Is shame productive? This question guides part 2 of a Whoa!mance/Shelf Love convo about A Lady of the West by Linda Howard as we discuss the paradox of enjoying highly problematic books.
We interrogate our feelings of shame, enjoyment, and the importance of critically dissecting the pleasures derived from reading, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel.
Look at your society, look at your life! Along with me and Whoa!mance, in this crossover episode.
Is shame productive? This question guides part 2 of a Whoa!mance/Shelf Love convo about A Lady of the West by Linda Howard as we discuss the paradox of enjoying highly problematic books.
We interrogate our feelings of shame, enjoyment, and the importance of critically dissecting the pleasures derived from reading, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel.
Look at your society, look at your life! Along with me and Whoa!mance, in this crossover episode.
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Guests: Whoa!mance (Morgan and Isabeau)
Andrea Martucci: Do you think that shame is productive?
Isabeau: I'm Isabeau.
Morgan: I'm Morgan.
Andrea Martucci: And I'm Andrea.
Hey, this is part two of the Whoa!mance Shelf Love collaboration, discussing A Lady of the West by Linda Howard. If you haven't yet listened to part one go back an episode on either the Shelf Love or Whoa!Mance podcast feed that you are currently listening to. And take a listen to part one.
Or if you are completely chaotic, go ahead, keep listening to this episode. It can kind of stand on its own. You're probably going to have some questions, but you know, you do, you.
Okay, so I have to know I mean, did you guys enjoy this book? Tell me about your experience. (Morgan & Isabeau both say YES )
Morgan: yeah, I would say this is a Whoa!Mance for me. And it also gave me this larger personal understanding that I would like to excavate at a later date, which is that I think I actually like westerns. And I got so swept up in like the clothes, the ranchness of it all, the horses, and I was like, oh shit, do I actually like these?
And I looked back at the admittedly very few westerns we've read, and I'm pretty sure I liked all of them. We just read Heart and Mercy, and I loved that largely because of everything that was western like. What is it about westerns that appeals to me so much? I don't think it's just the aesthetics.
I think the aesthetics are indicative of something else that gives me great pleasure. And I'm really afraid that it's manifest destiny, and it probably is.
Isabeau: The other Western that we read with Learning the Tropes, we talked about how much we liked it as like competence porn, but like, other than the violence, there's not a ton of competence on display in this text. And I also love this book. I'm actually quite mad at you, Andrea, because like I have a young child at home and I stayed up until three fucking o'clock in the morning when my kid gets up at 630 because like I just, I literally couldn't put it. Down.
Morgan: Isabeau, you say this for every book now.
Andrea Martucci: She says that every time.
Isabeau: No, I couldn't put it down. I was just like, what? I was captivated.
Morgan: One of the things I really loved about this book and I found unique is that we do see side characters, get it on, which is great. [00:03:00] And I love that it happened within this book and wasn't a teaser for a continued series that will never pan out the way you want it to.
Andrea Martucci: So do you like Luis? So Morgan showed us she has a book from the library that has both A Lady of the West and Angel Creek. If you read Angel Creek, we get Luis 10 years later, or whatever, and he gets one of those side character romances, with an HEA.
Morgan: Again, good for him. He deserves it.
Isabeau: He does. He's such a nice guy.
Morgan: Yeah. I loved Luis. I loved Ben.
Isabeau: Ben was my favorite.
Morgan: I wish Ben and Emma, may I get into my sexiest part?
Morgan: At long last, dry humping in the West. And in New Mexico, no less! One of my favorite states in the United States West, if not the United States as a whole, if not the world.
Andrea Martucci: Your favorite American state in the world.
Morgan: My favorite American state in the world, New Mexico.
Jake and Emma, when they first meet, the gals are trying to escape the ranch, which is enormous, and they're riding on these horses, and they're not necessarily the most rugged of horsewomen, although Victoria secretly is. And Jake goes out to find them, and he sends his brother and Luis to find the other two, because the ladies decide they're going to separate to avoid getting caught And Ben has this like horseback, wrasslin match with Emma, and then gets her to the ground and is like trying to hold her down and explain to her what's happening, and she's writhing, and it gives him an erection, she feels the erection, they realize they're in love.
And that's very funny to me.
Andrea Martucci: Which again, I mean look, this continues the theme of the book, if you are in lust, you are in love.
Morgan: That's right. That's right. Oh, that's so true. That was not my sexiest part. My sexiest part is after the wedding, which happens very shortly after they return to the ranch.
So shortly after they fall in love via accidental erection. He approaches her alone, and they basically make out and dry hump against what I'm picturing as a hitching post, and he provides her with the option, that's when he has that consideration of good women are, and bad women are but he decides to offer her the opportunity to volunteer as a bad woman for him.
