Monday, January 26, 2015

The Politics of the Australian Rural Romance

In a newly published article, Kylie Mirmohamadi argues that
A number of the literary themes and preoccupations of nineteenth-century Australian society and literature loom large in today ’s rural romances. The most significant of these shared concerns is with the idea of an Australian female type. Australian rural romances work to produce an image of a “typically” (and yet ideal) Australian heroine: hardworking, committed to community, resourceful and, when required, assertive, including sexually. Journalists point to the “ feisty ” and “ strong ” qualities of rural heroines. (9)
That might be called an observation on the gender politics of these novels. In addition, their
post-colonial context both informs and influences some of the recurring and dominant motifs of Australian rural romance. These include the idea of rural land as just inheritance, a site of belonging and home, and, importantly, a space for autochthonic place of return. The drama of the homecoming (or making) of the heroine and the coming together of the romantic protagonists, in other words, takes place against the background of larger, unresolved dramas of history still being played out in Australia.
Landscape in colonised countries is never innocent. It is discursive as well as material space, criss-crossed with competing claims of indigeneity and contested assertions of ownership. To write about land in such countries is to enter culturally loaded debates surrounding the questions of who owns territory, who can claim a belonging to it and how land should be used. (10)
Mirmohamadi, Kylie, 2015. 
"Love on the Land: Australian Rural Romance in Place." English Studies. Published online 19 Jan. 2015. Abstract

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book Now! Romance Conference in Washington DC

The program for the "What is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital Age" is now available and places are free. This conference will be held at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, on the 10th-11th of February.

The main event on the 10th is a screening of a "documentary film that takes its viewers into the multi-billion dollar romance fiction business and the remarkable worldwide community of women who create, consume, and love romance novels." You can book your place here.

Click here to book your place at the "international, multimedia conference of authors, scholars, publishers, and the public at the Library of Congress on February 11, 2015, hosted by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, in cooperation with corporate and foundation supporters and the Popular Romance Project."


Tuesday, February 10, 2015
The Library of Congress, Jefferson Building
Sneak Preview Screening of Love Between the Covers

6:30        Welcome; Coolidge Auditorium, Ground Floor

6:45        Love Between the Covers

8:20    Q&A with producer/director Laurie Kahn, editor William A. Anderson, and featured authors Beverly Jenkins, Len Barot/Radclyffe, Mary Bly/Eloisa James, and Joanne Lockyer     

Wednesday, February 11, 2015
The Library of Congress, Madison Building, 6th floor
What Is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital Age

9:00         Welcome

John Y. Cole, Director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress; Co-organizer of "What is Love?"

Laurie Kahn, Project Director, Popular Romance Project; Producer/Director of "Love Between the Covers"

Pamela Regis, Professor of English, McDaniel College; President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance; Co-organizer of "What Is Love?"   

9:10-10:30     Panel 1: What Belongs in the Romance Canon? Why?

•    Pamela Regis (moderator), Professor of English, McDaniel College; President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance
•    Len Barot/Radclyffe Founder/CEO, Bold Strokes Books; Romance Author
•    Beverly Jenkins, Romance Author
•    Nicole Peeler, Associate Professor of English, Seton Hill University; Romance Author
•    Eric Murphy Selinger, Professor of English, DePaul University; Executive Editor, Journal of Popular Romance Studies
•    Susan Ostrov Weisser, Professor of English, Adelphi University

Questions to Consider
Why does romance fiction resonate globally? How many archetypal love stories are there? Who are romance novels speaking to? Should there be a romance canon? Should there be different romance canons for the sub-genres within romance? Should the canon(s) include romance novels written in non-Anglo cultures? And how far back should the canon go? What is included and excluded from this genre? How does the perception of romance fiction compare with the perception of fantasy, sci-fi and mystery? Why?

