Laurie’s News & Views Issue #23

April 4, 1997

What Are We Missing?

I’m reading a book now and it’s not going very well. Odd thing is, I have the feeling I’m going to be in a minority with this one. It’s written by a very successful writer, and writing a negative review of a popular book is a scary prospect.

Last night I was going through some completed ballots to the All-Time Favorites listings page. One of the favorites on a readers’ list was Jude Deveraux’s The Duchess, which was the first book I’d ever tried by that author. It was so bad that I didn’t try another book by her for 3 years. The second book I tried by her, the first of the Velvet quartet, was better, but still nothing to write home about. I’ve still got some of her books to be read, including A Knight in Shining Armor, which is listed by so many readers as a classic keeper.

But recently I’ve heard from readers who didn’t like Knight, reminding me of the segment we occasionally do here on Authors Others Love That You Don’t. Here’s what I’ve been hearing lately:

“My dislike of Jude Deveraux, Johanna Lindsey, and Catherine Coulter books I happened to pick up on vacation over the years kept me from discovering the greater variety of books on the midlist until relatively recently. A Knight in Shining Armor turned me off, not on. I also have been having trouble getting into Beast and Tallchief.” – Elaine

A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux. The reason I gave up on Deveraux in 1985 and why I dislike time travel books to this day. The secondary characters (fiancee & daughter) were so insufferable I wanted to rip out the pages and stomp on them. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.” – Kathy

“I read this book (KISA) years ago and tossed it immediately into my get rid of quick pile. The only sympathetic person was the hero, but he was surrounded by so many nitwit characters that I could barely finish it. . . people rave and rave about this book. And, I think, ‘It’s a classic; I must have missed something. . . .’ I bought it again! Silly me! It was just as bad the second time.” – Melissa

“FWIW, I hated the ending to KISA. . . I have never been able to finish a book by Linda Howard. Her writing bores me, and I just can’t bond with the characters. Makes me wonder what’s wrong with me every time I buy one of her books and hear everybody else rave about it. Why don’t I like it? Very strange.” – anonymous NY Times Bestselling author (I am not printing author’s names because I don’t want anyone to think there are sour grapes involved.)

“I know that everyone loves Amanda Quick but I just don’t think she’s funny. Her stories just seem so contrived and silly. She’s definitely the author I’ve given up on.” – Cindy

“Okay, call me shallow or call me dense but I can’t get into Laura Kinsale. I know there are those who think she’s the goddess of romance and I truly want to like her, but tried the one where the hero has the stroke and found an error in the first chapter and couldn’t go on. Perhaps I’m just too fussy.” – Maudeen

“I won’t call you shallow or dense for not liking Kinsale’s books, if you don’t call me shallow or dense for not liking Judy Cuevas’! I tried. I really, really, really, really tried. I know, I know: she’s a great writer. Sigh. Okay, so you can call me shallow and dense.” – from an anonymous author

I tried to get into Jill Barnett’s book, Bewitching, read about half of it and put it down. I couldn’t stand the hero. I thought he was full of himself and just too, too demanding. I don’t often feel like that, and as I’ve said many times before, it just might have been my mood. Anyway, I’ve never finished the book. – Deb

Julie Garwood, for instance. I can see why other people like her, and I’d read her books, but she just doesn’t do it for me.” – Amanda

“A book that everyone loves that I hated – Linda Howard’s Sarah’s Child. I found the so-called hero to be obnoxious and ignorant, and never developed any sympathy toward him. I never figured out why she stayed with him.” – Holly

“Personally, I don’t care for Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ work. Her heroines are too victimized. . . Although the victimized heroine motif has never been my favorite, . . . I will allow other writers to get away with it. . . There seems to be a nasty undertone to her use of the motif that really bothers me. When it comes to humorous romances (she’s suppose to be funny?) I’ll stick to Krentz (et al) and Jennifer Crusie.” – Sandra

Because I’ve come down on readers’ favorite authors and favorite books in the past, I tried hard not to be upset as some of my favorite authors were dissed above. Hearing about these authors reminded me that Diana Gabaldon, while loved by so many readers, was an author in the 1997 Unofficial Romance Reader Awards who many readers didn’t get. It is something to think about. How can I absolutely love something that someone else absolutely hated? How can I hate a book so many others will love? Is there such a thing as a book everyone loved? Finally, it makes me feel better to know there are certain authors out there that I am not alone in disliking – it can feel pretty isolating to think you are the only one who doesn’t appreciate an author constantly raved about.

