this is edging towards the same idea, an idea that is imprinted on us from birth: that women are called unreasonable, selfish and unfeminine when they stand up for themselves. 

. . . .

So what does it mean to be a difficult woman? I’m not talking about being rude, thoughtless, obnoxious or a diva. First of all, difficult means complicated. A thumbs-up, thumbs-down approach to historical figures is boring and reductive. Most of us are more than one thing; no one is pure; everyone is “problematic”. Look back at early feminists and you will find women with views that are unpalatable to their modern sisters. You will find women with views that were unpalatable to their contemporaries. They were awkward and wrong-headed and obstinate and sometimes downright odd – and that helped them to defy the expectations placed on them. “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself,” wrote George Bernard Shaw in 1903. “Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” (Or, as I always catch myself adding, the unreasonable woman.) A history of feminism should not try to sand off the sharp corners of the movement’s pioneers – or write them out of the story entirely, if their sins are deemed too great. It must allow them to be just as flawed – just as human – as men. Women are people, and people are more interesting than cliches. We don’t have to be perfect to deserve equal rights.

. . . .

The idea of role models is not necessarily a bad one, but the way they are used in feminism can dilute a radical political movement into feelgood inspiration porn. Holding up a few exceptions is no substitute for questioning the rules themselves, and in our rush to champion historical women, we are distorting the past. Take the wildly successful children’s book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, which has sold more than a million copies. It tells 100 “empowering, moving and inspirational” stories, promising that “these are true fairytales for heroines who definitely don’t need rescuing”. Its entry for the fashion designer Coco Chanel mentions that she wanted to start a business, and a “wealthy friend of hers lent her enough money to make her dream come true”. It does not mention that Chanel was the lover of a Nazi officer and very probably a spy for Hitler’s Germany. In the 1930s, she tried to remove that “wealthy friend” from the company under racist laws that forbade Jews to own businesses. In the name of inspiring little girls living in a male-dominated world, the book doesn’t so much airbrush Chanel’s story as sandblast it. Do you find her wartime collaboration with the Nazis “empowering”? I don’t, although admittedly she does sound like a woman who “didn’t need rescuing”. The real Coco Chanel was clever, prejudiced, talented, cynical – and interesting. The pale version of her boiled down to a feminist saint is not.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG notes that usually the history or biography of a noted individual of whatever gender, racial, etc., characteristics has more to do with the author of the history than the subject of the book.

To take Jane Austen as one example, PG suggests she and her books mean something entirely different in 2020 than they did in 1920 or in 1820, shortly after most of her books were written and published. (See Publication Dates of Jane Austen’s Novels and Minor Works)

Ms. Austen has not changed nor has the content of her books but, as with great creations of any era, they resonate with people living in much different settings and circumstances than the author did because they deal with timeless human characteristics and traits. Per the topic of the OP, Austen’s handful of books include difficult women of a different era.

Miss Bates and Parson Collins have no shortage of social and intellectual analogs in 2020 nor will they in 2120 (in PG’s pompously humble opinion).

Is Emma Really the Heroine of Emma?

From JSTOR:

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” So begins Emma, one of Jane Austen’s most beloved books. But not everyone is carried away by Emma’s charm. To some readers, her decidedly unhandsome actions—meddling in love affairs and acting like an entitled brat among them—are cause for vexation and distress in and of themselves. And, writes English scholar Barbara Z. Thaden, that could even be the point. “Emma was not intended to be or become a sympathetic character,” she writes—and, she suggests, Miss Woodhouse might not even be her eponymous book’s own heroine.

Unlike Austen’s other heroines, Emma is beloved and seemingly blessed. Well treated by her family and well regarded by everyone around her, she flies in the face of heroines like Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet, who is charming but without social cachet, Sense and Sensibility’s stoic Elinor Dashwood, or Persuasion’s forgotten spinster Anne Elliot. She resembles others in the Austen world, though—but as Thaden suggests, it’s the condescension, pride, and social security of plenty of Austen’s villains that she shares.

. . . .

Thaden dissects Emma’s supposed charm—a quality that, she argues, pulls the wool over readers’ eyes. Meddling, cruelty, and entitlement are interpreted by other characters, and readers, as evidence of her superiority, but unlike other charming and wealthy Austen characters, Emma never has to prove her worth. Instead, she manipulates other people’s lives and romances, and seems unlikely to change her ways after snagging Mr. Knightley, a longtime friend she has encouraged another woman to love.

The enigmatic Jane Fairfax, on the other hand, is given none of her foil’s intrinsic tools. Forced to seek a post as a governess because of her orphan status, she is the only woman Emma envies. But she is nothing like her: Where the richer Emma can do as she pleases, Jane must “endure silently while a flirt of high social standing plays with the man she loves.” Jane Fairfax, argues Thaden, is more like Jane Austen than most of her heroines.

Link to the rest at JSTOR

7 Noir Love Stories

From Crime Reads:

How do couples show their love? Some do it with flowers, because nothing screams romance like a handful of dying vegetation. Others send cute notes to one another, especially at this time of year. And in noir world, a lucky few get the chance to die together in a hail of high-velocity bullets.

Yes, romance in noir almost always starts out well, only to descend into death and despair (if you want to get truly pretentious and Greek about it, the characters’ eros, or love, just can’t overcome their thanatos, or death impulse). With that in mind, and in celebration of Valentine’s Day, here are seven films about lovestruck couples who truly go the distance—sometimes right into a police roadblock.

. . . .

Double Indemnity (1944)

Boy (Fred MacMurray as Walter Neff, smarmy) meets girl (Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson, ice-cold). Boy helps girl kill her husband and dispose of the body in a way that looks like an accident, so they can score an extra-large helping of insurance money (the “double indemnity” of the title). Boy and girl try to escape the subsequent investigation’s ever-tightening noose, even as boy begins to suspect that girl is a murder-crazed lunatic. Boy and girl turn on each other, adding to the body count. It’s the perfect Valentine’s Day movie—right before you deliver the breakup speech.

. . . .

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) is the ultimate act of cinematic transformation: It took a pair of dirty, doomed bank robbers—barely more than kids when they were ambushed and gunned down by law enforcement in 1934—and transformed them into extremely photogenic, almost relentlessly suave icons of American rebellion. At least, that’s the hot take; the film has far more layers than you might remember, if you haven’t seen it in a decade or two (or if you’ve never seen it at all, which is something you need to fix).

As portrayed by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker not only look good—they know they look good. But at crucial moments throughout the film, a far uglier reality intrudes. Friends, family, and innocent bystanders die messily; Clyde and Bonnie panic at the idea that there’s no way out. They don’t look quite so photogenic once the law has its way with them.

What the cinematic Bonnie and Clyde share with their historical inspiration is an all-consuming love, however doomed. One wonders how the real-life robbers, who were intensely aware of their media image when they were alive, would have regarded the 1967 film. They probably would have enjoyed being played by Beatty and Dunaway… and lamented the lack of a happy ending.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

Is Jane Austen the Antidote to Social Media Overload?

From JSTOR:

It’s exhausting to live in a world of constantly swirling social interaction, in which you never know who you’re going to hear from, or how you’ll live up to the pressure to respond. It’s uncomfortable to know that you can be assessed and measured by very public metrics, which amount to a transparent calculation of your worth. It’s stressful to hew to the standards of public discretion, knowing that any violation of propriety will be held against you forever.

These are the pains of living in the social-networking era—but they are also the pains of living in the world described by the nineteenth-century novels of Jane Austen. That’s why her well-loved books are worth revisiting at our particular moment, in search of wisdom on how to cope with the pressures of the digital age.

. . . .

