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Journey into the Lives of Women, One Story at a Time

A Conversation With the Fabulous Jayne Ann Krentz: Part Two

Last week I began a conversation here with author Jayne Ann Krentz, aka Amanda Quick, aka Jayne Castle.

Jayne and I knew we’d be gabby. Writers always are when they’re talking to other writers about their books, careers, and writing styles. So we knew right away we’d need to extend our conversation to this week.  Last week I only had a chance to introduce my new friend and tell you how we met before we began a discussion of popular fiction and the bias against it.

Our thanks to everyone who took time to respond and comment. Let’s continue.

As a sign that bias exists, this week while listening to a suspense novel, I noticed that the author referred to “trashy novels.” She did it at least twice. That’s particularly interesting since I suspect that many writers of “literary fiction” would sequester this author’s work in the “trashy novel” section of their own libraries.

So does a bias exist against works of popular fiction? Let’s talk to Jayne.

Emilie: “When I think about your large and successful body of work, I can’t help but also think about Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance, a book from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, which you edited, conceived and helped compile. The articles by well-known romance writers including people still writing today like Sandra Brown, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Mary Jo Putney and moved the discussion about “those little trashy bodice rippers” to an entirely new level. You helped channel and focus the discussion on why genre fiction appeals to readers, and the need for heroic stories with satisfying endings. You also made sure that readers understood that in the romance novel, women triumph, something academics hadn’t caught on to.

Suddenly we were no longer little housewives penning silly fantasies, we were legitimate storytellers, part of a chain extending back to the beginning of human interaction. This really resonated with me. Earlier that year I’d participated on an academic panel that was nothing more than a hatchet job against the romance novel, so I saw the need for clarification and exploration. Popular fiction messages are both an affirmation of culture and sometimes, a beacon leading the way.

So it was so heartening to me to read Dangerous Men, something I’ve always wanted to tell you. It felt personal. I’m sure it felt personal to other writers, too.

Jayne:  Thank you so much for the kind words on Dangerous Men & Adventurous Women.  The concept was borne out of the sheer frustration brought on by the realization that not only did the books get little respect — the readers didn’t get any respect, either.  And that’s what really pissed me off.  It’s one thing to criticize the author — that is something of a tradition in literature — but as far as I’m concerned it’s another thing altogether to criticize the readers.  I mean, the readers I knew were adult, educated, responsible women who were working in a wide variety of careers. They were raising families, attending school board meetings and donating time to charity.  They had networks of friends and professional colleagues.  They were active members of their community.  So, yep, it annoyed me that people felt free to make fun of their choice of reading matter.

That said, I had absolutely no idea where to take a book about the appeal of the romance.  The reason that book got published and is still in print (!) was because we got lucky in our editor.  I met Patricia Reynolds Smith when she was working as a romance editor at a major New York publishing house.  She had moved to a prestigious academic press, the University of Pennsylvania Press, to be precise, but we kept in touch.  I knew she had always loved the romance genre and she had published some of the most popular authors in it.  So I called her and asked her where my friends and I could take a book on the appeal of the romance and she said, “right here.”  She literally jumped on the concept. She also explained that this sort of book would only make an impact if it was published by a respected academic press. When it comes to matters of art and culture the sort of change we were hoping to make had to start at the academic level and trickle down into the mass media.

Our wonderful editor guided us through the very different world of academic publishing.  She said it was absolutely necessary to focus on a single issue  We decided that issue would be the appeal of the books.   I rounded up a group of authors who were willing to take time out of their busy and successful writing schedules.  I gave them one task:  write an essay on the appeal of the romance novel.  Don’t waste time defending the genre.  Critics love to argue.  Just spell out the appeal and let the chips fall where they may. Dangerous Men & Adventurous Women is the result. It is very gratifying to know that not only is it still in print, it is usually on every reading list in academic classes that focus on popular fiction.

Emilie:  Just a side note? Pat Smith was the first editor to buy my work. She left my publisher at the end of the week she called to congratulate me, but she managed to slip me in before she did. I’ve always been sorry I didn’t have the chance to know her better.

So on a personal level for you? Can you tell us how negativity about romance novels, and popular fiction in general, affected you at the beginning of your career? Were you able to write what you wanted, or did you feel you had to tread carefully? And do you see a change in attitude today, or do you feel the negativity is still as strong? When you write, what messages do you most want your own readers to receive?

Jayne:  Back at the start of my career there were more editorial conventions than there are today but I never had a problem finding space for my stories.  This genre has always been far more open to new ideas and experimentation than other genres such as mystery and suspense.  I was very fortunate in that, from the start of my career,  my family and my husband were extremely supportive of my writing.  I have since discovered that a lot of authors did not get that kind of support from their relatives.  I can only imagine how hard that must have been for them.  However I frequently run into that common social situation that every author encounters on a regular basis. You know what I’m talking about.  The conversation usually goes something like this:

Person with drink in hand: “I hear you are a writer.”

