SBD at least they don't envision the queen

I'm loathing heroines just now. I've read two books with the most hapless women as heroines. Well-meaning, loving and as damp as a sponge left in a bucket of lukewarm spit. Things happen to them. They are not catalysts in their world. Sure, they talk big. But when it comes to taking unpleasant action, they hesitate and hem and haw until they are rescued. God forbid they soil their feminine spirit by actually taking action.** It reminds me of the Disney movies where the bad guys always fall off buildings or trampled by elephants rather than get done in by the hero.

Here's my guess: the writers tried to hard to envision an imaginary Southern or Midwestern Reader.

I've gone to a couple of talks by a couple of authors who talked about writing with Their Audience In Mind as if they wrote for a bunch of people who exist in another world. Could be true, too. These writers are successful women. They said they deliberately model their heroines after their vision of their Reader--who is apparently leading a life of upright womanhood in the US South or Midwest. Trouble is, the writers themselves aren't traditional quiet sedate housewifely women. You really can't be--not if you're going to be successful. It takes Ego to send out those books over and over. It takes Ego to sign up to give talks at big conferences (where I've seen the authors in question).

Show too much ego and at once you're not going to fit the mold of the women in these books. Downtrodden is okay. Spunky up to a point is okay, at least until push comes to shove. But loving yourself to the point where you actually express impolite anger to someone who bugs you? Walking away from a family that harms you? Nuh uh.

At least one of the writers seemed to pity and even fear her own readers. After the talk, I went out with one of the writers (okay, no, I didn't. I went to a dinner where one of the writers was talking in a loud-ish sort of voice. And I eavesdropped. Okay?) and she was still talking about all the issues she never addresses in public, the kinds of work she'll never write--because she doesn't want to offend her Reader. From what she said during her talk and during that dinner, she lives with the constant shadow of The Reader and from what she said during the dinner, she didn't particularly want to spend any time with the Reader. Certainly not go out drinking with the Reader. Why on earth would she want to spend any time with an imaginary version of the Reader--i.e. the heroine?

Anyway, it's moot, because the two books I read (and am currently frothing on about) are not by those two authors that talked about their Audience . I am just guessing that could be the reason the heroines are so unlifelike. Maybe these other writers heard the successful ones speak and decided to aim their books for an Audience of unpleasant, spineless Stepford wives who will cut their own throats rather than be direct about their needs or--god forbid-- take action against any family members who torment them.

Anyone read Franny and Zooey? I read it a gazillion years ago, but I remember how the fat lady, the Audience, is actually Christ. It made perfect sense at the time. If they must have an Audience, I sort of wish those writers would let go of the scarily perfect and sweet Reader and imagine a version of some interesting fat lady once in a while, especially when she was in a bad mood and cussing at her family.

* * * *

For Whom do I write when I'm working on a book? Absolutely no one. And the one time I tried to write for an audience I failed miserably. It's Second Book Syndrome, a common occurence in which the writer turns into an author and suddenly realises people are going to actually read her dreck--and suddenly there are too many scary people between the writing and the author. The author becomes self conscious and grows hysterical and drinks a lot of wine. Eventually the writer loses interest and moves on to a new neurosis called Omigod Second Book Due In One Month Syndrome.

These days I write the book and then maybe later edit it with some audience in mind. But by then the characters are strong enough so I'll know when I'm lying about their actions.


** Sometimes the heroines eventually do what needs to be done--or more often they turn into happy sluts--but only under the guiding influence of the heroes. Once he fully enters her life, she doesn't need to worry about losing that precious feminine spirit. He holds her feminine worthiness in his large powerfully built hands. Or somewhere.


  1. she was still talking about all the issues she never addresses in public, the kinds of work she'll never write--because she doesn't want to offend her Reader.

    Such as? Seriously?

    I don't like child molestation in my romances, for example....

  2. Now that I'm trying to remember the specific incident, all I can recall is that she didn't want to write about religion or politics in her webpage, which makes perfect sense. But I think it was more that she implied her readers would HATE her religion and her politics.

    You're in luck: I can't think of a single publisher-that advertises to the general public anyway-that allows child molestation to be a part of any romance (at least for any kind of titillation purposes. Maybe some kind of Deep Dark Past Secret?) I suppose we're all in luck if it comes to that. . .

    I don't think you'll find a lot of necrophilia, either, unless you count Undead. Bestiality? Hmmm depends on your definition. Werewolves or whales are Out There.

  3. oh I remember a specific example from a talk: a heroine who had had an abortion and the author changed it to a miscarriage, even though the heroine had been raped.

  4. After I wrote that first answer, I began to wonder if Lolita would be published today.

    Or if it were, probably wouldn't be in Humbert Humbert's POV.

    It's funny because there is so much out there that's more outrageous in terms of sex. . .but those rules are very strong.

  5. Kate wrote: she was still talking about all the issues she never addresses in public, the kinds of work she'll never write--because she doesn't want to offend her Reader.

    I think I met this writer. They made me sit next to her at National during the Big Important Boring Luncheon That Takes Too Freaking Long. I'd read one of her lukewarm milky romances, so I made some polite remarks (and here is where Jesus Wept.)

    Polly PC spent most of lunch scarfing down the Mystery Chicken while billing and cooing over herself. She personally invited me and the other rookies at the table to come to her room after the Literacy Signing. Not for any hanky-panky, of course, but to sell us a signed copy of her new book (for fifty cents less than we could buy it in stores! Imagine that! What generosity!)

    I didn't go to her room or buy her book, but what I really regret is sitting next to her for two hours and yet not once dumping my Mystery Chicken over her pointy little head.

  6. Not all audiences impose the same kind of limitations on their writers. In Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions, one contribution featured a society that was unusually sane - because incest was more or less mandatory. Although I don't read the romance genre, I'd guess that (probably involuntary) incest could conceivably be the Deep Dark Secret, but, of course, not part of the HEA.

    With Lolita, it wouldn't be the subject matter or POV that would give prospective publishers fits, it would be that the book is hard.

  7. Isn't part of the reason it's so hard is the POV? (I remember it was an amazing book)

    But I've been aiming at the romance market for so long -- no doubt my view is way skewed.

  8. and come to think of it, incest isn't as taboo as anyone under 18 having fun. Just check out NOT that I have. Nossirrreeee.

  9. If you ever decide to go to another conference, PBW, I want to sit at your table.

  10. At least one of the writers seemed to pity and even fear her own readers....[S]he was still talking about all the issues she never addresses in public, the kinds of work she'll never write--because she doesn't want to offend her Reader.

    Now, this kind of attitude from an author bothers me. Does she think that we (the readers) are too dumb to deal with issues? Or that we'll be offended by a pinch of reality in our romance reading? That kind of dumbing down of romance novels is one of the things that contributes to romance's second-class position in publishing world.

  11. Great topic Kate,

    As much as I love romance writers, sometimes I'm embarassed by the ones who talk about "pleasing their readers" or "giving the reader what they want."

    No respectable artist says (or even thinks) things like that.

    So good for you for this post.



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