The parallels between our world and Austen’s jumped out at me when I recently returned to her works after many years. When I first read Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at the age of fifteen, the World Wide Web had yet to be invented. When I picked up her next novels in my mid-twenties, it was still many years before the advent of blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

But I recently yielded to a sudden and acute Austen craving, which plunged me into six weeks of gorging on her work, this time in audiobook form. Austen’s words poured over me as I puttered through my daily tasks: Emma gossiping as I glanced at my morning email, Eliza Bennet whispering in my ear as I plugged my devices in to charge each night.

. . . .

 Indeed, as I plunged into Austen’s England from the very device that normally connects me to Facebook and Twitter, her world and ours looked more and more alike.

The similarities begin with the sheer volume of social interaction required of both English gentry and social media users. In addition to their month-long visits (does anyone want an Airbnb guest who stays that long?), Austen’s characters indulge in a daily exchange of “calls.” In “Jane Austen’s Speech Acts and Language-Based Societies,” Candace Nolan-Grant describes this practice as

the convention of calling on one’s acquaintances, which requires either conversing with the members of the household for at least fifteen minutes if they are home, or leaving a card if they are not. Calling on acquaintances typically does the following: announces that the caller deems his or her host worthy of notice and feels some obligation to call; obliges the host(s) to receive the caller and to return the visit; and opens (or closes, depending on the tenor of the visit) doors for further social intercourse.

At first, I envied Austen’s characters this daily face-to-face social interaction: I often go weeks without seeing even my closest friends in person, staying in touch via Facebook or SMS instead. But I soon found myself wondering how the inhabitants of Austen’s world put up with this constant pressure to socialize—until I realized that we face just as much demand for interaction, albeit in digital form. Austen’s characters may face a nonstop parade of callers, but at least they don’t have to deal with Facebook friend invitations and an endless series of requests to connect on LinkedIn.

Of course, if our inboxes are overflowing, it’s often because we’ve followed the many admonitions to build up our professional networks and attract social media fans. This is another way in which social media replicates the dynamics of Austen’s world: both place great emphasis on the value of introductions, and both quantify the value of each new friend or connection.

Link to the rest at JSTOR

PG wonders if there is any human behavior in any time period that Ms. Austen has not addressed.

Where Does RWA Go From Here?

From Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:

As of today, January 10, 2020, here’s where we are with the implosion of RWA:

  • Damon Suede has (finally) resigned…
  • after the recall petition filed by C. Chilove, the President of CIMRWA, Laurel Cremant, President-Elect, and Diana Neal, Treasurer, was certified and
  • after every major publisher pulled out of RWA Nationals
  • Executive Director Carol Ritter also resigned, except according to RWA’s January 9 statement, she’s staying on to assist with transition to new leadership.

. . . .

So things are sort of resolved: we got the first thing we asked for (repeatedly) which was that Suede step down and the leadership take some responsibility for the mess. They sort of did, and I think that is part of what makes this semi-resolution so unsatisfying for me.

There’s a lot of “sort of” in the RWA statement, too. There’s the continued presence of many of the people who contributed to the mess in the first place, such as remaining board members who were appointed by Suede, coupled with the onomatopology (term coined by author NPR host Linda Holmes) which doesn’t do nearly enough to address the valid concerns of the membership. I’m exhausted from mishegas that didn’t need to become as bad as it did, and dispirited as I ponder the next step.

Also: it is a lot easier to convince a publisher NOT to spend money than it is to convince them to spend money. So the loss of publisher participation and sponsorship is a BFD to the conference, the organization, and the future of writers who relied on RWA’s advocacy on their behalf when dealing with those same publishers.

. . . .

while discussing the destruction of RWA’s reputation over the past two weeks with people who aren’t part of the community, I was asked this question: Who does the organization serve?

That question is referenced in the RWA onomatopology released yesterday:

We know we have a lot more work to do to restore the trust we have lost – and we are going to do whatever it takes to get there so that we can focus on the mission of this organization: to promote the professional and common business interests of romance writers. Our goal is to ensure the successful future of this association so it can be an even stronger, better and more inclusive professional home and advocate for romance authors.

We hope you will join us – collaboratively and productively – in rebuilding an RWA that serves its diverse and talented members well into the future. We believe this community is worth saving. (Emphasis mine.)

I see a very large and tangled problem with that goal, to rebuild RWA into a “professional home and advocate for romance authors…that serves its diverse and talented members.”

Whom does RWA serve specifically?

“Diverse and talented romance authors” is not clear enough as a definition.

. . . .

In other words, if an organization wants to change, current members often represent the past, the status quo, or perhaps the opposite of that change.

People who aren’t members, and a portion of the current membership, might represent the future, the wished-for changes, the possibility that hasn’t happened yet.

Setting aside the question of leadership for a moment (and again, the current RWA board should be removed and re-elected in its entirety) it’s important to ask over and over: whom does this organization serve?

Who is the priority?

Because it cannot be both.

If RWA serves the current membership of RWA, well, that membership contains a substantial number of people who:

  • openly embrace and promote racist ideologies
  • post on RWA Facebook pages and in internal message boards about their homophobia and racist views on people of color
  • write transphobic and racist articles for and letters to the Romance Writers Report
  • …and I could keep going but it’s depressing.

A substantial part of the current membership of RWA is a substantial part of the problem with RWA.

If the organization wants to serve any marginalized writers, it can’t also serve that portion of the current membership. It’s impossible. One side has demonstrated in PAN forums, email messages, and social media posts that it refuses to recognize the humanity of the other, and refuses to recognize their culpability in maintaining a White supremacist, classist, heteronormative, racist culture inside RWA. Nor can it commit to changing that culture.

The organization also can’t serve marginalized writers if the leadership has a documented history of not acknowledging ethics complaints from marginalized individuals, and of publishing and allowing screeds against those individuals in print and online. RWA can’t serve anyone if the organization doesn’t fully reveal what happened in the specific case of the ethics complaint and process against Courtney Milan, and what happened to the complaints from every writer who has reported a problem.

RWA can’t maintain its current membership nor its leadership and at the same time say it’s going to rebuild. Rebuilding requires people in leadership positions who are trusted by current and prospective members. And it requires trust in fellow members of the community.

As Olivia Waite and others have pointed out, the January 9 statement from RWA was a word assemblage that scarcely resembled the appropriate level of apology, acknowledgement, and intent to act. It lists as next steps several actions they’ve already performed multiple times. More consultants, more town halls, more discussions are not going to fix RWA.

Link to the rest at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

PG is 100% an outsider in this mess, but he suspects that RWA is mortally wounded. Although he has actively participated in some non-profit legal organizations having nothing to do with writing and publishing in the past, he is not in any way an expert in this field.

However, such experiential shortcomings have never prevented PG (and many others) from expressing an opinion on all sorts of subjects.

He thinks it would probably be easier to build a new organization rather to deal with past complaints, slights, insults, leaders, stakeholders, etc. In metaphorical terms, RWA is a dirty slate which will require cleaning and reconstruction before it can begin to build a compelling new identity. It will require thoughtful and energetic work to demonstrate that all the bad/embarrassing/nasty pieces are gone and only a positive and energetic group remains.

An organization which is a clean slate can start working on structure, governance, solicitation of membership without having to spend any time or energy on past mistakes, bad feelings, etc. Those authors who have become angry and vowed to never have anything more to do with RWA would seem to be low-hanging fruit for a new organization.

In suggesting that a new organization is a better idea, PG is not minimizing the hard work necessary to build a successful non-profit with enough resources – leadership, financial, membership numbers, marketing and promotional talent, etc., to succeed. Any group thinking about starting a new organization will have to worry about competition from other groups that want to replace RWA as well.

Romance Writers Association Calls Off Annual Awards

From The New York Times:

The Romance Writers of America ended 2019 reeling from the backlash to its handling of a racism accusation. It is beginning this year by canceling its 2020 awards for romance novels, known in the industry as the Ritas, after it said that several contestants and judges had already pulled out.

