Romance Gets a Bad Rep

… In which I ponder why Romance has a bad rep and rant just a little.

In today’s paper I read a book review for a book I will never read. It’s by a male, and I imagine the book is doing/will do fairly well since it’s being reviewed in major papers. It’s described as a “sweeping, romantic novel.” In the brief description of the book describes the main characters, “once married and now divorced, who encounter one another after decades of mutual avoidance. The fight that ensues–and the subsequent fall to their deaths from a rocky ledge–occurs in the novel’s opening pages.” (ABQ Journal, Sunday, June 7, 2015, Book page)

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There’s a storm brewing…

How is that at all romantic? Apparently the story then proceeds in flashback to how this couple became a couple and what happened. The author of the article even calls it an “ill-fated romance.” Yeah, I’d say.

Look, if you like to read stuff like this, more power to you. You’re allowed to read anything you please. And the author is allowed to write anything he pleases. But seriously, don’t call this a romance or romantic. That would be like calling Psycho a romance because Norman has feelings for Marion. I could name the book in question a family saga or relationship drama, but not romance.

I admit I like my endings happy, or at least satisfying (I love a worthwhile tearjerker and am not above killing a few characters myself. I’ve sobbed more than once while writing some of my books.). Give me the endings I can cheer for–in movies: The Avengers, Notting Hill, Shawshank Redemption, Jurassic Park (which I just watched again on Friday–great film, great characters), The Princess Bride; in books: Harry Potter, To Kill A Mockingbird, Bewitching, Ready Player One. Call my tastes plebeian; I don’t care. I’ve read my share of literature and seen most of the highbrow films too. I don’t enjoy them. There is enough horrific stuff in the real world that I don’t have to have it in my entertainment. So help me, if Game of Thrones doesn’t give me that satisfying ending at the conclusion of the series (the books first, and then the TV show), I will be more than angry. Right now I don’t care how many characters have been killed because I trust the author will give me that ending that makes all the suffering worthwhile (Hear that, George?)

It’s called reader expectation. I know what I expect from my fiction. That’s why I avoid books like the one I opened this blog with, or what used to be called Oprah books, or those about which everyone mentions a surprise ending (Those books/movies are the ones I always go to spoiler website to “cheat” because I won’t waste my time on an ending that will piss me off. [Are you listening, George?] And no, it doesn’t spoil the experience for me. I always read the end of a book before I finish it anyway. And there’s a study that says spoilers actually enhance the experience.)

Enough. I know I’ve written about this before, but that book review just set me off. Again. Back to my deep breathing exercises.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy

 

 

The Elephant in the Room

Just because I have written Romance, why would you think I have an opinion on Fifty Shades of Grey?

I know the phenomenon that has hit the big screens this weekend. I remember it when it hit the book shelves a couple of years ago. I can’t give you an opinion on it. Why? Because I have neither read it nor seen it, and I have no plans to change that status any time soon. Usually when a book hit phenomenon stage I will pick it up. I figure that’s my job as a writer. I need to be familiar with the phenomena. That’s why I first picked up Harry Potter (back when there were only two books out there). I became a huge fan. Yes, sometimes the run-ons bothered me, but the book was so much more than that. I became one of those people who lined up at midnight to get the next volume. (Thank God I had children so I could use them as an excuse. I even made them dress up for one.) That’s why I read TheDaVinci Code (loved the concept, hated the execution). I read The Hunger Games for the same reason. And Twilight.  And then came Fifty Shades.

My Harry Potter Shelf--books in German and English
My Harry Potter Shelf–books in German and English

I didn’t read it, and I won’t. And here are the three reasons I won’t:

First, it’s just not my thing. Yes, I read and write romance, but BDSM is not my thing (I have a friend who calls herself the queen of vanilla sex. If she’s the queen, then I’m the empress.). Neither is erotica. I won’t read it. Sorry. I know I’ve excluded a lot of books from my reading list with that pronouncement, but I don’t enjoy it, so why should I subject myself to it? I will fight for your right to read and write anything you want, but in the same way, you shouldn’t force me to read something I don’t want.

Second, I’ve heard, and, mind you, this is not my opinion because I can’t give one, never having have read it, that the writing is terrible. Not just bad. Worse. This from reliable sources, friends, people I respect. My nerves become tied up in knots when I read bad writing, so I don’t want to put myself through that.

Third, I know it started as fan fiction for Twilight, and I’ve read (and seen–talk to me about the things I will do for my youngest daughter) that book. I am a fan of plot. I reached page 295 (or so) of the novel and yelled out, “Finally, something happens.” I know there are people who loved Twilight, but I wasn’t one of them. I like action, movement, not self-reflection or self-awareness. I read far too many books where the characters have so much angst and carry so much baggage I don’t believe in the happy ending. I don’t enjoy books that have so much introspection that I need therapy afterward. Thus if Fifty is basically Twilight with a twist, I don’t need to read it.

