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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

ELISA ROLLE: Of Yaoi And Men



An Interview With the Internet's Most Intriguing Independent Reviewer by A.J. Llewellyn


Interviewer's Note: Elisa Rolle reviews M/M books exclusively and she has the rare distinction of purchasing the books she reviews, giving her the freedom to describe herself as an Independent Reviewer. She is a strong supporter of gay rights, M/M fiction and the authors who write books in the genre. We thank her for her time! Shy Elisa did not want to provide an author photo for this interview and suggested we choose one from her page. Oky doky, Elisa!


1. Elisa, when did you first start reading romance novels and what was the first book you read?

Actually I don’t remember very well when. I was an early reader, I have a home full of books thanks to my mother and father and I read all. When I was very little my mother bought me “Little Women” and “Anna of Green Gables”, but I wasn’t satisfy by them. Before my twelve birthday, I was reading Tolstoj, Gorgy, Dostojevski… when my mother saw me take in hand Frank Kafka (all books I found around the house) she started to worry, really, since she didn’t think it was reading right for a girl of my age. But strangely she was even more worried when I asked her if I could buy, with my money, Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. I was 12 years old and she again thought that it was not reading right for my age! Anyway I was very stubborn and I read Lawrence and then also Maurice by E.M. Forster (probably my first M/M novel), and so on. When I say that I don’t remember when I started reading romance it’s true, since I don’t remember when the first romance entered my house: I only remember that, when I was in high school at 14 years old, my bedroom was just full of romance books… but I remember the first historical romance I read: it was The Wolfe and the Dove by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, and it remains one of my favorite historical romances.

2. You write very poignant back stories for many authors and I am impressed with your research. Do you contact authors' families for info? Do any of them contact you after they read what you write?

I make all my research on the net. I also have some reference books about romance, and I also have an impressive romance library… better I had, since I needed to sell almost all my books since I can’t accommodate them in my house. But before selling them, I scanned all the cover and the blurb, and saved all the info in my website. Sometime if I know of some connections between authors, I ask around for a brief introduction. For example, when I was writing the memory post for Fay Robinson, I found that she was in the same writing group with Barbara Pierce, an historical romance author I hosted on my blog, and so I
asked her if she would be interested in writing something on Fay. She was very happy to have the chance to remember her friend, and she also passed my request to Lorraine Heath, another historical romance author, who contacted me to participate. Another time, I was searching info about Juliet Dymoke, an English historical romance author of the past. On the net I found very little and so I asked to Liz Fielding, another contemporary romance author I hosted on my blog, if she knew something else, since Juliet and her were members, in different period, of the same association (Romance Novelist). With my great surprise, not only Liz Fielding knew Juliet Dymoke, but more then thirty years before, when she was a young girl, she was friend with Juliet’s daughter, and she also went to the engagement party of her friend. So she gave me an interesting insight of Juliet’s private life, and some info that weren’t available on the net.

3. How did you first become interested in M/M? I know Maltese and Banis are your favorites but whose books did you read first?

Soon after my bachelor degree in Economics, I moved in Milan for work. I had a very demanding job and little spare time, so I stopped reading romance for more or less 5 years. When I moved back in Padua, my hometown, I started again to read romance, but my taste was changed. The traditional romance didn’t satisfy me no more, I wanted something more challenging. So I entered a reader group of women who wanted to bring innovative romance in Italy (a dead group now…). The main genre they considered was paranormal romance, and I read some titles, and some I liked very much, like Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon, but, truth be told, after sometime I still was “bored”. Then one of them dared the group to read a M/M romance: she believed to shock and probably she expected that, if one of them pick up the glove and read the book, the response would be negative.
Since I can never give up a challenge, I accepted and read “Crossing the Line” by Stephanie Vaughan… I was enthralled, it was exactly what I was searching. Soon after I bought all the M/M romance ebooks from the same epublisher, Loose Id, and I discovered J.L. Langley, Laura Baumbach, Ally Blue… from that moment on I never stopped reading.

4. What is the worst thing a writer can put in a book in your mind?

Betrayal. And in a M/M romance, betrayal with a woman. It’s something I don’t suffer in real life, and above all I don’t want to find it in a romance. Maybe if there is a very good reason, and than the deceptive makes a very good job to be forgiven, I can still like the book, but it’s very hard. And another thing I don’t like it is when, in a sequel, the author breaks the happily ever after of the couple… it’s like a betrayal from the author itself.

5. One of my favorite romance authors was Victoria Holt, yet I was not a fan of her work as Jean Plaidy or Philippa Carr. Is this weird? or have you encountered the same thing? Liking one author's line of books and not the other?