The awards, which recognize “excellence in published romance novels and novellas,” are typically given during the trade organization’s annual conference in the summer. But in a statement released on Monday, the R.W.A. said that many had “lost faith” in its ability to conduct a fair contest, leading participants to withdraw.

“The contest will not reflect the breadth and diversity of 2019 romance novels/novellas and thus will not be able to fulfill its purpose of recognizing excellence in the genre,” it said in the statement, adding that it planned to recognize 2019 and 2020 books next year. The organization declined to comment further.

Romance books are a lucrative part of the publishing industry, with a deeply engaged fan base, but the lack of diversity among the genre’s writers has been an ongoing topic of debate. Many readers, writers and others in the community followed the turmoil that engulfed the R.W.A. late last month, when the organization suspended Courtney Milan, a former board member and chair of its ethics committee, and banned her from leadership positions in response to an ethics complaint. Ms. Milan, a romance writer who is Chinese-American, had criticized the depiction of Chinese women in the novel “Somewhere Lies the Moon,” prompting its author, Kathryn Lynn Davis, an honorary R.W.A. member, and Suzan Tisdale, who employs Ms. Davis at a publishing imprint, to file ethics complaints against Ms. Milan.

. . . .

The R.W.A.’s punishment was widely criticized on social media and by other writers, and the organization quickly reversed course on its decision. Still, eight board members resigned in protest, as did the former president Carolyn Jewel, and a petition calling for the resignation of the R.W.A.’s new president, Damon Suede, has been submitted to the organization.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

PG notes that it has become almost a full-time job for RWA to appoint new directors to replace the ones that have resigned.

A dispute over racism roils the world of romance novelists

Now the Economist weighs in.

From The Economist:

It began, like so many contemporary racial kerfuffles, on social media. Courtney Milan, a bestselling romance novelist and former chair of the Romance Writers of America (rwa)’s ethics committee (which sounds like fun) called “Somewhere Lies the Moon”, a historical novel by Kathryn Lynn Davis, “a f****** racist mess”. Ms Milan, who is Chinese-American, objected to physical descriptions (“slightly yellow” faces and “slanted almond eyes”) and to a character who said that Chinese women were “demure and quiet, as our mothers have trained us to be” and “modest and submissive, so they will make good wives.”

Ms Davis and Suzan Tisdale, a writer who also runs a romance-publishing imprint that employs Ms Davis, accused Ms Milan of violating several sections of the rwa’s ethics code. The rwa’s ethics committee dismissed all of Ms Davis’s complaints save one: that Ms Milan’s comments violated “the organisation’s expressed purpose of creating a ‘safe and respectful environment’” for its members. The committee recommended a year’s suspension of Ms Milan’s rwa membership, and a lifetime ban on holding any rwa leadership position.

. . . .

The romance-writing world was already roiled by issues of race and representation. In 2017 just over 6% of books released by major romance publishers were written by non-white writers, according to a study by The Ripped Bodice, a romance-only bookstore. HelenKay Dimon, a former rwa president, believes that one of the reasons this dispute raised such strong feelings was that “coming out of last year…there was a little bit of hope” that things were getting better, and that using the rwa’s ethics code to punish a non-white writer for calling out what she saw as racist stereotypes “felt like a violation”. LaQuette, a mononymous African-American romance writer, says that before the row blew up, “we were one step closer to finding that…support” for non-white romance writers. But that “this event in a matter of days destroyed all that.”

At this point, romance readers might wonder several things. Is it really unimaginable for a fictional woman in the 19th century—even a Chinese woman, with all the attendant stereotype warnings—to praise demureness and modesty? Why did Ms Davis not simply apologise for having given offence? Is there any fight more bitter than one among well-intentioned, decent people who are trying to convince each other that they are best intentioned and most decent?

. . . .

Tone-deaf racial representations in bodice rippers may rank fairly low on the hierarchy of America’s social ills. Yet if a trade group that has done well by numerous writers sunders over it, romance authors of all backgrounds may find themselves bereft. Tone-deaf racial representations in bodice rippers may rank fairly low on the hierarchy of America’s social ills. Yet if a trade group that has done well by numerous writers sunders over it, romance authors of all backgrounds may find themselves bereft.

Link to the rest at The Economist

The Romance Writers of America racism row matters because the gatekeepers are watching

From NBC News:

Let’s talk about the power of romance. There’s power in the written word, even in a genre that we tend to consider — because of sexism — less intellectual than some others. And it isn’t just about hearts and flowers and candy; this is cold hard cash: Romance as a literary genre represents a quarter of all fiction sales and more than half of all paperback sales, and it brings in over a billion dollars in sales annually.

The impact of romance books on the culture is outsize because everyone is interested in romance, whether they admit it publicly or not.

The business of selling books about love is often handled through the offices of the Romance Writers of America, or RWA. It’s the largest writers’ organization in the world, with nearly 10,000 members and 150 chapters. Because of those chapters and their dues-paying members, it has about $3 million in the bank, according to its latest publicly available tax filings — which should, in theory, mean that the RWA would be around for years to come.

Yet it’s been roiled by a series of scandals around inclusion and representation for most of the last decade, all of which have seemingly come to a head since shortly before Christmas. As outlined by The New York Times, that’s when the organization’s board voted to sanction a prominent Chinese American romance writer and former board member, Courtney Milan, for criticizing on Twitter the novel of a white writer, Kathryn Lynn Davis, as a “racist mess” for its stereotypical portrayals of Chinese women.

. . . .

The sanctions apparently were considered as part of a secretive process outside the organization’s normal ethics procedures, and they would have resulted in Milan’s being barred from a board position ever again. As a result of criticism after the incident became public, the sanctions have been suspended, but the firestorm has led to calls to recall the board president, as well as accusations that most ethics complaints go unheard — particularly those by non-white writers — and of favoritism by RWA staff and board members toward white and straight writers.

. . . .

Romance, like much other niche literature, interests readers from all walks of life — and the RWA membership, which is made up of writers, agents and publishers, almost reflects that reality. It should be one of the most democratic professional organizations in the publishing industry, working to grow the genre’s readership, especially in a time of flagging fiction sales. You can’t, however, do that without appealing to more diverse readers, especially as America itself is changing demographically.

. . . .

But whenever the topic of more inclusion in an industry comes up, it feels like there’s always someone insisting that diversity means lowering standards — or that calls for inclusion are bullying, which is essentially what Milan was accused of when she pointed out the racism of Davis’ portrayals of Chinese women.

. . . .

Having been involved in these debates myself, I find it hard not to notice that the people making the most noise against inclusivity are often those who have already put out racist or homophobic work and who strenuously object to their work’s being characterized as offensive at all. And though some other authors, when criticized, do pull their books off the shelf for rewrites, most shrug off the criticism or apologize and keep writing books.

Take Nora Roberts, one of the biggest names in romance: In a long statement backing Milan and criticizing the RWA’s long history of non-inclusivity, she also makes it clear that she doesn’t think her history is perfect, apologizing for the possibility of offensive imagery in a catalog of hundreds of books.

. . . .

But there’s inevitably a small contingent of writers who simply can’t handle being criticized, whether directly or indirectly. Vitriolic responses to critics are hardly limited to well-known writers; those who aspire to become household names are equally prone to them. Having your work dissected, discussed and sometimes even demeaned, however, is part of putting it out into the world. All writers know this — or at least they should — and writing romance novels is no exception.

Writers who want to make money, then, often hire sensitivity readers to help them sidestep pitfalls, especially if they don’t feel that their agents, editors or publishing houses are up to the challenge.

. . . .

Well, that’s where the cash comes in. Not only is romance big business for those already in it, but the possibility of attracting more readers — and their money — can also make those who think they deserve an audience regardless of the quality of their work antsy about competition from those trying to raise the quality of the industry overall. The complaint against Milan was fundamentally that her criticisms — accurate though they were — had cost other writers opportunities by drawing attention to their flaws.

