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The Color Purple:
What is purple prose? My dictionary refers to it as ornate language, but perhaps it takes some purple prose to better describe it. Purple prose takes the simple phrase or description and transforms it into something as flowery as “the majesty of a church filled with thousands of fuchsia hot-house orchids on the day when all a bride’s dreams come true.”
The language of romance novels, according to Jayne Ann Krentz in Dangerous Men & Adventurous Women, “is often ridiculed by critics, (but) is essential to the novels because it is a coded language.” She and Linda Barlow write of being criticized for the “excessive lushness of the language.” While romance readers have come to love much of this coded and lush language, it sometimes goes too far. Since the recent winner and runners-up in the Bulwer-Lytton bad opening line contest were all men, it’s fair to say they don’t love much of the language, but we do, and now’s nearly the perfect time to announce the winner and runners-up in our third annual Purple Prose Parody Contest.
Purple prose is one of my pet peeves. While I’ve loved certain romances despite of or probably because of, purple prose, I know I’ve been turned off to many more because of it. There’s an author out there who wrote several series romances before recently switching to full-length romances. I thoroughly enjoyed three of her short books, but didn’t care for several others. One reason why is that she set them in locales where different languages or dialects are spoken, and, invariably, the hero is constantly referring to the heroine using Spanish or Cajun terms of endearment.
Another author I know writes in several different time periods. Her books often read as though she’s stuck in “courtly” medieval England. While her medievals themselves fall prey to “tis and twas” syndrome, even her more modern romances are extremely florid and stylized in dialect and description.
While purple prose can be used at any place in a romance novel, perhaps no better place to parody them is in love scenes. For that reason, I’ll share the winning entry in the Bulwer-Lytton bad opening line contest, won by Robert Chappel:
The oil made their skin glisten as their bodies moved in slow synchronous rhythm on the beach, the water gently flowing up around their legs, birds floating in the surf accompanying their moans with songs of pain and despair, otter and seal carcasses washing ashore around them, and it frightened her and exhilarated her at the same time that their love under the open sky might be discovered by a Sierra Club cleanup volunteer.
I’d like to think that all thirteen readers who entered our own 1999 Purple Prose Parody Contest would have blown Robert away. Personally, I thought Randall Heeres’ description of “his hazel eyes like a green pepper floating in picante sauce” and heroine “Portabella Porcina, like an overfilled burrito in her beige satin dress” were quite good, but as you’ll see, Randall has nothing on our readers.
Some of my favorite snippets in Claudia’s parody include her reference to Drakkar’s “love lance,” and the description of it as “monstrously huge, and hard as any of the silver candlesticks that littered her room.” Readers found Claudia’s bloodthirsty surprise ending especially creative; but what clinched the deal for many was the term “love pudding.” Perhaps Andrea summed it up best of all by writing, “I think that Claudia Terrones’ is pretty darn cheesy. . .and I mean that in the kindest possible way.”
I heard over and over from readers what Joanne shared with me about the contest, “Each one I read, I was sure that one would be the winner, but then I’d read the next…and it turned to be a difficult choice.”
Claudia received the most votes, and tied for second place were Karen Carlini’s Purple Waves of Rapturous Passion and Candy Tan’s tribute to all the ladies of love who use the word ‘savage’ in their love scenes,” Love’s Savage Passion.
I myself voted for Candy’s entry. The hero’s insistence that the heroine must not be virtuous by virtue of her being half-French hooked me right away. The heroine’s “love grotto,” “slick walls weeping with tears of love,” and her enjoyment of being ravished while her mother lay dying had me laughing out loud. The description of the heroine’s body as “melting like a cube of sugar left to dissolve in tea. Very hot tea. Very sweet, savage tea.” was very clever, savagely clever, as was the description of the hero’s chest: “From the fur on his chest, two tiny flat brown nipples peeked like the eyes of a shy woodland beast.” And who could resist “If this is agony, my lord, then let us perish happily. . .in loves savage passion.”?
