How To Catch A Man on the Love Train
Journalist E. Jean Carroll hopped a ride on the Love Train with dozens of romance authors in 1983, hoping to discover "how to catch a man." But did she actually discover who women* in America were fantasizing about being? Steve Ammidown, archivist and historian of the romance genre, joins me to discuss Where the Heart Roams, a 1987 documentary about romance authors, culture clashes, silk sheets and lavender sachets, men with a lot of flash (there aren't many), and many conflicting theories about how to catch a man.
Steve Ammidown: [00:00:00] there are these moments where it goes back and forth between this kind of very old school, which I would argue Janet Dailey and Barbara Cartland represent.
And then this sort of newer tradition that is more explicit that's represented in like this very awkward scene where Lori Herter is reading from one of her Candlelight Ecstasies.
Andrea Martucci: The camera work is a work of art because she's, it's zoomed in on Lori Herter and she has this very rigid posture, and then at a certain point, it just zooms out and you see that her husband is sitting there right next to her, staring at her.
I remember watching that scene in the preview and I was like, I have to watch this.
Andrea Martucci: Hello and welcome to Shelf Love a podcast and community that critically examines the meaning and structure of romantic love stories in pop culture. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci.
On this episode, Steve Ammidown archivist and historian of the romance genre is joining me for his second tour of Shelf Love guestery, separated by, I don't know, 18 to 24 months. And we're discussing how, Where the Heart Roams, a documentary released in 1987 about romance authors and readers, encapsulates how the reception of the romance genre has changed, or not, over time, and how this documentary captures the angst of the readers, writers and media of the 1980s.
Steve, how have you been?
Steve Ammidown: I've been hanging in there. It's been, I think it has been 18 months and we've just had a few changes since then. Things have gone well and off on my own blogging about romance history and having a good time.
Andrea Martucci: Thank you so much for joining me today. We had been talking in DMS. I had watched Naughty Books documentary, and I was like, oh, let me go look at all the romance documentaries that have existed over time. Briefly considered doing a whole series on them. And honestly, I was like, nah, I can't do this. But I was very interested in this documentary Where The Heart Roams, and, you were talking about it as well.
And who better to talk about a film from the 1980s, than my favorite romance archivist, who actually has some insight into the players of this time. You've been blogging about some of the I'm going to say like earlier romance writers particularly people who were writing in the seventies and eighties as there was like this bigger American romance boom that was happening.
Steve. I wonder if you could give a high level introduction to Where The Heart Roams. What is it about? What happens in this documentary?
Steve Ammidown: The film came out in 1987, but it's important to point out the events in the film happened in 1983. Why there was a four year gap. We're not really sure. But so basically George Csicsery, who's the filmmaker went to the 1983 Romantic Times Romantic Book Lovers convention and interviewed a bunch of authors, readers even a few journalists, who we'll mention later and compiled all that into this very there's no narrator. It's a very, just talking heads kind [00:03:00] of documentary
Andrea Martucci: The only narrative structure is these title cards that are like "the writers," "the readers," the the journalist.
Steve Ammidown: "The people who make romance." Yeah. So it starts with The Love Train, which was organized by Kathryn Falk of Romantic Times, and Chelley Kitzmiller, who I believe was a reviewer for RT at the time. Kitzmiller, didn't fly, wanted to come from her home in California to the conference in New York.
So they gathered fans and authors and aspiring authors and created this sort of PR train across the country. So the film starts with that and building in some of this backstory it's intended to focus on Chelley Kitzmiller and her role as a reader and part of this community.
But it does roll up a lot more interesting stuff in the person of Barbara Cartland and Vivian Stephens and E. Jean Carroll as well. All talking about the genre and their takes on the genre which Barbara Cartland's very different from Vivian Stephens in a lot of ways.
And it shows a lot of the evolving that was happening in the early eighties, where Americans were starting to be more involved in the contemporary romance market and how that was changing. There's also a lot of business end of it. There's a marketing rep from Silhouette books who plays a big part in explaining how publishers viewed the market.
There's a lot of randomness. There's a random scene where the authors on the train are pulling phrases out of a hat and building a story out of it. Which is very entertaining. There's also a random wedding. That happens that was sponsored by Zondervan publishing who had that year in 1983 created the first dedicated, inspirational romance line.
And so they evidently decided a wedding was the way to promote it. But over all film is really interesting because it's during a time when romance was exploding when Katherine Faulk was at the height of her powers having founded Romantic Times like a year earlier, it's just this sort of very interesting take done from sort of the male gaze of George Csicsery.
He conveys, I think, through the film, how he views romance and how a lot of men view romance. Chelley Kitzmiller's husband plays a prominent role in this film and his sort of disapproval of her seeking fulfillment through romance outside of the home. It's a real interesting ride.
And literally it's a great example of why you shouldn't film documentaries on a train. Because large sections of the film are just everyone kind of swaying back and forth as though they're on a train because they are. That's it in a nutshell .
Andrea Martucci: yeah, it's such a privilege to get some insight into just what people would say at the time about the genre, because it's a little unedited in the sense that the romance readers and writers themselves were not editing it. And so it really is a time capsule and there's so much like fashion cringe because this is the height of shoulder pads [00:06:00] and Prairie style dresses and prim, modest slash corporate looking clothes.
Like from a fashion perspective, it's this very confused mish-mash of femininity with like bows and frills and pin tucks and floofs and silk. But then also they're all wearing these suits, that are almost like business inspired. I think that the fashion of it shows that cultural confusion as well.