How about you? What authors or books do you not get? Conversely, have you ever read a book and loved it, only to find out you were the only one who loved it? And, can you think of a book and/or author that is universally adored? Please e-mail me here with your responses.

It’s Time to Play Cast Your Book – Part I:

After writing the Highlander article and recalling that several authors created heroes in the image of actor Adrian Paul, I asked a few authors to once again play Cast Your Book. Jill Barnett had this to say, “Let’s see. . .casting Bewitching. Well, Joy would have to be Brooke Shields. Who could Alec be? Pierce Bronson? Hmmm. Perhaps. Alec Baldwin would work because then Stephen could be one the other brothers.

Connie Brockway wrote, “Here’s my casting for Heaven With a Gun, my entry in Dell’s upcoming Outlaw Love anthology. Story is set circa 1880. The hero is Jim Coyne, a tough street-wise New York reporter and Five Burrough Boxing champion exiled to the wild west. The heroine is a notorious, sharp-shooting woman desperado known as Lightning Lil. This is so easy. For once I had a definite guy in mind the entire time I wrote the story and that guy was Tom Berenger. He has those Irish street-brawler good looks and a perfect, bemused lop-sided grin. He’s seasoned, sexy and does male-confused-by-female perfectly. Lightning Lil is a bit more difficult. Michelle Pfeiffer. Or Annie Potts.”

When I contacted Judith Ivory aka Judy Cuevas about casting her books, she initially provided only actors. When I wrote her back with, “Judy, Judy, Judy, what about the heroines?”, she responded, tongue firmly in cheek, “Laughing here. Out loud. But did your message say heroines? Oh, who cares about them anyway.

These are her inspired casting choices:

Beast: Well, if Ralph Fiennes isn’t too busy, I’d like him to do Charles Harcourt. He’d have to be uglied up on one side, but he’d be really good — capable of the darkness, even bitterness, while remaining terribly charming. Then let’s stick him with Drew Barrymore as Louise, gussied up at her most gorgeous. Right age, right wildness. And I just love this match. She could give him such a hard time — and vice versa.

Bliss: I have often thought the French actor Thierry L’Hermitte would make a good NardiS. He has the right accent, the right shrugging humor and sophistication. Readers who know him probably know him from the movie Until September. (See it, see it, if you haven’t!) He is a greatly undervalued romantic lead. Then Demi Moore would make a very fine all-American Hannah to pair him against. Plus she has the figure for the role these days. Ha. We’d just have to make her hair a lot redder.

Black Silk: Oh, Daniel Day Lewis, for sure as Graham. He has such a nice upper class English gentlemanliness, yet can still carry off being playful, fun. And he has just the right coloring and height. Now don’t reject this last outright, but it has always been my secret wish to see Sissy Spacek (I can’t even spell her name) as the heroine, Submit. Great actress with the right sort of look, kind of plain and freckled, yet pretty somehow. And very nicely soft-spoken — tho she might have to work at sounding plausibly British — with an undercurrent of strength. Other possibilities for Submit (my own favorite heroine) would also be a younger Jessica Lang, tho she’s may be a bit too pretty and maybe Michelle Pfeiffer without a trace of make up

Dance: Jeremy Irons would work marvelously for Sebastien. He has — naturally — the right upper class Englishness for the latter, while having also believably played a Frenchman (a requirement for the former) — he was brilliant in Swann In Love, a must-see romance if you haven’t rented it yet. Mr. Irons has lots of control and hauteur, but can lose both dramatically in a toe-curling way. I could see Marie DuGard then being played by Juliette Binoche. She’s legitimately French. Plus she has such a driven presence.