I’m a very faithful reader, usually if I like an author, I like everything he writes. But I’m also very stubborn: for example, J.L. Langley. I love her M/M romances, but even if I bought her books as Jeigh Lynn (het romances), I have never found the patience to read them. Probably since she is very good as M/M author, her het romances should be wonderful, but still I’m in no mood to read them. I’m a very moody reader, you can’t force me to read something I haven’t the wish to read, otherwise my judgment will be invalidate by my mood. This is also the reason why I’m an “independent” reviewer (please forgive me the use of a so high term for what I do, but there isn’t any other…). I can’t be forced to
read something as a duty, I can only read as a pleasure.

6. Where do you find all those hot guys on your journal?

I’m a net explorer ? I wander a lot around the net, and when I find a face I like, I bookmark the site. Then I deepen the search and, if behind the pretty face, there is also an interesting story, he becomes my “Man Candy”.

7. How many books do you read a week?

I can give you a statistical answer: I opened my LibraryThing account to store all my reviews 15 months ago. From that moment on I wrote 715 reviews, that makes 10 reviews per week. But truth be told, 6/7 are short novels, under 100 pages. Usually I read 150/200 pages per night, so the answer could be, 6/7 short novels and 4/3 long novels.

8. Who did coin the term 'breeches ripper' because I am now in love with it!

I was questioning with a friend of mine, a very uptight and stubborn friend (that now is no more my friend, but not for my choice). She said that some of the historical romance writers of the past were bodice ripper writers, and that it was a pejorative word and that if I had the courage to ask to a modern romance author if she was glad to be define a bodice ripper writer, the answer would be for sure “NO” and maybe she would be take offence on the question. So when I saw that, in a review, Standish of Erastes was compared to a bodice
ripper romance of the kind of Johanna Lindsey, again I took the glove of my friend, and asked Erastes what he though. He answered that, if he could do the money that Mrs Lindsey does, he would be very glad to be define a bodice ripper romance author, even if, maybe, his romance were better defined as “breeches ripper”. And so it was…

9. Why are some writers offended by the term bodice ripper?

I believe for the concept of the rape. Some bodice rippers were very “strong”, like Rosemary Rogers’ novels, and the heroine was often forced during sex. I don’t like that kind of romances myself. But for example, Johanna Lindsey’s romances are truly “bodice rippers” but they are also funny and the heroine is always strong willed. As always you need to discern and not judge all the books from some of them.

10. Why do you think so many women have become interested in reading M/M?

I think there is a strong component of feminism in all this. In the romance history there has been an evolution that saw the female figure turned from object to subject of her destiny, hence the increasingly strong heroines, but that, in some cases, annoyed the female reader: how well expressed by Laura Kinsale, in her essay for "Dangerous Men, Adventurous Women", the female reader doesn’t identified herself with the heroine, but with the hero, and then, sometimes, she is annoyed by the woman in the book. In addition, in recent years, women started to "see" the man more and more as a sexual object, and so a beautiful body is crucial. So what's better than a romance where there isn’t the annoying heroine, but there are two beautiful heroes? True to appreciate this concept you must try to overcome very strong cultural barriers, especially in Italy, and often you risk to be seen as “perverse or strange.” I had a first hand experience and it is not pleasant to talk about it.

11. William Maltese told me on a group chat that women writing M/M has changed the genre, given it emotion. Would you agree with this?

This is an old argument for me, that I often share with my friend. I believe that M/M romance written by men are more direct, with a little less romance. Once I said that an M/M romance written by a man is like a dive in a swimming pool: a man dives directly on the core of the matter, splashing around like a little kid, and being happy in doing so. Instead a woman lingers at the edge of the swimming pool, first dips one’s hands in water, then maybe a foot, and even if she, in the end, immerses all the body, she is always worried of her hair or about how she appears… of all the details around… Do you understand?

12. If you were to write a M/M book what genre/time period would it be set in?

Contemporary I believe, since I have too much respect for History and historical writers, that I don’t judge myself worthy of writing an historical romance. I have also some plot bunnies in my head, but I have never found the courage to put them down as a real book. This one is my favorite:“A very wealthy old man had a son when he was just past his middle age. He married a young and beautiful woman, someone he loved dearly. They had only a son and they were an happy family. But then mother and son had a car accident
when the boy is only maybe 10/12 years old (he should be still in an age when he was old enough to have developed a own behavior but it is not yet an adult).
The boy remained blocked in the car with the dead mother for hours and when he was rescued he is deeply shocked. For months he behaved in a strange way, but doctors said it's right since what he has passed. But more the time went on and more the father realized that his son was not the same: he is like a child who doesn't grew, he sees the world with child eyes and he is too trusting even with unknown people. He is not dump, but he is like an eternal Pollyanna in male body. And plus, when the boy becomes a man in body if not in mind, he begins to have also sexual interests in other men instead of women and this attract all the wrong men to him, drawn more than the boy's wealthy than in the boy himself. The father is really worried since he is aging and sooner or later he would be not there to protect his son. And so when he happens to know that a very important business man he has some affair with, known for his ruthless behavior in affairs, but also for always honoring his word, prefers men's company in his private life, the old man develops a plan: the business man needs the old man's sign in an important business contract, and he decides to sign that contract if the business man will agree to take care of his son, in every possible way. And why the business man should not accept? The boy is young and beautiful, like his mother, and he will be also very wealthy when the old man will pass away. But what the young boy will say? And the ruthless business man will be sweetened by the naive behavior of the young boy?”

