Nalini Singh interview

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http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday/20140705

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When the hero hauls his ass into oblivion

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I just liked this comment (on dealing with ex-boyfriends in the post break-up phase) in the final Sookie Stackhouse novel:

“I’d never imagined feeling this way, but I couldn’t handle this emotional jerking around. I’d start to feel okay, then I’d get poked in the sore spot, like taking a scab off my knee when I was a kid. In books, the hero was gone after the big blowup. He didn’t stick around in the vicinity doing mysterious shit, sending messages to the heroine by a third party. He hauled his ass into oblivion. And that was the way things should be, as far as I was concerned. Life should imitate romance literature far more often.

If the world operated according to romance principles….”

Ref: near the end of chapter 15 Charlaine Harris Dead Ever After

Werewolf romances

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You know you like the article when you highlight so much of it that you defeat the purpose of using a highlighter!

In her analysis of the werewolf romances of Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn, Erin S. Young argues for a reconceptualisation of the borders around the genre(s) of Romance. She writes:

“In her introduction to Best New Paranormal Romance (2006), a collection of contemporary tales that explore the intersection of romance and fantasy, editor Paula Guran establishes a distinction between “paranormal romance” and “paranormal Romance”: “I contend that although some twenty-first century paranormal romance is still definitional Romance, another type of ‘paranormal romance’ has emerged that is not Romance. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge this duality or at least explore the idea” (8). Using Pamela Regis’ definition of romance—from A Natural History of the Romance Novel (2003)—as the foundation of her argument, Guran suggests that “the betrothal,” which signifies “happily ever after” at the conclusion of the conventional romance narrative, is one of the definitive elements that distinguishes “paranormal Romance” from “paranormal romance.” Romance novelists such as Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon, who occasionally venture into paranormal territory, are producing “paranormal Romance.” In contrast, the works of Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn—which will be the central foci of this essay—are more appropriately labeled “paranormal romance,” because these novels violate the conventional romance formula by omitting “the betrothal,” as well as any other indicator of “happily ever after.”

Guran’s argument reveals the fundamental paradox that exists at the core of romance criticism. The “betrothal” must occur at some point in the romance novel. [-p.205] A romance novel without a betrothal is not a romance; it may contain a love story, but it should be categorized as belonging to some other genre. This logic suggests both the impossibility of a feminist reading of popular romance—if a romance novel must conclude with at least the promise of marriage, then the genre does, by critical definition, affirm the “patriarchal myths and institutions” that have long prevented feminist romance critics from giving it a stamp of approval—and more importantly perhaps, it suggests that women’s concerns, experiences, and ideas about love have changed minimally in the 200-plus years that have passed since the emergence of the domestic novel (Modleski 16). I would argue that it is more fruitful to read the paranormal romance’s nearly universal rejection of marriage—and reproduction—as a reflection of particular cultural fantasies about limitless consumption and flexibility, even in the development of romantic relationships. I hope to justify the inclusion of the paranormal romance in academic romance criticism, despite its significant deviations from the popular romance code, because it suggests a cultural shift in dominant ideas about identity and intimacy. If an acknowledgement of this shift leads writers and readers of romance to interrogate constructions of love, marriage, and reproduction as stable and permanent concepts, then new analyses of women’s subjectivity in the context of patriarchal and economic realities may become possible.” (pp.204-205)

Citing David Harvey, Young asserts: “[“]”The dynamics of a ‘throwaway’ society . . . mean[s] more than just throwing away produced goods . . . but also being able to throw away values, lifestyles, stable relationships, and attachments to things, buildings, places, people, and received ways of doing and being” (156, 286). The heroines of “paranormal romance,” like the multi-volume structures that contain them, fully embrace the “dynamics of a ‘throwaway’ society” as they experience a multitude of romantic relationships, sexual encounters, and adventures that yield only temporary satisfaction.” (p.207)

With regards to the werewolf romances of Armstrong and Vaughn, Young explains, “What both of these series offer, then, are heroines whose paranormal attributes play a key role in their refusal—and sometimes, inability—to marry and bear children. Through the absence of these two central characteristics of romance, Elena and Kitty (as well as the readers of their narratives) are granted access to a very particular kind of capitalist fantasy.” (p.208)