Here are some readers comments about the parodies:
Marilyn:”(The ending of Claudia Terrones’ parody) was so unexpected that I had to reread it. Thank you Claudia for giving unexpected meaning to la petite morte!! Eryka L. Peskin’s zing of a bra was hilarious, could we find a market for these? Karen Carlini’s blue-haired beauty was a grinner! But I will have to admit that I enjoyed Anne M Marble’s. Jane has to be one of the famous TSTL’s of all times plus she gets the hunk. Her wording – ‘calloused or callused hands, he could never get that right’ had me laughing out loud. Tiddlywinks will never be the same! So I vote for Anne M. Marble’s entry. I am going to share these stories with my sisters tomorrow at my birthday party. I hope they don’t throw us out of the restaurant when we read these.”Contestant Ava:“Oh my, You should post a warning at the beginning of that contest…Go Pee Before You Read These! I am still chuckling, that quite made my day. Every one of them was so good (modesty insists I except mine!)…these are some talented ladies! Move over Betrice Small, Rosemary Rogers and Thea Devine….you’ve got competition! My vote will have to go to Candy Tan for her Love’s Savage Passion. S’blood…it was just too funny! Not only did I love the description of the lady’s hands defending her virtue ‘distressed hummingbirds’ and ‘intoxicated butterflys,’ but her purplest prose pieces ‘deliciously damp’ and ‘cavern of passion’ ohboy, I fell out on that one! However, what got my vote was the twitching man-carrot! (‘cuse me while I run screaming LOL to the bathroom again!) Honorable mention would have to go to Karen Carlini for the death of that psychotic killer, hers was definitely the most original! And also to Ann Marble for the word, aptly used, ‘tiddlywinks’ and the phrase ‘tongue running up and down her tonsils.’ I may never be able to look a carrot in the eye again without grinning. And if one ever dares twitch, even in the slightest, I will not be responsible for the puddles on the floor, that’ll be Candy’s fault!”Pam:”My choice is Candy Tan and Love’s Savage Passion. I never stopped smiling and chuckling through this whole story. From the overuse of the word ‘savage’ to lines like, ‘He wanted to feel her love grotto hug his fleshly battering ram in its tight amorous grip,’ and, ‘Feeling like a boar in rut, he placed his staff of desire against her portal of heaven and pushed in.’ “Abbey:”With a line like ‘he played her like a lute,’ Eryka Peskin’s gotta be the winner.”Contestant Candy:“I’ve read all the entries, and although historicals have a special place in my heart as far as purple prose goes, I think Karen Carlini’s entry (Purple Waves of Rapturous Passion) is by far the funniest. As soon as I read ‘Sergeant Major Doctor Bambi Breastly,’ I howled with laughter, laughter which only got progressively louder as I read the parody (my downstairs neighbor must think I had a seizure of some sort). Karen sure knows how to turn a phrase; among my favorites are ‘hot love monkey’ and ‘victoria’s secret chakram.’ I also love the ridiculous similes and metaphors: “his long, sleek muscles rippling beneath his shirt like an epileptic panther”? That’s priceless. I wish I could write that bad! But best of all were the ridiculous situations and. Why was ol’ Breastly dressed in fancy underwear for bed? Why was Lance sneaking around her bedroom in only his swimming trunks? And having the nasty and suitably 2-dimensional villain die with a Victoria’s Secret bra wrapped around his neck was a touch of genius. Skanky senior citizen sex is the icing on the cake. Please award this year’s prize to her; I genuflect before the master – or mistress in this case. I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!”Clara:”Karen Carlini’s Purple Waves of Rapturous Passion was well written, original, and very funny. Second place was Ava Hawkins’ An Evening in the Mind of Maureen. Well written and very clever. Third place was Katarina Wikholm’s The Garden of Earthly Delight. It had absolutely no redeeming social value at all!”Allison:”The first (Katarina’s) is still the best. Not only was Katarina’s entry hilariously full of heaving breasts, etc., it was well written, with a big misunderstanding capping it off.”Lois:”At first it was a tie between Anne Marble’s wonderfully stupid heroine and Katarina Wikholm’s garden romp. But in the end, Ms Wikholm won me over by having her hero wrestle with his rampant beast. I’m still laughing.”
