Crude and Clueless? If so, I’m sorry.

The column I wrote on Friday that, among other things, listed serious and silly suggestions for a series AAR is planning on heroines raised the ire of many. Readers felt the list was, just to mention a few flaws, misogynistic, guilty of gross stereotyping, and offensive. They asked if AAR has changed its “netiquette” policy (the answer is no) and if we planned to continue to use “hateful” and “shaming” language. Several have requested we apologize.

I am not speaking here for AAR–I write these words on my own. I would reiterate I am proud of our staff. These women spend the hours they do reading and writing because they love romance and want to share their love and insights with the world. They’re an impressive bunch and I am privileged, upon occasions (such as Friday’s column), to speak for the group.

That’s not what I’m doing here. This is just me.

If you were  appalled by what I wrote, I apologize. If you felt my language was an attack or an insult, I’m sorry. It’s clear to me I didn’t give the words I typed enough thought. Nor did I do a good job of explaining where the suggestions I wrote came from or how unlikely it is AAR would pick a title worthy of South Park.

Furthermore, though I opted, after a brief foray into the comment stream, not to remain part of the discussion there, I have read all of the comments (as well as those in the forums) and I am thinking about them. I’ve learned from what’s been said and I plan to, simply, do better next time.

Now there’s a real possibility I will fail at the above goal. Not because I don’t care about the issues raised. I do. But I care equally about freedom of speech and what that freedom means to me is often unpopular.

I’m betting AAR, however, will do a better job. My inbox is overflowing with thoughtful commentary from the staff, all of whom are thinking hard about how to say what we want to say in a way that is inclusive and aware. Their suggestions and insights are compassionate and nuanced. I promise you, those women rock.

We have yet to find the right name for our column. Captivating or Contemptible? has supporters but others feel that there are heroines such as Amy, the female protagonist of Gone Girl, who are both of those things. Today we’ve been considering Nonpareil or No Way? I think the title is still a work in progress.

Incomparable or icky? Best ever or big bummer? Splendid or scummy?

What do you suggest?

 

Dabney Grinnan

Sweetheart or Shrew? Sister or Skank? AAR announces a new yet to be named series!

'PRIDE AND PREJUDICE' FILM - 2005

Keeper or Kick-Her-to-the-Curb?

In July, AAR introduced the new series “Dreamboat or Douchebag” in which our staffers weigh in on the merits and demerits of famous literary heroes. These pieces have been some of our most popular and have generated a set of robust comment streams. They’ve also been a hell of a lot of fun to write.

Thus, we’ve decided to begin a similar series about heroines. Over the next year, we will set our critical sights on some of literature’s most contested heroines and pass judgement upon them. (We may even add in a movie heroine or two–wouldn’t it be fun to assess Vivian from Pretty Woman or evaluate Princess Leia?)

There are two things we are considering as we begin. The first is what makes a good heroine? There is, unsurprisingly, no consensus on that. Maggie likes a heroine who’s “well written and can make me sympathetic to her point of view.” Melanie prefers a woman who is “human – she has her flaws, but they aren’t the focus of the book” and who “feels real.” Shannon’s favorites are “self-reliant, but not afraid to ask for help when needed.” Caroline prizes “a sense of ethics,” “a spine,” and “self-awareness.” Lynn goes for “a smart, confident heroine who knows her limitations.” Lee wants a woman who stands up for herself. For me, a good heroine is one who deserves her happy ending–a criteria so vague it can be summed up as “I know it when I see it.

The second–and likely to be far more contentious–is what to call this column. There are those readers who acutely dislike “Dreamboat or Douchebag” and others who love it. We are sure no matter what we call our heroine column, the same situation will prevail.

I asked the staff to come up with suggestions for the column–serious and not–and their list was quite inventive. Suggested were:

First Class or Trailer Trash?
Sister or Skank?
Keeper or Kick-Her-to-the-Curb?
Bangable or Brown Bag?
Darling or Diva?
Wonderwoman or Witch?
Honey or Harridan?
Sweetheart or Shrew?
Captivating or Contemptible?
Special or Spoiled?
Treasure or Terror?
Catch or C**t?
Babe or Beyotch?
Hall of Fame or Walk of Shame?
and
Babe or Bint?

 

I’m not sure what we will pick or even if this is our final list. I give the staff points for wit.

We hope you will enjoy our new series and we welcome suggestions for heroines you’d like to see us consider. As always, we love to hear from you.

