077. Twilight Fan Fiction: Climbing into a Can of Worms with Jodie Slaughter (part 1)


Short Description

Twilight. Fan fiction. Bridgerton. Hashtag diversity. Plus countless cans of worms that we don't want to get into, yet nonetheless crank open. Dame Jodie Slaughter and I go on a journey to uncover gateways into romance, and why it's so hard to even identify that the thing people love in other media is the romance!


Show Notes

Twilight. Fan fiction. Bridgerton. Hashtag diversity. Plus countless cans of worms that we don't want to get into, yet nonetheless crank open. Dame Jodie Slaughter and I go on a journey to uncover gateways into romance, and why it's so hard to even identify that the thing people love in other media is the romance! 

Show Notes:

Shelf Love:

Guest: Dame Jodie Slaughter
Twitter | Instagram | Check out Jodie's Books

Cans of Worms:


Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Andrea Martucci: Welcome to episode 77 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.

   I'm your host, Andrea Martucci and my guest today is Dame Jodie Slaughter, author of novels, such as White Whiskey Bargain and All Things Burn. When Jody visited Shelf Love the first time back in episode 61, she shared her problematic love for alphaholes.

Today, Jodie and I go on a journey to uncover how people discover that they like romance and why it's so hard to even identify that the thing that they love in other media is the romance. It's a story about Twilight, fanfiction, Bridgerton, hashtag diversity, plus countless cans of worms that we do not want to get into, yet nonetheless, crank open.

Please enjoy part one of our conversation in which we use Jodie's Twilight fanfiction experience as a case study for understanding how many use gateways to find their way into romance.

In part two out next week, we'll dive more into the present day.

Will Bridgerton spark romance curiosity in a new generation? And how will romancelandia handle  those newbi'es first clumsy steps into our world ?    

Jodie Slaughter: Bridgerton

Andrea Martucci: Bridgerton

Jodie Slaughter: Bridgerton

Andrea Martucci: Bridgerton

Jodie Slaughter: Bridgerton

Andrea Martucci: Bridgerton has burst upon the scene. What I'm thinking of is all of the non-romance readers who are watching Bridgerton and saying, I like this. I want to read a book like this.

Jodie Slaughter: Fledgling romance readers.

Andrea Martucci: As I like to call them: romance curious.

Jodie we've had a similar phenomenon before when Twilight came on the scene in 2006.

Jodie Slaughter: We have. Okay. Just for reference, I'm wearing a team Edward shirt right now , I'm in character, but yes, Twilight took the world by storm.

And I think out of it, sort of grew an entire generation of people who all of a sudden were reading romance.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. But maybe they didn't realize it at first, and that's what we're going to talk about today.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. So let's set the [00:02:30] scene. In 2006, Jodie Slaughter was 11 years old.

Jodie Slaughter: I was 11 years old.

Andrea Martucci: In 2008, young Jodie Slaughter became a Twilight fan. Tell me how you got into Twilight and what you loved about it at the age of 13.

Jodie Slaughter: Okay.  I will preface this by saying that when I was 11, I remember seeing a girl, she was pale and she had red hair in one of my classes at school, and she was reading the Twilight with the Apple. She was reading it for a couple of weeks and I was like, Oh, okay. And then I just kept it moving. When I was 13, I went to a new middle school and I met this girl and she was like the coolest person I'd ever met.

And she was like, so there are these books and you should read them. And she had recently introduced me to all this cool music. So I was like, I trust your taste. Yes. And so I think she loaned me Twilight and I read it in like a day maybe. Yeah. Something like that.

Andrea Martucci: You had no other responsibilities. You were 13.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Oh yeah. I don't even - homework. I don't know. It was eighth grade. Like it was so unserious. And I just, yeah, I just devoured them. And then I immediately went to my mom and was like, can you please take me to Borders? Which was my bookstore of choice and also give me money (laughs) to buy books.

And that's exactly what she did. I bought actually bought Twilight New Moon and Eclipse. I devoured those as well. And that's how I got into Twilight. It was  just like addicting. I think it was the first book that - I was always like a good reader, but I wasn't a reader.

Andrea Martucci: You were not passionate?

Jodie Slaughter: But. I wasn't like going out of my way to read outside of school. And these changed that completely for me.

Andrea Martucci: When you were reading them, what do you think it was about these books that were so different from everything else you had read before this point?

Jodie Slaughter: So it was kids that were in high school, I was in the eighth grade. That was automatically like this cool thing for me. I had read books about younger people, but they were older books. And so it wasn't relatable to me. You know what I mean?

Andrea Martucci: Like they didn't have cell phones and they weren't talking about like cultural things that were familiar to you?

