Friday, July 11, 2008

Reality in the Details and in the Dialogue

In Merline Lovelace's The Harder They Fall the hero tells the heroine a bit more about his family background and
She couldn't believe how relaxed she felt ... and curious. The bits Evan had told her about his brothers had subtly altered her mental mosaic of the man beside her. Made him seem more real somehow. More three-dimensional.
More than just a lazy grin and a pair of sexy blue eyes, anyway. (119)
As a reader (rather than a romance heroine) does that sort of information make characters seem more three-dimensional to you? Given that I've read about some characters who still resembled cardboard cutouts even after I knew about their tragic back-story, I don't think knowing a bit about the characters' family history automatically makes them feel more "real."

Whatever it is that makes relationships in some romances seem both "realistic" and lasting is a subjective and highly personal thing, but I've recently read three which convinced me and which got me thinking about what makes characters and their relationships feel "real". In all three cases it had something to do with the characters' imperfections. They weren't impossibly beautiful, and though they'd all suffered in the past, or were suffering still, they weren't romantically tormented. Perhaps it was this balance between the romantic and the little flaws (which included characters with more than a touch of sarcasm, another with a propensity to babble, quite a few with a dose of cynicism, and one who barely talked at all) which helped to made them feel "real" to me.

The other factor which affects Lovelace's heroine's view of the hero is that he tells her his history himself. They talk to each other. I think that dialogue (if well written) can make the characters feel more "alive," more real. I'm sure it's not the only way in which a writer can achieve this, but in the three novels I'd like to discuss, it was the dialogue which captured my attention and convinced me that these were characters with whom I wanted to spend some time.

The first is Karyn Langhorne's A Personal Matter. [You can read an excerpt here and reviews here, here and here.] The heroine and hero are quite alike, though they don't know that to begin with, and as the novel progresses more and more similarities are revealed. Because they're both rude and extremely difficult to work with, though, the similarities spark conflict, and that's evident in their conversations.

Here's an example of a scene which I think's been given the realistic treatment. It's not uncommon for romance heroines to literally run into the heroes' rock hard chests. But it's not so usual for the encounter to be described quite like this:
Alayna flicked on a couple of hallway lights just so she wouldn't be like some stupid white chick in a horror movie, feeling along in the dark, too dumb to turn on the lights. Hell no. With the lights on, whatever's out there, at least you see him coming.
Only not this time.
Because as Alayna turned from the long, lighted office corridor to the short dark hallway of work rooms, she ran full-tilt into The Freezer himself and let out a scream loud enough to shatter glass. It took a couple of seconds to shut up and realize she hadn't met the Boogeyman and that the surface she was up against wasn't anything more dangerous than a normal man's chest. Torso, really. He was pretty tall ... and the said chest was hard as a rock. But he didn't have a knife. The most dangerous thing about him was a medium-bad case of b.o., but when you run face-first into a man's armpit, it had to be expected. (21-22)
Apart from the less than romanticised method of describing the hero's odour (I've noticed rather a lot of romances which describe their heroes as smelling of X, Y and something uniquely his, but leave unspecified the nature of that uniquely heroic smell), Alayna and The Freezer also have an unusual way of establishing the ground rules for their relationship:
"Okay then," she said, peering over his shoulder as the words appeared on the page. "Clause one: We both get to be ourselves and no one complains about it."
The Freezer wrote it down, then added one of his own.
"Clause two: We both stay out of the other's personal business. No comments, no questions. No exceptions."
Alayna nodded. Keeping folks out of her business was her second career.
"Fair enough," she agreed. "Clause three: Give me as much responsibility as I can handle."
Ice Man gave her another long, measuring look.
"I mean," Alayna murmured, feeling her ambition hanging out like the edge of a frilly slip, "as much as is appropriate."
There was no way to decipher his expression on that one; it was as flat and blank as the frozen tundra. But he wrote it down.
"Clause four: We call each other by out names. No nicknames."
Alayna blinked her surprise. Ice Man cared about what he was called behind his back? The Freezer had feelings? [...]
Alayna racked her brain.
"Clause five: We tell each other the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
Now it was his turn to blink.
"The truth about what?" he asked, sounding suddenly as guilty and nervous as a man with bodies buried in his basement.
"Our expectations of each other, what we think of the work, how we're measuring up," Alayna clarified. (31-32)
It's a conversation which reveals both Alayna's prejudice and her ambitions, and foreshadows the way in which she will gradually come to recognise them. It also shows the reader that these are characters for whom the legal profession isn't just a job; they apply negotiation skills, analysis and a competitive, adversarial approach to what will become "a personal matter." At the end of the novel they're still negotiating their relationship, with Alayna insisting that it too should be based on (most of) "the clauses from our working agreement" (377).

