Sunday, August 16, 2009

Is a Great Divide forming?

More and more I've been noticing a marked difference in my reactions to blogs that center on romance fiction. The well-established, high-profile sites I used to visit regularly, like Dear Author and Smart Bitches, have begun to seem stagnant and are starting to bore me. It's the laidback "upstarts" toward which I've recently been drawn, like Reviews by Jessewave, Well Read, Kris 'n' Good Books, and several others.

I'm sure the shift in my reading and writing tastes has something to do with this -- I've developed a deep appreciation for m/m fiction, little of which is explored by the major blogs -- but there's also something of the "Old Guard" versus the "New Guard" at play here.

Frankly, I couldn't care less about Harlequin's various lines. Category romance has never appealed to me. Even a lot of the non-HQN romance print titles have a category "feel," which means I'm not interested in those, either. E-book publishers have, as far as I'm concerned, been putting out the most compelling fiction.

Yeah, okay, there's plenty of derivative material issued by e-publishers, as well, and quality can be hit-or-miss. But I find so much more variety in their output, so much more explorative risk-taking, whether serious or lighthearted, that reading an e-pubbed book has become much more of an adventure than reading the safe and predictable stuff that's sandwiched between two paper covers.

Ever more frequently, I find myself groaning and beating a hasty retreat whenever I click onto a post that has to do with some Harlequin or Big NY Print Publisher release. I'm sick of seeing the same names turn up, sick of the whole RWA/RT mindset that lauds workmanlike (i.e., boring) writing, cardboard-cutout characters, and connect-the-dots plotlines. I'm REALLY sick of standard heroes and heroines, including and especially the new breed of chick who's sexy, sensitive, and self-assuredly violent, all at once. ("Oh shit, do I want to be Paris Hilton or Vin Diesel? Guess I'll be both!")

Spare me, forever, the kickass heroine, whom I find just as revolting as the TSTL heroine!

Anyway, I can't help but wonder if there's a division forming in Romanceland, if certain bloggers/reviewers will continue to give more space, time, and credence to works originally published in print rather than works originally published in pdf, or to m/f fiction rather than other types of pairings/groupings. Will the lip service they pay to e-publishing and to GLBT romance ever be accompanied by genuine respect (for publishers other than Samhain, that is)? Or is the mainstream becoming increasingly more distanced from its tributaries?

Are we going our separate ways?

JMHP (just my humble puzzling)


Tam said...

The question is, is going your own way a bad thing? Just because something has "romance" tacked on the end does that means it needs to be grouped with everything else defined as romance?

I never went to any review sites before I found m/m, now since that's what I've been reading pretty much exclusively, I have no desire to visit sites that review m/f. What for? I don't care, but many people do. There are people who will NEVER accept books that aren't on paper and no matter how amazing they are won't read them. By not lumping m/m in with m/f on common review sites does that mean it has less acceptance? Will never get the paper coverage it deserves? No clue maybe but as I don't want m/f rammed down my throat I'm sure readers of m/f don't want m/m pushed at them but then there is the double edged sword of how will people ever try anything different if they don't know about it? Sigh. Vicious circle.

I'm not sure that made any sense since I have no clue but maybe being its own entity, developing its own personality if you will, is not a bad thing rather than trying to fit the mold of another genre.

K. Z. Snow said...

It doesn't bother me too much that certain sites seem to give e-books and/or m/m fiction short shrift. As the romance genre becomes more and more diverse, it's inevitable that bloggers exhibit different preferences. After all, this ain't the 1970s, when the whole genre was saturated with uniformity.

What's unfortunate for e-pubbed authors--and m/m fiction writers in particular--is that they and their work are pretty much overlooked by the larger review and discussion venues. Most of these pundits are more or less traditionalists. Authors who don't need the exposure are the ones who get it (not always, but usually), and the same is true of story types. And this focus tends to reinforce rather than challenge established tastes.

Small wonder (and thank goodness!) more special-interest groups are breaking away from the core.

Jenre said...

