Elmore Leonard said: I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ''full of rape and adverbs.''

Friday, 4 July 2008

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING...

...Yes, this is still a blog about romance novels and to prove it, I'm going to go Covers Crazy.

As I might have mentioned here and there, I'm a huge Goodman fan ("ever since I picked up My Reckless Heart eight years ago..."). Like any self-respecting fan, I've made a concerted effort to read the Collected Works and, Goodman being obliging enough to have started out in the early 80s, that makes it a grand total of twenty-eight full length novels, with another due out in September.

Out of those twenty-eight, I've three left to read (Velvet Night, Violet Fire and Scarlett Lies - there's a whole topic on titles right there), and last week I bought these remaining books. Glancing over what I own already, I couldn't help but think how, over the course of a quarter of a century, Goodman's covers encapsulate the many make-overs and questionable face-lifts historical romance has endured as a genre.

From the traditional bodice ripper of the eighties and early nineties, I've picked some of my favourite examples













I don't know if it's the passing of time, or knowing what comes later, but I have a certain fondness for these covers. The garish colours, the shirtless hero with his wavy mane; the loosened bodice and heaving bosom... it's very old school. Also, say what you will, the covers had some relevance to the story: each of the above depict a scene, or a location in the book. Again, knowing what follows, I appreciate these little details.

Come the mid-nineties, something happens. I'd love to get my hand on that memo, because, half-way through the Dennhey Sister's series, the covers go BLAH.













It's like they vomited birds, flowers and ribbons all over the books and the result - whilst still garish - just becomes a little sad and uninspiring. I wonder what happened in this period to bring about the change - market research, re-branding the genre to move away from the now unpopular 'bodice-ripper' connotations? In any case, between 1994 and 2000, the covers are of this ilk.

Titles, too, change. So the first two Dennhey novels are tempestuously entitled Wild Sweet Ecstasy and Rogue's Mistress and the last three are sweeter - Forever in my Heart, Always in My Dreams, Only in My Arms (mid-series!)

The Hamilton Series in 2000 heralds another change. The front remains twee, but the back cover gets a makeover. The Clinch is back!























Wavy hair? Check! Bosom? Check! Canoodling? Check! Of course, it's a lot more tender and whimsical - less wind-blown-high-seas-adventure-with-forced-seduction and more rose-tinted-let's-make-gentle-love-and-talk-about-our-feelings. Still, there's a sense that change is afoot.

Which is why the next three are a puzzle. The first three books of Goodman's well received Compass Club series get some of the blandest covers I have ever had the privilege to own. And the last one - in a complete change of style, goes retro.















Note, the title changes too. I begin to wonder if Zebra gives a crap about consistency.







The next three books - 2005 onwards - though not part of an official series, are nonetheless connected in time period (regency), location and characters. The first two continue the latest full body clinch...
















... but not the third (remember, same author, same publishing house, books linked by time, theme and characters)...





If His Kiss is Wicked, possibly Goodman's most successful book to date, has a cover that departs dramatically from those before it. We all know hot men sell, and this cover appears to have done the job. It's in keeping with a general trend I've noticed, one that either decapitates the heroine or cuts her out of the picture entirely.

You'd think Zebra would be sticking to a successful formula. Think again.

The Price of Desire is due out in September, and they've opted for the Headless Heroine.


The titles shift 'subtly' once again. 'Wicked,' 'Sinful', 'Forbidden:' from emo, we're moving onto something a little more sexy and dangerous.

Spanning almost twenty-five years, Goodman's books provide an interesting record of the trends the genre - and a publishing house in particular - have undergone in that time. It would be interesting to compare with the backlist of an Avon author, just to see if it follows the same general pattern, whether changing the look and tone of a series mid-way through it is normal, and what influences affected those changes.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've always found Goodman titles fascinating, a perfect encapsulation of tired publishing trends, from Wild Sweet Ecstacy to If His Kiss is Wicked, which almost sounds like a parody title to me. She deserves better, both in titles and covers, but then, what else is new in Romance.

willaful

Meriam said...

