Shelf Love

Romance isn’t for everyone

Short Description

The fabulous foursome (Morgan & Isabeau from Whoa!mance, Dame Jodie Slaughter, Andrea Martucci from Shelf Love) get meta textual as we reflect on our meta podcasting project on Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas. What’s this episode about? Take a guess from this collection of possible episode titles:

Be sure to listen to episode 140 and 141 before diving into the meta-ness and meta-mess of this text.


romance novel discussion, joyful problematizing, genre discussions, historical romance

Show Notes

The fabulous foursome (Morgan & Isabeau from Whoa!mance, Dame Jodie Slaughter, Andrea Martucci from Shelf Love) get meta textual as we reflect on our meta podcasting project on Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas. What’s this episode about? Take a guess from this collection of possible episode titles:

Be sure to listen to episode 140 and 141 before diving into the meta-ness and meta-mess of this text.

Shelf Love:

Guest: Dame Jodie Slaughter

Website | Twitter | Instagram

Guests: Whoa!mance (Morgan and Isabeau)

Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Website | Listen on any podcast app!

Morgan & Isabeau joined me in episode 076 to discuss Strange Love by Ann Aguirre


Episode 089 to Problematize Romance


108 She-Devil (1989): Who's Entitled To Be Selfish in Love & Life? (Whoa!mance spectacular)



Morgan: Hello and welcome to the long awaited part trois of our duo discussion with Shelf Love. My name is Morgan. I'm a co-host of Whoa!mance, for those of you who aren't familiar, and today I am happily joined by Jodie Slaughter, Andrea Martucci, and my butter, half Isabeau Dasho from Whoa!mance to discuss our separate discussions of Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas.

Isabeau: It's gonna be epic. So I want everyone to strap in cuz we're gonna get to the Joyce of it all. If you haven't yet listened to both episodes, highly recommend that you hit pause and go ahead and do that now so that you can really dig in to this juicy apple that we're about to crack open for you all.

Or if you've already listened to the episode, it's cracking open nuts all the way down according to Andrea and Jodie.

Morgan: Yeah, absolutely no hand holding.

Andrea Martucci: No, we're gonna get right in. And so we were just discussing, we were having a hard time holding ourselves back because we're just so excited. We're like stallions trying to break the confines of this barn we're in or something.

Morgan: Yes, muscular virile.

Andrea Martucci: yes,

Jodie Slaughter: Podcast, Thee Stallions.

Andrea Martucci: yes. Yeah. So we were thinking that kind of the framing device for our conversations was a meta conversation around podcasting.

So why don't we also take this conversation in that meta conversation around romance novels themselves, because we both entered our respective conversations saying, it'll be really interesting to hear what you know, in our case, Morgan and Isabeau have to say about this. And in Morgan and Isabeau's case, what Andrea and Jodie have to say about this.

With that, I'm gonna put it out there. Morgan or Isabeau, whoever wants to jump in first, what is something that jumped out to you from our conversation that you found surprising or you were like, oh, that sparked something new.

Isabeau: For me the Joyce of it all. You guys wanted justice for Joyce so much, and while I agreed with all of the points about how Joyce deserves justice, like absolutely wronged, one of the things that was really fascinating to me in your discussion, because I thought she [00:03:00] was a great villain. I loved her as a villain. I didn't need justice for Joyce in the same way that you guys did.

But what you sparked for me was this idea that when Sara Fielding returns Joyce to Lord Ashby, and both of you were like, this is horrific. This is awful. And in the conversation I was like, yeah, that is a really fucked up and cruel scene.

And then you guys are like Derek Craven couldn't do it cuz he would've killed Joyce. And I was like, Ooh, maybe he would've. I can see where we would come to that answer. But isn't it worse that Joyce is then delivered to the hands of her abuser slash jailer husband?

And then in the conversation you guys made this turn to like, what does that do for Sara? And what does that mean for her?

And like my very first thought was like the awful picture of Aunt Lydia from a Handmaid's Tale came up and I a hundred percent didn't wanna see Sara as Aunt Lydia, but your discussion pushed those two into my brain pan in a way that I couldn't unsee.

The discussion that you guys had about the dichotomy of what is allowable in terms of subverting the patriarchy, really made me take a different look at Joyce.

Morgan: Yeah, likewise. I remember I wrote down, Andrea said something You know about like, why Joyce, why not Joyce, I guess would be more appropriate. And the fact that Derek is able to conceive at the end of the novel when he tenderly nurses on his wife's breasts,

He is accepting her. I think Andrea, what you said is Sara gets to be all things wife, mother. And it made me think about parity and how we actually think about equality in romance novels and like being seen as this ultimate goal of the HEA and Dreaming of You really frames that in an interesting way because they get married, she's very confident in how she loves him. It's very obvious that he loves her.

But our like concluding h e a is that he says, I love you. And then our prologue is that he can still objectify her after she is given birth.

Andrea Martucci: He can still get it up even, though she's a nursing mother. What a man.

Morgan: Yeah, exactly. And it made me think about her book Mathilda wherein everyone imagines Mathilda as a real person, not just the sex workers, not just the ton. Everybody is insistent that Mathilda must be a real person. And you pointed out that would seemed like a meta conversation on romance readership, which feels right.

Everyone is always like, I don't identify with the characters. Like I don't pull values from these books. People are very defensive of it as romance readers. But you can see these textures and romance writers are always telling on themselves and readers, and I think when you said, you know, not she gets to be a person, but she gets to be a mother and a se [00:06:00] sexual being right?

Which are like the two main things we get to be as women. I was like, oh yeah, like this isn't actually about, her super successful ongoing career isn't the prologue. The prologue is that she's had a baby and now she also gets to continue having sex with Derek.

That's what I was thinking about in terms of the meta of it all. It's commentary, but I don't know if it's like even like a worthwhile discussion of, I read your newsletter talking about Radway's idea, that like moment when they were like, let's stop prioritizing like readership in the academy and start thinking about like real readers, which is really just a benefit to social sciences and allows them to talk about books. But whatever.

The fact that we always exist on this defense that seems like pointless. It seems hopeless. And it's also like we're giving into the arguments of the academy when we insist that like we're, it's not pornography and I'm not over identifying, right?

This is pure fantasy, but it's not my fantasy. It's just like a fantasy that I'm reading. Why are you doing, you know? and so that, that's, that was where I landed in that conversation

Jodie Slaughter: I think it is a point worth talking about. Very much from the perspective of a writer who is also a reader, even if I'm in a slump. But I know that Andrea talks about and explores this a lot and has historically the idea that we're all like sitting around tiptoeing, trying to convince everyone else, and sometimes ourselves, that we don't take anything real from this. We can very easily distinguish fantasy versus reality. And in that being like, it doesn't really mean anything to me and it doesn't really do anything for me or to me. And I do think that, I mean, it's bullshit to me.

To be frank, I mean, as someone who writes and as someone who reads very much so, so much of what I read and write is like, they're direct descendants of my own desires, my own fantasies, unpacking all of my stuff. Like I think about the first book I wrote and published, and not to talk about like my stuff, but


Andrea Martucci: Every time she mentions one of her books, she goes, and not to talk about myself.

Isabeau: I'm like, go on.

Andrea Martucci: yeah. And every time I'm like, shut up. Just keep going.

Morgan: Not to make this my press tour

Jodie Slaughter: but hey well, and so basically it's like a dark romance, quote unquote and it like where I was writing this and it's about like a woman who hires a hit man to kill her ex who's stalking her and then falls in love with a hit man, right?

And I'm like writing this. And then it wasn't until like years later, I think honestly talking to Andrea, which is an underlying theme in my life [00:09:00] where Andrea is like, oh, this explores, really fascinating topics surrounding justice and your fantasy for like actually getting justice for wrongs committed against you and people, and I was like, oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, okay. Yeah.

