Thursday, October 30, 2008

My answer to an interesting question

Mary Kate has a very interesting post up today on the reaction so far to The Windflower and those who have read it on it’s round the world tour. So far there are some strong negative reactions to it and she is asking why this is because it’s her all time favourite book.

So. That gets me to wondering -- why does the book work for me on almost every level? I'm thinking back to 2000, when I first read the book.

And then

So why does this book not work for other readers?

For the record, while not “officially” a member of the tour because I have my own copy and have already have read it and will be doing a filler piece while it’s in transit to it’s next stop. I just need the go ahead to post my say.

I’m with Mary Kate. I read this one much later than she did. She first read it in 2000 and I think I read it about 2005. And I loved it! Mary Kate makes a statement that I totally agree with:

Maybe it's because I did start reading romance in the early 80s, but forced seduction has never really bothered me.

That was true for me to for quite a while until slowly over time, it did begin to bother me quite a bit and I gave up romance for quite some time. When I came back to it, there had been significant changes – for the better(!) in the heroes.

I think it does make a difference in how long one has been reading romance as to whether this one will work or not. As a fellow long time reader, I remember the days of Steve from Rosemary Roger - now THERE was a jerk hero!! The heroes of yesteryear romance novels were downright cruel to the heroines. They thought nothing of either forcefully seducing or downright raping the heroine. This was an early theme of many a romance book I read. Kathleen Woodiwiss, Catherine Coulter, Brenda Joyce's earlier novels, Jude Devereaux to name just a few, had what we would now consider as horrific heroes.

So compared to some of them, Devon wasn't nearly so bad. By the time he and Merry consummated their love, they were both in love with each other - and that makes a great deal of difference.

Now readers converted to romance after the Great Change; the Softening or Mellowing of this 'old school' hero probably don’t realize how desensitized us older romance readers had become to this type of hero. They may read one or two older type romances and not be as negatively impacted by them as us old coots are. Whitney My Love by Judith McNaught regularly appears on top book lists – and I hated it because of the hero(??).

Books of today are much ‘tighter’ than many of the books I grew up in my first round of romance reading days with. While I’m not going to get into that great of detail as to actually count pages, the romance books of yesteryear were, on the whole, much more detailed. So even though it was 2005 when I first read The Windflower, I was used to the weightier prose and it didn’t take me out the story at all. On the whole, they seemed to be much more sweeping than books of today. It wasn’t unusual for them to take place in more than one continent. I think many of today’s readers might get bored with what might be considered excess story and scenes.

So once The Windflower tour winds up, I think an interesting question might be asked of all participants. Does the length of time you’ve been reading romance affect your thoughts on this book.


Kati said...

Great, great post, Kristie!

I really am beginning to believe that those of us "older" readers have a different sensibility towards old school. I'm not saying that's right or wrong, but I'm coming to think it's the line that divides us.

These days there are a ton of romances that don't work for me, but many of my issues with them are "technical" issues, as in the writing style, rather than the actual characters that don't work for me. The notable exception for me is Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas, who I think is an incredibly gifted writer, but I totally didn't connect with the h/h in that book.

But in older school books it seems like the complaints that I hear about books like Whitney, My Love or older Woodiwiss is that readers don't connect with the hero in particular because of his autocratic nature.

It's an interesting dichotomy, I think.

I also wonder if you leaving romance for awhile in distaste over the romances being written and my sticking with the genre can be accounted for by the difference in our ages. I was a bit younger than you, I think when I started reading, and perhaps my ignorance just inured me to what was going on in romance, while you brought a much more mature approach to the books and therefore more clearly recognized the subjugation of women?


Kristie (J) said...

I think one of the reasons I gave them up for a while was because I'd been married for a short while. I would read the book with the asshole heroes, look over at Ron and think to myself "would I want him treating ME the way the heroes(???) treated 'their' women?? *HUGE shudder*" If he tried it, I woulda kicked him to the curb SO fast. So as book after book after book I read had this old school type hero, I realized I just couldn't read the genre anymore. I'd lost all respect for the men in the way they treated women and the women for allowing themselves to be treated that way.
So I think yes - age has something to do with it too. I was 'in' a marriage and I didn't want what I was reading in romance to impact what I was living. Plus the sexual enjoyment was out of this world for the heroines and while sex for me in RL was quite enjoyable *wicked grin* there was a small part of me that was wondering what I might be missing. I just wasn't 'exploding' in passion all the time. The two factors combined had the possibility of negatively affecting my own marriage and I didn't want that happening.

Stacy~ said...

I have to agree with what Kati is saying. I've been reading adult romances for 25 years (since I was 12), and during that time in the 80's, forced seduction/rape was the norm. I'm not saying it's right, but that's how things were done back then. I can't say that it was ever acceptable, but you learn to read "past" it and move on. I never found these scenes titillating or exciting in any fashion.

I also think, as much as I hate to think about it, that this was a much more common occurrence during earlier time periods, what with women having little or no power or rights to defend themselves. They were at the mercy of men, and most of the time, I'm sure it was truly a hardship and difficult under the best circumstances.

