For the February 13th issue of my regional paper, the reporter and photo editor suggested highlighting my interview with a portrait “similar to, but not exactly like, a book cover . . . lounging on your bed with your books scattered around you, a rose and some chocolates.”
My response was short and to the point, a response I then, wisely, deleted without hitting the send button. Instead, I sent the request to Avon’s super publicist Pam Spengler-Jaffee along with a note about how I needed help reframing this request.
I can’t decide if I’m more annoyed with the rolling out of a tired cliche, one that fans of the romance genre and its writers face regularly . . . or that someone who had impressed me as a strong human interest reporter was taking the easy road.
There followed a conversation by email, Pam’s opening salvo diplomatic but firm:
Pam: Putting her (Cathy) in an old fashioned bodice ripper pose isn’t going to help her stature in the local market. Sorry to be such a stickler. Romance authors are intelligent, educated women. I’d love to step away from the cliche and portray her for what she is.
The reporter: The irony is that romance writers’ stature in the market has been built on those bodice-ripper covers and stories. I don’t think anyone assumes that behind the lusty jackets is the work of a second-rate, less-than-intelligent author who’s not to be taken seriously. I saw her sense of humor in full swing that day and thought she would have no issue with a playful, over-the-top approach. Unless you have another idea, I guess we can move forward with a photo illustration that incorporates her mug shot with some of the book covers she gave me. Would that be acceptable?
Pam: I’ve been doing this for about 15 years, and unfortunately, I’m seen time and time again that people find it all too easy to poke fun at these talented authors. NOT that you and your photo editor are doing so. But you’ll find that most romance authors would be VERY uncomfortable with the tableau you pitched. Many years ago, Barbara Cartland made a statement on a fainting couch, surrounded by fuzzy white lapdogs and wearing a boa. We’ve come a long way, baby! And thank goodness.
In the end, the paper relented and a photographer shot me in my office.
I admit, it has been a long time since anyone has asked me to pose “lounging” on my bed for any reason. I could gently argue with the reporter that when one sees a woman posed on a bed, the first thought isn’t, “She looks intelligent. Bet she knows how to write.” Well, perhaps if the woman is on her death bed. Death bed photos always connote importance.
But I’m far from ill and, no, I don’t believe such a shot was what the paper had in mind.
Yes, I’m nervous about what will be in the interview. I thought I’d mentioned that readers like our books just because they are good stories, but the photo suggestion makes me fear the direction of the interview had already been decided before the reporter and I met. And I’m concerned for what I might have said that could be used to support the story’s premise.
Please, I don’t believe everyone has to like Romance. I’m not a big Fantasy fan although I respect the talent of its authors. We readers like what we like and that is it.
I even try to keep a sense of humor about the giggles and “trashy” references concerning Romance. People usually don’t realize what they reveal about themselves with those comments. Some have never read a romance novel for a number of reasons (no time, intellectual insecurity, lack of curiosity, illiteracy) and some of those who make such comments have personality issues. If they could hear how rude, how condescending and rigid they sound, they’d be mortified . . . I think. (Well, maybe not the personality issue folks.). I try to be polite. After all, I’ve been guilty of saying stupid things before. I’m not here to fight every battle. I don’t have the time.
But I won’t let anyone put down my readers, and in the end I felt the reporter’s photo suggestion was demeaning to anyone who enjoys reading Romance. It was a tongue-in-cheek suggestion. We haven’t opened one of those books up but we know what’s inside those covers, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. (Pun intended. Old one. Sorry)
The photo request warned me that the reporter didn’t get it. Maybe never would.
So for the record, here is my belief: Read what you wish. Revel in stories. Enjoy the moment when you and an author click, when the “movie” being created in your head completely captures your imagination. When the very best use of your time is getting lost in a story. And don’t ever apologize to anyone for reading. No, no, no.