The second novel is Roslyn Hardy Holcomb's Rock Star. [You can read an excerpt here, a free mini-sequel (featuring a pair of minor characters) here and reviews here, here, here and here.]

Here the novel begins by showing us the common interests the characters share before confronting them and the reader with all the factors that generate a conflict that may separate them. As with A Personal Matter's reference to horror movies, there's a small metafictional element to the novel. Here's the description of how Callie meets Bryan:
Callie rubbed again at the ropes that held her arms tied firmly behind her back. Her partner Tonya's enthusiasm for this type of thing was wearing a bit thin.
"Come on, Tonya," she urged looking over her shoulder. "Haven't you figured out how you want to tie this thing yet?" Tonya's only response was an exasperated grunt. "Look, we've got a bookstore to run here. Maybe you can do your research another time."
"Just a second, Callie, I think I've got it." Tonya paused, a frown clouding her pretty face. "Maybe if I tie your feet too it would be more in keeping with the character." [...]
Bryan surveyed the scene before him. Two black women of similarly slender size and above-average height seemed to be engaged in some type of bondage game. [...]
Her hands finally freed, Callie walked around the counter to greet the customer. She extended one newly liberated hand. "Hi, I'm Callie Lawson, and this is my partner Tonya Stevens." When the man smiled knowingly, Callie felt the heat intensify in her face. "No, not that kind of partner. She's my business partner ... and a part-time mystery novelist." He nodded sagely. "Sometimes she has to work out the plots literally." (1-2)
I thought that there was an inside joke there for romance readers and authors who know how often romance authors are asked about how they do their research. I was reminded of Jenny Crusie's sarcastic comment that "I get to meet those fascinating people who say, “Romance novels? Do you research your sex scenes? Heh, heh, heh.” (Absolutely. I just keep one hand free at all times to make notes. No, I am not interested in your help.)" (223).

What not infrequently comes across in the dialogue in this novel is the contrast between Bryan's worldly experience in some areas, and his unexpected and almost childlike naivety about others. He genuinely doesn't seem to understand the obstacles and differences that his status as a pop star create between him and Callie:
"Bryan, I thought we'd agreed, no more extravagant gifts," she persisted.
"Extravagant? Look, it was either the bear or a pink Jaguar."
"A pink Jaguar?" Callie gasped. Had the boy totally lost his mind? [...] "And who buys a pink Jaguar? [...] For that matter, where on earth do you buy a pink Jaguar?"
"This is L. A., baby," Bryan replied breezily. "For enough money, you can get whatever you want. But anyway, Jon said you struck him as more of a Volvo kind of girl. I could see his point. [...]"
"Bryan, don't you dare buy me a pink Volvo!" Callie shrieked into the telephone.
"Why not?" Bryan asked, puzzled. "Tonya said pink was your favorite color. But that's okay. I'm sure they wouldn't mind if I ordered another color. What would you like? Or would you prefer the Jaguar after all?" he asked hopefully.
"Bryan!" Callie shouted. "I don't want you to buy me a car at all. Actually, I don't want you to buy me anything else, period, okay?" When Bryan didn't respond, Callie asked, "Why do you keep buying me stuff anyway? Aren't you supposed to be rehearsing? You must spend all your time shopping."
"I don't know, it just seems like when I'm buying presents for you, we're closer or something. I got so excited when I found the bracelet because I could just imagine the look on your face when you opened the box. [...] It's been lots of fun. I think in a way it helps me deal with being away from you."
Callie smiled. She knew she would keep the bracelet now. How could she resist when there was such sweet sentiment behind the purchase? He was like a young boy with a crush, making daisy chains for the little girl down the street. Probably the world's most outrageously expensive daisy chains, but daisy chains nonetheless. It was absolutely delightful, and a far cry from what she'd originally thought. (130-32)
The third and final novel I wanted to mention is Kristan Higgins's Catch of the Day [Excerpt here and reviews here, here and here. The novel is a one of the finalists for the 2008 RITA in the Best Contemporary Single Title Romance category (and there are some comments on that from Diana Holquist)].