The main takeaway I had from rewatching this in particular was was the culture clash that it shows. These are primarily white women who are featured in this documentary with the notable exceptions of Vivian Stephens, who was an editor and is a Black woman and Elsie Washington, who was a journalist and also was a romance author, makes a very brief appearance on The Love Train in one scene.
But other than that, we are talking to cis white women, primarily appear to be middle-class and, almost entirely seemed to be married and their partners seem to have a lot of influence or their opinions seem to have a lot of influence in this documentary. The undertone is what women want and how things are changing in the culture where women want to be more independent.
And women's roles are changing. Changing from more traditional family roles to wanting to experience adventure and independence and careers of their own and choosing to marry a man instead of having to get married, to be supported by a man. And so obviously like throughout this, as you might expect from a documentary at this time, exclusively heterosexual relationships explored and very traditional gender roles being discussed.
I found it really interesting on that level because everything is women, this women that. Men this men that, and there's a lot of gender essentialism where there isn't a lot of nuance of different people wanting different things, unrelated to their gender. Everything gets boiled down to all women want this, all men want this.
Yeah it's such an interesting documentary.
We decided that we're going to focus on E. Jean Carroll who is the journalist who makes an appearance in this story. And she stands out as being a really interesting character, from the character lineup.
She also wrote a book that has a chapter that talks about this experience as well. So not only do we get her on the screen talking about this, but then we could also use the text from her book to get some additional insight into what she was thinking at the time.
So Steve, could you give an introduction to E. Jean Carroll and her role in this?
Steve Ammidown: E. Jean Carroll is a journalist and author and socialite and all of these other things. We know her best now as the woman who sued Donald Trump over a rape that happened in a department store dressing room. But at this time in the [00:09:00] early eighties, she was writing for Playgirl.
She was writing for Playboy as well. And she ran in the same circles as Hunter S Thompson. She ended up writing a biography about him later on I want to say in the early two thousands and is writing in that sort of guerilla journalism type of mold where she inserts herself into these stories.
And she mentions in the documentary that she paid her own way to get on The Love Train. Cause Playgirl told her, we want you to write this story, but we don't have any money to do it. So she's an active participant in the documentary and in the entire Love Train conference experience.
And so her role becomes this sort of muddle. She's an outsider, but she's sort of part of the gang as well. And I think she sums up a lot of things really nicely. And she's also the only woman who is a talking head in the film who's outside of the romance community. So I think she plays a really interesting role. Also in this film, she is a tall blonde attractive woman who is a journalist. She's this ultimate romance heroine for the contemporary 1980s romance in a way.
Andrea Martucci: We're first introduced to E. Jean Carroll, she's like smoking at a table in what looks like a lounge in a hotel at their eventual destination, I assume. Once they get off The Love Train.
And so the first story that you hear her tell is she's talking about one of the women readers that she met along the way.
And she says "she's 42, but she looked 50." And then she proceeds to describe this woman in the least flattering terms possible. I will not repeat how she describes her. And she says "well, she read 30 to 60 romance novels a month. What do you think she does for a living? She's the director of stocks and bonds for an enormous corporation. And so I asked her, have you ever been in love?" And I'm going to pause here. This is classic journalism questions about romance novels, like 1 0 1, right?
Who is this woman? I assume that she is a housewife. Oh my God, I am shocked. She is a powerful career woman. But also it's important how she looks. To pause again, there, maybe this is just a Gonzo journalism thing where you have to set the scene and describe who you're talking to, just get some context, but I digress. Okay, " Have you ever been in love," another classic, I need to understand your romantic relationship situation to contextualize what you're getting out of these books. And I assume that your desire to read these books has to do with a lack in your own romantic life.
Okay. So "have you ever been in love? No. I have no reason to be in love. Her entire fantasy sex life is in these books. She's running this company exquisitely" and that's how she says it. "She has no problems. She's extremely happy." Another digression, very like 1980s corporate. She can do it just like a man. That is a huge theme in this movie. Right?
" She's in love every day of her life, in love with a new man every night. Deals with money all day and she [00:12:00] romances all night and she's perfectly happy."
And it is such a good encapsulation of the stereotypes about romance readers. They stereotypes about why people read romance. I like how she reframes it a little bit from "there must be some lack in your life" to: "what does she need a man for?"
Steve Ammidown: right?
Andrea Martucci: So that is an interesting take that I think you wouldn't get with a cis male journalists at the time.
Steve Ammidown: Yeah, absolutely.
Andrea Martucci: She makes quite a few appearances actually. So she talks to Janet Dailey. She's like yelling questions at Barbara Cartland, which is described in a scene in her book. She seems to be like going and talking to the writers, to Chelley Kitzmiller, she's talking to George Csicsery the documentary filmmaker.
She talks to Katherine Falk and kind of gets her take. So she really starts to summarize what she is picking up from the people on The Love Train and it seems like her main impetus when she told Playgirl that she was going to pay her own money to get on this train was that she thought that this was the perfect assignment because she "I wanted to find out how to catch a man and I found out."
Steve what do you think, first of all of this obsession " let me go to romance to find out how to catch a man."
Steve Ammidown: that is sort of a theme through the book that she publishes this in eventually. Female Difficulties, where she's trying to figure out like how to catch a man. And it seems like a very I don't know, very Playgirl in the 1980s kind of, topic.
Her interactions are really interesting.
The one that I really enjoyed was her interaction with Janet Dailey where she's really trying to push Janet Dailey's buttons and get a reaction out of her. And she says at one point "I think men should be thrown on the ground and slapped around a little bit." And Jetta daily is just like, no, that's no, that's not what I want.