And even in literally writing what I was so clearly attempting to convey, which I think I did a decent job of, I wasn't super willing or open to hardcore examining that until I realized that it actually isn't wrong, bad, or embarrassing to be like, yes, I have these fantasies of being loved holistically. I have these fantasies of being like taken care of in whatever way that means for me. Like all of that stuff it's, it almost seems like we are afraid to admit that we do have wants and needs and that Okay, Andrea and.

Andrea Martucci: Sorry, we were literally talking about this two hours ago,

Jodie Slaughter: And that obviously admitting that in our own interior life is hard enough but admitting that like we actively seek out content and media to consume as a I don't know, a bandaid or something for fulfilling those. There's something kind of excruciating about it, but I've been saying a lot recently that like your best self, your best pleasure, your best, anything is on the other side of cringe.

And I think we could all really use to stop worrying about being cringe. Yeah. And just, yeah. I absolutely do dream that maybe one day I would meet someone. And they would let me be a mother and also I can be good sex and then also I can have a career as well. That could be really fun and interesting for me.

Isabeau: Yeah. Like you're coming back from a lecture and he's like, I'm gonna do you and I am into your motherhood. Yeah. I love what you said about that our best selves are on the other side of cringe. And I think one of the things that you guys said in your episode at the end about this, like meta commentary is Andrea, you said your brain can't tell the difference between a character that you identify and the way that we read is a hundred percent a part of how we learn empathy and express empathy and think about empathy. And like lots of people are doing studies on this and so like for romance as a genre to be so deeply about feeling, but also to be like, I don't feel that strongly about it. And Morgan, when you said it's it's not my fantasy, it's a fantasy.

It's like, Oh my God.

Morgan: I would say like the thing that makes us defensive in the year 2023 is that these are regressive ideas. Like romance is giving us regressive fantasies. And I think you're so right, Jodie. Like of course this is our fantasy, we're coming to this because we want that.

But of course our passions, of course our desires are informed by how we've been socialized and all the shit that's been put on our shoulders. And there's no way, like reading a romance novel you're gonna [00:12:00] transcend that. It's way too deep, it's way too embedded. You can think about it and you can talk about it, you can consume it critically.

But like I think this thing where people get very defensive either by distancing themselves and saying I don't know, they have some like cold, intellectual relationship with a fucking romance novel. And then people, which is early days of Whoa!Mance, and then say,

Andrea Martucci: I mean, we all go through that.

Morgan: and then people who say like, oh, actually like Derek Craven's a good person.

Or even saying like, I think it's groovy the way like, I agree. It feels good to read about even as a non reproducing woman, reading about someone who's like still desirous after going through this, like my mom calls it a bomb going off in your vagina and like still being desirable even after that catastrophe and it is framed as a catastrophe.

That's between the lines of this sex scene is being like, but no, like I know everyone thinks it's really bad, but it's not, is still like feeding those bad faith assumptions that like destructive, regressive idea, but it still feels good, right? It's not like at the end of the book, Derek Craven is like, you're my equal and it makes no difference that you reproduced, right? He's like, it's even better now, (makes slurping noise, we laugh)

Andrea Martucci: Oh my god

Morgan: because she's which implies that she's transcended somehow because she's a mother.

Andrea Martucci: Okay, so this made me think of, literally on that, are these characters real to us? I put a tweet out where I was like trying to collect some ideas on this, and it was essentially like, I feel like I have the same relationship to characters as I have to, like a friend of a friend. Okay, like Jodie will share stories about people in her life.

And those people exist for me and yes, I know that those people also exist in real life, but I've never met them. I will probably never meet them, but I have a sense of their motivations, their interests, how they go about their lives, things they would do, things they wouldn't do.

And we totally have that same relationship with characters where if an author has done a good job and convinced us that this world exists, that these characters exist, we similarly can project outside of the text, what do we think this character would do in this situation? In fact, a lot of people speculate about those things. That's like what fan fiction is essentially,

Jodie Slaughter: That's what I was gonna say. That's fan fiction, baby. That's where I come from. If I'm not completely obsessed with them and anything that they're doing, anything that they could possibly be doing, to me, I'm like, oh, if I don't care that much, then I don't want it.

Andrea Martucci: Right. Again, going back to the running gag about Mathilda, it does feel to me that Kleypas is making a comment about how characters in fiction [00:15:00] or romance more specifically, do feel real to us. But then when you think about how Derek lives within Romancelandia as a character outside of the text.

Like both Morgan and Isabeau had heard so much about this character. It's like the friend of the friend or like the guy dating your friend that you've never met yet, and you're like, oh, everybody loves this guy. This guy is great. And then you meet him and he's like a cardboard cutout. So Morgan said he's a collection of anecdotes and yeah, he is.

But all of those anecdotes are like a beautiful fantasy of wouldn't it be great if some person who isn't actually a fully fleshed human being and has his own desires and stuff, he just exists to like, meet my pleasure, my needs.

He loves me so much that he collects random objects that are associated with me and holds them close to his heart in his breast jacket pocket.

Morgan: Yeah, and it's, that's the thing. I would say after I've read a book, I think of these characters as a friend of a friend, and I like to think that I use what was given to me as a way of evaluating how they would move through the world. But when I'm in that cuddly third, or I'm in that first person perspective, I'm fully wrapped around the, usually the heroine and being like, oh boy, a boy likes me.

Truly just to be completely vulnerable like that is how it feels. And I fill in the gaps of whatever isn't given to me by the novel with what I would do in that situation or what I would want to have happen. And not to bring in a book. That's not the book we're talking about, but I've been stressed out and I buried myself in Sara J. Maas's A Court of like blank and blank series. I don't know what it's called.

But watching how that series progresses really show like the idea that we are not over identifying with these characters specifically. And I think this is a unique trait maybe of the romance genre. Like it demands that you over-identify in order to have the correct reading experience of a romance.

Jodie Slaughter: I wonder how much of this is in over-correction of this desire to say that romance is just as good as lit fic, right? Which of course it is, but lit fic, it doesn't require that you can have a character, a main character who is, you are in the mind of someone who is like a serial killer and the purpose of that is not that you would be, wow. I can really like, feel in love and imagine what it is to brutally murder someone. Those aren't the things that you're supposed to do in those reading experiences necessarily. It's not about identification or relatability. [00:18:00] It's not about your fantasy, your desire, or any of that.

But I would argue that romance, I mean, it doesn't have to be if you don't want to read it like that, but I think that's a huge part of the beauty of the genre. It's, when I think about all of the books that are my favorite books, they take me on an emotional journey where I feel like I am experiencing the, as a Riverdale quote, the epic highs and lows of high school football.

Like, And so I'm always like I wonder how much of that is, is a desire in being seen as serious, it means wanting to divorce yourself from the emotionality of what we experience. It's like do people read horror novels and come out of it be like, I, yeah, I enjoyed that book. I wasn't scared at all.

When I think about people who read horror and I listen to them talk about it, they're always like, yeah, it scared the shit outta me. It was great.

Morgan: Yeah. Yeah. I read horror. The people who say, I'm not even scared are the same people who leave a movie theater and are like, I wasn't even scared. Like they're like, they're trying to prove

Andrea Martucci: Are they the people who watched the Notebook and didn't cry at the end or said they didn't cry at the end? Come on.

I don't justify that book or movie in any way, shape or form. It still emotionally impacted me.

Morgan: I think it also speaks to a larger societal problem that seems to be like screaming at all of us, which is like a lack of media literacy. Like the inability to identify when a text is alienating you, i.e. Lolita.

Isabeau: Yeah.

Morgan: Versus indoctrinating you, i e Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas. I think you are supposed to be there, you should assume that you're supposed to be there in a romance novel. And it's weird like that, TikToker who makes like the book jail list where she's makes a list of like wretched things that happen in romance novels. And some of them are truly shocking, but she also has stuff on that list like. In Making love to Clippy a woman gives Clippy a blowjob and it's no, duh. That's why you would read,

Isabeau: That's why you would read Clippy Fanfic.