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. And now granted, Bella Swan, wasn't like, I'm so cool. And here's my flip phone and I'm wearing a Juicy Couture sweatsuit. Like, she wasn't cool.

Andrea Martucci: Was [00:05:00] the lingo a little bit more familiar, the concerns.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, the writing was incredibly  accessible.I guess you could say. (laughs) Sure that's the word we'll use, accessible.

I know what drew me in and it was simply like the romance. I know, that's what it was. That's like it . And it was also - the vampire, yeah, it was like the paranormal aspects. I'd never really been super interested in like paranormal things.

Andrea Martucci: So let's start with the vampires. What about the vampires were so appealing? And let me just say, I think I'm going to draw a corollary between the vampires in Twilight and the Regency setting in Bridgerton.

Jodie Slaughter: Oh God. Okay.

Andrea Martucci: It's what wraps around the romance that is sort of fun, anyways, I don't want to put words in your mouth. What about the vampires in particular?

Jodie Slaughter: Wow. Okay, so they were immortal.

Andrea Martucci: That's pretty cool.

Jodie Slaughter: That was very cool. Very cool. But at this point I had seen Interview With a Vampire and

Andrea Martucci: They were tortured immortals in Interview With a Vampire.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah,

Andrea Martucci: They were so sad about it.

Jodie Slaughter: They hated it. They weren't so destructive. If that makes sense. Like in Interview With a Vampire, they were like incredibly destructive. They were incredibly like self-destructive and this wasn't that, necessarily.I guess it was like the lore that Stephanie Meyer created that I found fascinating.

The sparkling skin was very interesting. I was very interested in the concept of a vampire that wasn't killing humans. Cause I'd never thought of or considered that before. So it was this like benevolent vampire family do you know what I mean.

Andrea Martucci: So what you're talking about now is the world building.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes, the worldbuilding was so interesting.  It included things that I had never considered before. The concept of a vampire that didn't have like fangs and a vampire who was, they were actively participating with humans, they weren't just like hiding in the shadows. They weren't these like lusty, at orgies.

Andrea Martucci: So they weren't so like, depraved and, sorry, I'm not saying orgies are depraved, but that's usually how it's portrayed as like a depravity, they've lost their humanity.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes.

Andrea Martucci: And they enjoy the trappings of their wealth, right?

Like they have this beautiful house. They have nice clothes, cars.

Jodie Slaughter: Even when they have zero need for it.  They wouldn't freeze to death. They don't need to eat, they don't need cars to drive. They can run faster than [00:07:30] any car. They don't need a house to live in for shelter.

And so that  was very intoxicating. The descriptions of their wealth , I think that was the first I'd seen in a book that interested me as well, the beginnings of that, like Oh, he's rich and that's desirable.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And so the world that is built is aesthetically beautiful. It's it's pleasurable because the narrative is positioning wealth as incredibly desirable. And then this is all in the confines of a romance. And  there's a reluctant attraction, romance between Bella and Edward, right?

She's pretty into him.

She's pretty all

Jodie Slaughter: in. He is, he's just like tortured, brooding. If we're, I know we haven't broached this yet, but he doesn't think he has a soul. And so he doesn't think he is deserving or worthy of love. I think there are times when he's like "I'm not capable of love, Bella, even though I obviously love you," like shit like that. So I think it's more begrudging on his part than it is on hers because she truly doesn't give a fuck. Even when she learns that he's a vampire, she's like okay.

Andrea Martucci: She's like I'm kind of into it (sexy voice) .

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Which, same.

Andrea Martucci: And so I'm thinking about like why this is attractive and  - so the narrative also though, we know that Edward has a soul and that he can love, and that he's worth loving because he's not a bloodthirsty vampire who might kill her.

Like we, we know he's safe.

Jodie Slaughter: Of course. Yeah. Well yes. And especially when, which is like an interesting - if interesting, we mean like racist - when we compare that to the way Jacob Black is viewed. Where he is seen as this, "Oh, he's volatile. He could shift and change at any moment and he could hurt you, Bella."  And so you have this like white man who is to be honest, more dangerous than Jacob Black. Like you know what I mean?

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, no, he smelled her blood and he's like (makes a sound) , like he's going to bust.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, (cackles) I hate you. But yeah,

Jake's like, his entire being, his entire reason for existing as a Wolf, is not to kill humans the way that Edward's is.

And yet, somehow Jacob and the rest of his brothers, that's what I'll call them, are seen as [00:10:00] infinitely more somehow dangerous because they're more volatile and they literally burst out of their bodies into a beast.

Andrea Martucci: But they're more animalistic, right?

