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So if your teenager goes and gets a tattoo without telling you, is the offense at all mitigated by the fact that it’s a literary tattoo?

tattoo, black cat w/red scarf

 

(I’m curious – were these books generally well known, or are they an obscurity particular to my family?)

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This has nothing to do with romance or writing (or giveaways). But it’s a month today since my dad left us, and I’m missing him a lot. So here’s a picture of me and my dad.

Picture of me and my dad, from many years ago

This is a long-ago Thanksgiving. The stainless-steel bowl contains jello salad.

Dad was – it still takes a conscious effort not to say “is;” to speak about him in the past tense – a very private person and probably would not approve of my posting this picture. (“Would not have approved,” I guess I should say.)

That’s all. No point to make; this is just where my thoughts are today.

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Here’s a too-long-for-Twitter update for the many kind people there who’ve offered their sympathy, *prayers, and good wishes during my family’s recent medical crisis.

As of this writing, Dad is in the rehab wing of a nursing home, working to regain enough strength and independent function that he can go home, where the plan is to enroll him – I think – in either palliative care or home-hospice care. (We’ve had the difference explained to us twice and I can’t seem to remember it, besides the fact that home hospice presumes a shorter remaining lifespan, and that you’re allowed to go out of the house, whereas with palliative care you’re required to be basically housebound.)

I guess that sounds like a sad outcome. But two weeks ago he was in the critical-care unit with multiple organ failure and uremia-induced delirium (oh, and also an apparent heart attack somewhere along the way), and I was asking the medical team if it would be possible for my daughter, who was flying home from college early the next morning, to see his body and say her goodbyes if he didn’t make it through the night.

That he’s recovered as much as he has – excreted the fluid from his lungs, kicked the delirium, worked his way from high-flow oxygen to low-flow oxygen to mostly breathing “room air” (one of the many new terms I’ve learned in this experience), gotten back enough kidney function to limp along with – feels nothing short of stunning to me. I did not expect it, and neither did the doctors. For as many times as I’ve seen Dad pick himself up off the mat over the last few decades, I really thought he was down for the count in the CCU.

So that’s where we are.

I don’t have enough brainspace to do this next thought justice, but I’ve worried for awhile that I’m mismanaging social media; getting friendly with people to the point where they might be uncomfortable saying “My god, I hated this book” about one of my books. So I think I need to find a way to dial that back, and I think, in the past couple weeks, I’ve unfortunately dialed it forward instead.

Words of support from online acquaintances – from “I feel your pain; we just went through that with my mom” to “Just want you to know you’re in my thoughts” to “Here’s how to do that thing in Scrivener you were asking about before your life went haywire” – have meant the world to me, but I’m not sure I should have gotten into a position where they would mean the world to me, if that makes sense.

Anyway when I get back to where romance writing is taking up more of my thoughts, I’m going to try to work on that.

*I probably should have disclosed, when soliciting prayers, that my family is not really religious. I’ve just read those studies about how prayer makes people get better, even non-religious people being prayed for by people they’ve never met. I think it worked, at least a little.

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So I’m a feminist. Which I’m happy to say is a fact hardly worth remarking on in the romance community. (Probably one of the biggest misconceptions about the genre is that its readers and writers, overwhelmingly, are retrogressive types who wish we could all go back to the days when “men were men” and women dwelt idly on pedestals. Not so.)

I’m remarking on the fact anyway, though, because writer/blogger Jessica Luther recently interviewed a handful of us for an article she did for the Atlantic website on feminism and the romance novel. It forced me to be a little more precise about some things that are generally ambiguous for me, and also to recognize the areas where ambiguity feels like the truest statement of my position.

Only a little of what I hashed out in my emails with Jessica actually fit into the final article, though, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to re-hash some of it here. And probably the kernel of it all can be stated as:

I’m a feminist who writes romance. That doesn’t necessarily mean I write feminist romance.

In fact…at the risk of being booted from the romance community…I don’t know whether I believe there’s such a thing as feminist romance. Definitely I don’t believe the genre is inherently feminist. I think we need to observe a more rigorous definition of feminism than “written and read mostly by women,” which is an argument one occasionally hears in support of the genre as feminist.

Also, there are a lot of what I would call nonfeminist or even anti-feminist tropes and storylines in the genre, historically as well as today. I don’t think you can make a feminist case for the persistent emphasis on wealthy or otherwise super-powerful men (dukes, billionaires, alpha werewolves, Navy SEALs) as the only ones worth marrying, for example. (Which doesn’t mean those aren’t valid storylines; only that they’re not feminist ones, by my measure.)

So I’m not comfortable saying romance as a whole is feminist, but does that mean no single romance novel is?

Again, I don’t know. There are definitely romances behind which you can perceive a feminist sensibility. Courtney Milan’s books spring to mind. And as part of the interview, Jessica asked if there were romances I’d recommend to feminists who’d never read one, and I had no trouble coming up with a list. (It starts with Bettie Sharpe’s Ember, by the way.)

