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The Wenches

  • Mary Jo Putney

  • Patricia Rice

  • Susan Fraser King

  • Anne Gracie

  • Nicola Cornick

  • Andrea Penrose

  • Christina Courtenay

In Memoriam

  • Jo Beverley
    Word Wench 2006-2016

  • Edith Layton
    Word Wench 2006-2009

Word Wenches Staff

Wench Staff Emeritae

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  • Want to read ALL the posts by a specific Wench? Just scroll down to the bottom of her post and click on her name!

June 2023

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Wenches Statistics

  • Years published: 164

    Novels published: 231

    Novellas published: 74

    Range of story dates: nine centuries (1026-present)

    Awards Won:

    • RWA RITA

    • RWA Honor Roll

    • RWA Top 10 Favorite

    • RT Lifetime Achievement

    • RT Living Legend

    • RT Reviewers Choice

    • Publishers Weekly Starred Reviews

    • Golden Leaf

    • Barclay Gold

    • ABA Notable Book

    • Historical Novels Review Editors Choice

    • AAR Best Romance

    • Smart Bitches Top 10

    Kirkus Reviews Top 21

    Library Journal Top 5

    Publishers Weekly Top 5

    Booklist Top 10

    • Booktopia Top 10

    • Golden Apple Award for Lifetime Achievement

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    Chicago Tribune

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Mary Jo Putney

What a fascinating discussion! You both make so many points that I can't begin to address them all, but:

1) As a strong proponent of love helping healing, I agree with Jo that is has to be made convincing on the page. What between these two people is helping them become their best and happiest selves?

2)Yes, different periods are going to have different underlying assumptions. A Gilded Age story is not a medieval by a long shot.

3) The aristocratic historcal definitely appeals because of having so much money you don't have to think about it, or ever clean house!

Thanks for visiting the Word Wenches, Professor Roach, and Jo, thanks for finding her!


Yes, that wealth and servants thing is important, Mary Jo. Even though there are times in history when having a lowly profile might be a better idea!

Catherine Roach/LaRoche

Thanks again to Jo for inviting me to participate today and to Mary Jo for her comments. I do find that the "love heals all wounds" or "love conquers all" motif is central to the romance genre. Throw in wealth and a historic mansion and it's a wonderful fantasy playground indeed! And may I say that I've read romance novels by both of you for years and am quite fan-struck to be chatting with you now!

Mary Jo Putney

But the Cinderella fantasy runs deep....

Mary Jo Putney

LOL! Welcome to the tribe, Catherine. I'm impressed that you can both tell stories and have serious academic chops!

I don't believe that love conquers all, nor that love heals all wounds--but love can certainly help, especially with the healing. (Can you tell I'm trying to rationalize all my tortured heroes? *G*)

Patricia Rice

It has always been difficult to defend romance from a feminist standpoint, but I've never seen it as "Woman needs man to complete her life." I've always seen romance as "We all need love." So thank you for your more academic insights!

Barbara Meyers

"The historical heroine’s conflicts may include shaming or lack of knowledge about her sexuality, anxiety about her weight or appearance, the threat of rape, the memory of past trauma caused by a man, an overbearing or inattentive fiancé, family pressures to get married, financial vulnerability due to an inability to earn or control an income, or solo caregiver responsibilities (often for a child)."

As I read this I thought, wow that sounds exactly like contemporary circumstances. In some ways, not much has changed for women since those historical times.

Catherine Roach/LaRoche

I think this point is an excellent one, Barbara. I agree that these core concerns haven't changed much. Or for another way to put it, I don't see a huge difference between historical and contemporary romance novels in terms of the deep anxieties addressed. It is easier, of course, for a contemporary heroine to have a range of job choices and a full career, but she often still deals with employment discrimination or glass ceilings or an over-bearing boss (even if he becomes the hero!).


Hi Catherine
Its great to see another academic entering the (academically despised? ) romance field.

Discussions by Wenches usually occur on an elevated plane, and this one definitely maintains the ethos!

When I want to really understand something, I ignore philosophy and go straight to the hard sciences.

I believe that core human traits, including love and other emotions were forged in the crucible of evolution, though environmental issues can tweak and hone in the early years of development. I'm not a biologist but I think that love probably evolved as a force for protecting the physically weaker female and maintaining a family or group.

