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Treat Her Like A Lady (Not A Hag)

Suzie-Bud
Simon de Beauvoir suggested that few writers have championed age in women, and she's right. From evil stepmother to “cougar,” there are a number of not-so pretty representations of women as they age in romance fiction, which is odd considering that through its depiction of female protagonists, romance fiction has so often reflected the attitudes and concerns women face in society.

Think about it. In contemporary romance novels, issues such as divorce, being overweight, and the global financial crisis have made their way into the lives of a romance heroine. The one subject that hasn't been addressed, except in fearful terms, is women and ageing (or aging for you Americans).

You may not agree, but It's my theory that the portrayal of heroines in romance novels is bound by the constraints publishers place upon them. There are two no-no's a romance heroine can't be: a bitch or too old. The Too Old Rule is evident in the way female protagonists over 40 are pushed out of romance and into subgenres such as Hen Lit and Matron Lit. In these subgenres romance no longer exists, or romance is a marginal issue, rather than the main impetus that leads the story.

When a woman of a certain age does appear in romance she is seldom the protagonist. An older woman in
romance (in print and on the screen) is more likely to be a secondary character in a stereotyped role such as a grandma, the menopausal friend, or worse--she's made into some kind of monstrous figure. She's turned into the bitch, an evil stepmother, the caricatured over-sexed cougar, the scared of getting older chick with the frozen-faced-collagen-trout-pout, or a smothering, no-one's-good-enough-for-my-boy-mother-of-all-mothers.

This shift from lead to, to villain, to background serves to highlight romance publishing's unwritten Too Old Rule. Some publishers (and some of you) may believe this progression from romantic lead to supporting player is because romance is all about the fantasy. To me, this forced progression suggests the fantasy has to fit certain criteria which exclude age. To me, this implies publishers (and perhaps some of you) think no romance reader is going to relate to an older romance heroine. We all know the fantasy of falling in love does not apply to anyone over 40 because people over 40 don't fall in love. Right?

That utter bullshit aside, let's take a poll. First, hands up. Can older women in romance be defended as roman
tic leads? Do they deserve love despite their age? Is age truly a monster to be feared? Or should women over 40 simply be nipped, tucked and slathered with vanishing cream? Now vote below!



Do you read romance fiction?
Yes
No

Is age a monster to be feared?
Yes
No

Can women 40+ be romantic leads?
Yes
No

Does a the heroine's age negate the romance fantasy for you?
Yes
No

Have you ever read a romance featuring a heroine over 40?
Yes
No

If you answered 'yes" to question 5, what novel did you read?

Suzie-Bud
During my lovely Valentine's Day Breakfast with Shrinky, we got into a discussion titled: What Valentine's Day Means to Me.

We agreed. VD has a double meaning for me & Shrinky. It has nothing to do with the PSA from the 70s, the one I post here every year. You know, the one with the catchy tune you'll find yourself humming long after you hear it.  I mean this one here:
Anyhow, Bitey-ites, Shrinky and I got engaged on Valentine's Day and not because it was Valentine's Day. It had more to do with a more practical reason, like time and a soon-to-expire Visitor Visa. As a result, because of the emotional connection to the date, we treat Valentine's day more like our anniversary than our actual wedding anniversary. We make a bigger deal out of the day, give gifts, and get all mushy. Our interpretation of Valentine's Day has no real connection to the modern, commercial aspects of VALENTINE'S DAY.

A little while after breakfast, I came across someone else's two cents on Valentine's Day with a blog post by Paula Roe titled What's Wrong With Valentine's Day. http://paularoe.wordpress.com/ There, Paula discusses her interpretation of Valentine's Day.  She gives history, offers facts, and does a nifty little job on the commercialisation of a day that is an amalgam of a few Christan martyrs named Valentine. Thank you, Paula! I wave to you from my "little bubble of happy joy-bliss" and hope a  loved one showers you with an abundance of soy decaf caramelattes from Gloria Jean's.

