Laurie's News & Views

September 1, 1997 - Issue #32

And the Winner Is...

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The votes on the Purple Prose Parody have been counted, and the winner is. . .author Marsha Canham!

Here are the voting highlights:

Penny wrote: "By the rood, after reading Marsha Canham's ripe offering, my bountiful breasts are heaving! Methinks I'll go seek out my helpmeet's turgid tumescence. Gee, maybe I need to try one of her books; I've never read one" :-).

And Katy said that Marsha's entry was a "dead-on satire of the worst of romantic fiction, "especially the part where Bliss says they have to keep fighting and making up in bed to keep the book going."

What made a tremendous impact on those who voted, however, was the name of the hero, Hawkesnose, and, in particular, according to reader Lori, "the 'ping' of his breeches buttons from 'the overstretched seams' popping off, which absolutely tipped the scales in her favor!"

And with such high praise as reader Andrea, who said that, when she reached "Without resting," she gasped in awe. "Without washing, without pausing to chew so much as a single breath mint!", she nearly peed in her pants, how could Marsha lose?

While Marsha hasn't commented on her stunning victory as yet, she did send me this a couple of weeks ago and I'd like to share it with you:

I just read the article about someone on the listserve criticizing the parody page. I agree it's better to try to correct it with gentle sarcasm than to let some of these overused phrases and overblown descriptions like 'purple helmeted soldier of love' procreate. Granted, it is hard (no pun intended) to write love scenes without feeling a bit of the feather boa circling the neck, but the alternative is hard core pornography, and do we really want all that realism? Having contributed a piece to your parody, I can honestly say I have been taking a good hard look at the scenes I've been writing in the past month or so. I might not have caught some of it, and I'm sure I haven't caught a lot of the flowers and feathers, but at least I'm more conscious of the words and euphamisms (sp?) than I was before!

Now, how about a hokey dialogue contest? "Be quiet!" she screamed.

Well, I'm game if anyone else is! Please let me know if you'd like to see such a contest by emailing me.

Coming in a very strong second was Constance Fairbreast, about whose parody it was said by readers such as Julianna that, "The absolute top prize, solely because it made me laugh so hard I had tears running down my face - and I had to read it to several of my friends who were also overcome with hysterics - is the snippet by Constance Fairbreast. The last run-on sentence alone could win a prize." Reader Judith was terribly impressed by the name of Constance's hero - Lance de Groove.

Julia also received praise for her inventive and clever parody, and Rhoda's use of mythology was enjoyed as well. One reader compared Blythe's entry to the sort of prose encountered in an Amanda Quick book, and my own humble entry was said to contain the most-often used cliches.

I'd like to say that there are no losers here, that simply being part of the contest was what counted, but I want a recount!

More on Purple Prose:

Reader Marion recently sent me some silly sex phrases she'd come across. While her boyfriend thinks she should have better things to do with her time than make out lists like this one, frankly, I'm glad she did. No comments are necessary, just enjoy as I did, what she sent:

  • The male organ:
    • Lingam (Virginia Henley's Seduced)
    • Man meat (can't remember for obvious reasons)
    • Dagger/spear/knife (some old medievals)
  • For "accessories", as Marion oh-so-delicately phrased it:
    • Seed sacs
    • Seed bags!
    • Storehouse of the nectars of love (some Zebra Lovegram)
    • Sperm house (talk about directness!)
  • For the product:
    • Love juice
    • Love/male nectar
    • The honey of love
    • White milk
    • Hot, silky honey
    • Volcano gush (this never fails to make me laugh!)
  • And for adjectives:
    • Swaying
    • Nodding in a show of appreciation
    • Standing tall
    • Engorged to point of explosion
    • Dancing to the tune of her music (eh???)

If you have some silly (or downright odd) sex phrases to share, althouh perhaps not in the volume Marion saved up, please email me.

Seriously, now:

I've read silly sex in some books and laughed so hard I cried. In other books, however, similar phrases seemed to work. Recently I read this phrase: "She arched her hips, spreading the dew from her feminine petals along the long length of him: soft velvet stretched over solid oak."

For some reason, this particular phrase worked for me, yet it was filled with some fairly over-used imagery. On the other hand, this snippet sent in by reader Elizabeth nearly had me seasick:

"He replied she knew not what, for there was a muted roaring of blood and desire pounding in her ears. His muscles rippled. She gasped in surprise when he fully entered her. She was flat on her back now, beneath him, filled by him, controlled by him, at the mercy of his strngth and desire. Her frivolous dalliance and feminine teasing vanished, as if diluted in the great sea of a terrible force. His muscle had met her wetness at the mouth of a secret velvet steep, and he joined her to him to form a wild and impetuous cascade, like the merging of the Kilt and the Laurel. One moment she teetered on the edge, the next she was shooting down the precipice with him, feeling foamy and white, churning over rocky desire. Then her ripe fruit burst into a thousand different streams of liquid fire coursing through her body, webbing and flashing over the curves of ancient stone sculpted by eons of rushing life.

