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The book jacket of my edition of North and South states that “Critical generalizations about Mrs Gaskell have tended to portray her either as an essentially feminine novelist, full of charm, tenderness and little else, or as a pioneer of the ‘social problem’ novel. Neither view does sufficient justice to her best novels…”
I agree. This book should not be pigeon-holed based on either the romantic elements or the social issues, but apparently, this sort of categorization was happening long before bookstores divided books into “romance” and “fiction.”  Personally, I love how Gaskell fused these elements in this story. Characters don’t exist separate from the issues of their times.
When I first joined RWA, I heard a lot of advice on how to write the romance that sells, which included “No saving the whales”, i.e. don’t address any controversial issues. At the time I was glad that my Regency ideas were tugging more strongly at me, since my only idea for a contemporary romance involved marine biologists.
The purpose of a romance novel isn’t to preach, and I do understand the marketing rationale involved, but this feels very limiting. I like a romance where the characters have more interesting goals than the pursuit of wealth or sexual pleasure for its own sake (though even those goals can be interesting if it turns out they mask something deeper). They could be less controversial goals like caring for family or solving a mystery, but they could be the pursuit of a cause, as long as it’s integral to the characters.
Some of our Risky books and other historical romances have done this. I suspect social issues are a little easier in historical romance, since the issues have changed form in modern times. I doubt anyone in mainstream society would openly support slavery. But I think things like this are still with us in many ways, so maybe touching on them in historical romance is a subversive way of addressing them.
Anyway, maybe the industry prohibition against issues is thawing. I can’t remember when I read that there were some romances that dealt with wildlife preservation. I made a mental note to check some of them out, but life intervened, so I don’t know how well they worked. And indie authors can try things traditional publishers might not.
I think it would be tricky to have the hero and heroine on opposing sides of an issue, since it’s hard to make both sympathetic unless it’s an issue (unlike racism) where both sides have some merit and where compromise or creative solutions are a good answer. Otherwise, the cause could be something that unites the hero and heroine rather than the source of their conflict.
What do you think of issues in romance, historical or contemporary?  Any books that made the mix work particularly well?

I’ve been down with a sinus infection this week, so I haven’t got much to report on research or writing progress. However, there have been some bright sides to this week.

I just downloaded my copy of Interviews with Indie Authors: Top Tips from Successful Self-Published Authors, which contains interviews with over thirty self-published authors including yours truly. Romance writers are well represented, including RWA members Marie ForceBarbara Freethy and CJ Lyons.  I’m truly honored to be in such company!

The interviews were collected by Tim and Claire Ridgway. For those interested in the Tudor period, Claire created The Ann Boleyn Files website which provided source material for several books on Ann Boleyn.  You can learn more about the book at Interviews with Indie Authors website.

I found it interesting to read about the authors’ various paths toward success in self publishing. There’s broad agreement on some issues, such as the quality of the writing, proofreading and covers.  There are also a lot of differing opinions on how to promote indie works. Some credit their success to doing a lot with social media, which is very daunting to someone juggling as many plates as I am.

But my very favorite bit of advice from the book was from CJ Lyons: “Don’t get caught up in the promotion whirlwind, your best promotional tool is writing the next book. The more books out there the more your fans will do the promotional work for you.”

I like that, because I don’t have the time nor the desire to spend half of my day on Facebook and Twitter! I would rather be writing. I’m currently looking for ways to coax more writing time out of my schedule. One thing I’ve realized being sick this week is that my daughters are capable of more than I thought. They’ve mowed the lawn (even the sloping back bit), cooked meals and cleaned. I need to use them more. What are children for?

Being sick also gave me the excuse to watch North and South (based on the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell–the title refers to the industrial north of England versus the rural south) with my oldest daughter.  It was fun to watch her reactions to the hero, John Thornton, played by Richard Armitage.  They mirrored the feelings of the heroine, Margaret Hale, played by Daniela Denby-Ashe.

Episode 1: I don’t like him.
Episode 2: I’m not sure.
Episode 3: Maybe he’s redeemable.
Episode 4: OK, he’s cool.

We also watched the bonus material, which included an interview with Richard Armitage. To prepare for his role, he not only read the book but also did extensive research into the background of the story. So he’s intelligent as well as hot (well, the two go together for me).

When she overheard us discussing this, my younger daughter said, “Mama, you’re sick.”
And she wasn’t talking about the sinus infection.

So what has everyone been doing this week?  If you bought any books, did social media affect your decisions? What is your favorite way to handle being sick? If you have children, do you enjoy embarrassing them and how?


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