Selah March

April 3, 2007

Channeling Mel

Filed under: Asshats on parade,blah blah blah — Selah March @ 8:20 am

It isn’t much that would make me channel Mr. Mel “Notorious Anti-Semitic, Sexist and Homophobe” Gibson. But one of my crit partners is having fits over a particular plot point in her soon-to-be-released novella. It seems some folks — additional beta readers, and this is what she gets for showing her work to OTHER people instead of relying SOLELY on my ever-so-sage and insightful advice (that’s a joke, by the way…you can tell by the heavy use of sarcasm) —

ANYWAY, it seems that some folks are having difficulty with her hero’s behavior. He sleeps with another woman during the course of the story, you see. A woman who is NOT the heroine. The shame…the scandal…the INFAMY…

Of course, he’s only just MET the heroine. Doesn’t yet know she’s meant to be the love of his life. We’re not talking love at first sight here, by any stretch of the imagination. I dunno, maybe it’s me, but it does seem a tad unreasonable to suggest a man refrain from sex with his long-time mistress on the grounds that he’s met some random woman he finds vaguely attractive, if slightly annoying.

And as far as I’m concerned, the only thing a romance HAS to have is the happily-ever-after, just like the only thing a mystery HAS to have is the “whodunnit” and the solution at the end, the only thing science fiction HAS to have is fictional science, and the only thing fantasy HAS to have is some non-reality-based element that can be described as “fantastical.” Genre conventions are important, but not to the point where it limits our creativity. Where’s the unpredictablity? Where’s the opportunity for the reader to say, “Wow! I didn’t see THAT coming! I wonder how the author’s going to save this relationship/character/plotline?”

I’ve heard people say, “But this is a HUGE no-no, and the editors won’t buy it.”

Really? Back in the days of the bodice-rippers — say, fifteen to thirty years ago — heroes slept with women who weren’t the heroine all the time. These things are cyclical. To mix my metaphors in a shocking manner, the pendulum will swing again to more freedom in characterization and plot. Even the RWA — one of the more conservative voices in the current romance landscape — is only calling for a story about a romantic relationship with a “satisfying” ending.

And with Avon, a romance publisher with yet another decidedly conservative outlook, having recently released CLAIMING THE COURTESAN (Anna Campbell) which includes a scene that’s been described everywhere as out-and-out rape of the heroine by the hero, I’m thinking that these rules we’ve written for ourselves as readers and writers are more flexible than we think. If people are buying CLAIMING THE COURTESAN — and they are, and mostly having a “love it” or “hate it” reaction — then certainly readers will buy the idea of a man having sex with his longtime mistress after having only just met the heroine. (Note: this is not an endorsement of returning to the bad old days of “rape in romance,” wherein the only way a nice girl could enjoy a good poke was if the hero took her by force. It’s merely an example of how things shift with the times within the genre.)

Please, I beg you. Be not afraid to take risks. What do we constantly hear editors asking for? Something new. Something different. Something challenging. Something they haven’t seen before.

And here’s where I channel ol’ Mel, in what is perhaps his most iconic role, as William Wallace in BRAVEHEART….


(blue face-paint optional, other offers do not apply, your mileage may vary) – Romance of Dubious Virtue


  1. He sleeps with his longtime mistress after he’s only MET the heroine. Who annoys him. And this is wrong, WHY?!?

    Oh… oh dear. Oh dear God NO. Honey, you’ve got me frothing at the mouth and you know how I hate that when there are no pretty men involved.

    *sigh* You know, under those sorts of mindsets, I’d have to believe I’m screwed where my adult fiction is involved and the simple fact of the matter is, I don’t happen to think so. I think people WANT smart, real stories, where the hero and *gasp* even the heroine aren’t infallible and make very human choices.

    And I like the emotionally satisfying ending. It doesn’t even have to be happy– just emotionally satisfying.

    Now I’m going to be cranky the rest of the day.


    Comment by Barb — April 3, 2007 @ 9:30 am | Reply

  2. I know. As I said in Eva’s blog, her heroine must be working some seriously magical hoohoo to get a guy she’s met once, casually, to become perfectly monogamous.