"She plunged down the gorge with him, breathless, until their falling waters splashed violently against the surface of a deep pool, sending the spray through them, through her, around them. She felt bathed in salty sweat, drowned in the deep pool, then felt herself rise to a misty obscurity.

"She open (sic) her eyes to a midnight world, fractured and dazzled."

Perhaps you can help figure out why certain snippets might reduce us to gales of laughter while other, possibly similar, snippets, can strike us as erotic. Please email me with your thoughts on the matter.

Endings & Epilogues:

In my last column, I posted EP's letter on why she thinks the HEA ending should not be a requirement for the genre. Her letter, as well as the responses it engendered can be found at the top of HEA Endings - Part III. The HEA ending is not the only topic of interest about endings which concerns readers. We discussed in a previous column that some readers find many epilogues saccharine and artificial. While I have personally never been bothered by this, many of you have and wrote in about it. While reader Andrea didn't provide any examples (and I've asked her for some), she speaks for many when she writes, "There are a few books that are wonderful stories and wonderfully written but when it gets down to the last paragraph of the HEA, it makes you want to hurl. I often wonder why a writer who had done such a great job for 300-400 pages stumbles at the very end with a saccharine sweet and corny last few words. But, I would still rather put up with that than have an un-HEA ending."

Reader Wendi was a bit testy in her condemnation of certain endings. She wrote, "Happy endings are a must, but do we really need to be slapped in the face with them repeatedly? Are epilogues, when the ending is clear enough, showing the hero & heroine together two-to-twenty years later, with children, grandchildren and of course the family dog all rolling around together at a picnic while an indulgent nanny looks, on overhearing the words 'I love you', 'I love you too', 'I'll love you forever', 'I'll love you even longer than that' really necessary? I have nothing against epilogues as long as they serve the story, but this senseless and gratituitous 'I love you-ing' we see so much of just irritates me. Especially if the hero has been a jerk up until the last seventeen pages of the book."

I recently read a wonderful romance, All Through the Night, by Connie Brockway, that had an ending well suited to its dark tone (look for a Quickie with Connie coming soon). Anne Stuart's ending to Lord of Danger also "fit" its story-line well. Wendi, Andrea and others who are bothered by the overly-sweet ending, I recommend these books highly.

Rebecca commented on the penchant of authors to write an epilogue about a heroine's either being pregnant or having just delivered a baby. Although she loves babies, she wrote, "I don't think that women, as a group, need to be encouraged to think of motherhood as the final touch to a happy ending."

I've got to disagree with Rebecca on this one. So many romances feature rogues, rakes, and otherwise scarred characters who never wanted to nor could have settled down. Babies, if nothing else, are settling. Then too, isn't a baby the actual personification of love between a man and a woman? When I read a book where the epilogue is several years in the future and the happy couple has a passel of brats running around, it lets me know their HEA actually happened (of course, I am referring to historicals here - passels of brats would not be romantic to me in a contemporary setting). Finally, the children of romance characters are invariably like their parents, lending humor often times to the story, as well the possibility of never-ending sequels.

Riffing on Political Correctness:

When I wrote my last column, I knew it would be a lightning rod, but I didn't realize how strong a rod it would be. Judging by the mail I received, the questions posed about political correctness in general and political correctness in relation to sexuality were, to say the least, thought-provoking. I've set up a new section, called Rifs on Political Correctness. You can find commentary by:

    Judy Cuevas
    Patricia Gaffney
    Kathleen Eagle
    Lisa Kleypas
    Jo Beverley
You can also find some strong reader reactions to Judy and Pat's Quickies. Finally, you can find the page that is the out-growth of this column - Readers Rif about Political Correctness.

Before sitting down to write this column, I read through some earlier columns where I had dealt with the issue of sexuality and/or rape, which remain in my mind as they should be - two wholly distinctive things. Rape is violence in reality. Forced seduction, as I said in the last issue of this column, does not exist to me in real life. But the distinctions become blurred in fiction. Had I read A Well Pleasured Lady a year or two ago, I might have had a very different reaction to it. But I've since learned the constructs I had set up, the rules I had created about various things, are blurring as well. The result? I now judge each book by itself. It is, as Judy Cuevas put it, the execution that makes a book work for me or not. I don't agree with everything she wrote in her Quickie, because for me content and execution are linked, but I do now agree that any content is fair game. I guess that explains my love for Anne Rice's vampire books, including some scenes from Queen of the Damned that are violent beyond belief. It also explains why I enjoyed Perfume, a book by Patrick Suskind written in 1985 about a man who kills people for their scent.