Me: “Yep.”

Person with drink in hand: “What do you write?”

Me: “romance and romantic suspense.”

Person with drink in hand:  “Oh. I don’t read those kinds of books but I’m thinking of writing a book, myself. How do I go about finding an agent or an editor?”

Me: “Excuse me.  I think I need another glass of wine.”

Emilie: We’ve all been there.

I’m so glad you could join us for a while. It’s been wonderful to have you here and to explore this subject a bit. Thank you so much for your willingness to visit.

Jayne: Wow!  So much stuff to talk about.  This has been a lot of fun.  Thank you for inviting me to drop in here on your blog. I appreciate all of the readers who took the time to read this discussion.  Wishing you all the best.

Readers: As a reader have you had those conversations, too? When you’ve explained to an acquaintance what you’re reading, have they been dismissive? Do you have a favorite response? Or maybe an explanation that helps them reconsider their attitudes? Last week many of you talked about all the things you’ve learned from your reading choices. My very favorite response to my work from a reader?

A woman came up to me at a signing and said, “Until I read Wedding Ring, I didn’t understand my mother. Now I do, and it’s helped me find peace with my childhood and with her.” Whenever I consider my life and what I’m doing with it, that springs to mind. It was a special moment.

Tell us about your own conversations and thoughts if you have time and inclination. And once more, my thanks to Jayne Ann Krentz for visiting Southern Exposure.

22 Comments

  1. Beth on February 13, 2019 at 10:31 am

    I am now ashamed to say, I have apologized for reading romance. Never again. Thanks for making me aware of my bias. I’m going over to Amazon to look for Dangerous Men & Adventurous Women .

    • Jayne Ann Krentz on February 13, 2019 at 1:10 pm

      Hi, Beth: Actually, the bias against romance is really just an extension of the bias against “popular fiction” in general. It is rarely recognized for the important role it plays in literature and culture. Thanks for dropping in here to comment!

  2. JSchmahl on February 13, 2019 at 11:11 am

    I bought Dangerous Men when it came out and I still have it. It made a world of difference to me in becoming more secure in my reading choice.

    • Jayne Ann Krentz on February 13, 2019 at 1:12 pm

      Yay! Thanks for taking the time to let me know that Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women had an important place in your life as a reader. You made my day!

  3. Peggy Hawkes on February 13, 2019 at 11:21 am

    The same conversation from a readers perspective happened as recently as last fall with me and a woman whose company I enjoyed and that I was beginning to respect. She asked what I read, and when I replied romantic suspense she immediately lost interest. So did I, in continuing the relationship!

    • Jayne Ann Krentz on February 13, 2019 at 1:13 pm

      Ah, yes, we’ve all be there. Her loss.

  4. Eva Beaton on February 13, 2019 at 12:06 pm

    I love Jayne in all her genres, and feel lucky to have had such books to read. I am glad she has introduced me to you, am now going to have a new ” trashy” novelist to explore.
    I have had similar conversations with the wives and other ladies at my husbands work related parties, they go, ” hi I’m Don’s wife” lady ” I’m so and so, I work at an important job what do you do?” Me “I stay home and raise my daughter” lady ” oh you must be so unfullfilled. ” Me ” not really, I read a lot.
    Then I generally get to watch all the important career oriented ladies get sloppy drunk and behave like idiots, and think gee I’m glad I’m an unimportant stay at home mom.

    • Jayne Ann Krentz on February 13, 2019 at 10:16 pm

      Eva: I tried to respond to this comment earlier but I don’t think it “took”. I just want to say that your calling is the most important one of all — you are raising the next generation! Thank you! And, hey, no pressure, right?

      • Eva on February 14, 2019 at 12:05 am

        We are raising twin grands now, my daughter works and I sit the kids, they just started school this fall, and are doing fine. It is funny how so many people look down on common jobs that run the world and consider us worker bees to be beneath their notice, but are snobby about the books they read, they miss so much of the interesting world. I have learned about art, geography and synestheia just by reading novels, sometimes even the kinds of tea or how to prepare a particular veg all from mentions in books. I have read many books in the 61 years since grade one and learning to read, and other than Mark Twain, Lucy Maude Montgomery, and Jayne Austin (only ever read Pride and Predjudice) very few of them have been literary but all have been entertaining, made me think, and most have given me something even if it wasn’t more than an interest in another book. I wonder what book a favourite author will write next and how the charaters will act, and am always pleased when the endings are good. Before digital, I almost always read the last few pages before buying the book, if I didn’t like the ending I didn’t buy the book. Now I tend to take that leap of faith when I get a book by a new author but have been rarely disappointed in the last 5 years. Keep on writing, and we’ll keep on reading.