10:45-3:30    Drop-in Interactive Rooms, concurrent with Panels 2 and 3

•    Write a romance novel scene.
•    Explore the Popular Romance Project website:
•    See the film: "Love Between the Covers."
•    Suggest a Popular Romance Library Program for the American Library Association.
•    Browse publishers' exhibits.

10:45-12:15    Panel 2: What do Science and History Reveal about Love?

•    William Gleason (moderator), Professor of English, Princeton University
•    Stephanie Coontz, Professor of History, Evergreen State College
•    Eli Finkel, Professor, Department of Psychology and the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University
•    Darlene Clark Hine, Professor of History, Northwestern University
•    William M. Reddy, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University
•    Ronald Walters, Professor of History, The Johns Hopkins University

Questions to Consider
What do scientists know about physical attraction, lust, and love? What have historians discovered about the ideas of love in different times and cultures? When, why, and where did domestic partnerships shift from being primarily about dynastic relationships between families—often including economic benefit—to being about individual choice based on ideas of love? Is love a feminine topic? What kinds of love do we see depicted in romance novels and do we use these depictions to shape our own lives? How does knowing the history and science of love change our sense of what love is now? Is love being transformed in our digital age?

12:15-1:30    Lunch Break

1:45-3:15    Panel 3:  Community and the Romance Genre

•    Mary Bly/Eloisa James (moderator), Professor of English, Fordham University, Romance Author
•    Kim Castillo, Author's Assistant, Eloisa James, Inc.
•    Robyn Carr, Romance Author
•    Brenda Jackson, Romance Author
•    Anne Jamison, Professor of English, University of Utah
•    Allison Kelley, Executive Director, Romance Writers of America
•    Sarah Wendell, Romance Blogger, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Questions to Consider
Is the romance community like other fan communities? Are there actually many romance communities – and do they communicate with one another? Why do romance fans love their books so much?  How are romance communities different in different parts of the world? Are the values of romance novels lived out in the romance community? How are books changing due to a more interactive reader community? Why have so many best-selling romance authors come from reader communities? What can we learn from the magnitude of the romance community about the world we live in? What can we learn about community building from romance writers and readers?

3:30-5:00    Panel 4:  Trending Now: Where is Romance Fiction Heading in the Digital Age?

•    Sarah Frantz Lyons (moderator), Editorial Director, Riptide Publishing; Founder of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance
•    Jon Fine, Former Director of Author and Publisher Relations,
•    Liliana Hart, Romance Author
•    Angela James, Editorial Director, Carina Press/Harlequin
•    Tara McPherson, Associate Professor of Critical Studies, University of Southern California
•    Dominique Raccah, Founder/CEO, Sourcebooks
•    Claire Zion, Vice President and Editorial Director, New American Library

Questions to Consider
During this last panel of the day, we will reflect on the current tsunami of change in publishing—from traditional publishing to the explosive phenomena of ebooks and self-publication. How well is the romance industry, and the romance community writ large, poised to ride this digital wave? Where are we? Where are things heading? Together we will ponder the future of romance fiction.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Congress vs. the Popular Romance Project

I hadn't realized things had gone this far.  A bill was introduced in Congress last summer to strip NEH funding from the Popular Romance Project, and also prohibit funds from the NEH for "any similar project relating to love and romance."

The bill did not pass, but it clearly sent shivers up the collective spine of the NEH, and as the Romance Novels for Feminists blog reported last week, "NEH funding for the PRP web site has been put on hold."  (If you were wondering why the site went on hiatus a few months ago--well, now you know.)

I've been waiting for the right moment to propose an NEH summer seminar or institute for faculty about popular romance fiction, but politically speaking, that moment may have passed.  A pity.  As a scholarly adviser to the Project, I've always thought--and continue to think--that this is one of those rare projects that brings top notch humanities scholarship to bear on a topic of broad and democratic interest.