In this novel the characters are very different from each other, and they remain so. Unfortunately, I can't pinpoint any quotes which would illustrate why these characters and their love for each other felt so real to me, because the words which create this impression are ones which, taken out of context, might have little or no impact at all. This is not a novel in which you can find an equivalent of Captain Wentworth's heartfelt declaration of love
I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. (Jane Austen's Persuasion, Chapter 23)
You won't even find something like this:
"I cannot make speeches, Emma," he soon resumed; and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing. "If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. [...]" (Jane Austen's Emma, Chapter 49)
In fact, despite all I've said about the importance of dialogue, there isn't a great deal of what one would normally think of as dialogue between the hero and heroine. Higgins gives us a hero only marginally more eloquent than Farmer Hoggett in the story of Babe the Sheep-pig. In the final scene of the film Farmer Hoggett stakes his entire reputation on Babe the pig's ability to herd sheep. At the sheep-trial all the spectators think that Hoggett's crazy to bring a pig to a sheepdog trial but Babe proves them wrong and the narrator concludes:
Narrator: And though every single human in the stands or in the commentary boxes was at a complete loss for words, the man who in his life had uttered fewer words than any of them knew exactly what to say.
Farmer Hoggett: That'll do, pig. That'll do.
Farmer Hoggett and Higgins' Malone have a lot more in common than the fact they both wear waterproof boots to work and are employed as "primary food producers". Malone too can stand firm against public opinion, and he declares his love for Maggie with only a few more words than Hoggett used to praise Babe: "Seems like I have a thing for you, Maggie" (376).

The contrast between Maggie and Malone is heightened by the fact that this is a novel told in the first person, by Maggie. Maybe one can think of this as a form of dialogue between the character and the reader. Maggie speaks to us directly, words pour from her, she reveals her emotions both to us, the readers, and to her entire community, while the morose, usually monosyllabic Malone reveals extremely little about himself. And yet, I believed that their relationship would work. Perhaps it's that in a reversal of Maggie's words on the very first page of the novel, to the effect that "even when someone is clearly wrong for you, he might seem ... well, perfect" (9), Malone is perfect for Maggie, even though he seems to be clearly wrong for her. Malone's lack of words is compensated for by Maggie's excess of them, and her growing ability to interpret (both for herself and the reader) his actions:
"Why did you kiss me the other night?" There. Said it. And if my cheeks are now flaming, so what? At least he has to answer.
"The usual reasons," he says, but the lines around his eyes are deeper. He takes a sip of beer, still looking at me.
"The usual reasons. Well, that's funny. Because most times you can tell if someone, you know, likes you. Or is attracted to you. And I never really picked up on that before. With you, I mean."
He doesn't answer. A clock on the wall announces the inevitable passage of time ... tick ... tick ... tick. Finally, I'm about ready to jump out of my skin. "Can I look around?" I ask.
[...] "You hungry?" Malone asks.
"No. I had a late lunch. Are you? Am I interrupting dinner? I should probably go." My heart is thudding away, my eyes feel hot and tight.
"Don't go."
Malone takes my hand. His is warm and smooth and thickly callused. He rubs his thumb gently across the back of my hand and doesn't say anything more. [...] Then Malone frowns a little and lifts my hand for a closer look. He makes a little tsking sound, and my jaw tightens.
"Yes, well, my hands are in the water all day long, and then with being near the grill and all - "
"Come here," he says, pulling me back into the kitchen. He lets go of my chapped, disgusting claw, opens a cupboard and rummages around. I lean against the counter, miffed. So what? So I have chapped hands. Big deal. A little eczema and everyone gets distraught. Malone takes out a small tin and opens it. Then he scoops out a little bit and rubs it between his palms. I guess my nasty skin has reminded him of the importance of moisturizing.
"I've tried everything," I say, looking over his shoulder. "Beeswax, lanolin, Vaseline, Burt's Bees, Bag Balm ... nothing works. I have ugly hands. My cross to bear. Big deal."
"You don't have ugly hands," he chides. It may be the longest sentence I've heard him say yet. He takes my hand in his and starts working in the cream. (135-37)
Maggie's words reveal her insecurity and how she masks it with a perky optimism. In the course of the novel it becomes apparent that she's had almost as many bad dates as she's tried hand creams, and deep down, she worries that she isn't attractive enough, and that remaining single will be her "cross to bear." Malone mostly shows and eventually tells her otherwise.

After all this about dialogue, it seems appropriate to mention that this year's Scarlet Boa Contest is all about dialogue:
This year's Scarlet Boa Contest gives you an opportunity to strut your characters' verbal stuff. Put that action into words and let us hear a gem from your story.
More details here.

