It's always a pleasure to introduce a new academic work that seeks to reveal the true nature of romantic fiction.
It's been nearly fourteen years since jay Dixon's seminal work,The Romantic Fiction of Mills and Boon, 1909-90s was published, but nowLaura Vivanco- familiar to many of us through her Teach Me Tonight blog - has published her new scholarly look at the genre with For Love and Money: the Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills and Boon Romance
Laura gave me the opportunity to read a pre-publication copy of her book and it's an engrossing read for the lover of the genre and an essential for the writer, but I'll leave her to give you a taste of her book.
Hi Liz! Thanks so much for welcoming me to your blog.
I was introduced to romance via Georgette Heyer so long ago that I can't remember exactly how young I was at the time. I got my PhD from the University of St Andrews where I studied death in fifteenth-century Castile but after I discovered Harlequin Mills and Boon romances and started blogging about them from an academic perspective (at Teach Me Tonight) I decided to apply my literary criticism to analysing (and defending) HMBs. The result is For Love and Money: The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills and Boon Romance.
In Liz’s short story, "Secret Wedding"
"the heroine is “bestselling romance novelist Mollie Blake” and the text of each chapter puts into practice the advice contained in its epigraph, excerpted from “Mollie Blake’s Writing Workshop Notes.” (Vivanco 110)
Mollie writes in her notes that “The romance reader is looking for warmly observed characters and deeply felt emotion.” Rachel Anderson, author of The Purple Heart Throbs: The Sub-literature of Love, concurs with this assessment of the importance of emotion: “It is emotional intensity which makes a good romance”. The primary quality of a good romance, then, is that its readers become emotionally involved in the story.
Of course, that’s not the only criterion on which romances can be judged and as I hope I’ve demonstrated in my new book, For Love and Money: The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills and Boon Romance, these are novels which can be considerably more complex and well-written than many of their detractors are aware. Nonetheless there are, as Mollie acknowledges, “some cliché-ridden romance[s]” and even she “couldn’t escape the clichés. Even in the darkness of the car park she could see that he was tall, with mile-wide shoulders.” That’s probably because, as the hero of Sally Heywood’s Steps to Heaven (1991) observes, “When emotion runs high, cliché comes into its own. [...] The point isn’t whether it’s cliché but whether it’s genuine” (49-50) and with HMBs it is of paramount importance to evoke genuine emotion in the reader.
Daphne Clair and Robyn Donald, who are both HMB authors, write that
"Emotional impact (also called emotional punch or emotional intensity) is the heart of romance. It can make the difference between acceptance and rejection. If there is a ‘secret’ to romance writing, this is it."
"There are writers whose technical skills may not stand up to stringent literary criticism but who are instinctively able to deliver this magical experience. This is why you will occasionally see books that ‘are not nearly as well-written as mine’ on the shelves when your carefully crafted manuscript has been sent back with a polite letter."
I, however, wanted to apply some “stringent literary criticism” to romances in order to demonstrate that it is wrong to label them all as “sub-literature.”
Writing a good romance involves learning rules, such as those contained in Mollie’s notes, because it’s important to understand the genre’s conventions and sources of inspiration before attempting to innovate and push boundaries. As Gert de Geest and An Goris have observed,
"...handbooks take care not to create the impression that romance writing is merely a mechanical process—an automatic repetition of invariable formulas and previous examples—since this impression would fundamentally conflict with readers’ and potential authors’ experience of new romance texts. On the contrary, the emphasis is placed on the way the “spontaneous” aspect of the writing process remains dominant: the suggested tips and guidelines are mainly presented as strategies that enable and even optimize the spontaneity and individuality of the writing process."
The author of a “self-reflexive” or metafictional HMB such as “Secret Wedding” runs the risk of pulling the reader out of the story each time she draws attention to the strategies she is employing. In Secret Wedding, in which the structure of the story is deliberately signposted and the tricks of the romance-writer’s trade are revealed at the beginning of every single chapter, Liz is therefore testing her skill to the limits. I think she passes the test with flying colours: I enjoy the self-aware observations about romance writing, but every time I’ve re-read the novella I’m pulled into caring about Mollie and Tom’s relationship and by the time I reach the end, I have a silly, happy grin on my face.
Anderson, Rachel. The Purple Heart Throbs: The Sub-literature of Love. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974.
Clair, Daphne, and Robyn Donald. Writing Romantic Fiction. London: A and C Black, 1999.
de Geest, Dirk, and An Goris. “Constrained Writing, Creative Writing: The Case of Handbooks for Writing Romances.” Poetics Today 31.1 (2010): 81-106.