Yes, it's very interesting that martyrdom gave way to a romantic interpretation of love. Since we're dealing with interpretation,  I always thought Valentine's Day ought to be the day of WORLD LOVE, another sort of Christmas-ish holiday espousing good will towards all man and womankind.  So how about it folks? How about we turn the commercial VD aimed at couples into a commercial VD aimed at everyone? Tell those you care for that you love them. Show kindness to the goofy-looking kid in your class by giving her/him a Valentine--like kids used to do when they were 6 & 7.  Share the box of chocolates (yes, I know that's hard for some people) or jar of peanut butter, or cup of coffee with your neighbour. In essence, Let's show the universe a commercial day about the many faces of love, just like Love Actually did.

A Romance By Any Other Name...

Suzie-Bud
I've been sitting on this for a little while, brewing my thoughts to get them just so. Usually, dear Biteyites, we discuss that rare-but-subversive woman known as the Mid-life romance heroine--and lack there of. Oldbitey is heavy into that big ol' taboo of fading beauty, saggy boobs, and gettin' funky with middle-aged sex. This year brings us to another subversive, very particular taboo in romance fiction: The windy pop.

Yes, kids, today I'm talking about farts. Turn away now if you can't deal with my cheese-cutting-is-adolescent sense of humour.

Let's get to it. I wonder why there exists a form of a double standard when it comes to Romantic Comedies and farting. In celluloid rom-com the bottom-burp (How many fart euphemisms can I work into this post?) is allowed. TV's Sex And The City had an entire episode based around the humble bun shaker. Rom-com films and Chick Lit aren't afraid of firing a little stink torpedo, but Contemporary romantic comedies in print form run screaming from the threat of a tiny squeaker. Is a fart not really a fart if you can watch it come to life in a moving picture?  In a big screen broad romantic comedy, like Bridesmaids, a little gas and diarrhea is fine, but why is it the game changes in print? Farting, like loose skin, or erectile dysfunction and vaginal dryness, or a little grey in the pubic area simply can't play any part in the fantasy of romance in print. I wanna know why rom-com lovers can tolerate film & digital image gas but not when it's printed on a page.

Here are some questions I pose to you, my bite-worthy friends:

1. Is the issue with a printed fart your imagination? That is, is it because the mind's eye vision of the passing of gas you read about much, much more malodorous than the one you watch on screen?


2. Or is it for the same reason you seldom find (or see) fictional 40+ romance heroines or older people having sex: it comes down to an ICK FACTOR?

If you answered yes to question 2, I say, hold on sweet talkin' lover...it's so sad if that's the way it's over.  Romance comes in all forms. If the romance is key to the story, why should the little bits like body shape, age, and less-than-perfect-all-too-human tooting ruin the fantasy? Yes, my romance fantasy may not be your romance fantasy. My idea of funny might not match yours, but maybe we can agree on a few things. Beyond slapstick stuff, comedy is generally situation based. Contemporary rom-coms are usually situational. Finding love is situational. Falling in love is situational. The fantasy of love is situational.

This situation completely works for me. It's the sweetest fart story I've ever heard, and it's ripe (excuse THAT pun) for inclusion in a big screen AND print version romantic comedy.  The story comes to me from VaVeros, author of Shallowreader's Blog (
http://shallowreader.wordpress.com/)
. It goes something like this: Amy and Ryan (fake names, naturally) have just had their very first date. The date went well, very well, and Amy happily gives Ryan a ride home. She drops him off in front of his house. Windows down as she reverses out, Amy safely releases the gas she's been, politely, holding in for the last few minutes. When she pauses to change from Reverse to Drive, Amy discovers Ryan leaning in at the passenger window to restate how much he enjoyed their first date. Of course Ryan was startled, but the air biscuit was all it took. Surprise gave way to laughter and then it was love, not at first sight, but first fart. Ryan fell in love with Amy the moment he saw (and smelled) her humanity. They've been married 15 years.

When it's handled in the right way there's not so much an ICK factor there as you might have thought, huh? You can see the entire romance blossom from that one little fizzler.

But what do I know. I'm a stinker for romance.

Big Howl

You may be interested in this lovely explanation of a book contract from Pitch University (with Jeffery V M. Mehalic, the Write Lawyer). The contract’s legalese is broken down and explained and it’s rather eye opening. I was utterly fascinated.

Then I was outraged. Then I was all scared. Then I was all downtrodden. Then I was all determined. Then I was all, damn, a $0.7 cent royalty is no where near minimum wage!

