075. Jennifer Crusie: Nothing But Good Times Ahead
Jennifer Crusie drops in to talk about Dove Bars, dogs, normative ideals of white middle class baby boomer womanhood, divorce, unconditional love, RWA, and all the good times ahead we've been wondering about.
Jennifer Crusie drops in to talk about Dove Bars, dogs, normative ideals of white middle class baby boomer womanhood, divorce, unconditional love, RWA, and all the good times ahead we've been wondering about.
- Sign up for the email newsletter list | Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Email: Andrea@shelflovepodcast.com
- 15 Romance Novel Audiobooks that Combine Swoony Words with Great Performances
- Check out Shelf Love’s updated website including the transcript for this episode
- Shelf Love episodes with transcripts
Guest: Jennifer Crusie
Shelf Love Episodes mentioned:
- Episode 002: the episode about Crusie's Oeuvre that started it all
- Episode 068: Happily Ever Existential Dread: how the desire for HEA is all about a future we don't have to imagine
- Episode 047: Shelf Lovely Jess drops in to talk about how I used Crusie to lure her into my new podcast and she never left (also we talk about Rose Lerner's books and Sunfire romance)
- Sarina Bowen - The Year We Fell Down
- Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
- The Murderbot Diaries - Martha Wells
- Contemporary romance by Mhairi McFarlane
- Rivers of London Series by Ben Aaronovitch
Andrea Martucci: (music: Classical morning music: Grieg - Morgenstimmung) [00:00:00]Monday, October 26th, 2020. I began the day as I begin every work day. I hit snooze approximately seven times. And when it became apparent that I could delay the inevitable no longer, I begrudgingly unlocked my phone and began my morning routine of opening every application on my phone with notifications, hoping that the sweet dopamine hits would lure me from my warm, cozy bed.
There! An email!
Dove bars, the subject line read and the sender was - I sat up in bed, faster than was wise, but I suddenly felt my blood pumping through my body as if I were running or reviewing a particularly exciting data visualization. (music rises)
An email from Jenny Crusie. Surely not, no, it couldn't be the Jennifer Crusie and yet when I clicked, yes, it was an email from the author I discovered at the tender age of 14 and whom I'd credit as awakening my love of romance novels. Quote, "since you asked, they're ice cream bars" end quote, and a link to Dove Vanilla ice cream bars with milk chocolate. Quote, "sorry it took me so long to find the podcast. Thanks for talking about my stories" signed Jenny. But how did we get to this point?
The story begins 13 months earlier. (music: mood shift. Now a snappy retro tune.)
September 24th, 2019. Episode two of Shelf Love makes its way into the world. As Jennifer Crusie was a formative influence on my love of romance novels, it seemed fitting to discuss her work immediately when I started a romance novel podcast.
On the episode, I'm joined by Amanda Diehl, and 22 minutes into the episode, we're discussing recurring themes in Crusie's novels.
(clip from episode 2)
Last but not least, Dove Bars are spoken of frequently as if it is like the only dessert that exists on earth, and I don't even, I mean, is it just a chocolate bar? I literally don't know.
Amanda Diehl: When I think of Dove bars, I think of like the ice cream.
Andrea Martucci: That's what I thought too. But I feel like in other times they're spoken of more like chocolate bars. I don't know is this like a regional thing? Seriously, if you're listening to this and you know this cultural reference, you understand what product Jenny Crusie is describing. [00:02:30] I mean, in fact, Jenny Crusie, if you're listening, please, we want to know, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us.
And then I waited. I didn't know I was waiting until that fateful morning over a year later when Jenny Crusie appeared in my inbox.
I woke up and I saw this email and first I died. And then when I came back into my body, (Jenny Crusie laughing) and I was like, this is my moment. I've been training all my life.
(end clip) Hello, and welcome to episode 75 of Shelf Love, a podcast that unpacks romance novels with nuance. In conversations with scholars, readers, and other experts, Shelf Love, contextualizes the popular romance genre within the broader critical discussion of identity, culture, and love. Happy 2021 friends, new year, new tagline.
I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And my guest today is Jennifer Crusie.
Marker [00:03:30] Jennifer Crusie: Open book. Go wherever you want, sweetie.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. Awesome. So we'll start with you introducing yourself and that'll be how we open.
Jennifer Crusie: Okay. It's a very short introduction. Oh yeah. And there will be dogs in the background. I'm sorry, Veronica, shut up.
Andrea Martucci: Dogs. What a surprise?
Jennifer Crusie: What a surprise. I'm Jenny Crusie and I write romance and some other things
Andrea Martucci: So you have spoken about your conservative upbringing. And I'm curious if you could give a little bit of background on the cultural and social stories that you grew up with that informed in your formative years, your ideas about love and relationships and maybe, ideas of womanhood and what that looks like and what the good life looked like.
Jennifer Crusie: This will be harrowing. I grew up in a very conservative, small town in a very conservative, small family. Most of the stories my family told were about how great my grandfather's credit was. We had our own business, it was an electric store where you could buy vacuum cleaners and so on.
So it was always about reputation and how you presented yourself to the community and that you paid all your bills on time. And there weren't a lot of love stories. (laughs) My parents had a very conservative marriage. The first time I saw them kiss each other was when she was in the hospital, in her sixties.
Andrea Martucci: Wow.
Jennifer Crusie: That just wasn't something they did before my brother and me. When I left to go to college, my mother's best friend [00:05:00] said, (name of town) just lost half its democratic population. There were only two of us. My entire family is still Republican. I have no idea why I walked away from that.
My mother was stunned when I told her I wanted to go to college. It just was a very retro, pre fifties even. I mean, they were living in a world that no longer exists. Outside there was civil rights and the feminist revolution and protests, and it never touched me when I was growing up.
So going to college was a real shock. (laughs) It was wonderful.
Andrea Martucci: And so in getting exposure to maybe even just the current culture outside of your small town, outside of your family, did that start happening in college?
Jennifer Crusie: I think it happened before that because I read so much. I read constantly and all kinds of fiction. I was a big science fiction reader, big mystery reader. And really just anything I could get my hands on. So I was already radicalized. And then of course I went to college and it was in the very late sixties, early seventies, and the whole world was exploding. And I fairly quickly discovered sex, which would have appalled my mother. I always remember I went home once and had lunch with my mother and a friend of hers. And after a couple of martinis, the friend looked at me and said, is sex different with different men?
And I said, Oh my God. Yes. And then of course I had to peel my mother off the ceiling. Cause that meant I wasn't a virgin.
But literally the bubble they lived in - I don't think I could ever again look at my mother's generation and not feel sorry for it. But what they did have of course, were romance novels where people had sex. And of course that wasn't realistic because the sex was good, but, they had that.
I always thought it was interesting I never came to be radicalized by romance novels because I never read that many. Big Georgette Heyer fan, but I never did the Harlequin thing, because I think those are mainly passed to you by your mother. Aren't they? Your mother or your aunts or something? Wasn't Harlequin that underground tradition?
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So many people have the stories of finding them on bookshelves around the house or, or, you know, on the, on the back of the toilet or like all around.
Jennifer Crusie: My mother wasn't a reader. [00:07:30] There wasn't anybody to hand those to me. So I found things mostly through, I think I probably found Georgette Heyer through mystery, but that was the kind of things where you read these books about these strong heroines. And some of them may have been encased in Regency, but they were still so strong. And The Grand Sophy? My God, that's wonderful. Just the strong, vibrant women who claim their spaces. That is revolutionary.
Andrea Martucci: So my mom was not a romance reader. but thankfully I had access to the library.
Jennifer Crusie: Oh yeah.
Andrea Martucci: And the library book sale of which I was a volunteer sorting through books.
Jennifer Crusie: Very smart.
Andrea Martucci: Oh yes. I would sit in there and quote, unquote sort books, into a pile to take home.
Jennifer Crusie: Absolutely.
Andrea Martucci: And so I was sneaking romance into my house. Because I would say my upbringing was conservative in some ways. Like my parents are very Catholic and, my mother in particular probably would have like frowned on romance novels. She pretends now like she knew all along, I was hiding them, but I don't think she knew at the time.
