History Hoydens

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17 April 2009

Time and Again: Hanging with the Romance Scholars

A lot of vampires this year.

I mean discussion of vampires (though since it was Anne Rice's home town you never know) at the annual meeting of the PCA/ACA (Popular and American Culture Association) last week in New Orleans.

And of course a whole lot of discussion on romance novels, including presentations from fellow hoyden Lauren Willig and myself, on panels sponsored by the Romance Subject Area of this scholarly organization.

All a little bit new to me, since although I'd signed up for last year's PCA in San Francisco the conference wound up conflicting with my Amazing Three-Week Revision-turned-Rewrite of The Edge of Impropriety, so all I did was limp in to deliver a limp presentation and limp back home to the computer. Other than which my conference-going has been mainly limited to Romance Writers of America's annual national extravaganza and (deep in my past) a few extramural meetings of software developers.

But I do know enough to predict a few inevitabilities re myself and big meetings...

  • First, that I will start out shy, convinced that no one will talk to me. It'll be RWA 1999 all over again, I tell myself, when I genuinely believed (now it can be told) that the point of getting a book published was so you'd have somewhere to go on the Friday night of RWA National when the publishers gave their parties and the published girls got all dressed up.
  • Next that I will discover (again!) that people are really quite nice and friendly -- whereupon (wired by the opportunity to talk face-to-face with all entities I've hitherto only encountered online or in books -- or in the case of Lauren, both) I talk way too much; toss around in bed thinking of what-all I could additionally have said; wreck my health (at least temporarily) by agonizing over my own panel presentation and falling to pieces after I give it; finally to stagger happily onto an (inevitably) germ-infested airplane and cough and sniffle my way through my first days home.
  • And finally that the conference hotel elevators will never be up to the task of getting everybody where they want to go as fast as they want to get there, so it's best to learn to make elevator friends.
All of which were true of my experience at PCA/ACA -- including a great conversation during a long elevator wait with a very very young man who'd just given a presentation on The Wire, which I would have gone to if there weren't so many romance panel discussions. Still, it was great to connect with a non-romance pop-culture homie, greeting one another in the local patois, viz, "are you into Omar or Stringer Bell?" (It's Stringer for me, of course -- evil, gorgeous, and heartbreaking in his glasses and lonely doomed dreams.)

While as for wrecking one's health -- I did tell you the event was in New Orleans, didn't I? It was my first time there, and though of course I was looking forward to the food, I didn't expect that for my first lunch, wandering around the city before the conference got underway, I'd eat the single most delicious thing I've ever eaten in my life -- a fried oyster po' boy sandwich at Parasol's Restaurant and Bar (yeah, it's as funky as the picture -- and wonderful) in the Irish Channel Neighborhood near the Garden District (found with Lonely Planet's help).

Nor did I have any idea that New Orleans cooking is so good and skillful that you can ingest more grease, sugar, carbs, meat, and alcohol than you'd have imagined possible and it doesn't catch up with you until sometime after you get off the plane back home and start in on the hacking and sniffling.

But by now the coughs and sniffles are almost gone, I'm sure that any day now I will return to my Weight Watchers regimen, and I had a terrific time, mostly due to the energy and enthusiasm of the romance scholar contingent. You can find out more from and about this smart and lively, warm and wonky bunch at the Teach Me Tonight Blog, and most particularly about their missionary zeal that romance fiction should get the same scholarly attention that all the other popular culture forms (like detective fiction, sci fi, etc etc) get. Which means conferences (check out the big news about this upcoming do -- Love as the Practice of Freedom, at Princeton), an academic journal, and attention paid to research and classroom teaching.

And though missionary zeal isn't my favorite stance on anything (in any roomful of head-nodders, you'll find me knitting my brow), I'm happy to report that at PCA my yes-buts and calls for explanation brought forth interesting, respectful responses and much to ponder. Some snippets being...

