What makes it a romance novel?

It happened again. I was reading along, really enjoying a novel described as science fiction. Then about three quarters of the way through, a side romance, previously hinted at, took over the plot, and much of the remainder of the story involved making sure these two hot people ending up having sex and, in this case, living happily after. Other threads were dropped or swept aside.

So. Let’s be blunt. I think sex is wonderful. I agree love is the greatest thing in the universe. I like it when people live happily ever after, or at least I’m allowed to think they will.  However, romantic love (in all its trials and tribulations) doesn’t carry a plot for me.

I like action, intrigue, and surprises. I enjoy puzzles, and profound thoughts.  So why do I end up reading so many romance novels and then complaining about it in the reviews?

It took a bad review of one of my own books to get me to understand. This reader found my novel Shape of Secrets on Net Galley. I had to pick a couple of categories for it, and I chose Fanatsy and LGBT novels. The story is about a gay human chameleon who has a romance with another man who struggles with prejudice his home country. The categories seemed reasonable. Coltostallion didn’t agree.

I’m going to start by saying that I didn’t like this book. I’m still giving it three stars because the issue is not that it wasn’t a good book, it’s just not a book I liked. I will also say that I, personally, would not consider this an LGBT book so much. Some might say any LGBT character means the book deserves this tag, but while the book contains romantic relationships I would not consider it romance and this is the same reason I would personally not consider it LGBT.

As for the story itself, it was well written and the plot is very interesting.

I understand. (I also appreciate the compliment.)

For although my main character falls in love and makes himself look like other people in order to save the day, the last part of the book … the climax if you will … is all about who murdered his boss and framed his friend. It’s about catching this person and bringing them to justice. Whether I like it or not, I didn’t write a fantasy novel or an LGBT one.  I wrote a murder mystery, and the people who will enjoy this book are people who like crime novels. The other parts are window dressing. My mistake.

I think other authors are having the same problem.

I’m trying to do more reviews on my blogs, and I wish to encourage and support independent speculative fiction writers, especially women, who historically have not been given as much of a voice. I also like strong women protagonists.

So I’ve been signing up to review any fantasy or science fiction I think fits that niche.

I know the biggest chunk of online book sales goes to romance novels. Primarily written by women and for women, they take place in ancient Rome and on Alpha Centauri. They involve murders, politics and philosophy. However, the climax (by this I do mean the most intense action in the last quarter of the book or so) is primarily about two beings realizing they are attracted to each other and overcoming obstacles so they can act upon that knowledge.

Little of that ending has to due with slave revolts, halcyon beams or lawyers’ closing statements (except as it furthers the ultimate hook-up). It doesn’t matter if they are vampires or live in feudal Japan. The emphasis makes it a romance novel, no matter where it takes place or what else the author calls it.

So why are so many women authors leaving the word romance out of their descriptions? Perhaps there is some stigma attached? There shouldn’t be, but maybe women prefer to tell themselves or others they read some romance, and some historical fiction. A little sci-fi. Does it feel more well-rounded?

Or is the story of two lovers finding each other so compelling to many women writers that they assume it is how all readers want the story to end?  Get rid of that pesky dragon revolt and let’s move on to the good stuff? The story’s not over till the two hot people f**k? Maybe it is simply how they view a story.

The sad result of this, as least to me, is that my average rating for women authors is well below my average for men. Even though I’ve sworn to read the blurbs carefully, and avoid romance novels in disguise, they keep creeping up on me.

On the flip side, I’m taking a harder look at my own novels, forcing myself to define what it is I’ve written. Sure there are blends and grey areas, but when it comes down to the action at the end, every novel reveals it’s reason for being.

What is it the main character wants more than anything? Justice? Freedom? Understanding? Health? Enlightenment? A second chance? The universe is full of things to crave, and I’ll keep seeking out books about women, men and imaginary creatures who want things that fascinate me.

 

 

How much changes in six years?

The Original Teddie

As my novels receive their new names, they’re also getting rewritten. Lingering errors are being fixed, and unnecessary words, phrases and entire scenes are landing on the cutting room floor. All well and good. My biggest conundrum doesn’t come from what should never have been that way to being with.  It comes from what shouldn’t be that way now.