But again, like it's this interaction of this kind of this idealized romance heroine in E. Jean Carroll telling an author like, this is what I want. And the author is like, oh, I don't know. Even though that was where the genre was going at that moment was towards a more aggressive sexuality for women.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. that was like the theme, right? That eventually emerged as the theme and Barbara Cartland, I don't know If it was just which parts she said that were included in this documentary. It sounds like she is obsessed with calling romance novels oh, it's edging towards soft porn.
It's so crude. It's disgusting. Like she is really going on about that.
Steve Ammidown: Yeah. If you watch other interviews with her from the 1980s, this is a running theme with her because she thinks her romances are the greatest and the purest and the best. And anything else is soft porn. And then Vivian Stephens appears on the screen and says, "Barbara Cartland has some very interesting ideas about the books that we are publishing right now."
It's a beautiful scene where Vivian Stephens she's just lounging there wearing this lovely purple beret, twirling a Carnation in her fingers with murder in her [00:15:00] eyes. I'm going to end this with Barbara Cartland right now. And she essentially says, these are the books we're publishing. Deal with it.
She said, Barbara Cartland has these really interesting ideas as though they should be disregarded immediately. There are these moments where it kind of goes back and forth between this kind of very old school, which I would argue Janet Dailey and Barbara Cartland represent.
And then this sort of newer tradition that is more explicit that's represented in like this very awkward scene where Lori Herter is reading from one of her Candlelight Ecstasies and reading the sex scene while sitting next to her husband, who's just staring at her and it's just very awkward.
Andrea Martucci: But the camera work is a work of art because she's, it starts with it's zoomed in on Lori Herter and she has this very rigid posture and she's reading this 1980 sensual scene, not quite as hot as you can go in 2021, in self pub especially. So the camera's zoomed into her and then at a certain point, it just zooms out and you see that her husband is sitting there right next to her, staring at her.
I remember watching that scene in the preview and I was like, I have to watch this.
So Janet Dailey is such an interesting character because her career seemed very intertangled with what her husband Bill wanted.
Every single one of her interviews, she seems to defer to Bill, and what Bill wants and oh, what's the perfect romance hero? My husband. It's a little weird and I know you have more insight into Janet and Bill Dailey. She definitely is that like, "well, I leave certain things to the imagination" and they interview some of her readers at one point who really make a point to say, " I love the feelings. It's great escapism, but oh, she doesn't, she doesn't go dirty. She goes just far enough and then leaves up to the imagination."
Definitely more along the lines of, we want these to be sweet and not crude. And Janet Dailey at one point says, E. Jean Carroll, trying to really push her buttons, as you said, says, "what do you find repulsive about the male species?" And Janet Dailey seems a little put out and kind of like side eyeing, E Jean Carroll, but eventually says "their tendency towards crudity" and elaborates that she thinks that a love scene written by a man would be very different from one written by a woman because a man's literature would be more graphic and they would focus on tangible things that they can touch.
She seems to have this like very clear idea of like femininity and how it's fundamentally different from masculinity and how they imagine love and sex. And how they would write about such things.
What do you know about Janet and Bill Dailey? And Janet Dailey passed away. I don't know if Bill is still alive .
Steve Ammidown: She died in 2013. She was 69 or 70 somewhere around there. Bill had died a few years earlier and there was always some speculation that Bill's ill health and his death were part of what led to some of the [00:18:00] plagiarism that she undertook of Nora Robert's work and probably some other works as well.
So the whole mythology around Janet Dailey is that he was the head of the construction company that she was a secretary for. And they got married. He retired, he was rich enough he could retire. She started reading romance novels, and he basically dared her to write one.
And she, supposedly the story goes, sent first manuscript off to Mills and Boon in London. And I want to say it was 1974. She said it was accepted with no revisions. Which if you ask any romance author is a sign of either someone trying to bullshit or an editor that doesn't care. With Mills and Boon, there are rumors that it could have been either. Mills and Boon was known for not heavily editing any of the works but instead pumping them out.
So in 1974, she publishes her first book called No Quarter Asked with Mills and Boon, and then goes on to publish eight more with Mills and Boon over the next two years. And then in 1976, Harlequin picks her up and brings her books to the US. There's a whole story about the fudging of those dates, but those are the actual dates.
So 1974 and 1976. And I think it's interesting to think about when this documentary was filmed in 1983. She had been writing for 10 years. She was the most successful romance writer at that time, short of Barbara Cartland.
Andrea Martucci: probably important to say Barbara Cartland is British, of course.
And of that Mills and Boon, British romance publishing world, which had a longer history like Harlequin was just reprinting Mills and Boon up until the time it started publishing Janet Dailey, right?
Steve Ammidown: In 1964 Harlequin starts reprinting Mills and Boon exclusively. Prior to that, they were a general re printer. They publish occasionally some original works, but they were mostly just reprinting other publishers books. They had started printing romance generally in the 1950s including nurse romances and general contemporary romances and then switched over to exclusively reprinting Mills and Boon in the sixties.
Now Cartland never published for Mills and Boon. She worked with other publishers in the UK and worldwide. I don't remember who her US publisher was. But she was publishing pretty much worldwide wherever she wanted. She wrote something like 300, some odd books. I forget the exact number, but it was quite a lot.
Andrea Martucci: Thank you for clarifying that. For context though Mills and Boon and British category publishers, like there were, there was a longer history of romance publishing, whereas obviously it did make it over to the U S but like those nurse romances that Harlequin was publishing, do they take place in America?
