Women’s Fiction: A Book With No Heroes

tgw_new_1-680x1024I recently discovered Amy Sue Nathan, an author of Women’s Fiction, whose debut novel THE GLASS WIVES will be released on May 14th (that’s tomorrow). I’m relatively new to Women’s Fiction, so when I visited the author’s page (Women’s Fiction Writers), her blog’s tagline sparked my curiosity: “NO HEROES.” I was intrigued but also bewildered. And so I got in touch with the author and asked:

 

What’s the significance in the absence of a hero?

 

She sent me a great response. I asked for her permission to share it on my blog, so here it is:

Writing women’s fiction, or book club fiction, to me, means it’s about a strong woman who doesn’t need to be saved by a man, which is traditional in romance novels. In the books I write and like to read, there might be love and a bit of a romantic connection, but it is not central to the story. The protagonist’s goal is to be okay (whatever that means to her) but not to be in a romance. To me, hero=someone who saves a woman. In my books, the main character saves herself! I don’t use the word heroine either, but that’s completely a personal preference. Certainly there are many ways to interpret a hero. There are everyday heroes we see on the news. There are heroes fighting for our freedom overseas. But in terms of fiction, a hero is usually the male character who is the romantic interest of the female main character. It’s very popular, many people read it and write it, it’s just not my forte or interest.

I plan to pick up a copy of THE GLASS WIVES and some other books within this genre (I’m ALWAYS up for book recommendations!). As a matter of fact, I really don’t remember the last time I read a Women’s Fiction… Anyway, as I explore this genre, I want to get a better grasp of how writers of this genre:

  • Portray STRONG WOMEN
  • What it means to different writers when a woman doesn’t need to be SAVED by a man. And also, if there are Women’s Fiction writers that do create a woman-saved-by-a-man dynamic, then how the author is able to steer away from perpetuating the damsel-in-distress concept.
  • How men are portrayed within this genre and how much/or how little room they take up in these books

On a random note, I don’t think the TRC rewrite will fit into the Women’s Fiction genre… But we’ll see. I need a better grasp of this genre before making any further conclusions.

Romance Novels: What do women want?

Even though I don’t read romances anymore, I’ve always wanted to do an academic research on the gendered experience of reading romance novels but never had the opportunity. This semester in my Readers & Readership course at the University of Toronto I was FINALLY given the excuse to start researching! The following notes on the book I’ve shared focuses on Harlequin romance novels. I know there’s a difference between Harlequin and the “single-titled” romance novels (i.e. novels by Julia Quinn, Teresa Medeiros, Julia London, Mary Balogh,etc.,), buuuuut the romance genre is the romance genre at the end of the day (edit: the notes below are actually based on what seems to be an outdated theory — since the book was published in 1982! Just realized. Nevertheless, it’s interesting how the genre has shifted over time).  As I go deeper into the research,  I’ll continue to share my findings with you guys.

Loving with a Vengence: Mass-Produced fantasies for women
by Tania Modleski

 Rejecting the theory that mass art imposes “false needs” on its consumers and creates “false anxieties”, Modleski argues that these mass-produced feminine narratives are popular in part because they successfuly speak to desires which are all too real in today’s woman but which our culture has found no adequate way of satisfying…

  • In 1793, Susanna Rowson, a writer of the “sentimental novel” remarked I wonder that the novel readers are not tired of reading one story so many times, with only the variation of its being told different ways.” While Rowson’s observation could, with even more justice today, be applied to most popular novels, which are, of course, deeply conventional, it pertains most forcibly to Harlequin Romances, for the company which produces them requires its writers to follow a strict set of rules and even  dictates the point of view from which the narrative must be told. The peculiar result is that the reader who reads the story already knows the story, at least in all its essentials. It will show that this situation both reflects and contribbutes to a mild “hystical” state — using this term in its strict psychoanalytic sense…[A] kind of duality exists….at the very core of romances, particularly in the relation between an “informed” reader and a necessarily innocent heroine (32)
  • The element of fantasy in romance lies less in the character traits of the hero than in the interpretation readers are led to make of his behavior. For the reader, acquainted with the formula and hence in possession of what Wolfang Iser calls “advance retrospection,” is always able to interpret the hero’s actions as the result of his increasingly intense love for the heroine… (40)Male brutality [i.e. moody, cynical, scornful, and bullying] comes to be seen as a manifestation not of contempt, but of love.. (41)
  • Romantic literature performs a crucial function in assuring us that although some men may actually enjoy inflicting pain on women, there are also “bullies” whose meanness is nothing more than the overflow of their love or the measure of their resistance to our extraordinary charms (43)
  • Since in real life women are not often able to reinterpret male hostility in such a satisfactory way, the novels much somehow provide and outlet of female resentment (43)….A great deal of our satisfaction in reading these novels comes, I am convinced, from the elements of a revenge fantasy, from our conviction that the woman is bringing the man to his knees and that all the while he is being so hateful, he is internally grovelling, grovelling, grovelling…. In most of the novels, the hero finally becomes aware of the heroine’s “infinite preciousness” after she has run away, disappeared, fallen into a raging river, or otherwise shown by the threat of her annihilation of how important her life really is…. (45)

