Claire Parnell (University of Melbourne)
Session 8.2: Muslim and Middle Eastern Romances

Abstract:

Participatory media production through online self – publishing platforms affects the publishing field in interesting and important ways. In particular, the call for diverse representation in genre fiction has been growing in online communities, such as Wattpad, for some time. Narratives that have traditionally been excluded from publication are now able to be self-published through various online retailers and user-generated online platforms. Romance texts published on Wattpad that feature Muslim protagonists and Muslim-centred love stories demonstrate the popularity of these stories. This paper explores their social and political impact.

Wattpad is a free social media writing and reading platform and mobile application. It has an impressively ubiquitous reach, with more than 35 million global users each month, with stories often published in serialised format. Wattpad’s affordances tap into the contemporaneous way Internet users consume content online – socially and interactively, on mobile devices, and in easily digestible chunks.

A Muslim’s Romantic Journey by Wattpad user KittyCrackers is considered the platform’s first successful Muslim Romance story. This paper analyses the text and online conversations about it to understand its form and reception. In doing so, this project intersects two largely understudied areas of genre fiction research: non-Western centred Romance texts, and the function of digital publishing channels. This research serves as an exploratory study for a larger research project on the impact of digital media in generating greater inclusion in the field of genre fiction publishing. Results are expected to shine a light on marginalised cultures and groups, as well as explore the practices of online participatory culture, within the literary field.
Presentation:
2014 – User ‘KittyCrackers’ uploaded the first part of A Muslim’s Romantic Journey

  • Part 1 had more than 2500 comments from 1500 unique users – interactive reading, not passive
  • The story flips the Orientalist trope, antagonists are the more westernised characters
  • 78 parts in total
  • 16m reads
  • won a ‘Watty’ award (Wattpad has their own awards)

Wattpad

  • Social media reading and writing platform
  • 22 million readers, global reach
  • Henry Jenkins – Participatory culture
  • Allows comments from readers, interaction with authors

The Wattpad Muslim romances don’t have the same framework as the ‘sheik’ novels, which have predominantly white heroines and feature very little in the way of Islamic faith

Authors are able to embed media in the header space. KittyCrackers uses this to embed lectures from prominent Islamic lecturers.

Claire is doing a textual analysis & an analysis of the reader comments for her PhD research.

  • Used 10 out of 77 chapters
  • Analysed 9576 comments.
  • Commenters act as beta readers and collaborators
  • Comments are predominantly affirmative
  • Limited writing and editing advice provided, fewer than 3% per chapter discuss writing
  • Question re sentimental analysis: Claire said it was a judgement call on her part, there was no software suitable to do it as the language used on Wattpad is very ideosyncratic, which made SentiStrength cumbersome to use.

Author: Philippa

I make arty mixed-media things, & write fantastical things (with kissing), & do musical & dancing things, & play gaming things, & do weightlifting things, & organise fabulous event things. But mostly I wrangle cats. Renaissance woman.

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