Steve Ammidown: The early ones that Harlequin published did take place in America. Many of them were written by American writers. The books themselves [00:21:00] were largely distributed in Canada for Harlequin. Up until the late sixties, they had some distribution in the U S but it was pretty minor.
And then, yeah, Mills and Boon as a romance publisher dates back to world war two and the post-war era. Harlequin was a lot more general, there's all kinds of stuff in the early Harlequin catalogs of mysteries and horror and compilations and health books. There's several books about curling and football and other things in there.
Andrea Martucci: And Vivian Stephens makes a point to talk about how in her line, she really wanted the heroines in a particular to be American. And there's this move towards America and representing America and romance and she wanted to bring it to America to "glorify this country."
And I'm like, Ooh, it's like a little weird, but it also provides some context for some of that history. Like Barbara Cartland in particular represents this longer tradition of publishing. They were all like category ish romance, right?
Steve Ammidown: Yeah, they're all short, like 120 pages or whatever. And she was doing like 20 to 25 a year.
Andrea Martucci: And so they're like they're short, there is no sex. All the heroines are virgins. It's very much like a kiss fade to black kind of thing. And that's like a point of pride with her. And Janet Dailey is as you were saying, the big name at this time, and she's like the first American rockstar, contemporary category romance writer.
And I guess I'm saying that to distinguish from the boon of historical romances that started coming out in America, in, in the seventies Woodiwiss, people like that. But Janet Dailey was very like American and actually had a whole series of books that were, she was trying to do like all 50 states or something. Right?
Steve Ammidown: Right, yeah. So the gimmick was. And in the documentary, Bill describes this as his idea. Who knows which one it is. But the idea was that they had an Airstream trailer and they would go to all 50 states and they would set up camp in that state and the way they've described it in other places was Janet would stay in the camper and write.
And Bill would go around and do research in the area where they were staying. So it was this sort of coauthor, but not coauthor relationship. So that was their big gimmick and she did eventually complete that series. Unlike Sufjan Stevens did a book in all 50 states.
Andrea Martucci: I do know about Sufjan Steven's album thing where he was just like, I don't know. I got bored. I dunno, I don't want to be doing this until I'm 80.
And as you mentioned earlier, so Janet Dailey seems to be running in that same vein of like sweetness. She, at one point says something about how God made men first and it was the rough copy before he perfected his model by making women. And so there's like an undercurrent of Christianity [00:24:00] and conservatism and belief that women are fundamentally different from men. Janet Dailey is like an interesting character because on some levels she's really seems like hip and with it and women want this, women want that.
And then she falls back to like, "well, it was Bill's idea to do this." And, and I don't know, it's hard to tell what is really going on there. Like what she really feels, because she does seem to have quite a PR presence, I guess okay, this is what I'm going to say. This is the persona that I'm creating.
So then how do we encapsulate, the modern woman of the eighties persona that comes up in this, that is kind in contrast to that light on sensuality, very much traditional gender role thing that Barbara Cartland and Janet Dailey are doing.
Who would you say represents that the best, besides E. Jean Carroll?
Steve Ammidown: I think the way the filmmaker sets it up is Laurie Herter kind of plays that part of bringing a little more sensuality into the books and she's writing for Candlelight Ecstasy. And I think she may have been writing for Silhouette at that point as well which were lines that encouraged more intimacy and more open door sensuality. it, you know, It wasn't explicit in any regard, but it was much more explicit than it would have been in a Cartland book or even in an early Janet Dailey book.
So I think she plays this role of being, as opposed to a lot of the women who are in the film, she had only been married for five years. So it was still in that honeymoon phase. And I think she's playing that role. I think of the more modern romance author.
Andrea Martucci: Everybody in this film is actually fascinating, but Vivian Stephens is interesting because she obviously feels very differently about sensuality than Barbara Cartland. She also makes a point to really be like, all right, now we don't want to go too far though. Let's get some sensuality in there, but nothing below the waist or nothing below the, the neck. And, there's this scene where she's doing a writing workshop for the participants at the Romantic Times Conference. And she's almost like chiding the prospective writers who are sending in manuscripts.
And she says, " some of your books come in and I have to admit they're a little crude because I don't think a lot of you have learned to write sex scenes yet." And I noticed the audience laughs a little, but almost like they're kind of like, okay, Vivian, like LOL, we know what people really want here.
And they want it to be a little bit cruder. And I almost felt like Vivian was towing the party line of publisher expectations and I don't know. You've done a lot of work on Vivian Stephens and she's obviously spoken more recently tha n 19 83 on this. Do you have any sense of like her personal feelings?
If she wanted things to get a little hotter, but was getting the publishers being like, eh, we can't go too [00:27:00] far here?
Steve Ammidown: I think Vivian's perspective and obviously I don't claim to speak for her, but like putting together what she says there and what I've heard her say elsewhere is, she was really looking for better writing more than anything. I can imagine authors sending it in very crude sex scenes to her, but I think what she was looking for was better word choices and more sensuality to the sexuality.
Andrea Martucci: It's almost exactly what Janet Dailey was talking about, where Janet Dailey is saying well, if men wrote sex scenes, it would all just be tactile. And Vivian makes a point to really be like, what else is happening? Yeah. How do you bring this to life beyond just be like Tab A, slot B, whatever.
Steve Ammidown: Exactly. And I think, there was a burgeoning market at that point for erotica in places like Playgirl and Cosmo and things like that. But I think she was trying to walk this line of, I work for Harlequin now, we can't do Tab A into Slot B, but you can write this better.