Well, I'm glad you like my 'upstart' blog. I never really considered myself as being part of a new guard. I started my blog writing about all types of romance. both m/f & m/m, but my blog has followed my interest into m/m fiction which is now why I blog almost exclusively about that.

I have also stopped reading some of the major blogs for the same reasons you have stated: They just weren't blogging about things that interested me. The further I got into epubs, the less I was interested in Avon or Berkley or the other pubs which feature on the NY Times lists. I've never seen the appeal in category romances either. I still have all these sites on my blog roll but don't tend to click on the posts to find out more about them.

I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing for there to be speciality sites for different romance genres, especially as some of these genres - ie m/m - are largely ignored (cos we're dirty) by the big sites. It is thrown a bone occasionally by Dear Author or SBTB, which is how I got into reading m/m in the first place, but isn't given enough respect (along with the epubs) especially by those who comment on the posts and I end up getting annoyed and frustrated at the whole snobbishness and the 'them and us' mentality which is often shown.

This is one reason why I'm more likely to be found at blogs which do give respect to a genre I enjoy reading and why my blog attracts people like me (and you). If this means we are going to end up being a little separate enclave of m/m loving bloggers, then so be it.

Kassa said...

Couple of things:

1 - There was a time when mainstream romance wasn't reviewed and largely ignored. Since I have always read reviews (when I could) and was interested in a rough take before I purchased sometimes, for a long time romance reviews were non-existent. The flip side to that is that it seems to be the "summer of romance" now years later with a HUGE movement to legitimize romance reading. Perhaps if I was still reading mainstream M/F fiction like I was oh .. 5 or even 10 years ago.. this movement would excite and entice.

I'm not though and thus I feel the M/F romance movement is as dated as the books themselves. I'm tired of hearing how great romance is. I read it, I'm very aware of the genre and everything surrounding it, can we stop the trumpets? I think classic sites (those you mentioned) are still riding the wave pretty hard - hence the book, etc - so they continue to do what makes them cold hard cash. While those sites talk about doing this for the love of books and no doubt it started that way, some of them make money off their site. So why buck the party line when you're pulling in a paycheck?

2 - I loved your comment " Spare me, forever, the kickass heroine, whom I find just as revolting as the TSTL heroine! " . I'm a HUGE HUGE HUGE urban fantasy lover and all that is littered in the genre are covers with tattoo'd bad ass chicks. Seriously? I could vomit. They are all the exact same with a kick ass heroine, a love interest that she denies but saves her (after 3rd book they always have sex), and she is *special* in some way. She's never just human. Where is the hardcore UF series?! I'd kill for some without the stupid chick. I almost had a tiny meltdown in B&N surrounded by those covers.

3 - the "upstart" blogs seem honest - IMO. There is no agenda other than to talk about mutual interests and promote books they liked. Especially considering it's a niche genre. Eventually those have the possibility of becoming their own DA/SB depending on the increasing audience. M/M is still very new as a genre. It'll come.. 20 yrs down the line maybe :D.

sorry I cant see how much I've written but I'm sure it's a thesis. Sorry!

Teddy Pig said...

Honestly, I started reading Romance because my aunt had this huge box of late 70s Harlequins and several pink pastel covered Barbara Cartland books and even some of the early clinch covers and I loved em. I got the appeal and had a fun time reading them.

So even though I do bad mouth Category for laying bare all the sins of Romance. Category does have that mechanical feel and whenever I read one I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a factory in China mass producing these things generated by a computer program and slapped together for a penny an hour by child labor.

There are times though I feel the same way about M/M being a fad with some writers. Does that piss anyone off? I do that some times.

Anyway, as with most things the cream will rise to the top and the dreck will fall to the bottom and I review both M/F and M/M and will continue to do so since that is what I read. In fact that reminds me I need to get back to my reviews.

Wren said...

I don't think having an enclave is a bad thing at all, as long as we get out once in a while to see what the rest of the world is up to. I still go to a couple of the 'major' bogs, but find myself scrolling down, stopping only if something catches my eye (Doc Turtle's reviews of Dark Lover, e.g., are rhiotously fhunny).