The same goes for the brutish behavior of the heroes. I had no other basis of comparison at that time so over time, I became used to their demanding and harsh personalities. This was how the majority of romance heroes were written back then.

I sound like I'm apologizing for enjoying the books I read during the 80's, but I'm really not. The bottom line is that these stories were fiction, so I'm able to separate myself from that and reality and that allows me to enjoy what I'm reading. Not everything that goes on in romance novels would be acceptable to me in RL. But when you're reading a book, I can easily let things go.

Of course if authors today wrote stories like they were written 20-30 years ago, I don't think I could just gloss over it like I did back then. Unfair? Maybe, but knowing what I know now, my standards have definitely changed.

Leslie said...

"...that this was a much more common occurrence during earlier time periods, what with women having little or no power or rights to defend themselves. They were at the mercy of men"

I agree with Stacy. I just took the way the heroes treated the heroines as being accurate for the time period. Could it be said that the "Mine" moments some of today's paranormal romances have is an evolution of those forced seductions? Possibly.

I do wonder if I would still enjoy some of the over the top romances that I enjoyed from the 80's. Valerie Sherwood and Shirley Busbee come to mind. And there's Beatrice Small's Skye O'Malley who didn't have a traditional HEA. How many husbands/lovers did she have? lol

kmont said...

I did read 103 pages. No, that's not all of it, but I did read some and gave the book a chance. I already explained why I didn't finish so I won't repeat it.

I am very glad, sincerely glad for those that like the book and want to champion it, but please don't put down the ones that don't care for it, however gently it may be done. It was upsetting to see my review linked as not having read the book. I spent a hard week in which I just hoped to be entertained at the end of each day by Windflower and wasn't. For those that have been or will be, I am glad for them.

Kati said...

kmont - You gave it more than enough of a chance, in my opinion. 100 pages is more than enough to know if a book is to your taste. Sorry if my comments made it seem like I somehow thought you did less than you should have.

This exercise has been one that's been surprising for me, but I certainly didn't mean to insinuate that you hadn't given the book an ample chance. I think you did.


Like I said, I think this book is the definition of "Your Mileage May Vary."

Kristie (J) said...

Oh dear KMont!!! I didn't mean in any way shape or form to put you down or uncomfortable and I'm truly sorry if you took it that way!!! I fixed things.

The point I was trying to make is I think our 'history' or lack of, in reading romance can have a huge impact on what like or may not like today. As what Stacy said, I'm not at all regretting reading the old time romances. They helped shaped my reading of today. And the Busbee's, the Blakes, The Rogers were the pioneers; the forerunners of today's Kleypas, Quinn, Hoyt et al. The old style romance writers opened the bedroom door for the first time and I'm sure many readers are glad of that. I know I am. It was the first steps towards women ‘owning’ their own sexuality. I know for example that Lavryle Spencer was a real fan of Woodiwiss and held her as a model. And I think with Ms. Spencer we started getting a less forceful type hero. And she in turn led the way for today’s romance writers.
But while I say all this, I also understand totally why the older books don’t resonate with today’s romance readers. I completely echo what MK wrote when she said this “The women who have read The Windflower so far are all ridiculously smart, articulate women whose opinions I very much admire and who review regularly and approach books with a strong bent of literary criticism, which I think is probably how you're supposed to review.”
The books written back then WERE different and I can see why they can be almost unreadable for some romance fans. Chances are, if I didn’t have over a 25 year history of reading romance my thoughts would be the same and I’d see the many flaws and detractors of this book.
And now – my comment is almost as long as my original post. But truly, I understand trying your hardest but just not enjoying it.

Carolyn Jean said...

Great post! I think it's so interesting how this is all turning out. I was totally shocked to not love it. And really I just started reading romance in 2006.

Though I have to say, forced seduction has never bothered me. I have a different measuring stick for fiction than for real life. To me, fiction is just a different realm than real life. Why is forced seduction wrong but it's okay for Jess to shoot Dane? And for vampires to be vigilantes? I would abhor all of that in real life.

You are so right about the tighter thing. Books now are way tighter. I don't see that as entirely a good thing.

Lisa Marie Wilkinson said...

One of the many things that stands out for me about "The Windflower" is the beauty of the prose. In today's fast-paced world, there is the unfortunate possibility that an editor would drastically prune this novel and destroy much of its appeal. The H/H and secondary characters are beautifully brought to life, and I've hoped for several years that Sharon and Tom Curtis would write Cat's story as a sequel because I found Cat every bit as interesting as the lead characters. Anyone who has read early Kathleen Woodiwiss, Johanna Lindsey or Shirlee Busbee will be familiar with the "forced seduction" concept that was so prevalent when these books were written. I never viewed Devon's seduction of Merry as anything approaching a rape: for me, "The Windflower" has always been a love story.

As with anything to do with the arts, what one enjoys is purely a subjective call, and different readers will like different things. As an author, I recognize and accept that fact.