I’m sure those of you who read the parodies will agree that each of them was wonderful in its own way. For myself, voting was very difficult, and like Joanne, I thought I’d picked a winner only to be stymied when I read each successive parody. The tongue-in-cheek aspect of Ava Hawkin’s An Evening in the Mind of Maureen was delightful, and Carol Taylor’s homage to Dara Joy was immensely creative. Katarina Wikholm, creator of The Purple Dictionary of Historical Romance, made wonderful fun of the Big Misunderstanding and Rhonda Drummond’s SF piece was a nice change of pace.
I adored Meredith Whitford’s wicked sense of humor in describing the hero’s flat male nipples as hardening to “alpine-peaked glory.” As for Tanya Wade’s daydream, Jack certainly shows purple prose potential when he said, “Your nipples are like two fresh strawberries, poking out of fresh cream. I wonder, Maryann, if they taste as sweet.” And when she dreamed that “Jack laved each tender nipple in turn, sucking and pulling with his mouth in a rhythm not unlike that she had used earlier upon the cow,” I nearly lost it.
I think Nicole Guynes represented Amanda Quick very well – Virtue and Lucifer indeed! And the title of Suzie Choi’s entry, Hatred Turned Love – Love Turned Hatred says it all, does it not? And what it doesn’t say is said by the heroine’s “rose hued globes” and her heroine’s frustration that he dares to be aroused when “I am trying to kill you. Have you no sense of propriety in your big oxen’s head?” Eryka Peskin’s fast and furious one night stand reminded me of a horrible series romance, what with the superficial heroine’s jealousy over how nice the hero’s hair is and his being able to nearly span her waist with his hands. Her “weeping mound of Venus” was a nice touch too.
AAR Reviewer Anne Marble’s TSTL heroine and suspicious hero cracked me up. This exchange, in particular, was very clever:
“I see the way youre looking at my member,” he said accusingly.
Member of what? she thought. I didn’t know he belonged to any clubs. But she continued to stare at the thickening staff, wondering about its purpose.
Karen Carlini’s skanky sex was a terrific surprise. Her entry was my personal runner-up. Between the old lady’s cleavage hanging to her knees, the old man taking off after her, popping a wheelie in his wheelchair, and the hero’s muscles rippling like an epileptic panther, I was howling with laughter.
Claudia’ winning entry, with horrible cliches like “portal of bliss,” “honeypot,” and “love pudding,” were wonderful on their own. But mixed with the violence, they made a potent parody that delighted readers. I’m so pleased this year’s contest went as well as it did, and definitely plan to continue the tradition.
Purple Gone Bad: AAR Reviewer Lilly Berry recently shared a silly sex snippet that she found went beyond the pale. In Virginia Henley’s new A Woman of Passion, she “came across a love scene in which the hero compares the heroine’s genitalia to a ‘pouting child begging for more’. I found this completely creepy. Am I crazy?”
Lilly added, “Maybe because I once liked Henley (in all her purple glory), I’ve really given some thought to why I found this book so unappealing. Among other things, there’s just the sheer laziness of it. Here’s this glorious cover, a potentially fantastic time period, a writer who clearly can deliver when she wants to…but there’s a nearly jaded quality to her work. The same damn lines show up again and again. And they’re not that good to begin with! And enough with the stallions and the manroots and the marble hardness. Oy. It makes me want to go out on the balcony and scream, “Penis! Penis! Penis!” But what would the neighbors think?”