. . . .

This is about writing, but it is also about our culture and whether we want the people who have traditionally influenced it to continue to do so without engaging with the consequences their work might visit on other communities. Everybody wants a little romance; what most people of color who read about it don’t want is romance novels written by white authors filled with stereotypes about people of color.

Link to the rest at NBC News

PG was going to bloviate further on this topic, but decided to simply ask why anyone would want to become/remain a member of RWA.

Based on this case, an organizational disagreement seems to present a potential threat to an author’s career/sales.

UPDATE: Here’s another unfavorable take on RWA from BookRiot.

Racism Dispute Roils Romance Writers Group

It’s hit The New York Times:

A dispute over a racism accusation and how it was handled have upended the romance writers’ community, with best-selling novelists speaking out against the Romance Writers of America and most of the powerful, 9,000-member trade organization’s board resigning in the last days of the year.

The R.W.A. on Monday said it was hiring a law firm to “to conduct an audit of the process and these events to provide a clear report of the facts.” The dispute arose over the group’s treatment of Courtney Milan, a former board member and chair of its ethics committee who last summer criticized Kathryn Lynn Davis’s novel “Somewhere Lies the Moon” on Twitter as a “racist mess.”

Ms. Milan, who is Chinese-American, took issue with the depiction of 19th-century Chinese women in the book, including a description of “slanted almond eyes” and a quote from a character describing them as “demure and quiet, as our mothers have trained us to be.” “The notion of the submissive Chinese woman is a racist stereotype which fuels higher rates of violence against women,” Ms. Milan wrote on Twitter.

Ms. Davis, who is an honorary R.W.A. member, disagreed with Ms. Milan’s assessment, saying her book was historically accurate and based on years of research. She filed an ethics complaint with the R.W.A., saying that Ms. Milan’s comments were “cyberbullying” and cost her a publishing contract.

“I would not have filed a complaint if she had been more professional,” Ms. Davis said of Ms. Milan.

In her response to the complaint, Ms. Milan said that the R.W.A.’s ethics code does not cover discussions on social media accounts it doesn’t operate, and said of her criticism: “I am emotional about these issues. Negative stereotypes of Chinese women have impacted my life, the life of my mother, my sisters, and my friends.”

. . . .

As a result of that complaint and one from another writer, Suzan Tisdale, who employs Ms. Davis at a publishing imprint and said she had lost potential authors as a result of the controversy, the R.W.A. told Ms. Milan earlier last week that her membership was suspended and she was banned for life from holding leadership positions within the organization.

Ms. Milan called the judgment “a form of betrayal” and shared the documents associated with the complaint with her friend and fellow romance writer Alyssa Cole, who posted them to Twitter.

“If it was now R.W.A.’s policy that talking about a book and specifically saying negative things about a book as a marginalized author was going to get you banned from the organization,” Ms. Milan said, “I felt that other marginalized people in the organization needed to know that.”

Once the documents were on social media, other writers, including best-selling romance novelists like Nora Roberts and Cynthia Eden, voiced their support for Ms. Milan. The R.W.A. quickly reversed course on its judgment, but eight board members resigned as well as the former president Carolyn Jewel, and a petition calling for the resignation of Damon Suede, the R.W.A.’s new president, began circulating online.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Why Disabled Romance Is Important

From All About Romance:

I started reading romance novels when I was 12 or 13. I remember reading them and thinking they were enjoyable but they weren’t about people like me. Nearly all of the characters were non-disabled, as well as being white, cis and heterosexual, and the few characters that were disabled were villains. When I did finally find romance novels with disabled leads, they were either cured of their disability or their significant other was portrayed as a saint who was willing to look past their disability.

Both of these tropes are so harmful. I was born disabled and I will always be disabled. There’s no option of being cured for me and even if there was, I wouldn’t take it. Being disabled is an intrinsic part of my identity and I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t disabled. I also don’t think being disabled is anything to be ashamed of and the idea that a partner would have to look past my disability in order to love me is incredibly hurtful.

These attitudes, of course, are a reflection on how society views disabled people. I hear stories all the time from other disabled people who have had complete strangers tell their partner that they must be a wonderful person in order to be with a disabled person. This attitude is dehumanising and suggests that being in a relationship with a disabled person is an act of charity. Most disabled people are surrounded by negative opinions on disability from the moment we’re born, it’s impossible not to internalise that and it’s easy to convince ourselves that we aren’t deserving of love or that we have to minimise our disability in order to get our happily ever after. Ableism is a daily reality for most disabled people but for me romance novels are supposed to be an escape from reality, an idealised version of what life can be like with the right person or people. Romance novels are supposed to be emotionally satisfying for the reader and that includes disabled readers.

Link to the rest at All About Romance

New Romance-Only Bookstore Aims to Bring Love to Tinley Park

From Patch:

The second romance-only bookstore in the country opened in Tinley Park in mid-June. Love’s Sweet Arrow is owned and operated by mother-daughter team Roseann and Marissa Backlin, who were inspired to open the business by their love for romance novels.

“Romance is one of the most widely read genres in publishing, and yet there were only two exclusively romance bookstores in the world before we opened. And the only other one in the country is on the west coast,” Marissa Backlin said. “We wanted to do our part to change that and give romance readers a place to find their favorite books in the Midwest judgement-free.”

Developing the store from idea to actual opening took about a year.

“We had to do a lot of research into authors, publishing houses, form a business plan and attempt crowdfunding,” said Roseann Backlin, who also works as a food service manager at a local elementary school. The Backlins did a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $12,000 and are now accepting donations on Patreon. “We reached out to friends who had spare bookshelves, went to a resale shop [for furniture] and were lucky enough to get some of our used stock from a retiring bookstore owner.”

. . . .

In the age of impersonal ordering on Amazon, Love’s Sweet Arrow aims to be more than just an independent bookseller offering new and used novels. Marissa and Roseann hope to make it a community space, with events centered on bringing local residents together.

“In part of our research, we found that independent bookstores that focused on that community space feel and provided events for the community at large were more successful and were embraced by the community,” Marissa said.

Love’s Sweet Arrow hosts its own book club every other month, but encourages other local clubs to host meetings at the store.

Link to the rest at Patch

PG went to school and lived for several years in the Chicago area. While he vaguely remembered the name, Tinley Park, he had no idea where it was located.

A quick search revealed that Tinley Park is a village of 56,000 in South suburban Chicago east of Joliet.

While 56,000 people sounds a bit large for a “village,” if PG recalls correctly, under state law, Illinois has Cities, Towns and Villages. They are each forms of municipal government and PG seems to remember that no more Towns are being created, just Cities and Villages.

The Ripped Bodice Bookstore Owners Are Bringing Their Romance Expertise to Television

Shy and retiring creature that he is, PG just learned about The Ripped Bodice.

From The Bustle:

If you’re something of a bookshop connoisseur, you’ll know all about The Ripped Bodice Bookstore in Culver City, CA — a shop entirely dedicated to selling books that fall squarely within the romance genre. Founded by sisters Bea and Leah Koch, the shop opened in 2016 after their super-successful Kickstarter campaign raised over $90,000 and quickly became a go-to destination for romance novel events and readings. Now, just two years later, the Koch sisters are taking their expertise from the shelves to the small screen.

Earlier this week, it was the announced that the duo have inked a deal with Sony Pictures Television to develop romance-based projects for TV, based on their unique position of expertise within the industry. And something tells me I’m about to have a lot more television marathon-watching in my future. According to an article in EW, the Koch’s were first approached by Sony employees at their store (apparently Sony is only blocks away from The Ripped Bodice storefront) and a partnership grew organically from there.

. . . .

After all, the romance genre has pretty much always been primarily created by and for women, but the film versions of these stories haven’t always followed suit. In 2017, most major film producers, directors and writers were still overwhelmingly male, according to statistics collected by Women & Hollywood.

