Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Truth About Romance

Working mostly in commercial trade publishing, I've learned a thing or two about genre fiction. I've also learned that genre fiction is often stereotyped, mocked, and looked down upon by some readers who consider themselves more "literary-minded"--particularly when it comes to romance novels. But it's unfairly so.

I consider myself a fairly well-rounded reader. I'll give anything a try, whether adult, children's, literary, commercial, or non-fiction (though, I must admit, non-fiction is more difficult for me than fiction). As such, I'm no stranger to the romance novel. As a kid, I read a lot of Danielle Steel novels I actually think I've read every one of her books pre-21st century. At the time, I
didn't even know they were "romance novels"; to me, they were just stories. Stories about women, young and old, modern and historical, working their way through the world as they learn who they are and what they want and who is deserving of their love. Sure, most of the stories were formulaic and Danielle Steel in particular has a lot of the same elements with minor tweaks here and there, but each story still felt new to me. I learned something different from each one--about heartache, about happiness, about family and friendships and love. I adored those books.

Then, one day I just stopped reading them. I'm not sure why, maybe I was just too consumed with being a teenager and getting ready to go to college, but I stopped. Then in college I barely ever read for pleasure and at the time fell a little prey to the romance genre stereotypes myself in the whirlwind of academia, to be honest. But now, I'm back reading a variety of things, many of which are romance novels. In fact, romance is the genre I work most closely with on an everyday basis, and I continue to grow more and more respectful of romance writing as I interact more with authors, characters, and plot lines.

I dove back in when I got my first job in publishing, in the sales department of a major publishing house in NYC, and I picked up a copy of a book by Lisa Kleypas. It was her first contemporary romance, Sugar Daddy, and it, to this day, is one of my all-time favorite books. While the title might indicate a certain tone or theme, Kleypas's novel is brilliant. It's powerful and funny, insightful and beautifully written. I even have gone so far as to quote it from time-to-time, something I bet you'd never hear anyone admit before. I read the book in one night and went into work the next day and emailed the editor, just to let her know how much the book truly touched me. The editor forwarded my email along to Lisa, who responded, thrilled that it meant so much to me. Romance novels accomplish more than just an escape. All reading provides that. But romance novels can reach your heart in a way other books just don't.

Laura Clauson of The Daily Kos seems to feel the same way, now that she's opened herself up to the idea of romance novels:
Once upon a time I embraced the judgment. I was a reader of mysteries and sci-fi (you know, the genres that get their own sections even in serious independent bookstores) and on the eve of a spring break trip, I picked up a romance novel as a joke -- a joke I made out loud, more than once. Then I stayed up all night reading the book and started discovering that I'd been wrong. That book made me laugh. Its heroine fought back successfully against being victimized by men. Its villain was defined by his misogyny. And it was, it turns out, pretty typical in those broad strokes.

Read the rest of Laura's post HERE
Laura goes on to break down some of the common misconceptions about romance novels and when I saw her post, I knew it needed a shout out. So, take a look as she does her own feminist version of "Mythbusters" and blows the cap off the following stereotypes:

Myth #1: Romance novels glamorize rape.
Myth #2: Romance novels are just porn for women
Myth #3: Romance heroines are weak.
Myth #4: Romance heroines are just another version of the beauty myth.
Myth #5: Myth: Purple prose and other terrible writing.

And after you've done that, give a romance a read. Here are some of my personal favorites (in no particular order):

~ Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas (duh, see above!)
~ To Scotland with Love by Karen Hawkins
~ Let Sleeping Rogues Lie by Sabrina Jeffries
~ Our Little Secret by Starr Ambrose (My conscience forces me
to admit that I edited this one)
~ Gentlemen Prefer Succubi by Jill Myles (hit shelves today so keep your eyes peeled!)
~ Thread of Fear by Laura Griffin
~ The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (Yes, this is often considered a romance novel, whether you believe it or not)
~ Star by Danielle Steel
~ Tears of the Moon by Nora Roberts
~ Sunset Bay by Susan Mallery
~ One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
~ 20 Wishes by Debbie Macomber

There are so many more great romances out there but these are just a handful to get you started! Also check out "Smart Bitches, Trashy Books" , "The Goddess Blogs" , and Romance University for more great ideas.

UPDATE: Smith v. Stweart--No Wonder She Was Su(Su)ed

So, it seems I was missing some crucial information in my December 20th post about the Haywood Smith libel lawsuit: Haywood Smith was asking for it.

An anonymous source informed me that Smith is a frequent public speaker at writers conferences and chapter meetings and on more than one occassion she openly admitted that The Red Hat Club was semi-autobiographical and that her characters--the adulterous husband and the heroine's friends in particular--were based on real people. Despite warnings that such an admission in a public forum could lead to a lawsuit, Smith didn't keep mum on the subject. Instead, she even began joking about it, "saying her ex would have to admit to some very unflattering facts if he ever sued her -- like how he cashed out their savings and retirement so he could pursue a 20-something stripper who left him once the money ran out." One of Smith's admissions was even recorded on tape.