Then I began to wonder a few things, things like what’s the historical background to the set up of the publishing industry?  Why is it the publisher benefits far more than the writer, who’s poured in time, imagination, talent, blood, sweat and you know the rest? Who was it that decided that the AUTHOR, the very reason for the existence of a book, comes last? Is there some kind of secret society, a brother or sisterhood of publishers who meet on a weekly basis to discuss the various legal ways to screw an author?

Going by this contract, it sure seems like there might be.

When Doing the Right Thing Goes Wrong-ish

66 Bitey
While on my way to Shrinkytown this morning I stopped by my local Giant Green Swirl SuperMarket Chain. I was after one thing and one thing only: Deli-sliced turkey breast for Shrinky's lunch. So you know I ended up with a hulargeous bag of "eat in moderation" type items, that I will not eat in moderation and some beautiful red peppers, which, instead of being last week's WTF price of $18 a kilo were now an Oh-Yeah-Mama  $4.89 a kilo.

Anyhow, the grocery store was empty, I was the lone shopper, and I was able to shop quickly. I watched the Deli kid wrap my 1/2 kilo of turkey in nice white deli paper. I put the little white bun
dle in my shopping basket, right on top of the 2 packages of freshly-baked, still-warm oatmeal-raisin cookies, the Chips Ahoy, the bag of Dark Chocolate Chunk cookies--for Shirnky--and milk because with all those cookies there has to be milk to drink in between the pot of coffee I'll comsume with the first 2 oatmeal raisin beauties. I went to the self checkout with my basket of cookie shame and began to scan my items. I scanned the Chips Ahoy, the Dark Chocolate Chunks, the Red peppers and then the 1/2 kilo of slicked turkey, which rang up as Middle Rasher Bacon (like Canadian Bacon for you USA-ians), for the low, low, low price of $7.59. That stopped me dead. I stared at the touch screen readout, a little confused. The price was all wrong. Half a kilo of turkey should have been $12. Then my eye zoomed in on the word Bacon. BACON? For some reason, Vegetarian Bitey has no issue with buying or handling poultry products in the name of Shrinky, but I draw the line at Babe products. I was not about to pay $7.59 for a) something marked BACON; b) feel responsible for the kid behind the deli counter getting chewed out for marking Turkey as Bacon; and c) steal $4.49 from the Giant Green Swirl SuperMarket Chain, even though they have a stranglehold near monopoly on grocery stores in this country. 

I called over the Self-checkout attendant, showed her the error, and told her I wanted to make sure no one got in trouble. The little squint rolled her eyes at me. She ROLLED her eyes, like my fwiggin' gawd what a CHORE to serve the customer, the customer
who was, I should point out again, THE ONLY ONE in the store!  Skinny McSquit took her time getting someone from the Deli to come to the front of the store. She passed the little white turkey-disguised-as-Bacon Baton to Slug-moving Deli Chick. Slug-moving Deli Chick snail-paced her way to the back of the store. I waited six minutes for her to return.

I know six minutes isn't much, but when you're the only customer in the establishment, and you're on your way to work six minutes IS a long time. Plus, by this point, for me it was about the principle of doing what I saw as the right thing. When Slug-moving Deli Chick returned she handed me the re-wrapped- re-priced turkey and huffed. You know, I almost got grumpy. I had that flash of sarcasm, that little bitchy barb ready to fire, but I refrained. Instead, I thanked her, satisfied in the knowledge that I did the right thing and that I'd use the shopping experience as a scene in something I write because it's perfection for a romantic comedy.


But I have to be really honest here. While I have scruples when it comes to Bacon-wrapped Turkey with the wrong price, and paying the correct amount, if a bag of money fell out of the Brinks Truck and landed on the highway in front of me I'd be all over the cash like Me on an Oatmeal-raisin cookie.

I know  when you write about romance fiction romance is supposed to get a little r. The capital R is reserved for use when referring that literary genre of high culture with quests, brave knights, ladies, courtly love, and all that jazz.  I think the use of a small r for romance fiction (and pink and hearts and clinch covers) is a reason modern romance novels are denigrated. Well, here’s another. Some of us romance writers are up in arms today over this little story about how romance fiction poses a threat to women’s sexual health.

Read it and you might agree we’re our own worst enemy when it comes to romance novels and research. Annie, Aretha and Oldbitey are cheesed off because “research” like Susan Quilliam’s, says, women who read romance novels are getting life and love and sex all wrong. Romance readers are making a mess of their lives because romance novels are not good role models. Sisters are not doing it for themselves, they’re doing it to themselves.