Link to the rest at The Bustle

Male Fatphobia in Romance Novels: Why Does Romance Hate Overweight Men?

From All About Romance:

In all my years of romance reading, the only hero I recall who was described as overweight was Henry Tewskbury-Hampton of Carla Kelly’s delightful vintage Signet regency Miss Billings Treads the Boards.

Over twenty years.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of books.

Precisely one slightly saggy midsection. Which tightened up by the end of the story.

It’s always difficult to find a cause from looking at end products alone, and I’m sure this state of affairs reflects varying degrees of reader preference, author choice, and editor or publisher requirement, depending on the book. And I’m not saying your Navy SEALs or your shapeshifting werewolf warriors can’t be in peak physical condition, or even that you shouldn’t want your Regency ducal sundae topped with a six pack, however historically implausible that mixed metaphor is. Just because I happen to like bigger men (in fiction and in real life) doesn’t mean everybody has to write it (although I’d be delighted if somebody did, and I welcome recommendations in the comments).

I’m not demanding fat heroes, but I’m done – I’m beyond done – with fat losers.

. . . .

I originally intended to put quotes in this post in which authors used weight to identify their duds and deadbeats, but I realized quite quickly that it wasn’t going to work. There are just too damn many examples. It didn’t seem fair or productive to call out a few authors arbitrarily when the entire industry is taking the same cheap shot.

So as a thought exercise, I wrote some quotes of my own.

Such is the power of male weight in romance novels that I can invent descriptions of male characters and transform them from heroes to zeroes just by changing the words describing their bodies.

Imagine if you read:

Mrs. Gates’s son Robert was moving back into his mother’s house across the street. His sweaty t-shirt clung to his sculpted abs as he carried a television down the steps to the basement.

Your immediate take would likely be that Robert is going to be this novel’s hero. He’s a good guy, probably home because his mom is sick, or he’s between deployments. You probably can’t wait for the other protagonist to meet him.

But what if the author changed that description, just a tiny, tiny bit? Now, instead of the previous quote, you read:

Mrs. Gates’s son Robert was moving back into his mother’s house across the street. His sweaty t-shirt clung to his pudgy belly as he carried a television down the steps to the basement.

Nothing has changed about Robert except his stomach, but that’s enough to tell you he’s going to be a loser. The television, the mom’s basement – it means something totally different when the hero is fat. This Robert isn’t a caretaker or Marine on leave, he’s an unemployed man-child addicted to video games and internet trolling. That sweat is probably yellow, and it definitely stinks.

Link to the rest at All About Romance

Eight Hot Trollopes

From The Millions:

Does the now rather tame eroticism of Victorian novels restrict their readership mostly to English majors, culture warriors invested in traditional moralities, and Masterpiece fans? Here’s an experiment for more jaded 21st-century readers: let’s take a quick tour of the love scenes of a famous Victorian novelist, Anthony Trollope, who is more celebrated for his lengthy chronicles of Victorian society and politics than romance, to see if his writings still intrigue or even enflame. Such a tour might help readers decide whether they want to read through all of Trollope’s 47 novels or, say, to work through the 800-ish pages of Can You Forgive Her? to find the one embrace, where, exemplifying both her passion and her shame in that passion, Alice Vavasor still shrinks guiltily from her lover as she accepts him.

Erotic encounters in Trollope can now seem both anachronistic and unintentionally funny not only because the author was a rather standard-model Victorian moralist but also because his novels often are more invested in the social or the political than the romantic. As Trollope admitted in An Autobiography, he shrewdly wrote romance into his novels to attract readers to whom he could teach moral lessons: “dealing with love is advantageous” since “the passion is one which interests or has interested all.” Briefly assessing the lurching forms of hugging and kissing in Trollope, however, will show that his works aren’t just period pieces. Instead, our survey will reveal an intriguing clash between the author’s conventional social views and his impish literary impulses—and, more fascinatingly, between those same views and the quiet stirrings of a few proto-modern ideas. For concision, we’ll restrict ourselves to his two major novelistic series, the six Barchester novels and the six Palliser novels, starting with Trollope at his most literary and moving from there.

1. The Embarrassments of Attraction
In Phineas Finn, the eponymous hero, after unsuccessfully romancing three ladies above his station, conforms to garden-variety Victorian values by marrying his hometown sweetheart, Mary Flood Jones, who has pined for him from afar the whole novel. “’Mary,’ he said, ‘will you be my wife,—my own wife?’…When half an hour had passed, they were still together, and now she had found the use of her tongue. ‘Do whatever you like best,’ she said. . . . Then he took her in his arms and kissed her. ‘Oh, Phineas!’ she said, ‘I do love you so entirely!’” Presumably, Mary isn’t using that tongue to kiss him back; she is instead a morally suitable example of Victorian female subservience and restraint. Like many 19th-century writers, Trollope often associates physical attraction with danger and self-control with virtue: his heroines Lily Dale, Glencora Palliser (for a while), and Emily Wharton are all betrayed by their attachments to handsome men who appear to act like gentleman but instead jilt, drink and gamble, and ruinously speculate, respectively. But Trollope knew he was employing a literary cliché here in Phineas Finn. And Mary’s long silent treatment reads like an absurdist expansion of famous scenes like the moment when even 19th-century British literature’s most verbose pixie, Elizabeth Bennett, is briefly silenced and cannot even look at Mr. Darcy right after he proposes. By contrast, Mary is revealed here as a characterological bore, and, presumably admitting defeat, Trollope conveniently killed her off before the sequel Phineas Redux. He often had trouble fully committing to conventional romantic narratives.

Link to the rest at The Millions

Eat First: More Romances That Will Make You Hungry

From Book Riot:

I recently went on a romance-related trip to New Orleans, which means basically all my thoughts the whole time there were twofold: romance novels and food. There is a lot of good food in New Orleans, so the only reason I wasn’t drooling over these books was that I was devastatingly full the whole time. But these books are legit appetizing, and you should definitely check them out.

The Ultimate Pi Day Party

Jackie Lau’s Baldwin Village series (Starting with One Bed For Christmas) is all about eating, and this one is no exception. It starts just before Valentine’s Day, when Josh, the CEO of a local app development company, wanders into Happy as Pie, Sarah’s shop. After having some of the most delightful pie of the sweet and savory kind, Josh comes up with a way to lure his estranged father—a math nerd extraordinaire—to visit him in Toronto and speak to him again: the ultimate Pi Day party, complete with a total smorgasbord of pies. He and Sarah have to meet to figure it all out, but there’s also a chemistry between them. Has been since they met. What can they do about that, while also maintaining their professional relationship?

Eat, that’s what they can do.

Or at least it feels like it. There’s so much hungrifying stuff in the pages of this book, and it makes it all the better for it. The pies are scrumptious (yes, scrumptious!) and there’s plenty of other food to drool over while you’re reading. Which isn’t great if you’re trapped on a two hour flight with pretzels and cookies that you can’t eat because flour. And then of course there’s the people, who both have strong but complicated relationships with their families, particularly their parents. The resolution of the story has more than one resolution, which is great, and more food, which is also great. If that’s not enough hunger, you also want to check out Ice Cream Lover, which just came out! (Much more dessert in that one, but you might also want to find the nearest place that has soup dumplings. Not gonna joke.)