Hi Willaful.

I'm a little embarrassed because you've caught me mid-edit (it's sloppy, but I post first and then check for glaring errors/ dodgy formatting). Apologies for the fraught reading experience!

Ahem.

Wild Sweet Ecstasy is probably the *worst* romance novel title I own. It could belong to the 'so bad it's good' brigade, but honestly, it's so bad, it's just plain bad.

She deserves better, both in titles and covers, but then, what else is new in Romance.

Part of the reason must be that she hasn't made it big (like Kleypas, Quinn etc) so she doesn't get the same care and marketing push. It seems to be with Goodman that her titles and covers have to follow whatever trend the line is pushing; she's never had her own brand. Something recognisably her own.

Of course, that's just a guess. Maybe every author's backlist is as inconsistent and trend-prone as Goodman's (and symptomatic of the genre). I'm itching to do the same with some other long standing authors, and across publishing houses; I wonder if some are better at branding their authors than others.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, Kleypas' titles tend heavily towards cliche too. (My only explanation for how Where Dreams Begin winds up on some many best lists is that people keep confusing it with Dreaming of You. ;-) )

But that cover/title mid-series switcharoo - which happened to Goodman, what, three times? That is decidedly odd. And they seem to be reverting for the upcoming cover, though I don't mind because I like those covers much more than IHKiW.

willaful

Sherry Thomas said...

That's a fun post. Imagine having such a long and fruitful career that you could be an anthropological study into late 20c and early 21c romance. :-)

RfP said...

I thought I'd already left a comment. Odd.

I don't know if it's the passing of time, or knowing what comes later, but I have a certain fondness for these covers.

You're a better woman than I am, Gunga Din. I'm so picky that a bad cover can keep a book off my keeper shelves. For me to keep a book, the *whole* book needs to be an object I want to live with.

My stylistic faves are the first two non-series books (the 3rd and 4th from the end of your post), the last book, and the Hamilton covers--they're twee but OK. Style aside, it's nice to recognize a cover later. The old-school covers actually do that better than most, though it's a bit like interpreting heraldry. (White swan on right? Outdoor delight. Horsie doth neigh? Let's run away.)

I would like to see covers on which the hero/ine actually DO something. Read a book, ride a horse (not a rearing horse with mane flying, just a regular ol' horse), wear loads of jewelry, consult a pocket watch, drop a handkerchief... show some personality. The old-school covers show emblems of scenes, but the h/h are the usual porn actor simulacra, mouths agape, eyes shut, bodies tilted to display cleavage for the camera.

Meriam said...

You're a better woman than I am, Gunga Din.

Yes, well, I guess part of the reason I like them is because they are a thing of the past. Viewing them as historical artifacts, I can laugh at the obvious porn-y elements (though I wouldn't say porn; high camp?) and feel a little nostalgic. It would be a totally different matter if I had to buy them over the counter today. (Incidentally, I think this cover is a fantastic homage, tongue in cheek, to the Old Days)

White swan on right? Outdoor delight. Horsie doth neigh? Let's run away.

I don't like to do this, but surely a LOL is warranted here? In any case - heh.


I would like to see covers on which the hero/ine actually DO something.

My biggest gripe at the moment is the headless heroine. Not sure what I would actually like to see - some relationship to the story; absolutely nothing to do with shoes and shopping (another gripe. It's like you can't buy a birthday card these days without a pair of shoes or shopping bags all over it); something pretty!

I agree with you about the complete book being something worth having. It's a rare delight with romance.

RfP said...

Viewing them as historical artifacts, I can laugh at the obvious porn-y elements (though I wouldn't say porn; high camp?) and feel a little nostalgic.