“Thanks for the fantasies. Deep sigh. “

It’s Time to Play Cast Your Book – Part II:

Readers enjoy playing casting director as well. First up, reader Melissa, how just so happens to love Jude Deveraux’s A Knight in Shining Armor so much that her copy is falling apart. She wrote, “From the moment I picked up this novel, I envisioned a younger (30’ish) Timothy Dalton as the hero Nicholas, Earl of Stafford.”

Here are some other inspired couplings sent in by readers:

A young Sean Connery and a young Elizabeth Taylor as Alec and Jamie in Julie Garwood’s The Bride – Gretchen

How about Winona Ryder and Daniel Day Lewis for Julie Garwood’s Castles? – Brenda (Brenda, I can see Winona in The Gift; how about Julia Ormond? How about Adrian Paul?)

I’d cast Mel Gibson and Geena Davis (she might be too tall) or Drew Barrymore for Man of my Dreams by Johanna Lindsey – Carrie

My biggest crush has been Daniel Day-Lewis, so I’ve always imposed DDL’s face (and bod for that matter) on any tall dark male lead. But lately, I’ve been placing Jeremy Northam from Emma.

For Mary Jo Putney’s Silk & Shadows, I think DDL would be a better choice than Andy Garcia for Peregrine and Winona Ryder would make a good Lady Sara – Celia (remarking on my selection of Andy Garcia in Issue #15 of this column)

Readers and authors, would you like to play casting director? Come on; it’s fun! Please send your inspired selections to me here. If you think of some inspired duos in search of a book, let me know. I’d like to cast Daniel Day Lewis once again with Juliet Binoche – there was a scene in The Unbearable Lightness of Being that I found incredibly sexy. I’d also like to see Liam Neeson together again with his Rob Roy heroine, Jessica Lange.

Speaking of Adrian Paul, (yet again):

If you’ve read our latest Write Byte, you’ll know that author Suzanne Brockmann doesn’t buy into the concept of the gamma hero. She believes that “gamma is just a re-labeling of the alpha male — simply to ease the souls of the people who are so certain they dislike alpha males!!! The lines between alpha and beta are not black and white. (But grey does not gamma make. . .)”

The mail I’ve received from readers has mostly approved of the new archetype, although Katarina certainly disagrees and disapproves. She agrees with Suzanne that “maybe the Gammas are a way of making people who don’t like alphas like them again . . . The gamma idea tastes a bit like: Tarzan so sorry he raped Jane, will give her ten orgasms and big bunch of roses“. Beyond that, Katarina doesn’t like the vocabulary at all. She wrote that, “this compartmentalizing enforces the simplistic view that far too many people have of the genre. . . I guess you have noticed that it is far more easy to put the hero in a category than the heroine. Am I saying then that for this heroine please use condiment A, for that condiment B or G? No, of course not. I prefer my spices not to be premixed and prepackaged. Just because there are herbal spices doesn’t mean they taste the same way. Let the poor hero be himself, as he is written and interacting with the heroine. Branding him with a letter on his cute butt isn’t my way of doing things. (in modern days you put a microchip in his ear, as with any other pet. . .)”

I wrote Katarina in return that I tend to analyze everything. I think the development of a genre vocabulary is a good thing, and that it is useful for readers to have archetypes from which to choose books. As always, I approach things as a reader, not a writer; perhaps labelling heroes is not a good thing from an author’s stand-point, but I think it is valid and helpful for readers.

Some readers, apparently, agree. Emily wrote that when she looks at her list of favorite heroes, she sits and wonders which category they fall under, alpha or beta. She said she usually ended up throwing up her hands in disgust and deciding that a two archetype system was totally unworkable.

She went on to say:

I tend to dislike beta heros, because they remind me of my friend who is definitely not someone I want to date. Beta males often strike me as pacifists. Alphas in a romance novel often strike me as immature, no matter how old they are. Their behavior screams High School Football Hero. Their lone emotion is anger, and that gets really boring after a while. I keep wanting to hit them and tell them to grow up! Not romantic. Gammas, OTOH, are a lot of fun. Very real. Most men I know have a secret fondness for a little bit of violence, yet they would never ever dream of hurting a woman. Sometimes they’re good at emotions, sometimes they aren’t, and this fits the gamma male to a T.”

