Laurie's News & Views
September 4, 1996 - Issue #11
CLAMS ON THE HALF SHELL:
I get some of my best topics for this column from readers. I received an e-mail awhile
back from reader Ann McGuire, who wanted to know:
"Does every heroine have to be the most gorgeous creature on the
face of the earth? In nine out of 10 books that I pick up, the
heroine is like Venus rising
from the clamshell. Most women look more like the clam -- know what I
After I stopped laughing, I read the next e-mail and was surprised to
find it came from author
Patricia Rice, whose latest release Denim & Lace, featured a plain
heroine and a magnificent
looking hero. Whereas most romances with plain heroines feature heroes
who love them in spite
of their looks, Sloan never sees Samantha as anything but beautiful.
I asked Patricia whether she had planned for Samantha to be plain or
whether it was of secondary importance. Here is what she had to say:
"I almost always
have the characters completely in mind when I begin a book. I don't know where they come from, but I can see
them quite plainly, and Sam and Sloan were so strong that they were
practically jumping at
each others' throats before I put the first word on the page. So I knew
Sam was a tomboy, the eldest, a responsible person, but I also knew she didn't even
consider herself in female terms, particularly in comparison to her beautiful sisters. I can't say that the 'attractiveness' issue was a secondary matter because it is part of who
In Denim & Lace, Sloan reacts to the Samantha physically, sexually, and
emotionally as though
she were a beauty. I asked Patricia how beauty and love fit together.
"There are very few truly beautiful people in the world, if you judge in
terms of the common
concepts of physical perfection. On the other hand, I believe there is
immense amounts of love
in this world, and physical attraction is something chemical, generated
by powers we don't
entirely understand yet. I think in the case of Sam and Sloan, Sloan
reacted to Sam's
personality so strongly, that he couldn't see her as anything else but
beautiful. He is an intelligent man, a man who has been burned horribly by a beautiful,
character-less woman. When
he meets Sam, he sees her honesty as beauty, and he reacts to it in such
positive terms that even he doesn't understand what's happening to him.
I think love works this way more often than not, by people reacting to
the personalities of their loved ones, and perceiving their beauty
through their particular biases. I really don't think they see the
flaws. (My husband and I have been married for 27 years, we've gone
gray together, but we still see each other as the people we married.
That's what love is all about.)"
The beauty issue is one Patricia has used in other books for varying
reasons. She said:
"I handle the appearance issue differently in each book. A lot of times it is not a particularly important part of the book so much as a way for the characters to deal with themselves and each
other. In my 3/96 release, Paper Moon, the heroine is attractive but
disguises herself as an old maid to keep men away after a particularly traumatic experience with a man. In Paper Roses, (3/95), both hero and heroine were extremely attractive, which
gave them a great deal of self confidence, too much so, actually, and they reacted too impulsively too often because of this over-inflated opinion of themselves.
"I will have a book out in 11/97 called The Marquess about a man who was
extremely handsome before a humiliating duel which left one side of his face badly
disfigured. The attractiveness
issue becomes a vital part of this book because he hides himself away
and refuses to interact with people any longer. The heroine's reaction when he finally reveals himself is a truly
entertaining scene that makes me grin just thinking about it . . . In
Moonlight & Memories, the heroine considers herself plump and plain, in Wayward Angel, my 3/97 release, the heroine
is a Quaker who considers herself plain and practically invisible.
Looks are just one part of
the fascinating chemistry that makes people who they are."
I know we've talked about the beauty issue before and I have touched on
disfigurement and physical handicaps that confront some heroes and heroines in personal e-mail with readers. Some favorites are listed below:
- Stella Cameron's heroine from Bride has a physical handicap
- Kimberly Cates' heroine from Stealing Heaven is plain
- Amanda Quick has featured heroines who are plain or wear glasses and
heroes who are disfigured
- Katherine Sutcliffe's heroine from My Only Love is considered plain
- Judith McNaught's heroine from Kingdom of Dreams is considered plain
- Catherine Coulter's heroine from Moonspun Magic has a physical handicap
Deborah Simmons' heroine from The Devil Earl features a be-spectacled heroine
- Catherine Archer's heroine from Velvet Touch has a club foot
- Christina Dodd's leads in Candle in the Window are blind
- One of the heroes in Jill Barnett's new release, Carried Away, also
In each of these excellent books then, there is something about a lead
character that does not
fit the standard of beauty. Obviously there are myriad other books that
do the same. I'd like
to know what they are. And, I'd like to know how much you enjoy reading
books like this. Are
they a nice change of pace or do you want to see more of them on the
market? What do you
think about Patricia Rice's message about beauty and love? Finally, I
can think of many more
books I've read where the hero appears more scary than handsome to all
but the heroine. Do we more readily accept less-than-handsome heroes than less-than-beautiful heroines?
Please e-mail me here and let
DO WE REALLY WANT TO KNOW? HOW COME . . . ?
Since readers enjoy romance for the fantasy, we are used to and enjoy
gorgeous heroes and heroines, although once in awhile a different approach is appreciated.
The fantasy of life in different times and places takes us away from the day to day grind of
our modern lives. Some of us want to enjoy the fantasy without thinking too much about it. Others of us want to have more historical and minute detail in our romances.
I generally fall into the former category -- I enjoy what the book has to
offer and don't really want to know the toilet habits of medieval lords and ladies. Sometimes we want a bit of reality. Other times the fantasies offered in our
favorite romances can be a bit absurd. Read some hilarious snippets
gathered by my friends on Prodigy. Enjoy.
"How come the heroine never has rough heels? I've seen chapped lips,
rough hands, even a sore rump from horseback riding but I've never seen rough heels. You know what I mean, those sharp,
scaly rough edges that crop up every summer when you start going
barefoot. The ones that send
your hubby leaping out of bed in the middle of the night screaming 'Good
god woman! What is that?' " -- Kim
"Heroines aren't allowed to have rough heels maybe? Gasp! How
embarrassing! You know, just like it's against the law for men to stop and ask directions. Then there's the whole other question of the mention of hairy legs. Women in the historicals didn't shave, Yuck! Why isn't that ever mentioned? 'He ran his hand up her smooth, hairy leg.' LOL" -- Tonyia (who is married to one of those direction nuts)
"Along the hairy legs line - I think it was a Woodiwiss, maybe The Wolf & the Dove, that mentions the tuft of hair under her arm, like the hero thought it was
sexy. Of course, maybe in those days it was?" -- Holly
"The tuft of hair and the smell that accompanied it must have been very
enticing!! And how come every heroine has shiny, luxurious, silky hair?? (that of course
reaches their buttocks and in a braid is as thick as a man's fist???) No one ever has dandruff or dry flaky scalp?? Or split ends??" -- Terri
"I can't remember now who it was (someone really popular) but I read two
of her books in a row and both referred to the hero running his hands down the heroine's armpits during 'it' and adoring
their 'dampness'. I mean really! I can get that at home, I certainly
don't want to read about
it ... Personally, I think that the mint all heroines chew on to keep
their breath fresh must
have anti-dandruff qualities! And probably the reason their hair is so
long is from all of
that tugging the hero does on it, forcing her to meet his eyes or keep
still for his descending
lips :)" -- Kim
"Did he give her that 'hooded eye' thing while his lips were descending
to hers? And, of course
he slanted his lips over hers, didn't he?? And, of course, his hooded
eyes, when you could see
them, were slate, iron, steel, crystal, silver, thunder gray??? Right???
" -- Terri
"It seems like half the heroes I have read about lately have emerald eyes. I don't think many
people really have eyes that are pure green. Of course, it is hard to
tell when they are hooded
all the time. :)" -- Blythe
"But it's usually the guy who has emerald eyes (must be genetic); the
purple!!" -- Holly
". . . my heroes always fight with the heroine over directions. Hank got them good and lost in Imagine . . . You know why it took Moses 40 years to find the
Promised Land, don't you?
He refused to stop and ask for directions." -- author Jill Barnett)
"OK, no more underarm talk. Altho' I did read a romance way back when,
where the hero stroked the 'soft down' under the heroine's arms. I agree though. I don't care for historical accuracy
in these areas. Give me a little creative license in this dept.
thankyouverymuch!" - Tiffany
(who loves her razor)
"I don't care how popular hairy pits were "back then" I don't want to
hear about it :) Geez,
what will they be writing about in the future when they refer to the
waxing?" -- Kim (who likes her heroes hairy and her heroines not)!