So, what sort of details make characters come alive for you? Can you think of any examples? And does well-written dialogue play an important part in making you feel that that the characters are "real"?

  • Crusie, Jennifer. "Why I Occasionally Think About Not Writing Romance Any More." North American Romance Writers. Ed. Kay Mussell and Johanna Tuñón. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow, 1999. 223-225.
  • Hardy Holcomb, Roslyn. Rock Star. Columbus, MS: Genesis, 2006.
  • Higgins, Kristan. Catch of the Day. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin, 2007.
  • Langhorne, Karyn. A Personal Matter. New York: HarperTorch, 2004.
  • Lovelace, Merline. The Harder They Fall. 2000. Richmond, Surrey: Silhouette, 2001.


  1. Ooh, that Karyn Langhorne book sounds good. [troops off to obtain it]

  2. I did read CATCH OF THE DAY and although I loved Malone, Maggie drove me to drink. It just went once too far with the Priest for me. But up until that point I loved it.

  3. I hope you enjoy it, Victoria. I put in a link to a very long excerpt from the novel, which should be enough to give you a good idea of whether or not you'd like it.

    Eva, although Maggie drove you to drink, did you find her realistic, or was the "once too far" the point where you felt she was both irritating and irritating to an unrealistic extent?

    As I said, all the characters in these novels have their flaws, and I can imagine that all of them might annoy some readers. But I didn't think the flaws led to unrealistic behaviour at any point. I can see how Maggie's theatricality might seem a bit over-the-top to some people, though.

  4. I thought she was very realistic, and as I watched her fall headlong into another mistake after mistake I wanted to save her. I kept thinking, "Someone make her stop!" :-) I think if I had written Maggie I would have pulled back -she crossed the line into irritating for me. But what I enjoyed was how Malone loved her anyway. We all have our foibles, and it was authentic in that respect. I'm sure there are readers that loved the lengths she went to with the priest.

    I guess I would have to say yes, even though my reaction to Maggie wasn't as positive, I was emotionally invested in her character. She was definitely memorable!

  5. Dialogue can definitely make the characters' *relationship* real to me. Seeing two people's verbal chemistry makes me believe in their potential together.

    As for what makes the characters themselves real, it varies, but for me sometimes it's a distinctive voice. If I know who's speaking without the dialogue tags, or who made the gesture, then that character feels more cohesive or whole.

    On the other hand I've read characters with such obvious identifiers that they become caricature. (E.g. if a cowboy is most recognizable when he says "Shucks, ma'am".) Can't win, eh?

  6. Damnit, I began reading A Personal Matter, got utterly hooked, reached the end of the excerpt and clicked the 'Buy Now' button... only to discover it isn't available in ebook format. Gah! What am I going to do?!

    I want to read it NOW!

  7. Laura, you're a bad woman. Now I have to go and buy more books ...

    What makes characters come alive for me? Dialogue, yes. Imperfections, yes. In addition, I want to see realistic actions and reactions, e.g., neither in the novel nor in the film, Bridget Jones has never felt real to me - not only is she over-the-top klutzy, but at times she is even downright stupid, imo. By contrast, I find most of the Discworld characters much more realistic because they are all so very down to earth (I mean, even Death is fond of cats!).

    Furthermore, a lot depends on the voice of the author, on whether I'm willing to listen to her story or not.


    Damnit, I began reading A Personal Matter, got utterly hooked, reached the end of the excerpt and clicked the 'Buy Now' button... only to discover it isn't available in ebook format. Gah! What am I going to do?!

    Gah, indeed. I've almost completely switched to ebooks as far as reading for pleasure is concerned. Not being able to buy something as a ebook is a major inconvenience.

  8. On the other hand I've read characters with such obvious identifiers

    There can be a very fine line between being too obvious and not obvious enough. In fact, it seems like the whole issue of how to create realistic characters can have authors dancing around fine lines a bit like someone performing the Highland sword dance, and different readers, who are looking at the book from different perspectives, may have different opinions about how well the author danced and how often she bumped into one of those swords.

    Seeing two people's verbal chemistry makes me believe in their potential together.

    I'm glad you mentioned that, because "verbal chemistry" is more convincing to me than long descriptions of "lust thought." With the latter there's no way I can experience those hormones via the pages of the book, but a reader can judge verbal chemistry for themselves.

    Damnit, I began reading A Personal Matter, got utterly hooked, reached the end of the excerpt [...] I want to read it NOW!

    Laura, you're a bad woman. Now I have to go and buy more books ...