Morgan: Yeah. What assumptions about Clippy are making this a problem?

I don't think you are thinking expansively enough. I don't think you have the imagination to be saying these things, and I think Dreaming of You and the utter cave that Derek Craven is, or like a bulletin board with post-its that you could fall in love with.

I think it like, begs for over-identification.

Isabeau: Oh my God. The thing you just said about a bulletin board with Post-its, I'm like, he is an ideal romance app profile. He's got the picture with him with a rescue kitten and he's got yeah. Some quote from your favorite book and he's got like the good pictures.

Oh my God. He's like a perfect profile.

Morgan: He's a dating app profile.

Isabeau: Oh my God. That's [00:21:00] why people are fucking weird about him, right?

Jodie Slaughter: This was my takeaway from your episode. I, similarly, I read Dreaming of You for the first time a month ago, however long ago that was, and I have spent years in romance Twitter hearing about this man, hearing people be like, Derek Craven would never, Derek Craven does this. Derek Craven doesn't do that. And so I'm like, okay, all right. And I feel, I felt nothing for him.

I enjoyed the book and I felt like it was a very satisfying romance. And I love to swoon over a hero. Very much so.

Morgan: yes. Yes.

Jodie Slaughter: Derek Craven didn't make me swoon a single time. And that doesn't mean that it wasn't enjoyable to read him. I found him to be deeply hilarious. And just incredibly funny. I don't think I was supposed to, but I did.

I feel nothing about him as a romantic, the same way I feel about the hero in like The Kiss Quotient, Whom I love so much. I think about him and I'm like, wow.

I have a hard time understanding why, because it seemed like he has all of the elements that I would be really into. There's something about him that doesn't ever really curl over for me. I'm still trying to figure out what it is.

Isabeau: I think that's definitely part of it. That was certainly part of it for me. Cuz like when somebody's talked up this much and then they perfectly deliver as a romance hero but there's nothing special. There isn't like this like nth degree. I'm thinking like there are a couple of Johanna Lindsey heroes that are like gonna live inside of me forever.

And I'm thinking particularly of, I can't even remember his name, but from the Flesh and the Devil, he's terrible, but I'm gonna remember him forever. Derek Craven don't get it. I don't understand this like Derek Craven would never, that bubbles up on Twitter all the time. But I think part of it is that Joyce and Sara are so fascinating in comparison.

Morgan: Ding Ding. I think that's why he doesn't land is because he's next to these riveting characters. Even Perry and his mother. I know what Perry looks like. I know what he would do if someone cut him off in line at a grocery store, for example. Yeah. Like she makes these, he and Derek Craven is surrounded by these like rich whole characters and it makes the vacuum apparent, like he does swoony things like the glasses in the pocket.

Of course. I wish someone kept souvenirs,

Andrea Martucci: You know who else keeps souvenirs, serial killers.

Morgan: tourists.

Jodie Slaughter: Okay. Yeah.

Morgan: But I think there's something, and I wonder if it's not an intentional piece of craft, right? Like at this point in Kleypas's career, she's realized I need someone who's pretty flexible. I need, who Isabeau and I refer to as a Darcy instead of a Rochester.

I need a projector screen.

Is that an intentional choice? And I mean, this book [00:24:00] blew up. So I think projector screens work for some people. There are people who are never going to understand the main character in Flesh and the Devil as an attractive person. And in fact, it's that thing where it seems like if you're not very media literate, you would read him and be like, this is an alienating person.

But in fact the book wants you to like, want that. And like the way his justifications are set up are a lot more subtle and nuanced. It's not a big speech about like, I robbed graves and then I had sex with women for investing.

Isabeau: Like I was born in a drain pipe.

Morgan: I was born and I love, he can never tell her that he was born in a drain pipe because that would be self-pitying. Every other person has to tell her that he was born in a drain pipe. Cause it's still 1994.

Jodie Slaughter: He's actually so pathetic. Like skulking at like swishing drapes throwing bottles at walls. I'm like, dude,

Andrea Martucci: Like a baby, like a man baby. I am so fascinated. Every time, Morgan and Isabeau, you guys talk about the projector screen and the Darcy versus the Uh, Rochester.

Thank you. I have so many thoughts about this because, and everything you guys were just saying where Derek Craven is a projector screen and people eat it up.

But if he was this unique character, and if this book was about the unique relationship between these two people, then it's alienating. Then it's no longer about do you find this person romantic. It's, you have to embody a character who is not you and think about if they would find this person romantic.

But that feels like a larger conversation in romance where, and I've talked about this with Jodie, I've talked about this with a lot of people, but it feels like books have gotten a lot less weird until you then get into like self pub romance, and especially all the interesting stuff going on with Indie Dark Romance and Monster Romance and all of that stuff where that is then like the opposite of what is going on in trad pub.

Sorry, Jodie Slaughter. Traditionally published author.

For the most part, not like everybody obviously, but where there is this shying away from writing these like weird fucked up people. Because there's this understanding now, especially the more we resist this idea that it could be our fantasy, it's a fantasy, okay?

The more that has to be the correct fantasy, which has to be two people who are emotionally healthy, who never do a really bad thing. And so we can't even get like a projector screen with like weird shit going on and we can't get like a Rochester and a Jane, right? Like

Isabeau: Yeah, you absolutely can't have a Rochester anymore. Like anybody who's like, "I would fantasize about breaking open your [00:27:00] chest so that I can have the you that is in you, but in the killing of you, I'd kill the thing.."

Morgan: That is also like possessive obtusely threatening to rape her if she tries to leave the time.

Yeah. It's just same to say nothing of the fortune teller scene, which I re-listened to. Yeah.

Isabeau: The cross-dressing fortune teller are like disowning his own child constantly.

Andrea Martucci: And I feel like there are so many things about this book, like it's a really interesting book, but the second you start to be like, are these people good people? And should they be in love and do they have a healthy relationship? It gets so freaking boring.

Morgan: But also this idea of like good person being like almost exclusively some kind of pop political yardstick and not the idea that like, people are complicated and can learn new things. And also like how relevant are his feelings on abortions to this woman in Regency England? Like, why am I getting this fucking speech right now?

Andrea Martucci: Yeah

Morgan: I have to hear this all the time. Especially like drunk men at bars. I think because I don't shave my armpits. They're like, I'm about to get some points. A woman with hairy armpits is about to tell me I'm a good person.

Did you hear what happened in Florida? And I have to deal with that all the fucking time.

Andrea Martucci: that must be a really heavy burden Morgan.

Morgan: I don't like it. Do you know what it's like to have like white straight men in like polo shirts try to prove that they're like politically progressive to you? Unsolicited?

Jodie Slaughter: Absolutely.

Morgan: Jodie gets, it's not fun.

Jodie Slaughter: It's real. I have, when I was actually visiting Andrea I took a Lyft in and the Lyft driver, he was like this very nice older white dude. Made an absolute point at some point to be like, yeah, I voted for Obama. And I was like, cool.

Andrea Martucci: That was so long ago.

Morgan: That was so long. That was so long and so many drone strikes ago.

Isabeau: Millions of people did, guy. Millions

Andrea Martucci: And I don't know if I'm not sure if every listener knows this, but I look violently square. I look like Sara Fielding basically in many ways I don't have glasses,

Isabeau: put your glasses back on and then you Andrea.

Andrea Martucci: And then I got it. Yeah. So I don't get this guy, I don't know what you're talking about.

Morgan: You should make like Isabeau and get like a really intense back piece tattoo.

Jodie Slaughter: She wants to

Morgan: and then you just bust it out.

Isabeau: to give it out slowly because I also look like violently squares, you can see from my nerdy background. But when I wear a top that exposes even a part of my tattoo and I'm at bars, guys are like hidden depths. Do you like guys with motorcycles?