"I am so bummed that we didn't have this chat a month ago. I just
renewed my drivers license
and I would have loved to have tried this: Eyes -- green, no not green,
jade green, with tiny
flecks of copper when the sun is aligned with Pluto. Hair -- sun-kissed
golden blonde which
appears a delicate red when the sun hits it just right. Height --
petite, just the right size
to enfold into a man's viselike grip." -- Kim
"Those heroes do tend to have viselike grips, don't they? They never
grasp the heroine's arm
with a clammy, ineffectual grip." -- Blythe
"Have you ever noticed, even in the Regencies when men were pretty
foppish, the hero always has
a muscular physique and vise like grip? Of course, that's because he
believes in working out in
the fields along side his servants even though he is rich as Midas.
Yeah right. :)" -- Kim
"Well, you know how driving your curricle (sp?) in Hyde Park and lolling
around at White's always makes you work up a sweat. Or maybe they developed those bulging muscles during their
rake period (which ended the day they met her), when they were carousing
with the fast women
of the ton." -- Blythe
I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. I think the ability to laugh
at ourselves is among
the most important things we can do to change the view of the outside
world about romantic
fiction -- just remember what your mother told you about the little boy
who always teased you.
Didn't she say, "Don't let him get your goat"?
If you are interested in continuing along these lines, please e-mail me here. Perhaps this can become a continuing feature, like silly sex, or can be turned into a list.
Speaking of which, our Road Romance list is going nowhere fast (pun intended).
me here to send me your
additions to this list, which
can include sea voyages as well. Here is the list thus far:
- Taming the Wolf by Deborah Simmons
- A Taste of Heaven by Alexis Harrington
- Irresistible by Catherine Hart
- Heaven in his Arms by Lisa Ann Verge
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
- Silver Nights and Beloved Enemy by Jane Feather
- Touch of Fire and Heart of Fire by Linda Howard
- Angel Rogue by Mary Jo Putney
- Fierce Eden by Jennifer Blake
- The Diamond Diger by Ann Maxwell
- Walking After Midnight by Karen Robards
IS EVERYTHING OLD NEW AGAIN?
Based on some of the reader mail I get regarding my reviews, along with
discussions with some
of the other contributors to The Romance Reader, I've come up with a
theory about reading romance that I'd like to share with you. I tend to be one of those
readers who rates books a bit higher than other reviewers at the site, and since I've only been reading romance for about three years, (I've read about 180 romances in that time), I wonder if long-time romance readers
judge books more harshly than us (relative) newbies?
Long-time romance readers tell me they've read it all -- character-types, story-lines, themes in and out of vogue, many more times than I have. Things that still seem new and
wonderful to me may not to
"older" readers. And, since the style of romance has changed throughout
the years, many readers
may still prefer the "older" style of romance to the newer style.
Had I begun to read romance long ago, it is doubtful I would have
glommed onto it as I did.
The style I most prefer is more of the 1990's style of romance, conflict
outside the h/h relationship, gentler heroes, less "epic", more humorous. A romance
reading friend of mine will not buy any book that pre-dates 1986 for just these reasons.
What do you think? Is it harder to please long-time readers because
they've "been there, done that"? Or could it be that the changes in style are turning off "older readers"? Still another possible reason could be the dreaded quality issue. Are old
favorites trying too hard
to reach new audiences? Are they running out of steam? Or is there
just too much out there
that shouldn't be? Some of this ties into the quality versus quantity
topic brought up in the
last issue of this column. Please let me know by e-mailing me
GLOMMING, ET AL:
The glomming issue struck a chord with readers and will be discussed at
length in coming issues
of this column. Also to be discussed are ratings, special heroines (I
still need lots of input
on this topic) and some follow-up on publishers and the mid-list. My
last two columns have
touched some pretty raw nerves, which I'll be sure to share with you.
Just remember, this
isn't brain surgery -- this is supposed to be fun!
TTFN, as Tigger said to Winnie the Pooh,
Laurie Likes Books
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