Link to the rest at Book Riot





Romance Bestsellers and Hot New Releases

Kindle Romance Bestsellers

Here are Amazon’s Hot New Romance Releases Print/Kindle Combined), Updated Hourly:

Romance

Almost 40% of hetero and 60% of same-sex couples now meet online for the first time

From Fast Company:

That’s according to a new study conducted by sociologists Michael Rosenfeld and Sonia Hausen of Stanford University and Reuben Thomas of Arizona State University. It looked at data from the multiyear How Couples Meet and Stay Together survey and found that, in 2017, meeting online was by far the most frequent way people met their significant others. Some findings from the study:

  • In 2017 39% of heterosexual and 60% of same-sex couples met online. That compares to only 2% of couples meeting online in 1995.
  • Fewer couples are now also meeting through friends or family. In 1995 33% of couples met through mutual friends and 15% met through family. In 2017 only 20% of couples met through mutual friends and 7% met through family.
  • Even relationship-forming hotbeds like your college years saw a decline in couples meeting during this time. In 1995 9% of couples met in college versus only 4% in 2017. That means in 2017 a couple was as likely to meet in college as they were in church.
  • There are also fewer couples meeting through or as coworkers. In 1995 19% of couples met via work, but only 11% of couples met via work in 2017.
  • The only place outside of the internet where couples meeting for the first time grew were in a bar or restaurant. In 1995 19% of couples met in a bar or restaurant. That number shot up to 27% in 2017.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

PG will leave questions about how this impacts contemporary romance novels to those who are expert in the field.

.

Shelf Policing: How Books (And Cacti) Make Women Too ‘Spiky’ for Men

As a preliminary note, PG will remind one and all that he doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he posts on TPV.

From The Guardian:

“How to avoid turning your home into a MANrepeller”, the Daily Mailproclaimed from atop the mountain on Sunday. “Interiors therapist reveals the items that could be making your abode offputting to men.”

It could be forgiven for wanting to jump on the Marie Kondo bandwagon, but the twist obviously had to be that the gaze you must please is not your own, but a man’s.

Femail’s nominated manrepeller was a journalist named Liz Hoggard, and her salvation came in the form of life coach Suzanne Roynon, whose mission is to “clear your past and present clutter to create a new relationship in your life”.

How does it work in practice? Well, there are a number of rules. You should not have too many paintings of “strong, iconic” but single women in your home; cacti are bad because they’re “too spiky”.

. . . .

Speaking of bedrooms – books apparently aren’t allowed in there, as they are a room for “sleep and love”. This raises some questions. Does it mean that if you like reading a book in bed you must then go put it back elsewhere in the house just before falling asleep? Is one book (singular) in the bedroom fine but two or more forbidden? What if you do find a partner thanks to your attractive new flat and he also enjoys reading in bed, does this create a loophole? Should you read this singular book together at the same time? Any word on Kindles?

Roynon doesn’t expand on these particular quandaries, but does offer more advice on books. As it turns out, a single woman in search of companionship should not own novels with “depressing titles” like Little Deaths or The Suspect.

. . . .

Or maybe put Normal People by Sally Rooney in a place where he is sure to spot it. Not only is it a good book, but it will subconsciously tell him that you are, in fact, normal. Just a normal woman, looking for a normal man, so you can be a normal couple together, living in your normal house. Normal, normal, normal. What’s not to love?

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Kindle Romance Bestsellers

Kindle Romance Bestsellers

 

‘The Victorian and the Romantic’ Review: A Doctorate in Desire

From The Wall Street Journal:

 As a burgeoning memoirist, Nell Stevens specializes in starting out in the wrong direction. In 2013 she went off to the Falkland Islands to write a novel. She ended up writing a memoir about not writing a novel, published last year as “Bleaker House.” In this year’s memoir—“The Victorian and the Romantic”—she details her efforts to finish her dissertation on the Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell and describes her pursuit of love instead.

In parts of Ms. Stevens’s narrative, former graduate students will recognize the narrow monomanias of early attempts at scholarship: the gnomic comments from advisers, the Sitzfleisch in rare-book rooms, the heart-stopping error in a transcribed quotation. But that’s all really just background for Ms. Stevens’s grande passion: Max. Even as she waxes lyrical about Max’s “tousled black hair,” “the reassuring thickness of his forearm” and the charm of his “chin, or his waist, or his knees,” Ms. Stevens is conscious that “other people’s desires . . . are always hard to comprehend.” As she notes, “former passions of my own . . . seem overblown and embarrassing with hindsight.” And yet she cannot resist the all-too-human desire to see her own feelings for Max reflected everywhere around her. Which takes us to back to Elizabeth Gaskell.

Outwardly, the journeys of Ms. Stevens and Mrs. Gaskell are quite dissimilar. In 1857, Gaskell, the middle-aged wife of a Unitarian minister in Manchester, traveled to Rome with two of her daughters to give herself a vacation after writing what turned out to be a ground-breaking biography of her recently deceased friend Charlotte Brontë. In 2013, Ms. Stevens, a doctoral candidate at King’s College London, took the Eurostar to Paris to meet up with her as-yet-unrequited love interest, a former MFA classmate whom she had gotten to know when she was studying in Boston.

Inwardly, however, Ms. Stevens identifies her own situation with Gaskell’s: embarked on a quest for a marriage of true minds. One member of Gaskell’s Roman circle was a younger man already famous for his gift for friendship, the sunny-natured Charles Eliot Norton. His father had had the distinction of being Emerson’s most disliked professor at Harvard, and he himself was a Harvard professor (in fine arts) as well as one of the co-founders of the Nation magazine. He showed his good literary judgment in writing the first positive review of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” in 1855. From across the Atlantic he had already admired Gaskell’s novels, the best known of which today are “Cranford” and “North and South.” “A wonderful story-teller,” Norton had written of her, “never exaggerating and always dramatic.”

. . . .

Here, for instance, is a piece of a letter that Gaskell wrote to Norton four years after their time in Rome: “Oh! Don’t you long to go back to Rome. Meta & I were SO talking about you . . . and about your face as we first saw it,—and this morning comes your letter.” How did Gaskell feel as she wrote this sentence? Ms. Stevens believes Norton’s face was “an object of desire” that made Gaskell’s “heart thud and her cheeks flush.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Kindle Romance Bestsellers 

Kindle Romance Bestsellers

 

To cash in on Kindle Unlimited, a cabal of authors gamed Amazon’s algorithm

From The Verge:

On June 4th, a group of lawyers shuffled into a federal court in Manhattan to argue over two trademark registrations. The day’s hearing was the culmination of months of internet drama — furious blog posts, Twitter hashtags, YouTube videos, claims of doxxing, and death threats.

The lawyers carried with them full-color exhibits of the trademarks in context. First up, two shirtless men with stethoscopes, embracing a woman, with the words Her Cocky Doctorsboldly printed below. Next: two shirtless men flanking a woman in a too-big firefighter’s jacket, with the words Her Cocky Firefighters emblazoned in the same font.

“What is in the content of Her Cocky Firefighters?” asked the judge, surveying the exhibits.

“It appears to be a male-female-male romance,” said a lawyer for one of the defendants. “Beyond that, I imagine it involves one or two of the male characters is a firefighter.”

The judge looked over Her Cocky Doctors. “Two male figures. One seems to be wearing a stethoscope, indicating he is a doctor, but he is stripped to the waist.”

“Doesn’t look like my doctor, your Honor,” said the lawyer drily.

They were gathered there that day because one self-published romance author was suing another for using the word “cocky” in her titles. And as absurd as this courtroom scene was — with a federal judge soberly examining the shirtless doctors on the cover of an “MFM Menage Romance” — it didn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

The fight over #Cockygate, as it was branded online, emerged from the strange universe of Amazon Kindle Unlimited, where authors collaborate and compete to game Amazon’s algorithm. Trademark trolling is just the beginning: There are private chat groups, ebook exploits, conspiracies to seed hyperspecific trends like “Navy SEALs” and “mountain men,” and even a controversial sweepstakes in which a popular self-published author offered his readers a chance to win diamonds from Tiffany’s if they reviewed his new book.

Much of what’s alleged is perfectly legal, and even technically within Amazon’s terms of service. But for authors and fans, the genre is also a community, and the idea that unethical marketing and algorithmic tricks are running rampant has embroiled their world in controversy. Some authors even believe that the financial incentives set up by Kindle Unlimited are reshaping the romance genre — possibly even making it more misogynistic.