And so I was sneaking these romance novels into the house as like a teenager. I would go to Borders because Borders still existed then. You know, this was like the cool thing you did at 16. And I had a purse with a secret compartment, to hide -
Jennifer Crusie: so you could sneak them into the house!
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So -
Jennifer Crusie: Good girl.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. I was very, I was ingenious. So you've written in a lot of essays and I think also infused this into the books that you've written, this idea about fairytales and rewriting these. fairytale stories in a way that centers women as active agents who recognize and question the things that they desire or I'm sorry- who recognize and quest for the things they desire. And
Jennifer Crusie: I think question is good too though.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, actually, I misread, but I was right. I'm thankful that stories like yours were available by the time I started reading romance. So this would have been, late nineties, early two thousands.
And, I think that your books, and some other people's books made a huge positive impact in how I envisioned my own future as a young woman, who maybe envisioned a future that was larger than I would have envisioned without those stories. And helped me understand which cultural scripts I wanted to ascribe to [00:10:00] and just presented more options, I think.
Jennifer Crusie: This is incredibly flattering by the way. Thank you so much.
Andrea Martucci: Well, and I think that this is the thing is like, not all romances that I read at that time were like that. And I can only imagine that prior to you writing romance, and other people - it's always hard to like pin down the first person to do anything, but, that things continued to change over time, and I benefited from being able to read your books and now people who are writing in 2020, are writing things that are maybe much more progressive than -
Jennifer Crusie: absolutely
Andrea Martucci: - what I read. And, so I can't imagine how different my life would have been without romance novels. But, you said in one of our emails that when you look back at the books you wrote like 20 plus years ago, that, sometimes you think that they're less revolutionary and more staid, but I was wondering if you could say more about that. I have a hypothesis, around how things build and evolve, but I'm curious what your thoughts are.
Jennifer Crusie: I think it's like Blade Runner. If you show a teenager today Blade Runner, they'll kind of yawn . But when it first came out, it was revolutionary. It changed storytelling in the movies. It was that amazing. But then everybody built on it. Which is what you do. We're all standing on the shoulders of giants. So people took from that and used the same tropes and developed them and made them better and made them more exciting. And now Blade Runner, is still a very good movie, isn't that amazing anymore.
And while I would not put myself on the level of Blade Runner, I think the same thing happened to those of us who were trying to do different things in the nineties. I remember my first editor for my first book said the day my book came out, she went in her office and closed the door and put her head on the desk and prayed her career wasn't over because there were so many things about it that rejected romance tropes. And of course I was so dumb. I didn't know. (laughs) I didn't realize.
I had started a standard romance after reading a lot of them, I read a lot of them for my PhD research, the PhD I do not have, by the way, I never finished it.
Andrea Martucci: Oh no! You did all the work
Jennifer Crusie: I did all the work. And then I went into the MFA program. I have an MFA, so I just never wrote the dissertation. I was too busy writing other things, but I started a romance that I thought would be a traditional romance because I was actually doing it from an academic point of view. I wanted to see what it was like to [00:12:30] write a romance. And I got about 20,000 words in and I thought, I wouldn't have lunch with these people. Why am I writing about them?
Andrea Martucci: Yep. (laughs)
Jennifer Crusie: So started the romance I wanted to read, which turned out to be. And I didn't go in thumbing my nose at romance tropes. I just went in and thought, this is the love story I'd like to tell, this is the love story I'd like to live. Let's, let's talk about what's good in life.
And I think maybe not having a long tradition in romance was part of that. There have been writers who wrote to me and said, I didn't want to write romance until I read Manhunting. And then I thought, Oh wait, you can do this. And it turned out to be a big hit for Harlequin too. My editor was just fine.
But I think the things that I was angry about, the things that I wanted to write about, the things that I wanted romance to be, we passed all those things a long time ago.
The genre is amazingly fluid and amazingly responsive to social change. Any thoughts I had that were radical were probably not radical by the time the century rolled around. And that's just part of the evolution of social change and ideas, and in this case romance.
Andrea Martucci: And I think that what I see so often in the discourse about romance, your books come up so frequently and people often are citing them as, wow. This was the first time I saw a childless happily ever after, or an older heroine or a couple that didn't want to get married or, various things that I think your books consistently did. It wasn't like, you know, Jenny Crusie wrote 25 books and one of them had a divorced heroine. You consistently presented characters that were not the traditional romance heroine, or, traditional quote unquote HEA, according to what else was being published at the time. And I think even now in 2020, there's a lot of those things where they are more common now, but, not markedly, so, yeah.
Jennifer Crusie: Right. Well, I think a lot of it is none of my heroines would be at all outrageous in real life. They were all the kind of people I knew. In other words, I wasn't doing Wonder Woman, (laughs) or Black Widow or somebody - these are all people you could have lived next to. And they were all people I would have had lunch with. I always thought that was important.
But I remember when I first [00:15:00] started to study romance, they talked about how narrow it was that your heroine had to be young and that she virginal and there was just a whole list of things that they couldn't do. And none of it made sense. There are a few things that I would never do, like kill an animal in a book. The dog does not die in my books, you're safe or harm children or things like that. That doesn't mean I think those things shouldn't be in a book: those are my "you'll never do this," but pretty much anything else I'll do because you gotta go where the story takes you.
When I first started writing romance had narrowed so much. And a lot of that was just because Harlequin had such a stranglehold on it. And Harlequin was run by men -
Andrea Martucci: Fancy that, yeah.
Jennifer Crusie: A lot of women and editors, but the, the whole thrust of the thing was "we are making cans of soup here." You make sure all the soup is the same. I really saw what I was doing as just writing stories. What about people you'd meet on the street? But because of how narrow romance was at the time they seemed revolutionary. If they did. I don't know.
Andrea Martucci: look , I think they did. And I understand if somebody comes into romance in the year 2020, and they're just starting reading and they're comparing it to some things published in 2020, I can understand how people are like. You know, they weren't part of the, zeitgeists like your example with Blade Runner. You have to consider it in the context of what's going on at the time and what else is available at the time.
And at one point was like, Oh, I'm going to be a romance writer. And so I got all the books and I downloaded Harlequin's submission guidelines and stuff. And I remember distinctly that, Romance Writing for Dummies Book, and it's like, this is how heroines should be, this is how heroes should be. In addition to being completely hetero-centric and cis-centric and a million other centrics - white centric. It's also very much like, Oh, you can never have a hero who's an artist. People don't like it. And -
Jennifer Crusie: I know I had to go through hell to get my older heroine, younger man published.
I really had to argue for it. Because they'd done one the year before by a very good writer and it had tanked. And I said, look, I think I had them 16 years apart and she said, can it just be like two or three? And I said, what moron would walk away from a great guy who was two years younger than you?
So we compromised on 10 years. I remember, but there was a lot of that. They had a fit when I did, a heroine who was a painter for the same thing. And what I really remember that's ludicrous now is they [00:17:30] said, no athletes. (Andrea made a face on video) I know, there's like entire subgenre (laughing) , but it was like, this is what we know works. And we're going to stay right here in this. Yeah. It was crazy back then.
Andrea Martucci: Well, and then when the options are limited, it's like, well, people keep buying them. So that must be what people like. And it's such a self-fulfilling prophecy, right?
Jennifer Crusie: Right. And I think they were identifying the wrong things because they never looked beneath the surface. They were selling soup. But what they were also selling was women in charge of their own lives, women telling their own stories and they missed that totally.
Which means that as long as you've got a heroine that your reader connects to who is in charge of her own life, you've got a great novel for women. Men just never quite got it. I think for a long time with the Harlequins, most of them would never read one.
Well, they were
Andrea Martucci: used to being at the center of their stories.
Jennifer Crusie: Exactly. And I have a master's degree in lit, so, you know, Anna Karenina, Hester Prynne, dear god, Madame Bovary. You can have great sex in a novel, but then you die.
Andrea Martucci: Then you gotta suffer for it. Gotta be punished. Sorry.
Jennifer Crusie: Yeah, sorry. You dirty girl. And of course now that's a romance title. Dirty, Dirty Girl. I should write that.
Andrea Martucci:Yeah, you should.
Jennifer Crusie: It was just so refreshing. I remember I was talking with an academic and he was saying, the history of a romance novel, you know, kind of sneering, he said where would you start?
