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Happy Endings In the Forecast For Romance-Writing Meteorologist, PART 1: Are Romance Novels Sexist?

October 26th, 2015 (02:00 pm)

At last month’s National Federation of Press Women conference, I attended a session on romance novel writing, given by author Tracy Sinclare. Today and over the next two days, I’ll be writing about her presentation.

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PART 1:
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Romance Novelist Tracy Sinclare
Says Today's Romance Heroines
Are Stronger & More Independent

Few of her viewers know it, but Tracy Sinclare, a meteorologist at Channel 2 television in Anchorage, Alaska, has a secret life. When she isn’t forecasting rain or reporting wind chills, Sinclare can often be found writing romance novels. She discussed her work and the state of romance publishing at the September 2015 National Federation of Press Women conference in Anchorage.
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“As a child, I’d been looking for fairy tales and finding only disappointment,” she explains. She’d noticed at a young age that boys in fairy tales were active. “They did stuff.” But while the boys were climbing beanstalks and fighting dragons, the girls in fairy tales mostly waited around passively for princes to rescue them. Some were so passive they actually waited while sleeping. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, for example, “got what they wanted because they looked good asleep.” Cinderella, to her credit, actually stayed awake through her own story, but in the end, she got what she wanted because she had small feet.
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Sinclare, who calls herself "a feminist at heart," says that even as a child, she hated the fact that “boys’ stories were about doing…while girls’ stories were about waiting."
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She knows that some people who don’t read romance novels think of them as sexist, but when it comes to modern romances, she disagrees, pointing to heroines who are active participants, unlike the passive heroines of traditional fairy tales and romance novels of the past. Readers who avoid romances may not realize that the female characters "have changed over the years, from damsels in distress to demon hunters and women who go after sex.” Romance heroines are smarter and more independent than ever before, in contrast to the simpering heroines more common to older books in the genre, heroines Sinclare says she and other modern romance writers ridicule as “TSTL,” or “Too Stupid To Live.”
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Besides, she insists, there is nothing anti-feminist about a happy ending and a successful relationship. In fact, a happy ending is one of the defining elements of the genre; Sinclare defines a romance novel as one that has “a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending.”
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She also points out that most romances are written by women and for women, and focus on what she calls a woman’s priorities – in particular, on relationships.
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Unfortunately, she says, women’s writing, and the topics many women choose to write about, are often dismissed as trivial. That disrespect is not new. In the 19th century, writer Nathaniel Hawthorne complained about “scribbling women” and blamed their market share for his own works’ failure to gain a larger audience.
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Were he alive today, Hawthorne would still be complaining. Romance is now the dominant fiction genre, according to Sinclare. In 2013, Harlequin alone published 110 titles per month, in 34 languages, selling three books every second. And according to the Romance Writers of America, 84 percent of those buyers are women. So it only makes sense that the stories and characters have evolved, with romance heroines taking an active role in creating their own happy endings.

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Tomorrow: Gone are the days when romance novelists had to close the bedroom curtains and leave the reader to imagine what was happening behind them. Today’s romance novels range from chaste to explicit, and Sinclare’s books are definitely on the steamy side. In tomorrow’s installment, Sinclare discusses eroticism in romance novels, and other formerly taboo content.