    I’d say I want me one of those, but consider the ramifications. What if some random guy followed me home from the mall because of a brief conversation regarding the location of the restrooms? What if he dumped his girlfriend because I TOLD HIM TO TURN RIGHT AT THE ARBY’s??

    I couldn’t live with the guilt.

    Comment by Selah March — April 3, 2007 @ 9:38 am | Reply

  3. If I take it out, I think the story will fall flat, and if I get called on it, than so be it. C’est la vie.

    There is a point to letting too many people see. You get whipsawed and lose your story.

    Comment by Eva Gale — April 3, 2007 @ 10:06 am | Reply

  4. And look, we’ve made Barb cranky. That’s never good.

    Eva, try to keep in mind that MY novella is going to be part of the same anthology. Compared to mine? Yours will look like the model of a modern Major General. Or something.

    Comment by Selah March — April 3, 2007 @ 10:13 am | Reply

  5. I wouldn’t see a problem with this at all, but I’m not a clinger-to-conventions. I stomp on conventions and set them on fire and then pee on them to put out the flames. Or something.

    This sounds intriguing.

    And I agree that an author can easily edit out her unique voice if she lets too many people mess with a manuscript. But then, I’m not of the polish-polish-polish school of thought. I don’t agonize over the placement of commas and what-not.

    I work in broader brushstrokes. To my mind, an editor either likes my idea and the way I executed it, or she doesn’t. If there are minor fixes I can buff that up with the professional editor assigned to my book. If they don’t like it, then all my angst and tinkering isn’t going to change that. It’s not a few words’ placement that’s off; it’s the whole thing. Time to move on.

    Comment by Ann(ie) — April 3, 2007 @ 8:52 pm | Reply

  6. What a very healthy outlook, Annie. You make a good point about the buffing — I’m an inveterate polisher. I rarely even let my crit partners read something I haven’t stroked and massaged and rewritten three times. I could do with a bit of your attitude. 🙂

    Comment by Selah March — April 4, 2007 @ 8:05 am | Reply

  7. Heh. Listening to the soundtrack of the HMS Pinafore? That is the one song I still know from the play.

    I can, and I’m sure Barb can too, attest that Selah has MAYBE one nit in her chapters when I get them. Me? She gets mine looking like they were written in crayon. The patience of a saint, I tell ya. I try, but my eyes run over that stuff, especially if I’ve read it in sucession two times.

    Barb, my daughter wants to know when Adios will be a movie. 🙂 She thinks it will be better than The Sisterhood. Just say’n.

    Eva-who cannot sign in today for some reason

    Comment by Eva Gale — April 4, 2007 @ 10:32 am | Reply

  8. Sigh. Pointless to even debate it. If it sells, more power to you.

    Comment by FerfeLaBat — April 4, 2007 @ 1:08 pm | Reply

  9. Uhhh…Ferfe? You read the part where I said the beta reading stuff was a joke, yes? Sarcasm? Like I really believe my opinion on this shit is the be-all or end-all? I’m going to assume you missed that part.

    And yes, the hero in this case had a LONG way to travel for redemption. But I think Eva paints the mistress as grasping, insincere and gold-digging, so in my mind — IN MY MIND, see that part? — it’s tit for tat as far as Caden’s concerned.

    And, in my not-very-limited experience, a great many men delineate between “sluts” and “nice girls” in their wee little heads. Back then, I’m sure that thinking was rampant. Shall we write historically inaccurate men simply because we like them better that way? Some do. I don’t care for it. But that would be MY OPINION. Over here on MY BLOG.

    Rules are rules? It used to a rule that heroines had to be a) virgins or b) non-orgasmic before meeting the hero. I’m so glad we’re breaking that rule, because it reflects no sense of reality.

    In the real world, men treat women like shit as often as they don’t. And then some learn better. Sometimes by meeting a woman with whom they fall in love. I’m pretty sure that’s a major trope of the romance genre.

    You know, you weren’t the only one who had a problem with Eva’s hero. I don’t understand why you’re taking this so personally when I didn’t aim at you personally in any way.