And I said, Oh, I'd start with The Wife of Bath because in the Canterbury Tales, she walks in and she takes the male narrative, the capital R romance, and she puts herself straight in the center of it. And she rewrites it for women. And that was the first time I'd ever had a male academic look at me and go wait, tell me more about it.
But that's the key, it's the woman at the center of the narrative, making the choices, some of which include a lot of great sex in some novels. But I don't want to say they don't pay for it because you pay for life, but they don't pay for it because they're women having sex. There isn't a sense of society pressing down on them.
They make bad mistakes and then they pick themselves up and go on. Like you do.
Andrea Martucci: I think sometimes heroines, in the sense that, it is imagined that the reader who is imagined to be a woman is inserting herself into the position of the heroine role that I think there's a lot of emphasis on like, Oh, [00:20:00] people want to be able to see themselves in this person, this character slash they don't want anything that interrupts the idea that it is them. So like too many identifying details can be problematic if that's your mindset.
And, I think that's weird because I read fiction to escape my own life. I don't necessarily feel like I always have to agree with every decision a character makes or - honestly, a lot of decisions characters make I'm like, that's puzzling to me. I would never do that, but okay. Whatever.
And I think that, there were actually a lot of things in your books that I think probably common wisdom at the time would say, Oh no, don't put that in. That will alienate readers who don't want to identify with that. But the mean, or the grumpy heroine. When I was, you know, an angsty, chubby 14 year old, who was an introvert and a giant nerd, just like reading books all the time. I felt very grumpy and, very angsty, as I said. And I was like, Oh my God, like a character who isn't a Suzy Sunshine walking around and like forgiving her enemies constantly. And, letting people off the hook for treating her like crap and just, being handed things because she is beautiful and desirable, et cetera.
I think that really what you're doing with a lot of your characters, your heroines and your heroes, is challenging these traditional ideals of like white middle-class womanhood or white middle-class masculinity.
Jennifer Crusie: I think those are two different things because I think men are going, are dealing with different things than women. I've always thought. And I get a lot of pushback on this, so feel free to argue.
I think all women are just angry as hell.
Andrea Martucci: Oh yeah.
Jennifer Crusie: And just some of us are so good at repressing it or not acknowledging it. You know, the people with the very tight hairdos who stand on their front porch and say, I'm not angry! Those people, who smile while the world goes crazy around them.
But I think, first of all, we have a lot of reason to be angry. And how we deal with that is, is interesting to me. So, I mean, I wrote a character called cranky Agnes, and the thing that characterized her was her anger. She was just enraged all the way through there. And a lot of the interiority, the thing she was coping with, was trying to control that anger. Until she met a guy who was angrier than she was (laughs) , I think there's something really liberating about writing that anger, about your heroine saying the things your reader [00:22:30] wishes they can say in their real lives. Because let's face it, a lot of the stuff my heroines say would probably get them jailed or something, but, just that vicarious experience of finally saying, no, you're an idiot. No, that's not the way it is. I think there's a lot of catharsis in writing the angry heroine, depending on how you write her.
I think grumpy seems to be like a personal characteristic. Anger is an emotional reaction to what's happening around you. And, I can't think of the word I want, but "Me Too" is all of that anger finally coalescing. I always thought that was so interesting because I remember reading a lot of things about business men, who said now I don't know how to treat women because you have Me Too. And the obvious answer is just like you treat men, you dumb ass, they're not a separate entity. But just being able to break that idea of the male gaze and women as automatically sexual objects, which is why we wear makeup. One of the greatest things about the past 10 years is I haven't worn makeup at all. (laughs)
You know, we do our hair. Some people wear those incredible shoes that are gonna ruin their feet. But you do that because you need to present this image and the image you're presenting it to is the male gaze. And Me Too came along and said, okay, you can look, but if you touch, I'm going to rip off your arm and shove it up your professional ass, you know, unleash that anger.
And I think that's a lot of where your grumpy heroine or your snarky heroine, or however, she manifests herself. I think that's tapping into the anger that a lot of women have and are recognizing, and they can vicariously spew it through the novel.
And then of course you put it in the context of a romance novel, where the guy meets her and loves her, even though she's nuts, you're rebelling against society while you're moving into the safe space in society. So that's why I think the angry heroines are so great.
Andrea Martucci: You've basically just described my relationship with my husband who, puts up with me just being me, just me being me.
Jennifer Crusie: You know, he doesn't put up with you. If it was putting up with you, he'd of left a long time ago.
Andrea Martucci: How should I reframe that for myself? He's appreciating me.
Jennifer Crusie: He appreciate the spark and the joy and the life you bring to his relationship.
Andrea Martucci: I like that. I did have somebody tell me once, I was like, Oh boy, I worry that I'm just, [00:25:00] exasperating him. And, this person was like, he's just like watching you and having a good time.
Jennifer Crusie: Yeah. Yeah. That's when you know, you got a good one.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and so, to then switch over to cultural ideas of masculinity. I think that something that features a lot in your stories is men who feel if they are not the provider that, there's concern that they're not measuring up in some way, if they're not the provider.
I recently read Anyone But You, and, the conflict where the thing that she loved about him, then he was like, okay. And to keep her, I must become the provider and she can quit her job and I have to do a thing I hate.
Jennifer Crusie: I think in that particular case, first of all, if I was writing it now I wouldn't have written that. But I think in there he was trying to live up to her ex-husband. But I also think a lot of that comes from my generation. Where the man should always be taller and make more money and all of that.
And so, remember I'm divorced. But I remember when I was married at one point we were in bed and I heard something downstairs and I poked him and I said, Gary, I think there's somebody downstairs. He said, you go, you're tougher than I am anyway. (we both laugh) You know, now I get Book Bub, so I read all the blurbs and every time I get the one that says, "can he protect her?" I think, no, give her mace!
Andrea Martucci: She'll protect him!
Jennifer Crusie: But I think it's very much a fifties idea that has permeated the culture, the Navy Seal hero or the athlete who can beat up the guy who's being mean to the girl and what I really want to see is a girl beat him up. So you don't want to mess too much with the fantasy.
But it is toxic fantasy.
Andrea Martucci: It is a toxic fantasy. But then it overlaps, I think with the subconscious desire that we all have to be protected and safe.
Jennifer Crusie: We look at the way we move through the world differently because we are different. We're a lot more likely to be attacked on the street than a man. And we're a lot more likely to be overcome. So I don't think it's anti-feminist to say boy, it would be nice to have somebody at my back. Boy, it would be nice if I was being stalked to have somebody standing beside me going, you're not alone. I think where it goes over is the idea that she cannot possibly do this without him.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. And that she's a helpless victim. There's nothing she can do.
Jennifer Crusie: That's [00:27:30] key. That's key. She's gotta be in there making her own decisions. She doesn't just turn her life over to him and do whatever he says. That there is some agency there. I think your romance heroine always has to have agency. And that the, "can he protect her?"
It just digs into so many bad toxic ideas of masculinity. And it's so unfair to men because sometimes you can't protect her. That's a huge burden to place on a man. You have to do everything right. You have to be a billionaire athlete who can beat up the guy who's stalking her.
And, you know, if you're talking about female fantasy, go ahead. But if you're looking for a place for a man to root himself in those fantasies and find something that's realistic, I think you have to write male characters who have flaws and who screw up sometimes and who still is an object of desire. Human.
But I think what really gets under people's nerves is that most romance novels, not all of them, but most of them demand that the hero respect the heroine, that he listens to her, that he doesn't override her, that he doesn't force her to have sex, that there is an understanding of equality there. That he takes delight in her, not just because of her body. That there is a meeting of minds along with the meeting of bodies.
And that's one of the things I look at when I arc a novel. It isn't, when do they have sex? I don't care when they have sex. It's when do they slowly start to move together in the way they look at the world? And in the way they look at each other.
I'm writing a book right now in which she picks him up in the casino and they have sex in the first chapter. And then after that, they have to build because they both think it's that's going to be a one night stand and then the next day things change, but how they would arc that romance after that, how he deals with her family. And she deals with his work cohorts and how acknowledging that they are not a couple and never will be, they become a couple.