Morgan: And it's not in my experience, they're never hitting on me. They're never being nice to me. They're interested in what my approval can do for them. And that's how [00:30:00] these pop political, romantic, hero relationships and speeches feel to me is I'm supposed to be like, wow, what a great person this hero is.

And I don't think I'm actually supposed to think the hero is, I think I'm supposed to think the writer is, or like the writer is envisioning themselves as imparting this very important world knowledge to me, which maybe is true. Like maybe some people read that stuff and it like, blows their mind and they're like, I've never thought of it that way before. And I think that's really cool.

But I miss the kind of unselfconscious romance writing of Kindle Unlimited, of the nineties and back. But what Lisa Kleypas has created in Dreaming of You is a very effective and very self-conscious romance novel.

And maybe this is like the point, right? Like this is the shifting. Dreaming of You's success. Because I think about Lord of Scoundrels, which we just read, very rich, very complicated characters and compared to Sara who we're supposed to identify with, and is just so relentlessly good and likable without being treacly, that's a complicated pirouette and it lands.

I, I wonder if there's, if Dreaming of You feels like a big deal and people think it's because it's Derek Craven, but in fact it's because it is a shift in the entire romance industry.

Jodie Slaughter: I was telling Andrea earlier that I think we're in an over-correction period.

Isabeau: Absolutely.

Jodie Slaughter: But I also think that it's like a coin flip because the dark romances are getting more, I'm just gonna say bizarre because I am a huge proponent of fucked up people in love doing fucked up things.

In my hitman book, I do not make him stop being a hitman. Like at the end of the book, he literally comes home from murdering someone and is like, hello honey and isn't going to stop. I think that we're in an over correction. 100%. But I also think that the KU, their response to this is boring, is starting to look like, let's just have like outlandish shit.

Not even let's, let's write characters- cuz it's, they don't often feel super character driven. It's action driven. It's oh, he put the gun inside of her driven. You know what I mean? Mm-hmm.

Andrea Martucci: But like how come nobody when people talk about this book, Sara shoots a man in the first scene. I don't see that driving the conversation. I don't see Derek robbing graves as part of the conversation. I don't see Derek being a sex worker as part of the co there's all these like really interesting things that you don't see in a lot of books that are popping out.

And I'm like, why did people grasp onto the non character in here? It's [00:33:00] like Sara's book, but everybody grabs the projector screen as the most swoony romantic person ever. Maybe because what we've been talking about like, well, Sara was doing interesting things, so maybe that made people feel more inhabiting the character who's in love with Derek. And so therefore Derek kind of jumps out.

I'm really interested in like how Dark Romance is promoted, where it's all about like, the wildest shit that happens. Like it's three or four screens of and then like he pulled her tampon out and put it in his mouth or like something like that.

And there's a few times where I'm like, okay, I just I'm intrigued enough, I'm actually gonna check this book out. And I start reading it. I'm like, this is the most boring book I have ever read in my life. You took the most interesting outlandish thing that happened and put it in the promo.

There is nothing behind it. And I'm not saying all dark romance, but like for sure, every time I've been like, oh, I gotta check this out, I'm just so disappointed. Like the sex is like not even kinky, nothing's actually really happening, right? It's all if this promotion is outlandish enough to get somebody over, they're gonna check this out.

But it's so interesting that like this book has truly wild, outlandish things that happen. And that's not what people talk about.

Isabeau: Absolutely. Like the fact that they're like two attempted rapes. This, what you're talking about reminds me of dragon bound, where we were promised a dragon penis and never got one.

Morgan: Boo. And we still haven't gotten one. We still haven't gotten one. We've been sent down that path so many times.

Isabeau: Like I've read some wild shit. I'm just asking for some dragon pene, like I was promised.

Morgan: We don't know what a dragon's capacity to consent is, you could make a dragon that does not have a capacity for consent, or you could make a dragon who is actually a human.

Andrea Martucci: That's world building baby.

Morgan: It should be up to the author.

Jodie Slaughter: If I'm going to read about Dragon bae I want him to have a bad dragon dick

Isabeau: That's the correct, that's the right reaction.

Jodie Slaughter: Humanoid. No, that's not why we're doing this. Then what's the point?

Morgan: This is the thing no one says about Priest by Sierra Simone. He's never in the collar when they're doing it. He is never in his regalia.

Isabeau: He does use the acoutrements.

Morgan: But he's never in his, but he's like, I'm like a casual, regular guy who's a priest.

Jodie Slaughter: No, that's fair for Sinner too. She's never, I know that she can't wear the habit because she's not, she doesn't actually become a nun.

Andrea Martucci: Because they step up to the line and they like put their toe over like, Ooh, am I gonna do it? And they never step over.

Morgan: Do you know who never hedged? Johanna Lindsey

Isabeau: that B went for it. But that's also like to get back to Dreaming of You. That's what's so wild about the fact that Sara Fielding is literally a murderer in the first scene and that everyone's just fine with it. And I never heard that in [00:36:00] all of the years I've been hearing about Derek Craven this, and Derek Craven would never, I've never heard "Sara Fielding killed a man in an alley."

You know what I mean?

Morgan: They just left. Just left him. And it never came back up. He's still in that alley. He's greased between the cobblestone

Justice for the alleyway guy,

Isabeau: The face slasher?

Jodie Slaughter: he had a family probably detention hired goon. Yeah. He's just like a, he's damn, I have to feed my 11 Victorian children. I'm gonna help up some guy.

Andrea Martucci: Maybe he was the stable man in her husband's manor, who she seduced into doing this, but he only did it because he loved her. And if we wanna talk about are these people real and can we imagine things in this world? There you go.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. I wanna write Joyce Fanfiction so badly. I love "evil" women. I love female villains so much. That's because even growing up I always liked the bitch like romantically. In media. Regina George. I get it. I understand.

Andrea Martucci: Because they have more fun. They do interesting things.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes. They've got like bite.

They don't have to be nice,

Morgan: But isn't that interesting? Okay, the fact that Derek is a projector screen and what that says about romance. You would assume that the projector screen character would be what people who write fan fiction gravitate towards.

But that's very rarely the case. People who write fan fiction tend to gravitate towards these fully realized characters. And so there isn't a really stable argument to be made that it's because he's interesting to think about, like he's interesting to imagine in other stories and other pathways.

Like something else is going on with Derek and I do believe that his construction. It feels a lot more familiar today than it does when you're reading like classic romance. Like I would say Kathleen Woodiwiss, her characters in general are pretty flat, but they are consistently flat. Derek is shockingly vacuous because he's surrounded by so much light and color and feature, and it's interesting and like that this book, which feels like a platonic ideal romance, but isn't that great.

It's not transcendent.

And thinking about dark romance and how you get these almost like marketing tent poles that are like, he put a gun inside of her. I feel like maybe marketing is part of it, right? Because social media, you can read a really egregious quote and then people will buy your book because it sounds fascinating.

But Johanna Lindsey did say that she started every book with a sexy scene. That was the first thing she wrote. And then she built her stories around like, how did these two characters [00:39:00] get into this sex scene? And I wonder what the core scene was for Dreaming of You. And I think maybe that core scene speaks to its appeal,

Jodie Slaughter: The supping.

Morgan: The Supping?,

Andrea Martucci: Okay. Do you know what scene? Truly I can never forget. So by the way, we didn't talk about this in the episode, Jodie, I don't think. I wrote a 20 page research paper when I was 19 on Dreaming of You

Isabeau: what?

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I showed it to Jodie. She didn't wanna read it.

Jodie Slaughter: In my defense, I read a lot of things that Andrea wrote

Andrea Martucci: I gave her a lot of things of mine to read while she was here

Jodie Slaughter: and I loved every single one of them with my whole heart, but I didn't get to that one. Oh,

Isabeau: Jodie's, that's a good friend. Jodie. Oh my God.

Morgan: Jodie is like self-promoting and that's an issue, but you're literally making her read your undergrad essay.