The first draft of this novel was written in 2013. How much changes in six years?

Society continues to evolve. At least more so than not.

My book Layers of Light is not only about human trafficking and female heroes, it is a book about the obstacles faced by women everywhere. It was written before the Me Too movement, and before we had a major candidate for president who was a woman. It was written before “grab ’em by the pussy” and Stormy Daniels. In some ways, it feels to me as if it comes out of a more naive time. How much of the world of 2019 should go into a rewrite?

I also continue to evolve. At least I hope so.

The New Teddie

For over three years now, I’ve been a more or less full time writer. Thanks to classes, groups, and online opportunities, I’ve gotten better at my craft. Practice and study will do that for you.

I’ve also become more politically aware. Writing full time gives you a little more wiggle room to pay attention to the world. As you pay attention, you learn.

Having more free time has also allowed me to be a volunteer. I spend a day a week helping survivors of domestic violence. Individually and in aggregate, they and the social workers who assist them, have taught me so much. It’s no surprise some of that pertains to novel about obstacles women face.

So how much of the new me should go into a rewrite?

I’m making decisions about this all on a case by case basis. Definitely redo that. Don’t touch this. Modify a little here. I hope the result will be a realistic book about young women in 2012 that resonates with the real women of 2020. I think that’s possible.

 

 

Our Own Kind of Porn

I’ve discovered something disturbing about my recent book reviews. I’ve only done eight of them, but I have consistently rated the male authors (all four of them) higher than the female writers (there were four of them too.)

In fact, my average rating for women’s books is over a point lower (3 stars versus 4.25 out of five.) What is going on ? I’m a feminist! I’m a huge fan of women authors and a strong supporter of women anything! Am I secretly sexist?

I took a closer look at the books. The four by men include a haunting murder in the Sahara (Deep Sahara), a contemporary thriller about witness protection (Empty Promises), a teen action novel about an ancient artifact (The Ancient Tripod of Peace) and, most surprisingly, a sensitive story of a woman recovering from rape (Off Season) which I reviewed on this blog.

I was glad I read all four books.

All four of the books by women basically centered around two people who really wanted to have sex with each other, who couldn’t or didn’t for various reasons, and then who did, often for many pages. I wasn’t particularly glad I read any of them.

If you don’t like that kind of book, why did you read them? That is a fair question.

The first book was billed as a fantasy romance (Realm of the Dragon). I like fantasy books a lot, but I didn’t get that the genre designation means it is a romance novel that happens to occur in a fantasy setting. My mistake. I didn’t enjoy it.

The second book (First Impressions) was designated an M/M romance. Okay. My protagonist in y1 is gay and has a romantic interest, so I though I would read this one to see how the author handled issues of discrimination and social acceptance with sensitivity. Maybe I could learn something. Uh, yes. I did learn a lot, but it came from multiple-page-long detailed descriptions of every possible gay sex act. I was traveling internationally while reading the book and the descriptions were so thorough I feared being arrested for trafficking in porn.

I won’t make that mistake again.

The third book (Duke du Jour) billed itself as a time travel romance. I love time travel books. How can there not be time travel in this book, I reasoned. There was. The male hunk hit his head and woke up in another time period where he proceeded to not have sex with the female head-strong beauty for the required many chapters. I will say, this author did a lot of research to make her story historically accurate, and I enjoyed learning about the Napoleonic time period. She is the only she to which I gave four stars.

So. Absolutely no more romance novels, I promised myself, no matter what else they claim to be. If it says romance anywhere in the blurb, I will not review it. It is not only fair to me, it is more fair to the romance writing world.

Enter Cloud Whispers, a novel about a woman’s metaphysical awakening after a near death experience. Now this sounds cool, I thought. She’s happily married, got a lot going on, and the book calls itself women’s fiction. Yes. Not a romance novel.

Guess what? The main character has a sister who is, wait for it, an unattached head-strong beauty. Her husband has a brother who is really rich (they usually are) and smokin’ hot (they always are) and you guessed it. Most of the story is these two lusting after each other until they finally do the deed.

Arrgghhh. I was all the more annoyed because I felt like I had been mislead.

I ended up asking myself three questions.

