Monday, July 03, 2006

Aren't romance novels worth editing?

I've recently been enjoying a series of romance novels by Suzanne Brockmann. Romances have a bad reputation among many readers who see them as mass-produced variations of the same plot over and over, with one-dimensional characters who have nothing on their minds but marriage and/or sex. Several years ago, during a case of plagiarism between two romance writers, I read a Newsweek article which commented, "Who notices these things when all that stuff sounds the same anyway?" But as with all genres of literature, there are good and bad examples (note: avoid the Harlequin series), and I've found a number of authors whom I place firmly in the former category, Brockmann among them.

Something I've noticed, though, is that romance novels seem to be far less well-edited compared to other styles of literature. I'm not talking about tight prose or plot pacing, but the most basic mechanics of spelling, grammar, and accurate foreign translations. I was sorely disappointed in my latest Brockmann read in which she described a character as having the cajones to wander the French countryside as a WWII spy. I know what she meant, and the term is cojones. A cajón is a large crate, or a drawer in a piece of furniture. This same character, whose American name was Joe, had the Italian version of his name written alternately as Giuseppe (correct) and Guiseppe (incorrect). With the amount of research that is done by a skilled fiction writer, it's disappointing that such errors slip by unnoticed by both the author and her editor.

I'll admit that Brockmann's errors aren't the worst I've seen, though; that honor goes to a novel by Nora Roberts---another esteemed romance writer---that is riddled with spelling errors. The one I remember most was "dispite" instead of "despite", a mistake that was repeated too many times throughout the page to be dismissed as a typographical error. I mean, "dispite" isn't even in the dictionary! What about a spellchecker? I was so irritated by this particular case that I wrote a letter to Berkley Publishing, pointing out that this sort of indifference contributed to the poor reputation of the romance genre and did a disservice to Roberts' talent. Alas, I never received a response.

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