13. What is your town Padua like? Do people go out late? Eat dinner late? Is it a romantic place?

Poor Padua has the bad luck to be so near Venice that almost all the tourism pass by it without stopping. But Padua is a very old city, the second oldest city in Italy, soon after Rome. Padua, as Patavium, was the main Municipium of Roman Empire; a very old legend said that Rome was founded by Enea (his story was told in the “Eneide” of Virgilio) and one of the fellow mate of Enea, Antenore, continues the journey and founded Patavium. Plus in the thirteenth century Padua was the city were Sant’Antonio chose to live and where he made all his miracles: he also died in this City and there is an huge Basilica to commemorate the Saint, were his corpse is worshipped and thousands of pilgrims come every year. Moreover in the same period while Sant’Antonio made his miracles, a very important and laical movement of scholars chose Padua as its home and founded one of the oldest University in the world, in 1221: now it’s the second oldest University in the world still active; due to the presence of the University in the fifteen century in Padua was founded one of the first Public Hospital, also it still active. And last but not least, at the beginning of the fourteen century, the very famous Italian painter Giotto, frescoed the
Scrovegni Chapel, one of the most beautiful Italian affresco you can see, often compared to Sistina Chapel in Vaticano. This for the culture.
And for the social life? Thanks to the University, in Padua there are a lot of students, and so the life is pretty good, but no, the people usually doesn’t still out till late. Padua is in the Veneto county, and usually people who lives here prefers to stay at home, maybe host friends, but they are not much for night club and similar. If you want to eat out, most likely you will go in the near hills around the city, called Colli Euganei, a volcanic formation which generates also hot springs, so it’s a very green and peaceful place. I would not define Padua a “romantic” place. It’s a place full of culture, but not very romantic, even if Shakespeare set here The Taming of the Shrew.

14. Do your friends and family know of your work as an independent reviewer of M/M fic and what do they think?

My friends yes, and they are “quite” supportive, even if they really don’t understand me. But I have only two close friends, and one is a saint, who always thinks that I’m perfect, whatever I do, and the other has a very strong character, and probably I’m one among the few people who manage to stand upon her. My mother knows since we live together and she can see all the books around my room, and she says nothing. At first she was worried, kindly worried, that I was lesbian and that I didn’t have the courage to tell her, so she cautiously let slip one word here and there, telling me that, if I wanted in the future to go
living with a female friend, she was not against the idea, if I was happy. When she understood that all the books I read were about men with men, she was puzzled, but strangely less worried. Probably most of the merit goes to William Maltese: he often sends me his last book and he is so kind and well mannered, that my mother is happy that I have good friends (she read the dedication inside the book and also the accompanying letter…).

15. How do the men you date react to your work?

Do you intend my real work? As software analyst? Not so good. Two example: I was
dating an older man, five years older, and even if the sex was good, we always fought about my work. He wanted a housekeeping wife, and I’m all than and housekeeper. Second experience, a younger man: always was good till the day he asked me why a woman like me, with a good work, independent and cultured (his words) was dating a younger man, barely out of College, who was still studying?
Probably my answer was not good, if I remember well, I took too long a time to answer
and then I said something about the fact that he was “refreshing” and “easy”…

16. LOL! Have you considered writing a book on the history of romantic fiction?

I don’t believe that it would be a book that could interest to a lot of people, and then I haven’t the patience ? I like what I do since it’s not committed, I make all for pleasure, if it becomes a duty, I’m no more interested.

17. You are coming to the US (for the first time I believe) for the Yaoi con. How did you first come across Yaoi and how would you define it in terms of fiction?

No, it’s not the first time. I was in New York City in June 2000 and the again in Chicago in December of the same year. The first time for pleasure and the second time for work, but both time I had the chance to see a lot, and all in all I liked what I see. I like to travel, I visited England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, German, Russia, Romania, Hungary… I’m a bit of a globetrotter, always in motion when I’m out.
As for Yaoi, probably I made the reverse path: I came to Yaoi from the M/M romance. A lot of my online friend was speaking of yaoi manga and similar and one of my friend recommend me the Finder series by Ayano Yamane. I bought it in print (yes, I spend a lot in print books, but I like it and I think it’s a good thing to do) and soon after I bought all the Embracing Love series by Youka Nitta… From that moment on, I pick a yaoi manga here and there, but I’m not a
maniac, I still prefer the M/M romance.
As for the decision to go to the Yaoi Con in San Francisco, it was a spur of the moment: for various reasons, it’s a bit that I don’t travel and I miss it, and my friend (the one who usually comes with me in travel) always said that if we need to go to California, she would like to go in September, so, California + September = Yaoi Con!