And that was my sexiest part.
Andrea Martucci: He won't think badly of her. He knows society would, but he would still know.
Morgan: Yeah, right? Because this book is doing that us modern gals thing that books published to this day do. Where they are basically just reinforcing ideology and acting like they're not doing that.
Andrea Martucci: Isabeau, what was your sexiest part?
Isabeau: I also found [00:06:00] Ben and Emma incredibly sexy. There's I think maybe a similar part is like there's an entire meditation in the barn where he's like, I could just throw you in this hay.
And she considers it. I'm like. The one thing that I love about the non Jake and Victoria sex scenes is that all the other sex scenes seem to take place in like golden afternoons and outside or in barns and it's like there's so much more sensuality around them. So like, there's like the dust motes and the sunbeams and the hayloft and there's so much longing, especially between Ben and Emma that I found very sexy, but like, I'll give you a surprise sexiest part.
Where it's maybe it wasn't even like my sexiest part, but I was so surprised by it. So Emma and Ben have this interlude in the barn, and then we immediately cut to the fact that like Celia was watching them with her little kitten , and then
Andrea Martucci: she was stroking her pussy,
Isabeau: that she's stroking her pussy, like watching them.
And she's she's gotten hot and bothered. And then she immediately finds Luis and she's like, it's not always bad what's between men and women, and he's like, no, sometimes it's really good and really magical. And she's like, take off your pants. Let's do this. And I was like, what?
Morgan: And then it has a whole explanation as to why he wasn't wearing a union suit and he was wearing separates.
It's like, he could just take off his shirt as well, but I guess, thanks for clarifying, he's Pooh bearing it in the woods right now.
Isabeau: That wasn't a question I had for Linda Howard.
Morgan: Yeah, honestly, I would have preferred the Union suit and that would have forced him to completely disrobe except for his cowboy boots.
Morgan: bearing is fine, that's okay.
Andrea Martucci: I feel like this book decided that Union suits weren't sexy to modern sensibilities. And it was like well, no, no, the sexy guys in this book don't wear union suits
Morgan: Yeah. And then someone was going to write into a forum and be like, couldn't get into it.
Just kept picturing all those guys in union suits.
Morgan: Because of the history. Okay. I'm going to read the line because it cannot be oversold. The like loft thing.
" In the loft, Celia rolled over onto her back and stared at the dust moats floating above her head. Her eyes were both troubled and curious. Ben had been doing some bad things to Emma, but she hadn't seemed to mind. He'd done the sort of things that Victoria had warned Celia that Garnet and the Major wanted to do to her. Thinking of them touching her like that made her feel sick to her stomach. But watching Ben do them to Emma hadn't made her sick.
"She had felt funny, shaky and excited. Emma hadn't looked sick either. Maybe those things were bad only when bad people did them. She felt confused, but was also aware of a calm certainty growing in her. [00:09:00] What she had just seen hadn't been wrong. It was new and a bit frightening, but not wrong. The kitten pounced on her stomach, and absently Celia rubbed its little body. She lay in the dusty loft, staring at the sunbeams, and took the first step into womanhood."
Andrea Martucci: And isn't she like 15, by the way?
Isabeau: I don't know, I was picturing her as 17 or 18 certainly younger than the others, but.
Morgan: But takes the first steps into womanhood clearly she masturbated, right?
Isabeau: She's petting her pussy, as Andrea said.
Morgan: Its little body. And it's just so like, eugh. It has all of those like sunshine, dust moat, innocence things about sexuality, which can be interesting, but like the heavy handedness of the kitten and the bad things, air quotes, it's like, it's a lot.
It's a lot.
Isabeau: And it was such a surprise. I 100 percent didn't see it coming. At all. And then I was like, how the fuck? I'm like, what are we doing? And then she immediately goes and finds Luis. And I was like, yeah, you find him.
Morgan: Also, Luis calls her Chica Italics.
Isabeau: Oh, yeah, he does.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
How do you guys feel when sometimes you learn something about an author of a book that you enjoyed? How do you usually handle that?
Isabeau: What are you about to tell me?
Andrea Martucci: Let me tell you some things about Linda Howard that are on the record. Okay. Okay you know when a bunch of things came out about RWA?
like racism and stuff in like 2019 So I feel like this is not surprising when you read the books written by linda Howard, but like in the published author network forums of RWA she was upset about what she perceived as reverse racism against white authors in promoting and encouraging resources to bring in more diversity into the organization.
I believe she also was a vocal person against polyamory being included in the romance genre, also queer romance also self publishing. So I think that there's a lot of gatekeeping in various forms going on there.