These core feelings are always present independent of historic period and the latter simply defines the predominant barriers and encouragements for expression.

There is nothing more pleasing than a romance story, which can also include some philosophy (not too much though!) and perspective on the human condition. Knowing that it will all end well is the driver; knowing that I can sleep hapily, feeling that it will all come right in the end; knowing that I can escape from harsh realities of the current world and enjoy a good story; that's why I read romance! LOL


It's interesting to hear a discussion on love as healing with some other readers. We enjoy those who have flaws, unfortunate circumstances, or tragedy getting some happiness. I'm not sure we necessarily get the healing aspect, partly because a number of romances just miraclely go from first kiss to consummation to HEA. The best of the genre provide depth to the relationship so that it not sex=healing. The other thing we commented on is the increasing trend of a few authors to acknowledge that the pain of the past is past and the future looks good but that mental illness, child abuse, and rape leave scars.

I think the love of historicals is in part not so much about healing as agency. The genre has evolved a lot, but even historical heroines have their own identity, goals, and sexuality. And they act on it either against a hero and in collaboration with him. But she makes choices and in the end he grants her the freedom and usually sanctuary. It's something that contempories do but it's harder (but often done well) to make it magical enough that the reader isn't left with the retort that "it just doesn't happen like that."


Good point, Quantum, on the biology. Have you read Helen Fisher's Why We Love? Great stuff, and it all plays out in a classic romance novel.

One powerful aspect is that in nature mostly males have to court females with plumage/power displays/home building/gifts etc. I'd like to see more of that in romance novels, and I'm as guilty as anyone else of missing it at times.

We also know that physical signs of reproductive health are a big factor in mate selection, and that includes humans. Heroines don't have to be beautiful, but by nature's law they should be symmetrical and have the right hip to waist ratio. Males need to be robust and symmetrical, too.

The question is, in fiction, are we subconsciously factoring in these things, or are we going with more upper-brain views of desirability?


Interesting point about believability, Shannon. I'm happy to have a bit of fantasy gloss on my historicals, but I am tougher with contemporaries.

Faith Freewoman

This discussion is a definite keeper, to be referred to often and quoted to editing clients. Many thanks to Jo, Catherine and to the other Wenchly commenters for even further insights.

I clicked over to take a look at Catherine's books and was disappointed to see that, while both book sales pages are there, the books are not available for purchase right now. I thought Amazon had settled its squabbles with publishers, so perhaps this is a glitch? I can't even put them on my wish list to buy later right now, dang it.

But I'll check again later.

Meantime, thanks again for this wonderful discussion, and the many other fascinating journeys to places within and without with Wise Wenches as my guide. This is truly my favorite blog of all time.

Mary M.

While I'm an inveterate historical romance reader, my best friend absolutely abhors romance in a book. That might be the result of her three-and-a-half marriages (don't ask) and six children--she's seen too much of that part of life, and sadly there wasn't a true H in the batch. Fortunately for her, she's always solved her own problems successfully. I, though, appreciate stories where the H and h solve problems together and complement each other. (And I thank you for making me think all that through.)


I'm glad you enjoyed it, Faith. Catherine's ideas are very interesting, aren't they? I didn't see a problem with her books on line, but sometimes it shows me -- in England -- different information.


Tastes in fiction are as varied as tastes in everything, aren't they, Mary? I know people who won't read any kind of fantasy because "it's not real."


Catherine Roach/LaRoche

Wow--I went to bed (I am in Alabama, USA, with a 7 hour time difference from the UK) and such a lively discussion unfolded! What interesting ideas here! I wish we could talk together face to face, with coffee or better yet wine! Feminist and academic takes on romance have come up a few times. There is actually a growing and lively very big community of academics fascinated by popular romantic fiction, working from many different fields (including biology and philosophy, sociology and cultural studies, etc). If you are interested, check out websites of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, the open access Journal of Popular Romance Studies, and the academic blog site Teach Me Tonight. Short answer: academics don't despise romantic fiction at all and feminism and romance can certainly go together.