And I'm really interested in that emotional arc, because that's what tells you that after the happily ever after they're going to be okay. If it's just great sex and she's [00:30:00] beautiful and he's beautiful and Oh my God, they can't keep their hands off them.
I'm very happy for them. And I don't mind reading about that, but don't tell me they're going to make it for the next 50 years, because I haven't seen that on the page yet. That's the emotional arc and that's what makes a romance novel. And the sex always plays a part in that emotional arc, because you can't have sex with somebody without becoming vulnerable.
I don't care how brief the one night stand is, for that moment you're vulnerable. And that vulnerability shifts things. So where they emotionally come to the point where they're going to be that vulnerable with each other, it's not important because of what happens in bed. It's important because of what happens in the emotional arc.
It's why I don't do very explicit love scenes. In horror, you don't want to describe the monster,
Andrea Martucci: Right.
Jennifer Crusie: You want to give enough information that the reader describes the most horrific thing she can imagine. So in sex, you don't want to hit every move. Everybody who's reading your books already knows what all the moves are. What you want is what happens emotionally when that's happened, that's the emotional ride the reader needs.
Andrea Martucci: And you are speaking about basically like performativity, like the, if you dream it, you will be it almost. Like once you kind of start to perform the relationship and commit to performing the relationship that is in essence, what makes the relationship?
Jennifer Crusie: I think that until you both admit your interrelationship. You're not going anywhere anyway. And that's fine. Erich Fromm wrote The Art of Loving, and he said something in there that really informed everything I've done in romance. (post-production note from Andrea: I've been informed that The Art of Loving contains homophobia so....read with caution.)
He said, there's two stages to love, immature love, and mature love. Or if you want romantic love and unconditional love, you can describe it any way you want. But the first stage is I love you because I need you. I love you because you're beautiful. I love you because you're great in bed. I love you because you're funny. I love you because you make me feel good. I love you because you've read The Princess Bride, any of those things, and that's how romance novels start. Where they notice things about each other and they begin to connect.
The problem is those are all conditional. In other words, if one day you turned up and you look like crap, that's gonna harm the way I love you, because I need you to be beautiful.
Fromm says, the moment you move into mature love is when you don't care about that [00:32:30] stuff. And it's not, I love you because I need you. It's I need you because I love you. You. Doesn't matter, you can get old, you can be cranky. You can have a day where you're not funny. I don't care. I'm still gonna love you because I love you. The person you are.
And that's the big key to romance writing. Until you convince the reader that they love each other that way, or at least have the potential to move into that kind of love, you're writing infatuation. And infatuation is fun to write, I'm all for it. And that's the way every romance starts.
But I think by the end, by that last resolution, the reader has to have a pretty good subconscious understanding that these people are going to make it because they love each other unconditionally. They're in mature love.
Sorry. You got a lecture there you probably didn't want.
Andrea Martucci: No, that was amazing. Cause I think that actually answers. I was going to ask what is unconditional love? It was great to get that definition, because I think that when I hear unconditional love, I'm like, well, if somebody treats you like crap, should you can you to love - and so that's where my mind goes, but the way you just described it -
I mean, so let's segue into talking about divorce because I think,
Jennifer Crusie: OK (laughs)
Andrea Martucci: I think the logical question is, if you're in mature love, you're not gonna become distressed and lose your love for this person if they get old, as we are all wont to do.
Jennifer Crusie: Right.
Andrea Martucci: And, if they have an off day or whatever. The book I always think about is Fast Women, where we have two couples, both the hero and heroine have divorces, and, the hero has a better relationship with his ex than the heroine, but I think what you're describing there is people who grew apart and were no longer good for each other.
Jennifer Crusie: Exactly.
Andrea Martucci: And so now if we go back to talking about mature love, they had mature love and then what happened?
Jennifer Crusie: Okay. I've got a great quote for you here.
This is from Margaret Mead. She was married several times and people would ask her - she was an anthropologist. People would say, what do you attribute the failure of your marriage? And she'd say, none of my marriages failed. They were all good marriages. They just ended. And that's part of what's happening with our incredibly long lives now. People change, people evolve, and depending on whether you pay attention to each other and evolve together, or you evolve apart... and sometimes you can't do anything about that. Sometimes, the places you have to go [00:35:00] just lead you away from your partner. That doesn't negate the love you had before.
That doesn't mean your marriage failed. You had a great marriage and then you moved apart and you were going to be better apart. And so you severed it. So you could go on to live the new lives you were making.
And I think that's the thing about the H EA, the happily ever after, is that it says, and you will be happily married for the rest of your life with no work.
And that's ridiculous. Marriage is something you really have to work at. And at some point, for some people, you look at each other and it's not worth the work.
Now, of course, sometimes that's because the other person has done something horrible.
Andrea Martucci: Always possible.
Jennifer Crusie: Become abusive, cheated, whatever. But that also is that person has now become somebody he or she wasn't before. There's an evolution there, where they have made these choices. And in all cases, I go back to Margaret Mead. It doesn't mean everything that came before that was bad. It just means it's bad now. And the best thing you can do is walk away from each other. And that it's an end, but it's not a failure. It's the start of something new.
Andrea Martucci: Right. And I think that in real life, I'm like, yay divorce. if it's not working: end it. Great. You know, more access to divorce. Unfortunately, people like to talk about how, Oh, wow, all of a sudden, there's all these divorces in like the seventies and eighties and whatever.
And it's like, okay, what happened? Women had more economic power and were no longer dependent upon men? That's what happened. It wasn't that all of a sudden marriages were unhappy. Probably combined with cultural expectations about what marriage can and should be also, I mean, whatever, there was a lot of things going on there.
But, when it comes to a romance novel, the, the genre is built around this idea of the story ending with this happily ever after. And they ride off into the sunset. And, I recently had a clinical psychologist on and I was talking about existential dread and the fact that we're all gonna die and like how, I think that basically our desire for stories that ending on a high note, going off into the sunset is really because we just don't want to know what's going to happen. And, the way she described it was, basically it's the difference between what we know is going to happen in our life versus in the story. We don't want the future. We want the happily ever after, which is a future that we don't necessarily have to imagine.
I think that this is like one of these places [00:37:30] where everything you just described is perfectly logical from a real-world relationship standpoint.
Jennifer Crusie: But not satisfying in a fictional world?
Andrea Martucci: But it's weird because I find your stories satisfying, but I think that it calls into question for some people like, wait a second, they were HEA before, what happened, right? I think it challenges that for some people. It doesn't bother me, like obviously, but, I think that it is fairly radical in a genre that says that once you ride off into the sunset, everything's fine.
As opposed to an understanding that individuals change and that it is not a tragedy if two people who were at one time happy together, decide to separate,
Jennifer Crusie: There are two ways of looking at this. There are two levels here. One is the level you're working on, which is the subtextual level. And it's important. If you look at it at the writing level, the craft level, I think a story's moving from stability to stability. The first sentence she might've been stable, but then the bomb goes off and suddenly her life is just in chaos and her character arc throughout this, is how she has to change and what she actively does to achieve a new stability. So at the end, the reader, isn't worried about her anymore.
For a romance novel that's often the happily ever after. She was alone in the beginning, she was betrayed. She was whatever. And now she's with a good man or woman or whoever she has attached to, And now she's stable again.
I don't think any book I've ever written, except for Bet Me, promised a happily ever after. I think every heroine at the end of every book knew there were going to be rocks ahead, cause that's life. They were not going to look into each other's eyes and say, I agree, absolutely, with everything you're doing. There were going to be fights.
The difference in Bet Me was, it was a fairy tale, so I had to do, and they all lived happily ever after. So I put on the last chapter, is how it all turned out. I would never do that in another book. I don't do epilogues but the idea that they're in a safe space with each other, lives are stable, and they have a really good shot at making it. That's all I needed at the end of mine.
And then the reader, who is always - once you put a book out, you're only half of the authorship. The reader's the other half. [00:40:00] She reads into it, or he reads into it, everything they know and have experienced and all their hopes and desires. So that two different readers read two different books.
But what I want at the end is that reader can take that ending and extrapolate whatever to her is a reasonable future. That is stable, that she's not worried about the characters anymore. Nothing is up in the air. I don't do cliffhangers because I think the reader needs that stability. At the end of the story, it doesn't have to be a happy stability. It just has to be stable.