  1. What’s wrong with reading about romance? Nothing. I have no quarrel with lust or love and think they are a great when combined together. If that is what someone likes to read, than that is what they should read. I also have no objection to details that would make a crow blush, although if one is going to go there, I think it’s nice to warn a reader beforehand.
  2. Why don’t you like to read romance? I guess I don’t read to get aroused. I read to learn things and travel places and solve puzzles and understand people. Romance novels provide little if any of that. I find them too predictable. I often find them preoccupied with physical attractiveness, which I think is kind of shallow. They tend towards preoccupation with wealth and fashion, which I think is definitely shallow. I’d rather let my nether regions find their fun elsewhere.
  3. Why do so many women write romance? Because so many women read it. Romance novels are the largest segment of the book industry, particularly the fast growing online book segment. Why do so many women read it? Hold on a minute and I’ll offer my theory.

I heard that 90% of the content on the internet is pornographic pictures and videos. Really? I went searching to see if that had any basis in fact. According to this article in Forbes (yes, Forbes really does have an article about how much porn is on the internet) it is more like 5 to 15%, almost exclusively enjoyed by males. The most popular site (and sight) is a live webcam arrangement where a woman will strip for a man while talking to him.

We all understand. Most men are visually stimulated.

Most women are not, or not so much so. Watching hard core porn actually makes me want to not have sex.

However, we tend to be a verbal gender. By that I mean most women are more verbal than most men, although judgements about specific individuals should not be made. (Most men are better at math then most women, but I’m better at math than 98% percent of either and I’ve got the test scores to prove it, so best not judge my math ability when you see my boobs ….)

Anyway, it has finally occurred to me that steamy romance novels have become (and maybe always were) the feminine version of porn. Judging from the sales numbers, we women as a group might enjoy our version of sexual stimulation more than the guys. We’re certainly entitled to it.

However, if I want to compare male and female authors,  I need to find that smaller percent of women authors who are writing “real” books. (My designation and I take responsibility for it.) They are out there. Many of them fill my shelves and are my idols. I need to get smarter about reading between the lines of book descriptions, so I only select novels by those of any gender that I have good chance of enjoying.

I hope to do a follow up on this post months from now, comparing stats on how I’ve rated non-romance writing women and their male counterparts. I’m confident I will be praising female authors as well, and the numbers will support my assertion that both genders can and do tell stories that speak to my heart and mind and soul.

 

 

Review: Off Season

This is a blog devoted to women’s issues, and I don’t usually review books here. However, I’m making an exception for Off Season, and will do so again for books related specifically to the challenges women face.  See the end of this post for details about reviews on this blog.

Review Summary: E.S. Ruete tells a difficult story with compassion and bursts of eloquence. I rate it 3.8/5.0. My full review is below.

About this book: Dottie woke up wondering where she was and why she was so cold. The first thing she noticed was that she must be outside – she was lying on cold ground and snow was hitting her in unusual places. That’s when she noticed the second thing. Her skirt was pulled up past her waist and her panties were gone. Damn those bastards. It started to come back to her. Dottie is now on an odyssey; a journey not of her choosing; a journey of healing, integration, and reconciliation that will involve her partner, her friends, her enemies, her church, her whole community. And her rapists. As she fights her way through social stereotypes about rape and rape victims, she also finds the strength to overcome society’s messages of who she should be and lays claim her true self. But the memories, the loss, the anger – and the fears – never go away. No woman chooses to be raped. I asked Dottie why she chose to tell me a story of rape. She said that millions of women, hundreds every day, have stories of rape that never get told. She told her story because she could. Because she had to. Because maybe people would hear in a work of fiction a Truth that they could not hear in any other way.

About the author: E.S “Ned” Ruete is an author, speaker, group facilitator, women’s rights activist, LGBTQIPA+ ally, lay preacher, guitar picker, and business analyst. He is the author of Seeking God: Finding God’s both/and in an either/or world and Lead Your Group to Success: A Meeting Leader’s Primer.

Now retired, Ned lives in Niantic, Connecticut with his second wife. He continues to offer pro bono group facilitation and facilitation training to schools, churches, community groups and not-for-profit organizations. He has led strategic planning retreats for United Action Connecticut (UACT), Fiddleheads Food Co-op, and ReNew London. He is actively involved in LGBTQIPA+ advocacy and annually attends and presents sessions at the True Colors Conference. He is a member of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) formerly served on the Association Coordinating Team (ACT, the IAF Board of Directors). He was associate editor of Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal and has contributed articles to Group Facilitation, The Facilitator, and other publications on group facilitation and management consulting.