Jodie Slaughter: Yes. They burn hotter physically. They are hotter.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. They're not like the civilized ,cold vampires who live in refinement. They live out in the woods, in log cabins (dramatic voice)

Jodie Slaughter: On a reservation (faux concern) .

Andrea Martucci: They pull their clothes off and shed their human skin.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes, you have  the story of Sam who (sound of disgust) which is like so disgusting.

He is their alpha.

Andrea Martucci: Okay.

Jodie Slaughter: And there was an instance when he was turning and he ended up.

Andrea Martucci: Oh, right lashing out and scratching the face of his wife. Yes.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. And so when we think about domestic violence, domestic assault against like native women, we think about like very violent vile tropes of  the quote unquote savagery of native men and women, native people rather.

It's disgusting in retrospect. As a 13 year old reading, those were not things that I knew. And they were not things that I cleaved onto.

But what I did cleave onto was the underlying text of is Jacob more dangerous because he is the Wolf, because he is somehow more volatile. Even though we spend all of these books with Edward and a member of Edward's family actively being like,  it's taking everything in me not to murder you. And everyone else.

Andrea Martucci: So like as a teenager reading this , it's presenting some luxury, it's presenting this love triangle, which shows that the female protagonist, whom many identify with , as being really desirable and (Jodie: Yeah) and having her pick of romantic partners who are - I dunno, I always thought Jacob was way sexier than Edward, look, I guess I'm team Jacob here.  It did not make sense to me why Bella was like, so uninterested in Jacob.

Jodie Slaughter: So I'm ashamed to be team Edward. I have this shirt, like I am, but there is shame there. I'm in eighth grade when my friend introduces me to these books, I'm in ninth grade when the first movie comes out.

So by the time I started reading these books, the cast had already been announced. And so whom I have in my head when I reading these books is Taylor Laughtner. Kristen Stewart, Robert [00:12:30] Pattinson, et cetera. And I was I was just more attracted to Robert Pattinson than I was to Taylor Laughtner. And I think that drove it, to be honest, I didn't find Taylor Laughtner to be attractive.

And also I wasn't Team Jacob, because I knew that it wasn't going to,

Andrea Martucci: He was not positioned as the guy who gets the girl.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: In this story.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes.

Andrea Martucci: He always played second fiddle in Bella's -she never was so focused on him the way she was focused on Edward. And so the narrative led you to be team Edward.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes. She was never in love with him. She loved him, as a friend, but yeah,  there was never a true sort of love triangle where you were, which I think is hard to find, where you genuinely were in up until the last -

Andrea Martucci: conflicted

Jodie Slaughter: yeah. well not for me. I know that some people were, but I never believed that she was ever going to not be with Edward. (laughs)

Andrea Martucci: Okay. So you're reading Twilight, you're really into it and you want more. And at this time, would you have identified that what you really liked about this story was the romance or would you have identified it more as Oh, I like YA, I like vampires. I like, what is it that sort of seemed to be the thing?

Jodie Slaughter: So I don't think I would have said what I really like is romance.

I started reading more YA because I had time, like after I finished Eclipse, in between when Breaking Dawn came out there was -

Andrea Martucci: Days, months, years.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes. So I started reading some other YA, but it was mostly all like a paranormal type things. So I'm thinking, I just thought I was into paranormal YA, but what I was really drawn to,  as an adult who doesn't read a ton of paranormal stuff nowadays, I think what I was really drawn to was the romance.

But  I was a 13 year old and I was like, just sort of like detrimentally horny , not really understanding , and I think at a certain point I got my hands on the Sookie Stackhouse series, True Blood because that show came out when I was a freshman in high school as well.

Andrea Martucci: That show is so horny.

Marker [00:14:39]

Jodie Slaughter: So horny. And what I found in those books was what I realized I was wanting out of Twilight, I think very much. And a lot of that really drew me into fan fiction. Cause once I realized that fan fiction was real horny -

Andrea Martucci: how did you find fan fiction?

Jodie Slaughter: I found fan [00:15:00] fiction a couple of  years before . When I was 12, I was really into this band called McFly and they were this, Oh God, I saw them in a Lindsey Lohan, Chris Pine movie called Just My Luck. And they played a band that Chris Pine was representing. Like he was trying to be like a music manager or whatever. And  I Googled them, cause I thought that a couple of them were really cute.

And I found out that they were a real band. They were British and they were pretty big in the UK, but they never got much success here. But I was like obsessed with them. They were like my favorite. But nobody I knew even knew who they were. And so in order to find other people who were interested in them, I had to go on the internet and there were these message boards, and on these message boards, people were talking about McFly, but also writing fan fiction. So that's where I discovered fan fiction.