You're right, it's very camp. (Though the slumbrous desire on each and every face is still porny!) Do you think romance used to have more sense of humor about itself? Or was it just a meaningless fad? (Actually I'd answer my own question in the negative: I think many of today's covers are equally goofy, but we also have the self-conscious/demure covers sitting next to them.)

absolutely nothing to do with shoes and shopping

The "you girl? you shop!" message is ubiquitous, isn't it. I don't know whether it's aspirational (in which case, do we blame Sex & the City?) or just unimaginative. I'm going to make a bold statement and say that I *can* be feminine without carrying a stupid-looking handbag. Really! I can! And furthermore, I do not aspire to be someone who carries a stupid-looking handbag, or think those who carry stupid-looking handbags are automatically funnier, cuter, or cooler. I'm not a hard case about fashion--e.g. I've loved shoes since I was a child. But that doesn't mean I want them on every book cover. If I were that obsessive, I would make my own book covers from shoe catalogs. Or Zappos.com pages.... That's a great idea. Must buy new printer cartridges.

Meriam said...

Do you think romance used to have more sense of humor about itself?

I think it used to take itself a little less seriously? Maybe it didn't have as much to prove, or need to be quite so self-conscious and self-examining??? Maybe.

Re: the shoes and handbags. I like shoes too, am quite indifferent about handbags, but when I see a row of birthday cards and my choice consists of a woman carrying shopping bags, a pair of high heels or a pair of legs in high heels... gah! It's quite something when the female experience of our generation can be reduced to heels and handbags.

RfP said...

It's quite something when the female experience of our generation can be reduced to heels and handbags.

It hasn't reached quite that point at my local shops, but I hear you: it's irritating to be described in such a one-dimensional way.

Last year I read a Gloria Steinem interview on 2nd vs 3rd wave feminism, and what she said about fashion really struck a chord. The article's gone now, but I quoted some of it on Readers Gab:

Gloria Steinem, an influential leader of the feminist movement and co-founder of Ms. magazine, discussed the tensions between generations of feminists … Steinem, Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner [are] co-authors of the new book, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future.

Richards said she noticed many of the younger women are afflicted with the “Spice Girls pencil set syndrome,” meaning they “will wear a ‘Girls Rule’ t-shirt, but girls do not rule.”

The panelists all agreed “third wave” feminists are more into the culture of feminism - the music, fashion, and “zines” - rather than the politics of feminism.


All the "kicky" advertising recently feels like we're acknowledged as a major market, but not as a diverse or interesting group. (Not so different from woman-oriented ads of the past, though the audience is younger than for the old appliances-for-homemaker campaigns.) When that Steinem article hit home so hard, I thought: It's not the *media*'s fault we're lumped together as fashion sheep.

Meriam said...

You know what really gets me: the Playboy brand. When I see young girls wearing a t-shirt, or carrying stationary from that line, I want to scream and scream...

I just think, someone's having a good laugh.

All the "kicky" advertising recently feels like we're acknowledged as a major market, but not as a diverse or interesting group.

Do you think it's part of a larger process - consumerism infantalising adults?

While the population of the developed world is ageing, advertisers are turning us into kidults and "rejuveniles". As they try to rekindle childish tastes in grown-ups, kids are becoming adult consumers. ... Barber argues that the "ethos of infantilization" is perverting childhood and depriving democratic society of its responsible, grown-up citizens. As a result, civility, civilisation and even capitalism itself are suffering, and the answer is to restore the sovereignty of citizens over consumerism.

I'm not sure how we got from Goodman's covers to the slow decay of democracy, but -

RfP said...

Do you think it's part of a larger process - consumerism infantalising adults?

Is this the link you meant?

I'm not sure the advertising side is anything new. As I started to say above, ads for women have been boring and narrow for a long time. All the clothes-washer ads? Retch. But it's possible the cutesy single-gal ads are meant to appeal to some Peter Pan-ism in adult women (and men, in a different way). Is that about consumerism though, or just vanity? I think we *are* in a rather shallow phase, but I'd have to read more to see consumerism as the root; I'm more inclined to think it's a co-effect with a separate, common root. Today, anyway, and with little reflection!

Er, yes, Jo Goodman. All I've tried is one Compass Club book.

Tumperkin said...