Jodie Slaughter: There's one thing Andrea was like, do you wanna read this? And we sat in her den and she stared down the barrel of my face the entire time I read it.

Andrea Martucci: while drinking of an old fashioned just like lounging on the couch.

Isabeau: Wow. What part are you at? Oh, that's a good one.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. Yes. literally. Okay so I wrote a research paper on this and look, my research paper does not stand the test of time, but I have been thinking about this book for a long time. For context, that was 17 years ago.

The thing that always stood out to me about this book, was when Derek goes to Tabitha, one of the sex workers who works in his establishment, and he says, just let me hold you. And the reason he does this is because she bears a physical resemblance to Sara.

What stood out to me is Derek has given up hope that he can ever be with Sara, and this is the closest he can get to giving himself the experience of holding her.

And I always believed that they had sex and that he had just, he wasn't saving himself for this relation. It was gone. It was never gonna happen. He had cut himself off from this ever happening. And it was literally him building like a virtual reality scenario for himself with this other woman.

And to me as a young person, a young, naive person who was literally a virgin, the idea that some guy would be so obsessed with me, that if he couldn't have me, he would fantasize about it in such a corporeal way. And it's like weird. It's super weird, but I hesitate to call it romantic, but it is so stimulating.

Morgan: It is romantic

Isabeau: and yeah, it's a hundred percent romantic. No question. I'm [00:42:00] lying over your grave and I'm gonna lie here forever type stuff right there.

Morgan: Yeah. Virgin or no, like that hits, the way that scene is presented to us is via a story being told by the sex worker.

So it is a story within a story and she does that silly like cockney phonetic writing with it too, which further distances you, but that also feels like incredibly evocative of the experience of consuming romance.

Isabeau: It's almost like a secret because that sex worker, Tabitha, shows up to go see her parents or whatever, who don't know what she does in London.

And so there's that part of it. And then I know this whole character's backstory and still she's the one telling us about this thing with Derek. We don't even get him like, but like how would he tell Sara? I don't think that's like a confine that like this romance hero could have transgressed.

But you're right to say that like the way in which that mediation of that scene is given to us feels like we're then inculcated in it, which then makes it all the more stimulating. That's a great point, Morgan.

Andrea Martucci: And Tabitha, literally I bookmarked this scene cause I knew I wanted to talk about it. And yes, "'e came to my bed. 'e told me not to say anyfing no matter what 'e did." I mean, And this is what he says.

"Then Mr. 'crawen turned the lamp down and took me against him. Let me hold you, Sara he says, I need you, Sara, all night long it was 'im pretending I was you. It's because we look alike, you and me. That's why he did it. She shrugged with a touch of embarrassment. He was gentle and sweet about it too. In the morning he left without a word, but there was still that terrible look in his eyes ."

And it's almost like you literally, through Tabitha's storytelling, you get to experience that it happened and for Sara it's like she now has this ghost of an experience that didn't actually happen to her, but now she feels like she had with Derek. And if we were together, he would be gentle and sweet and he would hold me and he would tell me he just needs me and just, ugh.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. It's not Derek head in hand. It's like completely divorced from the, and then her immediately having to comfort him and be like, it's okay. And yeah. She gets to have the, what it must be like with the anguish of. I also read it as he slept with her without the, there's a little bit of the anguish of oh gosh, don't, I think it would've been super less impactful if Derek had come to her and been like, I took Tabitha and then he started throwing bottles against the, cuz that's what he would've done and thrown himself out of a five story window or something.

I don't know.

Morgan: Yeah. Tabitha makes no demands of Sara and how she's going to feel about it and how she's gonna react and therefore there's no demands on the audience to like [00:45:00] pass judgment on it. And so we're allowed to just be like (giggles ) and feel good about it,

Jodie Slaughter: which is incredible. It's incredible. I'm like, even in writing, Today. I'm like, who does that? Who does that? I think about that scene a lot and I'm like, I'm not even confident that had I been attempting to like, convey that, I wouldn't have turned it into a deeply emotional, like emotionally wretched moment for Derek and Sara.

We get to be... kleypas is good man.

Isabeau: She's so good. Like master craftsman. Really,

Morgan: before we give her too much credit, I would like to remind you of "'e 'eld me, Mr. Crawen"

Isabeau: listen, she's not perfect. I didn't say she was perfect.

Morgan: It's not.

It's not that transcendent.

Andrea Martucci: wait a second. Wait a second. I feel hold on though. But Morgan, you're bringing your intellectual brain to this.

Morgan: (laughs)

Andrea Martucci: All of us in that moment, our intellectual self was not present. We were there and in that moment, that's how Tabitha speaks. We don't have to think about how ridiculous it is. We're transported

Morgan: the way you do that is you say, "Tabitha, in her broken cockney" or something, and then you write it out in the normal way.

Andrea Martucci: the normal way? What is the normal.

Morgan: the normal number of apostrophes, Andrea!

Isabeau: Lisa Kleypas cares about the verisimilitude of whatever time period she's writing. She is hewing to the rules.

Morgan: She was like, I don't know, this is fair. She was like, I don't know if my readers are gonna understand what a cockney accent is

Jodie Slaughter: Does she understand?

Andrea Martucci: We have to go back to Lisa Kleypas, the craftsperson. It goes back to Tabitha isn't somebody Derek can fall in love with, right? She speaks in this cockney accent, which is coded as being broken English. The text very explicitly makes a point to say that. And we know that in Then Came You, which was the book before this, that Derek first made an appearance, he speaks with a cockney accent, very similar to this.

Between that book and this book, he loses the cockney accent. It only comes out when he's like deeply emotional, i.e. letting go of his sort of like intellectual control and baring his soul, all of that stuff.

You guys have actually read a book where a character had a cockney accent who was fallen in love with, right? But I feel like in this world that Kleypas has created, Tabitha having this like really overt cockney accent actually serves a function to be like she's just some sex worker.

He can't fall in love with her. Having sex with her doesn't count.

Morgan: Yeah, yeah it defangs her. It makes her not a threat.

Andrea Martucci: Exact. Yeah, it's ridiculous on purpose,

Morgan: Oh, An-. That's why this is a very good podcast. Shelf Love is a very good [00:48:00] podcast.

Isabeau: Nailed it.

Morgan: I think, yeah, that, that's gotta be it. As annoyed as I was. But doesn't this novel feel like, conscious about its craft? I'm thinking about that scene and I'm thinking about Derek himself.

Like it feels like the choices are there on the page, right? Which, of course, all choices are there on the page, but they feel traceable in a way that I don't think they feel in every novel. I don't think they feel that way in every Kleypas novel.

Andrea Martucci: I'm trying to think of the last Kleypas book I read. It was one of the like echoes of the season series. Daughter of the Devil or something like that. I don't know. It doesn't matter. And I was reading it and I was expecting the Kleypas experience and for some reason all of her brushstrokes were so visible to me, but I didn't get the same impression of the experience that I was expecting.

Where I was just like, okay, I see what you're doing. You're hitting the mark that you need to hit here. But I don't feel what I was expecting to feel. And I don't I don't know what it is like the last eight books of hers that she's written that I've read it's like each one kind of gets more - I'm like, okay. Yep. And then you're keeping things moving in the classic Kleypas way. I feel your craft, I feel you echoing things that you've done before and I hate to bring it back, but I feel like it's like she's trying to correct some of the weirdness of oh, I can't go super weird, but, so I'll try to hit the beats.

But it's something essential has been taken out.

And by the way, when I say, when I'm talking about this, I wanna be really clear. I'm not saying bring back like offensive, non-politically correct shit. I literally just mean like weird bonkers off the wall stuff.

Morgan: How dare you say that to Jodie who has written a book about a murderer falling in love.

Andrea Martucci: Wait, I'm sorry. Is that politically correct?

I see. I don't find hit men as like a politically correct thing, I guess it's more like to go back earlier to the conversation, like, how does this character feel about abortion? I'm not saying I need to know how a character feels about an abortion, but if there was a character on page who was morally reprehensible in a way, I would consider it morally reprehensible on the stance of abortion.