Off Season is Mr. Ruete’s first fiction work. See his consulting products at MakingSpaceConsulting.com and his books at MakingSpaceConsulting.com/Publish.

Individual Author Links for Ned Ruete:
Twitter
FaceBook

Giveaway: The author will be awarding a $50 Amazon/BN gift card at the end of the tour. Learn more and register to win.

My full review: This is only partly a heartfelt tale about the effects of rape. It is just as much the story of an older lesbian woman seeking acceptance from her church after having spent years living with her partner but hiding the true nature of their relationship.

What I liked best.

  1. At first, it is hard to fathom why a man would write such a book. Many women would be inclined to think this story should be told by those who can tell it authentically. Yet, when the author explains that Dottie appeared in his head to demand he tell her story, I understood. (I’ve had characters do that, too.) Indeed, he channels her emotions with all the understanding one could ask for. My favorite quote from the book:

We don’t have a word for what is taken from us in rape, but the only thing more intimate, more personal, more important, more irreplaceable is a life. We need a name for this thing, so we can talk about it, understand it, learn about the pain that comes when it is lost.

  1. The author picks an unlikely rape victim, I think at least partly to make the point that sexual attraction and interaction are not at the root of sexual assault. Dottie doesn’t fit society’s stereotype of beauty, she is older and a little overweight. Her complete lack of sexual interest in men makes it clear no misunderstood flirtation is involved, in spite of accusations to the contrary. Dottie’s assault is conveyed without an ounce of eroticism. In fact, the author has one of the perpetrators consider after-the-fact how different real sexual assault is from the fantasies he has had.
  2. This is not a story of despair, it is a story of courage. There is no sugar coating of the trauma or the recovery, yet there is recovery, not only by Dottie but by others as well. Assault survivor Alice, who is also the mother of a transgender child, was an excellent complex character. I loved her approach of “I’m still listening.”

What I liked least.

  1. This is as much about LGBTQ+ acceptance by fundamentalist Christians as it is about sexual assault. I wholeheartedly support this acceptance, but, like many readers, I am not part of this sort of Christian community. I had a great deal of trouble understanding why Dottie stayed with this church, or cared what its members thought of her. The author spends a lot of time presenting his arguments for this acceptance, including descriptions of biblical characters and actual quotes from the bible. If that is ones moral yardstick, I suppose these arguments are needed, but I thought they belonged in a different book, one written specifically for a Christian audience struggling with this issue. I found myself skipping over the lengthy sermons and religious debates, anxious to get on with Dottie’s story of recovery.
  2. On the other hand, the book is short; in my opinion shorter than it should be. I felt several secondary characters warranted having more of their stories told, and resolution reached. Many threads are dropped concerning Dottie’s struggles and concerning the criminal investigation and eventual fates of her attackers. I understand this is not meant to be a crime book, but those of us who came to the book based on its description understandably want to hear the full story we came for, and more about secondary characters we learn to appreciate.
  3. The book would benefit from a few minor corrections. At least twice the author drops into present tense mid-paragraph. While I am a fan of changing points of view, they approach a dizzying pace on some pages. Also, each chapter begins with lyrics from well known songs. I understand how tempting that is, because music is so powerful, but I doubt these lyrics were used with permission of the artists and believe a book about respect for others should do better in this regard.

In spite of these flaws, I commend the author for his deft handling of difficult topics and recommend this book to advocates of social justice everywhere.

Buy this book on Amazon.

The excerpt I liked best: (The font of the following excerpt is to indicate that the character is having a flashback.)

“This is bullshit.”

 “Now Sheri, we don’t use that language here.”

 “The hell we don’t. ‘Bullshit’ is a lot less dangerous than the language you’re using. Telling me that it was my fault, that I wanted it, that I probably enjoyed it. You weren’t there. You didn’t have some … jock sitting on your belly holding your nose while he poured liquor down your throat. … You didn’t get raped. And raped and raped and raped. “

 “Now Sheri, talk like that doesn’t help anyone.”

