Saturday, October 28, 2006

James Webb Joins the Club!

Poor James Webb. (Sarcastic grin.) He’s finding out what it’s like to be a romance writer. Actually, he writes war novels, not romances. But he’s getting the kind of treatment we’ve "enjoyed" for years.

Webb is running for the Senate against George Allen in Virginia. And after the Fred Head/Susan Combs episode in Texas, someone on Allen’s staff decided to thumb through Webb’s books looking for steamy passages. They found some, pulled them out of context, and sent them out in a press release accusing Webb of writing X-rated books.

In the past, Webb has made some sexist remarks that made me question his attitude toward women. Ironically, now he’s getting lumped with a lot of women writers who dare to include sex in their books.

How many times have you had a guy pick up one of your novels and thumb through it looking for hot passages–then judge the whole book on those few pages. Sure, I write sensual love scenes. But they’re in the context of a relationship developing between a man and a woman. They’re only part of the story. In my novels, I’m writing about strong, sympathetic characters the reader can root for. I’ve got a plot with a lot of action and mystery. Generally, I’m writing about two people falling in love against a background of danger and suspense. In all of my books, my main characters make a commitment to marry and spend the rest of their lives together.

So why do some Americans object to the sensuality? Are they afraid to acknowledge the joy of a great sexual relationship? Is it our Puritan heritage? Are we afraid to see ourselves as human?

The men and women in my books always end up in a committed, loving relationship, where sex is only part of the equation. So I’m sitting here scratching my head and trying to figure out what’s wrong with enjoying a loving and committed sexual relationship? Or are we being criticized by people who are afraid of feeling any emotion–even when it’s in the pages of a book?


Julia Templeton said...

Great post, Rebecca!
I could never understand why some people object to sex in books...or why romance is sometimes labeled as porn. I write about couples who from the moment they meet, are monogamous. These two individuals share a deep body and soul connection that I get to watch play out on the page.
It's sad that people can find fault in that.

Vivi Anna said...

I think it's a sad thing as a society we condone violence in our books, TV shows, movies, yet judge those with sexual situations as not appropriate.

Parents would rather have their kids exposed to violence than they would sex. That bothers me.

If we were more open about sex and less about violence maybe there would be less crime and violence out there.

Liz said...

I don't know Ruth
But I think its poetic justice for Webb

Sagittarius Uisce Beatha said...

I see nothing wrong with sexual situations in books. I agree with you Vivi about the violence thing, Why is it more appropriate for something like violence but not something as beautiful as intimacy between two consenting, loving adults. Maybe it is still a taboo thing to talk about in public, people don't think it's something that should leave the confines of the bedroom. I say pooey to that.

Rebecca York said...

Good point. Why is violence more okay in our culture than love? It's gotta make you wonder.

Vicki said...

I might be mistaken, but from what I've heard, many of James Webb's graphic sex scenes deal with pedophilia, and incestuous pedophilia at that. A far cry from a committed relationship between a man and a woman--and hardly romance, unless, I guess, you happen to be a pedophile. I agree about the violence vs sex issue to a point, but I think both can be detrimental to children because quite simply, they aren't equipped to handle it. And I disagree about society not wanting sex to leave the bedroom. On the contrary, very little is sacred anymore. Some of the sexual situations I've seen depicted on primetime television recently has been incredibly innappropriate, in my opinion. Promiscuity on network TV is rampant, and far worse than anything I've ever read in a romance novel. Romance writers go to great lengths to create a lasting, loving, monogamous relationship. Nothing to be ashamed of there. I'd as soon have my teenager pick up a romance novel as to watch some of the popular sitcoms on TV right now!

Rebecca York said...

Vicki, I agree. There's stuff on TV that makes my jaw drop. Which makes me wonder why romance novels are still taking it on the chin.

I have to admit I haven't read Webb, so I don't know for sure what's in his books. I do know he said he was being realistic about war--and about other cultures.

Sagittarius Uisce Beatha said...

Let me clarify what I was trying to say in my previous post.

I've never read a Webb novel either, I was simply commenting on the fact that romance novels are considered porn because of the sexual scenes in them but a violent novel is not looked twice at for the level of violence. I wasn't saying that sex is kept in the bedroom, cause as Vicki stated nothing seems sacred anymore, I was trying to say that it seems that that is where people would like it to stay based on the reactions they give to romance novels, like it was taboo to write about it. I think if society can accept sex on TV, why can't they accept it in books?