Now not a ton of that fanfiction that I was  reading, and a couple that I had written, were very horny. They were just like,  I mean it was romance, essentially.

Andrea Martucci: Like going on a date with yes, guys in the band or something. all of them. just one of them?

Jodie Slaughter: Together. I read a lot of shipping with two of them together.

That's where I found fanfic.

Andrea Martucci: So you found your way onto these platforms, then, that are dedicated to fan fiction.

And then did you realize you could get fan fiction for other things you were interested in, too?

Jodie Slaughter: Yes. It was just that until Twilight. I wasn't really interested in anything else to seek it out, like I wasn't a part of any type of fandom.  And then I realized how horny it was, because I'm not saying that the McFly fan fiction wasn't, I imagine there was, I just don't think I was really reading a ton of sexy stuff, but after I'd read True Blood - it was like sex in a book, and it was my first experience with that. And I was like, I want Twilight. I want Edward and Bella, but I also want

Andrea Martucci: fucking

Jodie Slaughter: the fucking. (laughs)   I just don't want a whole world,   that it wasn't just like Twilight scene for scene , with fucking, it was like here's Edward and Bella, and neither of them are vampires. They are in a band together. Here's Edward and Bella, and they're at college. Here's Edward and he's a vampire, but he is a vampire who like, what if he kept eating humans? And it was this whole...

Andrea Martucci: What if? What if? What if?

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, just constant what ifs, and that really drew me in.

Marker [00:17:26]

Andrea Martucci: So you found one thing that you really liked and [00:17:30] probably had a hard time parsing at that point, what it is you liked about it. And so you start seeking alternate avenues of like is it the vampires? Is the love story? You're trying to like narrow in and you're finding different places you can get this. So now we're talking about fan fiction and there's a lot of Twilight fan fiction.

And what you're talking about then is alternate universe fan fiction, which is where you take established characters from any sort of media or , in the case of McFly, like real people, and start putting them in situations that the writer wants to imagine. And obviously readers want to imagine it because readers are really enjoying this.

But as somebody who never got into fan fiction personally probably because I was exposed to romance at such a young age that like, I just, in my opinion, went right to the source of the thing I really wanted. What's the appeal of alternate universe fan fiction, because when you described the premise of one to me, so  hold on.

Let me read this.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. So this is called The Greatest Gift. It's an alternate universe FIC where the Cullens are all humans and Edward and Bella are adults and are married, but Edward is a shitty husband. He, this is by the way, I think this is your summary.

Jodie Slaughter: yeah. Yes it is.

Andrea Martucci: He doesn't cheat, but he takes Bella for granted. And one day on the way home from a business trip, he's on a plane that is about to crash (Jodie cackles) and is visited by a guardian angel who is essentially like, you're going to die. And you're a shitty guy and a shitty husband, and I'm only saving you so you can make your wife happy before you die." And so it's a marriage in trouble narrative. That's just him groveling to Bella and his family. And I love it. And it has an HEA: he doesn't die.

And when you told me about this, I was like, Okay. I mean get the story, but like why, what does this have to do with Twilight? Cause none of the character traits from Twilight are present in these characters. Literally you just take their names and repeat the names, the full name over and over and over again.

Jodie Slaughter: So this fic would have been what, in fandom, we would call OOC, which is out of character.

Andrea Martucci: Okay.

Jodie Slaughter: So there are purists who are like, you can create an alternate universe version of this character, but they need to have all of the traits that Edward has. All of the traits that Bella has. They need to behave the same way Edward and Bella would behave.

The story is whatever you make it, but Edward is still tortured and self-loathing Bella [00:20:00] is, I don't know.

Whatever Bella is, which is like,

Andrea Martucci: what is Bella? That's probably,

Jodie Slaughter: I mean, nothing? I mean yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Maybe that's a good question. Who and what is Bella... a blank canvas.

Jodie Slaughter: Bella is in love with Edward. Yeah. That's Bella. Okay. The crux of this is that people are just creating romance. They're writing romance novels, because some of them are just Edward and Bella's names and they're just using this Avenue, these characters that we already know and love putting them in a different iteration, writing romance novels with them

Andrea Martucci: And maybe starting with an existing audience, like people who are like, Oh, I'm into this fandom.

There's like a built in audience to then read your romance novels, essentially.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, exactly. That's exactly what it is, I think, but I think a lot of people who write fan fiction, who were writing fan fiction, Twilight fan fiction at the time, I don't know that they would be like, yeah, I'm writing a romance novel. I don't know that they would have ever considered that they could just write their original fiction.  I  didn't, not for a very long time.

I still read fan fiction now, but the bulk of it, isn't like for books, it's TV shows or movies.