Like you can describe the kiss better or things like that. And not to get too far off the topic, but in that very same scene Tom Huff makes an appearance and Tom Huff was most famous as the author, Jennifer Wilde. And he makes this comment of like when you, you see a woman naked, that's not sexy.
And I'm like wait a minute. Yes and no. Like I, I could see where he was going with it, but it was just like, yeah. And it does seem like it's almost a generational shift going on.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, because he appears to be a man maybe in his fifties or sixties at the time.
Steve Ammidown: He was in his forties.
Andrea Martucci: really? Oh, okay. Oh no. I just pulled an E. Jean Carroll. So what's really interesting about him. And I know you've seen these pictures. Is there was a feature in a magazine. Was it Life Magazine?
Steve Ammidown: Yes. Oh, it's my favorite.
Andrea Martucci: oh my goodness. I'm going to have to put a link to this. Okay. So a lot of these people make an appearance in this very bizarre Life Magazine like photo essay, where the photographer went and took photos of a lot of romance authors. They are the most bizarre pictures you have ever seen in your life.
And Tom Huff, AKA Jennifer Wilde. His photo it's like him sitting in a chair with like his mother, with her hand on his shoulder and then like a picture of the same mother wearing almost exactly the same outfit on the wall behind him?
Steve Ammidown: Yes. Yup. That's exactly it. It's a, it's an interesting moment.
One of the things that's really interesting is Tom Huff as Jennifer Wilde, was he was writing -and forgive me for using the term- He was writing bodice rippers. Like he's writing rape scenes and all of this, relatively explicit stuff.
And here he is chiding romance authors to, to be more sensual. And I thought that was a really interesting juxtaposition.
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Andrea Martucci: There seems to be a lot of what people are saying you should do, but then underneath it all, everyone's kind of like, what do the readers really want? And I felt like that in some of the scenes where the readers themselves were saying what they wanted to read, where they had to make sure that you knew that they weren't really there for the sexy stuff, they were there for the emotions.
They're there for all this other stuff, but what's really selling at the time? So can you introduce the publisher who makes an appearance in here? I thought he was another interesting character and I think he did a really good job of explaining in particular, maybe like some of the generational differences that were happening and what people really wanted to buy.
Steve Ammidown: The publisher who appears is, and I'm going to butcher his last name, and I apologize, is John Gfeller, who at the time of filming worked for Silhouette Books. Just as a side note between the time that the movie was filmed and when it came out, Silhouette was bought up by Harlequin and Harlequin essentially gutted Silhouette, but that's a different story.
But he sums it up as essentially, the older generation is reading the books where they're being courted again. And he's talking about sort of Barbara Cartland and type Regency books and historicals where they want to be courted. And he's just like, that's not how it works today. Women want to be successful and they want attraction and they want sexuality.
So yeah, he goes into it a really interesting way.
Andrea Martucci: He talks specifically about, when some of these older writers, readers, people who have been in the genre for a while, where they're like, when they grew up, there was no premarital anything and courting led to marriage and yeah he makes quite a point about generational differences and Vivian Stephens later yeah, the horse is out of the barn, Barbara. Saying we've got the pill there's greater awareness about our bodies. And what's insinuated, there, is like that sex can be pleasurable.
A lot of what was going on in here made me think I was like, oh, I wonder like how big of a change there was in women's participation in the workforce between say like the sixties and the eighties in America and how much that's impacting this move towards younger women, having careers and being independent.
And how, that's almost in contrast to like the majority of the characters in here, embodied in the readers, writers, some of the editors and at the time, where a lot of them, almost all of them were married and almost all of them did not have careers themselves or had worked for some time maybe before [00:33:00] marriage, but that had stopped working once they got married.
There was definitely like a lot of the writers seem to embody the stereotype of the housewife who was bored and looking for something to do, got obsessed with reading romance and said well, Hey, I can write this. And then decides to write.
So I did look up labor force participation rates from 1890 to 2016.
And I'll tell you what I'm seeing here. I'm actually looking at Canada, UK, US, and Germany, and they all follow a fairly similar path here. In 1890, In the United States, under 20% of women participated in the labor force. And we start to see that tick up almost a 30% in 1950.
There's a big jump, I assume post-World war two there. And then we see this huge jump from just under 30% to over 40% in the early 1960s. And then it just keeps going up and up and up. And by the time we're in the eighties, we're at about like 50% of female labor force participation rates.
And then it looks like things are plateauing at like high fifties, 60% in the last 10 years, it only goes up to 2016. So if we're peaking out at. 60 ish percent now, in the 1980s, they were only 10% less than now but compared to the 1960s like, I mean, these are a huge jumps right between the 1960s and the eighties and between the eighties and now like almost, similar, huge jumps up there.
Just in case people are curious from the racial perspective. I did look up another chart on labor force participation for women based on race. And there are some differences. The moves upward follow, very similar rates. I think the highest rates of participation were with Hispanic women, then Asian women, then white women. And then Black women had the lowest percentage. And this is a longer conversation. I'm not going to dig into this now, but I was curious, I was like, oh, I wonder if this is not capturing all types of labor. Like only labor of particular kinds are really captured in these charts.
Right. And obviously this does not count unpaid labor, such as childcare and all of the variety of things that women do that are unpaid.
Anyways, a digression. There is a much greater chance that the younger generations who are reading these books or writing these books, even if they're younger, are thinking of themselves as like working women who can earn their own money, they don't have to marry a man to have money or to be not to be independent, but I guess to what are your options if you can't earn money and you don't want to get married in the sixties, right?
Do you live with your family? What do you do?
