No More Slutty Slut-Shaming: Q&A with Jackie Horne pt. 2

13 Mar

TheListcropped-175x291by Madeline Iva

Hello pretty kittens! Here’s part two of our interview with Jackie Horne, the femme genius behind ROMANCE NOVELS FOR FEMINISTS

MADELINE IVA: Any guilty pleasures out there in romance land for you, Jackie? Anything you’re reading and being like — oh this is horrible, but I just want to eat it with a spoon anyway…

JACKIE HORNE: When I first read the question, I was tempted to be all self-righteous, and say “oh, I don’t feel guilty about any of my reading. I take pride in being a romance reader.” But then I remembered a few times when I did feel uncomfortable about what I was reading, even while I found myself wanting to read more.

Stephanie Laurens’ books, for example, which feature intriguing sex scenes, but also continually insist that alpha male masculinity is the only masculinity that could ever appeal to a woman (I always wondered how all those alpha male friends managed to be in the same room without killing one another, didn’t you?). Many of Nora Roberts’ romances, which feature strong, empowered women and compelling plots and romance arcs, but which also take fairly conventional gender norms, particularly norms of masculinity, for granted.

Love these covers--Kit Rocha's Beyond Series.

Love these covers–Kit Rocha’s Beyond Series.

Most recently, Kit Rocha’s Beyond series, features smoking-hot sex scenes, but places them in a horribly anti-feminist dystopian setting (to challenge patriarchal assumptions? Or to make us not question the far less overt sexism we encounter in our everyday lives?). So that’s what I think of when I think “guilty pleasure”: books that in on one level give me deep pleasure, but on another level make me deeply uncomfortable, typically in response to underlying assumptions or ideology that conflicts with my feminist ideals.

MADELINE IVA: (By the by, our Kiersten Hallie Krum is a *huge* Kit Rocha fan. She’s posted on them HERE and HERE.)

JACKIE HORNE: Those books, though, can be great for helping me clarify my thinking about romance and feminism, though!

MADELINE IVA: Let’s talk about the erotic romance revolution.  We at Lady Smut wanna know–in your opinion, can we be brainy and sexy and fun all together?

JACKIE HORNE: When I first joined my local Romance Writers of America (RWA) Chapter, back in 2011, I was surprised by how many members wrote erotic romance. I had no idea what a strong sub-genre erotic romance had become since I had last been an avid romance reader. And once I began to talk with such writers, I realized how frustrated many of them were at the relative lack of respect their sub-genre was given by the romance community at large.

I’m guessing that many romance writers who did not write erotic romance felt compelled to distance themselves from it, and those who wrote it. Already accused of writing “porn for mommies,” romance writers feared being tainted by association by a sub-genre that sat right on the border between romance and porn. And since this sub-genre was being issued by a new set of publishers, often in a new format (ebooks), many likely worried that literary standards set by traditional romance publishers would not be followed or maintained, opening up the genre as a whole for further criticism, and shaking its already tenuous hold on respectability.

In the face of such attitudes, I can totally understand why you all began LadySmut—it met (and still meets) a real need, to publicize, and to advocate for, erotic romance and its writers. Attitudes in the larger romance community have gradually begun to change—RWA awarded a RITA award in the erotic romance category for the first time in 2014—but worries about erotic romance still linger. Yes, you can extend the invitation to brainy and sexy and fun all together, but not everyone is ready to accept it yet, I fear.

MADELINE IVA: And if we can, I want to think there’s a massive audience out there for smart heroines in books — read by smart readers, but in your experience do readers in their quest for ruthless entertainment go for the less brainy type of heroine — or (shudder) the anti-intellectual heroine?

JACKIE HORNE: I always get frustrated when people talk about “romance readers,” as if they are a monolithic group. This is a result of romance being a mass-market product, I think: publishers want to reach the largest possible audience, and so they reduce the vast diversity of romance readers, with all their individual likes and dislikes, into this mythical creation, the “romance reader.” “Romance readers prefer alpha heroes”; “romance readers won’t accept a heroine who was a prostitute”; “romance readers hate brainy heroines.” Ugh! Romance gets watered down to the least common denominator, to meet the tastes of this utterly make-believe “romance reader.”

MADELINE IVA: Point taken.

JACKIE HORNE: Some romance readers do love smart heroines. I myself have always been labeled a brainy girl, and love to find similar characters in the romances I read. Those are the types of characters that I find entertaining, not the less brainy types.