But  truly, for years, even having read romance novels - Twilight is a romance novel. So many of the YA paranormals are romance novels.

Andrea Martucci: So you did not recognize it as like these people are writing romance novels and you didn't,

Jodie Slaughter: No!

Andrea Martucci: And you didn't think that the authors themselves would have conceptualized it like that, even if they were aware of and had read romance novels themselves.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. I don't think a lot of them would now.

There are plenty, like Christina Lauren, they were Twilight fan fiction writers. And I know a lot of people from the Twilight fandom, a lot of writers who wrote fan fiction, did eventually branch out using their most popular Twilight fanfictions as their first published novel.

So I know that, but  I know that when I was actively participating in fandom, when I was like, actively on Tumblr talking to people, and even when we were like on fanfiction.net, cause you can filter, not all fan fiction is romantic. I don't read any fan fiction that isn't romantic, is the thing, I never have, I've never been interested in that.

So when I'm filtering on these sites at even 15 years old, to specifically put "romance" in the filter in my head, I'm still not like I'm reading romance fiction.  And I think that's the case for a lot of [00:22:30] people who were writing fan fiction, but weren't reading what they knew was a romance novel outside of it.

Andrea Martucci: So this brings me to a tweet that went out on January 2nd, that I think encapsulates what we were talking about. And you and I were talking about this and we have talked about this prior to like 2021. But I feel like this encapsulates, high-level what we're talking about and where we're going.

This tweet is by Jesse, AKA Hawkeye @zaheelee. And they said "so all the time I was watching Bridgerton, I kept thinking about how it executed my favorite fan fiction tropes so well in a way I haven't really seen before in a way I wanted more of. Should I just be reading romance novels???,

Question mark, question mark, question mark. And then they said "this might sound dumb, but I've literally never considered reading a romance novel ever in my life, but I'll gladly read a multi chapter, 80,000 word, slow burn, fake dating fanfic. Have I been discounting an entire genre I actually like, because how it's culturally perceived?"

Jodie Slaughter: Yes. Yes. Same. 2015, I'm on Tumblr. I followed organically Savannah J Fryerson on Tumblr but I read some of her Glee fanfiction and on her Tumblr, she would sometimes promote author stuff, and I hadn't really paid attention to it.

But one day she'd retweeted Rebekah Weatherspoon, which was So Sweet. And I saw that cover and I don't know, something just came over me that day. I was like, Oh, I'm going to click on this Amazon link. And I went and I bought it and I was like, wait, (laughs)

Andrea Martucci: All this time, I have been filtering on fan fiction sites.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.  And they look like me because so much of my sort of my career in fandom is shipping things that, sometimes there were like two white people and that's not to say that that's because there was no content that anyone ever created where I couldn't ship people of color.

But I think in terms of like the things that I was interested in at the time, which are granted, like the things I was interested in they don't exist in a bubble. They're filtered to me through a white supremacist,

Andrea Martucci: Right? Like what media exists and is created that then the fan fiction is being based off of, like that media is being curated through a white supremacist lens.

And so then it's building on top of that, I mean slash everything that we do is building on top of [00:25:00] a white supremacist foundation.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah,  there were obviously fandoms where that wasn't the case, some of the ones that I was most interested in, but then I I dug and I was like, wait, there are so many romances with like black people.

And that was like, this is what I wanted because so much of fandom was me thinking about how no one is going to read me creating this original character who is a Black woman, or nobody's going to read if I want to like, in Sleepy Hollow, for instance, I had this idea of creating an original character who was a Black man to ship with Abby. And I was like, nobody's going to read this.   

It didn't cross my mind to like , I can just write a book (laughs) and it it didn't for like such a, it didn't seem like it was in the realm of possibilities that I could be an author, even though it was something that I had dreamed of as a young teenager.

Andrea Martucci: But it sounds , what you're describing is I think a situation that like, we all go through in various ways, of what do you have access to? And like, how do you jump from one thing to another and the consideration set for what you can do or what options you have is limited to what you've had access to.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Yeah. I think that's exactly it. And I think that's also, that's why we need more like  we need more  Black fantasies for the fan fiction writers for the Black fan fiction writers who don't just want to constantly like write and read about two white people, I mean like you know , hashtag  diverse, which that's a whole nother - what

Andrea Martucci: does that mean?

Don't - we can only open so many cans of worms in this conversation.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. And a part of me feels a lot of guilt about, I think, how white  my experience in fandom was because of my certain interests. Just to say, like being 19 and being interested in like Teen Wolf and Tyler Posey is the only person who's not white on that show up to a certain point.

