Rant, Review

Review: Romancing the Pen by Kara Winters (2018)

Heat Factor: There is a long and detailed sex scene in the first 20%

Character Chemistry: He is extremely patronizing

Plot: Author with writers’ block starts banging his publisher slash muse

Overall: DNF

I considered quietly letting this book go by the wayside when I gave up about a quarter of the way through. While I’m all about honest reviews, it seems unnecessary to go out of my way to trash indie books.

However, the problems I had with this book bring to light some assumptions that I hold about the world of romance writing, so I want to use this review as a springboard. 

I picked up this book because the hero writes romance novels. I love it when romances get meta-textual. 

However, if you were thinking that this would include a realistic portrayal of the publishing industry…not so much. And that’s fine! Writing a book that includes some fantasy wish fulfillment for your career is awesome. It would be great if romance authors were treated as well as our hero is. I can even get behind the premise of the author and his publisher not even knowing each other’s names and then having a meet-cute and a bang-a-thon—if I can suspend my disbelief enough to read about sex aliens or socialist dukes then I can go with this too. 

Here’s what I couldn’t get past: our hero, the romance novelist, has no respect for women. And I just couldn’t buy the idea that someone who thought so little of his main audience (assumed here to be “only women”, though according to a 2017 survey commissioned by the RWA, 18% of romance readers are male) could successfully write 15 bestselling romances, or even books that were any good. 

To support my claim that he has no respect for women, let me discuss the scene where author and publisher grab coffee together after meeting at a party. The following quotations are all told in the first-person from the hero’s perspective. 

I looked down at the menu and scanned over the various coffee drinks, realizing that most of them came with a type of alcohol mixed in. So, this was why Kate liked this place. Good girl.


Note: this is not the first time he has referred to grown women as girls. 

They have some drinks, the conversation flows so well, yadda yadda yadda. Then the bill comes: 

“I’ve got it,” she whined and tried tugging the paper. 

“Nope, you’re drunk. You’ll get the price wrong and overspend.” I placed my hand over hers and scooped up the bill.

HOW PATRONIZING CAN YOU GET? Note that this man has already mentioned how great a tipper he is because he gives his Starbucks barista a 100% tip on his hazelnut latte. Also: you met her an hour ago. How she spends her money is none of your damn business. Describing her as “whining” when she tries to pay is just the icing on the cake here. 

But he lets her pay anyways: 

Kate pulled out two twenties from her wallet, more than enough for the bill and a tip. I wasn’t going to correct her, though . She’d learn in the morning when she checked her billfold. 

NOT ONLY ARE YOU PATRONIZING, YOU ARE WRONG. Reminder that this is not a normal coffeehouse, but one where all the coffee drinks are actually cocktails. Furthermore, this place of business is located near the Art Institute in Chicago – i.e., in the Loop, i.e., right downtown. Given that they each had two drinks, Kate did not overspend; it is much more likely that she was short, or, at a minimum, failed to tip.

UGH. I think the fact that, in classic mansplaining mode, he corrects her and IS WRONG was the most infuriating part of the whole passage for me. There is nothing like the over-confidence of a mediocre man, amirite?

Deep breath. Ok. Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system. 

Because of my reading preferences, I sometimes forget that the world of sexy contemporary romance is not made up solely of bad-ass feminists writing thoughtful books that interrogate the nexus of power, desire, and consent. So it was utterly jarring to read a book like this, where sexist thoughts by the hero are not signals that he is an alphahole who will be broken and then redeemed by love, but just…part of who he is.

Ever since the debacle of nonsense at the RWA (I know, that was, like, a million years ago now), I’ve been keeping SuperWendy’s advice in mind: to advocate for the genre I want to see. And for me, I think that means calling out moments just like this one. 

For me, the most insidious anti-feminist moments in romance are not the books where the characters embrace traditional gender roles. Even the rapey old bodice rippers are not problematic in the same way. Having a relationship where the man is MANLY and the woman submits is not what I want for myself, but reading about it taps into a fantasy of having someone else take care care of me (see, for example, my discussion of The Fifth Day of Christmas). 

Rather, it is the men who position themselves as “nice” or “respectful,” but are actually anything but. These “heroes” are not bad boys, but rather Nice Guys™ who don’t need to go through an arc of character development to become ideal partners – according to the text, they are ALREADY ideal partners. Seeing characters like this as romantic leads normalizes them, and I think we have enough Nice Guys (who love their moms and would never rape a good girl but did you see what that bitch was wearing?) in the world. 

Buy Now: Amazon

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