Michille: Love Between the Covers

Love Between the CoversLove 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 For three years, the crew followed the lives of five published romance authors and one unpublished one and explored topics including the romance community, writing methods, publishing, industry change, and, of course, why the heck is it so popular, yet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).

7 thoughts on “Michille: Love Between the Covers

  1. OMG! Matt Salmon is MY Representative! He’s going to get a piece of my mind, that’s for sure. I am going to look for this documentary and watch it repeatedly. And I have to agree with you about Elizabeth Essex. Chuck Wendig said the same thing. I’m on year 3.95 with this book and hope to finish it by the end of the year (which would really be 4 years working on it). Perhaps the one after that will come faster.

    Thanks for sharing this. Every romance writer should view it, I’m sure!

    • Salmon must be a very conservative person who holds a narrow view of what a romance novel is. He could be one of those people who loves The DaVinci Code but disdains romance. The DaVinci Code has all the elements of a mystery/thriller with strong romantic elements and could skim the romance category if there was evidence that the romance would continue after the story ended. Ironic.

  2. My RWA chapter is showing this at our chapter meeting next month, so I plan to see it then. I’m really looking forward to it.

    Congrats on your 20 seconds of fame!

  3. (-: Very cool!

    BTW, David Bowie also said in an interview that it took him a terribly long time to learn how to write a song. He put in his time from age 15 to age 20, and then exploded. For someone who has a full-time, creative day job like I do, I don’t think 10 years is too long for the first novel, because I simply don’t have the kind of free time that a teenager in the 1960s would have had.

    (-: But the thing is, no matter how I arrange the time, I still have to put in the time. Being discouraged and not writing isn’t a productive path. But five years of writing every day? Results will happen.

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