Vivanco, Laura. For Love and Money: The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills and Boon Romance. Tirril, Penrith: Humanities Ebooks, 2011.
For Love and Money: The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills and Boon Romance is published by Humanities Ebooks in pdf format. It is also available in paperback and in Amazon’s Kindle format. More details can be found on Laura’s website.
I'm so sorry - I've been shamefully neglecting my blog. I know I don't need to explain. I'm sure you're all racing around doing "stuff", too. Getting those cards written (especially to the unexpected people who send you beautiful cards!) Finding presents for people who are impossible..
I do have prizes for those of you who so kindly offered suggestions for the aunt - I went with the hamper in the end, but all the ideas were brilliant. Ros and CC, if you'll email your snail mail addies and pick something from my backlist I'll be in touch.
We have been running a Christmas party giveaway over at the Harlequin Romance Authors blog, btw, and there's still time to get over there and join in the fun (and pick up some great recipes).
I should have offered something deliciously Italian, such as panettone, which Sarah and Matteo (seen here in their Australian cover) will be enjoying this Christmas but I was so deeply involved with another project that I stuck to my old favourite for Christmas - home made shortbread.
Just about catching up with my own preparations now. The lights are up and once the pigs have their tinsel scarves it feels like Christmas.
Now all I need is for the gifts I've ordered to arrive in time and for the snow to stay away until January (sorry white Christmas fans, but I've had two years of that and enough. Really.)
This seems like a very good moment to say a big thank you to everyone who visits the blog for so much support this year.
It's been amazing, with so many different new ventures. The publication of my Beaumont Brides trilogy as eBooks has been a huge success, thanks largely, I suspect to the gorgeous Jimmy Thomas on the cover of Wild Justice. I've had more comments about that cover than my other sixty put together!
New Voices was amazing, and I was so thrilled that my partnered writer Charlotte Phillips made the final four. I'm hoping for big things from her in the coming year.
And the new project that kept me pinned to my desk should be available in the New Year, just in time for those of you whose NY resolution is to make this the year you write that book. It's the book I wished I'd had when I first started writing fiction and will initially be available as an eBook.
I had a lovely day yesterday. First I met up with writerly friend, Toni Sands, who lives very near me. We actually bumped into one another near Ammanford library and popped in there first, discussing who we’d been reading.
Toni had been reading the lovely Jill Mansell. I’d been reading a crime novel by a new-to-me writer that I expected to enjoy but didn’t. The author, who I won’t mention, described every person who made an appearance in minute detail – with a heavy helping of cliché. He also described every building (and its history) and every room.
Chekov believed that over description was an insult to the reader, that too many details lessen credibility. There was a good story at the heart of the book and I could see it making great television, but I found it a hard read and in the end didn’t care enough about the fate of the characters to wade through so much tedious stuff.
Toni and I had coffee and lots of “writing” chat. The books we’re working on, the ones just delivered, the future of publishing. How many of you have an eReader already? How many of you are hoping for one under the Christmas tree?
After that I went to Llandeilo with the dh to do a little Christmas shopping – anyone with a bright idea for an 85 year old aunt who’s allergic to plants and flowers and whose eye-sight is not good enough for heavy reading, could well find me falling on them in gratitude and sending them a copy of the book of their choice from my backlist!
We had lunch in Café Braz, a small restaurant we hadn’t tried before but will certainly visit again.
The cards – most of them – have now been sent. Still hunting for some addresses. I only send a few. The stupid amount of money I used to spend on them now goes to charity; St Martins-in-the-Fields will receive it again this year.
Decorations are beginning to make an appearance. Chocs have been sent to RomanceHQ for the editorial troops. I’m almost set.
This is the first year in as long as I can remember when I won’t be in charge of the cooker on the big day, but if you’re looking for recipes to inspire you, check out the revamped Harlequin Romance Authors blog.
Sorry, I've been a bit behind with my blog in the last week or two - lots going on, both in writing and the family.
The Harlequin Romance Authors have combined their blog and website and given the whole thing a make-over. We launched it this week with a whole bunch of book giveaways (including Flirting With Italian) and holiday recipes so do drop in, click the link to subscribe by feed or email so that you can keep up with what we're doing.
Here's the new Australian cover!
My website has been updated, too - check it outhere (If you get July instead of December please give me a shout - it's been playing silly beggars!)
On the writing front, I've just dived into the second book featuring the Amery sisters and ice cream. This is going to be Sorrel's story - she's the one who planned to be a millionaire by the time she was twenty-five! - and I'm really looking forward to it.
And family news is that I'm going to be a grandmother again next year. My daughter has had her first scan and all fingers and toes are accounted for. So it's out with the knitting needles.