    I'm really pleased you've been enjoying the excerpts. I can't write reviews and give grades/recommendations, because I'm always too aware of how subjective personal tastes are, but I have no compunction at all about linking to excerpts. {evil cackling laugh} And if you happen to read the excerpt and end up with a craving for the book and/or a larger to-be-read pile, I can hardly be held responsible.... {/evil cackling laugh}

  9. Take a look at Mary Jo Putney's new post about series on the Word Wenches blog; I think that characters' relationships with other characters--not just the h/h relationship--is important for establishing who they are. Friends, relatives, enemies, servants--they all bring out different facets. I remember once seeing Janet Dailey on DONAHUE, along with a professor of popular culture. When someone commented that her category romances had rather two-dimensional characters, she replied that it wasn't possible to develop characters at that length of book. My immediate reaction was "I've read Harlequins in which the heroine's cat had more depth and character than the hero and heroine of the one book of yours I've read put together!"

    Also, as for the hero's unique scent, I prefer mine to be drenched in Eau de Taupe.

    zguzfvo -- Inuit word meaning "Your kiss means nothing to me. I have a cold."

  10. Great post! I like the areas you're exploring here, and I really like some of the books you've highlighted with them!

    As for what makes characters feel real to me, well, I agree with you that dialogue can be very important. If it's naturalistic and engaging enough, it can carry me through even a middling book happily. The thing that's primary for me in Romance, however, is characterization which doesn't try to cast the h/h as examples of the Platonic forms of Masculine and Feminine. The more a writer shapes them to fit within the current Western molds of these stereotypes, the less they feel like people to me. Real people are never perfectly anything; it makes characters who are too synthetic to love, all hard plastic.

  11. I finished it (A Personal Matter) last night and immediately bought Unfinished Business, which I look forward to reading.

    What I really liked about A Personal Matter was how Langhorne totally embraced the 'unappealing' aspects of her H&H. For example, Alayna's massive attitude and Ice's bad temper remain an integral part of their characters - and part of the reason they like each other.

    Plus, as you mentioned, I've never read a romance (I think) in which so much is made of the H/H physical imperfections. Sure, they're gorgeous (duh), but sweat, BO, bags, unflattering clothes etc are emphasized as often than not - it's quite remarkable, and definitely made the characters more real for me.

    A question: any idea what Langhorne is up to now? Her last book was published in summer 2007 and her website is not up to date.

  12. I think that characters' relationships with other characters--not just the h/h relationship--is important for establishing who they are

    Yes, seeing the main characters interact with people can be very revealing, but again, I think one often understands those relationships best through dialogue. I'm reminded all of a sudden of Heyer's Frederica and the conversations that Alverstoke has with the children. He doesn't patronise them, and he does listen to them, and that's important because he's a person who is, and remains, flawed. He really isn't interested in most people, and he can be very rude and/or dismissive to people who bore him, but he's willing to put himself out for those few that he does care about.

    Conversely, dialogue between an adult and a romance-land child of the sort that, judging by the conversation must be a child genius, but isn't intended to be read that way, can make a novel feel anything but realistic.

    Real people are never perfectly anything; it makes characters who are too synthetic to love, all hard plastic.

    Sort of Barbie and Ken? I see what you mean.

    I have a hard time relating to "examples of the Platonic forms of Masculine and Feminine" but I suspect that says as much, or more, about me than it does about the books. I mean, there undoubtedly are some people who must be more like those "Platonic forms" (though I doubt anyone is ever completely like that, just because no-one's perfect), and perhaps they identify with those characters.

    I'd distinguish between characters who feel "real" and ones that I can "identify" with. Obviously the two things do affect each other, because if I can identify with a character I'm more likely to feel they're real, but I'm fairly sure I've come across characters that felt real but whom I couldn't identify with.

    I finished it (A Personal Matter) last night and immediately bought Unfinished Business, which I look forward to reading.

    Unfinished Business was a more difficult read for me. In part this was because I rather stupidly started reading it well after midnight, and then I had to skip over a lot because otherwise it would have been daylight before I'd have finished it. Like I said, it was a stupid time to start reading a book. But there was also the fact that the hero and heroine have very different political views and I couldn't really accept that they'd be able to make their relationship work. Like the difference between "identifying with" and "feeling real," intellectually I could believe the relationship might work out, but deep down, because I couldn't imagine myself in a relationship with someone with very different political views from mine, I couldn't really relate to them. I had a much easier time believing in the ending of Steve Almond's "How to Love a Republican".