And up to a certain point, I wasn't always like super cognizant.  I was about maybe 20, 21 when I finally started like actively engaging in  social justice, learning more, like making an active choice to learn about things like representation and body positivity. And up until that point, like every character I dreamed up was, [00:27:30] they weren't necessarily white, but they were thin and I'm not thin I've never been thin. I don't know that it even crossed  - I saw like Mercedes Jones on Glee and I read and saw people creating like fan fiction of her and realized that maybe there was an audience for like people, you know there'd be a fat girl who could just like -

Andrea Martucci: Who isn't a sad sidekick?

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Even though in the fandom world, like people treated her a lot better than Ryan Murphy's bitch ass treated her on the show, but yeah. Yeah. So many cans of worms to open.

Marker [00:28:01]

Andrea Martucci: Actually the tweet that I read was quote, tweeting this other tweet by - it's tweets all  the way down , by Ella Dawson, who's @brosandprose, and they said by comparing Bridgerton to Jane Austen or Gossip Girl, you're ignoring the fact that genre romance is a separate entity with its own tropes and conventions of plot, pacing, and character development. Bridgerton nails that lush sensory intense vibe of romance novels."

And I'm thinking about the way Bridgerton is being described and the way every sort of cultural touchpoint is described. It's described in relation to the other things people have access to. And it's not always really comparable. It's more just like this is the closest approximation I have to find a word to describe what's happening here.

And I think that we see this sort of like macro level with people being really interested in romance and reading books or watching a bunch of TV shows that have just a smidge of romance. And you're like, Oh, I love that romance. And I want more. And instead of going and finding something that's high-test romance , going to fan fiction and being like, okay, well I have to start with these characters because this is the romance that inspired me. And so now I'm just going to amp that up sort of like being able to jump to, Oh, what I'm actually looking for.

It's not maybe that I'm like so interested in these particular characters or this particular scenario. I really just want the romance, but I had to start with what was available for me.

And I think that what you are articulating too is this is why representation matters, because if we don't have models that exist, it's hard to imagine. It's sad. It's sad, but but I think it's also, there's just like a practical issue with the human limits of imagination.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Like it's like a collage in our minds where we're kind of working with the pieces that are in there and if the piece isn't in there, we can't work it into the collage.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes, you're reminding me [00:30:00] of this one fan fiction, this one Twilight fan fiction, where someone dared to write Bella as a biracial Black woman  and

Andrea Martucci: Not canon!

Jodie Slaughter: Not Canon. And Edward was, it was all human. Edward was like a firefighter or something like that. I remember it blowing my fucking mind, but then I remember looking in the comments and like seeing the comments of it and  just like getting really shaken up about it. I think even if I didn't fully understand the why, and I think that seeing people  react so intensely, this is just like a little piece of fiction. I'm imagining that Bella has a Black mom.

Andrea Martucci: For most fan fiction readers in that universe, as long as they were white, everything else was up in the air, but it was a bridge too far to imagine a different race.

But I I love that example of like how some people were like, wait a second, this doesn't, everything else is different, but this doesn't match what I'm looking for. But you were like, what? Whoa, like you're you perked up. Oh my God, what? This is possible?

Jodie Slaughter: Yes.  And there were plenty of fics where Bella was Like hashtag curvy. There seemed to be every iteration of a person, of like a trait, but not that, they were always white and that was the only one that I can ever remember.

Ever.

Of someone daring to be like, okay, we're going to imagine this, but let's change the race.

And it was like, people were like, this is unacceptable. I don't remember the name of the fic. I don't remember if it was taken down. I just remember just being like, Holy shit, (laughs) but also fully knowing that I wasn't ever going to be able to... I was like, I'm not that bold. I'm like, I'm 15. I'm not that bold.

I wasn't ever going to be able to do that. I wasn't ever going to be able to imagine Edward and Bella as Black people or people of color, even if I'd read plenty of fics where it was like, Edward wasn't even a thing because it was like, I mean I was like a huge proponent of Bella and Rosalie for a while.

I just thought that was like,

Andrea Martucci: Rosalie had such like an intense hatred for Bella for the longest time until Bella produced a baby, which - wow.

Jodie Slaughter: Which wanted to steal?

Andrea Martucci: The half vampire child - there is a corollary there that I am not getting into.

Oh, the pro-life Oh, Oh, I was actually getting into [00:32:30] interracial marriage and Oh biracial children.

Jodie Slaughter: Oh, holy shit, yeah. Oh, my God cause that's 8,000 cans of worms

Andrea Martucci: But that's a harmful narrative. You have to call that for what it is. That's harmful narrative that like, Oh, but if you procreate together, that heals all the hatred that I have in my heart towards your kind.

