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Hot Docs 2015 Interview: Laurie Kahn talks about Love Between The Covers


Writing is never been an easy job. It is always hard to construct your story and put it onto paper. But how do you transform a story that you have in your mind into a book, perhaps, a romance novel? There is a romance novel community in the U.S. where all the famous writers work equally with their readers, help them and guide them till the end, until they publish their first book… Laurie Kahn`s documentary film reveals an incredible world of romance novel community, where their members simply can`t put away the books they read… and also reveals how they interact with their idols, who now are almost like best friends. During Canadian International Documentary Film Festival, I was quite fortunate to get a chance to chat with Laurie Kahn, who personally met those who know well how to love between the covers.

MovieMovesMe: What inspired you to create a film based on the people who write, and love romance novels?

Laurie Kahn: I am really interested in telling women`s stories. Filmmakers do films about females in general, but only ordinary women`s stories are told in our culture. And so here is a big multibillion dollars business that is supporting the rest of the publishing world, and nobody takes these women seriously. And that is what interests me; having a community that is that strong and nobody respects it. I was very curious. I wanted to find out who they are and how it works. I was really surprised and delighted when I discovered how broad the range of romance is. I mean everything from Angelique to historical westerns, vampires, werewolves, erotica, lesbians, and bondage discipline, which is pretty far away from Angelique, on the other end of the spectre. It was real educational for me.

It`s about escaping from reality to a different time, into a world that is slightly different. Fundamentally, there are black holes in the center of our lives, loves and relationships.

MMM: Do you think reading so many is one way to escape from reality?

LK: I think there is an element of that in all genre, whether it is mystery, or thriller, or sci/fi, or Harry Potter. It`s about escaping from reality to a different time, into a world that is slightly different. Fundamentally, there are black holes in the center of our lives, loves and relationships. And the idea is that it is possible to have a good relationship that is respectful and non-threatening, not violent. And two characters both grow over the course of the book and are committed to each other. Just the fact that it is possible is really encouraging. People want happily ever after because they think maybe my life isn’t such a mess after all or my life can be anonymous; it`s something to aspire to. Both characters usually get their happy ending by being loyal and persistent. This is when we learn about virtue in this genre of fiction books.

MMM: You have made an interesting choice by picking successful publishers and those who were unable to publish even a single book.

LK: I think it is really interesting that in the romance community any reader can become a writer. I mean they often say ‘I can do better’, ‘I could not stand this book’, ’I wanted to throw it against the wall’. It`s someone who says to the reader, ‘ok, then write it yourself’. And this is what they do. And the experienced writer will help the newbie, teach and guide them how to write a romance novel. This is what I find that really is not typical, because in the sci-fi writer’s community only the publishers are allowed to. In the romance community, there is fluidity; any writer can become a reader, any reader can become a writer. And, all the newbie writers who were helped out by people ahead of them turn around and help those who are behind them. And so that explains the whole spectrum of this, from superstar Nora Roberts all the way to the Australian video-diary that has never been published. I wanted to show that there are people of different races, different ages, and different levels of publishing.

MMM: While you worked with all of them, what did you learn about them?

LK: One thing is that they are smart, and interesting, and varied. They work hard at what they do. And we would have discussions about story structure. I mean you know there is a stereotype of people who write romance novels; they do it in the bed, outside of the house, crying over the keyboard. And it`s not the case. These women have built a community where they are becoming friends. And I think the woman in the community figured out how to take social networking tools and built an actual mini-community. It also happened that a newbie ended up in the New York Times Top list, while the one who helped her was behind. They laugh about that. There is certainly generosity in this community, which is not typical at all.

I hope it moves people. It makes them question their own unspoken tragedy. It`s outspoken prejudices that they don’t acknowledge.

MMM: Can you talk about the selection process?

LK:  I`ve read a lot of romance novels. And I always jump to defend them. I just went to a Romance Writers American Conference, and to a workshop.  I answered advertisements on a bulletin board. I even shared a room with the Australian who kept a video diary. And I met a lot of people, and I asked them what I should be reading. And also asked what makes a good romance, a good romance? I became friends with some of those people and did interviews with about seventy or eighty people who were in the writing business. I then looked at the footage of those interviews and figured out who really jumps off the screen. I wanted a variety of people. They are not all white women in the middle of the west or south. There is Len Barot, who wrote three lesbian romances this year while being a surgeon. It is not what defies your expectations. Beverly Jenkins, who is an African American author, takes trips to meet her readers. These woman know so much about history, even more than a tour guide. They all go on trips together, learn together, and I thought that would be interesting to see in the film. I hope it moves people. It makes them question their own unspoken tragedy. It`s outspoken prejudices that they don’t acknowledge.

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