Controversy, Romance, Translation and Sex – It’s a Valentine’s Day Linkdump

Controversy (or not):

The New York Times has an interview with Jodi Picoult, which apparently caused some stir in certain circles. Honestly, I went into the interview thinking I was about to read something incredibly controversial and offensive, but the worst thing she says is that she doesn’t like Nicholas Sparks and that she finds the fanfiction origins of Fifty Shades of Grey problematic. She doesn’t even say anything dismissive about chick lit (even though the title implies it), indeed she says that she has nothing against chick lit, she simply does not write it (which is correct, Jodi Picoult writes women’s fiction) and implying that her work is chick lit just because she is female is somewhat condescending. Oh yes, and she repeats her point that female writer get fewer reviews and attention than male writers. Honestly, I love a good literary dust-up as much as the next girl, but I fail to see the controversy here. Where’s Christopher Priest when you need him?

Now I don’t care for Jodi Picoult’s novels at all and I actually put her in the same category as Nicholas Sparks, writer of terribly depressing women’s fiction, the sort of thing I sometimes call “breast cancer lit”. But I do like that she speaks up about the discrimination of women writers. I think a lot of people are insulted that Ms. Picoult, writer of commercial women’s fiction, supposedly dared to put herself on the same level as Jonathan Franzen. But did she really? She doesn’t even say anything negative about Franzen (except that she preferred The Corrections to Freedom), only asks how many reviews and features does one book need. Nor does she actually say that she should have been reviewed instead – all she says is “A woman who writes genre commercial fiction would be great, even better if it’s a woman of color.” I can’t really disagree with that. As for the question whether Jodi Picoult would be taken more seriously if she were a man, I honestly don’t know. I suspect she’d be treated like Nicholas Sparks or John Green rather than Jonathan Franzen. I also suspect that if Nicholas Sparks had said the very same things Jodi Picoult has said, it would be considered far less controversial.

Romance (with or without speculative elements) and Sex:

At The Night Bazaar, Betsy Dornbush has a nice post about sex scenes in speculative fiction and why so many readers don’t like them, even though a well written sex scene reveals a lot about the characters and their relationship to each other. On a related note, all the books where I felt that the presence of a sex scene, no matter how subtle, would have improved the book were SF.

At Amazing Stories, Chris Gerwel discusses paranormal romance and urban fantasy from a speculative fiction POV. This is a very thoughtful article from someone who has made attempts to understand the romance genre (he quotes Beyond Heaving Bosoms) and a far cry from the “Wah, it’s all porn and has icky girl cooties.” attitude described so well by Betsy Dornbush in the article I linked above. Though I would place the origin of today’s paranormal romance with its supernatural heroes a bit further back in time than Anne Rice (though she was an important influence) with Dark Shadows in the late 1960s/early 1970s, because Dark Shadows was the first time vampires and werewolves were portrayed as nuanced beings rather than outright monsters and even potential romantic heroes.

Dave Farland a.k.a. Dave Wolverton discusses the appeal of romance in his latest Daily Kick in the Pants writing tip. I like what Farland/Wolverton has to say about romance, why it asks important questions and why it appeals to so many readers. However, he loses me in the last third when he attempts to differentiate between romance and pornography. Not that there’s anything wrong with attempting to differentiate between romance, erotica and porn, since a lot of people seem to be confused about those points, at least judging by occasional discussions in places like Kindleboards. But unfortunately, Dave Farland is a bit confused on those distinctions as well, since he seems to view any explicit depiction of sex as pornography and therefore “bad”, because it might lead to objectifying others, porn addiction, divorce, destruction of families and STDs, therefore authors shouldn’t treat sex with impunity. I actually agree with part of his point – writers shouldn’t objectify characters and reduce them to sex objects and as for STD prevention, that’s why I’m fervently in favour of including condoms in sex scenes in contemporary set novels. But fictional sex scenes do not lead to divorce, family breakdown, porn addiction and a host of other social problems. Furthermore, sex is a normal part of human life and human relationships and therefore should be included in fiction, when and where appropriate. Besides, fiction can be very good in pointing out the differences between objectifying sex and intimate sex and even provide positive models of what a good and healthy sexual relationship looks like. Foz Meadows explains more in this great post.

Translation:

Lindsay Buroker has interviewed Irish-Swedish women’s fiction writer Susanne O’Leary about literary translation for indie authors. I can only speak from my own experience here, but my overall sales have definitely gone up ever since I translated some of my stories into German.

The current issue of the scholarly journal Science Fiction Studies is entirely devoted to Chinese SF. This promises interesting reading, especially as I know very little about Chinese SF and Chinese literature in general. Found via iO9.