I hope the pendulum swings back someday; in the meantime, the documentary film that Laurie Kahn has made looks to be very interesting, and the loss of website funding won't stop the film from getting done and out to the public.  More about the film, the funding fracas, and the upcoming popular romance symposium at the Library of Congress, at the new, separate "Love Between the Covers" website.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Jo Beverley interviews Catherine Roach

If you haven't already seen it, you might like to take a look at Jo Beverley's interview with "Dr. Catherine Roach [...] Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Alabama." They discuss feminism, defining features of the romance genre, historical romance and more.

Here's an excerpt:
Catherine, your next point is "Romance entails faith in love as a positive force for the good in many people's lives. In this sense, love functions as religion." I'll confess that I'm not comfortable with the word '"religion." Could it be stated as hope?

Catherine: Yes, you could rephrase to say that romantic love offers hope. My point is that the romance story believes there is an answer to existential problems of loneliness and suffering and that the answer is love. Romance is a hopeful and optimistic form of fiction that stakes its claim on the belief that the world is a good place. Despite all of life’s injustice, both love and love stories make the world a better place. The genre is life affirming.

I see. Yes, there is a necessary belief, and I have it. It's one reason I write romance.
(Reader -- are you a believer? Is it part of why you love to read romance?)
 You can read the rest over at The Word Wenches blog.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Library of Congress to host Conference on Romance Fiction

As stated in a press release from the Library of Congress
"What Is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital Age," an international, multimedia conference, will be hosted by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress on Tuesday, Feb. 10, and Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015.

The conference, which is free and open to the public, is made possible through the generous support of lead sponsor Harlequin, a worldwide publisher of books that are printed in 34 languages and sold in 102 international markets.

Romance fiction is the second-best-selling genre in the publishing industry, generating more than $1 billion in publisher revenues in 2013, according to Bookstats. Romance accounts for 21 percent of the adult fiction market.

"This two-day gathering will unite authors, scholars and fans to explore the changing dynamics of the genre, its relevance in popular culture and how digital technology is shaping the future of romance fiction," said John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book.

"Our conference will include business and social interests and influences, romance literature scholarship and public engagement with people who love the genre," he said. "We are grateful to Harlequin for its generous sponsorship of this conference." Additional support is provided by the Popular Romance Project, created by the Center for New History and Media at George Mason University; the Nora Roberts Foundation; the Romance Writers of America; and Berkley/NAL, imprints of Penguin Random House.

"Harlequin has been in the business of romance for over 65 years, bringing love stories to women wherever, however and whenever they want to shop," said Craig Swinwood, publisher and chief executive officer at Harlequin. "We are thrilled to be partnering with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress on such an important conference that will spotlight the importance of romance fiction and feature marquee authors from the genre."

The Popular Romance Project, led by Laurie Kahn of Blueberry Hill Productions, will also include the feature-length documentary film "Love Between the Covers," directed by Kahn. There will be a preview of the film at the Library of Congress on the evening of Feb. 10.

The conference agenda will include panels moderated by Pam Regis, professor of English at McDaniel College and president of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance; Bill Gleason of Princeton University; Mary Bly of Fordham University (who writes as Eloisa James) and Sarah S.G. Frantz. Special author appearances include New York Times best-selling authors Robyn Carr and Brenda Jackson.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

New Thesis Looks at Innovation and Change in the Romance Novel Industry

Andrea Cipriano Barra's sociology PhD thesis takes a look at the ways in which
Romance novels have changed significantly since they first entered the public consciousness. Instead of seeking to understand the changes that have occurred in the industry, in readership, in authorship, and in the romance novel product itself, both academic and popular perception has remained firmly in the early 1980s when many of the surface criticisms were still valid. Using Wendy Griswold’s (2004) idea of a cultural diamond, I analyze the multiple and sometimes overlapping relationships within broader trends in the romance industry based on content analysis and interviews with romance readers and authors. Three major issues emerge from this study. First, content of romance novels sampled from the past fourteen years is more reflective of contemporary ideas of love, sex, and relationships. Second, romance has been a leader and innovator in the trend of electronic publishing, with major independent presses adding to the proliferation of subgenres and pushing the boundaries of what is considered romance. Finally, readers have a complicated relationship with the act of reading romance and what the books mean in their lives.
The pdf can be downloaded here as it's been made available online via the Rutgers University Community Repository.