We all want the comfort of gathering with others who share our outlook or philosophy or whatever, so I am thrilled that there are well-done blogs that let me partake of the m/m universe. Even when the discussion isn't about m/m directly, I know we stand on common ground. I kinda like that. It's the corner bar where I'm at home. When I visit some of the 'major' blogs, I know I am just a visitor, if that makes sense.

I don't think it's a bad thing at all that we go our own way. I think it is a precursor of bigger and better things to come, really. It will take time, as Kassa said, but gosh I hope it isn't 20 years!

K. Z. Snow said...

Glad you stopped by to comment, Jen, Kassa, and TeddyP, since your blogs are among my favorites! (BTW Kassa, where are you now? Your LJ's been down.)

You all made so many excellent points, I don't know where to start.

Hi, Wren! I totally agree about Doc Turtle's reviews. They're pretty much the only feature that keeps me going back to SB. Everything else...meh.

Yes, I know exactly what you mean about the "neighborhood bar" feel of blogs where visitors are passionate about their common interest. Great analogy! I grew up in the corner taverns my parents owned and have always had favorite local watering holes.

Jen, "thrown a bone" is exactly how it seems when the biggies approach m/m fiction. E-books too, for that matter. I'm so glad both are taken more seriously elsewhere.

Kassa, all three of your points were superb, and I'm glad you brought them up. Yes, WE GET IT that romance is cool. All this straining to analyze and legitimatize the genre has taxed my patience to the breaking point. I can't bear to read one more post on the subject.

LOL to your anecdote about approaching meltdown in B&N's UF section. I'd rather impale myself on a manure-coated pitchfork than read that stuff. Monkey see, monkey do. AAACK!

Hear, hear! to the "honesty" of the Lesser Blogs. While the Greater Blogs nurture their cult status and rake in the dough, and their owners bask in the glory of celebrity, you guys just keep plugging along for the love of books. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.

God, Teddy, that image of Chinese factory workers churning out category romances... :-D

Writing m/m fiction quite likely is a case of trend-hopping for some authors. Can't fault them for trying to make money. I just know that, in my case, something clicked when two characters led me into this branch of erotic romance. I might not represent the creme de la creme of the genre, but I truly feel at home within it.

Obsidian Bookshelf said...

Thank you for this:

("Oh shit, do I want to be Paris Hilton or Vin Diesel? Guess I'll be both!")

That's just too funny! And I'd agree that RWA/RT has no relevance to me whatsoever. I also wish that the romance genre in general (mf) and ours (mm) could move past the repetitive analysis of issues such as can one be a feminist and read romance and why do het women want to write m/m.

I mean, who cares? Let's just get on with the reading and writing and reviewing of the books.

Kassa said...

I hope it doesn't take 20 years for the genre of M/M romance to catch on and in the day and age of epublishing I doubt it will be. Once you go looking for one ebook, you inevitably stumble on m/m. I know I did!

I think readers need to stop seeking justification and respect for what they read. Whether it's gay smut or literary genius, reading is meant to entertain first and foremost.

If m/m is trendy for some authors they won't stick with it and it's sometimes easy to spot. So as in everything else, those without the passion soon drop off!

Oh and KZ, I had some problems with my LJ and had to rename. The new addy (plus explanation) is over at:

Jenre said...

If I'm still blogging in 20 years will someone please shoot me.


K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Val. Nice to see you here! (Crap, another great site I neglected to mention.)

My answer to your comments?


Thanks for the update, Kassa. I didn't know where to find you!

Jen: "If I'm still blogging in 20 years will someone please shoot me."

That's the easy part. But who gets to pry your cold fingers from the keyboard? ;-)

Obsidian Bookshelf said...

You said: "... another great site."

Thank you! That's a treat to hear.

MB (Leah) said...

I don't see any of this separating and specializing as a huge problem. Currently there are so many different sub genres of romance and people gravitate to what appeals to them.