I really must try Jo Goodman. I hear so many good things. What would you recommend as a first read?

RfP said...

I just noticed this in your header:

Elmore Leonard famously said: I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs."

I'm truly glad to hear he (famously? really?) inspired your cleverly selected title, because if you passionately hated adverbs I might be periodically tempted to pointedly abuse them. I'm hopelessly in love with adverbs, and would staunchly defend them if you honestly didn't see their magnificently useful qualities.

Meriam said...

Hm. Where to begin my (staunch) defense.

Famously - okay, I concede it's not so famous. Not even infamous: even amongst the hyper-vigilant-against-perceived-slurs romance community. I don't think anyone has heard of this except me. And now you.*

When I was deliberating over whether or not I should have a blog, one of the biggest impediments was my inability to think up a catchy title and - true story, btw - on the very same day I came across the phrase in the Guardian, I set up this blog.

Because I loved it. Perfectly encapsulates my love/hate (but mostly my passionate love) of the genre.

Did you really just notice it?

-------
* I just googled the saying. It's *quite* famous.

Meriam said...

Tumperkin! I think you could pick any Goodman and appreciate her talent. Except perhaps her first three (clearly just starting out as a writer and some of it is turgid), and maybe not the Compass Club, unless you read them in order.

My faves:
My Reckless Heart
Forever in My Heart
Let me be the One
Passion's Sweet Revenge (seriously)

But they're all good!

I would love to hear how you get on if you do try her.

RfP said...

Did you really just notice it?

I'm not really sure. It's quite probable that I read it a very, very long time ago and stupidly forgot. I almost always read blogs through a newsreader, so it's somewhat rare that I see the actual blog design you so carefully selected.

I just googled the saying. It's *quite* famous.

All right, I am quite verily mortified. And I have absolutely run out of adverbs.

Meriam said...

I hope you haven't truly run out of adverbs. That would be a terrible pity: I was rather hoping this obscene abuse of adverbs would go on and on.

RfP said...

Of plain ol' adverbs I happily have many, but I may run sadly low on modifiers and cleverly phrased intensifiers and other enjoyably adverby thingies.

I need to trip it featly out of here. This thunderstorm is crashing more noisily every minute and the bus will be horribly crowded.

Sincerely,
&c.

RfP said...

I recently discovered I've definitely read at least one relatively recent Goodman novel: One Forbidden Evening.

Yrs, adverbily exhausted, &c.

Meriam said...

Hello!

What did you make of it? Did you hugely enjoy it, or was it oddly disappointing?

I'm not a great fan of her recent regencies, they all seem slightly same-ish to me.

Adverbily confounded
Meriam
(waiting - anxiously - for sony reader...)

RfP said...

I didn't hugely enjoy it. It had decidedly intriguing ingredients, but I read it desultorily. It As with so many consistently competent, rarely exciting Regencies. (This adverbing is driving me bats.)

(Waiting - vicariously and anticipatorily-congratulatorily - for your Sony Reader)

RfP said...

I've just read Kiss His... Is Kiss... If Kiss is His.... THAT one. With the title that makes no sense. If His Kiss is Wicked, that's the one. Thank you for assembling them all for reference.

Vastly better than One Forbidden Evening. Until the climax. WTF TF TF, to Banbury Cross TF. In a nutshell: WT and F.

Yes, so I was somewhat taken aback by the abrupt introduction of brand-new subplots. The "intimate duties" bit was rather like coming to the end of a sober little Victorian morality play and finding that John Webster wrote the ending: It's Act IV and there are too many people left standing! Not enough incest! Death! Madness! Corruption!

Meriam said...

Indeed, indeed. Goodman went there.

What you said about the Victorian morality play - spot on. Not only do I think Goodman's tone and sensibility is better suited to that time, there was also this prim, almost prissy, morality underlying the story, wasn't there? Even the end - (madness! corruption! incest!) there's a Victorian gothic-ness to it, no?

Emma - Virtue Rewarded. I was bored with her.