And there you have it. I truly don’t like to give an opinion on something I haven’t judged for myself. I know what you’re thinking: For not having an opinion, I sure can write a lot of words about it. I truly can’t say Fifty Shades is terrible or trite or wrong or abusive or mommy porn or whatever the heck else has been said about it, but I can say I won’t be finding out first hand.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Just about to start How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove. Still have a few more chapters to go in my last RITA book.

Just For the Fun of It

How many times have you picked up a book by an author you’ve never read before and by the end of the first page you know you’re going to love the journey you’ve embarked upon? It’s a magical and miraculous moment. You’re ready to go wherever the author leads you. Why do you think storytellers have been revered throughout the ages, accorded high esteem and regard, and treasured as no other members of society? Think of the many words you find that mean storyteller: bard, ;minstrel, troubadour, yarn spinner, fabler, novelist, narrator writer, dramatist,historian, orator, skald, author. Think of the cultures that are known through their stories: Greek myths, German fairy tales, Elizabethan England (Shakespeare), Marvel Comics.

Harrison Ford once gave and interview where he was asked if he regretted not playing critically acclaimed roles rather than the money makers. Mr. Ford’s unapologetic answer was that his goal was to entertain. If he achieved acclaim, that was fine, but he wanted people to like his movies. indiana-jones-clip-art-9TpRkqjTEWhat struck me most was the nobility of his goal. He wanted to entertain. He didn’t try to claim his work was earth shattering or would change the course of history; he simply wanted to entertain. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but the idea of giving people something to take them away from their own lives and everyday problems, if only for a little while, is a goal worth pursuing.

And it comes down to the story and its telling.

I want the power to take people to other worlds. I want the power to make people laugh or cry. I want to be a story teller with all the responsibilities the job carries. I want to entertain.

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Still can’t tell you because I’m judging for the RITAs. I did watch FANBOYS the other night. That was fun.

Spoilers!

I’m just going to put it out there. I love spoilers. I like to know what’s going to happen before it happens. I can enjoy a book or movie if I already know the ending. It doesn’t bother me in the least. Sometimes the spoiler is the deciding factor if I’m going to watch a movie or read a book at all. If it doesn’t have that satisfying ending, forget it. I will especially forgo any book/film that has a “clever twist” ending (in quotes for a reason because I like twists). Those irritate the crap out of me, i.e. girl’s dad is dying, she promises to take care of him, she meets someone, dad gets mad and sicker, but it’s the boyfriend who dies tragically and suddenly, dad realizes how selfish he’s been, she needs to live her life, etc.- blech. (Hey, I’m allowed an opinion too. If you like those stories, fine. I applaud you for sticking up for yourself, but I don’t have to like them.). By the way, satisfying doesn’t mean happily ever after. Second Hand Lions starts with the death of the two uncles, but I love it. And Dandelion Wine (Ray Bradbury) has a higher body count than a lot of novels, but it’s wonderful and life affirming.

 

A study at UCSD showed that knowing the spoiler/ending increases enjoyment of the work (the link is to an article about the study, not the study itself). I agree. Look, we all know romance novels make up the biggest segment of the fiction market. Every romance ends with the couple forming a relationship. Every single one (If it doesn’t, then it isn’t a romance). Guess what? That’s not what the readers read for. Romance readers love what they read. Could part of the reason be they know the ending? Yes, I read my books backwards. I always (ALWAYS) read the last few pages at the beginning.

 

I think this enjoyment explains re-reading as well. I often told my students they need to read assignments twice- the first time just for the plot, the second for understanding. If you follow my blog you know I am currently re-reading George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series. It’s better the second time through. I know what happens; now I can concentrate on details and characterization. It’s so much richer this time. And I probably don’t have to tell you how many times I’ve read Harry Potter. In fact the saga of the German copy of Chamber of Secrets will be an upcoming blog. But each time there’s something new to enjoy and grasp. Italo Calvino said, “a classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” That sentence presumes reading things more than once. There are many books I won’t ever re-read or couldn’t get through the first time (and that’s okay too; I’ve blogged here on taste before). But the ones, books and movies, that I revisit several times are my classics. I find new meanings, nuances, and truths I didn’t on the previous viewings.

 

And it’s easier to get to deeper understanding if you know the ending.

 

Don’t worry. I try not to spoil endings for others. People can be touchy about the subject. But if I ask you for a spoiler, I really want it. I want to see the journey more than the end. Maybe you should try it a couple of times and see if you notice any difference in your reading.