  • Romance novel’s “disappearing act”: On the one hand, as readers we identity with the heroine’s anger and frustration. On the other hand, due to our adherence to the rules of the formula and our desire for a happy ending, a part of us wants the man to see the heroine as a pert, adorable creature rather than as a true rebel. Our conflicting emotions as readers would seem to point up a dilemma: the heroine’s expression of resentment, which is the result of and only potential remedy for her belittlement, is felt to be the very means by which she encourages her own belittlement. This can only lead to self-hatred and to more anger against the man for putting her in such an impossible situation. But our awareness of these feeling is prevented because we are prepared for the termination of the process in its logical extension: the fulfillment of the fantasy of ultimate revenge through utter self-destruction (47).
  • An understanding of Harlequin Romance should lead one less to condemn the novels than the conditions which have made them necessary. Even though the novels can be said to intensify female tensions and conflicts, on balance the contradition in women’s lives are more responsible for the existence of Harlequins than Harlequins are for the contradictions…. (57)
  • The reader of romances, contrary to the arguments of many popular literature critics, is engaged in an intensely active psychological process. The energy of women now use to belittle and defeat themselves can be rechanelled into efforts to grow and to explore ways of affirming and asserting the self. Moreover, the very fact that the novels must go to such extremenes to neutralize women’s anger and to make masculine hostility bearable testifies to the depths of women’s discontent (58).

So this is what one scholar has to say about romance novels. I couldn’t help but smile when reading the observation about how the  threat of le heroine’s annihilation is a technique used (and a technique I’ve noticed in many romance novels…along with my own writing) to make the hero have his Ah-hah-I-Love-Her moment. Is this a technique you guys have used in writing and/or observed in this genre? What do you guys think about the revenge fantasy theory?

Margaret Atwood Interview

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid’s Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood’s dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, part of the Massey Lecture series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood’s work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.

Margaret Atwood and I @ the book signing

Yesterday my friends and I went to attend  the annual Pelham Edgar Lecture where Margaret Atwood would be interviewed by CBC’s Carol Off at our school, the University of Toronto. Margaret Atwood is actually a graduate of our school [along with Michael Ondaatje, who wrote THE ENGLISH PATIENT!!! #$@$$%^– something I discovered just yesterday] so it was very exciting for us to learn about the old days. The days when street-level pubs did not exist, as there was the potential of a pedestrian looking into the pub to see people drinking, which would surely corrupt them… The days when people would say: “What is Canadian literature? Isn’t it a second rate version of American or British literature?” 

 Good times, good times, I’m sure.

To be seeing and listening to Ms. Atwood, the author who contributed greatly to the shaping of Canadian lit, I imagined someone…not quite human. But she seemed pretty ordinary. And super humble about her achievements. Carol Off would, several times, praise Atwood for her great contributions not only to the literary but also to the political sphere. But Atwood would constantly disown the praise, saying that she did not deserve the red badge as an activist. She mentioned that the only reason why she would take a political stance was due to the fact that there would be hundreds of people pushing behind her. Towards the end of the interview, Carol Off urged Atwood to accept some credit, and the crowd broke into applause.

The interview wasn’t quite what I expected it to be. Atwood rarely talked about her books. As I was telling my friend Kerrie, who was unable to attend due to a cold, I could summarize the interview with two words: Martians and turnips. The chunk of the interview was focused on the reading materials Ms. Atwood said she’d recommend to Martians to read if they ever visited North America. Another chunk was focused on….well…I don’t quite recall because it was rather confusing, but something about how she would vote for a turnip to become prime minister? President? Not sure. But that was her answer to Carol Off’s political question on her thoughts of this year’s election. Atwood’s reason for wanting to vote for a turnip sounded quite intelligent though…

Though I wished she could have talked more about her books, the inspiration behind her writing, I really enjoyed the interview. Ms. Atwood is a quirky, humorous and superbly intelligent woman. It’s always a great experience to get to know a bit about the author before reading her works. And I’m ashamed to say I never read past the first few pages of her books. I always meant to. But they’re a bit difficult to get into, I find. Anyway, time to try again. I’ll be starting with ‘BLIND ASSASSIN’ which I got signed by her.