  • The roundtable on pedagogy where I learned that many college students (including, sacre bleu, English majors!) don't immediately understand that a text is a structure that can be taken apart like a car engine. Who knew? But given that that seems to be the case, it makes good sense to teach them literary analysis is with a book they know they like -- like a romance.
  • An ad hoc to-be-continued-I-hope conversation I had with An Goris, who's doing her dissertation on Nora Roberts, as we tried to find words for what, stylistically, makes Nora Nora -- typical and exceptional, creator and participant of the genre at the same time. No conclusions, but I was fascinated by how interesting and challenging a question it was.
  • A terrific presentation on British and U.S. takes on the Regency -- from Professor Maryan Wherry -- which began with a quote from The History Hoydens Blog.
  • You've already gotten preliminary taste of Lauren's presentation here -- it was even better extended and out loud, and the only problem was that she was the only historian presenting (her panel-mates talking about the psychology and sociology of romance communities -- interesting all, but not the same thing). Yo, romance scholars! Get more historians! Lauren's discussion of how romance readers understand history needed more stuff to bounce off. Re-enactor culture maybe, Kalen? Hoydens, what do you think?
  • As for my presentation -- it was about time. By which I mean that I talked about how time works in the the romance novel (with some help from Jane Austen and the genre's ancestors in drama and religion). Which was fun to think through and which taught me something about the romance form as I'd been using it even before I knew I was doing it. Because before I prepared this paper I hadn't entirely realized that all of my romance novels end in the same space they begin, as per the loopy shape of the romance story as I understand it, the ongoing plot making its way along a great circle route through the past. And I'm grateful for the comment from the very lovely Professor Julie Moody-Freeman, that for journeys through the past I should look to the work of Toni Morrison (whom I haven't read in years but whom I will soon again, now that I've got a new hook to hang her work on in the lumber room of my musings).
And, as they say, much much more -- including, I see, an extensive set of reports on the vampire panels at Professor Jessica Miller's fascinating and new-to-me blog, Racy Romance Reviews (it was also great to meet Jessica at the conference) -- a gazillion books to resolve to read -- and plans for the future... if they'll have me... 'cause I'm sort of thinking of taking on space next year.

But I left out so much. Thanks again, romance scholars! And all input from participants, would-be participants, vampire fans, hoydens and theory-groupies, and anyone with a hopeless crush on Stringer Bell... all welcome.

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25 Comments:

Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall, if only to hear your presentation and Lauren's! I've never even heard of this group before, and my knowledge of popular culture could fit on the head of a pin. I seem to spend so much time in other centuries that I am relatively clueless as to what's on TV, what people are listening to through their headphones, and how most of those things connected to the headphones function. Heck, it took me 10 minutes to figure out how to send a text message to my husband the other day!

Scott and I will be in New Orleans to celebrate our second anniversary this Spring. We're going down there by motorcycle. My mouth waters at the anticipation of anniversary dinner at Arnaud's, one of my all-time favorite restaurants.

6:15 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

my knowledge of popular culture could fit on the head of a pinHow odd that you'd say that, Amanda, when as Leslie Carroll you write in romance, the most popular book genre of our age.

But maybe not so odd, because I think for lots of us there's a kind of push/pull with the genre's rules and constraints. Which is sort of related to my presentation (but then, when you take on a subject as big as "time," what isn't?) which spoke to romance as adapting to and mutating in response to its environment.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

A terrific presentation on British and U.S. takes on the Regency -- from Professor Maryan Wherry -- which began with a quote from The History Hoydens Blog.What quote? I wana know!!!

I LOVELOVELOVE NoLa. I'm hoping to get my bootie back down there this coming fall (I'd go now, but I can't take the heat; yes, I'm a wimp). We're planning a "pretend you're in New Orleans" day this summer here in San Francisco, and I'm very excited about it.

7:55 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Pam, it sounds like it was a great conference. Lauren was telling me about it at Lady Jane's before she left and I was so jealous. I've now book marked the site for future reference. I too love New Orleans. I first went with my ex in June before it was too hot, and then my first RWA conference was in July 2001 where it was 100 degrees at 7 in the morning. I would love to go to Heather Graham's conference but it's in August during hurricane season.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I can't remember it exactly Kalen, but I think Maryan Wherry's intro came from this post. Something about the confusion of writing about an elite class when one is oneself deeply egalitarian in one's attitudes.