Andrea Martucci: So I just read The Secular Scripture by Northrop Frye and, he was talking about it from like a sense of identity and then identity up in the air. Who am I? And then resuming that, sense of self at the end.
Jennifer Crusie: Character arc.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Jennifer Crusie: Yeah, I'm not saying this about literature in general. This is just about my stuff, because I can't make pronouncements about literature in general, but what I want to write about is the most important thing that happens to this woman that generates this huge change that brings her into a better place.
And the interesting part of the story is that arc. A lot of the time it can just be the heroine separating her identity from her community or her family and discovering who she is on her own, separating her identity from her history. I hate the idea of the wound in the past.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Jennifer Crusie: Bad things could happen in the past, but it changes you, but it's not immutable. Just the idea that something happens, this bomb drops into her life in chapter one. And because everything is fragmented, she has to put her life back together.
And along with that, she has to put her identity back together because whatever it is that happens, challenges her idea of who she thinks she is, which is good. The best example of this is a movie, Moonstruck.
Andrea Martucci: Yep.
Jennifer Crusie: Because what happens is that Ronnie comes in and destroys Loretta's life. She is trying so hard to build a safe non-romantic , careful life. And he comes in and just blows it to shreds. And it's the best thing that ever happened to her because she needs to reconfigure her life.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Growth changes us for the better - hopefully for the better
Jennifer Crusie: In romance novels, we want to see that the heroine becomes stronger and smarter and happier. But of course, all of this in romance [00:42:30] novel is also hand in glove with this relationship. And relationships change people. You can't go into a relationship and say, I'm not going to make any changes for you. You got to take me just as I am, doesn't work. So there's also the arc of the relationship and seeing how these people work toward each other and connect and how they morphed themselves into puzzle pieces. So they fit together.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. So changing topics, tell me about dogs. Why do they feature so prominently? Is it a wink to the reader? Do you just love dogs?
Jennifer Crusie: I love dogs.
Andrea Martucci: You just love dogs.
Jennifer Crusie: I think that there weren't any dogs in the novella and my first novel. I wrote about dogs for the first time in Getting Rid of Bradley. I've always had dogs in my life. I'm crazy about dogs. Always rescue dogs. If they're wounded in some way, that just is better. I've got a little poodle now that has no kneecaps in her back legs, she's darling. And I'm trying to lure in a stray cat who's missing a paw. It's if there's something's wrong with them, they belong to me.
And there's probably really deep things I need to talk about in therapy for that, but in real life dogs just make everything better. So do cats, I'm not anti cat.
In fiction, they're just incredibly useful. They're a great way to characterize other people. The example I always use is if somebody says, "I love dogs" and then kicks a puppy, which do you believe? So you can involve characters in interactions with these animals and the way they react, will characterize them for the reader.
Crazy For You was one where I went over the top with the ex was torturing the dog. And that upset a lot of people. You can torture the heroine, don't torture the dog. Emotionally torturing the dog. Yeah. But, I just think it's an excellent way of characterization. If the heroine adopts a dog. What does that mean? In Welcome to Temptation, she adopts a dog, even though she's not a dog person. But this dog needs her and she's kind of ehhh, you know, so she gives it a ham sandwich. She doesn't know what she's doing.
Lucy was a dog rescuer. And in that case, it characterized the hero who didn't like dogs, but who found a stray dog on the street who was starving and brought it home to her because he knew that's what she'd want. That was one of those, you know, the emotional arc of how they move together.
That was a big step in that, that he not only recognized that there was a starving dog on the street, but he brought it into his car and (laughs) gave it his hamburger, then took it home to Lucy. So [00:45:00] dogs and cats in that way are just incredibly useful characterization devices.
My approach to fiction is pretty cold, it's very analytical so I have books that don't have dogs in them because I didn't need them, but when they are there, they tend to be important. There's no dog in the last two books I've written.
(gasps) Andrea Martucci: The book didn't need them?
Jennifer Crusie: I take it back. I take it back. The Nita Dodd book has a dog. She gets a dog from hell. (laughs)
Andrea Martucci: I'm thinking about all the dogs and I'm like, Oh, wow. Yeah. Again, I read Anyone But You the most recently, and I feel like there's also a metaphor there for her seeing herself in the dog?
Jennifer Crusie: Oh, I think so, too. Especially when she first picks it up at the pound and it's middle-aged and gross -
Yeah, you poor
Andrea Martucci: neglected dog that nobody else will take.
Jennifer Crusie: Exactly. There's a lot of that, I think.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I read all of your essays. So I'm curious, without putting words in your mouth, do you believe that romance genre writ large is a radical project or do you think that it's a genre whose structure creates the possibility of individual books being a radical project?
Jennifer Crusie: I think it's a radical construct because it puts the woman at the center of the narrative and that 50 years from now, it will no longer be a radical construct because we will be used to - half of the people in Congress will be women, half of the Supreme Court will be women, we'll have had women presidents.
Right now, we're still living in a patriarchy. We think we aren't because we're doing so much better than we were, but we're not living in a non-racist society. It's easy to think, things are really, equal now. They're not even close to being equal, but because it's improved so much from before - 50 years from now, I have great hopes that, I'm pretty sure they will, because the younger generations coming up, think a lot of our assumptions - and by our, the older generations, much older - are just ludicrous. The idea that skin tone should matter. It's just ridiculous. And it is ridiculous, but it's so baked in and the same way, the idea that women are not half of the experience, half of the intelligence. And in fact, don't do many things better than men, that is still baked in.
But it's evolving so fast. I'm so [00:47:30] excited about having a female vice president, especially Kamala, that's so great. But it's still revolutionary and it shouldn't be my God. It should not be revolutionary.
Andrea Martucci: So (big sigh) this is one of those areas where I wonder, I think that the romance genre started definitely as being female centered and then as the cultural conscious moved forward, I think there's many other people who are marginalized in other ways and who are looking for representations of their love. And so, you know, I think particularly like queer people who, may not see themselves or, see successful love stories told in other genres, I think also, have a place in romance and -
Jennifer Crusie: But don't you see that changing? It's still not good, but one of the most popular romances of the past couple of years is Red, White, and Royal Blue.
Andrea Martucci: Yes, right.
Jennifer Crusie: I must have read that 10 times by now.
I love that book and the fact that it's male, male is totally irrelevant. That's a great romance, so I think the fact that can not only make the best seller list, but make the best romance books without any, you know, best gay romance or anything like that. That is just a great romance.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Jennifer Crusie: I think that shows the shift. The thing is about a lot of these, a lot of the discussions assume there's this romance readership, but the fact is it's millions and millions of individual women who all have different fantasies and who are all looking for something else. And as the more conservative generations like mine die off, that sort of widens things.
But still, I mean, I used to get letters from readers who were really upset because my heroines asked for sex,
Andrea Martucci: uck,
Jennifer Crusie: and it just made them pathetic. You know that they weren't sitting there showing off a thigh or something so the guy would ask first. And I just, I put the first chapter of the book I'm working on now on the blog, I do a lot of stuff on the blog, and one of them the blog people posted and said, I forgot how many times your heroines pick up your heroes. This is so cool. I think because the genre, like any other genre, is driven by the market, and the fact that the market has changed so radically, means that the books change radically.
Publishing has no control over what is happening in romance. The [00:50:00] readers control that by what they read. And the fact that the readership is changing demographically so quickly, it's going to change romance faster than anything.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think where I was going with that was just, I've definitely shifted from speaking of romance as a genre, like by and for women and started saying a genre by and for marginalized people.
Because I think that that, radical project also applies to anyone whose voice is not represented or centered in other media,
Jennifer Crusie: Okay. I'm not sure. As a white woman, I'm not sure I feel comfortable saying I've been marginalized. I realized obviously through Me Too and everything else, and boy, do I have stories, that you know, you're fighting a fight that men aren't. But when I look at what the gay community is, or the black population is going through and I'm sitting over here, pretty safe and happy.
I'm not real comfortable with women as "marginalized". And that may just be, because I don't want to be marginalized. I may be projecting onto that. Or maybe it's because I feel like women were radicalized in romance a long time ago. We became feminist a long time ago.
