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A Romance Glossary 

A Reader's Guide to Romance Novels

Wednesday, Jul 25 2001
Comments -- Evildoers, according to some romance authors. Amazon promotes the sale of used copies on the site, which deprives authors of royalties. Because Harlequin ships books early to subscribers, some novels can be bought used on Amazon even before they hit B. Dalton shelves. RWA President Harold Lowry scolded last year, but its policy hasn't changed.

Bodice-ripper -- Derogatory term for the historical single-title romance, referring literally to the habit of '70s historical novels of including sex scenes in which the heroine's clothes are torn off, or something similarly abusive. A dead subgenre; when uttered to a romance aficionado, the inspiration for a lengthy, irate lecture.

Category -- Industry-speak for the short and simple romances published regularly by Harlequin and Silhouette, often as part of a series ("Virgin Brides," "Sexy Single Dads," "Makeover Madness"), often sold by subscription, and rarely on shelves for more than a month, after which their covers are ripped off and the books thrown away. Based on standard boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl/boy-gets-girl plots, they're often marketed based on the intensity of their sex scenes. A starting point for authors who later branch out into historical or contemporary single-title novels.

Contemporary single-title -- Lengthy novels, generally set in the present day, with more complex plots than a category, a stronger emphasis on modern issues, and more sophisticated writing styles. The chosen genre of mega-selling authors like Nora Roberts, Belva Plain, and Rosamunde Pilcher.

The Flame and the Flower -- Historical single-title by Kathleen Woodiwiss, published in 1972, universally acknowledged as the inspiration for the modern romance boom. The book was rescued from the slush pile by an editor looking for some light reading over the weekend. Set on a Carolina plantation in the late 1700s, it is very much of the '70s "sweet savage" style of romance novel, with a rapist hero and the purplest prose imaginable (""You privy wench,' he leered. "With your high-curved breasts and your rosy butt, you tempt a man even when you're asleep.'").

Historical single-title -- The official term for bodice-ripper, easily identified by "clinch covers" featuring a shirtless he-man clutching a swooning, bosomy maiden. Historicals are set in a variety of eras, from Viking times to the American Revolution, but most are set in England and focus on royalty or aristocracy in one way or another.

Mrs. Giggles -- Aka Jenny Lim, a Singapore-based romance reader known for her infamously brutal reviews. From her review of Hug Me, Holly!, which received a 13 on her 0-100 rating scale: "Holly Stone runs an eatery, and guess what? She can't cook! Hee-hee. Ain't that cute. Aw. Let me don my radioactive-shield of an apron for the inevitable Hiroshima of Ditz-factor." A longtime fixture on, she also has her own site (www.worldzone. net/arts/mrsgiggles/books.html).

Prison letters -- Literally, fan letters sent to romance authors from a correctional facility. The main reason a romance author's mailing address is always a PO box.

Rita -- Annual awards given by the Romance Writers of America (named for Rita Clay Estrada, the group's first president). Winning a Rita can often be a hollow victory: Some Rita-winning books (especially category novels) are out of print by the time the prize is bestowed on them.

Romantic Times -- Leading news-and-reviews magazine for romance novel fans, filled with features on authors' estates and beefcake photos of cover models.

Steel, Danielle -- The best-selling Bay Area novelist is not, in the estimation of romance writers, a romance writer; there isn't always the requisite happy ending, main characters die, and (to hear some readers tell it) her approach to relationships tends to be superficial.

TSTL -- Shorthand for "too stupid to live," used by romance reviewers flabbergasted by a perpetually irrational or ditzy heroine. A defining feature of a wallbanger.

Wallbanger -- Literally, a romance novel so awful you want to throw it against the wall. Public library romance collections are often built on wallbangers donated by "discriminating" readers.

About The Author

Mark Athitakis


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