IASPR2018: Places and Spaces

This represents my notes on the presentations at the 2018 International Association for the Study of Popular Romance conference. Please consider my status as an imperfect recorder of literary academia. I hope you enjoy reading about this conference as much as I enjoyed observing it. This blog uses affiliated links.

Finding One’s Place – Making a home in Nora Roberts’ Divine Evil: A Novel (19920 and The Obsession (2016). Kecia Ali (Boston University)

Nora Roberts’ books have four themes

  • Where you are supposed to be
  • Found family
  • Doing the right work
  • With the right person

Recognising one’s rightful place

  • Intertwining of place and house as a satisfying life
  • Plot catalysed by work and location
  • Notion of the romantic partner drawn to each other before they meet (eg hero who buys heroine’s sculpture prior to meeting her)
  • Race is never a concern when talking about place
  • Passive nostalgia “shelter in place”
  • Renovation demonstrates a process of integrating into a new town/place


For the Love of the Farm: Romance and Locale in TV’s Queen Sugar. Jacqueline Jones (LaGuardia CC, City University of New York)

Queen Sugar 2016 series, set in post Hurricane Katrina world

Queen Sugar disrupts and complicates popular images of the south by providing a narrative that merges romance with socio-political concerns

Landscapes are treated like characters

Radical to show black people on land – not urban settings

Characters are informed by the weather, land, and history

USA romanticism – emotional connection to nature – the ‘return to nature equals inspiration’ in typical USA literature show white people with this connection and black people as slaves. Queen Sugar subverts this expectation.

In black America, women tend have higher education than men, leading to reduction in marriage. Men have to offer something else, romance tends to be blue collar man meets white collar woman, and he helps her enjoy/recall simple pleasures of life.

Generational land ownership by black Americans is complex. This series always talks about this (and how it’s historically easier for white people), however over riding this is the frustrations and economics of being a farmer (regardless of race).


Nobody puts romance fiction in the corner: the cognitive dalliance of physical places and digital spaces in public libraries. Vassiliki Veros (University of Technology, Sydney)

Public libraries are seen as a core service

Libraries have moved from “Should we collect romance?” to “How do we collect romance?”

Librarians have cognitive dalliance, a wanton relationship with romance. They will happily collect romance, however they flirt with it as escapism, nothingness, pulp, and “at least they are reading”

Not seen as ‘substantial’

Allocated spaces in libraries are not all equal – and ‘othering’ of romance highlights perceived the lack of value to readers.

One library surveyed had 21% of their entire collection out of loan, but 30% of their romances.

Interview comments by librarians

  • “not worth reading, or only for woman.” *stated by a female librarian
  • “Lack of substance”
  • “readers seen as browsers” is used as justification for not having the books in the library’s search engine (it’s not true)
  • Donated books (from readers to libraries) are not seen as valuable as the book’s libraries spend money on.

Many libraries didn’t have any information stored on their romance novels, only a barcode to count the book in and out, not even author names (implications for PLR).

Libraries often used temporary shelving for romance (and some other genres) in awkward locations.


Romancing Popular Fiction Studies: A Theory on Genre Worlds. Beth Driscoll (University of Melbourne), Lisa Fletcher (University of Tasmania) and Kim Wilkins (University of Queensland)

(Note: Much of this discussion was about literary theory, and as someone with a background in sciences, not literature, I’ve missed much of the technical stuff.)

Romance is the most prolific and profitable genre, also the least valued and most ridiculed. The pull between ‘mass appeal’ and ‘scorn’ isn’t unique to romance, also occurring in comics and other genres.

Romance is distinctive (especially the community) but has more in common with other genres than differences

Theory can be too inward looking, and Genre Worlds is a new model for popular fiction studies.

  • Look beyond the decisionist approach
  • Almost all studies look at meanings imposed on the reader
  • Feminist credentials
  • Broader view can be enabled

Each researcher looked at: crime, fantasy/sci-fi, romance

Genre World has three layers

  • Sector of publishing (industrial)
  • Body of texts (textural)
  • Social formation (social)


  • Track the data
  • Talk to people
  • Read the books

Romance is attuned to local and global contexts – easier to see from the peripheries like Australia.

Romance (of all genres) is the most professionalised with organisations such as RWAus

Popular fiction is growing in Australia, with the most market growth in romance (some graphs were shown here). In 2000/01, less than 250 titles published in Amazon Australian romance, by 2015/16 had grown to over 900.

Professionalising Genre Worlds

  • Lifetime of reading romance is the basis for learning how to write it
  • Feature of crime and fantasy also
  • Genre competency also acquired through courses, screenwriting, RWAus conferences, etc
  • Structured learning is highly developed in romance
  • Writing retreats (mention of Anne Gracie’s retreat where a craft book is discussed)
  • Semi-formal mentoring happens in most genres
  • Craft develops in a network of relationships eg editors, writing buddies, reviewers
  • Refinement of craft via beta readers, critique partners, RWA contests

Cast of characters (eg authors past and present)

  • Living social formation
  • Valued fictional characters (eg Mr Darcy)
  • Authors credit earlier authors (the Regency/Heyer problem re: lack of diversity)

Strong and believable characters are the lynch pin for all genre fiction.

Romance readers respond viscerally to heroes.

The antithesis would be to approach romance as a silo to other genres.


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