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?

What does Megan Frampton want? A smart man.

tDGtCBIf I have any type beyond the physical, it is that the guy be smart. As in smarter than me, smarter than everyone in the room, but not a jerk about it. I want someone who knows things, who craves knowledge, who is delighted to share his arcane bits of ephemera floating around in his brain with me.

Of course, since many of us are working out our issues through our writing, and I am no exception, I will say that my dad was one of those guys. But he needed to know, and have everyone else know, that he was the smartest guy in the room (he usually was, too, but he could also be the jerkiest about proving it). In my fictional scenario, the smart guy in question is so confident in his smarts that he just needs to show he’s worthy of me.

And that, in its essence, is what good romance does—proves that each of the two protagonists are worthy of one another, even if they are not necessarily worthy at large to the world. The romantic world is a microcosm between two people (I am excluding ménage et al, since I don’t write that, and I wouldn’t feel confident I could speak with authority on what it wants to do). Those two people, by the end of the book, believe that only through being with the other one that they are complete, or stronger, or whatever their ultimate life-goal is.

Now, this makes it sound as though I’m writing super-weighty stuff, and I will be the first to admit that I do not. I write mistoricals, books that are set in history but are not always true to the period. But my characters (at least according to me) are universal for any time period, so they can act and react and generally behave as people would now, because love is love and being anxious about another person might feel the same two hundred years ago as it does today. That’s what I responded to when I read my first historical romances, especially Anya Seton’s Katherine and, somewhat less proudly to admit, Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber. I got so much interesting history as I was inhaling the romantic elements of those books, and the Barbara Cartlands I glommed that it was a natural thing for me to write historicals when I decided to try my hand at writing.

And my characters—because I had to return to my original point sometime—are hopefully smart in some ways, even if they’re not smart in all the ways. For example, Marcus in The Duke’s Guide to Correct Behavior is very aware of his own limitations, and how he has been altered by his upbringing. I don’t think many characters, much less heroes, are as sensitive to what made them be the way they are as Marcus is. Lily is more traditionally book-smart (she’s a faux governess, after all, but pretty good being that she’s faux and all), but she is also savvy about the world, and is smart enough to take charge when the situation demands it.

And my point? Well, I don’t have much of a specific point, but that’s kind of like my books—they ramble around for awhile, and things happen, and you (hopefully) meet interesting people, and then you get that sigh of satisfaction at the end (again, hopefully).


Megan Frampton is the author of five historical romances. She is a member and President of the Beau Monde (2004-2005), the Regency chapter of the Romance Writers of America, and a member of the NYC chapter of the RWA as well.

Possessive, check. Jealous, check. Volatile, check.

Mr. BigIt’s no mystery that the Alpha-Male character type has dominated romantic fiction. Nearly any romance you pick up will feature one of these tough, rugged, manly men out to woo their lady of choice with their muscular body and chiseled looks. I don’t mind indulging in this type of fantasy at all when reading romance, although I do enjoy the sweet, Beta-Male as well. However, lately, I’ve noticed that the trend has shifted away from the standard Alpha, which is normally a beefcake with a heart of gold, to what I like to call the Alpha-Douche. This guy is possessive, volatile, jealous, and borders on stalking the lead female. I have to wonder, why is it that this type of man has gotten so popular recently? Continue reading

Not Your Ordinary Hero

logan-veronica-marsI’ve spent the past few weeks watching the TV show Veronica Mars (I so love Amazon Prime.) I’d seen it when it first came out but my husband hadn’t. When the movie came out this year, I thought it would be fun to check out Veronica and her pals in Neptune again.

There are many things to love about Veronica Mars–Kristen Bell’s adorable snark, the stinging accuracy of its portrayal of class, the haunting and hip soundtrack, just to name a few. But the thing that strikes me the second time around is how unusual a hero Logan Echols (played brilliantly by Jason Dohring) is.

Logan is the son of two spectacularly screwed-up movie stars played by real life spouses Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna. Logan’s grown up with money, fame, and access. In the first half of the first season he is an unmitigated ass. And yet…

By the end of the first season, he’s a man in love, a guy who most of the time, I find myself cheering for even as I struggle to define him.