But this is one of the things that like, reading all of Linda Howard's books as a young person with very limited internet access, and then obviously a lot of this stuff didn't come out until like much, much later, but like, she was allowed to exist in my mind as an author whose books I read voraciously. I didn't really know anything about her.
I do remember being very curious about her and as soon as I had internet access trying to find things out about her and, having just like, that interest. at one point, I like, followed her on Facebook back when I was still on Facebook.[00:12:00]
And yeah I had that interest. And then as I became more ingrained in the romance community, I started hearing all of these things and I was like, Ooh, that is unpleasant. And I think I had a lot of like trying to come to terms with how I was supposed to feel about Linda Howard's books and like my longstanding relationship with them.
And then I think also like with that new information and just evolving as a reader, starting to see things in the texts that I don't know I really saw before. And yeah, Morgan, you called it a Whoa!Mance, Isabeau, you stayed up voraciously reading this until late in the night.
It is undoubtedly full of problematic shit.
Morgan: Yes. All of that is right here, except for maybe the anti self publishing thing. Like, all of that is here in the book, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: And like how do you think through that conundrum? How are we supposed to feel as consumers. Look I bought this on Thriftbooks or whatever I, I did not support Linda Howard in purchasing this book, whatever, that's just me trying to put a salve on like, oh, no, I didn't like, support the author by buying her book used or whatever,
Morgan: People might buy this book after listening to us talk about it.
That's something I think about often, whenever
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, we just platformed it.
Morgan: Yeah, whenever I Whoa! A problematic book. There are people who are quietly enjoying this and recommending it without talking about how problematic it is, maybe with less of a platform.
But I worry about erasure. I worry about a world where we pretend like this doesn't exist. And a world where we pretend like we can't get enjoyment out of things that are problematic. And I worry because that creates some kind of absolution.
If you live in an existence where you think you'll be able to tell when something is politically... unaligned with you by mere reading, by merely reading it, you won't, like it's not enough to consume. You have to think about it critically. And when you think about something critically, you end up having two experiences simultaneously.
I think it's important to understand and talk about it, and I think Isabeau and I really hit this when we did our AHA Sheik Heartbreak series, where it's like, this isn't a basket of deplorables.
People who enjoy these books aren't innately brainwired different than you and I.
And pleasure from romance novels tends to come from the same place and hit the same buttons for people, largely.
And so you have to take the pleasure of reading it as seriously as the discomfort of reading it in order to understand why these perspectives have such a hold on us and why people are able to perpetuate these [00:15:00] ideas, especially as a trio of whites, right?
There's nothing in this book that denigrates us. So it is exceptionally easier for us to enjoy it than perhaps a person of color. And our cognitive dissonance doesn't have to ring as loudly, but we need to acknowledge that. And I think Isabeau recently sent me an article on the New York Times, and I can only read the headline because I won't give the New York Times money, is that they're editing Georgette Heyer to remove Jewish racial stereotypes.
People need to know that the general public really loved books full of terrible stereotypes.
Isabeau: In living memory, like, the book that they highlighted in that New York Times article was published in 1954.
Morgan: Yeah. This was published in 1990, and it wasn't hard for us to pick up on those threads. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: The Heyer thing is also, if we erase the problematics of Heyer, I think it also makes it much easier to erase the problematic influence of Heyer on a lot of books that we want to think are not problematic, but it's more like it just pushes it underground and allows us to not confront it, which is very much like the point I made in a recent Substack post, which conveniently this Heyer thing came out like the day after I published that.
And I had even mentioned like Heyer and her antisemitism in that post. And I was just like, Oh my God, it's so timely though. Because it's like, what is the consequence of it's not like we're saying like, leave the antisemitism in Heyer because it was good as it was, and we, and it's not, it's no, it was not good as it was, but we need to be able to look at it and talk about it and, whatever.
Morgan: She doesn't need to sell more books either. I don't understand who's like, we need to get back on that Heyer gravy train.
Andrea Martucci: I mean, It's Sourcebooks, the publisher, and the Heyer estate, right? Even though the author is dead there's an estate that lives on that can continue to profit from it.
And like, maybe her estate doesn't share the feelings of their ancestor, But like, I mean, that's where it gets complicated, right? Where it's like, no, leave it the same, continue to put the books out there, people still buying them. like, What does that mean?
Morgan: Erasure. And it's it also, Andrea, as you pointed out, it removes the context for her bad influence.
But also, It pulls out that she was influenced, right? That general English society at the time was super anti Semitic,
Isabeau: Yeah as a matter of course she was not exceptional or remarkable in her time for her characterization of Jewish people. She invented the Regency romance subgenre, essentially,
Morgan: as we know it today,
Isabeau: as we know it today. So [00:18:00] it's important that we understand not only her in the consequence of her own time, like her own contemporality, but also the long tail that Georgette Heyer has on our current moment in the genre.