Barra, Andrea Cipriano, 2014. 
Beyond the Bodice Ripper: Innovation and Change in the Romance Novel Industry. PhD dissertation in Sociology, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Romance Research: Shakespeare, Breast Cancer

I don't mention all the new additions to the Romance Wiki bibliography but since I haven't posted for a while, I thought I'd share a couple of the most recent (which were added by Christina Martinez):

Whyte, Tamara Lynn. 2013. "Shakespeare in Love: Appropriation of Shakespeare in Popular Romance Novels." U of Alabama. (Dissertation Abstracts International) 75, no. 6 (December 2014).
Popular romance authors frequently allude to William Shakespeare's works within their novels. In my dissertation, I survey and analyze the various ways current authors of historical romance novels appropriate Shakespeare and how those appropriations reinterpret his works. I argue in part that the inclusion of Shakespearean allusions has become part of the codes of romance novels, with various types of allusions serving different purposes. Performances of Shakespeare's plays tend to serve as a backdrop for courtship or as a foil to the plot of the novel. When romance authors rewrite Shakespeare's plays to suit the romance novel audience, they often refocus on the heroine and give her more agency. Romance authors also rewrite Shakespeare's tragedies as romance in ways that draw on reader familiarity with the plays. These revisions tend to reduce the plays to key moments or themes and focus on female characters in Shakespeare's works. When romance novel heroes or heroines quote Shakespeare, his words serve as a signal to the reader of elements of their character, such as their intelligence or emotional availability. When authors allude to Shakespeare's works in titles, names, or opening quotations, they openly signal their appropriation of the Bard in ways that distinguish their novels from others. In these more minor appropriations, Shakespearean allusions can function as marketing tools.
The whole dissertation is available for download from the University of Alabama.

Zeiger, Melissa F. " 'Less Than Perfect': Negotiating Breast Cancer in Popular Romance Novels." Tulsa Studies In Women's Literature. Fall 2013/Spring 2014, Vol. 32, No. 2/Vol. 33, No. 1: 107-128.
Over the last twenty years, breast cancer novels have quietly become a large subgenre within popular romance, reflecting both the increase in public breast cancer awareness and the commercialization of that awareness. The emergence of this subgenre both reflects and participates in a shift of what is acceptable to say about breast cancer and expands the range of romance novel topics, including, among other innovations, cancer narratives for lesbian and African American characters. While still liable to many of the criticisms leveled by feminists in the 1980s and beyond, romances can tell new stories as well as the old ones, expanding an inadequate set of cultural and emotional vocabularies. The space for feeling that this genre opens has produced a new reading community and is at least one of the major ways that romance has been and continues to be rewritten. Contradictory movements have accompanied greater freedoms in discussing breast cancer, and this essay argues that feminists can find in romance novels a powerful site, supplementary to feminist theory and activism, for elaborating a productive and critical public breast cancer discourse.
This one isn't available for free online but here's a link to the abstract.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

"Reading From Behind": M/M Romance Event at Princeton University

--Eric Selinger

Having hosted two international conferences on popular romance fiction (2009 and 2014), Princeton University continues to be the hot spot for Ivy League study of the genre.  

