SHEIKH ARTICLE - CHICAGO TRIBUNE
I had the opportunity to speak with this reporter. He asked me interesting questions and one I actually did not think about, 911 and how reading books concerning sheikhs affected me? 911 was personally horrific for me and my country and mostly importantly for the city of New York.
Quite honestly, when I read these stories I don't think about 911, nor religion, nor where they take place, I think about falling in love, about romance and hopefully all of this craziness going on in the world will someday resolve itself and there will be peace! I pray this happens for all because in my heart it's all about LOVE.
Here is the article as it appeared in the Chicago Tribune:
By Patrick T. Reardon
Chicago Tribune staff reporter
Published April 24, 2006
If this story were a romance novel, it would read something like this:
The heroine -- a feisty, brassy American woman, representing hundreds of thousands of female romance readers -- is irresistibly drawn to the Arab sheik. He's dark, brooding and incredibly wealthy, ruling everything he surveys in his desert kingdom. They have exotic adventures and eventually make hot, feverish and often graphic love. The End.
But this story isn't just about the many romance readers who relish fantasies about sheikhs (or, as some prefer to spell the word, sheikhs). It's also about a mystery.
So let's bring in a character from another pop fiction genre, a detective, to examine the puzzle. Picture him as a somewhat rumpled, somewhat nerdy middle-age guy. (Any resemblance to a certain newspaper reporter is strictly coincidental.)
The mystery is this: Since 2000, the number of sheik romances published each year in North America has more than quadrupled.
That's easy to explain, Susan Mallery tells our gumshoe. When it comes to sales, Sheik romances "kick butt." She should know. Over the past six years, Mallery, who lives in California, has published 10 sheik novels, each with press runs of more than 100,000.
But that doesn't explain why they kick butt. Or why they happen to be kicking butt at a time when U.S. soldiers are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and when fears of Middle East-inspired terrorism on U.S. soil remain high. Or why they remain popular after 9/11.
Sheik romances have a Web site devoted to them (sheikh and Desert Love at www-and-desert-love.com) and a Beloit College anthropologist (Kimberly Mills) who is studying them.
When our detective analyzes lists that Mills and the Web site compiled, he determines that, during the 1990s, an average of four sheik romances were published annually in North America -- compared to 17 a year since 2000.
Several romance readers tell him that, when they read about sheiks, they're learning about the exotic world of the Arabian Desert. And Lucy Monroe, who lives in of Oregon, says she spent a lot of time researching her two sheik novels.
"I take the best of the culture," Monroe says. And she leaves out the rest. In "The Sheikh's Bartered Bride," published in 2004 by Harlequin, she says, "I was careful not to get into the oppression of women."
Why? Because, Monroe says, the job of a romance novel is to "feed hope in the world -- the hope that those we see as our enemy can also be our friend."
Every romance novel, our detective learns, whether it features a sheik or some other male, is about the transformation of the two central characters, the Adam and Eve of the story. The hero and the heroine are expected to dislike each other initially -- to be enemies -- and, then, to be drawn against their wills into each other's arms. That's the happy ending every reader expects.
Writing a sheik romance "is a hoot," laughs Mallery. "I make up my own countries. It's broad fantasy. It is not based in reality. I don't deal with anything icky. [Readers] are not going to learn anything about the Middle East from me."
In the past, though, sheik fantasies could be pretty icky.
Consider the 1919 novel "The Sheik" by Edith Maude Hull, the forebear of all subsequent sheik romances. Not only does the sheik of the title -- "a splendid healthy animal" -- abduct and imprison the heroine, Diana, but he also rapes her.
Then she falls in love with him.
Monroe says this pattern of kidnap-rape-love, rooted in a pre-1980s cultural belief that unmarried women shouldn't go looking for sex, involved "forcing pleasure on women." For their own good, apparently.
This, notes Mallery, is the origin of the term bodice-ripper.
From Saskatchewan, Canada, where she edits the Sheikhs and Desert Love Web site, Erika Wittlieb tells our sleuth that "these novels [now] are quite generous in portraying Arab men, sheiks, as larger-than-life, virile, ultra-masculine heroes with a strong moral code."
Although the 9/11 trauma had little impact on sheik romance sales, Wittlieb says that, since the attacks, "romance novel sheiks were not often featured [on book covers] in their traditional Arab headdress or robes." Now, they appear in Western-style clothing.
From Harlequin headquarters, Katherine Orr, vice president for public relations, says the jump in sheik romances is simply a coincidence, having has nothing to do with world news.
As if to underline that, Marilyn Shoemaker, a sheik romance fan in Seattle, says, "I don't think about Iraq and Iran when I'm reading them."
Which leaves our investigator flummoxed and our mystery story without a solution.
But maybe it's the mystery that is the solution.
In a romance novel and in real life, it's often impossible to say why two people fall in love. They just do.
Why are romance readers buying so many more sheik novels? Our detective just throws up his hands. They just are.
- - -
Even sheiks can be afraid of commitment.
According to Sheikhs and Desert Love, a Web site devoted to romance novels featuring sheiks (www.sheikhs-and-desert-love.com), there are 11 major plots and themes for such books. They are:
Abducted by the enemy
Babies and child rescue
Kidnapped by a handsome sheik
Marriages of convenience
Meddling family members
Reunions with former lovers
Sheiks fearing commitment
- - -
"He paused at the door to speak to the Frenchman, a picturesque, barbaric figure, with flowing robes and great white cloak, the profile of his lean face clean cut against the evening sky, the haughty poise of his head emphasized by the attitude in which he was standing, arrogant, dominating."
-- "The Sheik" by E.M. Hull (1919)
"His black hair was damp with sweat at the temples and nape. He looked sexy and full of sin, and, God help her, she was ready to ask him to kiss her."
-- "A Bed of Sand" by Laura Wright (2004)
"Beneath his loose, traditional clothing, this man was powerfully built. Strong and hard. The power that emanated from him had nothing to do with what he wore. Even with sunglasses hiding his eyes from her, she could tell that he had an unusually handsome, olive-toned face. The cut of his jaw was sharp and masculine, the nose perfectly straight and fittingly regal, and the mouth ... a mouth that sensuous should be illegal!"
-- "Secret-Agent Sheik" by Linda Winstead Jones (2002)
"His bronzed complexion and very black hair suggested an ancestry at variance with his beautifully enunciated English. Every aspect of him offered a source of immediate fascination. ... A tiny twist of something she had never felt before pulled low in her pelvis."
-- "The Sheikh's Innocent Bride" by Lynne Graham (2005)
"He towered over her, and she had on pretty high heels. He smelled clean, just soap and man, and even though it felt strange to have him continue to hold her hand, it was more good-strange than bad-strange. His dark eyes seemed to see down to the very depths of her being, as if he could read all her secrets."
-- "The Sheik and the Virgin Secretary" by Susan Mallery (2005)
Sunday, October 29, 2006
SHEIKH ARTICLE - CHICAGO TRIBUNE