Tam said...

Who ever decided to put James Webb in the Romance section should find another job. He doesn't seem to know what a romance writter is all about. James Webb isn't it!

Singerspawn said...

I agree that it comes down to a question of context and purpose. I have to admit gratuitious sex bothers me and there are some romances that skate very close to the borders of my tolerance level. Having never read Webb, I find myself wondering if the accusations are also partially based on making a man, who is allegedly writing stuff geared to women, appear less masculine. I had a male friend who enjoyed gothics and he lived in fear of anyone finding out his secret vice. I don't know too much about this whole aspect of the Webb/Allen political comedy, but do you think this plays a role?
P.S. Your books have never crossed that line btw, I've always found the intimacy to be a part of the growth of the relationship.

Rebecca York said...

Sagittarius, I agree. Why is it okay on TV and not in books?

The weird thing is that people aren't reading books "in public." They're reading them in private, unless they're reading on the bus and someone is deliberately reading over their shoulder. The only time a book reading becomes public is if some TV or radio commentator takes stuff out of context and reads it on the air.

Rebecca York said...

"I find myself wondering if the accusations are also partially based on making a man, who is allegedly writing stuff geared to women, appear less masculine."

Actually,he's not writing books geared toward women. He's writing "war stories" for guys. So the sex is raw rather than loving, at least according to what I'm picking up from the media, since I still haven't read him. My point was that he's getting similar treatment to romance novelists (passages presented completely out of context).

"P.S. Your books have never crossed that line btw, I've always found the intimacy to be a part of the growth of the relationship."

Thanks. That's my goal.

Anonymous said...

I'd say there are a lot of people who are sexually repressed. I mean, I know women my age (around 40) who are single, living alone--and I'd swear, have never had sex. Ever. Seriously. I'm not making this up. Ditto, I'm sure, for some guys. Or, they're still living at home with their parents. (Yes, I know some of them, too).

I'd say it's the puritan mentality, but do we really have that many descendents from the Mayflower living in the US? I can't think so. I know many people came to the US to escape
"religious persecution;" maybe for those people, not talking about sex/sex is dirty/no sex or anything to do with even sexual thoughts, was the norm for their religion and they brought those same mindsets with them, then passed them down to their children. Think? I don't know. But, again, would there really be that many descendents to carry on with their thoughts?

I do know Europeans are nothing like us when it comes to sex. There's sex on TV--quite openly--along with off-color sexual jokes and innuendos. Teenage magazines for 11, 12, 13 year olds have two-page spreads--or more--on articles dealing with sex, how to do it, how to be safe, etc. Yes, I saw one of these in Germany, so I know they exist. The 12-year-old daughter of a friend was reading it. When the daughter was done with the mag, I took it and read through the article. When I asked her mom if she thought it was something her daughter should read, she shrugged and handed it back to her daughter.

Most mothers here in the US would go off the wall.

What do Europeans consider to be porn? I'm not sure, as I never asked anyone, but quite a few things I saw, heard, and read while over there would, by many Americans, be called "pornography." To the Europeans, it's normal. They don't think of the human body with disgust; they view it as a gift from God. A work of art. Everyone admires the work of Michaelangelo and other famous sculptors and painters, whose famous works were often of naked people. So, are those great masterpieces, then, considered pornography by the American public?

The human body and human feelings are unique and beautiful things. Love is the one emotion humans possess above all other creatures. What a shame that people are so closed-minded that they can't simply enjoy the beauty of the human spirit, and celebrate something that makes us unique among the animal kingdom.

Love makes the world goes around. At least, that's what the popular saying says. I think more people should be concerned about spreading more love than worrying about whether what is portrayed is "right" or "acceptable" or not; our world would be a better place for it.

Jeri said...

If I'm not mistaken, Webb's passages were trotted out to show his alleged misogyny, along with his lack of "moral values."

He responded yesterday with a speech in which he cited review after review extolling the high moral values of his book, as they exposed and depicted the ravages of war and what it can do to a man's psyche.