Now I understand Stewart's anger--I would have sued Smith too! According to The Legal Satyricon:

Stewart filed her own motion for partial summary judgment and showed that Smith knew about the key events in Stewart’s life, told Stewart that her life story was interesting, and that she had used information about Stewart’s life to create the SuSu character. Smith admitted that she used details of Stewart’s life for the character, but that she fabricated other events and details, and based some other parts of SuSu on other people.

Read the rest of the article HERE

Law.com and The Georgia Court of Appeals lists a series of similarities between SuSu and Stweart including:
...their propensity for being chronically late, their hair color (red/auburn), their chain-smoking and smoker’s cough, and the descriptions of their parents’ occupations and their childhood homes, as well as other facts about Stewart that were not matters of public knowledge until the publication of the book. In fact, the court trial found at least twenty-six specific examples of similarities between the two. As noted above, these similarities led many readers to immediately conclude that SuSu was based on Stewart.
Not to mention the even more obvious resemblences:

...both graduated from the same high school, and they both lost their first husbands to car accidents and they both had a hard time collecting the insurance settlements due to the interference of a subsequent lover. Both became flight attendants later in life and SuSu’s friends in the book call her the “world’s oldest stewardess.” (The Legal Satyricon)
It's interesting to me that much of this new information wasn't included in the articles I read summing up the case. These gems are kind of significant. My entire view of the case has shifted. Smith took recognizable pieces of an actual person's life and personality and weaved them into a a cheating, alcoholic atheist in so blatant a way that a friend commented on the record that "one friend said that SuSu was 'Vickie to a T' and 'couldn't have been anybody else'" (Law.com).

While I know that all fiction is based in part on real life, Smith took it too far, and flaunting her awareness of her actions was either extremely careless or very naive. It's hard to know which.

Only one thing is for sure: this case is going to make authors--and publishers--much more cautious. But it's nearly impossible for publishers to do legal reads for this kind of information on every single title they print. There are too many variables and too many possibilities. So, really, it's all in the hands of the authors themselves.

And quite frankly, as my source put it so perfectly, "it's a disservice to authors everywhere, but Haywood set herself up for that lawsuit. She placed herself on a platter with an apple in her mouth. What lawyer is going to walk away from that?"

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Wide-range of Book Titles

Hello, friends. I hope you all had a lovely holiday and aren't all back at work yet (like I am!). But I found this funny little article about silly book titles on EW.com, so I thought I'd share it for a little Monday morning laugh if you are:

There are tens of thousands of books published each year, and not all of them can bear memorable titles like A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or To Kill a Mockingbird. Or even Heidi Montag & Spencer Pratt’s How to Be Famous. Take the examples above, which are culled from Do-It-Yourself Brain Surgery and Other Implausibly Titled Books. The book compiles the 50 all-time best entries for the Diagram Prize, an annual contest that Britain’s Bookseller magazine has held since 1978 for the oddest book title of the year. By the way, the winner of the 2009 Diagram Prize was The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-miligram Containers of Fromage Frais, a rich and creamy study of the future of dairy product packaging.

Check out more HERE

Do you have any funny titles to share??

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More Lawsuits Pop Up in the Book Biz

The Red Hat Club lawsuit is going to have to make some room in the spotlight for the Wayans brothers.

According to the Associated Press, the former assistant to the Wayans brothers (Keenan, Shawn, and Marlon) is suing the three bros and their publisher, St. Martin's Press, for stealing his book and calling it their own:

NEW YORK — A former assistant to the Wayans Brothers has sued the comedy team for unspecified damages, saying they snatched his "You know you're a Golddigger ..." book and published it as their own.

Jared Edwards of Los Angeles filed the lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday against Keenen Ivory Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans and St. Martin's Press.

The lawsuit said Edwards worked as an assistant for a decade beginning in 1995.

It said in 2005 he wrote jokes about women who seek wealth and status through romance.

He said the brothers rejected his book, but in May published their own: "101 Ways to Know You're a Golddigger.'

St. Martin's Press did not immediately return a call for comment.

The lawsuit has gotten more press it seems than even the book itself, as no one seemed to know of its existance, even pop-culture guru Perez Hilton:

Normally, we would tell the celebs in question to pay the man and move on.v However, considering we didn't even know they had a book out, means it didn't do so well, further meaning they don't have money to be throwing around.

So unless you for reals stole from this guy, we'd fight him. But then you got to
ask yourself, which will deplete you thousands in left over Scary Movie money more: lawyer fees or paying this guy?

Choice is yours!