No, Lilly, you aren’t crazy, that was creepy. On the same day Lilly shared that with me, I read Beverly Barton’s The Tender Trap, which managed to combine purple prose with something I’d like to talk further about in a moment – breast-feeding in love scenes. But first, a silly sex snippet to share:
The image of him standing beside a rocking chair where she sat with their baby at her breast flashed through Blythe’s mind. Her breasts tightened. Her nipples pointed. She closed her eyes, savoring the moment.Adam slipped his arm around her. She shivered.
He could picture their child at her breast, and he could see himself lifting the sleeping infant from Blythe’s arms and laying him – or her – down in a cradle. Then he would turn to Blythe, her breasts till bare, swoop her into his arms and carry her to their bed. He could see droplets of sweet mother’s milk beading on her nipples. He’d lower his head and capture them with his tongue.”
My first thought upon reading this was to question where her nipples were pointed? To the north, to the west, to the south (I hope not – that doesn’t give a nice mental picture, does it?)? Then I remembered a conversation I’d had with my husband a long time ago after I came across Alexis Harrington’sHarper’s Bride. I mentioned to him that there was a lovemaking scene in it where the hero accidentally gets a mouthful of mother’s milk. This didnt particularly bother me but neither did I find it particularly erotic. His response was, “Milk comes from a bottle in the refrigerator. End of story.” I specifically remember that conversation because I mentioned it on the AARList (known as the Prodigy List at the time), and solicited comments from listmembers. Lucky me – as a writer I’m allowed to be a packrat, so I saved that AARList discussion.
More on Mother’s Milk:
I know that the publisher at Slake did an editorial about breast-feeding in romances some time ago, but in light of that Beverly Barton book, I’d like to re-open it up for discussion.
The only other book besides Harper’s Bride and The Tender Trap to feature breast-feeding in the context of a love scene that I have read was One Christmas Knight by Kathleen Creighton. In that book, the hero and heroine engage in lovemaking a scant three weeks after she delivers a baby, which was far more problematical for me than the fact that the hero covers the heroine’s breasts with a towel before-hand.
In those two books, the leaky-breast scenario is part and parcel of a larger love scene, but the Barton book makes it an active fantasy for the hero. Is it a likely one – either for men or for women?
Breast-feeding has a larger place in romance novels than I originally thought. Here is a listing of other romances that feature breast-feeding in the context of love scenes, as provided by AARList members:
Is breast-feeding an erotic image, to women, men, or both? Are you like my husband, who doesn’t want to find anything erotic about it? Personally, after having breast-fed a baby for only a short period of time, I can tell you I didn’t want anyone there but the baby. The thought of a hero’s fantasizing about it scored highly on my “yucky” scale. Jo Beverley, who included a breast-feeding scene in her medieval The Shattered Rose said, “I’m not sure if it’s erotic, but to me it’s part of life if women are going to breast-feed their babies for a long time, which is the ideal as far as I’m concerned. Any loving couple without a sense of humor is in for trouble. Sex while breast-feeding is definitely not ethereal, but fun.”
And Ann Josephson aka Sara Jarrod, who wrote Heaven Above, finds breast-feeding to be quite erotic for both men and women. She said:
“I claim a lot of experience in this – I’ve nursed seven babies over the years. It is erotic – very much so, to both partners. That, or both my DH and I have very kinky taste.”For those who haven’t read this story, I should mention that this is a contemporary romance with a ghost – the ghost of the grieving hero’s dead wife. With some nudging from Glenna’s ghost, the pregnant surrogate mother of the baby Glenna wanted desperately enters into a marriage of convenience with Blake, the hero.
“As for sex and nursing mothers, Blake first feels stirrings for his wife-in-name-only when he watches her nurse their newborn son. After they have made love twice, he admits that watching her nurse their baby turns him on, and as they engage in foreplay while the baby nurses, he suckles at the other breast that the baby has nearly emptied.