Reader Sally, a fan of the Highlander series, and of The Romance Reader (she visits nearly daily), was glad the gamma archetype was named. It’s her favorite type of hero, and she didn’t even know it until it was articulated here. Glad to help, Sally.

Reader and hopeful author Teresa is also glad we named the gamma archetype. She wrote, “Finally, my hero has a classification!!! He’s definitely the gamma type. I’ve never been able to write the alpha male, but didn’t want to write a wimp either. My Richard is half-way between and now I now how to describe him. I too feel the same way about alpha males – in some books they work, but in others I just wonder what the heroine sees in him. For me the gamma heroes include Galeran of Heywood (I know, I know – enough already with him, but truly, I just loved him), Stephen de Mandeville in Denee Cody’s Court of Love, and Guy of Montague in Elizabeth Elliot’s Betrothed.”

Longtime Romance Reader Corynne summed it up wonderfully: “I think if we all thought about it, we all want a man who is physically strong a great lover, mentally tough, provide out needs etc. BUT we also want a man who respects our feelings and thoughts and knows how to share his own. I would definitely prefer a gamma man!!”

Now that you’ve had a chance to read Alice Duncan’s topic on the down side of dark heroes, Suzanne Brockmann’s ode to the alpha hero, and my article on gamma hero Duncan MacLeod, what do you have to say on the alpha, beta, gamma discussion? And, if you had to pick one hero from each category, who would they be?

I’m not ready to reveal my favorite alpha, beta, or gamma heroes just yet – I’m waiting to see who yours are. Please e-mail me here with your choices, and your comments about the heroic troika we’ve constructed.

Help! Please:

I’ve discussed with many of you my enjoyment of books where the main conflict is external to the love relationship and is what brings them together. I have been working with some of you to create a Special Title Listing of such books. However, there’s a problem, and it might have to do with my definition of external conflict and yours.

When I think of a book featuring an external as opposed to internal conflict, I think of those books where the hero and heroine are never violently opposed to one another. They may have a conflict about the hero’s inability to commit or fear of intimacy, or some such, but on the whole, the hero and heroine don’t have a love-hate relationship in these books.

With the help of a reader, I began compiling a list, and sent it around to my colleagues at The Romance Reader. Included on the list were the collected works of both Julie Garwood and Amanda Quick. Also included was Mary Jo Putney’s Silk & Shadows because Peregrine’s main conflicts were within himself (the revenge motif) and between himself and the villain. I began to receive responses that were at different than what I’d expected. One esteemed colleague said that since some of Amanda Quick’s heroes have been burned and swear not to love again, that’s internal conflict. Another indicated that the Putney book surely featured internal conflict.

Clearly there had been a misunderstanding. So I e-mailed Mary Jo and asked her about Silk & Shadows. Here is what she had to say:

I’m don’t think that Silk & Shadows would qualify as being primarily external conflict. I always try to have both external and internal conflict twined around each other. In S&S, the revenge motive is certainly what drives the plot, but within the relationship, Sara has a clear-eyed belief that the hero is incapable of a lasting commitment and will surely leave her (an outcome she accepts because she loves him), while Peregrine has been so focused on revenge that he has very little understanding of his emotions, and can’t recognize love or his need for it until he’s losing it.

On another level. the fragile heroine breaks the larger than life hero because of the power of her morality. She knows better than to try to change him–but she will not live with a man who heedlessly injures the innocent.

It is Peregrine who must give up the revenge that he has lived for in order to have a life beyond revenge.

So no, I wouldn’t say that Silk & Shadows is primarily external conflict.

I just looked over my bookshelf, and can’t think of any of my titles that would qualify. A book that you might consider is Katherine Kingsley’s No Greater Love, where the hero and heroine always get along just fine, the problem is the rest of the world.