But “romance that might appeal to feminists” and “romance that actually is feminist” aren’t quite the same thing.

A big part of the issue for me is that our genre doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists alongside the wedding industry, traditional “women’s magazines,” and countless other forces that pelt a woman with the message that her most important work in life is to attract and retain a man. And in this context, I just don’t know if a genre that privileges the romantic relationship above other aspects of a person’s life – as the romance novel, by genre constraint, necessarily does – can ever really be seen as a feminist document.

Too, I have thoughts I can’t articulate to my satisfaction concerning the genre’s preoccupation with themes of repair and resolution. People heal, in romance. Estranged families reconcile. The wrongly outcast are restored to their proper place in society. Injustice is righted and whatever was out of balance is brought back into balance. At the end of the book, we know everything’s going to be basically okay and we don’t need to worry about those people anymore. I haven’t put my finger on why this doesn’t feel feminist to me (maybe I think feminism entails a bleaker outlook? maybe I want to see order assailed, and broken down, rather than restored? I’m not sure.) but the fact is it doesn’t.

On the other hand.

I think it’s true that the personal is political. And that part of the work of feminism involves asserting the worth and dignity of those things that have historically been discounted and trivialized as belonging to the women’s sphere.

Despite the fact that most all of us on the planet, men as well as women, sooner or later fall in love and generally hope to find someone to go through life with, the whole “falling in love” thing has somehow come to be seen as women’s business. With a lot of opportunities for shame attached, whether because a woman is a Bridezilla, or keeps falling for guys who are Just Not That Into Her, or is so pathetic and naive as to read stories about other people falling in love, complete with happy endings. I think we need to question our cultural belittlement of romantic love, and I think it might be feminist to do so.

Ultimately it’s a question on which I’m unresolved. For me that’s a good thing – from a creative standpoint, I’d rather start with questions than answers. If I had it all figured out, I don’t think the genre would be nearly as interesting or dynamic to me.

But that’s me. Feminism means different things to different people (as was brought home by the recent epic Last Name Debate), and I’m curious to hear other people’s opinions. Does the genre, or individual books within it, meet your definition of feminism? Why or why not? And is anyone else out there in the Undecided camp with me?

 

 

 

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Do you all read Anna Cowan’s blog? She’s a soon-to-be-published (spring of 2013) Australian romance writer who grapples wonderfully with all kinds of meaty issues on her blog. (I’m working on a year-end list of favorite 2012 Romancelandia blog posts, and having trouble deciding which of hers to include.)

Anyway she’s currently hosting a series of guest posts from writers, bloggers, and readers whose thoughts interest her. She invited me to do a guest post, and I did.

I’ve talked to Anna over email about how I use “Go big or go home” as a mantra for prodding myself out onto a limb when writing sex scenes, and writing this post was definitely a GBoGH moment.

In other news, lots of people are coming out with year-end Best Books lists, and there’s been a lot of gratifying love for both Lady and Gentleman. When a few other things have slowed down, I’ll post links.

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Dear Ms. Williams,

If there are any better fans in the world than yours – engaging, insightful, passionate, creative, and oh so gracious to a writer in a genre most of them probably never read – well, I defy the world to convince me of it.

Thanks for sharing a few of them with me this week.

– Cecilia

P.S. Also please thank your friend Kim. No idea who she is or how she could possibly have stumbled across my lightly trafficked blog, but I owe her :)

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Intense Surge of Heat

Regular blog followers, all two of you, already know a bit about my relationship with New Moon.  So a month or so ago I was browsing through the off-brand shampoo and purportedly healthful cookies set aside for closeout at my local supermarket, when what should I come across but this:

New Moon-themed Sweethearts candy

I’d seen these displayed right at the counter at Blockbuster for some ridiculous price that I hope nobody paid, but here on the closeout rack at my supermarket, they were asking only 25 cents. How could I not buy one?

For your enjoyment, I dumped out the box and picked through its contents to get an example of every possible printed heart:

Candy hearts with printing

I could have just given you a list of what the various hearts say, but I wanted you to see the abysmal printing job.  Seriously, there’s no excuse for that.  Several of the hearts in the box were completely unreadable or even blank.

But anyway, in case it’s not clear from the picture, the hearts are printed with the following words/phrases:  “Howl,” “Team Jacob,” “I ♥ JB,” “La Push,” “Friend,” “2 Hot,” “Save Me,” “Tribe,” “Wolf Pack,” “New Moon,” “Man Wolf,” and “Wolf Man.”  Then I found an offset “La Push” that just says “Push,” which struck me as vaguely dirty and therefore hilarious.

I have a fine time, in slow moments, imagining someone coming up with all these little mottoes.  In particular I would love to hear the thought process that resulted in “Save Me.”

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