Yeah, we did not become -
Andrea Martucci: I don't think we've become equal.
Jennifer Crusie: Pansexual.
Andrea Martucci: That's an interesting way to think about it because I think definitely in the, spectrum of marginalization, like white women are much better off than many other people and have privilege in some ways.
Jennifer Crusie: Absolutely.
Andrea Martucci: I think. So that's interesting. That's interesting. Cause I think you know, which as women, white women have made a lot of progress, women generally haven't made as much progress and also, I guess that's like where I could go back and forth because as much as we've made progress as women, there is still so much farther to go.
Jennifer Crusie: It's still a vicious patriarchy out there. I do really believe that once my generation dies off, things will get better. You're going to have to lose my generation.
No, we should have given up the stranglehold we have on culture a long time ago, coming out as a baby boomer, we just grabbed onto culture and strangled it. So I'm all for all the people coming up, changing things and.
So we just have to power through this and good times are ahead. Nothing but good times ahead.
Andrea Martucci: Nothing but good times.
Jennifer Crusie: I believe it.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. So I think this actually is a good segue.
[00:52:30] I assume you've been a member of RWA for 25 plus years. I don't know if you're still a member?
Jennifer Crusie: I joined in 1993.
Andrea Martucci: And are you still a member?
Jennifer Crusie: I am, but only because I was on the board for a long time. And then that made you a permanent member.
Andrea Martucci: So you can't even quit?
Jennifer Crusie: No, I can't quit. (Andrea laughs) And actually RWA did so many good things for me that if they called me now and said, we need you to do this, I would. It's a good technical organization - socially it was horrible. It was very conservative, white, heterosexual, all the trip, but, about 10 years ago, I hit this weird writer's block where I could write like 50,000, 70,000 words. And then I couldn't finish a book and I stopped publishing and I dropped out of RWA then.
I belonged because it was free, because it was permanent, but I didn't interact.
And then when all of this blew up with Courtney Milan, I went on to one of the listserves there that was RWA published and got myself into a mess and thought, you know what? This is not my fight. There are people here who are doing much better at this than I am. I should just shut up and I stepped back and I have stepped back since.
If they asked me for anything, of course I'll help, but otherwise they are building a new RWA. They don't need one of the dinosaurs from the old one poking in.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. the thing that you said it was interesting, because I saw a screenshot of what you had written in the like PAN or PRO... wherever.
Jennifer Crusie: Yeah. I think it was PAN.
Andrea Martucci: And, of course I had just read this. So this was fresh in my mind. And I think the point you were making was basically about like, how do we productively change, and what it reminded -
Jennifer Crusie: And it was the entirely wrong time to say that.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. I'm so glad you said that. I think that there is a timing thing, it's like I learned in therapy. You have to feel your feelings. And I think the same way we were talking earlier about like women being angry. Like I think people have a right to be angry .
Jennifer Crusie: What I was trying for on there was because it was a discussion about how to fix RWA and people were name-calling and accusing each other of things.
And I knew people on the wrong side who were clueless, but not evil. And they were being cast as evil. And I said, if we could just [00:55:00] talk about the concrete things we need to do to change. What do we need to do to check? And you're right. It was the wrong time. People needed to vent. And I think part of the reason I got in there was because it was a microcosm of what's happening in America at large, where we are so divided now. And we're not. Basically, I think we all have the same hopes, the same dreams, the same worries, but we're screaming at each other and there's that, how could anybody have ever voted for Trump? And that I still have problems with, but at the same time, you can't say Jesus, you must just be stupid, and walk away.
You have to look at him and say, okay, what is it about this that makes you go this way? Because I need to understand you if I'm going to live with you. And that approach is going to get as much (laughs) as much traction as it did when I tried to do it in RWA. It's just not the right time. And I am not the right person.
So I stepped away. And I think there's a fair chunk of the membership that now thinks I'm a racist. What are you going to do? There's just - stay out of it and let the people who totally understand the situation handle it and they are. They're doing things now. I'm not exactly sure what they're doing, but whatever they're doing, it's gotta be better than what was there before.
So not too worried about it.
Andrea Martucci: Maybe, we'll see.
Jennifer Crusie: No, really. When they got to the point where they were censoring Milan.
Andrea Martucci: That was pretty bad.
Jennifer Crusie: At that point, you're dealing with them a patriarchy again, I don't care matriarchy.
Andrea Martucci: Authoritarian regime.
Jennifer Crusie: Tyrant dictatorship. No, at that point, you've got to rip everything up and start over again.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, well see, I have much less desire to keep things - I'm like burn it down, start something new, whatever. Yeah. So I'm totally pro burn RWA down. Everybody who listens to this podcast knows that, also I had a really bad run in with RWA, like eight years ago.
What I was thinking though, was, yes, people should feel their emotions. Yes. People had lots of reasons to be very angry about what was going on in the organization.
But then when you do get around to trying to make things better, I was reading this article you wrote that I think was in the RWA newsletter back in the nineties called You Go romance writer, changing public opinion.
And, it was about basically, if something comes up in the media, how do we as romance writers [00:57:30] approach this person, this media, this, whatever, and use this to our advantage to actually change the way people think about romance.
And it was so close to the five stages of conning also (Jenny laughs) I don't know how intentional that was.
Jennifer Crusie: That's just rhetorical strategy by the way. There wasn't anything. Yeah. That's just what you do when you're writing a persuasive paper.
Andrea Martucci: And so I work professionally in marketing and so much of this I'm like, yeah, this just makes sense. Right?
I was literally reading parts of this out loud to my husband and just like cackling: "okay. We hate the dumb bitch who wrote the article. Now we have to get over it and find a way to reach her." And I was cackling. I think that there is that thing there, right? Where, like you don't have to actually respect the other person's point of view or, or give them an inch, necessarily.
Jennifer Crusie: No. Or agree with it in any way. You just have to understand it.
Andrea Martucci: And convince them to come over to a different way, right?
Jennifer Crusie: I was just going to say, your thing about the five-part con is actually really interesting because I hadn't thought about it, but that's what that is. You're right. I hadn't done that purposefully. You're wondering - it was not Machiavelli, but you cannot possibly reach somebody by just telling them they're stupid and beating them down.
You can defeat them by telling them they're stupid and beating them down, but you can't reach them until you understand them. It goes, okay I'll take it back to craft again. When you're writing a romance novel, you have to love your antagonist and understand your antagonist.
He can't just have gotten up that morning, decide today I'm going to be an evil son of a bitch and destroy the heroine. There has to be a full character there and you have to find something of yourself in him. Or you can't write a good character. And I think in the same way, when you see somebody who's doing something that's so incredibly stupid, going out shopping on Black Friday and not wearing a mask, and you look at them and go, what, what you - screaming, doesn't help.
You have to look at him and think , what's in their head? Why are they doing this? Why does this make sense to them? Before you can understand them. And that's why I am staying out of RWA until the dust settles.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah,
Jennifer Crusie: eventually they're in the middle of their arc and eventually everything's going to be stable again and they'll start it again.
And then I'll find out if there's a place for me there. RWA was always the place where I made connections. RWA never did a damn thing for me professionally, [01:00:00] except introduced me to people who introduced me to my agent. And so on, the networking. And most of the people who were important in my life right now, who aren't family, I got through RWA.
So I will always have a soft spot for that organization. The personal connections they gave me and the chances to talk to people they gave me were great, but as they slowly solidified - a lot of it was a reflection of the publishing industry too, because the publishing industry was so freaking racist in the nineties. And before that, of course, but I just remember in the nineties, hearing people speak at like college and hearing these stories about what these Black writers went through and how you know, or I have a friend who's Asian and somebody told her that asians, aren't passionate. And I go, what the hell?
What, where do you get this stuff? And a Black writer who had an editor tell her that she didn't want "any of those mammy stories." And you look at that and think how fucking clueless do you have to be? Those are the people it's hard to say, Well, now I just have to get in her mind to understand her - you just want to slap her.
So I think RWA's arc was not arcing enough. It was stuck. It was solidifying into a really ugly shape and they broken it into pieces now, which is good. And who knows what's going to come out of it, but there were always good things about it.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. That's the hard part about life, right? Is, nothing is ever completely - unlike in stories where we know who the heroes are and the villains are, life isn't like that, which is why stories are so satisfying.
