Many paths to romance
Sarah Frantz, scholar-turned-editor for Riptide Publishing, describes her relationship to romance novels and how it has changed as she moved from fan to scholar and editor.
Reading romance as a reader, scholar, and editor
I started reading romance when I was 12. I snuck my mother’s Mills & Boon, I still have it, I still kept it. So I did that when I was 12, and then she showed me through Pride and Prejudice; actually, she started with Georgette Heyer and we moved through all of the Georgette Heyer and then I said I want more like that, and so she gave me Pride and Prejudice because that’s more like Georgette Heyer. I moved through her romances all through my teen years. Then I went to college, read all the rest of Jane Austen when I was in college because I hadn’t read them yet; and then I went to grad school and ended up as an 18th- centuryist, probably because of Georgette Heyer and because of Jane Austen. So I actually stuck with them in my scholarly work.
Going to grad school teaches you how to read in a completely different way… I used to feel that tearing apart the novel, you lose the magic; but now I feel that knowing how it’s put together shows you that magic. So reading romances is what kind of kept me sane during grad school. It was my stress relief. It’s still my stress relief; I still use it as stress relief all the time. My first published academic paper was actually a paper on romance novels. So, even though I was an 18th-century scholar and I was situating myself as a Jane Austen scholar, my first published paper was on modern popular romance novels. Sandra Brown, Susan Johnson, all the big authors in the ’90s is what I published on.
I then had to—in 2007 I made the switch from an 18th-century scholar to a romance scholar, but what I was studying was the same thing. So my academic focus is on the way women authors write male characters and the construction of ideal masculinity and what that means about what they think about gender and power dynamics and sexual relations and sex itself and passion and the woman’s access to pleasure—so I’ve always been more interested as a reader in reading about heroes. That’s what I focused on when I was looking at my academic work, was how do women—Jane Austen and these women from the 18th century as well as all of the modern, Suzanne Brockmann and the modern authors—how do they construct masculinity and what does that tell us about what women think about all of the things that that might mean. So it was an easy switch to make from being an 18th-century scholar to studying popular fiction because I was already studying the same thing, it was the same theoretical focus.
Then I moved to reviewing from there. I did reviewing for one of the premiere review websites, Dear Author. I loved it. I had recently discovered male/male fiction, which is romance novels about two men written mainly by women, although I’m editing a couple of men now who write it for the same field. The audience is mainly women, but again, that’s growing as well; men are increasingly reading it as well, especially gay men. So, I had recently discovered that as a reader so I started reviewing it because Dear Author had this gap in their review schedule of people not reviewing this stuff so I started reviewing that.
Then I moved from there into editing it. The skills that I found as a scholar, the skills that I built as a scholar are very much the skills that I use now. I was never a good theorist as a scholar, very bad theorist as a scholar; but as a scholar I looked at the way novels were structured, and then I went the extra step: So what does that mean? Now I just look at the way novels are structured and I say, “Fix it!” instead. So, that’s a different focus, but I’m doing what I started doing my PhD for.