 “It helps me.”

 “No, it doesn’t. You’re fixating again. To recover …”

 “Recovery, hell…The girl was raped. Rape is not an issue. It’s not an obsession or compulsion or neurosis you recover from. It’s not an addiction that you are in recovery from. It’s not something you own, it’s something that owns you. It’s a violation. It’s a big gaping wound. If you’re lucky you survive it and it heals over, but it leaves a scar that is always there. You don’t recover from it. You don’t even get to the place where you say you’re in recovery. You just is. ‘Raped’ is a part of you the rest of your life. But you wouldn’t know about that, you tight-assed little white male f…”

This review is part of a book review tour sponsored by Goddess Fish Promotions.
Read more reviews at:
May 8: Stormy Nights Reviewing and Bloggin’
May 17: Emily Carrington

If you are interested in a review from me: I hope to review more books relating specifically to women’s issues. I am willing to review both non-fiction and fiction. Please do not ask me to review romance novels here, or stories which promote any particular religion. If you would like to be considered for a review contact me at Teddie (dot) Zeitman (at) gmail (dot) com.

Final Note:  I received a free pdf of this book, which would never be enough to entice me to write a better review for anyone.

 

 

Moments and Movements

It’s easy to hear commentators describe the “me too” moment and feel cynical. It is tempting to lump it in with the marches for science and climate sense, and the recent amazing push by high school students for gun safety laws, and all the writing and calling so many of us have done for so many causes, and conclude it has all been useless because things aren’t any better. Is it true?

My husband and I have a fondness for procedural crime dramas, and we’ve recently gotten hooked on a series about a Wyoming sheriff from a decade ago. He and his wise Native American friend Henry handle all manner of mayhem, but a recent episode about sexual assault took a turn for the serious when justice was not had. The young female Cheyenne survivor was referred to a group of Native American women who met monthly to help women in her situation.

“How long has this been going on?” Henry is asked. He gives the questioner a funny look.

“Forever,” he answers.

The writers got that one right.

Yet, what we forget is there has been change, in this area and so many others. Both laws and attitudes about sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence have slowly crept towards reasonable, as have our laws and attitudes in other areas of human fairness.

I understand there is debate about Martin Luther King’s quote “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Some argue these words discourage the hard work needed to make a better world. I see the quote  differently. I think it means that if we do the hard work, if we raise awareness and argue for fairness and believe in justice, then slowly, the inherent goodness in the human soul will respond with a gentle lean towards what is right. I think the quote means that ultimately humans are a moral people who understand and wish for goodness. Given time and encouragement, they will grow in that direction much as a plant grows towards the sun.

No single event ended segregation, no one protest stopped the Vietnam war. But over years, the hatred behind racism and the futility of needless conflicts fell out of favor with mainstream American, and differences were made. Perhaps too little. Certainly too slowly. But it was undeniably better than if there had been no progress at all.

So I try to remain hopeful as I listen to the “me too” hype. Nothing will be particularly different tomorrow. The success of the movement will be apparent a generation from now, when mothers tell their daughters how bad it once was, and the daughters have trouble believing them.

 

woman traveling alone

She’s prohibited in a few places, and frowned upon in many others. Some fear for her safety, others decide she is asking for trouble. Few cultures, if any, are totally comfortable with a woman traveling alone.

These days, she travels for her work, sometimes, and that is understandable. Other times, she is on her way to help aging parents, or to meet friends or family, and of course that makes sense. But what about the woman on a journey, a whole journey, by herself, simply for the sake of enjoying herself? At best, it seems odd to many.

Yet, she does exist, and she wants to go places.

Women have more money than in times past. They also have (on the average) more of a yen to travel. Spouses, relatives and friends may want to go, too, but when they don’t, women are opting to go alone. For many, joining a travel group provides an easier, and possibly safer, way to do this.

Now, I’ve always been someone who enjoys researching a destination and making my own plans. The internet allows for fabulous discoveries for someone willing to invest the time, and I prefer to move on my own schedule and get off the most-traveled path. But I also have always had someone, usually my husband, traveling with me, and I wonder if I am up to taking  similar trips, to a foreign country very different from my own, by myself.

I recently went to Peru, and did it with my first tour group.

