Back in July of 2006, Robin Uncapher wrote an At the Back Fence column (#232) that is so timely for me as to be kind of eerie. She discussed the role age plays on romance novels: in who buys them, in how the age of the heroine is perceived, in what is considered acceptable versus creepy…well, just go read the article because I’m not doing it justice.
This particular topic is timely because next week I will celebrate my birthday. I’ll confess that this particular one shifts me closer to fifty than to forty, and if I think on it too long, I tend to get a big panicky. I know I’m still in the prime of my life, hopefully with at least another four or five decades to go. To call myself ‘old’ is as insulting and ridiculous as the size 2 supermodel calling herself fat. Continue reading
I’ll admit it’s not easy staying in shape, and at times I seem to be fighting a losing battle. In the middle of the winter, curling up with a good book is much more appealing than going out for a long walk on a sub-zero day. But on most days I do try. In nice weather I go for a lot of walks; in colder or rainy weather I’ll return to the treadmills in the fitness center where I live. I attend yoga classes off-and-on, or do some yoga at home, to work on my balance and flexibility. And I even have a few free weights to do some strength training. Perhaps it’s my own efforts in this regard, but lately I’ve been longing to read about contemporary romance heroines who squeeze in a bit of exercise into their lives.
I’m specifically interested in contemporary romance heroines, because, let’s face, it, reading that a Regency era heroine has a fitness room or that she regularly hikes up her skirts and jogs just wouldn’t be appropriate. And most paranormal or urban fantasy heroines either seem to regularly stay in shape to survive, or have very specific natural abilities and powers that endow them with extra strength and speed. But what about your average contemporary romance heroine? And by average, I mean a non-athlete heroine who manages to fit in a bit of exercising into her regular routine.
Over the years here, we’ve said quite a bit about the TSTL(Too Stupid To Live) nutter, one of the heroines we love to hate. And I have long been among those who have hated them most fervently and vocally. The mere letters of this acronym bring to mind so many rage ridden reading moments it’s hard to think of them without boiling blood. My favorite TSTL moment to hate remains the moment in Elizabeth Adler’s Sailing to Capri when Daisy, who had been told by Sir Robert to trust noone but Harry begins to trust everyone around her except Harry – with whom she cleverly verbally spars throughout the rest of the book. Which brings to mind other moments, like when Tristan, Duke of Shelbourn, agrees to the most ridiculous idea ever proposed in Regency bride hunting — a sort of The Bachelor style situation in which he was dating/courting an entire room full of women at once. For that I almost threw Vicky Dreiling’s How to Marry a Duke against the wall. Yet last night, on my millionth or so watching of the movie Charade with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, I realized that there are moments when TSTL lends itself quite well to romance.
I read Surrender of a Lady recently, and as I read it, the heroine’s past really stuck with me. For those not familiar with Tiffany Clare’s debut, it centers on a heroine sold into slavery in a Turkish harem. Her owner runs a pleasure garden, and the girls are expected to entertain the men who bid on their favors. This heroine is no faux courtesan; she really does have multiple partners including her owner and various men who have bid on her favors over the years.
Confession: I’m not perfect.
Well, duh, you say. No one is. But judging by some of the romances I read, I’d never know that women lead imperfect lives.
I’m not talking about historicals, which are a little different. Considering I already have to put myself – a second-generation academic Chinese immigrant – into the place of a marriage-ready Caucasian ten years my junior, anything else is not a stretch. So I can imagine that a lifetime of eating meat and taking country walks will keep me thin, and that I’ll marry a duke even though I’m just the bailiff’s daughter. A perfect historical heroine? No big deal.
But contemporaries are different. This is my world, maybe my life, that the author is describing, and I have a crucial interest in being able to relate to the heroine. I know it’s not easy for authors – readers are damn particular, and if the heroine’s too flawed then we hate her. But that’s our problem. The issue arises when the heroine represents some mystical ideal of successful contemporary womanhood that frankly scares the heck out of me. How can you possibly relate to someone who has everything she needs and most things she wants?
During my book club’s latest meeting, a friend who’d seen the play version of a novel most of us had read, showed around some leaflets of the production and asked whether the two actors who played the leads were in accordance with how we’d imagined them. This lead to a rather funny moment, because of the six women present, three instantly claimed they never visualize the main protagonists of any novel they read, whereas the other three said they visualized them without fail, and that watching a stage or movie production later with actors that didn’t fit with their expectations, could ruin the play or film for them.
I never ever fully visualize people in books. I do kind of register their attributes – what hair color, tall or tiny, a scar etc. – but I never give them a real face. As a result, while I am bothered by actors (or even cover images) not fitting the descriptions in the books, like Emma Watson’s hair being all wrong for Hermione, as long as the actors’ looks don’t contradict what is said about these people in the book, I’m fine with about any actor.
I came across a link to an article from last year that still annoys me, so it got me thinking about a topic that comes up in romanceland from time to time – the placeholder heroine. This idea seems to come from two main sources. There is the discussion in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women primarily based around Laura Kinsale’s essay(“The Androgynous Reader: Point of View in the Romance”) which is really more a thoughtful discussion of viewpoint rather than an argument centering on the perceived uselessness of developing the heroine’s character and/or giving her a lot of individuality. Unfortunately, this latter argument is what many people discussing the placeholder heroine seem to mean when they get on the topic.
We romance lovers like our heroines brainy, don’t we?
There are many reasons to watch Fox’s new show Glee and high school heroine Rachel is just one of them. Rachel is the classic socially awkward over-achiever and – hello, romance stereotype it may be – a heroine who I’m rooting for. Big time. Rachel has a thing for popular guy Finn who also has a thing for Rachel, despite the fact that his pregnant cheerleader girlfriend has him believing that he’s the father of her baby. Which is a pretty strong indication that Finn’s bulb is a bit on the dim side since she also convinced him that her pregnancy resulted from a hot tub ejaculation incident. I really hate it when that happens.
I’m nattering on about Drop Dead Diva and romance again. That show is my drug.
In this past Sunday’s episode, Jane goes on her first date with a fellow lawyer, Tony. He is really cute, as you can see from the picture of him here. This is your Fat Hero.
He shows up at home to pick up Jane for their date but Jane’s mother has dropped by and he decides to stay for a home-cooked meal. I heart Tony. When he leaves, Jane’s mother tells her that he’s a keeper, and describes him as a guy who likes (I paraphrase) “women like us”. ‘Women like us’ being plus-size characters, or, Your Heavy Heroine.
Drop Dead Diva is a new series on Lifetime which follows the life of an aspiring model called Deb who is killed in an accident but comes back in the body of a successful lawyer called Jane. In episode 1, Jane is shot and is close to death. The audience knows that Jane did actually pass away in the end and Deb has taken her place but the people in the show’s reality do not. That said, this past Sunday marked the show’s 10th episode, and we have yet to see Jane receive a visit from any close friend or family. It appears Jane was a workaholic with no friends and not much of a life.