But not every romance reader is an intellectual, or wants to read about intellectual heroines. And you can be smart without being intellectual. Given how vast the romance market is, surely there should be room for many different types of heroines.

MADELINE IVA: Who are the most edgy feminist writers out there today?

JACKIE HORNE: Courtney Milan, who writes historical romances, not ones with anachronistically empowered heroines, but with heroines who struggle against the gender restrictions of their times in believable, but effective ways

Ruthie Knox (and her NA alter ego, Robin York), a contemporary writer who doesn’t just write from a feminist sensibility, but who directly tackles issues relevant to feminism

Victoria Dahl, who began her career as a historical romance writer, but who found her humor and strong feminist views more suited to contemporary romance

Cara McKenna, an erotic romance whose unconventional heroes and heroines are as far from your bland Mary Sue/Stus as you can imagine.

M.L. Buchman, who writes military and adventure romance; his heroes always fall for the heroines because of their strengths, not their weaknesses

Molly O’Keefe, who writes contemporary romances that often challenge conventional romance tropes for feminist purposes

Madeline, you write that you find Urban Fantasy romance ahead of the curve when it comes to kick-ass heroines. But I’ve found fantasy romance in general pretty disappointing when it comes to feminist ideals. Lots of heroines able to fight, but not as many who have romantic relationships that center on mutual respect, equity, and equality. The only authors that I’ve found to be consistently feminist are Meljean Brook and Ilona Andrews. What other urban fantasy writers would you recommend?

It's urban fantasy but it's also Y.A./New Adult -- so don't expect wild n crazy sex, kay?

It’s urban fantasy but it’s also Y.A./New Adult — so don’t expect wild n crazy sex, kay?

MADELINE IVA: I think that Melissa Marr’s book WICKED LOVELY would knock your socks off. But you’ve really crystalized for me exactly what’s going on with Urban Romance.  Yes, I do think they’re badass because they fight and say what they want, but you’re right — the romantic relationships are not equal to the rest of the novels in peeps like Kim Harrison and a few others I’ve read…Hmmm.  Much to ponder. Last question: Who are the most popular surprisingly feminist authors writing the smexy stuff today?

JACKIE HORNE: Well, you’d probably be better at recommendations here than I will :-). But my favs include:

Solace Ames

Anne Calhoun

Cara McKenna

Jane O’Reilly

Teresa Noelle Roberts

Charlotte Stein

Thank you so much Jackie — Love your blog, love your mission, and hope you come back and visit us again soon. 🙂 Meanwhile, readers check out some of the spicey hot romance authors listed above and follow us at Lady Smut for your favorite commentary on all things rip roaring in romance land.

6 Responses to “No More Slutty Slut-Shaming: Q&A with Jackie Horne pt. 2”

  1. romancenovelsforfeminists March 13, 2015 at 10:22 am #

    Madeline:

    I really liked WICKED LOVELY when it came out, and devoured many of the book’s sequels. I found the series tailed off markedly in quality, though. You’ve made me want to go back and re-read…

    — Jackie

    Like

  2. Madeline Iva March 13, 2015 at 11:01 am #

    I haven’t read the rest of the series, but ‘devoured’ is exactly the word I’d use. Jackie I’m just delighted we got to have such a wonderful chance to talk about all this stuff. I hope the readers are as inspired by you as I am. 🙂

    Like

    • romancenovelsforfeminists March 13, 2015 at 11:10 am #

      Thanks, Madeline. It’s so great to find people who share your interests and ways of looking at the world, isn’t it? So glad we got the chance to talk and share ideas. Your questions really made me think hard about what and why I blog 🙂

      Like

  3. Liz Everly March 13, 2015 at 11:01 am #

    Thanks for stopping by LadySmut, Jackie, and for all those fabulous recommendations. I feel the same way about the Kit Rocha series, btw. Great writing–but it made me very uncomfortable for the exact reasons you mention.

    Like

    • romancenovelsforfeminists March 13, 2015 at 11:13 am #

      Thanks for the welcome, Liz. Glad to know that someone finds the Rocha books simultaneously fascinating and disturbing. Dystopias are all about fears about where our current paths may lead us; here’s hoping that the future doesn’t hold a return to sexist, patriarchal societies.

      Liked by 1 person

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  1. Friday Roulette | Lady Smut - March 20, 2015

    […] Jackie Horne: No More Slutty-Slut Shaming pt. 2 […]

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