In the works of Armstrong and Vaughn, lycanthropy functions as a paranormal inheritance that endows their heroines with altered physical bodies and perspectives that facilitate the indefinite pursuit of temporary and disposable pleasures. Lycanthropy also enables Elena and Kitty to interrogate and reject traditional “human” standards of gendered behavior, thereby reflecting the dissolution of stable identities in a flexible capitalist economy.
The werewolf romances of Armstrong and Vaughn share particular formulaic conventions that are identifiable throughout the genre of paranormal romance, [-p.209] including a first-person female narrator, a multi-volume structure, and a parallel universe in which magic exists.” (pp.208-209)

To be a werewolf is, for the most part, to consume without consequence.” (p.210)

“…the werewolf lens enables a critique of the monogamous relationship and the institution of marriage.” (p.211)

In both series, sexual intercourse is depicted as a “natural” indulgence for werewolves, especially when it follows a successful hunt. In contrast, the strict boundaries that surround acceptable forms of human sexuality (that it must be explored with only one other person, that it must be associated with love, and that it must be legally sanctioned by the State), are portrayed as heavily constructed rules of behavior that are distinctly “unnatural.”” (p.211)

“Armstrong’s Bitten offers the following premise: a female werewolf, uncomfortable with her lycanthropic identity, chooses to abandon her Pack and “pass” as an ordinary human woman with a stable career in journalism and a loving live-in boyfriend. In “The Politics of Passing” (1996), Elaine K. Ginsberg claims that “the possibility of passing challenges a number of problematic and even antithetical assumptions about identities, the first of which is that some identity categories are inherent and unalterable essences” (4). The conventional romance novel accepts the traditionally gendered categories of “male” and “female” as “inherent and unalterable essences,” as illustrated by Jayne Ann Krentz’s defense of the romance novel in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance (1992): “[Romance novels] celebrate female power, intuition, and a female worldview that affirms life and expresses hope for the future” (8). Werewolf romances do not share this assumption; human standards of appropriate behavior—particularly along gender lines—are continually rendered “strange” as they are observed through the eyes of the werewolf protagonist. Elena’s painstaking attempt to “pass” as a human woman forces the reader to question the innateness of behaviors and values that are conventionally coded as “feminine.” Thus, Bitten poses a unique challenge to the romance genre; its focus on a werewolf heroine who is always conscious of performing human femininity is simultaneously a focus on gender as a socially constructed category of identity.” (p.214)

“…both series offer complex explorations of the lycanthropic inheritance as a specifically gendered form of power. Lycanthropy is constructed contradictorily as a condition that empowers its female hosts by granting them sexual, geographical, and economic mobility, while also signifying the source and consequence of patriarchal oppression. The explicitness of this contradiction may seem critically inconvenient, but it must be noted that the werewolf romance exposes a central contradiction at the heart of every romance novel. The conventional romance heroine is “empowered” by her access to the patriarchal institution of marriage at the novel’s conclusion, much to the dismay of early romance critics. In contemporary romances that feature career women, the heroine’s empowerment is dependent upon her access to the patriarchal business world—access that is solely the result of a fortunate accident of birth. Werewolf romances, in other words, may offer yet another fantasy of female empowerment—albeit one that suggests substantial changes in the needs and desires of women under flexible capitalism—but at least they reveal the incompatibility of that fantasy with the patriarchal conditions that continue to affect the choices available to contemporary women.” (p.225)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine; italics in original) Erin S. Young (2011) Flexible Heroines, Flexible Narratives: The Werewolf Romances of Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn  Extrapolation, Vol. 52, No. 2, pp.204-226

Reference is to: Armstrong, Kelley. Bitten. New York: Plume, 2001.
Cohn, Jan. Romance and the Erotics of Property: Mass-Market Fiction for Women. Durham and London: Duke UP, 1988.