Read More HERE

Claims like these always make me wonder. It's hard to say if celebs would even bother stealing an idea--let alone an idea like this--when they have so much already. But people are selfish and greedy--and celebs like these often get themselves into debt by being careless as well--so I guess I wouldn't put it past them. I'm definitely curious to see what happens with this one.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Guest Blogger, Tara Hart: The Ins and Outs of Book Gifting

So here it is—yet another holiday season, and I sit here thinking about giving books as gifts. Now I want to start out by saying that I rarely give people books for Christmas; I prefer to give books throughout the year. I feel like Santa all year long because whenever I go visit a friend I usually show up bearing a book—or twenty!

But I have received some great books as gifts…and some others have been groan-inducing. The key to giving a book is the recipient. You have to take into consideration for whom you are shopping. For example, I gave a friend a cookbook for his birthday, consisting solely of soup recipes. Why, you ask? Because this particular friend has a few personality quirks that made this the perfect gift. First, he loves his blender. Second, he eats mostly veggies. Lastly, he has an aversion to chewing. Voila! A book about soup was a huge hit!

A book can also make a great gift when it speaks to something about your relationship. Last Christmas, my best friend got me a book titled How to Talk About Books You’ve Never Read by Pierre Bayard (Bloomsbury Press, 2007) because of the title and the fact that it mentions The Scarlet Letter on the back cover. Now, to get that joke you must know something about me: I faked reading The Scarlet Letter in high school and the teacher still to this day does not believe that I never read the book. This, of course, drove my perfectionist best friend crazy and she never lets me forget it, even 15 years later. The icing on the cake of this gift, though, was that when I was reading it at the train station one day, a guy stopped me and said how ironic it was to see me reading this book because of the number of books he has watched me read. It was great! Now it’s one of those books that I will never part with—the story is just too fun!

As you can see, books are definitely a good gift when keeping the recipient in mind. However, groan-inducing books appear when people buy me books just because I read a lot. Now I can hear you asking “What’s wrong with getting books?” And my answer is “Nothing.” But I do have a caveat: You must never buy books without actually thinking about the books you are buying. Do you know what kind of books the person likes to read? Does the book have to do with an interest of the person you are buying for? Is the book something the person would relate to at this time in his or her life?

That last question is one my boyfriend’s mother did NOT ask herself one holiday season. She gave me The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. I know this book has changed the lives of many people, but as a 24-year-old I was definitely not thinking about who I am going to meet when I die. I was thinking about what I was going to drink at happy hour or eat for dinner. I had just met his family the month before at Thanksgiving and his mother and I talked about our love of books. I can still see Mary now in her local Barnes and Noble, trying to figure out what to get me for the first Christmas I would spend with her family. I'm not bashing Mary for trying, and it was one of the top selling books for 2003 and 2004—but it wasn't a book the average 20-something would enjoy, let alone want to receive as a gift. It was the perfect example of buying a book without thinking about the person receiving it.

Case and point: Books can be the most personal, amazing gift—just keep in mind who you are buying for. A book is a gift that can stay with someone forever.

About the blogger: Tara Hart is a life-long lover of books. Her infatuation with the written word began when she picked up The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. From there she has gone on to devour books of various sizes and ilks, and then she converted her love of reading into a career in publishing. She recently completed coursework to obtain her Masters in Publishing and spends her days negotiating book contracts and chasing foreign books and materials for the clients of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency.

Thanks for joining us at Reading Between the Lines, Tara!

If you or anyone you know would like to guest blog for RBtL, please inquire via e-mail.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Libel Case Questions Where Fiction Ends and Reality Begins

This past Thursday, a Gainesville, FL court found author Haywood Smith--of the popular Red Hat Club, which inspired the real-life organization The Red Hat Society--guilty of libel against a childhood friend, according to the Associated Press:

The jury found on Thursday that Haywood Smith's novel "The Red Hat Club" damaged Vicki Stewart because it contained a character that closely resembled Stewart and portrayed her as a sexually promiscuous alcoholic. The jury rejected a claim of invasion of privacy.

The jury of eight men and four women awarded Stewart $100,000 in damages and denied her request for attorney fees.

"SuSu," a character in Smith’s novel about Buckhead socialites, shared many similarities with Stewart, including where she grew up, her jobs and the circumstances of her first husband's death.

Click HERE to read more

After the verdict, Stewart told the Gainesville Times, "All I wanted is for this not to happen to anyone else. I am so appreciative of this jury, that took it upon itself to do something that will make our country a little better, and hopefully make our publishing laws better. This should not have happened."

I was shocked to hear about this case at work last week; I hadn't even heard about it being in progress. But while I can understand some people's desire to create such a kerfuffle--ego can be an oppressive thing--I can't understand why a jury would agree with such a claim.