(Which was my response to an earlier post of Amanda's, and which Tracy picked up on later. Hoydendom at its best, which was why it was so nice that Maryan brought our conversation to the august halls of romance scholarship and proceeded to weigh in on the question.)

We had RWA National in New Orleans, Elizabeth? That must have been wonderful.

And Kalen, keep me in the loop for "pretend you're in New Orleans" day.

9:47 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Ooh, ooh, ooh -- I hope "pretend you're in New Orleans Day falls on the week Scott and I will be in SF (July). I can contribute a genuine packet of Pat O'Brien's hurricane mix!

10:06 AM  
Blogger Victoria Janssen said...

Thanks so much for the report!

11:18 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

And Kalen, keep me in the loop for "pretend you're in New Orleans" day.WILL DO!

We're going to start with beignets and chicory coffee at Powerface (@ the Fruitvale BART station), then go for frozen drinks at one of the tiki bars in Alameda, then on to Oyster Po'Boys at Brown Sugar Kitchen. And there might have to be some antiquing in there too . . . Nothing says NoLa like booze and shops full of antiques I lust for, LOL!

12:17 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I hope "pretend you're in New Orleans Day falls on the week Scott and I will be in SF (July). I can contribute a genuine packet of Pat O'Brien's hurricane mix!No reason we can't do it more than once. *grin*

12:18 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Glad you got something from the report, Victoria. It's an interesting neck of the intellectual woods, though if I analyze my own work too hard... well, I'm not sure what'll happen.

As for shops full of antiques, Kalen -- that was one of my regrets, that I didn't get to poke around more. But when I walked down Royal Street, I went to this photo exhibition at the Historic New Orleans Collection instead. And so should you, Amanda, or anybody who goes in the next few months -- fabulous photographs of "invites you to step into the worlds of brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians, and jazz funerals; spiritual churches, second lines, and Louisiana folkways" by a brilliantly involved and committed New Orleans native. Plus the collection has scads of the gorgeous girly stuff we all love as well.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Oh, I wish I could have heard your talk and Lauren's and a bunch of the others=-it sounds fabulous! I've been to New Orleans once, and I loved it. So much history (and a lot of it Regency/Napoleonic era). The food was fabulous, and I loved the antique stores--I have a Victorian cameo and an antique perfume bottle I bought on that drip.

Has anyone read Penelope Williamson's two historical mysteries set in 1920 New Orleans? They're fabulous and drenched in period atmosphere. I went to New Orleans with Penny, whose family lives there, so it was a great way to get a sense of the city.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

The Williamson books sound great, Tracy. What are their titles?

4:28 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

"Mortal Sins" and "Wages of Sin"--both fabulous!

4:37 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Pam,

I just wanted to say hello again, and thanks for the report and kind words!

It's wonderful to hear about the genre from such thoughtful and reflective writers as you and Lauren.

It makes me proud to be a romance reader (even more than I already am).

Hope to see you next year in St. Louis!

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Maryan Wherry said...

"A terrific presentation on British and U.S. takes on the Regency -- from Professor Maryan Wherry -- which began with a quote from The History Hoydens Blog.What quote? I wana know!!!"

"Something about the confusion of writing about an elite class when one is oneself deeply egalitarian in one's attitudes."

Indeed it was. Just applying some stuffy socio-intellectual theory to pop fiction. It's all about jumping the big pond: regardless of a common language, the UK and US are vastly different cultures. I argued that UK writers treatment of social restrictions and behavior is much different from the USers (we USers prefer to believe that rules are meant to be broken). For USers, that "all men are created equal" is commonplace. It's not necessarily a confusion; we academics would refer to it as "cultural identity."

And by the way, thanks everso for voicing the conundrum so I could use it.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Hi Jessica and Maryan. Great to meet you and hope to see you some more in this neck of the blogosphere.