“These are very casual events, so brief that if a reader wasn’t looking for references to mother’s milk in love scenes, the reader probably wouldn’t remember them.
“(There is another scene) during the resolution of the conflict between Erin and Blake. Determined to convince Erin he loves her, Blake has taken her to a ski resort for the weekend, leaving the baby home. He has just told her he is ready to love again – and that he loves her. When they go to bed, he notices her tight, swollen breasts and tenderly seeks to relieve the pressure, but his gentle suckling arouses Erin to a fever pitch and they make love in this scene – the first one in the book where Erin feels Blake’s love as well as his passion.
“Since I wrote this book and it was my first to be published, I have warm and fuzzy feelings about all of it even though I recognize a good many flaws I’ve since learned how to avoid. I like the way this scene works, though, and I believe it gets across what I intended – that where once Blake felt no more than sexual chemistry for Erin, now his primary motivation for touching her is love.”
The opinions of readers vary on this weighty subject. Barbara indicated that if her “husband got a mouthful of breast milk” when she was nursing, she “would not have seen him again for months!” When lovemaking involved wet sheets from her letdown during the ten months or so she nursed, neither her husband nor she “were particularly aroused.”
Debora indicated, as do many mothers, that when children are babies, “eroticism” is generally far from their minds. It’s more like, “OK, let’s get it over and done with and let me get some sleep – oh no, she’s crying again!
On the other hand, Celia, who read Sandra Brown’s Sunset Embrace, remembers a scene when the hero catches a drop of breast milk on his fingers and tastes it. She found that to be very erotic. Pam had a similar reaction. She wrote, “It has been at least six years since I read that book, but I can still picture that scene it in my head.” And while Christi also found that to be erotic, “Sadly, my DH didn’t think so.”
As you can see, there is a variety of opinion on this, and what some find erotic and moving, others find yucky. Speaking of yucky. . . .
The Problem with Young Heroines
When I wrote the review for The London Belle by Shirley Kennedy and went off on a slight tangent about young heroines, little did I know it would generate the response it did. If any of you have visited the Reviews Message Board in the past week or so and glanced at the 19-year-old Heroine thread, you might be wondering what all the brouhaha is about. If you bear with me for a bit, I will explain.The heroine of The London Belle is 19 (I suspect you have already guessed that). Now, historically a 19-year-old heroine during the Regency period was getting up there in years. In fact, she should already have had an offer or two under her belt if she was not already hitched to the man of her dreams. Why then, was I so bothered by this particular heroine’s age? A few posts suggested that as an older woman (if 33 can be considered to be older) I can’t identify with a 19-year-old or that I may be age biased. In fact, neither is the case. A heroine of any age can be easy to identify with, depending on the gift of the writer. It got me to wondering, though, why authors still write about young heroines for the romance genre. Romances are not literature for young adults; these are novels written for adult women.
Most of the readers that commented about young heroines were of the opinion that a young heroine is not something to be bothered by. I’m sure I have read a book or two that had a young heroine and I didn’t think twice about it. There were a few posts as well that specifically stipulated that young heroines only belong in historicals, not in contemporaries. This is true, don’t you think? So what is the big deal? A good author should be able to pull anything off and have us enthralled for the length of the book. I have found though, that even if a heroine is horribly young, the age of the hero remains the same. Most heroes are in their 30’s. With a teen for a heroine, the romance becomes shaky – what kind of man would actually be attracted to someone so young? A 25-year-old heroine and a 42-year-old hero I wouldn’t blink an eye at, but when the hero is 37 and the heroine is 19. . . it makes me uncomfortable, to say the least. What age differences are acceptable to readers, and does the age of the heroine have anything to do with a reader’s comfort zone regarding age differences?