  5. Kathryn Trask on February 13, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    I wish I had a smart answer but so far I haven’t formulated one! I am working on it! I know for example that often the ‘snobby’ readers don’t like happy endings. I love a happy ending! Sure I know that there are a lot of bad things in our world, but I want happiness for myself and others. So for me its very satisfying to see my hero/heroine have a ‘happy ending’. One of the reasons I read genre fiction and listen to the news in small doses!

    • Jayne Ann Krentz on February 13, 2019 at 1:19 pm

      I think that the literary world has concluded that happy endings are unrealistic and therefore not great literature. But all literature is, by definition, unrealistic. That’s why they call it fiction! The unhappy endings are as contrived as the happy endings. We read for different reasons but a lot of us read to reaffirm our core values in concepts like honor, courage, compassion and the healing power of love. Romance novels affirm those things. In fact those values are at the heart of most forms of popular fiction.

      • Emilie Richards on February 13, 2019 at 2:10 pm

        So well said. This is quotable. We should all memorize it.

  6. Casey Daniels on February 13, 2019 at 1:23 pm

    I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I, too, read “Dangerous Men…” Didn’t we all? And found it interesting and empowering.

  7. Deb on February 13, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    I have not only been reading popular fiction, romance for many years, I have also been a bookseller. There has always been a bias regarding this material. I have had discussions with owners and managers who whittled away at the romance shelving areas despite the popularity of the genre. I don’t think there is one argument that will win over everyone. If money doesn’t talk what will. On a personal note, historical romances taught me more about geography and world cities than any college courses I’ve taken.

    • Eva on February 13, 2019 at 5:10 pm

      I notice that far too much space both physical and mental is given to “important” literature while leaving the “useless” stuff out, I think all books are important, and agree that things like historical fiction and even romantic suspense has given me many things to research and lookup to verify or orient myself in the story. I have felt that popular fiction is a microcosam of the world we live in while literature in many cases is stilted and really untenable as a life.

    • Jayne Ann Krentz on February 13, 2019 at 9:23 pm

      Deb, thank you for pointing out how deep-seated the bias against romance is. I agee, there is no one argument that will win over critics. But as readers and writers I think that we can make people aware of the fact that we know what we are doing!!!

    • Debra on February 14, 2019 at 3:51 am

      Hi Deb, I’m Debi and we have the same history. I’ve been a reader for many years and a bookseller for a quarter century. What you said is exactly what I was going to say. I too have learned much history from the novels I’ve read. My husband asks , “If you’ve read so many aren’t they all the same?” I admit that after many thousand books there is a sameness to them but they all have differences too and they may all have “happy endings” but they all get there by a different route. Reading how they solve problems can help in everyday life. That’s why I keep reading.

  8. Jayne Ann Krent on February 13, 2019 at 9:17 pm

    Eva, you are raising the next generation! Talk about a calling. Our future is in your hands. (No pressure!) Thank you.

  9. Lynn Ross on February 14, 2019 at 1:27 am

    I’m ashamed to say that I have referred to romance novels as “mind candy” and “escape reading” in an effort to avoid criticism of my reading choice, but if that doesn’t stop the conversation, I add that my favorite authors always teach me something while I am being entertained. I do a lot of heavy reading as I study metaphysics. (Now if you want to stop a conversation, lead with that!) Anyway, I need and enjoy reading books with happy endings. I don’t like the anxiety of wondering if the book will haunt me for days with a sad ending. Keep writing the way you do, ladies.

  10. Marjorie Roberts on February 14, 2019 at 11:57 am

    Nobody has said anything negative to me about what popular fiction books I read. If they did, I would let he or she know that I learn from everything I read. If the other person wanted to trash my choices, I would reply “to each his/her own,” and I would probably walk away, unless he or she seemed to be interested in having a positive conversation.

  11. Jean Bosse on February 14, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    When someone asks what I’m reading I usually say “a romance novel” or “historical romance” or “a romantic intrigue novel”. I’ve stopped apologizing for my reading choices. If someone asks why I read those kinds of books, I always answer “I like them and it takes me away, sometimes into a world that is interesting and new”. I’ll probably never stop reading them and I’m getting way older!

  12. Kate on February 20, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    I am currently binging on older Jayne novels, in all three of her personae. I love all of them. I don’t feel I need to apologize for this love.
    I’m currently reading a book that takes place in Hawaii, and it is wonderful to escape my snowbound neighbourhood, to spend time on the beach in a book.
    Emilie, thanks for inviting Jayne over, so I can enjoy hearing from two of my favourite authors.

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