Granted, these books are not romances, but since many of us, although usually not me, are for pushing the boundaries of romance, I guess my meandering point is that each book should be judged on its own - not against a rule that says forced seduction is rape and therefore I won't read it because I am against rape.

While it is not difficult for me to separate my world view from reading material, many readers cannot do so. As such, the discussion on political correctness and/or forced sexuality, as often does here, veered off a bit from what I had intended. Still, many readers wrote thoughtful comments on the issues. I especially was interested in those readers who discussed the psychology of sexual fantasies and related that back to love scenes in romance.

In any case, please visit the Rifs section. When you read the Readers Rif section, pay particular attention to the rif by Karen Williams. She thinks she's a crank, but I love what she had to say. If you haven't already commented, or would like to comment on what I've written in this column, please do so.

Historical Anachronisms:

Connected to the issue of political correctness, of course, is that of historical accuracy, and many of the reader comments in the Rifs section were related to that. But some people responded directly to the question of historical anachronisms in romance, and I'd like to share their comments here.

Reader Blythe recalled reading of a heroine in the 19th century who washed her hands because she was worried about germs. But she divides historicals into two categories - those that take history seriously and those that don't. (From her comments, I think she also divides them into books that work overall and those that don't.) She reminded me of my review of Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath (RITA winner and currently online here in a short Q&A), where I indicated that the heroine, who lives on a farm, seems to have no daily chores. She wrote that in another classic Heath (and two-hanky read), Parting Gifts, the protagonists never actually work, but have plenty of time to go on fun outings. While she enjoyed both of these books, she also loves authors like Mary Jo Putney and Diana Gabaldon for their rich historical detail which "make the time period come alive".

Another reader wrote in about Julie Garwood's Rose series, which includes the story of a black hero in One Red Rose. Liz wrote, "Adam is called a runaway slave in For the Roses. Nothing is even mentioned in this book (about that). You wouldn't even know the character was black unless you read the back of the book, because there is absolutely nothing to clue you in! I live in Montana and it's still full of racial prejudice and I'm sure that Adam as the owner of a ranch in 1800's Montana would have had to deal with some prejudice. And his heroine? Why she's being chased because she sings like an angel. Some crazy fake evangelist is after her. She lived in the south, and the last time I checked there were very few free black people living in the south during the time period these books are set in. I could see her trying to run away from a plantation or something, but a crazed evangelist, please!"

Another reader wrote in that "the only thing that makes some historic romance historic is having a horse". This reader is insulted and feels put down when reading a book that is full of anachronisms. From talking with readers on this subject, it seems, again, as though there are two groups of readers - those that are sticklers and demand nearly complete historical accuracy, and others who are less concerned with accuracy than story-telling. One reader will no longer read a certain author because there was a racoon in the story, which was set in Europe long before the New World was discovered. To me, that seems a bit extreme - I only discovered that racoons were a New World species when I watched Disney's p.c. version of Pocahantas - ironic, isn't it?

Reader Andrea is a reader I agree with on this issue, more or less. She is often turned off by historical characters "acting with 20th century sensibilities or using 20th century speech patterns" and gets "extremely annoyed when readers slam a particular book because the h/h act in a way that may not be acceptable in this time period".

I too, like Andrea, don't want the writer to dwell on certain historical facts, but, as she wrote, "some things have to be viewed from the standpoint of the time period and accepted." She ended up email to me by stating, "I also find the trend towards making sure every single thing is PC is very annoying and I despise revisionist history. It is a fact that slavery existed, that men were allowed to beat their wives, that women were not allowed to own property, etc and I don't believe that a historical novel should ignore those truths."

Back to Before:

Many of the emails I received about Christina Dodd's book were about the acceptability in that time period of a man's forcing himself on a woman. Another regular reader of this column wrote in to tell me she found the book to be utterly contemporary in its reading. But several of the emails on the book had to do with the characters being unlikeable and/or unredeemable.

What has happened to loving tortured heroes? The hero in the Dodd book, Sebastian, had seen his family destroyed as a youth. Even so, he thought enough of his country and his "godmother" to do what he could to protect both. This "unlikeable" man protected a young woman ten years earlier by not turning her in to the authorities when she killed a pedophile.

I found Sebastian to be a classic tortured hero by romance standards. I realize many of you disagree, but let's talk some more about tortured heroes. Do we still love them as we used to? I recently received some submissions for the Tortured Heroes listing, but that list has been sitting dormant for quite awhile.