Giddens, Anthony. The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love, and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992.
Ginsberg, Elaine K. “The Politics of Passing.” Passing and the Fictions of Identity. Ed. Elaine K. Ginsberg. Durham and London: Duke UP, 1996.
Guran, Paula, ed. “Introduction: What is ‘Paranormal Romance’?” Best New Paranormal Romance. New York: Juno Books, 2006. 7-17.
Halberstam, Judith. In a Queer Time & Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York and London: New York UP, 2005.
Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989.
Krentz, Jayne Ann, ed. Introduction. Dangerous Men & Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1992.
Modleski, Tania. Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women. New York: Methuen, 1984.
Mussell, Kay. Fantasy and Reconciliation: Contemporary Formulas of Women’s Romance Fiction. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1984.
Vaughn, Carrie. Kitty and the Midnight Hour. New York: Warner Books, 2005.

Zaretsky, Eli. Capitalism, the Family, and Personal Life. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.

Twilight is not a vampire story

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Twilight is not a vampire story per se but a romance—and a very well marketed romance at that.” (p.268)

I’m taking this statement out of context, but it struck me as such an interesting one… can you not read Twilight (and its literary fellows) in multiple genres at once…? What is ‘a vampire story’ then? I really liked Mercer’s article, but this statement kind of intrigued me.

Mercer does clarify her approach to ‘classifying’ this text, writing that “I identify Meyer’s books within the genre of teen romance fiction. Milly Williamson’s (2005) study of vampire fiction suggests, however, that the more appropriate genre for making sense of books like Twilight (her work pre-dates Meyer’s), given the existential- and self-reflective turn of contemporary vampires, may be melodrama. Williamson notes the literary appearance of what she terms the “sympathetic vampire” with whom female reader-fans identify rather than fear: “[the vampire’s] entire unwanted ontological status is his flaw, and thus his flaw is excessive and taken to the extremes appropriate to melodrama. His unwelcome vampirism is not a sign of evil, but of victimhood. . . .[F]emale fans do not identity with the vampire’s female victims, but rather, empathize with the sympathetic vampire figure itself”” (p.268)

On this note, (and in the same part of her discussion), Mercer also quotes one of the girls she interviewed (14 yrs) as saying: “I guess she [Meyer] could have written it with some other kind of creatures but having vampires makes it more focused on their bodies.” (p.268) … which is also an interesting statement on its own – and one she consequently  affirms in a more academic fashion, noting that “the character of the vampire becomes a literary device for attention to bodies, playing directly to a young female readership’s culturally encouraged (over) focus upon their own bodies.” (p.269) Still, in context of the above statement, I find this acknowledgement of the importance of the vampire to this text curiouser and curiouser.

Ref: Joyce Ann Mercer (2011)  Vampires, Desire, Girls and God: Twilight and the Spiritualities of Adolescent Girls Pastoral Psychol. 60:263–278

feminism in Meyer’s Twilight series – two discussions

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Much of the discussion around Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series is based on feminist criticism…  I just happened to read these two articles (Rachel Hendershot Parkin (2010) and Joyce Ann Mercer (2011)) the same day and enjoyed what they had to say (quite differently in some ways but both from a position of feminist critique) about Meyer’s Twilight series. They both consider the social reception of these books, the relationship between Bella and Edward (and how that relationship has been read), as well as the place of Bella’s pregnancy in this text… they make for mutually beneficial readings (and are both excellent in their own right, too).

Importantly, I think, in this context, Rachel Hendershot Parkin reminds us that: Newspaper articles and book reviews are quick to accuse the series of anti-feminism in scathing (yet often non-specific) terms, and Twilighters frequenting forums, blogs, and other discussion boards are not far behind. It is important to note that Twilight fans are indeed sophisticated readers capable of critical and detailed analysis.” (Hendershot Parkin, p.66)

However, Parkin also points out that: “Despite the clearly mapped romance structure of the Twilight saga, the books are not marketed as such, and it appears that some fans are not familiar with the genre and thus fail to include such elements in their horizons of expectation. Meyer’s own comments indicate that her understanding of the books as feminist in their own right fits into current romance scholarship, which suggests that the genre represents women’s freedom rather than their bondage in love (Regis xiii).” (Hendershot Parkin, p.65)