Novelists are constantly pulling from their lives, their experiences and their encounters with strangers, friends, and family. As Romantic Times blogger Nicole points out, "Basing characters on people in real life is nothing new. Characters as diverse as Lady Macbeth, Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Dirty Harry are all based on true life counterparts."

So, what's the big deal? It's how fiction works.

Besides, no, say, Californian reading a novel will recognize the author's neighbor's Vermont son. It's ludicrous to think that readers as a whole will recognize a character as a real person and think it's an entirely true portrayal and suddenly that real person is defamed. Of course, the line blurs in instances of a roman à clef, where a novel fictionalizes real-life political, pop culture, and historical (etc. etc.) figures, often in such a way that it's clear who the character is intended to represent. But it seems that the people in those roman à clef's, don't care as much. They are already in the public eye, and it's almost expected. There is the occasional lawsuit--for example, in 2008 Nicolas Cage sued actress Kathleen Turner for her portrayal of him in her book, Send Yourself Roses—but with everyday people, this kind of thing seems excessive.

Yet, despite its fairness, the implications of this case leave the field wide open for anyone to sue any author for defamation of character. Now that Stewart has won, it’s obvious to me that many similar cases will start coming out of the woodwork. And even people holding grudges could easily claim a character was based off of them and try to get an author found guilty or even just badly publicized.

I understand that people might get upset if a character portrayed in a negative light resembles themselves, but let me tell those people a little secret: no one knows...or cares.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Book-filled Vacation

Hello, friends! I apologize for my long absence--I took a much needed vacation. And then I had to catch up from my vacation, which took longer than expected. And since I have no guest blogger articles yet **ahem** you know you who are *ahem* I had nothing to put up for your enjoyment!

But, while I was away, I did read four books. Yes, that's right, FOUR. And I thought I would share them with you:

Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher -- This one was
my December book club book and I read it on the plane down to Miami. I have mixed feelings about this one, I must say. While the subject matter of this adult commercial novel was interesting (drug rehab, kind of a "28 Days" type deal), I struggled with some of the writing. Each part of the book is written in a different style: journal entries, one-sided therapy sessions, dialogue with no action, then just like a regular novel. While the styles were interesting and each gave the reader a different kind of interaction with the characters, I felt stressed out the entire time I was reading. The last third of the book was probably my favorite as the story chilled a little and the writing became more coherent. I do, however, applaud Fisher's ability to express the characters' emotions stylistically the way she does. It's definitely an intriguing read and creative study of style. I still am not sure how much I actually liked it though.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott -- This YA novel is probably one of the most intense books I've ever read. At just 176 pages, it's short but terrifying and powerful. Told from the perspective of an young girl who was abducted five years prior, the reader is deep inside her head as she is physically, sexually, and emotionally abused. And as her expected escape--getting too old for her captor so he'd murder her--slips away suddenly, she goes through even greater torment trying to find a way out. This book is disturbing to say the least, not only because it shows all the pain and torture she is put through but because it shows what kind of evil people are capable of, what apathy and inaction others can have when they can sense something isn't right, and how fear can cripple you and stop you from breaking free. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Just don't expect it to be a fun read. It's a fantastic read, but it sure as hell isn't fun.

Wake by Lisa McMann -- Another YA novel, this first novel in
a trilogy (at least that's what's planned for the series so far!) is also a great read. Janie is a 17-year-old who has the supernatural ability of being sucked into other people's dreams. It's not a power she enjoys, as sometimes she falls asleep at the wheel because her proximity to a sleeping person is too close and sometimes gets trapped in the worst nightmares. But as she learns to harness her power--and as she explores her first love, the only boy who seems to be able to interact with her in the dreams...and in the nightmares--she starts to realize just what good this "curse" can do. Clever and unique, this novel is skillfully crafted. Janie is relatable and likable, and McMann's writing is smooth, fast-paced, and sincere.

Whip It by Shauna Cross -- Yes, I know--another YA novel. What can I say? I love YA novels! Anyway, I saw the film adaptation of this book (starring Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, and Drew Barrymore) before I read it and I absolutely adored it. It was such a feel-good flick, I wanted to watch it over again as soon as it ended. So, naturally, I needed to devour the book, which was originally titled Derby Girl. Unfortunately, I was not as impressed by it as I was by the film--shocking, I know. While Cross's voice is unique, hip, and unabashed, a coming-of-age novel revolving around roller derby is a difficult undertaking. It's not exactly the easiest thing to describe or to get your reader really involved in. I read most of the book feeling like I was held at a distance. Also, the ending was entirely different. I would have liked to pick and choose which parts to keep and which to change, as I wasn't satisfied with the ending to the book, though I would definitely take elements of it to add to the movie if I could. Overall, I did enjoy it though. It's creative and fun and just a light, relaxing read.