8:03 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I've been to New Orleans once, and I loved it. So much history (and a lot of it Regency/Napoleonic era).
The market where Cafe Du Monde is located is from the Regency-era (1813 according to the sources I’ve seen). It reminds of Bath for some reason. It’s fun to just walk along the colonnade and imagine . . .

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Lynna Banning said...

"...the UK and US are vastly different cultures..."
That might explain why I'm having such a hard time getting my third-in-the-series book accepted by the British editor at Mills & Boon? I keep revising and revising...

Also--Pam, I am very, very shy; it was SUCH a pleasure to sit across from you at our Hoyden lunch in San Francisco last summer!

12:43 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Same here, Lynna. And yes, Maryan makes an excellent point -- there are probably all kinds of ways that made-in-USA Regencies betray their origins.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Maryan Wherry said...

"...there are probably all kinds of ways that made-in-USA Regencies betray their origins..."

I'd have to say yes, indeedy--just as made-in-UK romances, mysteries, TV shows/humor betray their origins. The fascination with the Regency and 19th century Britain, particularly by USers, is an interesting phenomenon itself. We care much less about any other nation or period, even our own. Wouldn't it make much more sense for USers to use their own place, culture, history, to tell their stories? After all, it's much more familiar, no? Perhaps the US isn't as "romantic."

8:51 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Perhaps the US isn't as "romantic."

There's that whole slavery thing, and the killing off of the indigenous people . . . and then there's the fact that we don't have an actual aristocracy (which is part of the fairytale appeal of the “Regency Romance” IMO). We also don’t have any “anchor books” act as touch stones (Austen, the Bronte sisters, even Heyer, though her books are not from the late Georgian period).

To be frank, I simply don’t find early American history to be all that interesting. *shrug* The Victorian-era stuff in the Wild West is more appealing, but still suffers from the ugly (and hard to avoid without being disingenuous) truths of the “civilization” of the West (esp for those of us who happen to actually be Native American).

I think one of the biggest compliments I received in my fan mail for Lord Sin was a slightly disgruntled email from a woman in Bath who told me she was so excited to have *finally* found a great historical romance that was clearly written by a Brit . . . until she read my bio and saw that I’m from the States. *JOB DONE* Gave me a nice, rosy glow in my chest.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Ah. That is a compliment to treasure, Kalen.

While as for the whole slavery thing, and the killing off of the indigenous people thing...

Well, in Britain, they had that whole hideous tragic early-industrial mill and mine wage-slavery thing (that literally-working-the-working-class-to-death thing qua Marx and Engels)...

I'd agree, though, that the aristocracy thing is at the heart of our fascination. Or that very troubling oxymoron of "natural aristocracy" that continues to vex me as I find so firmly rooted in my own fantasy life.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Well, in Britain, they had that whole hideous tragic early-industrial mill and mine wage-slavery thing

Yeah, but we had that too, on TOP of all the other stuff . . . it's not that I don't think someone could write a great romance set in early America (in fact, I'm sure it's been done), it's just that I don't think *I* could (cause the setting leaves me cold).

2:10 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Yeah, but we had that too...

I think that the American frontier afforded some respite from that (as I right, historians?) -- though of course "frontier" is also a coded way of saying "go take some land away from the Native Americans"...

And once again (because we've discussed this before), let me recommend Geraldine Brooks's wonderful March. Not a historical romance, but a brilliant historical novel, set during the American Civil War, and plenty romantic too.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I think that the American frontier afforded some respite from that (as I right, historians?) -- though of course "frontier" is also a coded way of saying "go take some land away from the Native Americans"...Right. So the "civilized" East Coast was stolen from the natives "in the past", had slavery, and had an early industrial base that preyed on the working class. The "frontier" was an ongoing program of genocide. I just have a hard time putting that out of my mind . . . somehow it's easier for me to put aside the early aspects of industry and all the Empire building the Brits were doing. *shrug* Maybe because it's less personal? I don't know.

8:17 AM  

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