There have to be others, but my mind is blank at the moment. (I’m trying to finish a project, which always flattens my viewpoint terribly.) Such books can work if the writer is very skilled (like Katherine Kingsley), but it’s harder to bring than having a good internal conflict.

A classic problem, especially in longer books, is when the hero and heroine make a commitment and get everything sorted out three quarters of the way through the book, then the rest of the word count is padded out with some kind of hazard gambit, generally the heroine being threatened by the villain and the hero rescuing her. This does not usually work very well.

BTW, Shattered Rainbows, which did so well in your poll, has just been named a finalist for the RWA Long Historical RITA.

So, what’s going on here? When you think of external conflict, what books do you put in that category? Are you of the mind that if the hero and heroine aren’t involved in a love-hate relationship, the book’s conflicts are primarily external? Or are you of the mind that if either the hero or the heroine has problems with intimacy, even if they “get along”, the conflict is internal?

Would you put Julie Garwood’s Castles on the list of external conflict? Or, since the hero hadn’t planned on marrying for five years after he married the heroine, and is afraid to love, is their conflict internal? What about Amanda Quick’s Mistress? The hero and heroine get along famously from the start, but, again, the hero is shut off from his feelings and is afraid to love.

I’d like to hear from you because I don’t want to create a list that isn’t properly defined, or isn’t the list you want. I’m truly stumped and need your help. Please e-mail me here with your comments, and title submissions.

Special Title Listings:

While we’re on the subject of Special Title Listings, I’ve started a new one, based on reader request, of Virgin Heroes. I’d love for you to take a look at it, and our other listings as well, and perhaps make a few submissions of your own. These are the listings you can find at The Archives of Laurie Likes Books:

  • Favorite Funnies
  • Two-Hanky Reads
  • Luscious Love Stories
  • Special Heroes
  • Special Heroines
  • Tortured Heroes
  • Road Romances
  • Less Than Beautiful Heroes/Heroines
  • Mail-Order Brides/Marriages of Convenience
  • Special Settings
  • Time Travel Romances
  • Guardian/Ward Romances
  • Friendships
  • Virgin Heroes

Glomming and Online Time:

I’ve been hearing from a lot of readers about glomming again. For those of you who are new to this topic, I define glomming as that irresistible urge romance readers have to seek out and buy backlists of authors they have discovered.

Most of us have become even bigger glommers than we once were after coming online. Why? Listserv and BB recommendations. The Romance Reader and other online reviews.

But now an insidious new phenomenon is attacking many of us – there are so many online connections being made, web sites to visit, people to talk to, experiences to be shared, and e-mails to answer, that we are spending less time reading and more time talking about reading!

Reader Sharon is a lot like me. She wrote, “I’m finding I spend more time reading e-mail and being online than I am reading! However, my buying of books have not diminished! My tbr pile keeps getting bigger and bigger! I’ve tried to cut back on my buying but there are too many good books out there! What are we to do?”

When someone is both a glommer and an online addict, that can create a deadly combination. There are so many recommendations of good books to buy that we end up buying more books than ever. But with the extra time spent online learning about these books, there is less time to read them. As Katy wrote, “I spend too much time online, to the detriment of my budget. My dh doesn’t get the reading addiction – ‘You bought another book! But you already have 500 of them!’ I keep telling him that books aren’t like navy pumps . . . just because I have 500 doesn’t mean I have something to read.”

While many of us have huge tbr piles, others have huge keeper stacks. Susan, for instance, doesn’t have a tbr pile because she reads fast, but she does admit to having a “keeper room with several thousand books in it.”

I’d love to hear from more of you on this vicious cycle, and about glomming in general, tbr piles, and keeper piles. Do you glom? Whom are you glomming these days? How big is your tbr pile? Is it a pile, a foothill, or a mountain? Are you a packrat and save nearly all your books after reading them? Do you trade in only 1 or 2-heart reads? Or do you have a revolving door policy where once you’ve finished a book, it’s outta here? That’s what another Susan does. I suspect she’s in a minority, but are you like her? She wrote, “I, too, don’t keep any of the books I read. . . I don’t reread books.”

Please let me hear from you on these questions.

Until next time, TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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