Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Getting Sapphistocated, Hopping Heads, Bodice Ripping

I You Can't Get No Plenty Of Sapphistocation

As a writer, when do you decide to put one genre to rest in favor of another? Four years ago, I set aside my mystery aspirations to concentrate on erotic romance and discovered a niche in two places - M/M fiction targeted at women, and my Dareville series. Both have greatly outperformed my mysteries in terms of sales, yet recent events seem to signal to me that mystery will make a return to my life in greater strength. I am pondering now if this analogy can be applied to publishing as a whole.

Where I am now, there is very little genre-wise we will not consider, yet (like many publishers, I'm sure) we have genres that sell better than others. Some books in a particular genre may skyrocket with little to no promotional effort, while others may be heavily marketed and see disappointing numbers. I like to root for the underdog, however, and try to do my best to help everybody under our roof. For some, it's meant nominating them for specific awards (sometimes covering the entry fees) or taking out targeted ads in magazines and specialty publications. As June is Gay and Lesbian History Month, or somesuch, it seems an appropriate time to talk about something we're planning for early 2009.

Phaze has a number of F/F erotica and erotic romance titles available. Strong stories by some great authors, and while we have an incredible audience for other genres I would love to promote this one as well. I've heard around blogdom that F/F is a hard sell in eBook. Theories abound, but I won't delve into that right now. It can be tricky to discuss, considering we've had books out with F/F scenes that do rather well. Everything in moderation, I suppose. Instead, I'll announce the pending release of Sapphistocated, a collection of romantic stories for people who enjoy passion between women. I won't reveal the authors just yet as it is a work in progress, but they are names you may recognize - excellent writers all. As we continue to gain exposure offline it will be nice to have a greater diversity of titles: sci-fi / fantasy for DragonCon, interracial and African-American for Romance Slam Jam, and gay and lesbian for Saints and Sinners.

Throbbing Pens of Steel

And now for an interesting segue: Danielle Steel penned somewhat of an F/F scene (not a consensual one) in her book, Malice. Steel has written a bazillion books, of which I have read about thirty. I wouldn't consider myself a Steel fan - I mainly began reading her as I contemplated writing romance, and figured I should do some research to learn her appeal. I've talked to other Steel readers, who have maintained her style and formula isn't far removed with each new book. The story may span years or decades, or perhaps a much shorter time. The heroine is either a woman of privilege about to lose it all, or a woman with nothing from the start who gains much (either tangibly or emotionally).

Just about every book I've read of hers, with the exception of the first-person The Klone and I, is peppered with so much head-hopping you have to wonder if the characters can hear each other think after the first five pages. Steel also has a gift for grandiose summarizing, and shoveling too much exposition within the first chapter of a book, often when it really isn't necessary. In Secrets, one of her main characters is a movie star with a shady past. We learn all about her stint in the porn industry, and as I read I'm wondering how it will come back to bite her in the ass. It never does. So why tell us? If there's anything I've learned from my teachers, it is not to reveal what isn't really important. We're not going to care about the real estate holdings in Europe if the character never gets there, m'kay?

Case in point: MSNBC has presented online an excerpt of Steel's newest beach read, Rogue. You can read part of the first chapter, if you can stand it. My screen is dripping with red ink now. I'm sorry, Danielle. I know you have more money than I do, and more readers, and more books in print, and more ex-husbands, and more exploited subsidiary rights and more foreign translations...but what is up, chica? If this had come to me for submission, I'd have sent it back. As another author remarked on a writing board, this first chapter is an incredible info dump. It is important we know every single detail of the model about to skydive, right when she's about to do it? If you give away so much information now, what's in the next 300 or so pages? Maybe it will be important to readers where the model's boyfriend got his degree, but minutae like that can be fed to us over the course of dinner, not as we're shedding our coats in the foyer.

I won't completely rag on Danielle here, though. After all, she did keep me interested for 30 books, and not even Sue Grafton has managed that yet. To Steel's credit, I do think her settings are meticulously researched, and her bibliography as a whole presents a very diverse landscape of characters and eras - an unfamiliar reader may peg her as solely a contemporary writer, when actually she has penned numerous historical works (if you consider the early 20th century historical), and has even dabbled in interracial romance (Ransom featured an Asian hero and a white heroine, while Silent Honor featured a Japanese heroine and a white hero). I liked The Ghost and No Greater Love, and I may go back and check out some earlier works. But, please, Danielle, at least ease up on the head-hopping POV shifts. I'm dizzy.

Rent a Bodice, Read a Book

That's "rent" as in to tear, old-timey term.
I bring up the new Steel book because MSNBC has an accompanying poll, asking people if they read romance. Rather than just offer pat yes or no options, they decided to be cute. The answers are absolutes. To vote yes, you admit that "Yes, yes, yes! Bodice-rippers are my ultimate escape," (can you picture some chica flailing wildly with this affirmation?) while no means "No way. I don't touch those books." As in, icky poo!
This is what has a number of my peers up in arms. I must side with their opinions on the wording of the poll, too. Had MSNBC revealed a preview of a James Ellroy thriller, would the "Do you read mystery" poll feature options like:

Yes, yes, yes! Just call me Doublemint because I'm a gumshoe at heart.

No way. Who cares whodunnit? Mystery don't do it for me.

Meh. I'll wait for M. Night Shamalamadingdong to make the movie.

Romance books tend to receive a bad rap as escapist pap with little literary value. Never mind that you may find a number of romance books that address social issues - like those by Danielle Steel. She may never win a Pulitzer, but some topics she presents are food for thought. Even in some of the works Phaze publishes, there are issues and conflict. Granted, I can't say that's the reason why we sell books, but I will submit that some people do actually read the articles in Playboy, so what romance authors have to offer is as entertaining and culturally significant as anything Gore Vidal ever gave us.

Gore Vidal, by the way, gave us Myra Breckinridge, which was adapted into a horrible, horrible movie (YouTube it). Adaptations of Steel novels fare much better in quality. Happy reading.

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