Dabney Grinnan

A Dinner Party with Heroines

IMG_0861-001I rarely throw dinner parties. So much work for too little time. But that doesn’t stop me from imagining ones I’d love to attend–these always involve me staying far away from the kitchen–and whom I’d love to have there with me. I’ve imagined tables of my favorite authors, of fascinating historical figures, and, this week, a table of my favorite romance heroines.

Here’s the thing about the imaginary dinner party concept–you can’t just pick cool people. You have to pick interesting people who can share a meal, offer scintillating conversation, stay reasonably sober, and not get into raging arguments. For me, this rules out the terribly shy, the overly arrogant, and the cutting. (Sorry, Tam, you’re not invited.)

My dining room table seats eight if we squish, so I’ve picked seven heroines I’d love to have to dine–we’d order out, of course.

I’d put Marguerite de Fleurignac, better known as Maggie, from Joanna Bourne’s The Forbidden Rose at one end of the table. I love both the young and the old Maggie. I imagine her dispensing advice on raising independent kids, staying friends with old lovers, and exploring Paris. Plus, after dinner, I’d hope to talk her into showing us just how she gilded her toes.

Many of Lisa Kleypas’s heroines would be great guests, but if I had to pick just one it would be Lillian Bowman from It Happened One Autumn. Lillian is brash enough to make sure the conversation stays away from trite topics and smart enough to ask others their opinions. She’s an expert on scents, a topic I find fascinating, and has a head for business. I’d love to hear her views on America vs. Europe and ask her how she deals with her witch of a mother-in-law.

Hope Spencer from Rachel Gibson’s True Confessions would have fabulous stories to share from her days of writing for the tabloid The Weekly News of the Universe. Everything I’ve ever wondered about Bigfoot, alien abductions, and Elvis, Hope’s covered. She’s got great taste in clothes and would compliment everyone on their shoes–if appropriate. She also loves dessert, a must in my book.

Eloisa James’s Lady Eleanor Lindel of A Duke of Her Own is such an interesting open-minded woman–she’d enrich any conversation. She could discuss raising illegitimate (or not the norm) children in a conservative society and what it’s like to have a husband more fashionable than she. I’d ask about her sister Anne–I love Anne–and how they’ve stayed close despite living very different lives.

Violet Redmond’s (from Julie Anne Long’s I Kissed an Earl) stories about her siblings would keep the table entertained for hours. She could share tips on how to play chess, how to peel a potato–I have to cook occasionally so that would come in handy–, and how to insult a catty rival in perfect French. After dinner, I’d challenge her to a game of darts–surely her aim isn’t always that good!

Mina (from The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook) could tell us about symbiotic mechanical body parts work and who she thinks Jack the Ripper really was. I’d ask about the bugs from the Horde and what she thinks about the computer. She and Hope could spin stories of sea beasts–the kraken would best the Loch Ness Monster–and she and Maggie could share tales of foreign invaders.

And, though this group is heavy on historical heroines, my last pick would be Lulu Davies from Carrie Lofty’s His Very Own Girl. Not only did she live in England during World War II, she was a pilot in the British civilian air force. Her views on sexism in the workplace–she was paid the same as her male counterparts, something unheard of at the time–would be amazing to hear. I’d love to know how–maybe if–she managed to draw straight lines with eyeliner pencil on her legs and what her favorite contraband items were. She and Mina could discuss fighting while flying. And I’d ask her what life after wartime was like and how she feels about the way women were defined after the war.

OK, obviously seven is too few. I haven’t gotten to Penelope Featherington (Julia Quinn’s Romancing Mr. Bridgerton), Beth Cantrell (Victoria Dahl’s Real Men Will), Laney Lancaster (Carolyn Crane’s Off the Edge), or Jia (Jeannie Lin’s Capturing the Silken Thief). Clearly, I’ll need to host more than one dinner of heroines. Maybe a potluck next time?

Whom else should I invite?

Talking with Joanna Bourne

Dabney: Thank you so much for talking with me. I am an unabashed Joanna Bourne fan girl and have been ever since I first read The Spymaster’s Lady. AAR readers have loved your Spymasters series; I’m sure many of us are counting the days until the release of your newest, Rogue Spy. Continue reading

Queer Romance Month and Me

EandTWhat, really, does a straight married woman have to say about Queer Romance Month? Not much that might not come out sounding bumbling or privileged or flat out clueless, right? I’ve lived my entire life in the safe embrace of the expected. I fell in love with a boy, married him–much to the delight of my family–, bore our children, and bask in the ease of a life that no one ever questions. And yet, I want to say something in this month that celebrates Queer Romance and this is it: Thank you. Continue reading