Hang on. Didn’t I blog about something “to ourselves” yesterday (See What Do We Want)

Here’s an idea. Can we stand up for one another rather than knock down and reduce romance readers to little r’s again and again?  How about showing some respect for your fellow sex? If you can’t, at least wear a condom or a dental dam-like device when you undertake this sort of poorly investigated research. And crack open a 21st Century contemporary Romance novel before you start typing up your notes.

Ye Gods.

What Do We Want? Uh...um...Feminism?

slay
We can argue about this if you like, but I do not identify with the female protagonist when I read novels. The female lead is not my placeholder. I don't have a vicarious experience of her life. I know I'm not walking in her shoes. I am aware I am reading about someone other than myself. I'll admit I do respond to the protagonist, but my response is akin to the protagonist being someone I know. That protagonist, that person is telling me their story. I am, as they say, but a witness.

You know on occasions I climb up on a soapbox and, in suffrage-esque-i-ness sort of way, bellow about representing and supporting romance heroines over the age of 40. So if I claim I don't identify the lady protagonist, then why is it so important to me, when I am reading contemporary romance fiction, that the romance heroine is represented across a broader age spectrum?
My reading tastes may be varied and spread across genres, but, irrespective of the genre, I've always been put off by virgins and inexperienced twentysomethings who come across dumber than a slice of toast, even when I was a virginal twentysomething dumber than a slice of toast. For me, in whatever genre I've chosen, it's always been more interesting to read about someone who knows stuff, who's been places, who's done things, who's experienced life beyond high school and a few years of college. Why on earth would I want to read about some just like me? I know my life. I live my life. I learn from my life. I like to see how someone else lives theirs. Older women are so much more interesting, incredibly complex. They have more to say, better stories to tell. In all honesty, the simple explanation for my support mature women routine comes down to one word: Inequality.
 
And man, does that piss me off.

A woman of a certain age can appear as the protagonist in any other genre, but once you toss a bit of lovin' and such into the mix, call her the heroine and call the novel a romance, instead of a Mystery, Crime, or Sci-Fi novel, our female protagonist becomes the media's representation of what the romance fantasy has to look like.

It's a form of airbrushing.

And we, us women who read romance novels, do this to ourselves. Rather than stand up and demand romantic equality, we let the media, the publishers, dictate how we'll be portrayed in our romantic fantasies. We let ourselves be airbrushed, or brainwashed, as I prefer, into thinking just because we're 42, 48, 51 or 60, love, sex, and a happily ever after is out of our reach. 
Yeah, Bitey-ites, I am talking true feminism. I'm talking Women's Rights. We need to support each other and stand up to the 'man,' to the machine that tells us no, no, no, you don't want that. You want this.

Well, you know what I want? You know what I want right now? A peanut butter sandwich.
Old Oldbitey
Poor, darling, fairy-killing BookThingo had a horrendous bad coffee experience (BCE) the other day. I was much aggrieved for her. In this day and age there is no reason for a BCE. There is no reason for poorly made coffee or instant coffee, which is a blot on humanity. Period.I feel much the same way about romance fiction. In this day and age, with all the talented romance writers in the world, there is no reason for a romance novel to have a shitty cover and a shitty title.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I bitch here now and again about the lack of originality in films and books. I moan about a sameness that has infiltrated Hollywood and the publishing industry, and yes, it could just be me. People like Swell and katydidinoz will tell you I'm a picky romance reader and, all right, I am. I am ridiculously choosy when it comes to the romance I read. 
I WILL judge a romance by it's cover. To me, a clinch cover is a cliche and massive turn off. A pink cover is a turn off too. A cover with hearts on a pastel cover is a turn off and a insult. Anything that makes the cover shimmer is a turn off. Anything that has a hologram (big in the 90's) is a turn off. I readily admit to having a few books guilty of these cover crimes on my shelf. Case in point is a Jo Goodman series I love. I mean I really, really LOVE the series, but I would never have read these books if not prodded and repeatedly poked in the eye with the shimmering turquoise hologram by Swell, who insisted I would love them.