18. What are you looking forward to most in the US?

San Francisco. I think that I will love the city. I want to see the Old Chinatown, but also I would like to “feel” the city. I like to walk around the cities, and try to imagine how the real life is.

19. What is the sexiest, most romantic paragraph you read in any book that still
haunts you?

Probably it was the first sex scene in Out There in the Night, the first book I read by Laura Baumbach. It is also a very “strong” sex scene, and maybe I was still a naïve reader, so I was deeply impressed. Probably the day after I read A Bit of Rough, again by Laura Baumbach, and again I was very impressed by the first sex scene, which happens at the beginning of the book and in an alley…again, I was an innocent reader and it was a very sexy scene…and with that I
answered to the “sexiest” part… but I think they are also very romantic, since the Alpha males by Laura Baumbach are formidable, and I like soo much a good Alpha male! Recently I read Welcome to Beaconsfield by D.J. Manly, about an abused child who grew into a scarred boy who hustles to live, but even if he has experienced almost all in his life, he still wants to fall in love and to dreams…another book I remember as very romantic and about the same argument, is Scarred by J.M. Snyder, about another abused boy who preserves his kisses for the one he loves.


On behalf of the Dark Divas I would like to thank Elisa for her thoughtful responses and her passion for what we do!!


Visit ELISA ROLLE at:

elisa.rolle@libero.it
My Blog: rosaromance.splinder.com
My Journal: elisa-rolle.livejournal.com
My Library: www.librarything.com/catalog/elisa.rolle



11 comments:

Elisa said...

Ciao a tutti. Thanks to AJ for having me here with you today. I hope it will be an interesting day for you, even if I don't know what you can find on me :-)

Anyway, I'd like to do an addendum to AJ's interview. When I made it, it was true that I bought all my ebooks. Since then some epubs have kinded added me on their Official Reviewers list, and so now I can choose among their catalogue for free... But I still choose what to read, only that now, I can finally forgot of the money problem (and it was a problem, I can assure you!)

Elisa

AJ Llewellyn said...

Ciao Elisa and thank you for writing to add your news. I know you are traveling so I especially appreciate you stopping by. Travel safe!
AJ

williammaltese said...

Well, I for one, found this interveiw absolutely FASCINATING!!!! And not just because I saw my name mentioned in it several times. -- Elisa is by far my favorite reviewer (of course, I have always had this thing for Italian men and women), and I'm delighted to consider her my friend. --So shy that she still seems to think we're not all interested in every little bit about her (but we ARE, we ARE!), this aj llewellyn interview is wonderful in having provided insights -- into aspects of an absolutely charming lady -- that even I didn't know. --Great going!!! --William Maltese.

Elisa said...

You are always a gentleman William, and I believe that Italiam men and women would be only happy to have the chance to "meet" you, if only online. Elisa

Laura said...

Thank you for the kind, kind words about my books, Elisa. You are always so generous with your praise! I'm looking forward to seeing you in San Frnacisco in a few weeks!

AJ Llewellyn said...

Dear William,
Thank you so much for stopping by! I am overwhelmed to see you here and so thrilled! This is a wonderful day for the Divas! I, like you adore Elisa and appreciate her hard work. Thanks again!
AJ

Tess MacKall said...

What a wonderful interview, A J. I loved all your questions. Very insightful.

I was thrilled to learn that Elisa and I share the same "first" romance book. I was absolutely enthralled with The Wolf and The Dove. And never stopped reading after that.

Elisa said...

To Laura: Same as here Laura, can't wait to meet you and all the other authors that I know will be at YAOI Con.

To Tess: I still have my very old and much read copy of The Wolfe and the Dove, with the original cover of Robert McGinnis. Wulfgar is one of the most wonderful hero you can find in romance.

Elisa

Jeanne said...

I was so thrilled to receive my first review and a positive one at that of "The Sweet Flag", my first M/M romance from Elisa.
The interview was excellent, and it was neat to learn that "The Wolf and the Dove" was also one of Elisa's first reads!

Elisa said...

Ciao Jeanne. It seems that Kathleen E. Woodiwiss was a first for a lot of us :-). Elisa

Nix Winter said...

I love being reviewed by Elisa :) She is a bright spot of intelligence and freedom in the world.

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