One thing I do like about the larger, more well known blogs like SB and DA is that even though their focus with regards to reviewing is more main stream romance as in m/f and Harlequin type stuff, they are getting a large enough voice and respect out there to slowly make a difference and bring these sub genres and ebooks to the attention of main stream readers who might not pick up less well known genre book, like a m/m.

I like to read them more for general industry news and the latest in ebook gadgets and DRM issues and so on.

But I like to go to reader blogs who specialize in specific genres to mix with others who also like those sub genres and get more info about what's out there.

And personally, if you want to talk about the bastard child, try liking f/f. We are snubbed and treated as the dirty of the dirtiest by both strictly m/f readers as well as m/m readers who should at least understand what it's like liking something not accepted by mainstream.

An author friend and I started a blog strictly to review and talk about f/f, f/f/m, bi women stories just so we could have space to discuss without the constant judgments and nasty eww girl cooties comments. What is wrong with that? It's place for those who like what we like to get book info and feel OK about what they like to read.

I think specialty blogs are good and only add to the whole romance genre in general and actually keep people from arguing and fighting about what's "real" romance because everyone can have a place to go to that makes them feel OK and accepted about what they like.

K. Z. Snow said...

You're welcome, Val. I keep meaning to update my blogroll but just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Obsidian Bookshelf said...

Hi, K.Z., that's quite all right! Whenever you get around to it is totally fine.

MB (Leah), you said: "And personally, if you want to talk about the bastard child, try liking f/f. We are snubbed and treated as the dirty of the dirtiest by both strictly m/f readers as well as m/m readers who should at least understand what it's like liking something not accepted by mainstream."

I definitely know what you're talking about, but if it helps any, I'm an m/m reviewer who doesn't hold anything against f/f. I've reviewed f/f on my site, e.g., Sacchi Green, Nicole Kimberling, and Nicola Griffith. I don't do more because I'm so short of time, and m/m is my priority. I can barely even find time to go read other people's blogs! :)

Emeraldjaguar said...

I still keep the DA/SB type blogs in my google reader, but very rarely actually go to the sites any more, unless Sarah Frantz is reviewing something. I also very rarely read het, so the large majority of the reviews on DA are of no practical use to me. SB posts maybe one review a month, so I wouldn't really call them a review site any more. Either which way, both have gotten so shit deep in advertisement deals and connections with pubs/bookstores that it's just not worth wading through the spam to find interesting articles.

I'm over the whole RWA if-you-don't-has-big-advance-you're-not-really-an-author thing. And the men-are-icky-so-if-thats-what-you-write-don't-join-our-club thing.

Kris said...

An 'upstart'?? *snort*

Although I've only been blogging for a short time, I've tended to visit the sites that seemed less caught up in the 'romance' hype and more focused on what people are reading and what they like (or don't) about books, etc.

I also - as per Wren's neighbourhood bar analogy - lurk around blogs which have a more informal, friendly feel to them. For me, these are the places which appear to have a willingess to raise and discuss issues without all the wankfestry that surrounds interesting or controversial topics when they are posted at sites like DA or SB.

I'm not sure I would consider myself a niche blog, despite talking about m/m fiction quite a bit. Maybe that's the way that others perceive me. *shrugs* Who knows. As a reader, though, I do prefer the niche blogs mainly, I think, because they have the tendency to discuss issues that I myself have or haven't thought about before with regard to genre specific work. It's fun to play with like-minded kids. :)

I also echo Val and Kassa's comments about the rehashing and justification of the same-old whys about the writing of m/m romance. It's happened, some of us like it, let's move on already!

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Leah! Where've you been?

I know what you mean re. f/f fiction. What an uphill battle for acceptance! Glad to hear you've got a blog going for it. I'll link to it if you'd like; just send me the URL.

True, the larger sites do offer a lot of industry info. They also provide some exposure for e-pubbed and GLBT fiction, but they only do it sporadically and (I get the impression) kind of grudgingly. Their core readership seems to favor mainstream authors.