Jodie Slaughter: Didn't you know ? There's no more racism because a white person and a black person rub their genitals together. And that meant that we had world peace. That meant that that meant that like institutional racism it's done, it's over. finito.

Andrea Martucci: It's done.

Marker [00:33:07]

I think what we're building to here. And I think I'm really glad that we also got into that, the sort of representation piece, because I think that this is a concern I have about Bridgerton,in the conversation about like Bridgerton supposedly opening the door for all of these other romance adaptations is , let me start here.

There's a lot of things to talk about with Bridgerton. It is indisputable that it has a huge viewership right now. So I think the last thing I saw was, in the first month it had 63 million viewers on Netflix . it has a huge platform, right? So a lot of people have Netflix and have access to it. It's like

Jodie Slaughter: And everybody's at home.

Andrea Martucci: Everybody's at home. It obviously had a lot of promotional push behind it.

In the romance world, there are a lot of people who, because Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series has been out for 20 years, it was a popular series. A lot of people have read it. There's been plenty of time to read the books.

Jodie Slaughter: I didn't know. It was 20 years old.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Okay look. Bridgerton had a huge platform. It was created to be popular and it was, and I think that there's an element of this where there's an underestimation of like, how much power the media has to control what is popular. There is an immense amount of control there.

So like 63 million people watched it. Did 63 million people like it? That's a different question. And I'm not even implying that the majority of people didn't like it or find it highly watchable, but those are different questions. It didn't become popular because like word of mouth was just so amazing.

Jodie Slaughter: It was a concerted, concentrated push.

Andrea Martucci: Exactly.

Jodie Slaughter: To make it popular. They spent millions, I'm sure, marketing this show.  Cause they want to make money off of it obviously, but yeah, they want it to be [00:35:00] popular. They wanted people to talk about it. Yeah. Yeah. You're exactly right. I don't know whether or not people are, I don't know whether or not they're like, this is the best shit I've ever seen when we were like, yeah, it was something that, I just watched it.

You know what I mean? I think -

Andrea Martucci: I watched it. It was free. I already paid for Netflix.

Jodie Slaughter: It was on TV. Exactly. I think you can't discredit that because I think how much shit do, I've just I watched it, there.

Andrea Martucci: And there's a lot of stuff on Netflix, obviously that doesn't get that push. That you could say the same thing, like sure. I've watched it and like look, I've watched all sorts of random stuff on Netflix.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: The power of what is up on that home screen for people? Come on. And especially when you've then been seeing articles and you've been seeing conversation, you've been seeing magazines,   like this is a media machine, right?

This isn't an accident.

I think so much

Jodie Slaughter: of the marketing was like, hashtag diverse.

Andrea Martucci: Yes.

Jodie Slaughter: And that, and I think that a lot of people got excited about it that maybe wouldn't have been excited about it before, or maybe people who were like, I'm going to watch this because it's hashtag diverse.

Andrea Martucci: And I can Pat myself on the back for consuming diverse media.

Jodie Slaughter: I can say I watched this hashtag diverse show. There's a Black man in it. And he's the main character.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And the can of worms that we're not going to get into is that when some groups of people are represented so infrequently, what choices you make when you represent those people matter more because there are fewer touch points to build a bigger story of people. And so  particularly things that play into harmful cultural stereotypes, that's a whole other conversation, right? We are not talking about that, but

Jodie Slaughter: That's another episode.

Andrea Martucci: Like eight other episodes. So really, but what we're talking about is like of those 63 million people who watched that in the first month, probably a lot of them are not romance readers.

Probably a lot of them are people who have cliched, stereotypical understandings of romance - they understand romance as what the media romance is. And this is a concept Jayashree Kamble has written about before, and I've mentioned before, which is basically like the media romance is like Fabio, bodice rippers.

It, it is an idea of romance that isn't actually the reality of romance.

And so these people are encountering Bridgerton[00:37:30] and the people who like it are like, Oh, that was fun. I want more of this.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And they're like, what is it that I want more of? Their cultural touchpoint is not that what they want more of is romance.

Jodie Slaughter: Romance. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And so I think that all the articles that are like, people obviously love romance, we should adapt more romance novels. I don't think that's actually the takeaway most people have.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. I don't think so either. I think a lot of them are going to go start watching like Jane Austen adaptations. They're going to start watching historical, but they're gonna start watching like British history. Like they're probably going to go to like Downton Abbey and shit like that. And maybe not understand - yeah. Because I think you're right. I think they're not going to -  what it was that like truly made them happy about whatever that was, the romantic arc.

Andrea Martucci: But do they know that it, because the majority of people are also not reading the articles that are like,

Jodie Slaughter: yeah.

Andrea Martucci: The romance readers are. We're like, yay. More adaptations.