And I think one of the things about what do I do with Linda Howard when she wasn't like, it's always nice when authors you like do things that you like, right? When the RWA was like what if we don't include LGBTQ stuff? And Nora Roberts was like, if you do that, I'm out. And we're like, yay, Nora Roberts.
And that's cool. It also doesn't surprise me that Linda Howard wasn't on that train. And that's important to know about her and like her canon. And for all the things that Morgan has so beautifully said where it's like, it's so important to look at these texts because If you treat them uncritically, then you're not looking at the water you're swimming in, and if you're not looking at the water that you're swimming in, it's much harder to figure out how you can do and be better and more aware and more compassionate to others.
Morgan: I think it's important that people realize, even when you're reading, you know, a Courtney Milan, those books still exist in the society that we live in, which I think all of us would agree is broken in some important places, and that brokenness is going to be inherent in that book, and it's the fact you don't realize it, but you reconcile that with yourself every single day to get through the day .
When you read a book, you have to intentionalize and forefront that. And I think that's a worthwhile exercise. I think it's important to be like, do I like this book in spite of this? Do I like this book because of this? You have to know that about yourself. And like it's our conversation about empathy from our Heart and Mercy episode, I think empathy comes from the difficult situations, and you can challenge yourself in that way, and you should.
To think about yourself critically, because it's not just Linda Howard who's enjoying this book, right? It's us. It's not just Andrea when you were a teenager, it's Andrea as a full fledged adult with all the benefits of experience, and it's Morgan reading it for the first time with all my numerous bells and whistles.
And we can still enjoy that book. That says something, I think, interesting about craft. I think that says something interesting about characterization. It also says a lot about our personal biases and our... our culture at large, ourselves.
Andrea Martucci: Do you think that feeling shame over enjoying something that intellectually one knows is horrific in some ways? Do you think that shame is productive?
Andrea Martucci: Like, Okay, how say more about that.
Morgan: I think shame is productive. I think shame [00:21:00] is like a symptom, and it allows you to know that something is happening and look at it.
I don't think silence right, like, I feel shame, right? But I'm not being quiet about it right now. And that feels more productive to me than just being like, I feel shame. I'm going to deny that I feel shame and either defend this book, defend my opinion, or deny it entirely and be like, yeah, no, I hated it.
It was super racist. I couldn't get into it. I, there was no sexiest part for me, right? I can't get turned on under these conditions. No that's not true. And so I think I do think shame is productive. In general as well.
Andrea Martucci: That, that just instantly made me think of I did a lot of research into managing the stigma of romance, a few years ago when I did a project on this, and there's a few different coping mechanisms, and essentially what they are is it's all about that sort of self preservation, of like, I am not the kind of person who does this, right?
And so how can you cope with that? And it's everything you just said. You can either say, oh, it's actually not that bad. There is nothing to be ashamed of. It is actually good literature, whatever. There's nothing, there's no problem here.
You can minimize it where you're just like, yeah, I felt good about it, but whatever, it's just my escape.
Yeah. Or you can turn against it and join in against it and being like, anybody who feels good about this is a bad person.
Andrea Martucci: And and I think I'm almost more interested in that last group of people where I'm like, does it reach a point? And I think it does because I think I've experienced this where one literally pushes oneself to be like, you cannot enjoy this.
You cannot enjoy this. It's bad. And just don't even go near it. Like I put my Linda Howard books in a bin and took them off my bookshelves for a long time. Cause I was just like, I should not enjoy this.
And I think it's like similar to the way people feel about like Harry Potter books. Like you learn a bunch of things about J. K. Rowling and you're like, I don't want to support this. And yes, now I can see the bigotry in the books. And it's like denying oneself of something that you used to enjoy because you're like I have to prove that I know better, and that this is wrong, and that I know that, and I'm a good person,
Morgan: yeah. Not to take the easy, obvious route with this, but I think there's this belief system that, the way we lean is oh no, it's bad, right? But that kind of belies a certain... It seals you off from the reality that things you enjoy now will be problematized later on.
You can't just like, hate everything in order to keep yourself politically safe. And it's not like everyone in Germany was just white knuckling through the Nazi rising,[00:24:00] people were making these kinds of excuses, or making acceptances, or making allowances, or saying, not my problem, right?
And coping, and then it wasn't like they were all suddenly freed from it, right? There was ideology there that resonated with folks, or something happened that allowed them, the people who did survive, that allowed them to survive and stay where they were. Like, bad things don't necessarily feel bad in the moment.
