Janet the Grouch

Yes, I’m having a grouchy day.

I’ve already vented my spleen over at History Hoydens today about The Great Scone Infiltration, which, as may or may not be obvious, is about food anachronisms in Romancelandia, in particular the humble scone.

It’s difficult to present oneself publicly as a grouchy romance writer. I’m supposed to be a purveyor of sweetness and light, aren’t I? Never mind that the economy is collapsing, and we have the possibility of a grouchy old man and his accompanying albatross with glasses (not my definition, but the brilliant Graham Norton’s) taking us down the path to … well, I hate to think where. I spring out of bed these days with a song on my lips, but unfortunately it’s a song that goes along the lines of things aren’t going at all well…

So is it true that in these troubling times we need Romance? Will people flock to buy books–or borrow them from the libraries (when they can get there and if the books are there–ever noticed how library budgets suffer at the drop of a dollar hat?)? I wonder if books will become the equivalent of movies during the 1930s–rather than going out for an evening for a relatively small amount of money (and let the theater’s heating and the press of bodies warm you), we’ll stay at home and read.

The movies of the Golden Age of Hollywood offered fantasy, escapism, and a glimpse into the lives of the rich, famous, and fashionable. Now we see altogether too much of the lives of the rich, famous, and fashionable, but we still crave fantasy and glamor.

I wonder if romance will fill that void.

The reason it might not is that reading is a solitary pursuit. I think in particular that romance is isolating in that it answers your fantasies–whether your particular fantasy is tea in a Regency drawing room or sex with three werewolves (at once)–and a shared fantasy becomes something else. It requires an act of trust to share the need for fantasy, or the fantasies themselves, with others, and I think that’s why the internet provides so many discussion boards and other safe environments for readers who want to talk about romance. But I’m wondering whether we need human contact–and that’s what going to the movies represented during the Depression. The experience would continue long after leaving the movie theater, providing common ground for discussion about the movie and its stars.

So, a couple of questions for you.

Do you think reading romance will get us through hard times?

Do you find online friends and community as satisfying as “real-life” friends?

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14 years ago

Hi, Janet, I’ve always loved reading, and I personally find it helps and is a pleasure in all my ups and downs. I imagine others might, too. And sometimes on-line friends are as wonderful as those who are physically near–they can be as supportive and encouraging and there for you almost any hour of the day… although there are days when a virtual hug isn’t quite the same as a real one ;P

Megan Frampton
14 years ago


First off, I have never thought of you as a “purveyor of sweetness and light.” I find reading to be such a great escape, and I also like watching old movies, which doesn’t really answer your question, but I will be spending a lot of time at home with my TBR pile and my Netflix queue.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

I think that the publishing industry will suffer, but perhaps not as badly as other industries, because books are still affordable and they are escapist. I can’t see anyone giving up reading, but they may look to used books or libraries to a greater extent than now.

I value my online friends a tremendous amount. My other friends have the advantage that we can see each other and do something together, and even touch! But it is a surprise to me to feel very close to someone I’ve never seen in real life. Whenever I have met an online friend “for real,” it is as if we were those real friends I mentioned above.

Cara King
14 years ago

Okay, I’ll be the, um — okay, I don’t want to say maverick, as that now has all sorts of new connotations, so how about iconoclast? (Except I have nothing against icons. Hrmm…)

Okay, forget about labels — so I’ll just confess that I think the whole We’re In a Great Depression thing is being kind of overstated by the media.

During the Great Depression, folks were standing in line for food, and living in tents in New Freezing York City.

Nowadays, they’re postponing buying that big-screen TV. And yes, many folks are losing their homes — but I suspect that only a small fraction of them will be living in Hoovervilles.

So I think our current recession compares to the Great Depression about how our current wars compare to World War II.

So though I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks go to the library rather than buying books, or buy a book and stay in instead of buying a tank of gas and paying for a sitter and going to the movies…I don’t think we’ll have so much collective misery that we’ll need to escape from it…

The experience would continue long after leaving the movie theater, providing common ground for discussion about the movie and its stars.

That is something I think it would be nice to have more of nowadays — we’re so fragmented! I can’t assume anyone in my family has read a single Jane Austen, or assume a blog reader has seen Dark Knight or American Idol, and when Amanda talks about Project Runway I have to admit I’ve never seen that! There are so many different movies out there, and TV channels, and books…and you can’t even assume a high school (or college) graduate must have read any particular book…

Of course, there are great advantages to this — I get to watch lots of great SF TV and read Regencies, for example — but I do think we miss out on something when we have no universally shared experiences…

(And I also think that’s one reason why we occasionally have something that does become almost universal, such as Harry Potter or Titanic — it’s so nice to every now and then have something you can talk to everyone about! Instead of having conversations like “English Regency? Well, it’s Jane Austen’s period, really…um, early nineteenth century… Uh, no, that’s early 1800s…” 🙂


Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

We have to purvey sweetness and light??? That wasn’t in the job description I got. 🙂

It’s an understatement to say I’ve let the election get to me, of course, yet I can’t seem to let go of constantly checking polls, etc. I don’t know what I would do without the escapism of reading–go totally bonkers, I guess, and go down the street and kick down the FIVE annoying candidate signs my neighbor has in their yard. That wouldn’t be very sweet and light, though, so I’d better not.

