The #MeToo movement has led to several conversations about how some men abuse their power in romantic, platonic and work relationships with women. At center stage are topics like consent, gender roles and the portrayal of female characters on TV and film.
But what about the way women are portrayed in romance novels? The romance novel community is female-dominated — 85 percent of the genre’s audience identify as women, according to Romance Writers of America.
Three authors from the Chicago area join the Morning Shift to talk about the evolution of characters in romance novels and how conversations on sex and consent have been taking place in the romance community decades before #MeToo.
Sonali Dev is the author of the upcoming novel How About Love, the first in a series about Indian-American real estate developers living in New York. She is also working on a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Pride and Prejudice with the genders reversed.
Larissa Zageris and Kitty Curran are co-authors of My Lady’s Choosing, a novel where readers choose the paths of their characters. The duo will present a dramatic reading of My Lady’s Choosing July 20 at the Foursided store in Andersonville.
On reimagining Pride and Prejudice
Sonali Dev: What’s been really awesome has been writing this heroine who is actually arrogant, who is actually fabulous at what she does, who totally owns it and doesn’t give a rat’s A about being likeable. We’re all slobbering over an arrogant man, but as soon as it’s a woman, it’s like, what’s she talking about?
On writing a choose-your-own romance novel
Kitty Curran: We were trying to make sure that, no matter who our reader was, they could find a path they could identify with.
On “sending up” overdone romance novel tropes
Larissa Zageris: [Kitty Curran and I] are both pretty keyed-up, ridiculous people, and like to take jokes to the extreme….[In My Lady’s Choosing] there’s a Gothic route...and anything with a castle or moor we put in there.”
On how the genre has changed since the ‘70s and ‘80s
Dev: You could see women on the page actually enjoying sex, without being bad people.
Anyone who’s read any romance in the past ten years has not seen any bodice-ripping happen. In all of the successful romance novels today, consent is overt.
Romance novel recommendations
Dev: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, a novel where the main character has Autism.
Curran: Cotillion by Georgette Heyer, a “send-up” of lots of tired romance tropes.
Zageris: All Out, a collection of historical romances featuring queer characters.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
GUESTS: Sonali Dev, author of A Distant Heart, and the upcoming novel How About Love
Larissa Zageris and Kitty Curran, co-authors of My Lady’s Choosing
LEARN MORE: Where are romance novels headed given the current state of women's issues? (Chicago Tribune 2/5/18)
Sonali Dev’s website
My Lady’s Choosing, by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris