Archive for the ‘Characters’ Category

Heroines and Aging: A Bit Painfully

Friday, July 5th, 2013

birthdaycakecandles 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. (more…)

Secondary Romances and Risk-Taking

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

mcnaught I just finished Judith McNaught’s Someone to Watch Over Me, and the main characters are… fine. He’s a bazillionaire who’s loved her for a long time. She’s a successful Broadway actress who doesn’t trust his criminal past. Like I said, they’re fine, with all the faint-praise-damning and forgettability that that word generally implies. But the book will end up on my keeper shelf anyway, because the secondary romance between Detective Samantha Littleford and and her superior, Lieutenant Mitchell McCord, is just too good not to reread.

What made Samantha and McCord so enjoyable? I love office romance/off-limits attraction plot devices because they put up plausible barriers to the couple’s courtship. As the senior police officer, McCord can’t express any feelings towards Samantha without running afoul of every procedure and regulation in the book. Consequently, he’s so self-contained that Samantha can’t even tell if he likes her. (more…)

Can You Hear Me Now? – An Open Letter to Romance Authors

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

5843405057_af77f6bfb4 Dear Writers of Romance Novels,

Most of you are aware that one over-used source of conflict in a fictional relationship that drives nearly all readers absolutely batty is the Big Misunderstanding. You know the trope. The hero or heroine witnesses something or overhears something or is told something that leads him or her to a wrong conclusion about his/her love interest. Rather than confront the potentially wayward lover as soon as possible to ask her/him to explain the situation, the discussion never happens and the romance grinds to a complete halt. Too often, this Big Misunderstanding drags on and on to the point of ridiculousness, causing the reader to want to shake the fictional characters silly and throw the book at the wall.

The problem with the Big Misunderstanding these days is not so much that they happen – people frequently do jump to the wrong conclusions – it’s that the conversation it would take to clear things up is so easily arranged. At least in historicals or any story set before telephones, the character who gets the wrong idea can flounce off the scene in a snit, making a soul-cleansing heart-to-heart chat much harder to happen until their unjustly maligned partner physically hunts them down. (more…)

Sisters…Nailed It!

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

sisterEvery romance needs a hero and heroine, but sometimes a secondary relationship is so striking, so interesting, that it almost steals the show. Pride and Prejudice is, of course, about Elizabeth and Darcy. But it’s about Elizabeth and Jane too. Some of the best moments and the best dialog are about them, and about their relationship and their differences. Series and stories involving siblings are a dime a dozen, but books that really nail sibling relationships are a lot rarer. We see a lot more Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (with its very surface relationships…Bless her beautiful hide!) than we see the Bennett girls.

When someone gets it right, it feels like a bonus. My recent favorite is Courtney Milan’s novella, The Governess Affair. It is of course about a governess and a former boxer turned finance man of sorts. But it’s also about sisters. Serena (the titular governess) is the bolder sister who, after she is raped by the Duke of Claremont, stations herself outside his home every day, vowing to keep her vigil until he agrees to support her child. Her sister Frederica is basically agoraphobic. Frederica can’t understand why Serena takes so many risks. Serena can’t understand how Frederica can live like she does – or how it is even living. They love each other, though they don’t understand each other. Toward the end of the story, Serena thinks:

Maybe Freddy would always think Serena strangely broken, and Serena would always cringe, thinking of her sister ensconced in her rooms, slowly turning to stone. There was no convincing each other, no understanding each other.

But when Serena had most needed it, her sister had given her a place to stay. For all that Freddy made her stomach hurt, they still shared an affection made bittersweet by all that divided them. Perhaps God gave one sisters to teach one to love the inexplicable.

I was so struck by the last line that I texted it to my own sister – something I’m pretty sure I’ve never done before. She’s an artist, with all the creativity, originality, and free-spiritedness that implies. We love each other but tend to see life differently. I’m not sure she’s ever understood, for example, why anyone would spend years writing about romance novels when one could spend years writing romance novels (though she’s stopped saying that…at least out loud). We found common ground over the Milan quote, which she liked as much as I did. It was more insight than I’d bargained for in a novella.

While I have seen authors handle easy, companionable sibling relationships well (Nora Roberts comes to mind here, but there are others), I was hard-pressed to think of books that really went below the surface, or delved into more complicated sibling relationships. Who can you think of who “gets” the sibling relationship and does it right?

Total aside about sibling differences: I could tell you every detail of the t-shirt my sister is wearing in the picture above, but I’d be very surprised if she could (remembering things from thirty years ago is more in my wheelhouse). Although you can’t see it, it has Snoopy on it – in sunglasses, throwing a frisbee. It was the last one of its kind in the BYU bookstore, and she got it in a fair-and-square coin toss. I had to settle for the much less cool one with Snoopy sleeping on his house. It’s okay – now that it’s been thirty years, I’ve decided to let my resentment go.

Casting Romance Heroes (Again)

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

castingcall A friend and I who both love Kristen Ashley’s books have recently made a game of casting her romance heroes with actors from television and movies. That made me wonder about whom our reviewers have cast in their minds while reading their favorite romance novels. We’ve chatted about this a little bit before in the context of the AAR Top 100 Poll, but when I polled my fellow reviewers I still received some answers that surprised me. The general concensus was that we prefer not to cast romance heroes with known actors, and further that too much description was undesirable. (more…)

Green Romance – A New Special Titles List?

Monday, January 21st, 2013

An environmentalist myself, I like to read about other environmentalists. Folks who care about nature and who are prepared to adapt their lifestyle so as to deal with it more carefully are almost automatically likeable to me. Which is why I really enjoy them as heroes or heroines in my romance reading. Considering how big a topic the environment is in real life, it is quite astonishing, however, that environmental protection does not play a particularly large role in the world of romance. Now one might argue it is not sexy – after all, what’s sexy about getting double glazing or riding a bike? – but protecting the environment is caring, is looking beyond one’s own pleasure, and that to me is one of the core themes of romance.
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What’s With All the Female Victims?

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Clock at Ravenswood by Lou Marchetti A few years ago, one of my Literature professors asked me, “Aren’t romance novels just about a woman finding a man to take care of her?” I had to explain to her what we all know, that modern romance novels are about partnership and mutual love and support – not finding a “protector.” It’s a misconception I often come across.

Unfortunately, there are some circumstances in which it is uncomfortably close to the truth. Romantic Suspense novels are particularly and oddly contradictory in this. So many heroines are strong women and strong characters – who then find themselves made victims by the author and put in the role of a damsel in distress. (more…)

Aged Out of Paranormals?

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Growing up, I knew my mom had a bit of a romance habit. She read a lot of mysteries, but her bookshelf also spilled over with gothics, romantic suspense and the occasional Harlequin. Lately, though, she’s become a paranormal junkie. Writers like J.R. Ward and Kresley Cole are some of her new favorite authors and when she got a Kindle for Mothers’ Day, she was only too happy to start discovering the world of paranormal eBooks. We started talking books one day, and I asked her what made her start loving paranormals so much. Here was her answer, “I get that women in their 60s probably aren’t the target audience for most of these books, but they’re just so much more romantic than the books aimed at people like me.”

When I asked my mom what target audience she thought she fit into, she replied that most of the books with characters anywhere near her age seemed to be women’s fiction or what she refers to as “issue” books. While some of those are good and very relatable, I got the impression she found them a bit too relatable. (more…)

Melting Pot Challenge: Jewish Characters

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Back in 2009 I was fortunate enough to see the television movie Loving Leah. In this film, Jake, a successful cardiologist, finds out that his elder brother has died. After the funeral, Jake learns that because his brother’s wife Leah has been left without children, they need to perform a ceremony called halizah in order to nullify a levirate marriage. It’s a fairly simple process and everyone is all set to go when Jake calls it off. He realizes that Leah is all he has left of his brother and he wants to hold on to her for just a few more months before they go their separate ways. Slowly, they realize that Benjamin gave them each one final gift with his parting: each other. Theirs was a slow, sweet romance and I absolutely loved it.

I then did what I always do when I love a movie – I looked for the book. Unfortunately, this movie isn’t based on one. I turned to romance, wondering if there were any novels available that matched the general premise of the film but couldn’t find any.

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Character Arcs and Reader Expectations

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Lately I have been wondering about characterization. What is it actually? If an author makes a point of drawing a heroine as self-sufficient and independent but in the middle of the book, she turns needy and clingy, is that a problem with characterization or is the author putting in a touch of realism?

I know an individual’s confidence and self-assurance can vary from situation to situation but I have discovered if an author writes some aspect of a character’s personality down, if I read it, then I expect that character for the most part to act in that manner. Rightly or wrongly, if an author draws a character in the beginning one way, then while they may grow as people, I don’t expect them to regress for no good reason. When I say this, I am not talking about situational reactions. I can easily give an author a lot of leeway if I understand why a character is acting a certain way. For instance, Deborah Smith’s heroine Cathryn Deen from The Crossroads Cafe goes from gorgeous, self-assured, and privileged to isolated, solitary, and desolate after a horrific car crash destroys her movie star looks. Instead of people looking at her in awe they turn away in horror. Her personality and her feelings about herself make a dramatic change, but it’s one that makes sense under the circumstances.
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