Romance, I’m firmly convinced, is all about the fantasy. What the fantasy is, however, very much depends on each individual reader. And what that fantasy isn’t, is equally idiosyncratic.
For me, some stuff I don’t like in real life I like even less in escapist fiction. There was a time in the early nineties, when every romance I picked up had a scene where the hero gently held the heroine and stroked her hair as she tossed her cookies into the nearest chamber pot. Aie! Now there’s something I would not want to do in front of a man, ever, if I could help it. And reading about someone else doing it doesn’t make it any more romantic.
Conversely, some stuff I have no problem with in real life also gets the thumbs down. For example, I’m happily married to a man five-foot-nine in height and I think he is The Hotness. Yet when I read romances, I’m noticeably less interested in heroes who are noticeably under six feet tall. (And if that makes me shallower than a dinner plate, well, so be it.)
All those, however, are small annoyances. You wanna know what’s the equivalent of a fallen tree across the my personal fantasy highway as I’m barreling down at hundred miles an hour?
Last Friday I bought a reissue of a fave author’s first published book. The book had been out of print for many years and I’d never read it. So I eagerly sank my teeth into it, only to bite into a derailing, stopping-me-dead fly.
The following is a snippet from the book, it’s the heroine addressing the hero as they are in the middle of their affair:
“I wish I could be more sure of how you felt. You know you never give me more than bits and pieces of yourself. And you leave me alone a great deal of the time. For card games. For God knows what else. Why do you never tell me you love me?”
Argh. Major, major fantasy tenet violation. Unless there is a gun held to the heroine’s head and someone is threatening to burn the world’s sole remaining copy of Pride and Prejudice, she is never, ever to ask questions that smack of desperation and helplessness, questions that would make a man justifiably run for the hills.
I will forgive just about everything else—Machiavellian deceit? Okay. Pain-in-the-ass arrogance? Go on. Prior promiscuity? None of my business—but to have my backing, a heroine absolutely, absolutely cannot be weak.
She cannot be weak on absolute terms. And she cannot be weak on relative terms. I hate those Gorilla-and-the-Flea pairs—borrowing a term from figure skating--where the man can save the world in the morning, cook a kick-ass dinner in the evening, and make stupendous love all night long, and all the heroine has going for her are Bambi eyes, T&A, and a heart of gold.
Now the heroine can have all kinds of insecurities, and the hero can catch all kinds of glimpses into her vulnerabilities: she is strong not because she doesn’t have fears, but because she deals with them.
But please, please, save me from heroines who go around begging for affection.
Side note: I worked on a publicity Q&A from my publisher this weekend. And the questionnaire asked if my blog is interactive. I laughed at the question and said yes anyway. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate those of you who take the trouble to leave comments, and such nice ones too. I promise to interact the moment I have my degree in hand, toward the end of next August.
Next Tuesday, Live from New York, Anatomy Lessons