    Alayna's massive attitude and Ice's bad temper remain an integral part of their characters - and part of the reason they like each other.

    And it was one of the reasons I liked them too. I wouldn't have wanted them to change. They were so much fun to read about when they were being sarcastic together.

    A question: any idea what Langhorne is up to now? Her last book was published in summer 2007 and her website is not up to date.

    I don't know. It looks as though her blog hasn't been updated for well over a year. As you say, her website hasn't been updated recently: for some reason the books page doesn't include Unfinished Business. She's obviously still around and still writing something, though, because in June the Washington Post published an article she'd written about Mildred Loving and interracial relationships.

  13. And now I see that Meriam's been inspired to write her own post, mainly about Alayna and Ice/Freezer Man. I think she's right that this is a novel which "breaks the rules"

    Not in extreme ways - the eight narrative elements being present and correct - but just enough that it got me wondering what the unofficial rules of the genre novel are, and how much importance we place on them.

    In my post, I linked to Diana Holquist's observations on how Kirstan Higgins's novel is rule-breaking.

    I find it thought-provoking that these novels which I found "realistic" in terms of their characterisation are considered to be breaking "the unofficial rules of the genre novel." This seems to tie in with Barbara Caridad Ferrer's recent observations about not being able to find many realistic romances:

    I am having an impossible time finding this type of story in the romance aisles. This particular flavor of romance seems to have all but disappeared from the shelves in order make room for yet another Scottish laird or pirate and the fiery lasses who captivate them. Or the super-alpha being, or shifter, or vampire or whatever the paranormal flavor du jour is. A few stories of this type that are unique and well-executed is one thing—it’s fantastic for romance as a whole to have such a variety. But the problem is, there isn’t a variety. [...]

    I’m not saying there aren’t contemporary romances out there, of course there are, but right now, it seems that even those tend to be dominated by larger-than-life characters (I mean, really, how many strong, incredibly well-built but emotionally stunted/damaged billionaire ranchers do you know?). Or with respect to heroines, characters that are so utterly hopeless, they’re caricatures and you can’t possibly take them seriously (think the Bridget Jones archetype character on steroids) or the converse: heroines who are so capable, so strong, so “I chew shoe leather and nails for breakfast and like it, therefore, I don’t need a man,” that you wonder what they’re doing as a romance heroine anyway.

    I wonder how much this is a question of temporary market trends, and how much the general lack of "realistic" characters has to do with most readers' ideas about what's romantic. And what does it imply about real-life relationships if what's considered romantic is, generally, unachievable?

    I'm not saying that people who have this view of what's romantic won't be happy in their relationships, but perhaps they won't consider them as "romantic" as someone who sees the romance in more prosaic, realistic details?

  14. Yes, A Personal Matter and The Slightest Provocation are two of the most interesting books I've read in a while (I'd throw Vampire Lover in there as well, actually).

    What I think separates them is a feeling I got that the authors were at times deliberately (sometimes a little cheekily) subverting certain conventions (this might be a better word than 'rules') of the genre.

    I think the 'deliberate' is an important distinction.

    Also, sometimes an author will take a risk with their characters (a la Linda Howard and her latest tale) and then ruin the whole thing by 'redeeming' them so thoroughly, so that as a reader, I'm left feeling cheated. Not so Langhorne and Rosenthal (and I think by questioning the place of monogamy and marriage as the ultimate end of a story, Rosenthal is pushing the boundaries of the genre in a very intriguing way).

    Linda, I think pretty much the reason I don't read contemporaries is because I find them even less relatable than the stories set in 19th century England. When I finished A Personal Matter, I immediately wanted to read another contemp. before I remembered - oh yeah, most of them aren't like this.

  15. One of the reasons I like Jayne Ann Krentz's books is that her protagonists are strong survivors of REASONABLE tragedies--most often the loss of one or both parents when young or (for heroes) being abandoned by a mother and raised by an abusive/alcoholic father, or sometimes a demanding or emotionally rejecting parent or grandparent. Their success is also not over the top: usually a successful entrepreneur or consultant.

    WV: tqwuvph -- Inuit word meaning "Whaddaya mean, you're a were-walrus???"

  16. I liked your post.

    Well done - very professional and well illustrated with examples.

    I've always thought dialogue as extremely important in any novel, be it romance or thriller. Long passages of narrative can become boring.

    Dialogue brings characters and situations to life - after all isn't that what we enjoy doing with our friends - talking.

    Good post.