Today, their English Department's Graduate Student Genres Colloquium hosts Jonathan A. Allan,  Canada Research Chair in Queer Theory at Brandon University and Associate Editor of JPRS, who'll be speaking about M/M romance, or at least one topos in it.  Details about the event are here, and here's the abstract:
Reading from Behind: Thinking Through Male/Male Romance Novels 
In my book, Reading from Behind (forthcoming, University of Regina Press), I ask a number of questions about how we read and think about the anus: what would happen – even if only ever as a thought experiment – we privileged the anal dimensions of texts and textual and cultural analysis? What if the anus, the booty, the moneymaker, the tukhus were fully loaded signs endowed with rich and complex meanings much like the anus’s numerous nerve endings? What if we relaxed, loosened up our critical inquiries, embraced the deep fullness of the pleasure of the text, a pleasure that tickles and titillates, and removed ourselves from the paranoid, sphincter-tightening hermeneutics of suspicion? In this paper, I return to many of these questions to think about the anus and anal sexuality in the popular romance novel, particularly male/male romance novels. I argue that if “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then the way to his psyche is his asshole.” Simply put, masculinity is dependent upon its refusal to be opened and this is, in many and complicated ways, what the male/male romance novel attempts to deconstruct. At bottom, what would it mean to read these novels from the vantage of the ass, rather than the phallus, the penis, the mighty wang, etc. (which have long been the subject of feminist critiques of the popular romance novel)?
I don't know if Allen Ginsberg's poem "Sphincter" shows up in his project, but if it doesn't, Jonathan, here's a link.  Good luck, and bottoms up!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Happy Endings: A Children's Literature Perspective

The discussion of happy endings and the romance novel genre continues on the RomanceScholar listserv, and with permission, I'm reposting here something that Amanda Allen, an English professor with a specialty in Children's Literature, contributed to the discussion.  

Amanda writes:
I find this conversation fascinating in terms of the history of YA. I study junior novels, which are predominantly romance novels for young people (1942-1967) that predate canonical young adult literature. The junior novels are heavily dedicated to the HEA, and often end with the exchange of a class ring or pin (suggesting, of course, future marriage). 
What is interesting in terms of this conversation is that the ending of the junior novel genre coincides with the rise of canonical YA (in 1967), and what is known as the "New Realism." Whether or not the New Realism is realistic is... well... debatable, but it is predicated specifically on negating a) romance narratives generally, b) HEAs specifically, and c) the feminized field of early YA. In other words, the New Realism purposely defined itself around anti-romance narratives that focused on gritty (and often depressing) situations that were written predominantly by men (or women whose initials masked their gender--think S.E. Hinton) and aimed at a male audience. 
1967 is thus a key date in the history of young adult literature, but I think it plays a similar role in defining Americans' disdain for the HEA (at least as it relates to YA). 
If people are interested in this version of the history of YA, Michael Cart's From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature may be helpful. It's somewhat outdated now (and a little problematic), but chapter one, "From Sue Barton to the Sixties" and chapter two, "The Sixties and the Rise of Realism" include some great contextual history. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Is "The Fault in Our Stars" a Romance Novel?

Pamela Regis writes with a thought about HEA endings and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. 

Here's another thought regarding definitions.  Green's novel has all of the eight elements that I have identified.  The hero dies.  The heroine has a form of cancer that is very likely to kill her long before she reaches middle age.  
 Yet the story ends with the words of the marriage vow:  "I do" written by the heroine, our first-person narrator, in response to a posthumous question (delivered via a letter) by the hero.  He has said earlier, "I fear oblivion."  But in our hands is the book, in which his beloved immortalizes him.  No oblivion for him.  
 I think this qualifies as an HEA, given the constraints of illness that the hero and heroine operate within.  The usual meaning of happily ever after implies an expanse of time that is unbounded.  Over and over again, The Fault in Our Stars insists on the limited time that we all have, not just those of us with life-threatening illness.  So the "ever after" in this HEA has been achieved, I think. 
 RNA would count it within their definition, I suspect.  RWA's definition would also count it.  The more restrictive "courtship and betrothal of one or more protagonists?"  Yep, I think so.  
 Quite aside from any marketing, branding, or other marketplace issues, it seems to me that, fomally, this is a romance novel. 
What do you think, folks?  At the very least, this would be a wonderful topic for a PCA proposal!  (Tick-tock:  only a dozen days left to submit!)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Romance Events in North Carolina

Just popping in briefly to mention some events planned for North Carolina.