And I think that's where this the more productive, the more interesting, and again, more productive line of questioning is like, why do I like it? Why do I stay?
Isabeau: Yeah, I think always resisting the performative aspects because like shame is it's not a good feeling. But I think Morgan's right. It's really productive. And I think we as a species know it's really productive because we've had a lot of shame based behavior corrections in society at different times. All sorts of things. And part of the reason why it's productive is because it's so uncomfortable. It's such an uncomfortable feeling in your body that you feel motivated to do something about it.
Guilt doesn't always work the same way, which is why I think the fact that we've all centered on shame as the feeling is important. Because I think there's a part of this, it's like, well, it's my guilty pleasure. And it's like, well, if it's your guilty pleasure, you don't really have to do anything about it, right?
Because it's it's, it's internal, it's not hurting anyone. But if we call it like, a shame pleasure, or like something that like, you need to investigate, right? Like, Theres a movement behind it, that is required. one
Morgan: There's other people, with shame. There's other people, right?
Andrea Martucci: It's the awareness of being in a social situation where you're being in a society perceived to do something, right? Yeah. Yes. It's social psychology, not just psychology. Right? Yeah.
Isabeau: And I like, I think that's really valuable and I think one of the things that makes it valuable is also like the inherent ness of. community part of it where it's like one of the things that's always been super cool about romance is like people have always been talking about it and like you know whether it's fan forums or this or that or the other thing and like it's when you find yourself self editing and like we've talked about this before. What's the value of a review anymore if everyone gets three and a half or four stars because it's like somebody's kid's college fund or their mortgage or whatever it's like It's not valuable if you're lying.
It's like you can't get anywhere if you're lying. It's okay to say that books have problems and it's good to investigate the pleasures that you feel in them.
Morgan: I think we've all felt frustrated by romance's resistance to serious critical inquiry, but I also think it's important to acknowledge that like sci fi, which is like the genre darling of critical inquiry very much relies on that. Oh, no, it's actually good thing. And it's not always actually good. Like you can't just say that.
And I [00:27:00] think it actually hinders like how that discipline saunters on is because there's a lot of skinny dudes in band tees and glasses insisting on the superiority of an inferior piece of craft.
Isabeau: And I think to the point about Linda Howard specifically, she's an incredible craftswoman.
This book is propulsive. But the thing that you just said about sci fi dudes, and This uninvestigated id, right? Somebody introduced me to a Heinlein quote that I guess I hadn't read before, where he's like, the only thing to have a good life is the love of a good woman and to kill a bad man.
And I was like,
And like, the person who was telling me about it just said it like, it was true. Like, this Heinlein quote had so much bearing on our existence. And I was like, Heinlein? Starship Troopers, the novel Heinlein? And this is the quote?
Okay, say more, please. And he's like, what else is there to say?
And I was like, Oh, a lot.
Morgan: A lot of it. That was that person also like, saying something highly personal and bringing it to you as if it was a universal truth. Yes. Which demonstrates the problem with not talking about yourself out loud.
Andrea Martucci: Yes.
Yeah. Right, yeah, it creates this narrative that the only people who enjoy these shameful things must be deficient or different in some way when Yeah.
Morgan: Not you.
Andrea Martucci: Not me. Yeah. I could never enjoy this, right? Like it, right? And like shame is literally where your attitudes about something, your beliefs about something are not in line with your behavior.
So the behavior of reading this. And then enjoying it and continuing to read it or other things like it. I'm like, no, I don't want to enjoy this. This is not in line. But the thing that I'm getting from it, the pleasure I'm getting from it, it must be in me somewhere, right?
There is some reason I am enjoying it. And right, if we press it down and we're just like, I will not investigate that. A, we don't understand ourselves. And I do think that like that shame function, like the point of that in a society is to be like, look at your choices, look at your life, right?
And I don't think the choice question is reading the book. It's look at your society. Look at your life. Is this in line with your values? Yeah, and again, it's not the book. The function is we're supposed to look up and be like, oh, Hey, wait a second. Like actually, yeah, that is the world we live in.
And the reason it feels good is it's because it's trying to repair or address something. Yeah, that is our lived experience, right? Like the fantasy world that we go to. Whatever, this is something I believe. I feel like the [00:30:00] problematics, we enjoy them because they're problematic, because they are speaking to our experience, something that is relevant for us, which is why we find white women problems as white women, so fascinating and interesting.
And how it is fairly easy for us to not necessarily be pulled out of that fantasy when, other characters are marginalized and their needs are not centered, right? And and I think like that like to me is I'm just like, how can I enjoy this despite intellectually knowing this is wrong?
And it's like, guess what? That's what I do all day, every day, living my life.