Catherine Roach/LaRoche

I think this issue of reader taste can work either way. In my field research, I interviewed readers who said they saw their husband/boyfriend in every hero they read and that romantic fiction helped them connect to their sexuality. Others said they read romance because they didn't have that hero type in their life and they enjoyed the vicarious experience of him.

Catherine Roach/LaRoche

Maybe the problem was with the link itself? If you go directly to the Amazon site, it seems to work. You can also download the book from the Simon and Schuster website. Thanks for trying! This whole thing of sales and promotion is very new to me. Academics never really expect their books to sell much at all. My previous academic books (about Mother Nature imagery and striptease) sold about a thousand copies each--pitiful by romantic fiction standards, but actually respectable by academic standards!

Catherine Roach/LaRoche

I am interested in your comment that the best of the genre doesn't represent sex=healing. Great advice that I heard in an RWA Craft workshop is that sex scenes should always make things worse for the protagonists. Sex increases the conflict, raises the stakes, complicates the relationship or the plot, brings things closer to a crisis point. It is love, or love-with-sex, that leads to the healing. Is that a fair way to put things?

Catherine Roach/LaRoche

I added more comments up above in response to people's notes: sex, love, display, reader taste. All so interesting! I am about to teach a university seminar starting in January with a big unit on romantic narratives, so this is a timely discussion indeed! Here is a question for writers: Do you really think the romantic fiction genre and its authors are unfairly dismissed anymore than is true of other professions such as politicians or lawyers or other creators of popular fiction? In America, lawyers for example, are routinely mocked in jokes and pop culture as money-hungry or amoral "ambulance chasers" and Hollywood types as shallow. But they laugh it off, all the way to the bank. Sometimes I wonder if romance writers (usually female) have been primed by our culture's history of sexism to be especially sensitive to such comments. I don't mean this in a critical way. I'm wondering if we can laugh it off and delight in the genre for what it is: light and pleasurable reading with the deepest of issues at its core.


I also clicked through... the link leads to the print version of the book. I clicked the Kindle version, and was able to easily purchase. Win! for Word Wenches affiliate account and Win! for Catherine.

This article was like an epiphany for me, and it will take a while to digest everything.

I recently saw Interstellar, and I decided that "Love" is the fifth dimension.


Catherine, your question is worthy of a blog in itself! It's certainly worth a discussion with a group of romance writers.

It is true that other professions get slammed, but I think romance writers mostly react to the way they are regarded in the context of fiction writers. People don't slam "authors." "Genre fiction" gets dissed, but within that, romance gets it worst, and often from other authors, even other genre authors.

For example, authors of other genres will defend popular fiction and list the genres, but then sometimes leave off romance novels. Some book stores and libraries will have sections for mystery and science fiction, but not for romance.

In one sense we do laugh it off, because we know how very popular romance novels are, but it's just plain irritating! :)


Eloisa James recently found it necessary to defend the genre against comments like:

Despite selling over a billion dollars worth of books each year, romance novels are routinely given the no-respect treatment. The latest entry in this ongoing slagging is by William Giraldi in The New Republic, who called romance “uniformly awful and awfully uniform.”


I guess some of the literature academics who criticise may be envious of Eloisa's sales figures both in fiction and academic journals!

Andrea Penrose

Really fascinating and thought-provoking interview and questions for all of us to ask ourselves. How romance and love, feminine empowerment—along with the other themes we see in romance books—all intertwine is endlessly interesting to think about . . . and write about. Thanks for presenting such an angaging conversation!


Wonderful interview, and thank you for it, Jo and Catherine!

Jo brings up an interesting point on how males in nature play themselves up to get the female. But I think that does happen in romance as well. That's why almost all the heroes are billionaires (and 20 years ago, they were tycoons), dukes, lairds, etc. The offer of financial security is its own form of preening in romance, and an enticement that most of us crave, as financial fears exist in almost everyone's life. It's rare to find a romance where the heroine earns more than the hero. So I think we get this form of "financial preening" as a courtship tool in romance all the time!


Good point, ML, on the rich and powerful hero, but those heroes don't always have to make extra effort to win the heroine against serious competition. And in my opinion, if they're already having sex, especially in a historical, it undercuts any attempts on her side to show serious interest in other contenders. :)


What and interesting and thought-provoking interview. I'm going to keep it in my PC for future references.