I still visit DA a few times a week--they do have occasionally interesting features and polls and lively discussions--but I only check out SB twice a month, maybe.

When bloggers become more egregiously self-promoting than authors (hell, I can hardly stand myself sometimes), I know it's time to blow those pop stands.

K. Z. Snow said...

Emmy, I wish you'd say what you really think. ;-)

I can't argue with any of it.

K. Z. Snow said...

Kris, you're a punkess. That's the long and the short of it.

I can't believe you finally found your way out of the Wonderland of GoodReads. Did the men on the chess board get up and tell you where to go?

As much as I'd love to disagree with you about everything you said, I can't.

Now, if Castanet were here, that wouldn't be a problem. But she's on some sort of secret mission tonight involving spinach, marmosets, and the Latvian flag. Or is it netherlips reduction surgery? Ach, I can't keep her secret missions straight. I'm just glad she's gone for a while.

MB (Leah) said...

Hi, Leah! Where've you been?

See K.Z. your blog is on my reader and I always read it. I'm always here. LOL

I totally get what you mean about some blogs. I've recently dropped quite a few blogs that were on my reader because what they talk about doesn't interest me much, mostly m/f.

I like the edgier stuff like m/m, f/f and the free for all, sometimes a crap shoot, you get with ebooks.

You, are very interesting and funny so I'm always around. :D

but if it helps any, I'm an m/m reviewer who doesn't hold anything against f/f. I've reviewed f/f on my site, e.g., Sacchi Green, Nicole Kimberling, and Nicola Griffith. I don't do more because I'm so short of time, and m/m is my priority. I can barely even find time to go read other people's blogs! :)

That's nice of you. I didn't bring up the f/f though to get on anyone case or anything, but only to help make my point that I think these smaller more specialized blogs are a good thing and needed.

I think it's great when a blog/ review blog focuses only on m/m or erotica, or f/f. That way when you go their you know those books are being judged and reviewed by people who know and like the genre really well and you can get good/ correct info.

Plus, you get juicy reviewers like Emmyjaguar who say it like it is. I always read Emmy's reviews. These are the types of blogs I like to hang out on or read.

K. Z. Snow said...

You are very interesting and funny so I'm always around. :D

And I'm glad you are! Now send me that link to your new blog venture, and I'll post it ASAP.

Jeanne said...

Hey KZ
Just bopped over to see what's up and wham didn't you have a post that I could sink my teeth into!
I tend not to read review sites except for a few and you've mentioned those that I do.
I find that I'm going to blogs of real people (at least I thimk they're real :~D) who are living the life I write about. I wind up goin to issue blogs that discuss things like DADT and marriage equality.
And for folks who're are interested in finding new authors of m/m fiction, my blog is off and running in September with a slew of authors.
And, sweetie, you know any time you want to drop by and do some vigorous posting, just let me know.

K. Z. Snow said...

Oh boy, Jeanne -- "vigorous posting." I don't know. I'm a pretty lazy poster. Gotta get those muscles in shape! ;-) Thanks for the invitation, hon. I know I'm welcome at your house, as you are at mine.

I visit a lot of queer blogs, too--for the news and (I shamefully confess) the eye candy. They're among my favorites on my Favorites list.

Treva Harte said...

Couple of probably irrelevant things to note. I started reading romances a looong time ago. I heard Kathy Seidel explain once that romance authors in the '70s and '80s could take chances because they were under the radar. Once they made money, everyone played it safe and the industry changed. Epubs may have been under the radar until recently but people have figured out they can make money. I hope we don't start to play it too safe.

And, until recently, most of mainstream romance industry news is more irrelevant than relevant for epublishing. That is changing, too, for good or bad.

K. Z. Snow said...

Kathy Seidel's observation fascinates me. I don't recall cat romances from that era being particularly risky...but maybe time and shifting perspective have warped my perception.

Your final sentence was, by the way, intriguingly cryptic. :-)