 

So how do you feel about spoilers?

 

–Gabi

 

Books I’m reading now:

A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

When Was the Last Time You Cried at a Book?

Have you ever reacted to something—a character, a sentence, an event—in a novel? I mean that gut feeling you get when you read something that produces a visceral reaction? Something that makes you cheer, or cry, or become angry or frustrated? I hope so. That’s part of the joys of reading for me. But have you ever wondered why you reacted as you have? More and more I’m convinced that when you have such a reaction it’s because you’ve hit “theme” in your book.

 

I love talking about theme. I think it’s a vestigial trait from my teaching days. Theme, very simply, is what the author is saying about a universal truth (as long as truth is relative—some people believe eating animals is a sin and others enjoy hamburgers). The author comes to his or her novel with his or her own life views and often can’t help but express what they believe in their writing.

 

For example, I often write about the honor in doing the right thing. That doing the right thing, no matter how unpleasant or what the cost, is a noble goal. In my stories I’ve had characters become outlaws because they believe in doing the right thing. Society is wrong, and they can’t go along with society because it would diminish them as human beings. The loss of honor is a greater tragedy than following the rules.

 

I could give a whole lecture on Theme (and have!), but I recently I was thinking that when I react to something in a book or movie it’s because whatever it is has hit upon my own person universal truth. Another example: in the Dr Who series, the Doctor takes away Donna’s memories and incredible knowledge to save her life (long story—watch the show; it’s fantastic). He decides he can never see her again because of the danger that he would bring to her if she remembered him. He loves her (not as a lover, but as a dear friend), and because he loves her he’d rather give her up than put her in danger. I sobbed at these episodes. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever cried harder than watching the entire Dr. Who series. Now, we’re in the Doctor’s point of view, and I’d wager that Donna would make a different decision, but it doesn’t matter. I can completely relate to the choice made by the Doctor. Because it’s one of my universal truths. I’d rather know someone I love is safe and never see them again, than put their lives in danger. (And it’s a stupid game I play with myself. What if we had a huge natural disaster that separated me forever from my daughters who live on the other side of the country? I would rather know they are safe than have them make the effort to try to find me. Yeah, it’s one of those crazy thoughts that go all too often through my head. Here’s one for you if you want to play along: Aliens suddenly come down to gather humans to save the race from certain death on this planet, but they can only take a certain number. Do you go? Welcome to the world in my head.)

 

So next time you react to something you’ve seen or read, think about it a moment. What created such a strong reaction from you? And I’m not just talking positive emotions. Want an exercise in frustration and anger? Watch or read Game of Thrones. What an experience.

 

–Gabi

 

Books I’m reading now:

A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin (re-reading)

Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

The Power of Art

To roll off of what I posted a couple of days ago, I wanted to discuss why I believe literature is not just important but also vital to our world. I taught eighth grade gifted language arts and literature for several years, and each year I would greet parents at Open House. I always enjoyed Open House because I enjoy performing, and talking in front of a crowd is like a performance. In addition to telling the parents about myself and my background (and always saying that I wrote romances that were not appropriate for eighth graders and that if anyone had a problem with that to please, please, please start a protest because I could use the publicity—never happened, but my students always offered to hold a book burning for me), I would give the parents my passionate and sincere beliefs about literature—all kinds of literature.

 

Technology progresses at a much faster rate than society. I love technology. I believe we can’t have enough engineers, physicists, and scientists in general in this world (My husband holds a PhD in robotics—yeah, I have a soft spot for the brainiacs). Robot Guy is an optimist; he believes technology can solve what ails the world. Unfortunately, technology moves too fast—too fast for the average person to assimilate it and understand it (by understand I mean use it with comfort—For example, we all drive cars now, but how many of us could actually put a car together? And you should read people’s reactions to automobiles when they first arrived. Hilarious. That and the use of electricity. The showy Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 helped usher in our dependence on electricity. Once people saw the spectacle, electricity became less frightening. Anyway…). So how does the average citizen become accustomed to new ideas and new advances?

 

Through Art. (Yes, with a capital A)

 

Art of all sorts exposes us and makes us comfortable with new ideas. We explore our fears through this safe venue and learn from it, so when reality confronts us, it isn’t as frightening. Ideas are often met with fear. Take robots for example. Stories and novels have explored all aspects of robotics in a way that a lay person can understand. From killer robots to helpful robots (Dr. Who to Isaac Asimov). My husband can tell you that there isn’t a robot that doesn’t have a huge red kill switch beside it (we’re not talking Roomba here), and the kill switch isn’t to kill the human operator. In any case, we’ve become so accustomed to the idea of robots that we hardly notice them in our lives. I don’t know about you, but Google’s self-driving car is something I want (although Robot Guy says there is still a long way to go. Robot vision is a particularly nasty problem.) And yes, I feel safer knowing a computer does most of the flying on an airplane.