It comes down to this. Although there were more than a few posts stating that young heroines are acceptable to them, especially in historicals, not one person posted the opinion that young heroines were the only heroines they wanted to read about. I’m sure there are a few of those readers out there – we are an amazingly diverse bunch, which can only be a good thing. We should be able to read, and of course authors should be able to write, whatever we want. It saddens me, though, to find that there are still authors who think that the perfect age for a woman to find the man of her dreams is 18 or 19. It saddens me more to think that there are authors who believe that this is what we want as readers. Maybe I am wrong – are there still a large number of romance fans out there who really appreciate teenage heroines?
As for me, I want heroines who have lived life a bit. They have confidence, experience with life, and can take care of themselves. Heroines who can look at their heroes and know what they want, because they have lived long enough to know what they want. These heroines don’t toss their hair, giggle behind their hands, talk. . .with. . .a. . .slight. . .breathy. . .quality, worry continuously about what to wear, stomp their dainty little feet when the fatherly hero tells them to stay put, while the same hero goes off to solve the problem…You get the picture. Is this too much to ask? From what I have read, I don’t think so.
What She Said:
I was shocked to learn from our Reviews Message Board that Johanna from Saving Grace by Julie Garwood was sixteen, because I’ve noticed that lately I tend to prefer heroines who are older than the typical gel having her first Season. When I pulled my copy of the book – there it was on the back cover – clear as day. While most of my Desert Isle Keepers feature young heroines, most of those titles went on my keeper list several years ago. Now I am drawn more and more to women with some seasoning, if not in experience, than in years. And in contemporary romance, I do not want to read about a teenager. What about you?
Finally, something in Rebecca’s comments did strike a nerve with me. Whenever I read a historical romance with a hero much older than the heroine, I worry about what’ll happen to her after he dies and she’s left alone for the rest of her life. Since I don’t care for a romance protagonist to have another “life-love” in a subsequent book, I often think of the future when I close the pages of a book. Where are they twenty years down the road? If the age difference is vast, it makes me sad to think of her all alone. (To read a great deal of fascinating discussion on this, you might want to start at the beginning when these issues were first raised. You can link to issues #27, #28, and #31 of Laurie’s News & Views, and to the pages that grew out of these columns – The HEA Ending.)
Time to Post to the Message Board:
The Color Purple: Purple prose – what is it and what is its place in the modern romance novel? Comment on romance novel cues and the 1999 Purple Prose Parody Contest. Did your favorite parody win? Are we “traitors to the cause” for having such a contest?
Purple Gone Bad: Certain authors are known for writing very purple prose, including Dara Joy, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Bertrice Small, and Virginia Henley. Did that Virginia Henley snippet give you the creeps? If you have some silly sex snippets to share, feel free to do so! Finally, what did you think of that Beverly Barton snippet?
More on Mother’s Milk: Compare and contrast the views presented here about breast-feeding in love scenes. Which comments most resonate with you? Can it be erotic to feature men suckling at the breasts of their breast-feeding wives or do you find it yucky?
Young Heroines: Let’s talk about young heroines and their place in reality. Feel free to discuss the fantasy of romance versus the reality of life, and to discuss young heroines both in historical and contemporary settings. Then, add that “much older” hero into the mix and see where you are. Consider what Rebecca wrote, and then think about what happens twenty years from now. Would it bother you to imagine a heroine left alone for the rest of her life after her husband dies? And, consider the actual romances you know of or might have read that are sequels to romances. These sequels feature a hero or heroine having a second “life-love.” Does that work for you or make you upset?
To Live, Perchance. . . to Torture? I originally posed this question in the last issue of LN&V, but am leaving it up to get more input. What is your definition of a Tortured Hero? Does he keep his torture to himself or does he spread it around? Please comment on Danelle’s terrific column segment, and if you want to comment on Alice Duncan’s A Different Look at Dark Heroes or its companion piece by Suzanne Brockmann – What’s it All About, Alpha? Or The Up Side of Dark Heroes, please do!
Until next time, TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
In conjunction with Rebecca Ekmark
1999 Purple Prose Parody Contest
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