A genre that mostly features shiny, shirtless men on its covers and sells ebooks for 99 cents a pop might seem unserious. But at stake are revenues sometimes amounting to a million dollars a year, with some authors easily netting six figures a month. The top authors can drop $50,000 on a single ad campaign that will keep them in the charts — and see a worthwhile return on that investment.

In other words, self-published romance is no joke.

. . . .

Qhen author Dakota Willink attended the Romance Writers of America conference last year, she didn’t know anything about the “cocky” trademark. She hadn’t heard of Faleena Hopkins, the self-published author who registered the mark, or of Tara Crescent, the other author whom Hopkins is now suing.

The RWA conference is the beating heart of the romance industry, a business-first trade conference with editorial pitch meetings and marketing workshops. It’s also the center of the warm, accepting, and woman-focused culture that the romance community is so proud of. In an episode of This American Life in 2003, reporter Robin Epstein expresses surprise at the environment she encounters at RWA. “What the hell is going on here?” she asks herself rhetorically. “The famous writers are nice, the editors are nice, and this is the publishing business.”

This was Willink’s first time at RWA, and she was spending much of her time with her new personal assistant, Lauren Valderrama.

Valderrama is also the personal assistant for several other successful romance authors — names that frequently dominate the romance charts on Amazon. In the world of self-published romance, a personal assistant does anything from formatting books to handling social media and publicity to sending out advance review copies. It’s enough work that it was a little unusual for Valderrama to be handling so many top-ranking, prolific clients. But that track record was appealing when Valderrama had originally reached out to Willink, professing to be a fan and suggesting that they work together.

According to Willink, over the course of RWA, Valderrama told her about certain marketing and sales strategies, which she claimed to handle for other authors. Valderrama allegedly said that she organized newsletter swaps, in which authors would promote each other’s books to their respective mailing lists. She also claimed to manage review teams — groups of assigned readers who were expected to leave reviews for books online. According to Willink, Valderrama’s authors often bought each other’s books to improve their ranking on the charts — something that she arranged, coordinating payments through her own PayPal account. Valderrama also told her that she used multiple email addresses to buy authors’ books on iBooks when they were trying to hit the USA Today list.

The Bookclicker chat group exists on Ryver, a clone of Slack (internal chat software for businesses). It was founded by a USA Today best-selling author named Chance Carter, known to some as a “notorious Kindle Unlimited abuser.” Carter’s name came up in half a dozen interviews as a pioneer of questionable and highly lucrative marketing practices. In the middle of reporting this story, almost of all of Carter’s very popular books were removed from Amazon, for reasons that remain unclear. A spokesperson for Amazon said that as a matter of policy, the company did not comment on individual cases.

. . . .

It’s not clear if these early book-stuffers moved onto the self-publishing romance scene, or if some of the self-publishing romance authors began to pick up on these tricks. Either way, book stuffing plagues the romance genre on Kindle Unlimited, with titles that come in at 2000 or even 3000 pages (the maximum page length for a Kindle Unlimited book). That’s approximately the length of Atlas Shrugged or War and Peace.

Book stuffing is particularly controversial because Amazon pays authors from a single communal pot. In other words, Kindle Unlimited is a zero-sum game. The more one author gets from Kindle Unlimited, the less the other authors get.

The romance authors Willink was discovering didn’t go in for clumsy stuffings of automatic translations or HTML cruft; rather, they stuffed their books with ghostwritten content or repackaged, previously published material. In the latter case, the author will bait readers with promises of fresh content, like a new novella, at the end of the book.

. . . .

Of course, you might be wondering if any readers actually read through all 3000 pages. But authors deploy a host of tricks in service of gathering page reads — from big fonts and wide spacing to a “link back.” Some authors would place a link at the very front of the book, to sign up to a mailing list. The link would take them to the back of the book, thus counting all pages read. It’s not clear whether any of this actually works. A spokesperson for Amazon told The Verge that Amazon uses a standardized page count that won’t take big fonts or wide spacing into account. A June blog post by the Kindle Direct Publishing Team assured authors that the KENPC system (Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count) recorded pages read with “high precision” and that the company was constantly working to improve its “fidelity.”

. . . .

The stereotype of a Kindle Unlimited author is someone who is “pumping out short, pulpy reads,” in the words of best-selling romance writer Zoe York. But even if you write well, write prolifically, and cater to the market, it still doesn’t mean you’ll find success. “That skill set of finding a cold audience, getting them to hook into your product, and then consume through your product backlist, that’s harder than it sounds,” says York. The people who do succeed have that skill set. “They’re not good writers, but they’re great marketers.”

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Kathlena for the tip.

The Changing Face of Romance Novels

From The New York Times:

Growing up in Minnesota, Helen Hoang suffered from crippling social anxiety and struggled to make friends. She found refuge in romance novels, frothy stories that allowed her to experience intense feelings that were clearly spelled out on the page, always with the promise of a happy ending. “It was like I found a pure, undiluted drug,” she said.

Many years later, as a mother of two in her 30s, Ms. Hoang began researching autism and realized that she’s on the spectrum, a condition that makes it difficult for her to hold casual conversations, read emotional cues, have an office job and meet new people. She once again turned to romance. But this time, she wrote the story herself.

So far, romance fans have swooned over Ms. Hoang’s debut novel, “The Kiss Quotient,” a multicultural love story centered on an autistic woman who has trouble navigating the nuances of dating and courtship. Readers have flooded the website Goodreads with more than 7,000 positive ratings, and the book, which was published in June, is already in its fourth printing.

The novel’s unexpected success is all the more astonishing given the striking lack of diversity within the romance genre. Romance novels released by big publishing houses tend to center on white characters, and rarely feature gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people in leading roles, or heroines with disabilities. Even as the genre has evolved to reflect readers’ varied tastes and fetishes — popular subcategories include vampire and werewolf romance, military romance, cowboy romance, time travel romance, pirate and Viking romance — the lead characters are often confined to a fairly narrow set of ethnic, cultural and aesthetic types.

“Publishers aren’t putting out books by many people of color and they’re giving us limited space at the table,” said the romance writer Rebekah Weatherspoon, who has published some novels with small presses and self-published others, including “Sated,” which features a black heroine and a disabled, bisexual Korean-American hero. “It’s definitely not a level playing field.”

. . . .

“Readers want books that reflect the world they live in, and they won’t settle for a book about a small town where every single person is white,” said Leah Koch, co-owner of the romance bookstore the Ripped Bodice in Culver City, Calif. Last year, six of her store’s top 10 best-selling novels were written by authors of color, Ms. Koch said.

. . . .

Romance publishers say that they want to publish books with more diverse characters and settings, but argue that it’s a challenge in part because the majority of submissions still come from white authors. The genre’s largest organization, the Romance Writers of America, which has around 10,000 members, recently conducted a survey and found that nearly 86 percent of its members are white.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

The last time PG checked, KDP doesn’t ask for the racial background of an author before publishing a book. He suspects the large majority of traditionally-published authors have never told their agents or publishers their racial identity.

Is there an assumption that, unless an author discloses their racial identity that they are a person of no color? Is there an assumption that an author of color will always mention that fact? From what source does such an assumption arise?

PG is old enough to remember when apartheid (separateness) was the law in South Africa and each person received an official racial designation recognized by both law and tradition – white, black, coloured and Asian. That racial identity was the basis of how each person was treated socially, professionally and legally. Racial identity was the most important part of a person’s identity and underpinned a racial spoils system that distributed favors, prestige, rights and riches based upon a person’s race.

Apartheid was and is rightfully condemned as a violation of fundamental human rights and a deep moral failing of any nation that practices it.