Jackie C. Horne writes that
If you happen to be in the Durham, North Carolina area this coming Monday, October 20, consider stopping by the Duke University campus and joining me and other romance devotees in a conversation about "Women, Fiction, & Popular Perception." I'm honored to have been asked to join historical romance novelist Maya Rodale and professor Rachel Seidman (whose students created the Who Needs Feminism? project) for the inaugural event in Duke's Unsuitable series, a speaker series intended to engage students and members of the wider Durham community in a discussion of women's interests and popular fiction. Duke professors Laura Florand and Katharine Brophy DuBois, who both also have flourishing careers as popular romance novelists (DuBois under the pen name Katharine Ashe), will be joining forces to teach a newly developed seminar on the history of the romance novel this coming spring, and hope to open the conversation beyond the classroom through this innovative series.
Then, "Durham County Library will host its second “Fall Into Romance,” a two-day celebration of the romance genre, on Friday, November 7 and Saturday, November 8." On the programme for the Saturday are:

Queer Romance
10:30 a.m., Southwest Regional Library, 3605 Shannon Rd.
Join Sarah Frantz, editor at Riptide Publishing and former President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, for a discussion of the history, conventions and appeal of LGBTQ romances. The only requirement of queer romance is that the main characters be somehow queer: same sex, trans, genderqueer, menage and more. Does this fundamentally affect the story told? Frantz will discuss these issues and hand out free books.

Falling in Love in a Small Town
1 p.m., Southwest Regional Library
Join USA Today bestselling author Farrah Rochon for a discussion of romance, small towns and south Louisiana. Farrah is the author of over twenty romance novels and novellas, including I’ll Catch You, which was nominated for the prestigious RITA Award, and A Forever Kind of Love, a RT Book Review Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee. Her newest book, Forever’s Promise, continues her Bayou Dreams series in small-town Louisiana.

The Suspense of Romance and the Romance of Suspense
2:15 p.m., Southwest Regional Library
Join New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers for a discussion of mystery, suspense and romance. Carla is the author of more than 60 novels that have sold in over 30 countries. RT Book Reviews called That Night on Thistle Lane “emotionally charged,” and Library Journal called Saint’s Gate, “A fast-paced, action-packed tale.”

Five Things in Life I have Learned Through Writing
3:30 p.m., Southwest Regional Library
Join New York Times bestselling author Cathy Maxwell for a discussion of life, writing, reading and romance. Maxwell is the author of over 30 romance novels and novellas and is known for her sensual love stories, realistic, engaging characters, and rich detail. Library Journal has called her books, “fresh, unique.” Her September release, The Groom Says Yes, is the final book in her Brides of Wishmore series.

More details here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Noted with Interest: "Optimistic Ending"?

--Eric Selinger

A recent post by novelist Edmond Manning at the Queer Romance Month site, "Make Room for Happily Never After," sparked a lot of comments about the genre designation appropriate for love stories without an HEA / HFN ending.  (Addendum: this follow-up post by Alexis Hall at All About Romance is well worth reading, and I'll post about that one later.)

I'm not going to try and summarize the debate that played out in the comments section and on Twitter.  My interest is in the ways that the RWA definition of the romance genre was deployed in the post and what followed.  Specifically, I'm beginning to wonder whether the way that the RWA describes the romance novel's ending isn't, itself, somewhat problematic, although I'm not sure whether that's because it's disingenuous or just plain fuzzy.

As readers of this blog probably know, the RWA definition of the romance genre reads like this:
Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.  
A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel. 
An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. 
The first sentence of this definition does not explicitly state that the ending of the novel will feature the protagonists together and in love with each other.  However, the second, ancillary sentence, which spells out what an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending" means, does say that "the lovers" will end the novel in possession of "unconditional love," and we might well assume that this means "love for each other" rather than, say, "love for and being loved by somebody else down the line, with lots of romantic memories of the transformative experience that made it all possible."