There were a lot of considerations. I wasn’t traveling alone, but with my daughter, and I didn’t want the role of tour guide. I was concerned about our mutual safety, our poor grasp of Spanish, and the fairly daunting logistics of getting from Lima to Cuzco, dealing with a 12,000 elevation change, then navigating buses and trains through the Sacred Valley, and securing two of the carefully controlled tickets into Machu Picchu and then doing it all again in reverse to get home. I knew I could manage it, but it sounded more like work than fun.

So I used the internet to find a company called G Adventures, and read about their modestly priced, no-frills modular tour concept. It seemed to include them doing the hard part (clean yet cheap lodging, train tickets) and us handling our own arrival in Peru, shopping, dining and all extraneous activities. I liked the approach.

When our group of sixteen convened for the first time at a hotel in Lima, we were an eclectic mix of two mother-daughter combos, two sisters with one’s husband, a married couple, a pair of twenty-somethings, and five solos travelers. We hailed from Canada, the US, Germany and Australia.

Four of the solo people were men, and one was an independent young professional woman who impressed me with her approach. She’d always wanted to go to Peru, and finally accepted that it wasn’t a priority for anyone else she knew. So, here she was.

That’s the way to do it, I thought.

We had a great time in Peru, and the tour thing worked out quite well as this was one destination where having some help was wise. I took away more from this trip than happy memories and fine photos, however. I took away an idea.

You see, there are a lot of places in this world I want to go. Many of them do not interest my husband at all. Relatives and friends may be persuaded to go to some of these with me, but hey, I don’t think I’ve got anyone who wants to see Kyrgyzstan as bad as I do.

Guess what? G Adventures offers a trip there. They also do to Bhutan. And Cambodia. And Antarctica. And there are other companies like them. And maybe, after doing some of these, I’ll feel ready to tackle more difficult destinations on my own. And maybe not.

Either way, the world is my oyster, as long as my health and my funds hold out. You see, I came home from Peru with more than pretty scarves and coco candy. I came back with a plan; a plan of how to be a woman who travels alone.

(For more on my trip to Peru see What you don’t know …. has the power to amaze you and History at its most exciting.)

eNOugh

There are many reasons I’m proud to live in Buncombe County, North Carolina. One of them is the serious approach taken in recent years to halt domestic violence. This is a region of the country, and a culture, as prone as any in America to the old school belief of turning a blind eye towards what happens inside a home, but the attitudes of Appalachia are changing.

Physically assaulting another human is a crime, as What the media and politicians get wrong about domestic abuse.” Police in Asheville and surrounding areas have embraced this fact, and implemented specific training and procedures to ensure this particular crime is no longer drastically under reported. Asheville maintains a domestic violence hotline, and a shelter for victims of intimate partner violence who have no where safe to go as they begin a new life.

I’m glad this movement isn’t restricted to the mountains of Western North Carolina where I live. Across the nation, and around the world, more people are waking up to the lack of justice inherent in assuming a person must tolerate whatever abusive behavior their spouse exhibits. They are also waking up to the cost to the community in terms of medical care, lost work time, resulting trauma to children involved, and lost contributions to society.

Most people understand the embarrassment and emotional difficulty a women encounters when she accuses her husband or boyfriend of violence, and most people are not surprised to learn that false claims are rare. They do happen, however, most commonly in cases of a custody battle. The police use techniques similar to those used in questioning witnesses and victims of other crimes to determine if the claims are credible.

Did the woman talk to others soon after the event? (If true, she often does.) Was her story similar each time? Did she use identical words every time? (Repeating a story verbatim is a sign of lying.) Did she seek medical help? Try to get a restraining order? Take pictures of her bruises so she would have proof later when she found the courage to speak up?

Law enforcement does not deem every claim of domestic violence to be credible, although they find most are. Once they do make this determination, however, most people agree the woman has been assaulted and deserves the same justice as any other victim of a crime.

Most people. I felt sick to my stomach when I saw this on the news.

In what sort of law and order society do we praise the accused perpetrator and wish him well, while offering no sympathy what-so-ever to the credible victims and no mention of the nastiness of the violent crimes of which he is accused?

Welcome to Donald Trump’s America. No matter what your politics, it is a very scary place.