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March 20, 2003

Reading protocols
Posted by Teresa at 09:31 AM *

From an article in the Santa Fe New Mexican’s online site, about the increasing popularity of Mormon-specific romance novels:

“I have always felt the long, detailed sex scenes are an insult to our intelligence because we all know how it works,” [author Anita] Stansfield said.
Er. Not the point.

I am resolutely not imagining sex scenes written for the benefit of readers who don’t know how it works. (via Andrew Brown)

Comments on Reading protocols:
#1 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 09:53 AM:

...there ought to be a Heyer joke in here somewhere, but my brain's not up to the task this morning.

(Alternatively, a fanfic joke.)

#2 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 09:53 AM:

...there ought to be a Heyer joke in here somewhere, but my brain's not up to the task this morning.

(Alternatively, a fanfic joke.)

#3 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 10:23 AM:

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the outfit that is passing itself off as "Windhaven Publishing" (yeah, we get a lot of calls for them -- my lawyer's been on their case about trademark infringement...). What do they publish? Mormon 12-step books. Aaaiieee!

#4 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 11:46 AM:

I find the idea that sex always works in exactly the same way for everybody pretty creepy, really; I can see leaving out lubricious detail out of a desire to allow readers to imagine their own particular preferences more readily, but because sex falls under the myth of fingerprints? ("I've seen them all, and man, they're all the same")

Brr.

#5 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 12:50 PM:

In one of Donald Westlake's novels, he omits describing a sex scene, supposedly on the grounds that we all know what it's like, "and if you don't, you shouldn't read dirty books anyway, they'll only give you the wrong idea."

#6 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 01:10 PM:

I don't think sex is necessary for a romance novel--after all it's a "romance" novel. Most of them tend to be glib encapsulations of one woman's fantasy world. That some of them do have sex is more a reflection of how the envelope has been pushed in the publishing world for mainstream fiction. That they don't in the Mormon romance novels is a reflection of Mormon culture--after all, most Mormon girls would be uncomfortable in a fantasy that included sex. (Interested, yes. Comfortable, no. BTW, I'm not saying this is right or not, I'm just recalling my personal memories of how I felt and most of my friends felt whenever we encountered sex in a book.) As one link recently in the comments pointed out, most romance heroines are Mary-Sues, and basically a placeholder for the reader to slip in and insert herself in the story. Since most romance novels bear no resemblence to reality, it's not as if the Mo-Romance novel will do the same. It's an idealized relationship with few, easily surmounted problems that ends in marriage, which is supposedly the goal of every good Mormon girl. (I have read Anita Stansfield's stuff before, btw, when she was serialized in a Utah County newspaper.)

What I find funny and sad at the same time, is how Anita has been editted in the most silly of ways--for implying that sex had ever occured at all. Yikes.

Some of the few romance novels that I love madly is Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series and they show not just sex and courtship and marriage, but an evolving relationship that ends up spanning several decades. It's not neat and clean, but it's also not overly prurient in its sexual scenes either.

#7 ::: Dave Trowbridge ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 01:58 PM:

"...sex scenes written for the benefit of readers who don't know how it works."

Well, John Ruskin, for one, could probably have used something like that, since he was apparently so disturbed by the actual anatomy of a woman as discovered on his wedding night that he was unable to consummate his marriage, then or later.

It's probably a lot harder these days to raise a child in such ignorance, but one wonders...

#8 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 03:59 PM:

I like to think I'm relatively sex positive, but I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of sex I'm seeing in books and tv and movies. I think I figured out why last night while I was thinking about this thread. Yes, sexi is a part of most lives, but most of us keep all but the broad outlines of our sex lives private. It feels to me like we and the author are invading an area of the character's life which should be private when we write/read/watch those sex scenes. Not to mention it seems to have gotten to the point where a sex scene is obligatory, which is tiresome.

MKK

#9 ::: Anna Moss ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 07:07 PM:

The Mormon romance would fall into a sub-genre of the romance genre, known as the Sweet Romance.
I've spent the past 18 months or so trying to learn to write another type of romance 'form'. I'm finding it very challenging to meet all the requirements of the genre - you can't just come right out and ASK anyone about the formula, because the Emperor has new clothes and there isn't one. Really.

I've been thrown off the Harlequin community bulletin board three times already for 'stirring up trouble'. As near as I can tell, being sex-positive is a symptom, to them, of something far more sinister. They do have a lot of sex in some romance books, but we're supposed to pretend it's really all about the emotional involvement.