Has the beta and gamma hero overtaken our love for the tortured hero? In the same way we've moved away from the "bodice-rippers" of yesterday, have we begun to outgrow the darkly tormented hero? Let's talk more about tortured heroes, and books we've read recently that featured great ones. Please email me.

And What About?

A very famous author who shall remain nameless recently emailed me this:

It's fairly common for romance aficionadas to discuss Alpha males, levels of male violence, what is acceptable and what isn't, etc.

But there is a complementary topic that I've never seen discussed - namely, bird-brained heroines. Many so-called "humorous" romances depend heavily on heroines who are too stupid to live. I'm no fan of these, but many readers seem to adore them. Still, I can't be the only one who hates heroines whose principal charms seems to be repeatedly making the hero's life hell through her clumsiness/stupidity/incompetence, or whatever. This could make an interesting discussion.

An even more interesting discussion might be why romance readers, as a group, have a high tolerance for brutal men and moronic women.

The Garwood/Quick heroines aren't so bad. The Quicks in particularly often do stupid things but they are usually fairly bright, and sometimes even wise. The Garwoods are maybe less bright, but very charming.

The too-stupid-to-live ones are much worse. . . and I think there is something anti-woman in these kinds of heroines. They behave like helpless little children, and the heroes adore them for it.

Do any of you think there is a penchant among authors of humorous romances for creating heroines who are too-stupid-to-live? While the nameless author provided a few examples, we thought it would be tacky to list them here (no authors dissing other authors for us!). But that doesn't mean you can't write in about them! Please e-mail me with your comments and submissions of too-stupid heroines.

Speaking of Heroines:

Since we've been talking about heroines, and also torment, why not let's start a listing of romances with Tortured Heroines?

Reader Marion, who suggested this list, provided this definition, which I think suitable: These tortured heroines don't have to be possessive or cynical. They could be emotionally cold, indifferent to the world, or indulge in debaucheries to mask their inner demons. To this definition I would add that they could also have led miserable lives. Many of the books listed, coincidentally or not, also have tortured heroes.

Included below are my choices, along with those of Marion:

  • Fire in the Heart by Katherine Sutcliffe
  • Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas
  • A Rose at Midnight and Lord of Danger by Anne Stuart
  • Once an Angel by Teresa Medeiros
  • A Well Pleasured Lady by Christina Dodd
  • Day Dreamer by Jill Marie Landis
  • Velvet Bond and Velvet Touch by Catherine Archer
  • A Dove at Midnight and Maiden Bride by Rexanne Becnel
  • A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught
  • Bride of the Mist by Christina Skye
  • Secrets in Satin by Haywood Smith
  • Innocence Undone by Kat Martin
  • Taming the Wolf by Deborah Simmons
  • Summer Darkness, Winter Light by Sylvia Halliday
  • Stealing Heaven by Kim Cates
  • Petals in the Storm, Silks & Secrets, and Dancing on the Wind by Mary Jo Putney
  • Cry Wolf by Tami Hoag
  • The Conqueror by Brenda Joyce
I'd love to see your entries for this new Special Title Listing. Please make sure to include the heroine's name, as well as the time period when you send me your submissions.

Death of a Fairy Tale:

Since we've been speaking of tortured heroines -

Did you, as you were growing up, ever daydream about being a princess, perhaps of marrying a prince? If you are between the ages of 35 and 45, you probably at one time or another, dreamed as I did of marrying Prince Charles.

I remember being transfixed by his wedding to Princess Diana, and of watching her grow more beautiful year by year thereafter. As I had just become an adult, my fairy tale notions of royalty transferred themselves from him to her and I can recall rooting for her as her troubled marriage disintegrated.

After I had my own child, my admiration for her grew as I watched her parent her own children amidst her personal woes of adultery, divorce, and stalking by the press.

So hearing of Diana's death last night while watching television, and of seeing the grieving British this morning has seemed rather unreal to me, as though I had witnessed the final death of a true life fairy tale. I'm sure I'll be watching all the special reports during the day and will cry many tears over the death of a woman, my own age, whom I never met, but nonetheless have felt a strong kinship.

Picks & Pans:

  • Buttons & Beaus by Margaret Brownley - pan
  • All Through the Night by Connie Brockway - pick
  • It Happened One Night by Leslie Lafoy - pick
  • Playing the Odds and One Man's Art by Nora Roberts (from 1985) - both picks
  • The Fraudulent Fiance by Muriel Jensen - a pan

This column is the first on my new thrice-monthly schedule. To keep them as long as this and previous columns would likely kill me, so future columns will not be as lengthy.

I invite you to look around All About Romance and check out each separate section.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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