Meyer makes her opinion of Bella and Edward’s relationship clear—it is a healthy and natural one, if a bit unusual, and is based on Meyer’s understanding and interpretation of the nature of true love. Meyer’s rebuttal certainly resonates with contemporary readings of the romance genre. Like Phillips, Meyer seems to believe in a heroine who “possesses all the softer qualities traditionally assigned to women but who has none of a woman’s physical limitations because his strength now belongs to her” (58). Meyer also turns to choice to define feminism, arguing that she always understood the term to indicate that women had the right to choose how to live their lives. So for Meyer, Bella is not anti-feminist because of her choices, but rather an empowered heroine in that she does make choices, ones that allow her to draw strength from Edward. Clearly, Meyer’s horizon of expectation for her own saga is just as firmly fixed as the fandom’s alternative horizon of expectation.
Ironically, however, while Twilighters may not recognize the series as part of the traditional romance genre and criticize it for its romantic elements, they often devour it for those same reasons. Twilight fans swoon over Edward Cullen. Many fans do not feel Bella’s space or privacy is violated when, in Twilight, he spends every night for months sneaking into her bedroom and watching her sleep. Rather than interpret Edward as a stalker, fans gush about his devotion to Bella. Female Twilighters do seem to delight in the prodigious care Edward takes of Bella and willingly accept his assertive, domineering character, a common feature in romance [-p.69] novels. At the same time, however, many of those readers resist the passive elements of Bella’s nature. These contradictory responses are, in Hills’s view, characteristic of fandoms. We can see that such dualisms abound in the Twilight saga’s reception, through the fandom’s acceptance of some romance tropes and rejection of others.” (Hendershot Parkin, pp.68-69)

Meanwhile, Joyce Ann Mercer spoke to a number of teenage girls about their engagement with the text and found that:

“These girls enjoyed fantasizing about Edward and Bella, as they used the story to fantasize about their own “perfect first date” or “perfect relationship.” One girl blushing a bit whispered, “It would be so cool to be able to feel totally sexy with a guy on a date and trust that he would be the one to worry about keeping things safe and good.”” (Mercer, p.268) This approach to Edward’s sexual reticence felt like an alternative (adolescent feminist) response to me from the ones Parkin was dealing with – and which I had encountered before reading this article…. It suggests Meyer is taking the pressure off her female heroine (to keep her virtue intact) and placing it on the hero instead… I hadn’t thought of this. Anyway, ….

Mercer explains her position: “These books give the appearance of being the antidote to the “hook up” culture of normless casual sexual encounter Donna Freitas (Freitas 2008) cites as sadly common to American college life. Instead of depicting its characters hooking up, page after page of Twilight centers on the thrill of anticipation, of desire unfolding and intensifying, which is surely its own kind of pleasure.
Meyer writes into the relationship between Bella and Edward a number of characteristics that go against stereotypical gender scripts. Most notable among these gender-bending story elements is her depiction of Edward as the person in the relationship who holds the more traditional sexual values—he insists that they be married before they do anything more than kiss. In a sometimes-amusing reversal of what many women and girls experience in dating, Edward must continually monitor his ability to handle physical contact with Bella. He puts the brakes on the degree of sexual intimacy expressed in the relationship, at one point even telling Bella she should stop taking her clothes off because he wants to wait until they are married. The narrative effect of this device is that teen girl readers, placing themselves in the position of Bella, can imaginatively “give themselves over to their own desire” and let someone else worry about the morality and safety of it all. It becomes Edward’s burden rather than Bella’s to “just say no.”” (p.272)

However, Mercer concludes that: “The Twilight saga does create a space for girls to experience and explore sexual desire in the safety of a narrative imagination in which they personally are neither exploited/objectified nor asked to become party to normless, unfulfilling sexual expression. At the same time, however, in Twilight the contours of female desire take shape within the rather conventional, subordinating tropes of romance fiction that constitute female desire through the act of being made the object of ownership or the exercise of authority. Masculine desire takes shape through narcissistic rage and entitlement. Here, desire’s hunger to be met and chosen by a desiring other’s equally strong yearning and wanting must play itself out through the power arrangements of male control and possession, rather than in the free play and abandon of a jouissance shared by two.” (Mercer, p.275)