For a very long time, a government and society that was colorblind, recognizing rights and providing favors and opportunities regardless of racial identity was the epitome of fairness and justice, the polar opposite of apartheid.

PG finds a renewal of apartheid in 21st century America and elsewhere to be disgusting and distasteful. The idea that we must always be aware of each person’s race and take steps to adjust individual privileges, talents and desires so that any group of individuals is comprised of all racial groups in the proper proportions strikes PG as apartheid with a data-centric face. There are, of course, exceptions to these rules that apply to almost any group in which persons of color are overrepresented. Overrepresentation of a particular racial group on the basketball team is fine, but overrepresentation on the swimming team is a problem.

If the Romance Writers of America need to pay a lot more attention to the racial makeup of its membership because the racial background of romance authors is an important metric of racial equality, what about the racial background of romance readers?

Should the owner of a bookstore recommend books by Anglo American authors only to white readers and steer African American readers to books by African Americans and Hispanic readers to Hispanic authors? Should a bookstore have separate sections for whites, blacks and Hispanics with appropriate signage and instruct its clerks to direct those walking in the door to books with the appropriate racial pedigree to the appropriate racial section? What is the store to do if it is unable to locate a book about the Balkan Wars written by an Hispanic author to stock in its history section for Hispanics?

PG apologizes for a political take on a topic related to authors and their books, but he finds the idea of a kinder, gentler apartheid and the excessive attention being paid to the racial composition of various groups of people to be insultingly retrograde.

Jane Austen’s Practical Concerns About Marriage Are Still Relevant

From Lit Hub:

I wasn’t the type of young person to seek out Jane Austen on my own. Period manners and marriage plots? Thanks, but pass; I’d seen Clueless and was pretty sure I got the gist. But with few discernible interests apart from books (and tastes that, I’m mortified to report, leaned more toward Bukowski than Brontë), combined with an even less developed sense of professional aptitude, my undergrad self ended up settling into a new identity as an English lit major. Austen, naturally, became a part of my new life. My 18th-century British lit professor, an affable young adjunct with a clump of Day-Glo orange hair, put Pride and Prejudice squarely on the syllabus during our semester on the Romantic era. This novel, he told us, signaled a major shift in social values, and was therefore important to understand. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Pride and Prejudice famously concerns the courtship of a family of sisters who need to marry into money to preserve the family’s social standing as members of the landed gentry. The new, period-specific catch is that the sisters should also, ideally, be fond of the well-off dudes they marry—and it’s this new requirement of affability, even maybe something akin to love, that leads to dramatic tension and lessons learned by all. But to me, it barely seemed worthy of being called a predicament.

. . . .

It seemed much less intimidating to accept an eligible suitor on the simple grounds of mutual regard and material security—to say, “I like your bank account and can tolerate your person,” and move on. The clear directive to simply secure an economically advantageous match would have certainly taken the guesswork out of my own romantic future. I’d been brought up with the same expectations of a majority of my straight-leaning female friends: that it was not just possible but preferable to expect everything from one person, forever.

Austen’s era marked a relatively new way of thinking about the role of marriage, one organized on the individualistic notion of personal happiness rather than the participation in a tradition of social and family organization. The Romantic period made way, you could say, for romance. And in Austen’s novels, the folly implicit in the pursuit of romance drives the action. Not that Austen was herself a fool for love; as a writer and thinker she acutely recognized that the ideal relationship is a tough one to come by. (It feels mean but important to mention here that Austen died alone.)

Even considering how she put love on the agenda, the expectations of marriage Austen laid out in her works, by the standards of their 21st-century analogs, verge on the enviably quaint. Contemporary relationship narratives apply unending pressure to settle down without ever settling for. We are told, loud and clear and over and over, that Mr. Right will come along, and he’ll give us butterflies and the feeling of home, he’ll be our best friend and the man of our dreams. To compromise would guarantee a lifetime of regret and undermine our self-respect—the opposite of the girl power we’ve grown up with.

Austen’s heroines have been beloved through the ages because they still read as wise, rising above the bullshit that their more tragic foils inevitably succumb to. Elizabeth Bennet only accepts the hand of wealthy suitor Mr. Darcy once she recognizes his strength of character. Her younger sister Lydia, meanwhile, narrowly escapes social ruin by taking up with the moneyless cad Wickham, who then has to be bribed into marrying her. Austen’s heroines do not compromise; they just happen to gravitate toward their most ideal outcome, as though self-interest were commensurate with moral fortitude.

Link to the rest at Lit Hub

PG says part of Jane Austen’s genius was writing about fundamental human emotions, traits and behaviors that have transcended time.

He suggests it’s the same reason Shakespeare’s plays are still widely performed while plays written by contemporaries such as Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson have disappeared from today’s culture.

Fantasy for Romance Readers

From All About Romance:

I love romance for the same reasons I love other genres: intriguing characters with problems, who need others’ help to find solutions.  In romance, the main romantic couple are generally the intriguing characters, and they help each other to solve the problem, whether it’s loneliness or something more complex, like thwarting that evil old uncle who’s trying to divert your inheritance to his unsavory pals.  In fantasy, there may be a couple of main characters, or there may be a larger group with more complex interrelationships.

This post is meant to provide a beginner’s guide for romance readers who’ve wanted to try fantasy but were feeling daunted by all that’s available; hopefully, those who are fantasy readers already might find something new, though I’m focusing on older, ‘classic’ books that one might not come across in casual browsing.

If you’re in search of epic fantasy, Kate Elliott has a couple of series that should appeal. Beginning with Cold Magic [2010], she created a world in which Carthage never fell, with consequent huge differences for Europe and North and South America; there’s an “opposites attract” romance as well, though not until the second volume.

. . . .

Many romance readers already love the addictive work of Lois McMaster Bujold, either her long-running and devourable Vorkosiganscience fiction series, or her more recent fantasy series, Chalion [2001] and The Sharing Knife [2006]. Bujold is known for her large casts of likeable characters who face seemingly unsurmountable challenges…until they conquer those challenges in ways you would not expect. Her series are especially fun because they reward re-reading.

Link to the rest at All About Romance

Advice for Fathers in Romance Novels

From BookRiot:

I’ve read a fair number of historical romance novels in my day, and though the genre has a wider range than its detractors would have us believe, there’s one thing that remains by and large consistent throughout: 90% of the main characters’ fathers suck eggs. Whether distant and cold, wildly irresponsible, or flat-out abusive, romance novel dads are by and large the absolute pits.

. . . .

Since their failings generally fall into familiar patterns, especially where the Regency is concerned, I thought I’d put together some advice for any fictional fathers who might be looking to improve their parenting skills. Especially if they’re dukes.

  • Don’t raise your highly sensitive child on a dilapidated estate on a remote, howling moor, constantly reminding them of your family’s past glory while the house falls to pieces around your ears.
  • Don’t encourage older sons to tumble the parlourmaids (or tumble them yourself).
  • Don’t deliver coldly dismissive lectures or hypocritically pious sermons from behind a massive desk in your well-appointed library or study, an ornate and heavy desk that looks as massive as a ship to a child’s impressionable eyes. If you must deliver such lectures, just be aware that your child will have sex on that desk after your death in order to exorcise those demons. It’s just a thing that’s going to happen.

. . . .

  • Don’t get yourself embarrassingly deep into debt with the local tradesmen and then die.
  • Don’t be gouty.

. . . .

  • Don’t construct any of the following rooms on your estate: a dark, cavernous dining room far too big for two with a table so enormous it impedes conversation; a cold and unwelcoming nursery with no toys; a study in a constant state of disorder meaning that key financial papers will be lost amongst your voluminous correspondence after your death; a lengthy portrait gallery featuring only your most unattractive and disapproving ancestors and perhaps one haunting likeness of your dead wife. Maybe try a solarium instead? Solariums are nice!

Link to the rest at BookRiot