Jodie Slaughter: We're in a bubble though.

Andrea Martucci: We're in a bubble. Yeah. We have to be aware of our bubble.

So my question was this. It's like a much bigger question than we're going to get to in this conversation, because I think part of my question is, when you adapt a romance novel from a book to the screen, the people who see the screen version are they then like Oh, let me go look at the book.

Or are the majority of them now, like I liked this thing on screen. I want to see more of this on screen, but what is it that they take away that they enjoyed about that? Is it the lush scenery or is it the romance? And I think okay, look, there is some evidence that some people,  similar to your journey through Twilight are like - but you actually came in through the books so I think that's where this diverges a little bit.

Jodie Slaughter: I will say -  I recently watched Normal People. Actually early in quarantine,

Andrea Martucci: I watch like no TV. So I barely know what TV shows are.

Jodie Slaughter: It's a show based on a book that is about these two Irish teenagers, and their tumultuous love story.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. I I do know what you're talking about now.

Jodie Slaughter: Yes.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Jodie Slaughter: I fucking loved it. I watched the show and I fucking loved it. I loved it, but I'm not going to classify it as like a romance. And then I went and I was like, I want to read the book. But I don't know if that's different because I am a romance reader, because I am a reader, because I am a writer who was very interested in seeing how she played these emotions out on page.

When they hit me so hard in the show, I was like, I want this sadness to hit me even harder in [00:40:00] the book. But I think, I don't know. I think that's a good question. I wonder if you can , if there are like charts that show like sales bumps.

Andrea Martucci: And so then think about the coordinated media message. So they rebranded the Bridgerton books with the cover.

Jodie Slaughter: What the fuck. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: The cover has the people from the adaptation, which (makes a dumbfounded sound, Jodie and Andrea sputter and laugh) There's a - the cover -

Jodie Slaughter: there are no Black people in these books. I'm like, How did you, how did they think - what was that  thing that Barnes and Noble or whoever did?

Andrea Martucci: Oh yeah, they took like classic literature and then they were like, (silly voice) "But what if the Wizard was Black?!"

Jodie Slaughter: They're like, Oh, Asian, whatever. It's like, there's no Asian woman in this book. I don't know.

Andrea Martucci: You can't just like change the cover. It does not actually change the story and like and actually, and this is the can of worms I don't want to get into, when you change the race, it starts adding another layer of cultural complexity to the character choices. Yeah.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, exactly. And if, I don't know, I didn't watch the show and nor did I read the books. But what I'm guessing from the  critiques from the show is that they did not add any nuance to the show or much, I guess

Andrea Martucci: I mean, I'll leave the assessment of that to another conversation. But I think that definitely what's going to happen is people are going to walk into their bookstore and they're like, Oh, I just saw this on TV. I liked it. Maybe I'll pick up this book.

That's what they're hoping will happen.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: I think there's a lot of questions about how - is this a questionable decision given the choices on the show, given the actual text it was built from? Is there something deceptive about putting the characters from the TV show on the cover of this book?

A question for another time.

Jodie Slaughter: Right

Marker [00:41:56]

Andrea Martucci: Thanks for listening to episode 77 of Shelf Love and thank you to Jodie for joining me. A transcript and show notes for this episode can be found on shelflovepodcast.com .

You don't want to miss all the questions and answers I saved for another day. In part two, how will romancelandia handle the romance curious? How do adaptation viewers make the leap to the pages of romance?

Does Bridgerton actually open doors for other romance adaptations or are our genre definitions arbitrary to outsiders who would define a Regency [00:42:30] romance as a completely different type of TV show than a romcom?

  Thank you for joining me today. If you have any thoughts on the show, I would love for you to reach out to me. You can send an email to andrea@shelflovepodcast.com.

And don't forget to join the Shelf Love email newsletter. The easiest way to do that is either to visit shelflovepodcast.com and there our newsletter signup forms on the page. Or there is a link in the show notes of this episode.

Shelf Love is produced by me, Andrea Martucci. Thank you to Shelf Love's editorial advisory board members, Katrina Jackson, and Tasha L. Harrison.

That's all for this week. Black lives matter. Stay safe, stay mad and keep reading romance.

And the can of worms that we're not going to get into   

Jodie Slaughter: Oh, my God cause, that's 8,000 cans of worms.

  Andrea Martucci: and actually, and this is the can of worms I don't want to get into,

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah. So many cans of worms to open.

Andrea Martucci: we can only open so many cans of worms in this conversation.

Yeah, no, he smelled her blood and he's like (makes a sound) , like he's going to bust.

Jodie Slaughter: Yeah, (cackles) I hate you. But yeah.