I've often thought that the interestingly fuzzy thing about this definition was the notion that a love that comes to you as a "reward" can really be described as "unconditional." In the Queer Romance post, however, it was the bit about an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending" that came into play.  One comment agreeing with and defending the post observed that "Not even the modern definition specifies a HEA. An (and I’m quoting the RWA) 'emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending' leaves the door wide open." Another concurred, saying that "you could argue that an ending could be happy even if it involves a couple separating but valuing their time together. This doesn’t actually contravene the standard RWA definition which requires only that a genre romance centralise a love story and that its ending be optimistic."

Needless to say, not all of those who left comments felt this way.  "If *I* read a book that self-identified as genre romance with an ending that had the central 'couple separating but valuing their time together,'" one observed, "I would throw that book at the wall, rant on Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads and any other outlet I could find that this book was NOT a romance novel. I’d never trust that author again."  It's worth noting that this comment went on to insist on the "context" of that phrase about an "optimistic ending" in the RWA's definition.  "I don’t believe that “optimistic” is intended to mean optimistic about the fate of one or more of the characters," the reply continues.  "I’ve always read it to mean that the reader is meant to leave the book feeling optimistic about the fate of the central love story. If that’s not part of the definition, than I give up."

As it happens, there's one more bit of context we can bring to the table here.  In her short essay "I Know What It Is When I Read It: Defining the Romance Genre," Jennifer Crusie, who was on the definition-writing committee, gives us a sketch of the discussions that went into the final wording. Obviously this is just her account, and it's not coming down from Sinai.  But I do find it helpful.

What the RWA was after, Crusie writes, was "something short and punchy that described the genre in all its glory, something that would be easy to remember, something the press couldn’t make fun of."  Much of the discussion seems to have revolved around how to describe the ending of a romance novel.  Here are the key quotes:
  • There were those who insisted that the definition must stipulate a happy ending, and those who pointed out that a lot of great romances didn’t have happy endings, and that it would be a bad idea to frame a romance definition that excluded the book most people cite as the greatest romance of the twentieth century, Gone With the Wind . Oh, we had a high old time debating this one. 
  • ...we go back to the happy ending definition, right? Well, no, because some of the best romances don’t have happy endings, they’re bittersweet.Those who write romances about protagonists who have experienced tragedy during their struggles shouldn’t have to tack on Disney endings to qualify as serious romance novelists. It was at this point in the discussion that people began saying, “Well, when I say ‘happy ending,’ I mean . . .” and it became clear we were going to have to define “happy ending” in the definition. 
  • The discussions on this one pretty much boiled down to “endings that make the reader feel good at the end of the book.” No endings where the protagonists sacrifice for one another and end up noble and alone, no downers with the hero and the heroine wordlessly staring at a cockroach scuttling across the cracked linoleum of their tenement, and definitely no finales with dead protagonists unless they’re ghosts having a terrific time in the afterlife. 
  • I knew we had it when Gone with the Wind and Pride and Prejudice made the cut, and Madame Bovary and Message in a Bottle didn’t.
The stuff in here about Gone with the Wind is particularly fascinating, since it's clearly not a romance if the protagonists have to be together and committed to each other, even informally, at the end.

I also wonder whether the need to write a definition that "the press couldn't make fun of" also played into avoiding "happy ending" terminology; after all, the truly happy ending is often poignant and tremendously complex, tonally speaking.  I think here of what J. R. R. Tolkien says of the happy turn in Fairy Stories:  "It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief."

For my money, it makes a lot of sense to have a separate term to distinguish a love-story-that-ends-happily-for-the-relationship from some other kind of love story, whether that other kind is one that ends optimistically for one or more protagonists, but they're not together (as in the Crusie / Mayer collaboration Wild Ride) or one which ends tragically, or just glumly, or whatever.  I generally go with "romance novel" for the first, the successful courtship narrative, with "romance" or "love story" or "romantic fiction" as the broader, more general term.

If you use other terms, or have suggestions, let me know.  And if you want to know why it's important to have separate terms, take a look at the comments on that post above. Some women there said it better than I ever could.