I either, like you slattern, I'd be like, fuck you, and like I, I wouldn't wanna read that book. But if a character like killed somebody, I'm like, okay.

Isabeau: Funny that you should mention that because it seems like Derek Craven's views on abortion in this particular text as they pertain to Joyce aren't particularly progressive and or inclusive of Joyce's choices.

Andrea Martucci: Oh, that's fair.

Jodie Slaughter: That

Andrea Martucci: That's fair.

Morgan: that's the thing is like this feels silk on silk. Like this book like drifts past itself.

And that makes it a very pleasant reading experience. But it also means like if you start to elbow things, it gets weird and like all [00:51:00] of the everything is visible

Andrea Martucci: The fibers start to fray. They're too delicate to handle too much handling.

Morgan: Yeah. Or like, you know how like you can see everything through silk?

Isabeau: You just fall right off that bed, yeah. Silk under-oos and silk sheet. Why did you like slip?

Morgan: Why did you bother with a flat sheet? It's never gonna stay on. I just never gonna

Does Derek Craven

Jodie Slaughter: have silk sheets.

Morgan: No, he has a, I do love that he's gaudy. I do love that he is gaudy.

Jodie Slaughter: Oh, he's so gauche.

Isabeau: He's just like new money.

He just likes nice things and gin and like velvet drapes. Like we don't have to like, I like, and that whole he's unpleasant about abortion. It's because this book is unpleasant about abortion, because the sex politics of this book are really regressive. Like I don't pin that on Derek.

I pin that on this text hates Joyce. And Joyce is one of the most interesting characters. And to your point, Andrea about this, like when you take the weird out what you're really taking out are the nuance, right? There's something so compelling about Joyce, like not only her backstory, but also her fucked up choices and the line that she has that I was like, I knew that I would think about Joyce long after I've forgotten Derek Graven if Twitter ever lets me, is that, she's like, I'd rather have you hate me than be indifferent.

And I was like, this bitch fucking gets it. And it's like, yes. Like That's Kleypas, right? I would rather scar your face and have you hate me and look at your fucked up face forever than have, than face the idea that you could forget me.

Jodie Slaughter: Every time you look in the mirror, you see me, I will be gone. I will be forever gone and you will see me. You will never, ever forget me. I have made a mark on you, not just on your soul or your heart, on your literal. Physical body. Every time your wife looks at you, she'll see me too.

Isabeau: Oh my God.

Jodie Slaughter: That's it's, yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Okay, so those insights, those character insights, in order to have insights about people and how complicated and messy our emotions are, you have to have characters who are complicated and messy.

Morgan: Yeah.

Isabeau: Correct. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And that feels related to the issue we're talking about. And like you said, Isabeau, like lacking nuance.

When you have these characters who are like good, good, good, good, good, good, good. Like maybe they make a mistake, but they're still good people. How are they gonna have these complicated insights about the human experience or like, I don't know, like how messed up we are. We're all messed up.

Morgan: And the other frustrating thing about this kind of neuturing maybe of romance, is that it is reactionary to a bad faith critique of the genre to begin with, which is the idea that like these books are bad because they're politically bad, but the books are just a [00:54:00] reflection of the larger system that the writers and the consumers are existing in, right?

Like no one woke up, no one was like born from the sea foam of Zeus's jizz, or juice's zzz, as the case may be. And then was like, do you know what? I wanna write a novel where a woman has sex and orgasms and oral sex even. But do you know what it needs to start with? Getting hit in the back of a head and raped in a carriage first? That's how we're gonna start it. This is what I think romance should be. I, Kathleen Woodiwiss like Empress of romance, who is now the only thing that has brought this into existence, right?

Like it's a bad faith critique. It seems like there was like finger wagging at the consumers of romance, right?

And then we all were like, oh, you're right, you're right. Well, I'm not doing that anymore. I'm making a consecrated stand. And it loses like the unselfconscious, like it loses its space as an area that is about just being transparent about desire and joy and longing and angst and how good angst can feel.

It's a bummer.

Andrea Martucci: The fact that I know that romance as a genre, however you can describe that, people within romance, there is a constant craving for acceptance and respectability in the larger media environment. And this feels like a bid for that, where it's like, oh, but if we bring the genre in line. Oh, romance isn't like it used to be in 1972 with Kathleen Woodiwiss. Look how far we've come. Look how different the genre is now, whether that's true or not.

Morgan: And that's a discussion about politics, not craft, not words on the page, not character building, not anything that we would say makes a good book.

Andrea Martucci: But I and I, but I think that like in the seventies, eighties, and nineties and 2000, like maybe it's the internet age, right? Where the barriers to these niche communities having this wider exposure were much greater, right? If I wanted to talk about romance with somebody, I had to like, find somebody I could talk about romance with. I couldn't just log onto a website and easily find other people.

Before that happened, the un self-consciousness was like, nobody's gonna, nobody outside of this who doesn't get it is gonna come check this out. There was no expectation of outsider eyeballs being critical. They already have made up their mind about what this is. They're never gonna actually open a book and look under the cover.

Morgan: Yeah. And that's the thing. It was like, if they're never gonna open up the book and they're never gonna be critical of it, then they're never gonna be critical of me, a person who gets a lot of fizzy good feelings from this Johanna Lindsey, like they'll never see, and I don't think anyone was self-conscious about being turned on by that until people were [00:57:00] intentionally being like, you like that?

Isabeau: I think this is a good point to plot it because up until the internet, especially the ways that authors interacted with audiences or like the wider media, like think of any profile that Danielle Steele did, it involves her very weird, beautiful desk, her thousands of shoes, her Paris apartment, and the fact that she drinks two pots of coffee and only eats chocolate and writes for 26 hours a day.

Or like Johanna Lindsey and her long flowing hair and her weird Hawaiian retreat

Morgan: Kathleen Woodiwiss was all about what a good mother she was.

Isabeau: This Nebraska Plains mom and like how she found time to write and I think the separation of author did a lot of interesting work in terms of decreasing wider media's bid, right? We can't take you seriously cuz look who's fucking writing here. And so we don't have to take you seriously cuz you're not a Jonathan Franzen or a John Steinback or like whatever white male dude. And they weren't interested in that. But somehow now with the age of the internet and like where people are finding each other, there's this idea where it's I want more people to be about this.

I want romance to be for everyone because romance is for everyone. And it's like, ooh. I don't know that it was or ever meant that for itself,

Morgan: nothing is for everyone.

Jodie Slaughter: Nothing is for everyone. It's a thing that I have an issue with as a writer. The way that it seems like we're going about this is a, you have to be like, liked and likable.

It means that you as a person also have to lose any bite. Yeah. That you have. And we all have it. The way that Andrea and I speak to each other when we are on the phone with each other is obviously very different than anything either of us might fucking tweet and she has even a little more freedom because she's not trying to sell books, but like we're all seem to be like trying to have this weird hegemony where we're all like middling. We're all mild, we have mild personalities. Our books are mild. Ugh, yeah, it sucks. You can't actually be spicy ever.

Andrea Martucci: It's like everybody has to be like Jane from Pride and Prejudice, a fence-sitter.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Morgan: Isabeau, I think you talking about the historicity of writers and their persona, public personas, and Jodie, your perspective as writer who now has a public persona. I'm seeing like, yes, Barbara Cartland was an eccentric, but she was an eccentric because she was landed gentry like.

When we look at like romance authors and how they marketed themselves, right via their author photo and their bio. Like taking Lisa Kleypas, it mentions that she was Miss Massachusetts and it mentions that she has a poli sci degree [01:00:00] from a very good school, right? It's still making these bids for legitimacy.

Like I don't think John Steinbeck's back of the book was like, here are the charities he supports.

Isabeau: Absolutely not.