Morgan: Yeah, exactly. It's built for you. It's made for you. Of course you're going to feel this way.
Isabeau: You should enjoy it. Like, it was for you, as Morgan just said. Yeah,
Morgan: two things can be true. It can be bad, and it can be, made for you to feel good. I also think there's this thing where a lot of feminist consumerism revolves around this idea that your personal experience is somehow going to contribute towards a net positive. I enjoyed reading this book, so even though it has these problematic aspects, I think it's a net positive.
No. Your individual experience is not actually making a positive contribution like, is not tipping that scale. Especially because it's a personal experience. Now, you can stop it from making things worse, which is what it has more potential to do, I think. But like, yeah, pretending like this doesn't exist is clearly not the way forward.
And further, to pretend like it isn't appealing is also dangerous.
Andrea Martucci: And to come back to Linda Howard, the craftswoman if we try to make the case that this is bad and we should know it's bad, then we can't investigate rhetorically and narratively why this is so compelling, because we have to deny that it is compelling for us.
Right? Like, We're special, and we are not influenced by this. And so I think that attitude seeks to further distance us from really understanding how the world impacts us and persuades us.
I think in particular, let me make this political for a second. I think I am much more attuned now to dehumanizing language in news articles about, the Palestine and Israel conflict feels like the wrong word here, the genocide of Palestinians by Israel maybe more accurate.
And, I started reading this like shitty Atlantic thing that was going around and I saw all this dehumanizing like they're monsters. It was about like Hamas, but basically Palestinians being evil monsters brutal animal, like all of these words. And I was just like holy shit. What the, this is first of all, this is like not unbiased. And then of course you read like for one second longer and you're like, Oh, this guy clearly has a political agenda and whatever. [00:33:00] And it was like this is so blatant, but there are people who will read this and will be like, Yeah, because you have to be able to spot those things.
And be aware how the ways information is communicated changes how you feel about it. That's marketing, baby.
Morgan: That's, you would know.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Morgan: I, yeah. I like that question about, how do you feel about shame? We should ask more people that.
Isabeau: Yeah, I think it's really productive, but I also think that's one of the holdovers where it's like, I think what you said about being more attuned to dehumanizing language.
I think that's true for me too, but I'm also like, like the glaring aspects of it. I'm very attuned to but it's also like, the much more subtle ones now that I think because I just read so much where it's like, just what you said about de centering the story, like, where the narrative subject is in relation both to the action that is being described or anything else I am much more aware of, like, where the subject is in a sentence or a paragraph.
And I think part of it is because I read so much romance fiction where it's like the subject is always super present and if it's not it's for a reason. Yeah. That's made my other reading, especially of stories that are like coming out of the genocide, it's impossible to ignore once you see it.
And I think it's like, those are the actions that you can take from a craftswoman like Linda Howard, where it's like, how does she pull her sentences together? How does she create that propulsive momentum between characters and scenes? Like, all of these were choices. Yeah. And I think you're right to say that by boxing it away my fear about that is okay, do that.
So we don't talk about Linda Howard for 10 years. Okay. It's not like her books disappear or that her craft goes away. And then what's worse is that someone just discovers her and then it feels like subversive, like they're like some punk rock version of like, did you know that there's this like fucking metal book out there?
It's like, oh.
Morgan: Well, It's just like Sheik romances coming back over and over again. And it's not even necessarily that they read, E. M. Hull or whatever.
Isabeau: In fact, they probably didn't.
Morgan: Yeah, in fact they probably, it's that they had an idea that they did not approach critically.
Andrea Martucci: It's that they watched Gone with the Wind and thought the dresses were really pretty and missed the point. They watched American Psycho and they were like, I want a business card like that.
Morgan: exactly. They watched Mad Men and didn't realize.
Andrea Martucci: That Don Draper is not somebody that you want to emulate.
Morgan: Yeah, exactly. We do it all the time. And I think Isabeau makes a really great point as romance readers, you have a unique opportunity in genre fiction, which genre fiction, we should clarify, is fiction that adheres to a certain set of rules so that readers can have a certain set of expectations coming into them.
And so genres would be like horror, [00:36:00] sci fi, romance, of course, and they're often considered lower forms of art. And more craft related, probably. But sci fi is so inherently, and horror as well, but maybe to a lesser extent, because I do think horror is a lot more sensual. And sci fi is a lot more political.
Fantasy, another great example, right? Those things are comfortable with bad feeling. And bad feeling is not necessarily interpersonal. It can certainly be structural. It can certainly be institutional.
Whereas in romance bad feeling comes from miscommunication, but it's actually all fine. And it all has to be all fine at the end. When you have bad feeling when you're reading romance, it's because there's something embedded rather than forefronted in the text, and for the most part, and I think, unless you're reading certain authors actually.