Steve Ammidown: Beginning in sort of 1980, 1981 romance writing starts getting sold as a get rich quick scheme specifically for things like category romance. The Romance Writers of America are formed in 1980. Kathryn Falk writes a book called How to Write a Romance and Get it Published. She rewrites that book several times over the following decades. And there's any number of those books that pop up. So I think [00:36:00] that played a role as well. And in that. Here's a way to do something you enjoy doing.
You enjoy reading romance. Why shouldn't you write it as well? And in 1983, when this film was shot, publishers were literally buying just about anything because they couldn't keep it on the shelves. And every publishing house was getting involved and trying out a romance line.
And most of them ended up failing by 1986, 1987. So it's an interesting moment that I think gets mirrored in the mid two thousands as we get into self publishing, ebook publishing. There are the people who are going to write a romance anyways. And then there are the people who were, are being encouraged to do it so that someone else can make a dollar kind of thing.
Andrea Martucci: Interestingly Naughty Books documentary kind of delves into that a bit.
And yeah. And so E. Jean Carroll actually has a really interesting scene in the chapter about this event in her book. She definitely portrays it like a gold rush. They're literally just like, oh my God, it's going crazy.
We gotta buy everything. It's a gold mine and you definitely feel that it's like coming from these like male editors and agents where they're like, I don't know what this is, and I don't understand it, but I'm just going to buy, buy, buy
Steve Ammidown: right? Yeah. They didn't really care about the quality they cared about, as Gfeller points out. " It's as much about what we wrap it in and how we promote it as what's in between the covers," right? Like we're just trying to sell the book. We don't care about the literary quality of it as much.
Andrea Martucci: And so to come back to How to Catch a Man and the different visions of how you catch a man, or like what, honestly, E. Jean Carroll is phrasing it as how to catch a man. But I think what it really is, what does a woman want in a man? I think fundamentally.
Steve Ammidown: Right.
Andrea Martucci: And so she summarizes from the different perspectives.
Apparently Barbara Cartland says, find out what he wants and give it to him. And Barbara Cartland like just before E. Jean Carroll was going through this rundown, there's this little scene with Barbara Cartland where she goes, "oh, we've done terrible things to men." Because as an aside, won't somebody for once think about the cis white men, which is who she really means there.
Steve Ammidown: Think about the men!
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. then talking about how all these independent women, they think that they can take care of themselves and what will men do if they don't have women to take care of. " Women are being so silly, being aggressive, wanting their freedom. They've lost the mystique of being a woman."
Steve Ammidown: Right..
Andrea Martucci: Also as an aside. So Barbara Cartland was the godmother to princess Diana
Steve Ammidown: She was the step grandmother.
Andrea Martucci: Step grandmother. Okay.
Steve Ammidown: Something along those lines,
Andrea Martucci: Barbara Cartland is like tuned into the British aristocracy in some fashion. Apparently she would brag about how princess Diana had only ever been allowed to read her books, Barbara Cartland's books. But then at some point after princess Diana's marriage fails, the fairy tale falls apart is I guess that didn't work out too well. I forget where that's quoted [00:39:00] but it is really interesting because this is also the era, it's around this time where there's this whole idea of the fairy tale romance being real, via princess Diana and prince what's his face.
Steve Ammidown: That drove a lot of the fashions, especially the fashions Kathryn Falk in are very inspired by Diana and and her style, especially like the ruffles and all of that. They got married in 1981, by the way,
Andrea Martucci: so at the point, this is happening. This is like in the wake of the Royal marriage happening and yeah. And so E. Jean Carroll says, "Kathryn Falk says sending flowers works." I believe she's referring to men should send women flowers.
Steve Ammidown: right. I don't know. Cause Kathryn Falk is this sort of odd duck of contrarianism. So it may have been the other way around. She doesn't really expand on that at all.
Andrea Martucci: yeah. Kathryn Falk believes in like the flowery femininity of women are a beautiful, delicate species that, just want to be surrounded by beautiful things. And, she packs her own silk sheets to bring on The Love Train and like lavender sachets, just so that she can really just control her atmosphere and keep it beautiful.
Not a very utilitarian seeming person, however, quite a powerhouse in terms of being a business woman. E. Jean Carroll mentions that Chelley Kitzmiller got in touch with Playgirl and pitched this idea, to have a journalist on the train. And I was like, oh my God, Chelley.
It's actually quite shocking to think of Chelley Kitzmiller as presented in this documentary, like reaching out to Playgirl. But I almost wonder if she's kind of planning this along with Kathryn Falk. That seems like something more Kathryn Falk would understand to do.
Steve Ammidown: Yeah, you would think, and yeah, Chelley Kitzmiller is this very typical early eighties Housewives type figure. She had been married for 20 years and never worked outside the home and all of that. And yeah, it's hard to imagine her to pitch Playgirl and other things, but it, it's entirely possible.
I don't know.
Andrea Martucci: And when you even think about the origins of this documentary, I think it's a similar thing. Like how did George Csicsery hear about this?
Steve Ammidown: There's a story that goes with that, but I don't know the whole story, but I know that was Kathryn Falk. Because in 1983 I encountered at one point a video of Kathryn and George Csicsery appearing on a New York cable access show talking about the conference and how they were going to film the conference.
And there would be a documentary. I don't know that she imagined it would be four years later before they got the documentary. But yeah, that was very much driven by her. And there's an interesting moment in E. Jean Carroll's book where she talks about The Love Train, and she's talking about going to visit Katherine Falk in her hotel room.