What are you up to these days? Look, I admire your dedication to your blog and you seem to have quite a community of people who are like - I didn't realize people commented on blogs anymore.
Jennifer Crusie: Oh, the blog's there for the comments. The blog is my social outlet at this point. I live in the middle of nowhere. I have lovely neighbors. I have a great family. All my good friends are someplace else. So we meet on the internet.
Our community just evolved. And it's like publishing when you have readers, you evolve to that too. So a lot of this stuff on there is community, but it's also a place where I try out fiction. And it's also a place where I go to expound on my theories of fiction. I always start off with, okay, there are many restaurants. This may not be for you. But then I go on to say, this is what you should do. And this is how to write this kind of scene. And so it's [01:02:30] mainly an ego thing. (Andrea laughs)
There are days I don't post at all. We put up working Wednesday, so the community can check in with each other and find out what they're doing.
This is a good book Thursday has actually been wonderful because everybody chimes in and says, I'm reading this and it's really good. And I found great stuff that way. And then, Oh Sundays. I had started this on a different blog and moved it here because people wanted it where you just have to say what made you happy that week.
And it sounds like a touchy feely thing, but the thing is the bad stuff is so crushing right now that whatever makes you happy this week, you need to say it out loud to say, look okay. It was only five seconds, but for this moment I was really happy and it does help. And also when you talk to each other and others, it's like, when people say, God, I have a horrible life and unload on you, you feel depressed.
And if people say, look, this happened to me and it was really great. You know, my cat's out of the vet clinic, he's going to be fine. I made this incredible pie. Really small things, but for this moment I was happy. I think it really does make other people happy. It's a safe space. That's really what Argh is.
It doesn't have an identity. It's just a safe space for people to go. We don't have anybody who yells at anybody or calls names, or flames, or I read the comments every day. If there were anything in there like that, I'd be rip it out. I think I pulled two comments in the entire time I've had the blog, which is going on to 15, 16 years now.
I remember one person said, I thought this was a writing blog. I'm leaving. Because I was talking about my dog. So no, it's just the blog, (Andrea: Bye!) it's just, this is just what we're talking about this week. It's a bunch of people.
Andrea Martucci: That's so important. I think we so often focus on the negative things that happen and like positive things happen, but they just fly right by.
Jennifer Crusie: That's why I try to keep most of the stuff on the blog funny. Or educational, whatever. Because I have some really dark moments here, but you don't put those on the blog. I try not to, sometimes it seeps in. That community is there because they care about each other. And we get new members all the time so I don't mean to mean that this is a closed community, but for example, there's Jane who's in Britain who needed to buy a house. So for really most of the year, this poor woman looked for a house and came back. It was fascinating because I've never bought a house in England, which must be just hell, because it's completely different from [01:05:00] over here.
And there are several people in there who come in and say, this is where I am right now. I'm working on this. There are people rescuing animals and put up pictures. We talk about each other's lives, and cheer each other on.
And I think right now that is much more important than teaching anybody to write.
Andrea Martucci: Honestly, just dipping in, it seemed like a lovely community. And so you're still writing with Bob Mayer?
Jennifer Crusie: I'm not writing novels with him. He's a terrific partner. And we are so different, which is why when we were writing the novels, as long as we weren't in the same physical space, we were fine because he's a great collaborator.
He's very open-minded and he'd take me places I'd never been before. He's action, adventure, ex green Baret. So I mean, the stuff I learned from him was great and he suggested we collaborate because he wanted to learn to write romance because that's the most popular genre and he's not an idiot.
He makes his living this way, but we had a blog a long time ago where we fought constantly on the blog about writing. And so we just started again, going back to those old lessons and what's happened is, with any relationship, we have arced over the years and now we mostly agree on things.
So when he says (Andrea: that's so funny) it is, it really is. I finally said, these blog posts are not working out because we're not funny. (laughs) We're going, Oh yeah, I do that too. and he just started a new book and I just started a new book. Bob and I are trading manuscripts back and forth. And so on the blog on this other blog we have, we do it in Slack. So we just transferred the Slack chat in, about how we talk about each other's manuscripts and how you - not critique, but how you help each other brainstorm. And I would find them incredibly boring, but I think they're good examples of how to help another writer without trying to make it your book.
So that's what we're doing. And it's nice. It's nice to reconnect with him. It's been a good, long time since we wrote together.
Andrea Martucci: That sounds like fun. So I can't believe I didn't put this question on the list, but like what romance novels have you been reading and enjoying recently?
Jennifer Crusie: I've been reading a lot of new age .
Andrea Martucci: New age?
Jennifer Crusie: Because I'm old and I've got to go back and look, for my generation, I'm incredibly, open-minded radical, but for everybody else, I'm an old lady, so I'm trying to see what's going on. And I am reading extensively in new age. Sarina Bowen, The Year We Fell Down, I thought that was just excellent. And then of course, Red, White, and [01:07:30] Royal Blue I read and reread and reread because it's fabulous. Not quite a romance, but very similar or the Murder Bot books. Have you read Murder Bot?
Andrea Martucci: No!
Jennifer Crusie: Oh my god, they're wonderful.
Andrea Martucci: I keep seeing things about it. And it's like one of those things where I'm like, what is that? I don't know.
Jennifer Crusie: It's four novellas and a novel about an AI who is also partially human and he has, it's not even he, it's it because there's no, the whole series is really good on gender identification. It's really pansexual series. It Borks its governor. So it's now free to do whatever it wants.
And basically it's exploring what it means to be a free human when you're AI, but it's so much more than that. It's very emotional and there's even a love story in there by the time you get to the third one, although it strictly says, no, this is not a relationship. My God, that's gross, and it's just, it's wonderful.
It's a wonderful series about character. About becoming human, about what makes it a human and which makes that sound really boring. Mostly it's just an action-packed and so much fun and funny as hell, even though they're not comic novels. I just can't recommend them any more.
Andrea Martucci: I'm going to have to check it out now.
Jennifer Crusie: They're wonderful. And Rivers of London, which does have a sub romance sub plot romance, but the Rivers of London series is terrific.
Oh, and, I'll probably mispronounce her name. Mhairi McFarlane. M H A I R I, she does wonderful romances. She's terrific. You got to look at her.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. What is it like historical, contemporary?
Jennifer Crusie: They're contemporary. They're wonderful set in London. Most of them.
Andrea Martucci: Ooh. Okay. I'm writing it down.
Jennifer Crusie: Oh, she's terrific.
Andrea Martucci: You published your first book 27 years ago, I think, right? 1993?
Jennifer Crusie: 1993. So much younger then.
Andrea Martucci: If you mull over your career and how it's evolved and how you got from there to here? What are your thoughts on how you've changed and what you are moving towards now that maybe you wouldn't have imagined in 1993?
Jennifer Crusie: I'm a lot smarter about craft because I've spent those years studying craft and working it out as I wrote, trying to figure out what worked.
And also because I am not a natural storyteller, I'm a terrible plotter, dear God. So [01:10:00] I really needed the historical idea of plot structure, and studied that and mess with it until I found one I liked that I could, I'll do a first draft that's 70,000 words for a hundred thousand word book and look at it and go, God, there's no, none of it makes sense.
So then I'll go back and look at my matrix for plot and start slotting things in and think, Oh yeah, this doesn't go here. And this doesn't, I had to cut a character I loved from the Nita book because basically he was incredibly important in the first act and then just disappeared because he had no impact on the plot (laughs) , I loved him, but he had to go.
But, when you break it down into acts and structure, then I can see things and I can see where I have gone off the rails, but I think the biggest change has just been, that I know so much more about writing. I think I'm still pretty much the same person I was in 1993. I'm still pissed about the same things.
The same things still turn me on. Still excite me. I find the same things funny. I think the context has changed.
Andrea Martucci: That's good news for us, because we still think that you're funny,
Jennifer Crusie: Some of you think I'm funny. But I think what's changed mostly is the context. Like right now I decide every book I have written so far in the past four years has been set before 2016, because I'm not going to deal with Trump and that insanity.