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10 Responses to Controversy, Romance, Translation and Sex – It’s a Valentine’s Day Linkdump

  1. Estara says:

    You saw that Sherwood had Crown Duel translated and it’s available as Kronenduell at Amazon.com (and I presume Amazon.de) in Kindle format?

    Overall sales even of your English stories have gone up, now that Germans can read you, too? Weird. Good, but weird. I wouldn’t have expected that trend.

    That Foz Meadows article is so true (apart from the fact that I don’t think Moran is a feminist icon and that quote hasn’t convinced me otherwise) and so sad – and since US writing dominates the English language publishers, it’s a problem for the rest of the English reading world, too.
    It also reminds me how much I appreciated the awkward and loving first sex scene in And All the Stars by Andrea Höst.

    • Cora says:

      Yes, I did see that Crown Duel/Kronenduell is now available in German. The Amazon DE link is here, BTW, for all those who are interested. I downloaded it a while back, though I already have the English version. I hope it will do well for Sherwood, though I wonder how she ended up with Raus aus Hartz IV in her also-boughts among lots of fantasy and historical fiction.

      My English language sales at Amazon DE have indeed gone up since I started publishing the German versions. It’s often books in the same genre as well, so I suspect a link. And I do sell German language books outside Amazon DE on occasion, usually at Amazon.com.

      I’m not a big fan of Ms. Moran either, but the Foz Meadows article really is so very true. And come to think of it, I experienced my own early sexual stirrings while reading Angelique and watching bad costume and historical epics (Hey, Hercules and Ursus did have impressive bodies and wore very little) on weekend afternoon TV in the 1980s, which is probably why I initially could only write sex scenes in the context of historical adventure stories about damsels in distress (well, they did sell then and continue to sell now in e-book form). And I didn’t have a repressive upbringing, it was simply that Angelique and bad costume epics were what was available and interesting to me, while Judy Blume never did it for me and Ayla lost me sometime during book 2. And glimpses of mags like Praline or Neue Revue as well as the icky Brüderle like dirty jokes told by male acquaintances of my parents were just gross and offputting. Finding my parents’ Oswald Kolle book and reading about the Ödipus complex at age 14 wasn’t all that helpful either (“That’s totally sick and besides, he didn’t even understand the Ödipus story properly!”). Yet until I read the article, I never even made that connection.

      • Estara says:

        Angelique and Shanna for me ^^ – basically the books my mother kept hiding (Bertelsmann bookclub) among the towels. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer *barf*

        • Cora says:

          Angelique definitely, but for some reason my Mom – though an avid Bertelsmann bookclub member for decades – never had Shanna. She must have bought something else that month. Though I vividly remember a “bodiceripper” romance, probably by Catherine Coulter, which began with a wealthy lord whipping a maidservant for the “crime” of getting pregnant out of wedlock – by the lord himself, it turned out.

          My Mom also had Bertelsmann’s Henry Miller and Harold Robbins editions (and the Memoirs of Fanny Hill and Lady Chatterly’s Lover), but those never did anything for me. I don’t think I ever tried Miller (such a stupid title) and just plain didn’t get Lady Chatterly’s Lover. I tried reading Harold Robbins (no idea which one) at approx. 12 and put it away in disgust, because after a promising beginning (a baby boy born on a stormy night, while the mother dies in childbirth), the book skipped over all the interesting stuff (i.e. baby boy growing up) and only starts up again when he’s already really old (probably about thirty) and then they have sex all the time and it gets terribly boring.

          • Estara says:

            Right! Memoirs of Fanny Hill! – I think those others were there probably too, they bought those book club selection for decades religiously – we have a shelf with BEAUTIFUL 50s and 60s versions with the understated covers and gold print on the back spine and no wrap around flap cover thingy at all, and the inbuilt bookmark. All Bertelsmann.

            A few years ago when I was still a student my mum decided we’d do a great culling and after that they had some more space for Nippes on their living-room shelves. I voted for keeping all those old dignified editions. They just look pretty together (My mum won’t allow me to take my Karl Mays over to my flat – I bought them when the church library sold them – they’re the pretty hardcover editions of the Karl May Verlag, some from the 50s, too).

            • Cora says:

              Those vintage Bertelsmann book club editions were very well made indeed. The header image over at the Pegasus Pulp page is actually a shot of my parents’ bookshelf full of vintage Bertelsmann book club editions with leather-bound spines, often wonderfully decorated, too (and a vintage china ballerina). The front and back covers often had lovely understated drawings. We have a whole shelf full of 1960s and 1970s Marie Louise Fischer editions with beautiful cover art. The Angelique novels always had great cover art, too.

          • Estara says:

            Right, those are the ones I was talking about.

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  3. Estara says:

    Cora, Robin/Janet at Dear Author is exploring the power dynamic in romance in a really good essay today: http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/love-is-indeed-a-battlefield/

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