Sunday, September 30, 2007

Of Rakes and Heroes

Currently, for my graduate class on the 18th-century novel, I'm slogging my way through Samuel Richardson's Clarissa. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of this pithy little 1,500 page monster, a brief summary: Boy meets girl. Girl's family tries to force her to marry a gross other guy. Boy tricks girl into running away with him to escape said family. Boy rapes girl. Girl dies. Fun times.

Despite its length and verbosity, the novel's actually much more entertaining than that dismissive description would suggest. The "Boy" himself, Lovelace, in particular, is a fascinating portrait of a clever, humorous, charming man with all his wits bent toward some rather unscrupulous ends.

As I'm reading, I find myself marveling at the way Lovelace conforms quite neatly to the image of your typical romance alpha hero. Commanding, brilliant, handsome, rich, titled: how is that not exactly the description of 6/8th of the heroes in historical romance? He feels certain he knows Clarissa's true desires better that she does. He plans to help her unlock the hedonism that surely lies in her seemingly virtuous soul (rape is sort of a last resort, if you will). He vows revenge on her family for attempting to keep them apart. Even contemporary romance makes use of the "lying to her for her own good" trope.

This is not meant as yet another excoriation of the anti-feminist backwardness of romance, by any means. I like a good alpha hero! Done well, they can be sympathetic, appealing, exciting, and sexy as hell. I even like Lovelace, when he's not crowing about how much sweeter the rake's victory feels when he wins it from an unwilling woman. (In this I'm not alone, as Richardson's 18th-century readers were so taken by Lovelace that they begged for him to be reformed by the love of Clarissa, and for the book to end in marriage rather than deaths--yeah, he dies too, in a duel).

I'm just wondering where we draw the line: in the books we read and in our own fiction. What separates the villain from the hero? I think I write pretty "good guy" heroes for the most part, maybe even beta men, and I often feel obligated to make them...a little meaner. As though, if they don't occasionally insult the heroine or go off and fight someone or get drunk, they're not "real" romance heroes.

Readers, please weigh on on where you stand. When does a hero become a villain? When can a villain become a hero? Where's your invisible line between redeemable and wretched?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Finding "The One"

Guess what? I found the dress!

Yeah, I know this blog is supposed to be focused on all things writerly... but I couldn't resist sharing with y'all. And anyway, what could be more romantic than a wedding dress? (Certainly not the sad state of my revisions...)

I'm including some pictures of the "almost rans" in my post. If you want to see the real deal, leave me a comment and I'll email it to you.

This is what I've discovered about shopping for important apparel. The correct method includes the following:

(1) Gather together a clique of delightful female relatives (it helps if one of your relatives is an incredibly stylish salon owner).

(2) Have dinner beforehand at a cute bistro.

(3) Make sure that dinner includes wine. Get slightly snockered.

(4) Don't wear hideous granny panties while you're trying on dresses (the lines, I've discovered, are very unflattering).

(5) Try on the veil, even if you think you'll hate it...
(6) ... but stick to your conviction that tiaras are definitely not "you."

(7) Revel in satisfaction that the dress you first saw in the magazine really is the one you wanted after all.

(8) Approach with a sense of humor. It is entirely possible that you will get stuck in a dress. It is entirely possible that total strangers will have to pull you free. And at least one of the dresses will make you feel like an organza-covered hippo. Apparently someone out there craves that look. Go figure.

Ultimately, I spent one two-hour trip and found the dress. It was faily hassle-free, and I really enjoyed spending time with my mother and aunts. Knock on wood--I'm sure the insanity's just a few short months away...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Character Crushes

Have you been over to Naughty 'n Spice lately? The ladies over there are having an excellent discussion about celebrity crushes--and there are posts where you can discuss your tingly feelings for both male and female Hollywood hotties.

Of course I posted. In a world that gave us Gerard Butler and Salma Hayek, how could I not? And yet... to be perfectly frank, I don't often lust after movie stars. There was, of course, the Summer of Crowe. But that's another story and definitely needs its own post.

The truth is, though, that my lust isn't usually aimed at Hollywood stars. It's aimed at characters. Movie, book, TV... doesn't really matter. If they're fictitious and slightly twisted, chances are I like them.

Just consider Spike, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Every time he tilted his head and gave one of his trademark smirks, I felt myself getting a little melty. Then he'd cause mayhem, with leather coat billowing, and I'd think, "Hot. Goth." He was complicated and powerful, capable of both great evil and great loyalty. The best part? He was also insanely witty.

Frankly, he'd be a great romance novel hero.

So. I had a thing for Spike. I didn't quite want to have his evil, soulless babies... but I thought he'd make an absolutely fabulous mistake.

And this is what I'm wondering now: does anyone else in Blogland possess this little quirk? And if so, who is/was your character crush? (As always, feel free to link back to this post.)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Childhood heroes

I just learned today that one of the most beloved authors of my childhood, Madeleine L'Engle, passed away this week. I vividly remember reading A Wrinkle In Time for the first time at age eight. The book was a revelation, in the same way that Anne of Green Gables would be a year later or that The Secret Garden had been the year before. I was seduced by the story and the sheer process of story-telling, and I decided that year, I remember, that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.

I also found myself captivated by Meg and Calvin, wondering what would happen between the two of them. See, even then I was a budding romantic! And I loved following their family through the rest of the books in the series. My pleasure on learning that they'd married when I read A Swiftly Tilting Planet was way beyond the interest any nine-year-old should have taken in the subject.

So pick up a L'Engle book in her honor, check out her obit in the NY Times, and let us know in the comments: What is your favorite Madeleine L'Engle novel, or your best-remembered early reading experience?