I don’t think that people will read less than they do now–I think they may read more (as Cara says, it’s cheaper than the movies or eating out). But I know they will make more use of the library, and not just buy whatever book catches their eye in the store, because I am doing the same thing. I only hope it won’t affect the publishing industry so much that there aren’t enough new books on the shelves!

14 years ago

Yes, on both counts and, though I always felt that way about the former, I never thought I’d feel that way about the latter.

I am a huge fan of escapism. Movies of the Golden Age of Hollywood. All those glorious musicals. Where do I buy a ticket?

Romance and books in general provide such a wonderous escape for so many. Okay, for me. Nothing like it in the world.

As to the many friends I’ve made within this internet community, there are none better. Gracious. Lovely. Wonderful. Supportive. Encouraging. Enlightening. Sophisticated. Down to earth. The romance community,on line and off, is like no other.

Thanks and I’ll see you on the other side.

Wait, that sounds like a death knell. No, I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve got to; otherwise, this thing we call life will have all been for naught and that’s just not acceptable.

Elena Greene
14 years ago

I wouldn’t say we’re purveyors of sweetness and light, precisely. We do offer happy endings but if we do our jobs properly, we make our characters suffer some pain and darkness before getting there.
I think that’s part of the appeal of romance in difficult times. The most touching fan email I ever got was from someone who told me books like mine gave her a few hours of escape from her troubles.

As to how our business will fare in this economy, I don’t know, but I certainly hope that people will reach for what we offer!

For me, online friends and community satisfy different needs than my local friends. For instance, I have to go online to blogs like this one to find fellow history geeks.

Louisa Cornell
14 years ago

We don’t necessarily need to purvey sweetness and light as much as we do the idea that all people have trouble, all time periods have bad spells and that all of the suffering and sorrow eventually pass. We purvey the most important thing of all that love, courage and trust make even the worst situation better.

And we keep people amused, entertained, enthralled, thinking and taking some time to put all of the madness aside and go somewhere lovely and have a bit of adventure that doesn’t cost much and leaves you feeling better.

Linda Banche
14 years ago

I’d say yes, romance will help us get through hard times. Fantasy is an escape we all need to some extent. I’ll always read romance.

As for the online community, I find these people are all very nice. There must be nutcases out there, but I haven’t found any yet. I certainly hope I don’t.

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“There must be nutcases out there, but I haven’t found any yet. I certainly hope I don’t.”

LOL! Me, neither, Maybe they’re all lurking in my Spam box?

I’ve made some of my best friends through writing and here on-line. I’ve found that people interested in writing and reading historical romances tend to share other interests, as well, and it’s wonderful to find others interested in the same weird things I am! 🙂

14 years ago

Well, I guess a lot of romances have elements of fantasy–certainly, many of the people are far richer, more beautiful, and more talented than the proper average that statistics have laid down for our guidance.

And yet…the experience of falling in love and getting married is not exactly rare. In fact, it’s commonplace. In general, you probably wouldn’t write a novel about most people’s experiences, though, because while it is pretty absorbing for them personally, it doesn’t exactly have a plot, a dark moment, or goals, motivations, and conflicts.

So in that sense, the heroes and heroines of romance have it much worse than the rest of us. The course of their true love, after all, fails to run smooth, or there wouldn’t be much to the book. So let us pity the poor romance hero and heroine, and congratulate ourselves that our lives are so much better than theirs.


14 years ago

And Cara–I devoutly hope that you are right and that we aren’t going into a new Great Depression. We have learned some things since then, and we are (by all objective standards) far richer now than we were in the 1920s.

Unfortunately, our crisis here (which will result in some people losing their jobs and other people cutting back, but hopefully not in shantytowns and bread lines) may make the economies of much poorer countries crash. It is certainly something we should worry about.


Pam Rosenthal
14 years ago

I hope we pull through better than the 30s, too, Todd, and I hope we know how to pull together. Frankly, I don’t think that the last couples of decades of Enronism have allowed us to flex our compassion and solidarity muscles as much as we might be needing.

Lately I’ve been walking through familiar neighborhood streets and wondering if in a few years they’ll have become desolation rows or gated communities, and wondering which would be worse.

I’ll read, of course. I’ll try to stay close to those I love and try to help those I can.

I’ll watch old movies and maybe get through Proust again (why should genre fiction be the only escape?). And I’ll take the advice of those three wise men of my youth, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, about what gets you through times of no money…

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