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.

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.

Another take on Bella’s submissiveness in Twilight

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Interested in the way Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, like Harry Potter, ‘combines several kinds of appeal’, Anne Klaus and Stefanie Krüger analyse the series’ adoption of conventions from various genres and traditions; they explain: “In the Twilight saga, we find a similar amalgamation of various different literary genres – fantasy fiction for young adults, vampire story, gothic romance, and Arthurian legend. It is a medley, a generic crossing that is – not least due to its focus on an active young heroine – bound to entice a primarily female readership.” (np)

Much of what they say echoes what is being said elsewhere (comments on the Byronic hero, the sympathetic vampire, etc. – I’ll put a couple of quotes below), but I did find their take on Bella (and what others have criticised as Bella’s lack of feminist agency) interesting. I think these authors are the first I have read who see Bella’s transformation into vampire not as a  device or a plotline, so much as a logical trajectory within the YA fantasy genre and a reworking of the vampire tale. I liked their reading of her growth!

According to Klaus and Krüger:

“Bella, who, on the one hand seems to be presented as the femme fragile or damsel in distress concerning her physicality, but, on the other hand, represents a figure of identification for female readers as the independent, strong-willed hero of young adult fiction.” (np)

“Bella’s metamorphosis into a vampire illustrates not only an inward but also an outward ripening, a growing-up-process from teenager to adult that is also manifested in her final motherhood.” (np)

“…the major emphasis of fantasy fiction for children and young adults lies on the heroes’ quests. The same holds for Meyer’s saga as the relatively short battle sequence at the close of the fourth book underlines. Meyer’s main focus is not so much on the final trial of power between the two enemy parties as on her heroine’s inner test of strength in the course of her maturation from an insignificant teenager into a self-confident lover, wife and mother. Meyer casts the spotlight on her female protagonist’s internal struggles with themes like outward appearance, virginity, marriage and child rearing.” (np)

“Bella, like Catherine in Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, is, as Carol Senf points out in The Vampire in Nineteenth-Century English Literature, a new kind of female victim and female vampire, “[a]ssertive, strong, intelligent, and independent, she clearly wants to control her own life although that desire often brings her into conflict with those who wield authority within her society” (Senf 83). Against the fears of her father and the warnings of the Quileute werewolves, Bella keeps up her relationship with Edward. Her “defloration” is not an act of destruction but a consequence of her own free choice and, what is more, it takes place before she is finally turned into a vampire, which actually is a rescue and not a damnation. Bella’s delicate nature is not her ruin, as it is for so many other female characters, but a reflection of her disposition for becoming a vampire and thus ultimately for the fulfilment of her destiny. As a vampire, she clearly embodies a new trend in late 20th- and early 21st-century vampire literature: the un-dead state is not a punishment for sins committed in life but a very attractive “parallel lifestyle” (Hughes 148-9). Jancovitch argues that “the pleasure offered by the [vampire] genre is based on the process of narrative closure in which the horrifying monster is destroyed or contained” and the “original order is re-established” (qtd. in Wisker 168). Twilight does not kill the monster but elevates it to an ideal of female desire. A new order is established which clears the way for fascinating, never-ending romantic opportunities.” (np)

“Bella Swan, the average and inconspicuous girl who so far has never found her niche within society and does not relate well to people her age (Twilight 9), embodies the “new kid in school” motif commonly found not only in realistic teenage fiction but also in late 20th and early 21st century teenage high school movies such as Sara Sugerman’s Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004) or Ed Decter’s The New Guy (2002). Just as these popular movies feature the difficulty of new pupils fitting into an existing school culture, “[c]rucial establishing scenes for both fictional school stories and school memoirs deal with the departure from home and parents, the first trip to the new school, and the arrival in a scary new place” (Manners Smith 80). Although the school story is fundamentally a British phenomenon, the focus has shifted from depicting boarding schools towards state-funded day schools – most evidently observable in the huge success of Walt Disney’s blockbusters High School Musical and Hannah Montana, both of which are set in American high schools.” (np)

“Bella’s development throughout the four books is undoubtedly evocative of famous fantasy heroes, such as Harry Potter or Christopher Paolini’s Eragon. Just as M. Katherine Grimes describes Harry Potter as insignificant “Everyboy and Everyman” (Grimes 122) in the beginning, Bella seems to lack any signs of being special or chosen. Like other heroes from young adults’ fiction, however, she develops and matures in the course of the story. A significant parallel to popular stories for young adults is Bella’s choice of friends and fellows. Not only does she deviate from her human classmates by getting in touch with vampires, she also defies the vampires’ antipathies against their rivals, the Quileute werewolves, by maintaining her friendship with Jacob Black and his family. By letting Bella choose outsiders and initial foes as friends, the author reveals her protagonist’s positive virtues and makes explicit the importance of impartiality and candour.

“Stephenie Meyer creates a fairy-tale gothic romance with a vampire as the primary, very attractive, love object and an independent, active female heroine who, on the one hand, is still the fragile damsel in distress and, on the other hand, embodies the “new kid in school” motif common in young adults’ literature of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Bella befriends supernatural creatures, is confronted with difficult choices, sacrifices her normal life, and ultimately undergoes an inward and outward ripening, a maturation most significantly seen in her final metamorphosis. Through the use of Bella’s perspective and the combination of mysterious gothic, jolts of serious menace, happy versions of teenage normality, and nostalgic romance, Meyer draws away the focus from the traditional “malicious-vampire-versus-helpless-victim” relationship towards the interiority of the active female agent and thus distances the story from the traditionally male-generated vampire myth which reduces the female character to either victim or femme fatale.” (np)

Some other quotes:

“His Byronic nature is certainly one aspect of Edward’s success among female readers of the 21st century as it combines two ideals of the modern man: sensibility and strength.” (np)