“When I started out in this investigation of vampires, desire, girls, and God, I read Meyer’s books, and began to formulate my critique of them, largely based on a feminist critical account of gender construction and the role of the Mormon religion in promoting the worldview found in Twilight, a worldview authorizing women’s subordination. And then I began talking to girls reading Twilight. The more my informal ethnography brought me inside the experiences of these young women, the harder it became for me to simply dismiss this book as hopelessly sexist and merely “really bad for girls.” For in spite of Twilight’s distortions of desire, in spite of the horribly circumscribed world of women in Twilight, as a feminist ethnographer I found myself having to take seriously—to listen differently—to the power of the narrative for girls.” (Mercer, p.275)

Refs: Rachel Hendershot Parkin (2010) ‘Breaking Faith: Disrupted Expectations and Ownership in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, Volume 2, Issue 2, Winter, pp. 61-85

Joyce Ann Mercer (2011)  Vampires, Desire, Girls and God: Twilight and the Spiritualities of Adolescent Girls Pastoral Psychol. 60:263–278

Reference is also made to:  Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2003.

The Vampire Lover in the Popular Romance

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There are a couple of moments when i think the author seems to jump from the specific to the general in terms of understanding genre, but I found Helen Bailie’s discussion of vampire romance interesting…  she writes:

“In the paranormal romances, the conventions and practices of the vampire found in horror novels are appropriated and transformed by popular romance writers into the essence of women’s fantasy heroes.” (p.141)

Though the traditional vampire with its association with evil or its persona as an agent of the devil may seem an unlikely model for the archetypal popular romance hero, the vampire hero, in fact, follows closely the paradigm of what Jane Gordon calls the sympathetic vampire. Gordon differentiates between the vampire figures in horror novels as inherently evil ‘‘whose power over [their] prey is both extraordinary and cruel’’ (230), and the sympathetic vampires who rather than being ‘‘super-killers’’ are ‘‘super-survivors’’ (230). These vampires ‘‘must live in harmony with their world, be flexible, adaptable, and possess stamina,’’ writes Gordon, adding that in this new depiction the sympathetic vampire ‘‘retains its strength, but loses its terror’’ (230).” (p.141)

Typically, the vampire archetype in the paranormal romance adheres closely to the model of the Gothic romance hero in the Heathcliffean or Byronic mode, a standard in the romance novel genre. In the gothic romances, the hero is usually depicted as ‘‘dark and brooding, writhing inside with all the residual anguish of his shadowed past, world-weary and cynical, quick-tempered and prone to fits of guilt and depression. He is strong, virile, powerful, and lost’’ (Barlow 48–49). He keeps himself apart from the rest of society and, because of this, is usually surrounded by rumors of associations with the black arts or, in contemporary romances, with illegal activity. He is autocratic, wealthy, considered dangerous and, most importantly, exudes sensuality; an eroticism that makes other men envious and suspicious of him and which intrigues and attracts women.” (p.142)

One important dimension of the paranormal romances is that, unlike traditional vampires, the vampire heroes are not the creation of an evil force.” (p.142)

“That the vampire heroes in the paranormal romances do not originate as products of Satan or some dark force is crucial to the acceptance of the vampire as hero in this genre.” (p.143)

“In these romances it is this that demarcates the vampire hero from the vampire as villain; the evil vampire makes a deliberate choice to embrace his darker nature, while the vampire hero not only struggles against the temptation but will sacrifice himself rather than succumb to it.
As already noted, one characteristic of the Gothic romance hero is that he is often marginalized and misunderstood. This may stem from some past action that has ostracized him from society or because he has chosen to withdraw himself due to some guilt or burden he bears. Similarly, the vampire hero is depicted as a marginalized figure both in the human world and among his own people.” (p.143)

