Laurie's News & Views

September 4, 1996 - Issue #11

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 mean?"

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 Sam is."

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. She responded:

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"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 wears glasses.

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 me know.

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 girl's are 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 1990's? Bikini 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).
Please e-mail 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

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 here.

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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