“Edward owes many of his characteristics to literary figures of the 19th century. As Meyer admitted in several interviews, it was particularly the story of Emily Brontë’s Heathcliff and his relationship to Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights, which motivated her in the construction of Edward.” (np) … “The gothic villain is commonly from the upper classes or of royal blood. Even though Heathcliff’s ancestry is unknown he still holds financial power over the Earnshaw family estate. His economic power is mirrored in the lifestyle of Edward and his family, who can afford the newest cars, live in a remarkable house, wear designer outfits, and never have to worry about money. The Cullens financially certainly belong to the upper class among the vampire families and thus transfer the common class affiliation of the vampire into 21st-century classless America.” (np)

“Edward as vampire is highly fascinating particularly because the focus of the story is not concerned with Edward being a vampire but with Edward being a romantic who happens to be a vampire. Twilight is dominated by a male protagonist whose emotional state dictates his actions which primarily culminate in wooing and protecting Bella. This primary chivalric concern is derived from another genre, which Stephenie Meyer combined with her re-created vampire myth and which is particularly aimed at female readers [Arthurian Romance].” (np)

Despite the lovers being presented as meant for each other, the “knight’s difficult choice between eros and other allegiances” (Fuchs 45), which according to Barbara Fuchs can be found in classic Romance literature, is mirrored in Edward’s endangering his family’s secret by falling in love with Bella. As he points out, he is “breaking all the rules” (Twilight 174). His attempt to part with Bella in New Moon is evocative of the main narrative strategy of romance novels: the postponement of the union between the lovers (Fuchs 125 f.).  However, “the pull of romance towards concluding happiness” (Cooper 81) dominates in Meyer’s saga, which privileges destined love over all worldly problems.” (np)

Ref: Anne Klaus and Stefanie Krüger (2011) Vampires Without Fangs: The Amalgamation of Genre in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children’s Literature, Vol 15, No 1

One storyworld: multiple romances

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In her essay, ‘The Power of Three: Nora Roberts and Serial Magic’, Christina A. Valeo makes a few comments that caught my eye for their applicability to Nalini Singh’s series…

I particularly like Valeo’s description of the way the multiple romances are introduced to the reader slowly and as secondary plotlines…

While Valeo acknowledges the logistics of the serial romance (i.e., that “creating a series likely helps her [Roberts] maintain her incredible annual output; she writes three or more books, but she builds only one world” (p.230)), Valeo also writes:

“the drop of a name in some early chapter works like a wink to her experienced readers-in-the-know. In The Dream Trilogy, Roberts gives us little more than a name, and a great and allusive one at that: Michael Fury. This childhood friend of Josh Templeton will have to wait two books to romance Josh’s sister Laura: there are literally 720 pages between the first mention of his name in the first book and his reappearance as Laura’s potential/inevitable romance in the last. As such, a series expands on the pleasure of the predictable: we know the happy ending awaits, but the heft of the books in our hands promises many more pages and twists and turns before we and the characters get there.

By the time we do finally read our way to the final books, chapters, and pages of a series, we know Roberts’ serial characters remarkably well: fans and critics alike use words like ‘love’ and ‘linger’ to describe not the characters’ feelings for each other, but the readers’ [-p.231] feelings for characters (see Part Nine of the Companion, or fansites like A Day Without French Fries http://www.adwoff.com, for multiple examples). Some of this intensity can be attributed to Roberts’ talent for characterization, as often her stand-alone characters impact readers just as powerfully. However, the series format allows Roberts the room to shift focus and points of view. The characters who play merely colorful, supporting roles in the first book will have their turns as the heroes and heroines of the later books. Because Roberts uses predominantly limited omniscience as her narrative style, readers may glimpse little or nothing of a character’s interiority until her or his story takes center stage. Roberts is, in this way, romancing her readers, letting an initial attraction or affection develop into a stronger bond as we know the characters better, learn about their histories, understand thier motivations.” (pp.230-231)

I particularly like this idea that the series ‘romances’ the romance reader…

I wonder also, though, … do such series imply strongly that there is a romance for everyone, even if your story ‘hasn’t been told’ yet? or is that just too pat?

More of her essay I liked:

“As the scope of a series multiplies the potential twists and turns of a stand-alond story, the magic in a series multiplies the possible complications. The heroines and heroes who literally wiedl greater power have a correspondingly greater impact on the people and places that surround them in their stories.” (p.236)

I think what Valeo says here could be taken deeper and could cross over into analysis of Nalini Singh’s work…

Again… also interesting was Valeo’s brief look at the role of the home in these romances… “Roberts also seems to suggest that even daily routine contains some ‘practical magic’. …The love and care with which Zoe McCourt cleans and decorates the home she shares with her son in The Key Trilogy varies in some substance from the careful placement of crystals or candles by Mia Devlin or Sebastian Donovan, but not much in motivation. Characters’ homes in a magic series are sanctuaries [-p.238] in both metaphorical and literal ways. In The Heart of Wicca, Ellen Cannon Reed explains, ‘Because we see the world with different eyes, we also find magic ineverything else we do, and we can put magic into everything we do. Vacuuming the house can be a magical cleansing of negativity. Cooking can involve blessing the food, and so forth.’ If there can be magic in these simple domestic tasks, Roberts’ stories suggest, the possibility of magic in anyone’s life waits right there next to the possibility of true love.” (pp.237-238) … Singh’s Psy/changeling characters also seem to make a lot of home (it’s part of what makes the Psy and Changeling different)… just a thought…

Ref: Christina A. Valeo  ‘The Power of Three: Nora Roberts and Serial Magic’, pp.229-239 in Ed. Sarah SG Frantz and Eric Murphy Selinger New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction: critical essays (c2012). McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina and London