Certainly, one of the things that make me love this genre is, for instance, what it's said here about sex: the positive message about sex and women’s right to sexual pleasure is central to romance … Women in romance novels are always sexually satisfied… For readers, the romance genre can connect women to their sexuality in positive ways.

And it’s a pity that so many critics of the genre don’t realize how feminist, how empowering, this idea is. Even in literary fiction female sexuality is usually described with clichés.

I’ll try to answer some of the questions you put for us, the readers, in the few parts that I don’t quite see things the same way.

I’m not sure about this thing she says about historicals. Because the ones that I love now are not those in which the heroine’s problems are solved by a powerful male, but those in which she rescues herself. I expect from the hero nothing more than understanding and support perhaps a little bit of help, but she must be the one to do the task. Perhaps that response is based on my own experiences in the modern world, I don’t know. But I prefer independent heroines that solve their own problems.

Your second question is more difficult, but I’ll try to answer it in a short way: No, I’m not a believer. I agree that the genre is, generally speaking, optimistic. If I read romance novels, among other genres is precisely b/c human beings do not make this a good world for other human beings –and certainly for the rest of species out there-, and many romance novels do accept that idea, even when the couple have their HEA. I prefer it that way. It sounds more realistic to me.

I do agree with the third statement, that love can give you a sense of worthiness. I’m not sure how many of my favourite romances do state this so openly. Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas implies this feeling with the hero. He thinks he’s not good enough for the heroine, but in the end they are together, so I guess that in a sense the love for the heroine makes him believe that he’s a better man than he thought.

I’m not sure I’m a fan of historical romance novels, precisely b/c I love historical novels and I think that nowadays many writers –I’m not thinking of you, wordwenches- do not even try to recreate a believable past in their novels. Those historical romances that I love, well, I’m quite sure I don’t read them for the prospect of wealth and plenty of servants. My favourite ones tend to be those of more social justice and that show somebody fighting or at least being conscious of the social issues, the different clases, the terrible unjustice & racism of imperialism… That’s something that worries me not only in historicals but also in contemporaries. I love it when out of the blue, I find a historical or a contemporary with common working people or people that at least have got this social & political conscience.

So I guess I’m in the minority in this point. It has got more to do with my personal POV about life & the genre. My main critic of romance novels is not –it has never been- from a feminist POV, but the political one, which is something I rarely see stated in Academic papers about the genre.

Catherine Roach/LaRoche

Bona, I love your thoughtful comments. A new academic book by English professor Jayashree Kamble addresses these issues of social justice and political analysis in romance fiction. Check out http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/making-meaning-in-popular-romance-fiction-jayashree-kambl%E9/?K=9781137395047. MAKING MEANING IN POPULAR ROMANCE FICTION looks at issues such as capitalism and war as contexts of the genre.


What a fascinating discussion. I read mainly historicals, because they are more of an escape from everyday life.
I think another way the heroine gains power and agency in a romance, is that she is often able to provide the hero with the complete acceptance and love which he was unable to get elsewhere in his life. So while she may need him for financial security, social status, etc., he needs her for other reasons. I especially like stories where the heroine rescues the hero in some sense.
As far as your question re: the positive message about sex, I think it is MORE important in historicals. Because of widespread ignorance and denial of women's sexuality in earlier eras, woman didn't have much of a chance for a satisfying sexual relationship unless they were lucky enough to find an enlightened man. They couldn't exactly go out and pick up a copy of "Our Bodies, Ourselves". If they had sex before marriage they were indeed taking a huge risk. But when it happens between the H&h in a romance, we love it because we get to see her gamble pay off. It's a bit of a high wire act.

Catherine Roach/LaRoche

Excellent points, Karin. I also like stories where the woman rescues or completes the hero in some way, where she helps him grow to a more authentic sense of personhood instead of living with a social mask. In a patriarchal society, emotional straightjacketing is one price males pay for the power the culture grants them. The "love of a good woman" can help him in this regard. I think you are right, that this is one important way a heroine has power and agency in the story. And I love your image of a historical heroine performing a high wire act of sexual trust!


Many thanks to Catherine and all who took part in a fascinating discussion. The randomly picked winners of books from Catherine are Faith and Barbara.

Happy Christmas!

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