And Kathryn Falk is trying to recruit a gentleman with a title for a contest that they did, it was at the first two or three Romantic Times conferences where they gave away a date [00:42:00] with a man with a title. And Katherine Faulk is like, well, you know, he's related to some distant nobleman, but he has an inherited title.
So that's good enough. And can we get him a suit because he doesn't own one.
Andrea Martucci: Impoverished gentility, I suppose.
Steve Ammidown: so yeah, she's quite the powerhouse. She comes off very genteel in the film, but she is from all accounts, not someone to be messed with.
Andrea Martucci: yeah. Oh, last thing E. Jean Carroll says is, Barbara also says that you should be good-looking and intellectual, but don't let the man know that you're intellectual. So, (we laugh)
Yeah, but I almost thought that what E. Jean Carroll had to say when she listed off, If a man wants to know what women want, he should read these books. I think that she didn't find out how to catch a man. I think that she really found out what women were fantasizing about in a partner. And I think that this aligns with kind of the storyline that comes out in here, which is basically like these books are exploring what roles women are desiring to play and how they want their romantic relationships and the person who plays a role in their romantic relationships, what characteristics they want in them and what that person allows the heroine in all of these cases to be.
Steve Ammidown: yeah, I think that's spot on. I think what she ends up describing is the perfect romance novel hero, not necessarily the actual man that the woman that she's interacted with want to be with, but yeah, this sort of idealized set of characteristics that do characterize that perfect kind of aggressive but soft and, strong, but not too weak, a contemporary romance hero of the time.
Andrea Martucci: I'm curious, Steve, how you think this differs from romance heroes today. And again, I just want to say that this is assuming heterosexual romance novels, which this entire documentary assumes anyways okay. This is what E. Jean Carroll says, and she lists this as like A, B, C, and goes all the way down to H or whatever I will leave those out, but it's hilarious that she does it that way.
So they want the man to have courage. They want him to have intelligence. Women want to be treated in a hard way, but with sensitivity. The women want raw sexual animal magnetism. They want a man with a lot of money. A man who's good looking.
A man with a lot of flash and then she goes, " I mean, how many men do you know with a lot of flash, not that many." And she kind like looks at George Csicsery when she says this "and these men are all dark and glitzy in brooding ways." So how much do you think that differs from your average romance hero, particularly in heterosexual romance novels coming out today, Steve?
Steve Ammidown: I think that there's definitely still a historical romance archetype that suits that guy. I think the contemporary male characters have changed a bit, but I think the sort of framing feels very familiar. You know, It feels very much like, some of the discussions we all have now [00:45:00] about oh, men should read these books to learn what women want. And these are the things.
Like the framing is still very familiar. Which I thought was interesting. There's nothing new under the sun kind of thing where some of the specifics have changed but it's very much still within cis het romance, framed in a very familiar way
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I actually think that Barbara Cartland surprisingly explains this the best and definitely not in the context, but Barbara Cartland at some point in this is talking about how people want idealistic love "and people believe in it and it's what they want to believe. That, they're pure, perfect, sensitive and kind, no matter how bad they are, they think it about themselves. And I translate it for them, that they can be all these things." And it's ironic that she is the one who really hits on that, the fantasy is that we are like this,
Steve Ammidown: Right.
Andrea Martucci: That, we are the romance heroine who is independent and has adventures, no matter what our actual life is like. And we want to believe that, we can have it all in a partner, And when you go through, that list of characteristics of the man that a woman wants in this context. Courage, intelligence, I mean, a lot of these things are just kind of. yeah. You want raw sexual magnetism, but like with exactly the right amount of desire, but also sensitivity. They want a man with a lot of money. Look, if you could choose, would you not choose somebody with a lot of money?
I can be quite critical of patterns that emerge where, okay only people who are amazingly good looking deserve love, I don't want to be a hypocrite. People like people who are good-looking.
So if you're going to create and we need to break down our ideas of what we consider good looking, because those are based on a lot of really harmful assumptions, that's a whole other conversation.
But it ends up being a very generic statement, right?
of course we want somebody who's a little bit exciting and also mysterious. don't know, these just kind of sound like, sure. If you could write your list and it didn't have to adhere to literally what you had to live with day in, day out.
What's your big takeaway with E. Jean Carroll's assessment of this whole shebang?
Steve Ammidown: I think she nails it in a lot of ways. I think that she sees that there's a certain amount of desperation in the authors and their attempts to try and get published. And in the sort of capitalist trappings of the whole thing, and, her scene where she catches Kathryn Falk scheming to hornswoggled some man into a date and the publishers and all of that. So I think she gets it.
I think that, some of it is parroting some of what the other authors and readers said throughout the course of it.
But I think that her perspective is these romance novels are inherently good as a genre. More people should read them.
Andrea Martucci: Just to place the context of this chapter on this romance conference, within the book. Her other chapters are [00:48:00] about like porn stars and rodeo queens. The book is called Female Difficulties and sorority sisters, rodeo queens, frigid women, smut stars, and other modern girls. There is this edge of desperation and " what is my place with men in the world?" Like
Steve Ammidown: right.
Andrea Martucci: sex, ah, ah!,
Steve Ammidown: Well, And she kind of operates under this theory and I think the book reflects it that most American women are going through that. That same sort of set of concerns at that point in time where it's like where do I belong? Should I be a housewife? Should I be a corporate superstar?
There's a whole thing about good lookers in the book, which is very strange about people who are discriminated against because they're too good looking.
Andrea Martucci: won't someone of the good lookers?!
Steve Ammidown: Yeah. So yeah, I think that she gets to some of that desperation level, especially in this moment in the early eighties of all of this kind of publishing chaos and people feeling they could be the next Janet Dailey. Even though they most likely would not.