To be honest, I can't really read one all the way through. Which, I have been told, is the chiefest reason for my failure to grasp the requirements of the genre. For a minute there, I thought it was nothing more than a clever ploy invented by their marketing people. In order to write for Line A, you must read extensively in the line. At 4-14 bucks a pop, times the 8,000 members of the Romance Writers of America, that's not a bad net at 6 books per month in each Line. All those wannabees gotta read so they can write.

It was only a matter of time before the Mormon owned publishing folks figured out who's spending their reading dollars and on what.

#10 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 08:20 PM:

The sex scenes in Ken Follett's novels may not have been written for the purpose of instructing people who "don't know how it works," but when I was a thirteen-year-old who had only the most basic notion of how "it" worked, I found those sex scenes deeply fascinating, because they contained a level of detail I hadn't seen in other works. (Certainly not in other works that my mother deemed "appropriate" for a girl of my age.)

SO even if a sex scene isn't written for readers who don't know how it works, it can still *benefit* them. :)

#11 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2003, 11:13 PM:

Now I'm imagining a genre of pornography that leaves out all the romance on the grounds that we all know how — oh, wait a minute.

#12 ::: Mr Ripley ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 03:54 AM:

Unlike Rikibeth, I learned "how it works" around that age from Judy Blume and Norman Spinrad. Boy did I need re-education later in life.

#13 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 06:56 AM:

Anna, if you can't read all the way through a typical example of the genre, you might want to rethink the wisdom of trying to write one. This is true for any genre, not just the romance genre. In fact, if you can't even read all the way through one, I have to wonder why you even want to.

Consider, if you will, the sad and pathetic examples of "science fiction" written by respected mainstream writers who don't read the genre, and consider writing in a genre that you like.

#14 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 08:25 AM:

Describing the mechanical details of a sex scene is like describing the taste of the dust of Utah on your lips. It's there, and it's part of the whole, but would we read "Riders of the Purple Sage" if that was all there was to it?

I've read some pretty hot sex scenes where these details have been the milestones on a breathless, frantic, journey. But maybe some people need the Rough Guide.

#15 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 01:21 PM:

Wow. Ken Follett. I remember Lie Down With Lions, Rise Up With Fleas where all through I kept wondering where the light was coming from to allow our hero to see the gross outlines, let alone make out fine details and subtle shadings of color, of assorted naughty bits.

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2003, 06:11 PM:

And see what it did to you? You grew up to be a writer.

#17 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2003, 10:50 PM:

Lis -- may I indulge a moment of ]literary[ snobbery? The market for romances is not exactly the inquiring mind; I suspect that the lack of such a mind is likely to be the reason why mainstream writers fail at SF: they mistake the tropes for the substance. With due respect to the anyone on this list who reads them, romance novels are certainly marketed as being somewhere around the level of "wordwooze" (cf Fritz Leiber's The Silver Eggheads) -- hence the intense segmentation of the market, so that readers know exactly what they're in for. (Certainly some parts of SF marketing are similar, but not all; hence the vigorous argument at ICFA this weekend when Gary Wolfe attempted to lay out subject borders between SF, fantasy, and horror to an audience well aware of the blurring between them -- Williams didn't make it but Modesitt asked where the "Ghosts" books were supposed to fit?) Under those circumstances, a writer could be somewhat more qualified than the Unwed Mother of "All You Zombies" but still have more of a taste for eating than for the genre.

#18 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2003, 12:58 PM:

Now I'm imagining a genre of pornography that leaves out all the romance on the grounds that we all know how — oh, wait a minute.

Yes, pornography leaves out romance for the same reason Mo-Ro leaves out sex: the target market is uncomfortable with it. Or is perceived to be so by the publishers and producers of the genre.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2003, 03:54 PM:

Naw. Romance is like having humor or fine writing or an interesting plot: not a problem, as long as it doesn't get in the way.

#20 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2003, 11:06 PM:

Hmm, Teresa, all the things you mention are absent from most porn I've read...and no, I haven't read Tides of Lust! My sense is that this is by design; your typical commitment-phobic male certainly doesn't want "mushy stuff" invading the hallowed halls of Onan, if you receive my meaning...

No, huh? I could be totally wrong. I certainly have heard guys complain about stuff like that: "That's very sweet. Get to the f***ing!" is a typical remark.

#21 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2003, 11:27 AM:

In reading this thread for the first time now, it occurs to me that Xopher's statement about what's left out of porno is interestingly addressed by this article, which is about SF and Girl Cooties.

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