I haven't read his books (though they're on my list now, as I do explore the after-effects of war on veterans in my current WIP), but like Rebecca said, the sex is apparently raw rather than loving.

I don't think sex always has to be depicted within the context of a loving, committed relationship to be responsible or moral. Especially in the case of war, sex can be extremely hurtful. This fact shouldn't be glossed over in realistic historical novels like Webb's.

Depicting misogynistic, degrading sex and condoning/supporting it are not the same thing, which seems to be the point that George Allen is (not surprisingly) missing.

Singerspawn said...

Sorry, I guess that I initially missed some of what Ruth was trying to say while I was on one of my hobby horses, ie the literary world's treatment of romance primarily (I believe) because it's written for and by women. As you say, romance authors are routinely put down by out of context use of selected quotes. Unfortunately, everyone has their preconceived notions and most of us won't bother to find the context unless its truly important to us.
I wonder what this will do to the sales of Webb's books, if they're still in print.

Rebecca York said...

"I wonder what this will do to the sales of Webb's books, if they're still in print."

I'm sure it will increase sales! To people who want to read something touted as dirty. And to people who want to get past the out of context references and find out what he really wrote and how it fits into the substance of his books.


Vicki said...

I can tell you right now that I have a HUGE problem with the thought of encouraging 11, 12, and 13 year-olds to have sex and instructing them on how to do it. Sex has a heavy responsibility factor because there are enormous consequences that can come from it, pregnancy and disease being only two. No one wants to talk about it, but there's a huge emotional and psychological toll as well. I don't care how well written the magazine or 'how-to' manual, it doesn't prepare a child for that kind of responsibility. Possessing a certain amount of modesty, in both dress and behavior, has nothing to do with "disgust" for the human body. It's more a case of respect---first for yourself and then for the world around you. There's a big difference between sex and love; one can certainly be had without the other. I think most of us would agree that it's best when it comes in one big package. I think physical intimacy is a wonderful gift for humanity, and I think it is far too often misused. There is nothing disgusting or demeaning about sex or the human body, only the way some choose to exploit it.

Anonymous said...

Here's the link:

Here's the problem:
Why does anyone care about this when the Bill of Rights has been completely gutted?

T. Pine

Rebecca York said...

"Here's the problem:
Why does anyone care about this when the Bill of Rights has been completely gutted?"

Perhaps because people who don't like the dirty or politically incorrect (according to their view) passages in certain books can start banning them? In fact, they already do.

Kay said...

What has been overlooked here is this is a normal Republican campaign technique in Virginia. Remember a few years ago when the Republican running for governor ran on "No car tax"? That was all that was touted for that campaign. He won, but we still have car tax (personal property tax) years later. Allen and Webb are in a tight race, and I think all you'll hear now in the campaign from the Republicans is "Webb writes romances." They can't say he writes military action/adventure stories, which is probably the category he writes in, because that doesn't have the negative connotation romances have.

And here we have people like Rebecca York writing brilliant romances, and those who feel free to condemn an entire genre without reading them miss out on the pleasure of her stories.

Singerspawn said...

As a parent, I really don't think that the anything goes European model works all that well. To an extent it's an abrogation of responsibility when you allow "the street" to educate your kid in something as important as sexuality. Because of the pervasive media culture, including the sexualization of children, there isn't much choice anymore about early education. If parents don't inform their child about sexuality, they will gain their information from other kids (as they always have even in the prehistoric era in which I was raised) or from media sources. Still, even if we agree that censorship should exist in some forms, I wonder if censorship is even possible anymore. The longing for an age where we were able to maintain a level of innocence resonates deeply, even as the thought of some political body setting standards scares the bejeebers out of me.

Anonymous said...

Ruth, this is so true. The thing is, I really don't think people who go off on romances and romance writers have ever read a romance story through to the end. They are convinced there's dirt to find, so they flip through and pull out phrases. They are the same people who find fault with any and everything that fails to fit their personal ideologies. Books, art, food, sexual preferences or customs that are different from theirs are all "wrong" or "stupid". You either think like me, or you are an idiot. That's the mentality. But do they have children? Do they make love? Of course they do...or wish they did. Maybe that's part of it too. Jealousy. Wishing the great physical relationships from your stories were part of their life?