Morgan: Here's where he went to school because it like spoke for itself. But romance authors have never been allowed to speak for themselves, right? They've had to have these ancillary accomplishments.

And now Jodie, as you point out, that sounds like just of a kind with what the expectation is now, which is entirely about a value system of white supremacy and patriarchy, but it feels like it's imposed much more on romance writers than any other group of writers

Because, they're seen as illegitimate immediately.

Andrea Martucci: Right. But I feel like the big romance personalities that we're thinking of, they were playing characters. And call back to She Devil. The whole character of Mary, what's her face? She is literally playing a character of a romance novelist in her own life. And, you think about Barbara Cartland. Her ensembles I feel like were a costume, like literally a costume. I don't know if she wore,

Morgan: entire actual home was pink.

Jodie Slaughter: But that's deeply bizarre and even interesting. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: She was like a method actor. She was living that performance. And Lisa Kleypas, miss Massachusetts, she's positioning herself as the smart beauty queen. So there's a little bit of glamour, but it's also like you have to take her seriously. I think romance authors today, because of that accessibility factor, the goal is to be like, I wanna be your friend and to be your friend you can never be the mean girl who is saying something you disagree with. And your books can't ever it's oh my God. Like my friend wrote this fucked up book with these fucked up char. I don't know, I don't know how to describe it, but it is like a repositioning, like instead of being the unattainable celebrity who is kind of glamorous and over the top now, it's like the move is accessibility, which also means fitting in.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. In terms of like, celebrity, it's a through line of what it means to be someone who is popular or a celebrity now. I miss the old days of celebrity where they weren't pretending to be just like us.

You're not just like us. Obviously you're like a human being and your heart beats the same and we all have the same value. Yeah. But you sitting around pretending I'm just lounging in my 300 million home in my pool, but I'm just like you. I like peanut butter too. Isn't that so wild? It really annoys me. I don't need to be relatable to you to like my work.

Isabeau: Also men don't have to be relatable in the same way. Jennifer Garner, like the thing that you just described. Every time she's like, I like peanut butter and this is what I do in my vegan cookies, in her $3 million kitchen. I'm just like, the skincare products cost more than my mortgage. Like I,

Morgan: I have to say, I [01:03:00] think this is an expectation of men as well. Like Jeremy Strong, he's a super intense person and everyone just ripped him to shreds.

And I was like, I think you have to be like this to be a very good, successful actor, especially if you came from a genuinely working class background like he did. You have to be the fucking worst. That's the only way you can climb up and yeah, and like Marlon Brando, he was a very good actor because he was a very bad person.

He had to live on an island by himself with a pet chipmunk. That's the way his existence outside of film made sense. It should be okay.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Nobody's allowed to be fucking weird as fuck anymore.

Morgan: Judith McNaught I think is a great example of someone who was openly vitriolic to her fans the minute the internet existed.

She start, she, someone messaged us on Instagram and was like my husband grew up down the street from her in Dallas and she used to walk her. I think her Weiners or her Afghan hound, something fancy outside of the driver's window of her Jaguar, she would drive very slowly holding- that's real, that's not a character.

Isabeau: And she's didn't want to be like, touched by Plebes.

Morgan: Yeah. That's the kind of person who conceives of Whitney, My Love. I'm sorry. It is.

Jodie Slaughter: I agree.

Andrea Martucci: But I think we're just talking about the panopticon of living in the internet age,

where we're like

Morgan: Panopticon alert.

Andrea Martucci: a woo. But okay, but that is the world we're living in where we are under constant surveillance. And so even movie stars understand that even if they understand they have to have these ridiculous lifestyles to maintain the movie star look, that they can't actually admit that's what they're doing because then that starts to make them like inaccessible in a way.

All of these personalities that we're talking about where we're like, oh my God, that's wild. Like I bet there are all things that literally every one of us do, and we're not movie stars. We don't have expensive skincare routines. We don't have $3 million kitchens, whatever.

We're maybe not like the most eccentric people on earth. We all do weird things where if somebody was like watching us in our living room or wanted to write an article about us that made us sound more interesting than we are, would be the thing that people talk about. The unedited versions of any of our days, I'm sure could spin up a really fascinating profile about us that make us just sound weird.

Jodie Slaughter: The last thing I tweeted on Jodie Slaughter's author account is me like, oh, it's time for outside with a PBR. The actual like, tea on that, is that I like was heartbreakingly sad that day that I sat outside on the patio for three hours and crushed like two and a half tall boys and just baked in the sun and was just like crying and I was [01:06:00] like, I should capture this for the internet because I haven't tweeted and I like, wiping tears, like I'm just drinking a beer.

Morgan: What you should've done is been like, I'm very sad because not enough people are buying my book and I try so hard and I'm getting attacked by the algorithm and that's why this is happening to me. You can go one of two ways.

Isabeau: You could fake your death.

Andrea Martucci: If she did that, I wouldn't be friends with her. But I feel like the romance novels we read are doing the same thing where they are like, they're aware of the panopticon of criticism

Jodie Slaughter: that's so, mm-hmm.

Andrea Martucci: if they do anything weird it's like the bracing for, ugh, if I have my character make this questionable choice, there's gonna be a review. And because I'm too online, I'm gonna become aware of that criticism. Like you think about all these authors writing 40, 50 years ago, when would they ever encounter a critical response to every little thing? Maybe a critical response, like big picture, like people don't like your book, says the editor to you, like the books aren't selling or whatever.

But you would never get into the minutia, which now I think everybody is just policing their own behavior online. Like we're talking about authors, but also policing the content of their book to fit into this like weird idea of perfection that we're all feeling like we're held to in our relationships, in our lives, our consumption habits.

Morgan: It. This reminds me of your discussion when you were like, I wanna know what the depravity of yeah of Joyce is, and it's it feels like an intentional choice and a craft choice to not be specific, because I feel like Johanna Lindsey, for example, would've been very specific, but if you're vague about it, you allow the book, I don't know, maybe like some kind of perceived timelessness, but also allows other people to fit in their own values.

And I think that Dreaming of You as an early practice in restraint in romance novels, I think one of the reasons it has so much staying powers, yeah, it's a good book, good things, interesting things happen, but I think it looms much larger than even the sum of its parts. And I think that's because when the book was published was at a time when future influencers were getting into the genre.

And so this book would've had a big effect on them. And it also is vague enough that it can withstand in existence in our a support system. Like I feel to take complete credit, like Scarlet Peckham telling us Whitney, My Love is the single most influential romance novel I read, I was pretty impressed that she would say that out loud and talk about it with us and be vulnerable about it because it is such a trip, but it's also a trip paratextually.

But I think Dreaming of You is just [01:09:00] restrained enough that it speaks to our current moment in the panopticon. I think you're right, Andrea.

Andrea Martucci: I'm always right and thank you for calling me an influencer. No, but no, like seriously. Yeah. You think about who's driving a lot of the cultural conversations today in romance. It's people between the ages of like 30 and 50 and where were we 17 years ago

Morgan: there was that like bell curve with social media where influencing went from institutions to individuals and now it's back into institutions because the individuals have become institutionalized. And the people who were for that bright shining moment individuals, they were largely, starting their romance journey at around this time.

At least earlier in Kleypas's career, and I think that's why she looms so large. I think maybe it's like pure coincidence, but there's also something about Dreaming of You that like begs flexibility.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I actually feel like Suddenly You stands the test of time much better. But I don't see nearly as much conversation about it. I wonder why, in the context of what you just said. Because maybe it is because it is more specific and it is a little bit less of a projector screen overall.

I think that maybe some people like it and some people don't, and it makes it a little bit more controversial as opposed to Dreaming of You where a lot of people have read it and it's like a good solid book and there's not a ton of things about it that in the current environment make it like taboo to read and talk about

Morgan: When we discussed Devil in Winter, we said it doesn't really matter that he threatened rape in the last book because he actually commits rape in this book, like their first sex scene she's unconscious when it starts.