The theme of alienation or Otherness is an important facet of the traditional vampire novel often representing what is strange and thus deemed to be evil or threatening to society. Nursel Icoz writes that Otherness is associated with ‘‘any one whose origins are unknown, who has extraordinary powers and whose differences enable him/her to disturb the familiar and the known’’ (211). However, in the paranormal romance, this very Otherness is what initially attracts the heroine and the hero to each other, becoming a unifying element in these novels.” (p.143)

“As Isabel Santaularia writes, ‘‘Vampires, endowed with an ethical dimension . . . become enticing alternatives to ordinary humanity, especially if we take into account that humanity, as it emerges from the narratives, is presented as a tangle of darkness, evil and sorrow’’ (118).” (p.144)

“While the vampire of romance novels is an extension of the Gothic hero, the heroine of the paranormal romance, in turn, follows the model of the Gothic romance heroine displaying many of the characteristics such as honor, loyalty, courage, and intelligence found in such novels. But in addition, much like the Gothic hero, she is also set apart from society. In the Gothic romance novels it can be because there is some kind of scandal attached to her past, she may not be wealthy enough to find husband, ….” (p.144)

“Just as in the romance genre passion and the sexual act define the couple’s commitment and love for each other, in the paranormal romance the sexual act between the vampire hero and heroine symbolizes a connection between them that takes place not only on a physical level but equally on an emotional and spiritual level.” (p.145)

One of the conventions of the popular romance novel is the understanding that the strong sexual bond between the hero and heroine is not only an affirmation of their love but a promise that commits them to a life-long partnership and eventually a family; in other words, that their love will produce a next generation. This same paradigm is present in many paranormal romances where, by the end of the novel, the heroine is either pregnant or the couple are anticipating starting a family. In bearing the vampire’s child, [-p.146] the heroine again ensures that she has saved the vampire from self-destruction or from succumbing to the demon inside himself. The child symbolizes a love that is eternal as it resides in the very DNA of the succeeding generations. Furthermore, with the growth of a family, there is the assurance that both vampire and heroine will finally be part of a community—this time of their own making—that will never reject them.” (pp.145-146)

“While for both the traditional vampire and the romance novel vampire blood is a source of life, in the paranormal romance vampire blood is more than just a means of survival—after all, the vampire in this genre is usually at the point of giving up his life when he meets the heroine—it is a source of spiritual salvation and emotional commitment.” (p.146)

“While the vampire hero eventually finds true love in the popular romances, like the Gothic hero who is only ever partially reformed, the vampire’s predatory nature is never completely vanquished.” (p.146)

“Icoz explains that fantasy ‘‘frequently serves to reconfirm institutional order by supplying a vicarious fulfillment of desire and thus neutralizing an urge toward transgressions’’ (220). The paranormal romance fulfills this same function as it seeks to create order out of emotional and social chaos.” (p.147)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Helen T. Bailie (2011) Blood Ties: The Vampire Lover in the Popular Romance The Journal of American Culture, 34:2, pp.141-148

Reference is to: Gordon, Joan. ‘‘Rehabilitating Revenants, or Sympathetic Vampires in Recent Fiction.’’ Extrapolation 29.3 (1988): 227-234.

Icoz, Nursel. ‘‘The Un-dead: To be Feared or/and Pitied.’’ Vampire: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil. Ed. Peter Day. New York: Rodopi, 1994: 208-26.

Santaularia, Isabel. ‘‘The Fallacy of Eternal Love Romance, Vampires and the Deconstruction of Love in Linda Lael Miller’s Forever and the Night and For all Eternity.’’ The Aesthetics of Ageing: Critical Approaches to Literary Representations of the Ageing Process, 2002.

Paranormal romance sales

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“According to statistics brought out by Romance Writers of America, in 2009, the paranormal subgenre made up 17.16% of the popular romance genre, which in itself comprised 54% of all books sold by the publishing industry.” (p.141)

Ref: Helen T. Bailie (2011) Blood Ties: The Vampire Lover in the Popular Romance The Journal of American Culture, 34:2, pp.141-148

For more information on industry statistics, Bailie refers us to : http://www.rwa.org/cs/the_romance_genre/romance_literature_statistics/industry_statistics