Starship Troopers, it's all there on the page, literally, that dehumanizing language, much less so in the case of Linda Howard and so it's almost a more productive way to see how people of a certain time and place, that might be 1990, Houston, Texas her book is dedicated to she says, God bless Houston, Texas in 1985.
What a statement, right?
Andrea Martucci: Do you know what I think it was? I think it would have been one of the RWA conferences, because RWA was based in Houston, and I know Linda Howard was one of the very early members of RWA, which I believe officially started in 1982.
Morgan: So we can learn a lot about time, place, context, but we can't, but we do have to excavate it, because there's so much in that prologue that set me up to believe this is different. This is a Western that understands its position as a colonizer. And I think maybe that's true, partially true. But I also think it does not understand itself as an enactor of it.
Yeah. And... And that's an interesting, very productive question, Andrea.
Andrea Martucci: Thank you.
Morgan: How do you feel about returning to it before this conversation, how did you feel before you started reading?
Andrea Martucci: I procrastinated quite a bit.
Because I think I was both afraid that it would not resonate with me. And afraid that it would feel the same it felt before. And like, I read aloud the scene where Jake hits Victoria , I read it to my husband last night. And he's like, why did you like this? And I'm like,
I'm going to find out tomorrow and he did also make the observation, he's like, is Linda Howard the Cormac McCarthy of romance novels? And [00:39:00] when I think about the feeling this book leaves me with, it's, like the way, like The Road, you're just like, it's so bleak and it will never get better.
It's interesting that her work. resonates so much because I do think it's a very bleak world. It's a bleak world about human interaction, about civilization, and the society that we live in where almost everybody has malintent, including the quote unquote heroes of the story.
Nobody can be trusted, everybody is trying to rape you, and take from you, and it's it's just such a worldview that, I think that is like my greatest memory of like her oeuvre, is that, and I think I was afraid and ashamed that was going to appeal to me.
Isabeau: Having you describe her worldview for me like that, I was like, yeah, she's just she really ascribes the castle doctrine. 100%. This is a person who supports stand your ground laws. And would also justify that through a historical worldview, right?
This is a person who'd be like well, it's only like, it was like in 1834 blah, blah. And it was like.
Morgan: Well, I Think Cormac McCarthy is a pretty generative parallel to draw because I think like he does have this super bleak world and it's not a worldview.
It's a view of the West. It's a view of the desert It's as if it's a problem, and it's a place where we need to put people who can't fit into society but it's actually white affluent society, we need to put them there so that they can move the meter.
It's interesting that Linda Howard tells us that people were thriving happily in New Mexico before the Spanish showed up.
And now it has fallen into this. bleak world, right? Like the problem is the Texan. The problem isn't isn't the place itself. That's also, I think, how Cormac McCarthy approaches it, right? It isn't the place itself, it's these people who show up. I'm thinking of Blood Meridian, and The Road, I think is both a penultimate, but also somehow an utter outlier to his work.
But they are both, all of his works are pretty sad.
Andrea Martucci: I don't know if this will be surprising to you, but she only wrote a couple historicals. And the majority of her work are a lot of them are romantic suspense or romantic suspense adjacent, and she started doing a lot of like like billionaire type guys, like corporate raider types.
There was always that domination element, but then increasingly started going into military and cop. Yeah,
Isabeau: that doesn't surprise at all, right? Like that like men are men. Women are women.
Morgan: They're just like regular raiders in this book.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. But I think it's like a, it's a sense that there is a rule book that [00:42:00] we should live by.
It's not always the actual rule book, like society says you have to be married to enjoy it. I say, if you're in love, you can enjoy sex. Out in the wild west, the laws may allow this, but good people believe a certain thing.
It is very much this worldview that it's like my worldview is the right one and I have the right to enforce that against all of these chaotic individuals who refuse to have any sort of like sense of decency and goodness, but like the behavior of these individuals is violent and brutal.
It is as bad if not worse as any of the things the people that they're, like, punishing are, but it's done under the guise of righteousness. Yeah. Which definitely makes you think of a lot of wars that have happened. And, just justification for that.
A lot of police brutality is done under that guise. And I do think that there is like this, Morgan, you're talking about like, they were fine before, like in the 25, 000 years prior. But I think that there's also this, but they were simple people. They didn't have rules and society.
Morgan: still this sense of entering a vacuum.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. And, but and so I think like the worldview is well, that's all well and good, but that's not the world we live in now. The world we live in now needs for the good people to win.
Isabeau: To have guns.
Andrea Martucci: And to have guns. A good guy with a gun is the way you save things.
