Love Between the Covers is a documentary film about the romance community. I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the film along with a Q&A with Laurie Kahn, the film’s director. For three years, the crew followed the lives of five published romance authors and one unpublished one and explored topics including the romance community, writing methods, publishing, industry change, and, of course, why the heck is it so popular, yet largely ignored. The big question of “How can a billion dollar industry by women, for women, about women, get so little respect?” was not answered, but was acknowledged and addressed by several of the interviewees. I can’t remember which author said something like, “we pay the bills for the whole fiction industry.”
Laurie Kahn’s motivation for doing the film was that there are some terrific women out there and women’s stories just don’t get told on the screen. She has done other award winning films that focus on women’s stories and challenges people’s assumptions, which is what she set out to do with this one. She called the community of romance novelists a “great story, filled with interesting people who go on a journey together.
Although Laurie said she had hours and hours of interviews and other documentation, she couldn’t get all of it in there – the film would have been too long. She focused on five authors and their writing styles, like where they write, how long they write, how they plot, family/friend/colleague acceptance, etc. We all know the story of Eloisa James, aka Mary Bly, whose mother and father couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t write a real book and had to hide her romance-writing persona in order to get tenure. The film showed Celeste Bradley and Susan Donovan plotting by taping file cards to the wall and Len Barot’s struggle to get gay/lesbian fiction out in the main stream. Here is a nugget I took great hope in – Elizabeth Essex said it took her 5 years to write her first book, 1 year to write the second and 4 months for the third. I hope my writing speeds up at this pace.
There was a lot of interesting takes on the predictability and formulaic nature of romance novels. As several authors and scholars pointed out, in a murder mystery, you start with a dead boy and end with knowing whodunit. Without that, the ending is not emotionally satisfying. Most fiction follows a formula, or at least a set of guidelines, which defines the genre and allows us, as readers, to easily find and read what we like. Why does fiction that focuses on loyalty, love, loss, cowardice, and courage get passed over as fluffy and frivolous?
One thing I found interesting, being in the grants game myself, is that there was actually a bill (H.R. 5155 – 113th Congress) introduced that would prohibit “the National Endowment for the Humanities from providing funds to carry out the Popular Romance Project or any similar project relating to love or romance.” Apparently, Representative matt Salmon didn’t think tax dollars should be spent on a study of the romance community.
I highly recommend this documentary if you have a chance to view it. Some clips can be found here. A billion dollar industry that is essentially by women, for women, about women and ends happily is not necessarily fluffy and frivolous, but is supportive, diverse, powerful, smart and sexy. But we already knew that.
As an aside – I saw myself in it twice at RWA (Atlanta).