Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Oh No! Miz-Romance: A Literary Dilemma

I have done a fair amount of ranting lately about my opinions on genre-romance novels and their requirements. Today a woman posted on a thread on a board for writers and brought up a “trope” I had not thought about before – genre-romance novels about women who have been in abusive relationships and, in the process of escaping, find romance which leads to the mandatory HEA. For those who do not know, a “trope” is genre lingo for a scenario which is fairly common within the genre. If it is possible to judge from discussions on the Amazon Discussion Boards in the Romance section, some readers will only read novels with their favorite tropes in them – vampires and Scotland are really hot right now. One can only imagine how hot a Scottish vampire would be – I'm betting there are lots of them.

Actually, the poster was reporting on a new trope she had found concerning selkies. Selkies, for those who do not know, are mythical creatures – beautiful women who take the form of seals. This all came about because I had recommended Regina McBride's lovely novel The Nature of Water and Air. In it one of the characters is suspected of being a selkie. It seems, according to the poster, that there are three possible tropes here: 1.) escaping from an abusive relationship by, 2.) seeking refuge in Ireland or Scotland, and thus 3.) tuning into a selky. But it was the first part of that which grabbed me, the escaping from an abusive relationship part.

A couple years ago when I was writing Each Angel Burns I read a fair number of books about women who escape abusive marriages because one of the characters in my novel is in that situation. This is not a major part of the story but it is critical to the plot – but it is not what the book is about. Some of the books I read were novels and, in the past couple of years I've encountered it a few more times. When I read the post on that discussion thread I suddenly had a horrible thought “Oh no! I wrote some miz lit!”

Readers of this blog know that I have ranted about my distaste for miz-lit – that relatively recent genre that is so popular in which people of both sexes write long, excruciating memoirs chronicling their horrible abuse, usually at the hands of horrible parents or guardians. For a while miz-lit had become so popular, in fact, that bookstores had entire sections which were labeled – what else? “miz-lit” (misery literature). At first I was baffled by this because, coming from a background that has included being on both sides of the therapeutic desk, I thought it was a good thing that people were taking an interest in the psychology of abuse. But eventually I began to sense a nasty, gratuitous voyeurism among a great many of the miz-lit fans. I had tried to read Angela's Ashes but was put-off by the blending of humor and misery. When I heard people talking about other miz-lit books and praising them for their humor while simultaneously expressing scandalized shock at the abuse I thought “something is wrong here”. Then when the whole fake miz-lit memoirs scandal exploded with Margaret B. Jones/Seltzer, JT LeRoy, James Frey, and, most especially, Misha Defonseca (because it broke right here on this blog!) it was hard to miss the fact that personal misery and misfortune was so popular it was worth lying about it in order to cash in.

So when I realized that marital abuse was now a popular genre-romance trope I got a little sick to my stomach. Even though I would never classify Each Angel Burns as either genre-romance or miz-lit it does contain romantic themes and miz-like themes. Horrors!

Well, I take comfort in the fact that there have been enough genre-romance novelists who have given me pieces of their minds over my audacity in saying my books were romances. They are most certainly not, mostly because of the ages of my characters and the whole mandatory HEA thing. And there is no way my story could be called miz-lit because it's not miserable enough and, besides, I didn't write it as a memoir. But I now have a new genre to keep an eye on: miz-romance.

All of this is giving me a headache. The novel I am working on now, Depraved Heart, does have a happy ending – a beautiful ending – and that worries me. But my H and h are 45 and 37 respectively so I don't have to worry, they're too old to be in a romance.... though they sure seem to be having a good time....

Thanks for reading.  


  1. Oh, God, I always joke that to get Oprah's stamp of approval a book has to contain physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, grinding poverty, someone kills a character's beloved pet, and it's described as "heartwarming".

    I read someones description of Angela's Ashes and Slumdog Millionaire as poverty porn. I thought that was pretty accurate.

  2. "poverty porn" - PERFECT!

    I remember when I was a kid there was a TV show called "Queen For A Day" that my mother LOVED. Three women would come on and tell these sad, sad stories about terrible things that had happened in their lives and then the audience would vote on whose story was the saddest. The "winner" got all kinds of stuff like blenders and a new stove and groceries. I remember my Mom sitting there crying and watching this show. I could just never figure out why this was considered entertainment. I felt sorry for the women but I thought it was terrible to make them tell their stories on TV and then vote on whose life was the worst!!!

    I dunno..........

  3. Well, I can say this for sure, I have never had anyone who lived a life of tragedy and grinding poverty recommend one of those type of books.
    It's only ever been some well fed, comfortable woman who's book group just loved it.


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