My persnicketiness isn't limited to shimmery aqua clinch covers.  Previously on Oldbitey, I bitched about the current trend for the bare back and bare legs cover shots. This time my beef with unoriginality stems from cover art
used over and over and over for different novels by different authors. I'm sorry. I see copycat covers and It's sure-fire way to make me judge the book as a a copycat, and I will NOT buy the book.

In addition to my cover prejudice, I WILL  judge a romance by its title as well. A title that contains any of the following words, Wicked, Sweet, Abandon, Forbidden, Passion, Wild, Sinful, Reckless, Seduction, Ecstasy, Duke, Mistress, Hot, and/or Rogue means an instant eye roll and muttered under my breath cuss word or three.

For some of you, my opinion on this constitutes fightin' words, but to me the appearance
of language like that perpetuates myths about romance fiction equaling purple-prosed non-literary cheese. It perpetuates the bodice ripper mentality and denigrates the genre. Meanwhile, the homogenization of and reuse of cover art says romance novels aren't worthy of anything original because everyone knows romance stories aren't original. I mean, come on, they all end the same way.



The Chemical Compostion of Romance

Suzie-Bud
I discovered two things in the last two days. The first thing involves drinking coffee (my lifeblood, as may of you know) and eating cheese, which, to my great surprise, is NOT a winning flavour sensation or delightful combination. Milk and butter go so well with coffee--hello cookies and croissants--but I was pretty startled that cheese does not. Man, I thought there was a milk product to go with everything. Turns out there isn't. Naturally, I had to consume more coffee to wash out the astonishingly crappy oiliness left behind by mellow Bega Mild.

Next on my list of shocking discoveries was the realisation I don't like Four Weddings and a Funeral (4WAAF). Well, that's not exactly correct. I should say I saw it years ago and enjoyed it, but it is not a romantic comedy that works for me more than once.  I like Hugh Grant. Andie MacDowell is lo
vely, gorgeous in fact, but while I watched the movie I noticed that, despite some really awesome writing and bantery dialogue, their characters never really quite...spark. There's no smoulder, no glint. There is a lot of Andie's eye batting and Hugh, in his floppy haired stage, established his now trademarked and charming blinkety-blink-blink. For the most part, for me, the pair lack chemistry. And in a romance chemistry is everything. Although I'd seen the film before and knew what happened, I still found myself hoping it would end differently, like Hugh would wind up with Kristin Scott Thomas, who had better lines than Andie. The scenes with KST, Hugh seemed natural. With Andie, Hugh seemed extra blinky. After a while, with Andie's eye batting and Hugh's blinking, things started to seem like a silent movie. I had would not have been surprised if dialogue had shown up on black cards.
However, what I do like about 4WAAF is that, as a romance, the movie broke some romance genre "rules," and you know I'm all for knocking convention on its ass.

I like it when someone dares to remix romance elements. My vote for one of cinema's best chemical reactions is The Cooler with William H. Macy, Mari
a Bello and Alec Baldwin. It's got sleaze, it's got guns, it's got violence, it's got gamblers, and pubic hair. Yes, my Bitey-ites, this dirty little foray into the crime underworld is actually a romance rather than a gangster movie, it's even billed as a romance drama, and it shakes up a few romance tropes. Most importantly, The leads, William H. Macy and Maria Bello have totally believable chemistry, which may seem odd considering our hero, Bernie, is a lonely loser. Bernie loses at gambling and at love. In fact, Bernie is such a loser, he's paid to sit at tables in Alec Baldwin's casino because when Bernie's around his loserly life seems to rub off on the other gamblers. His presence 'cools' winning streaks and turns winners to losers. Our heroine, Natalie, is a cocktail waitress. When Bernie falls for Natalie, his loserdom begins to change. Little does Bernie know Natalie has been paid to seduce him. However, Natalie actually does fall for Bernie and then all hell breaks loose. People get kneecapped and dead because that's what happens in Vegas gangster movies. But unlike other ultra violent films that make you think of Joe Pesci and bodies being buried in the desert, and, despite a body count, The Cooler, like any romance, has a happy ending.

And I'm pretty sure there's a scene where they drink coffee without eating cheese.

I Told You Before: It's All About Faking It

Suzie-Bud
I'm a huge proponent of faking it. Y'all out there know this about me. This guy knows what it's all about too.

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