Academic conference & romance

After so many years in academia and dozens of conferences, finally there’s one I would have liked to go to, but missed. There’s an article on the Huffington Post about a conference at Princeton in which the topic of discussion was the current state of the romance genre.

According to the article, Professor Sally Goede talked about  the Into the Wilderness series. This is fantastic of course, and I’m very pleased. I wish they hadn’t misspelled Sara’s name in the article, but hey.

The really amusing thing here is that academic annual conferences — the MLA, for example — is a hotbed for romance of all kinds. Except the fictional.

An excerpt from Rendell’s piece for the HuffPo:

Romances offer very different things to very different readers, therefore, and to lump the genre and its audience together is short-sighted – and problematic. This point was driven home to me during Professor Emily Haddad’s paper about the depiction of the Middle East in romances featuring sheikhs. Haddad drew on Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism which describes the way the West constructs and “others” the East through its writings and discourses. For too long, romance has been the “East” and “other” of the literary world: talked about in generalities, pigeonholed, and not understood for its nuances and variety.

I may not have gotten my answer for why romance is selling so well in our troubled times, but the Princeton conference taught me that to rush to conclusions about romance fiction is to flatten out a rich, varied, and continually evolving genre. In the end, though, I did conclude one thing. People read and enjoy romance just as people deal with hard economic times: differently.

Sell-Out

You may remember a two-part post from a while ago on the subject of anonymity. Part two dealt specifically with foetry.com, which started as an anonymous poetry-prize watchdog.

You’d have to decide for yourself if I made my point in my post or not. Alan Cordle (the founder of Foetry) takes exception to a number of points, and his readership agrees with him. (L is for Loser, in case you didn’t realize.) In the comments Cordle says:

I never met her, but she had a contentious relationship with her colleagues. Her (only) friends in the department told us that she got a settlement from the university when she left. Maybe that’s why she’s imagining litigation everywhere.

She calls Kathleen’s career “half mast,” but remember that’s from the perspective of someone capable of writing literature who sold out to write genre. I’m grateful Kathleen didn’t lower her standards and that she has three books published in an ethical manner.

He doesn’t remember that his wife introduced us; he recounts (inaccurately) how I left the WWU; and best of all he pronounces me a sell-out. I am capable of writing real literature, you see, but I chose to write for the masses.

In his post he also claims he can’t link to this weblog or the relevant post, which I believe is simply his way of responding to me in an under-the-radar way. It’s so much safer to pontificate in a whisper.

a very odd (but not bad) day

First, I wrote a lot of words. A whole lot. More, I think, than I have ever written in one day before. Gone a gusher would not be too much said.

How many words and more information on this I cannot provide, as my superstitious Italian self will not allow me to put such things out there for the Evil Eye to jinx. But it was good.

Then Laura Vivanco, an academic in Great Britain whose area of specialization is the study of the socio-cultural and literary context of the romance novel, wrote a long post at Teach Me Tonight called “A Case Study on Genre: Rosina Lippi’s Tied to the Tracks and The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square in which she takes both novels under her microscope and comes up with a couple dozen very interesting observations. I was surprised and happy, because hey, I am a recovering academic and I spent my adult life from age 27 to 47 immersed in it up to my neck, and I know what effort went into it.  So a public thanks to Laura, and an acknowledgment: I know my two most recent novels are not exactly romance, or romantic comedy, or anything else, for that matter. I know that I don’t fit into any genre. That fact has made things pretty difficult for me, marketing wise. Laura’s solution:

If I had to choose a label for these novels, I’d make up a new one. I think they’re contemporary romantic emotional-mystery fiction.

Which she admits needs to be shorter. So if somebody could (1) come up with a catchy term that gets the same idea across and (2) magically insert that term into the group consciousness, that would be really helpful. I’d be thrilled. I actually quite like emotional-mystery, though I fear it won’t catch on.

Finally (and this is the real oddity). Paperback Writer has a post up about the one-sentence story website that I wrote about last week, and she links back here. Nothing odd about that, the normal tip of the hat to another weblog author who has pointed you in an interesting direction. What is odd, however, is that Lynn’s post was picked up — I still find it hard to believe this — by Andrew Sullivan on his Daily Dish weblog.

I have great respect and admiration for Paperback Writer, but Andrew Sullivan? Yikes. Rather than go into a long explanation of why I stay away from everything having to do with Andrew Sullivan, I point you to Mickey Kaus at Slate, who managed to sum up my feelings about A.S. concisely:

Andrew Sullivan has decided to give out a Nancy Grace Award. Criteria (suggested by Sullivan’s readers) include “a nauseating level of absolutist self-righteousness,” an “unflappable self-assurance that [the nominee’s] outrage represents the true moral high ground on any issue” despite a propensity to “flip flop”–and a habit of “excessive personal attacks.” [Emphasis added]… You mean like righteously bullying anyone who fails to support a war in Iraq, then turning around and righteously attacking the people who are prosecuting it? … Can you think of any nominees? I’m stumped. source

I hope S.L. gets a ton of traffic due to the link, but it did take me aback. The only parallel I can think of would be if Laura Bush or (even worse) Ann Coulter announced publically that Tied to the Tracks was her favorite all time novel. Nightmare material.

soup, maples and other points of confusion

asdfg raises a good point:

Red corn soup. Does it taste different from yellow, white, or blue corn soup? I wouldn’t expect anyone except Elizabeth to distinguish between corn colors, since she’s travelled more widely than the rest and so might have encountered more corn varieties.

Although it might be possible that at high elevations in New York there might have been more than one variety of corn that grew there then, I would expect only one variety because I don’t think corn hybridization hadn’t started yet. If that assumption is so, then they wouldn’t really have known there was any other type of corn. Just corn soup. Just like in engineering the first widget is called a widget, then later variations lead to widget1, widget2, etc.

Ah well. You asked. And I could be wrong. ((asdfg asks good questions — sometimes hard, sometimes challenging, but always good))

Now, the truth is in this case that she might be right. It’s a good ten years ago since I did the research on the daily foods of the Iroquois, and I’m not sure I could reconstruct it without going back and reading dozens of articles and books. ((And the end result may well be that I got this wrong, anyway.)) Every once in a while a reader points out something like this, some point that I can’t disagree with. It makes sense, really, if you look at it the way she presents it. I am curious about where I got the term and why I thought it was solid, but I don’t have time at this point to go searching. Someday I will, though. And if you’re still there and I’m still here, I’ll let you know.

Every once in a while I get an email or comment from a reader who is disappointed in my research. Very rarely does it happen that I have to disagree completely, but it does happen. For example, the reader who wrote a few weeks ago to say how disappointed she was that I hadn’t done better research on the trees of the Adirondack forest, because if I had I would have found out that maples were not native to the area, were in fact invasive, and could not have been present in the time period I write about.

She was very sure of her facts, but I was also very sure she was mistaken. I went to consult my sources and also various university botanical websites and indeed, there are about fifteen varieties of maples native to the Adirondacks, including the sugar maple. There’s a lot of evidence that the various Native American tribes who lived in the northeast woodlands knew of, and took advantage of, the sap of the sugar maple.

After some thought I wrote a short paragraph in reply and included some links to reliable websites in making my case. I haven’t heard back from her, but I don’t know why that is. Maybe she has more evidence I don’t know about, or maybe she just didn’t think it worth her time.

In any case, I am always interested to hear from readers who have noticed something that slipped past me, or who have expertise in an area where I did not do sufficient research. Live and learn.