As Chelley Kitzmiller, his husband would tell us. He equates romance publishing to fishing, it's a really useful metaphor, but it's very odd in which he says that, 10% of the fishermen catch 90% of the big fish and everybody else is left with the rest.
that's actually pretty accurate,
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Steve Ammidown: In terms of romance publishing, like you could have published 10 books and you would have made pennies compared to Janet Dailey and Nora Roberts who was bursting onto the scene in 1983 as well. So yeah, I think she gets it and it's a really interesting moment, as I said earlier, Harlequins is bought by Silhouette, to tamp down some of the craziness that's going on. Janice Radway's Reading the Romance comes out the following year in 1984. So we start to get some actual sociological study of romance readers going on. So in some ways Carroll was presaging some of that of actually listening to these readers and authors and, and, uh,
Andrea Martucci: not completely dismissing what they want
Steve Ammidown: now yeah, that's what I was trying to get at. She doesn't dismiss it in the same way that a male journalist would have. In fact, there's a Newsweek on the air interview that you can find in the internet archives from 1983 with Elsie B. Washington about this conference.
She was an editor for Newsweek at the time. She was also a romance writer. So she gets sent on this assignment and gives her report of it. But the men who are hosting the radio show they're just every stereotype of dismissal that you would have expected from them in 1983. So yeah, so having these sort of journalists outsiders who are actually taking the genre seriously in 1983 is a really, it's a big shift. And it's a rocky way forward from there, but it does actually get a little better.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. The more things change, the more things stay the same as you alluded to, there's still issues with dismissiveness in the media. Some of the same sort of culture clashes are being hashed out, [00:51:00] similarities there, I guess maybe not exactly the same culture clashes, but there's always these various wings of, " no romance should be this," "no romance should be that" like within the genre.
There's always this sort of the publishers want one thing and their understanding of what they're doing may differ from the writers. And that may differ from the readers. The genre reflects not only the current cultural moment, but also the reverberations of previous cultural moments and previous movements within the industry and other adjacent industries.
So it's a fascinating documentary. It's really hard to get your hands on it.
Steve Ammidown: You can rent or buy it through Vimeo. It's not super cheap. I think I paid $13 to buy the digital download. But you can find it on Vimeo. That's I think the most reliable way. Sometimes it will pop up on Amazon. But you don't know what kind of a copy you're going to get. No one's actively making a DVD of it right now.
Andrea Martucci: I think I got the DVD because I was able to get it for $8 or something and then encountered the issue that I don't have a DVD player. And we scrounged up some external DVD player thing. It's, just the march of technology. It's amazing how hard it is, hearkening back to the conversation with Rebecca Romney about how quickly technology moves and how hard it is to get access to these older medias.
Steve, fascinating conversation. There's a million tangents to go on here. There's so much history behind the things that we know that happened before this, the context that this is happening in not just in the industry, but in the wider world.
And then what's always fascinating is that we can look up and see what happened to all of these people in, the intervening years.
It is an interesting postscript where we capture this moment where Chelley Kitzmiller is basically an aspiring writer and she is the person who kicked off this entire love train. And, has this moment of triumph of creating this event really.
And then it culminating in her being at this conference and afterwards is being interviewed and is like, this is really the fire that I need to like get going and really make my writing dreams come true and correct me if I'm wrong. I think she did manage to publish at least a few books. It's sad.
She never really had a big career as a romance writer.
Steve Ammidown: It was, yeah, 1993 was when her first book was published. So 10 years after that interview took place. And then she wrote as recently as 2014, I think was the last book. So yeah, she wrote seven or eight.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So I mean, it really is a sad but relevant representation of kind of that gold rush where it is a gold rush. It is this big movement and there's a lot going on, but not everybody strikes gold.
Steve Ammidown: Yeah, and there's a scene at the very end where it's 10 months after the conference. And Chelley Kitzmiller is at a Janet Dailey book signing. And she's trying to explain to these women what The Love Train was, and you can see in her face "I shouldn't have to explain this."
Like it should have been a very famous event by now. And it didn't quite pan [00:54:00] out that way.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Steve, thanks so much for being here with me today. You are doing some really interesting things on your blog.
How can people find you online and why don't you share a little bit about some of the writing that you've been
Steve Ammidown: Yeah. I love coming back and hope. we can do this again. I'm right now, blogging romancehistory.com. I snapped that one. There was a line. I've been writing some of the research I've done over the years into certain authors or certain lines trying to expand on some of that.
I did a post a few months ago about Tom Huff, who we mentioned earlier and this sort of phenomenon in the eighties of cis het men writing romance usually under pen names and all that implies. And then I just recently did a post about quote unquote Indian romances which were huge in the 1980s and 1990s.
But are largely forgotten now, except they became suddenly more relevant after the RWA awards a few weeks ago. I just wrote a piece for Library journal about that RWA debacle. I've been trying to keep busy and, as always people can find me on Twitter at @Stegan (@STEGAN).
Andrea Martucci: Thank you so much for spending time with me today, and don't forget to subscribe to Shelf Love on your favorite podcast app to get updates when new episodes are available. If you enjoy this content you can support Shelf Love on Patreon starting at just $3 a month. You can check that out at Patreon.com/ShelfLove. You can also sign up to get my free email newsletter, find recommendations and blog posts, and get transcripts for every single episode going back over a year at this point, all on my website, Shelf Love Podcast dot com. If you'd like to get in touch with me, you can email me at Andrea at Shelf Love Podcast dot com.
That's all for today. Bye.