He has just infected every aspect of life and I don't want my characters dealing with that, but of course that's the ideology I'm living it. So I wrote a book called, The Devil in Nita Dodd.
It's a supernatural one. It has demons in it. And the demons come to earth on jobs and some of them stay and integrate themselves in the community. And I, it took me literally until I was like 60 or 70,000 words into it to realize I was talking about immigration.
Andrea Martucci: Oh.
Jennifer Crusie: Because It's a very small community on an Island and there's a racist group that's trying to - I didn't mean it. I didn't mean it. It was supposed to be just about this woman who fell in love with the devil's fixer. And it was fun. I had watched the first episode of Lucifer and I was so angry with the first - and I went on the blog and I said, this is what they should have changed. And then the next day I wrote another blog post and said, no, and they should have done this.
And by the fourth blog post, I was writing my [01:12:30] version of Lucifer, which of course is ridiculous because it wasn't anything at all like the writing in the television show one. And at some point it just became a book. It was helpless. So normally I wouldn't go for a dead hero who was the devil's fixer, but it worked, I really like this book, but the demons came with that.
And then all of a sudden it was about the "other" and - I don't know. I love the damn book. My editor rejected it, but I think it's fabulous.
Andrea Martucci: Oh, you're going to self publish it, right?
Jennifer Crusie: Eventually if nobody - my agent said, no, we're going to sell this. It's just, I sent it to my editor because I've been working with her for 20 years. And my agent said, no, you just have to, you have to make a couple of changes. It was too long. It was like 40,000 words too long. I knew there was rewriting, and so I took it back to rewrite it and I'm doing that now, but then I also got caught up in this book where this woman does the Vegas and picks up a guy in the casino and there's no supernatural elements into it, which was one of the big non-selling points for my editor. She wanted supernatural
Andrea Martucci: I've been seeing people talk about Lucifer a lot lately.
Jennifer Crusie: Lucifer got really good toward the end of the first season and the second season was terrific. It improved, but he was supposed to be this incredibly attractive guy. And he said something at one point to Rachel Harris about it. She did this, he'd take her to pound town. And I thought, what is he? 14? It was just such a lame dialogue. I got over it. And I haven't seen this last season, but the season I saw , the first two seasons got really good.
Andrea Martucci: Maybe now is the right time to come back.
Jennifer Crusie: My plan is to finish everything I've been working on. I have 10 unfinished manuscripts.
Andrea Martucci: That's my plan, too.
Jennifer Crusie: And they're good. So what I'm thinking is I spent 10 years writing. I just haven't finished anything so if I can get my ass in gear, it will be like three Crusies every year for the next 4 years! (laughs)
Andrea Martucci: I like the sound of that.
Jennifer Crusie: If I start finishing these, getting past whatever's in my head and I did finish Nita Dodd. I was really pleased with myself. I can't believe I forgot the title of that. The first thing they changed, The Devil in Nita Dodd, because it sounds like porn.
Andrea Martucci: That's a selling point. What's the problem?
Jennifer Crusie: It's a really good title. And it works on a number of levels.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, exactly. Like all of your prose works on multiple levels.
Jennifer Crusie: Oh, bless you. Thank you. I try.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. yeah. So thank you so much for speaking with me today.
Jennifer Crusie: This has been so much fun. Thank you, Andrea.
Andrea Martucci: This was fun. So other than Argh, inc. where can people connect with you and keep up with what you're doing? Or maybe that's the best place.
Jennifer Crusie: Pretty much Argh Ink. [01:15:00] I do have a website which my partner runs. but there hasn't been any news for 10 years. So, you know, if you want to know more information about stuff I've already done, the website has it, and it has all of the essays that I wrote.
I think it's got all of them. Is that where you found them?
Andrea Martucci: It is, yeah. I just went, boop boop boop, downloaded, printed.
Jennifer Crusie: There's a list of them. So anything about the past that you want to know is on JenniferCrusie.com. But where I interact with people is on the blog. And if you come on there and ask me something in the comments, we don't have topic restrictions. So it doesn't matter what we're talking about. If you come on and ask me something in the comments, I'll answer you there. And that's really the fastest place to get to meet. Cause I'm on there every day
Andrea Martucci: Or, you can do a podcast about Jenny Crusie and then wait a year, and then she'll contact you to tell you what Dove Bars are.
Jennifer Crusie: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I didn't realize that - somebody linked to that. And that's how I found it. Cause your site's great. And I listened to that. It was so much fun in there you said Jenny Crusie, if you're out there would you please tell me what is, and I really wanted to send you Dove Bars, but of course you smart enough not to put your address on the internet.
So I wrote back and said, here's what Dove Bars are, and we started a wonderful conversation.
Andrea Martucci: We are constantly building on what has come before. We define what we do as relating to or reacting against. I think the conversation you just heard with Jenny Crusie describes some of the ways that the popular romance genre's history has shaped the texts and the individuals within the community.
For example, I think that there is a greater awareness, perhaps not universal awareness, of the need for intersectional feminism within romance. The history of the genre shows a preference for narratives that privileged happiness for white, wealthy, allo, cis, het, Christian, able-bodied, neuro-typical women.
On this podcast, we've spoken at length in various ways about the romance genre's struggle to de-center the perspectives of white women exclusively and contextualize and contend with the impact of that flawed foundation that the genre is building on. How do we conceptualize the project of romance as a genre that can center intersectional marginalizations?
I think Crusie's work speaks so well to the tension in the romance genre between representing reality while also projecting a [01:17:30] fantasy of happily ever after - nothing but good times ahead. And I think that tension is a feature, not a bug, because I also believe that there's a psychological desire behind reading romance that explicitly seeks to not represent reality.
As I was reflecting on the discussion that Jenny and I had about RWA, I started to think about systemic issues and how hard it is to figure out the answer to the question: what can be done? And I was thinking about my stance on RWA, which is basically that because the majority of members are not committed to change, any meaningful change within the organization is doomed to fail.
In my view. It's not because the majority of members are ideological racists, although yeah, there's ideological racists as well. The bigger problem is that the majority of members aren't motivated enough to see the problems or do anything about it.
And this is the insidious nature of privilege. It's not as much about people actively protecting a system that benefits them as much as it is a system that makes it difficult or inconvenient to see problems that you don't personally experience, which then leads to a lack of motivation to do anything about it.
It's easy to do nothing.
Who is responsible for change? Often the work falls to those who are benefiting the least from the current system, because they see the failures most clearly and have the potential for the greatest benefit.
It's easy for me to say, let RWA fail.
First of all, I'm not a constituent. Second of all, I'm incredibly cynical and understand that the issues are systemic and huge, and they're not solved by simply removing a few individuals from leadership or administrative roles.
Once writers of color made their grievances heard - which required yelling because lots of people were not listening - they were exposing the problems that were there all along. And when we finally hear the magnitude of the problem, I'm revealing my privilege by immediately saying, Oh, well, that's too hard to fix. Let's just give up.
Because if I do nothing, I'm going to be fine.
But we can't just care about what impacts us. And this is a tension in romance, a genre that claims to have a radical project, but actions show is more interested in being radical for some and not all.
How do we - consumers and creators - change that and not just end up yelling into the void or at others who already feel the same? How do we center the experience of those marginalized in the community? How can we hear their [01:20:00] anger and feel angry together, and then channel that into a strategy for change?
How do we identify who can be convinced and how, and who needs to be convinced?
I don't have the answers and I hate that I don't have the answers. So that's a thread to pick up again later and I'm sure again, and again, and again. Thanks for listening to episode 75 of Shelf Love and thanks to Jenny Crusie for joining me. A transcript and show notes for this episode can be found on shelflovepodcast.com
If you have any thoughts on the show, I would love for you to reach out to me. You can send an email to email@example.com. This episode is produced by me, Andrea Martucci. Thank you to Shelf Love's editorial advisory board members, Katrina Jackson and Tasha L. Harrison. And thank you to my first listener, Jess, who provided feedback on this episode as a beta listener. Fun fact, Jess is still not a copywriter, but you can hear her beautifully-crafted descriptions of Crusie novels in episode 002, plus hear Jess in her own words in episode 47.
That's all for this week. Black lives matter. Stay safe, stay mad. And keep reading romance.