Some good discussions about romance and erotica and a bit of politics

At Tor.com, Jo Walton discusses her conflicted relationship with the romance genre and Georgette Heyer. It’s a good post and even the discussion in comments is surprisingly good, given the population of regular commenters at Tor.com, and goes into how the worldbuilding aspects of Heyer’s Regency England appeal to SF fans.

Though I am a bit surprised that Jo Walton lists Mary Stewart, Anya Seton and Madeleine Brent as among the authors who turned her off to the romance genre, since Mary Stewart and Anya Seton were among the better writers of the gothic romance period. And Madeleine Brent was Peter O’Donnell of Modesty Blaise fame who gave us an arsekicking heroine long before that sort of thing was common.

What initially turned me off from the romance genre were the bodice rippers of the 1970s and 1980s with their violence towards women and often outright rape disguised as love. But then Jo Walton is British and the bodice ripper genre was never as popular in Britain and continental Europe for that matter as in the US, so it’s very possible that she escaped those. And indeed, the bodice rippers that turned me off from the entire genre for a long time were second hand import paperbacks from the US that a local bookstore was selling for one or two deutschmarks a pop.

For the past week or so, everybody has been talking about 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James, an indie published erotica trilogy that started its life as BDSM themed Twilight fanfic and became a word-of-mouth smash hit, when James “filed off the serial numbers” so to say and indie published the trilogy.

Now my interest in the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon is mainly due to the Twilight link. However, there are no vampires in 50 Shades of Grey, just a kinky millionaire, so it’s not really my topic. Still, following the mainstream media coverage of the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon, I couldn’t help but notice how condescending most of it was with its talk about “mommy porn”. Here’s one example from the Los Angeles Times. There are others and what unites them all is that the main thrust of the articles is that people are shocked that women – including well off adult married women, i.e. the right sort of women, the women who belong to the target demographic of the papers in question, and even, horror of horrors, mothers – like sex and like reading about it.

Now Smart Bitches, Trashy Books takes on the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon and particularly on the condescending media coverage, which once again seems to equate romance novels with porn. It’s a great post. Plus, it’s very telling in general that the best discussion of 50 Shades of Grey has been found on romance blogs, while the mainstream media just talks about “mommy porn” and “horny housewives”.

However, once in a while the mainstream media does manage a non-condescending article. For example, in Time Erika Christakis also takes on the condescension dripping from most articles about 50 Shades of Grey and asks why people are still shocked that women have sexual desires.

Interestingly, indie writers – while usually eagerly jumping on any story of a plucky indie writer jumping to bestseller status – have been surprisingly silent about the success of 50 Shades of Grey. Probably because it’s erotica and many indie writers don’t feel comfortable with erotic fiction.

Moving to the opposite side of the literary spectrum, the 2012 award of the Leipzig Book Fair goes to Berlin writer Wolfgang Herrndorf for his novel Sand. Herrndorf was unable to attend the ceremony, because he is suffering from a brain tumor. He blogs, too.

The German political blog Nachdenkseiten has read Joachim Gauck’s book Freiheit (Freedom), so we don’t have to. Now Freiheit is a quick cash-in bestseller, if there ever was one – a slim non-fiction tome rushed into publication, when his chances at becoming president became clear. Plus, nothing in the post makes me inclined to change my opinion about Joachim Gauck.

And regarding Gauck’s predecessor Christian Wulff, Nachdenkseiten also raises the question whether calling for reisgnations whenever there is a criminal investigation conducted against the prominent politicians (and investigation, not a trial or even a judgment) is harmful for both democracy and the justice system, because politicans who may well be found not guilty of whatever the problem is lose their offices over a mere shadow of a doubt, while prosecutors are reluctant to open investigations against a prominent politician, unless they have overwhelming evidence, because even the slightest suspicion can trigger resignations.

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4 Responses to Some good discussions about romance and erotica and a bit of politics

  1. Estara says:

    I like the valid discussion series that DearAuthor.com has regarding the Fifty Shades – success – the problem being how to approach the fact that the author originally published it as fanfiction with the STANDARD disclaimer of not wanting to earn money off it – and then basically search-and-replaced the names, tightened the editing a bit to release it very successfully indie e and now with a book contract. She even seems to have been invited and feted at fanfiction conventions.

    I personally think that this is too much profit from Stephenie Meyer. In any case, I wanted to link you to a very thoughtful general fanfiction post by Jan (DA has a whole series of posts about various aspects of FS and fanfiction – the BDSM connaisseurs among the reviewers are pretty annoyed that the BDSM is shown as defective, and that the male protagonist is shown to be cured of his BDSM via the love of the innocent heroine).

    • Cora says:

      I think more novels started out as fanfiction and were significantly rewritten than we realize. For example, some people can still see echoes of her Harry Potter/Draco fanfics in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, Shadow Unit clearly owes a big debt to Criminal Minds, John Constantine has influenced dozens of supernatural PI stories out there and some protagonists basically are John Constantine by another name. And I must confess that some AU fanfic makes me wonder why the author doesn’t just change the names and publish it as an original work, because the connection to the original is only very tangential.

      The problem with 50 Shades of Grey is that the author first posted the story as fanfic on a publicly accessible site and then decided to republish it with little more than a simple search and replace (and going by the Dear Author post, that’s basically what James did), so the origin of the story is obvious to anyone. I’ve even heard of people who balk at the high book and e-book prices for 50 Shades and download the fanfic instead. The Twilight link would not nearly have been so obvious, if James hadn’t published the fanfic first and left it up. And of course, she puts herself in a legally and morally dubious position. If Stephenie Meyer decided to sue E.L. James, she’d probably have good chances.

      I also suspect that the fact that the BDSM lifestyle is misrepresented and portrayed as somehow defective in 50 Shades of Grey is a large part of the appeal of the trilogy. There’s a long thread about the trilogy at the All About Romance boards where some posters complain about those nasty feminist haters at Smart Bitches and Dear Author who put down the books because they’re just jealous of their success (if we had a rolleyes smiley, it would be appropriate here). Going by the comments of those who enjoy 50 Shades of Grey, it seems to me that what those readers enjoy is mainly the Harlequin Presents type fantasy of the domineering alpha male healed by the power of pure virgin love, while the mild BDSM aspects add a little frisson to the proceedings. Meanwhile, those same readers say that fiction which portrays BDSM more accurately does nothing for them, because it doesn’t satisfy the popular alpha male fantasy and may contain content which makes many people uncomfortable.

  2. Andrea K Host says:

    I don’t think 50 Shades is self-published. Small publisher, yes, according to this article.

    http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/a-steamy-way-to-heat-up-ebook-market-20120312-1uwix.html

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