And there's no interrogation of like, does everyone need to have guns? What if there were no guns? Yeah, what if the way we handled land disputes was not by killing people. . Yeah. What if , what if we didn't go into other countries and put dictators in place? .
Victoria's story is like moving from like one failed idea of a America into a hopeful one, and I think the difference is like bureaucracy, like back in the American South, violence and domination is enacted by deeds and paperwork and government and institution, and now she's moving into the West where someone forgot to file a piece of paperwork that no one told them was important, and now it's just anyone who shows up with enough hired guns can have that property.
And can have that path forward to make a life for themselves. And this rugged individualism as a solution to the state is very present,
Isabeau: Very America, but also you said this thing about the forces of decency against the forces of chaos, and I think that's where you get the hierarchy of violence, where it's like, this is sanctioned and okay violence because it is fighting against indecency and chaos.
Morgan: But it has to do with personal moral and ethics and not and
Isabeau: order. And like a personal order, not a bureaucratic order, because there
Morgan: is no yes,[00:45:00]
Andrea Martucci: and I mean it's so interesting you say that because oftentimes like her military heroes are basically like
Isabeau: lone wolves?
Andrea Martucci: They're lone wolves and they're either like mercenaries or they're part of this shadowy
Isabeau: Like Delta Force or like Rangers or something.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, so like vigilantes.
Morgan: Just like PAW Patrol. Cool.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yep.
Andrea Martucci: Look, I don't know enough about PAW Patrol to know like how accurate that is, but I love that you brought that up.
Isabeau: Military cop propaganda. Every single one of them's a cop, even the one that flies the helicopter.
Morgan: Then they're all like privately funded, and by a child super genius or something.
Isabeau: Yeah. None of it's good.
Andrea Martucci: This is why Batman had to destroy the net. What was it called? He had to destroy the thing that listened in to everybody's conversations because it wasn't right for him as a vigilante to have all that power, even though he convinced himself that's why he needed it, was because he was in the right and he was going to use it for good.
Isabeau: The worst thing to happen to Gotham City was Batman.
Andrea Martucci: I don't know about you guys, but I think we sliced this ball sack right open.
Morgan: We did. I can't believe we didn't talk about the semi castration, or the scene of the wife beating, which is like very jarring and upsetting
and I would think, maybe intentionally and maybe.
Isabeau: It was definitely intentionally that.
Morgan: That's, yeah, I think it was like, look at how bad he is. Not for a road to redemption, but I don't know.
Andrea Martucci: Wait, which wife beating are you talking about?
Morgan: Whenever she was like, I'm pregnant, and it's yours.
Andrea Martucci: Oh, that, no, we talked about that, didn't we?
Isabeau: We didn't talk about it in all its gory details. Oh, okay.
Morgan: The cold clap. Listen, it happened. It happened. Yeah. But that also feels honestly, like the least interesting thing going on in this book.
Andrea Martucci: That's, yeah. That's sad. . It's sad how mundane violence against women is.
Morgan: Yeah. What was your, can I ask before we say goodbye, Andrea, what was your sexiest part in this book?
This reading, I think this outing
Andrea Martucci: I can't help but find the scene where they have sex in the middle of the day in the office. sexy.
Isabeau: It's very good.
Andrea Martucci: Cause he's just desperate to break down the walls that she keeps rebuilding during the day to keep him out because he desperately wants to know her true core self.
And he's so frustrated. He can't understand why. Because he is giving her such pleasure. He's getting an erection back 30 seconds after orgasming.
Morgan: He didn't even extract himself.
Andrea Martucci: No. No.
Morgan: Oh, can you imagine that feeling?
Andrea Martucci: Mind over matter. But you know what? It's such a just like fantasy world where you can will yourself to do whatever is needed.
And yeah. Anyways, that scene always gets me. [00:48:00] Love it. Very sexy. Oh my gosh.
Isabeau: Well with that? Loosen your stays.
Morgan: But never your principles.
Andrea Martucci: and definitely not your union suits
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 Shelflovepodcast.com 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 shelflovepodcast.Substack.com. Thank you to Shelf Love's $20 a month Patreon supporters: Gail, Copper Dog Books, and Frederick Smith. I have a great day. Bye!
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antagonist april, audience reception, book discussion, book recommendations, business of books, category romance, contemporary romance, crossover podcast, fanfiction, film discussion, genre discussions, historical romance, joyful hag book club, joyful problematizing, original scholarship, pop culture in the classroom, problematic favorite trope, quarantine romance book club, queer romance, romance in pop culture, romance myths, romance novel discussion, romance novelist representations, romance scholarship, scholarly, scifi and fantasy romance, tell me about, tv show discussion, video available, young adult