 

But it isn’t just technological ideas that Art helps with. Cultural change happens through the examination of ideas in Art. Between Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gone with the Wind, The Invisible Man, To Kill A Mockingbird, and more recently The Help, we’ve seen racism through various lenses. Without realizing it, the ideas become a part of us and how we respond to those ideas shapes us (I don’t want to debate the validity of the arguments represented in such works—that would be a whole book by itself. What I’m saying is the ideas are there and we’re exposed to them, which affects us, however greatly or minutely). The rapid switch (rapid being relative to the time from when it actually came into our collective consciousness as opposed to the history of mankind) to the acceptance of same sex couples (which the majority of us now do) I believe was helped along by TV shows, books, and movies that featured LGBT characters. Once we saw they are simply like the rest of us, acceptance followed. (And if you’re not in this group and want to leave some sort of screed as a comment, just don’t. This is my page. Make your own page for your own screed.)

 

Whatever we read touches us, changes us, teaches us. We can agree with, disagree with, argue against, stand for, or dismiss those ideas, but in whatever way, those ideas have affected us. This is why books can be dangerous. This is why governments use propaganda. This is why dictators fear freethinking. This is why education is so important. This is why a great swath of people can be convinced to vote against their own self-interest. This is why debate is so important.

 

Right. I’ve gone on long enough. If you’re a former student, you’ve heard all this before.

–Gabi

 

P.S. I’ve focused mostly books, but I truly believe all forms of Art has this power. I just know books best.

 

Books I’m reading now:

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin

Is it bad…

Am I being closed-minded if I just don’t want to watch/read certain shows, films, or books just because?

Take for instance the TV show Breaking Bad. There’s no reason not to believe its hype. It’s funny (at least I’ve been told the first couple of seasons are), well-written, has rounded characters, interesting story lines; it’s critically acclaimed and its actors have received acting awards. It’s even filmed in Albuquerque, my town, and the production company has brought money into the community. All good things. But I don’t want to watch it. Stories about drugs are not my kind of thing. Stories about men who descend into darkness–not my kind of thing. So I haven’t seen it, and despite having it on Netflix, I won’t be watching it any time soon. I’m sure it deserves its accolades, but I don’t want to watch it.

There are books that do the same. Every time I pick up a book I should read (Kite Runner, Life of Pi) I’ve been disappointed. It’s not that I don’t see the merit of the books, but when I read I want to be swept away. I don’t want to search for its merits. I could see teaching these books, but not sitting down to read them for fun. My taste. I won’t apologize for it.

And don’t think I’m not as harsh on my beloved genre fiction books. I’d say more than half of them I read the first two, maybe three chapters, then just skim the rest to know what happens (unless I’m judging it for a contest; then I read every page). The book that carries me through page by page is a rarity. And one that is becoming more and more rare. So many things can pull me out of the story: a wrong fact, grammar errors (I mean the ones that aren’t deliberate), and most of all lack of logic. I just finished judging a contest and the biggest errors I found in these unpublished manuscripts was lack of logic. People I know wouldn’t behave a certain way without a good reason, and needed a behavior to further the story is not reason enough.

We all have our limits, buttons, narrow view. I’m trying to broaden mine when it comes to important things. But do I have to when it comes to entertainment? Am I being closed-minded?

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now (and although I don’t usually write whether I’m enjoying them or not, I thought I should after today’s post):

My Lady Mage by Alexis Morgan (And I’m truly enjoying it–reading every page.)

How Star Wars Changed My Life

I had heard that it was a great movie. That I had to go see it. The buzz was everywhere. So my mother and I went on a mommy date to Westwood to watch this new movie called Star Wars. We waited in line for over an hour (that was my first time for an over an hour wait–lining up at the movie theater? Unheard of.) And then the titles started to roll, and I mean roll. What followed was an amazing 122 minutes of an adventure that spoke to me. It had good guys and bad guys and robots. A love story (I knew it was coming). Good vs. Evil. And space. Who knew I liked space?

I saw that movie six times that summer (I was in boarding school at the time and didn’t get to the movies during the school year). And the way it was told, the story line, the over-the-top-grab-your-seat adventure changed the way I viewed books and movies. That’s what I wanted to see and read. And when it came time to realize that I am a writer, that’s the kind of story I wanted to tell–plot (lots of it) characters to root for, villains to fight, a cause worth dying for, and adventure–maybe not between stars, but big for the setting.

My mother hated the movie.

(May the 4th be with you. There is nothing inner about my geek.)

–Gabi

Books I’m reading now:

Timeless by Gail Carriger