Isabeau: She's like sick and asleep so she's like in some weird sort of laudanum,

Morgan: yeah.

Isabeau: trance but she is having a sex dream about him that then becomes corporeal

Morgan: that she realizes is actually happening and which is like something you would expect to happen in a book that predates Dreaming of You. Because Devil and Winter and Dreaming of You have so many parallels and it feels like a real, I don't know, like pushing a limit, testing a, it seems like a stress test of some kind in hindsight.

Andrea Martucci: And I hate that book, by the way, like it but the thing is I don't feel so passionately like against many of Kleypas's books and that one I actually hate for reasons where I'm like, why are people romanticizing like these things that this guy does? Like it's really messed up.

But there was a specificity to it. And yeah it is this like weird thing where I think that was published in like the early two thousands, right? Like 2005 ish maybe. I remember buying it at the bookstore when it was new, I had my own money and ability to get to a bookstore at that time. So what is that? That's like over 10 years after Dreaming of You.

She's a better writer and she's being more specific [01:12:00] with her characters. But then holding on to some of these things where like Derek Craven seriously would never, I hate to use that sentence construction here. Derek Craven would never do that, right?

Even though there's a lot of like weird attempted rape stuff in the book. It's not Derek Craven doing that. But then Sebastian St. Vincent does it. And on the one hand I'm like, oh my God. That was a misstep. And on the other hand, he's so many people's favorite character. Or that's their favorite book.

So what does that tell us?

Morgan: It tells us way more interesting stuff than any of those like pro-choice speeches that take place in the Victorian area.

Jodie Slaughter: alphaholes!, the alphaholes episode, the idea of this awful wretched man isn't going to hurt me, but even when he does hurt me, it's like he only does it because he loves me so much and he just can't hold back.

This is like such a controversial take I haven't read this book. Historical romance and I have a fraught relationship. It's, and it's not even necessarily for like political reasons, I just straight up have a hard time getting into it. I didn't have a hard time getting into Dreaming of You. So I made an effort to read more Kleypas actually. I might read this one next cuz now I'm interested to see what it is.

But I'm interested in like power dynamics a lot. And I'm not someone who is of the mind that a power dynamic wherein if we're using this in like heteronormative terms, wherein the heroine is in a position where she has less power, I'm not saying it's good. But it is not to me an inherent turn off. And sometimes it is in fact an actual turn on.

Andrea Martucci: Because we've been socialized because of the world we live in to find being submissive a turn on. So why is it surprising to us when it is?

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Exactly. Exactly

Isabeau: And it's because we're not supposed to like it anymore. That's where like we're, that's where the supersede comes in against the acculturation.

Jodie Slaughter: But we haven't Yeah, but we haven't, right. Gotten rid of it in our head.

Isabeau: Not only in our head, but also in our society.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, exactly.

Isabeau: Hillary Clinton, says in 1992, women's rights are human rights. She also very famously says, I'm not the type of woman who bakes cookies.

Literally the next year has to come out with the first White House cookbook. I don't think we're really past that moment in terms of like the expectations that women are constantly navigating and

Morgan: Melania Trump didn't have to do anything.

Isabeau: She was such a good mom for staying in New York for that whole year because Baron didn't wanna leave school.

And so yeah, you're right. She didn't have to do anything. And in fact, wore a shirt telling us that do you even care or whatever, like crazy. But even still, like the way the media and other commentators talked about Melania was in the mom wife box of the role of First Lady.[01:15:00]

And so like, all of that. What you're just saying about I don't find it a turn off. In fact, I find it a turn on and like exploring power dynamics, which takes us all the way back to this idea that like when we flatten romance into a middle and like we take out the fun, weird exploratory -Morgan, you call it like transparent, like id, it gets less fun.

Jodie Slaughter: So like the id is important. The id is everything. Our ids are not being fed.

Morgan: That's right. That's a great tag. I think it's important that there are people who would get a sense of superiority from being like, I'm not turned on by that and I don't like those books. And there are also people who would defend their preference for that book by saying it's just a book. Quit making a big deal about it. But neither of those things are true and it's way more interesting and productive for understanding romance and maybe getting romance taken more seriously to say, two things are true. This is a problem and it's okay that I like it. Like it's so hard for people to have a conversation that is expansive about romance specifically because it seems like the second we reach out there's something that like, is institutionally, structurally holding us back, whether it's the rah rah tone of most romance reviewers, whether it's the constant policing of one another's opinions. It's just there's so much here. And we sell ourselves so short because we over-identify with these characters and we hold ourselves and our opinions as so precious as to not be controversial or up for debate.

Andrea Martucci: Like the world we live in is problematic. What are we gonna do? Just stop living in the world. No we gotta live here. There's no ethical consumption under capitalism, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It's just the world we live in. A lot of the things that are like weird and interesting are the things that make us awesome and unique and interesting.

It's entertainment.

We're reading it to be entertained. And I think part of that is to be taken seriously we can't also just accept that it's entertainment. No, but it's like actually not problematic at all. So my entertainment isn't problematic and therefore it should be taken seriously.

It's like, how about we take it seriously in that it is a thing worth discussing and it is a valid entertainment vehicle, just like literally anything else. It's no better. It's no worse. It's not feminist, it's not anti-feminist. It's not more thoughtful and interesting or more liberatory than literally anything else, it is a reflection of the society we live in and some authors do more interesting things than others. Whatever, it's, it just is. It's morally neutral. And I would love for our engagement with it to be more morally neutral. Where like, even if like we get [01:18:00] fired up about something okay, I, oh, I hate Devil Winter. I hate that guy. I'll still talk about it.

I still read the book. I might go back and reread the book because it was entertaining.

Morgan: It seems like there's some kind of right and wrong end game that we're all trying to work towards whenever we talk about a romance novel and like whether or not the book is good or bad has to do with whether or not it's right or wrong, and we can't possibly have that relationship with every kind of text.


Andrea Martucci: but also imagine if we as individuals were only valued until we did one thing wrong. We made one incorrect action and now we are garbage people

Jodie Slaughter: if you're on the internet, that is the case. Yeah, that's how it's,

Isabeau: yeah.

Andrea Martucci: write. right.

Isabeau: That's the fear of the surveillance, where it's like, I'm not gonna write a book that's going to offend anybody, which means that if you write a book for everyone, it's basically for no one.

Morgan: And so I'm so happy to free all writers by saying, if you write a book that's inoffensive, I will choose to hate it. So you might as well, you might as well go all in

Andrea Martucci: Well, I think we cracked that nut one open, I think. I think we just solved Romancelandia.

Jodie Slaughter: via, we did it

Morgan: by Lisa Kleypaston.

Jodie Slaughter: Somehow on these podcasts, we are somehow solving literally every single one of society's ills. So why then is nothing changing? Andrea answer that. Riddle me that.

Andrea Martucci: And maybe as people who continuously send our voices out onto the internet on public channels for other people to listen to and think about. Maybe it's even interesting for us to think about switching our goal from even necessarily changing people's minds to literally just like, I don't know, did you enjoy the conversation?

Even if you turn around and read a problematic book tomorrow and don't think critically about it. I don't know. Did you enjoy listening to this podcast? I hope so. We did it.

Morgan: Yeah. The important thing is that you love us even if you don't love the book,

Andrea Martucci: Yes. Yes. Love us. Love me.

Choose me.

Morgan: Choose me.

Andrea Martucci: and Whoa!mance choose Shelf love and Whoa!mance

and Dame Jodie Slaughter.

Isabeau: Fuck all the others. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Yes.

Isabeau: No, not really. But also, yes.

Andrea Martucci: Hey, thanks for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out for transcripts and other resources. If you want regular written updates from Shelf Love, you can increasingly find me over at Substack

Read occasional updates and short essays about romance at Thank you to Shelf Love's $20 a month [01:21:00] Patreon supporters: Gail, Copper Dog Books, and Frederick Smith. I have a great day. Bye!