Have you guys read a book by Margaret Atwood? If you have, do share your thoughts : )

Picture Day!

If you guys have been following the heated debate over the newest edition of Huckleberry Finn then…. Is this HILARIOUS or what?

 

Jenny sketched this pic for my second book: Fall of the Sparrows

 I met her on Tuesday, the same day she wanted to introduce me her friend, Alex (an aspiring author). There’s a very interesting story behind this meeting. Alex was a long-time fan of Sarah Maas’ story QUEEN OF GLASS (published by Bloomsbury, 2012) before it was taken down from FictionPress. Then Alex discovered my blog via one of Sarah’s tweets. Then she discovered we went to the same school, University of Toronto. Then she visited my Facebook profile via my blog and discovered that we had one mutual friend…. Jenny. I told Sarah that I had coffee with one of her fans and her response was: NO WAY!!! That is so cool

This incident reminded me of the time when I was walking through campus and was stopped by one of my FictionPress readers. We sorta new each other’s faces through Facebook but it was our first time meeting in person. For a moment we just stood there staring at each other wondering if we were hallucinating… Anyway, Jenny, Alex and I met up at a coffeeshop and spent a great hour chatting about writing, movies, art, and creativity in general. 

Have you guys ever experienced something like this where you realized: Wow, ’tis a small world after all.

Film Review: The King’s Speech (A incredible true story)

KING’S SPEACH tells the story of the man who became King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II. After his brother abdicates, George (‘Bertie’) reluctantly assumes the throne. Plagued by a dreaded stutter and considered unfit to be king, Bertie engages the help of an unorthodox speech therapist named Lionel Logue. Through a set of unexpected techniques, and as a result of an unlikely friendship, Bertie is able to find his voice and boldly lead the country through war.

The night I watched the trailer for THE KING’S SPEACH—I told my siblings: “I must, must watch this movie! I’m going to go see it tomorrow.”

My brother’s response was: “Alone? Invite a friend with you.”

I said: “Nah, too much of a hassle to find someone to tag along with me.” I couldn’t think of anyone, off the top of my head, who would be interested in this movie… But, mainly, I like doing things alone. Sometimes I think I enjoy my independence a wee bit too much. But then my brother whined on and on about how pitiful it was of me to go by my lonesome self. So, out of that same pity, my sister tagged along.

For both of us this film became one of THE BEST movies we’ve seen in the longest time. Throughout the film we were 1) laughing our heads off because the script was SO witty, 2) awww-ing out of sympathy, 3) awww-ing because the movie was so sweet at times.

The King’s Speech is a movie about finding faith in oneself—in one’s voice. The main character, George, sometimes stutters to the point of being unable to speak, his words held back by the fears instilled in him during his childhood. He is unable at crucial moments to let his thoughts be heard.

The pressure placed on his shoulders to speak publicly builds and builds until the day he becomes king after the abdication of his brother. The day George realizes that he must speak at his coronation—he breaks down in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I’ve ever witnessed on screen. Because the director did such a good job in allowing us, the audience, to feel the frustration and personal shame of being unable to speak properly, you really do feel for George. To be stuttering and choking on your words before all of Britain…

King George VI’s greatest challenge, however, is yet to come. Once England declares war against Nazi Germany, all hell breaks loose, especially in George’s life. The pressure becomes almost unbearably heavy when he realizes that he, as king, must give the first war time speech—a speech that will be heard by the nation and the world that deems him unfit to be the King. 

In King George’s struggle to find faith in his voice, his speech therapist Lionel Logue always sticks by him. Lorgue plays the role of a conductor, for as a conductor leads an orchestra to play exquisite music, so does Logue conduct the voice of the King to move the heart of England.

This movie encouraged me so much; though I don’t stutter, I am sometimes frustrated by how inarticulate I often am (as expressed in this entry). One can overcome the seemingly impossible, is the movie’s message. I was browsing the net and came across an account of how King’s George VI’s struggle personally inspired others with the same speech disability:

“If the king can do it, then so can I” is a phrase I’ve heard from British stutterers who grew up listening to the king speaking on the radio.

Before I ask THE question (which  you’ll find below this video) here’s the real version of the King’s speech before the outbreak of WWII. One must listen to this speech while understanding what incredible lengths he had to go through to speak without stammering.

Dear Readers, have you ever been faced with a rather impossible situation or a frustrating weakness that you (by yourself, or with the help of another) were able to overcome? I think it would be so inspiring to learn of other experiences that capture the essence of that old saying: Where there is a will, there is a way. This experience can be on anything–landing an agent, getting published, winning a race, getting a scholarship, graduating from medical school…etc.,