Sunday, June 10, 2007

What's Love Got To Do With It?...


You know, almost 30 years in the business & I still haven't gotten my elevator statement down on Romance—you know the one minute spiel that says it, sells it, and shuts all argument down.

Because my initial Mad Magazine 'Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions' attitude just isn't the right approach. Responding negatively to negativity (not to get too California on you) just begets more negativity. And it can go from bad to worse—though not without moments of satisfaction, I must note.

The right way is to have a positive conversation—to say not only do I like what I do, but I think it's important. Scratch that. It IS important. Let me compellingly demonstrate, you small-minded snot...oops!

I am behind on my TBR pile, so I didn't catch this on the first round, and connected when I was checking out Galleycat in Media Bistro & saw Ron Hogan's June 8 post on Jane Green and her spirited commentary on Erica Jong's letter, apparently originally published in Publishers Weekly and then posted on the Huffington Post.

I thought FINALLY. Someone—not a romance writer (sorry, endorsements need to come from certified literary types—for some reason Ms Jong fills the bill—or from guys, in order to have any weight or be taken seriously) coming out and saying in public that love is not only OK, it's pretty darn important.

Ms Jong notes that "deep down, the same old prejudice prevails. War matters: love does not. Women are destined to be undervalued as long as we write about love." (She accurately notes the same is not true for guys. 'When they write about family and relationships, critics marvel at their capacity for empathy'!)

What is...challenging and perhaps unresolvable is the double edge of the weapons and protective armour women use. And the implications the choice of those 'weapons' have.

For we can be complicit in diminishing ourselves, our choices, our preferences for a thousand reasons. To protect ourselves; to protect, comfort, reassure others that we do not pose a threat; to give us the opportunity to pick our battles; to fool others; to avoid having to prove ourselves, be ridiculed, justify our choices to insensitive boors; to avoid being hurt.

Playing dumb is an effective strategy for many. Truly, there are some situations where you just can't afford to play smart; it's bad for your health. So the dismissive words, 'it's just a trashy book, a beach read, nothing serious, light reading: Fluff!'...are ascribed to stories that touch us. Books we enjoy. . . .

We often deny and diminish ourselves to men, and also to the thought-police women, who sometimes, in the desire to 'win the battle,' push women to deny parts of who we are as women, as—along with the patriarchy—they see things feminine as weak, agree that using "feminine whiles" is demeaning and cheating. (The concept of "masculine whiles" does not, of course exist. That's just the normal way of doing business). There are a thousand reasons.

For example, there was a moment on the first Apprentice TV show where the girls were decimating the boys—mostly by exploiting S-E-X and their appealing assets. After about a 4-0 score, Trump told the girls they were too smart to just keep using their attributes to win. It was an interesting moment. Do you think a boy would have set aside a sure-fire winning strategy just because it was too easy and worked every time? Hmmmm.

There's not much sport in dynamiting fish, but if you need to feed your family, have no fly fishing skills & you're not a member of the exclusive Rod 'n' Gun Club and you've got a nice stick of dynamite, I for one am not going to waggle my finger at your using assets given as effectively as possible.

"War matters, love does not." That translates to me to read: Death matters—has depth, value, weight. Love—life doesn't. It's feel-good, frivolous, lightweight. And not to say confronting one's own mortality isn't a difficult and necessary task, but without love and life, why do we want to stay alive? Every condolence letter I write turns into an acknowledgement of how very precious life is—how love makes it that way—and how the challenge now is to reach out with deeper appreciation to those that remain.

It is not a time to complain that some colleague's language is too rigid or limiting, or doesn't say this, or I don't agree with that. Let's keep our eye on the donut and focus on the fact that love matters.

Perhaps, like in It's a Wonderful Life, one could ask what the world—or just your life—would be like without it.


ccneighbors said...

This male agent/editor has always been overweaningly proud of the romances he shepherded by Rita Clay Estrada, Parris Afton Bonds, and other wonderful RWA (and not RWA) authors. Yes indeed "authors," that sniggery label that seems to elude unfairly so many of the writers whose love stories entertain readers of all genders.

Could it be I like romances--all right "love stories"-- because I have so many extraordinarily gifted daughters (6) and more than a few former wives? Or might it be I simply enjoy the well-described myriad complexities of a well-lived life, as expressed by a fine writer?

Whatever. In any case, thanks for your comments Isabel. I couldn't agree more. Some time have a look at Lee Childs's Jack Reacher character. He couldn't be more of a "he man," or more attractive to and attracted by the "good women" who cross his fictional paths, each of whom is powerful in her own persona. Pretty nifty reading: for any evolved woman or man.

Chuck Neighbors

Barbara Bretton said...

One of the reasons I still love Erica Jong. Another reason is this wonderful quote from her novel How To Save Your Own Life:

"Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s why people are so cynical about it. . . . It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more."

Great post, Isabel!

Isabel Swift said...

Chuck: how excellent to hear from you. You've cited two extraordinary, emotional writers: Rita Clay Estrada, of course is an icon of the genre--got the chance to catch up with her last RWA, which was a real pleasure. And Parris has always been the original--move over Hilton & Starvos!

And six daughters! You have had a high intensity course in all things female. But I think the thing that continues to intrigue us all with stories about relationships and romance is the challenge and the enormous rewards of figuring out how to connect the diversity that is male and female. They are indeed different--that can be their strength, the differences an asset when coupled with respect, tolerance and respect.

And thanks for tip on Lee Childs--met him on one of the Get Caught Reading cruises & was really favorably impressed with him as a person. Have read some great reviews of his recent title too. Will check him out!


In Heathrow waiting for my flight out, but wanted to say thank you for your post and great Erica Jong quote. I didn't realize she was so totally cool! Thank heavens for the internet & friends to clue you in...

Shirley Jump said...

Well said, Isabel! And so true. And really, when people get to the end of their lives, would anyone wish they had loved less? I would only hope that I have had time to love everyone in my life MORE. That they know how very much they are loved.

The Erica Jong quote that Barbara posted is so true. And I think the older you get, the more you realize how true that is. After watching someone I loved die, I know how much I would fight to the death for love, and how I could not imagine a moment without it.

And that has only made me believe in the power of the books I write even MORE than ever before--because writing them and reading romance was what got me through the loss of a loved one and reminded me of the importance of the ones I loved and who loved me.

It is, in short, everything.

As to what I say when people say I write "fluff" -- I tell them: "I believe in the power of family, love and commitment. Don't you?"

Isabel Swift said...

Shirley: lovely post--and great one line response. I am remembering that one!

Lindsay Longford said...

Loved the response to Erica Jong's letter. And I'd ditto the recommendation of the Lee Childs' books. He's a charming, self-deprecating speaker, and even though his books are filled with violence, the women in them are strong, powerful--and interesting.

The fact that Reacher can't commit to any of them for long term speaks to his isolation, his position as "one outside the community."

And that, I think, speaks to the power of love--that it allows us to break away from isolation and violence and become part of a healing community. Violence is destruction. Love is creation.

And while we may be on "the eve of destruction," I have hope that love, empathy, caring--all the elements we believe in and show in romances--will save us from ourselves. How could I not write and read romances?

I guess that's what love has to do with it. For me, anyway.

Isabel Swift said...

Lindsay: What a lovely & insightful comment--but that's not a surprise coming from anyone who writes as insightfully as you do about that fragile yet supremely strong emotion we call love.

Will definitely take your advice on Lee & loved hearing your take on his hero's necessary isolation. As a Western movie fan, I know sometimes the hero has to ride off into the sunset...