If you listen to Logan without seeing him, he sounds like an obnoxious, overly confident alpha male. And if you turn the sound off, and just watch him, his mien is that of a beta guy. His body leans away as he speaks, his facial expressions are gently mocking. He routinely holds up his hands as if to say, don’t mind me, I’m backing away. But he’s never really backing away. His laid-back schtick barely hides the rage that undergirds his character . He finds his own path, one that almost always leaves him on top of the proverbial high school heap. I find him fascinating.

The hero in romance novels who most reminds me of Logan is  Sebastian Verlaine, the hero of Patricia Gaffney’s controversial historical romance To Have and to Hold. Like Logan, Sebastian is, when the reader first encounters him, an awful person. And yet, midway through the book, he’s the hero of the piece, a man I trust. Sebastian, like Logan, is neither a villain or a hero. He’s something else entirely–a complicated man whose actions belie his admitted sins.

I’d like to encounter more such men in my reading. Who are the heroes who defy easy categorization? And do you like them? Or do you find that some sins are too grave for you as a reader to overcome?

Dabney Grinnan

mentioned in this post are:

Books with Characters Who Read

tumblr_lcwupgBQRR1qb8ugro1_1280Last week I was walking past a used bookstore that had a number of books displayed on a shelf outside the store. One of the books – The Library by Sarah Stewart – caught my eye. I spent over 10 minutes thumbing through this children’s book (illustrated by David Small) and ultimately bought it. It’s now sitting on my coffee table where I can look at – and smile at – the cover featuring a young girl with her nose in a book dragging a wagon filled with books behind her. Continue reading

When Strong is a Stereotype

THE OUTLAW  Poster for 1943 film with Jane Russell directed by Howard HughesI recently came across this wonderful piece by Sophia McDougall called “I hate Strong Female Characters.” McDougall is not referring to female characters with physical and emotional strength (for instance, she likes Buffy and Jane Eyre). Rather, she means the archetypal Strong Female Character, who establishes her “tough” cred through arbitrary rudeness, punching, slapping, kung fu, gunshots, etc. (McDougall calls it “behaviour that, in a male character, would rightly be seen as abusive (or outright murderous)”). Men are more powerful in Hollywood, on which McDougall focuses, but the female-centric world of romance has its share of SFCs, most famously in Lord of Scoundrels but also in some of my recent review books, such as Jo Beverley’s Seduction in Silk and Lilith Saintcrow’s The Red Plague Affair. But what about our heroes? Do we do the same token oversimplification of the other gender that male writers do? Are they strong, or are they Strong? Continue reading

I’m Never – No, Never! Getting Married

no-weddingNick is a romance hero. He’s never – no, never! – going to get married. You can see why, of course; you need conflict to drive a plot forward, and if Nick sees Elizabeth, falls in love with Elizabeth, proposes to Elizabeth, and marries Elizabeth without a hitch you’ve got one short (and probably not all that interesting) book. A hero (or somewhat less frequently, heroine) who is never – no, never! – going to get married can provide that hitch in the relationship that makes for a good conflict and interesting reading. Well, except when it’s totally lame. If there is one knee jerk conflict that authors like to turn to, this is it. I see it more often in contemporary novels, likely because birth control is widely available and modern sexual mores more permissive. But if pops up fairly often in historicals too, usually for different reasons. I can hardly open a book without running into Nick or one of his ilk. Since the my most recent read with a marriage phobic hero got on my last nerve, I decided to provide this helpful list of acceptable and unacceptable reasons to never – no, never! get married. Continue reading

Fifty Shades of Lighten Up

50Shades Even if you aren’t a fan of the book phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey, you have perhaps heard about the brouhaha surrounding last week’s announcement of the casting of the future movie. Apparently fans of the book are so upset at the prospect of actors Charlie Hunnam and Dakota Johnson taking on the roles of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele (respectively, of course), they are actually trying to force a change via online petitions. Rather, they’d envision Matthew Bomer and Alexis Bledel as the perfect Christian and Ana, despite the fact that neither of these two actors appears to be interested in participating in this particular book-to-film adaptation.

While I try hard not to judge anyone’s passion, I simply cannot understand what seems to me to be a rather extreme reaction to a movie about fictional people. Instead of rending garments and ranting in cyberspace about how Hollywood is obviously determined to destroy something sacred and beloved, I advocate a wait-and-see approach.

Because, after all, it’s happened before. Continue reading