    And I don’t flame. Not for any reason, ever. I quit pulling hair shortly after I conquered using the potty like a big girl. You’re welcome to return and discuss this at any time. 🙂

    Comment by Selah March — April 4, 2007 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

  10. Oh, no fair to delete your comment before I can finish debating you. Chicken. :p

    Comment by Selah March — April 4, 2007 @ 1:16 pm | Reply

  11. Ferfe- I had put up a poll on RD that was the cause of most of this. It was fun, and the discussion got a good measure of responses. It wasn’t about the cage.

    Go eat some skittles and have a diet coke. And I wanted to see your post dammit!

    Comment by Eva Gale — April 4, 2007 @ 1:26 pm | Reply

  12. Diet Coke machine is broken and there are no fucking Skittles in the snack machine because Monday was the rehab group meetings and the addicts cleaned it out.

    I am not fit for human discourse today.

    Comment by FerfeLaBat — April 4, 2007 @ 1:31 pm | Reply

  13. Eva, I just sent you Ferfe’s rant. It’s a thing of beauty, truly. Don’t agree with a syllable of it, but you gotta love the conviction behind it. 😉

    Ferfe, you’re welcome here anytime. I need a little dissent in my life to keep me honest.

    Comment by Selah March — April 4, 2007 @ 1:36 pm | Reply

  14. And God, I haven’t been in the cage in weeks. That place intimidates the hell outta me.

    Comment by Selah March — April 4, 2007 @ 1:37 pm | Reply

  15. Plus – I have GOT to get this project done and if I restore those posts I will be distracted all day.

    I’m totally right though. 😉

    Oh Fine – here it is … again


    It isn’t JUST that he sleeps with the mistress. He is fantasizing about the heroine while he bangs said mistress and then he dumps the mistress before the sperm has even dried on her legs — in the meanest “You are just some slut I deigned to fuck once in awhile so — fuck off — slut” way, boding ill for the heroine if I must say so, because who the hell would want to date a man who acts like that?

    Besides. It’s a rule. And rules are rules. Hero cannot fuck anyone but the heroine after they’ve met unless you are Rosemary Rogers and even Rosemary’s Heros have SOME good points, this guy has NONE.

    I am SO never beta reading anything ever again, I swear. Between the $4000 hand jobs and the heros from hell I have no concept of romance reality anymore. Either it’s romance or it’s something else.

    Next time, if there is a next time, which there will not be, I will just lie and say that editors LOVE that kind of thing. Love it. Can’t publish it fast enough.

    There. Flame the shit out of me.

    I just want to know. Have women really reached the point where they want assholes in their fiction as well as their real life? Is that what you guys are saying? Because we used to read romances to meet men who were at least one step up from scum-rapist-drive-thru-Blockbuster-date-users.

    If you think that kind of hero will sell then more power to you. It could be why less women are reading romance. Just a thought.


    I can’t stay. Will return later tonight. Have fun without me.

    Comment by FerfeLaBat — April 4, 2007 @ 1:38 pm | Reply

  16. “Diet Coke machine is broken and there are no fucking Skittles in the snack machine because Monday was the rehab group meetings and the addicts cleaned it out.

    I am not fit for human discourse today.”

    oh, man…is that in a book yet…the Monday rehabs ??? I can see it in my mind. Was there some reference in RG or have you noted their bad habits before–i thought that was only in miami herald building? hey…did you just re-use material. No skittles for a week if you did.

    Eva…send me the RD link to the poll offline as long as it isn’t in one of the special locked room’s that a mod has to specifically grant access to. I’ll have to pop in and see some of the responses.

    how about the “no-no” of the heroine not deserving her own HEA if she’s slept with a married man before meeting the hero? i’ve had several rejections on a story where i wouldn’t change that part of the plot.

    Comment by visualsnark — April 4, 2007 @ 1:38 pm | Reply

  17. oh, man…is that in a book yet…the Monday rehabs ??? I can see it in my mind. Was there some reference in RG or have you noted their bad habits before–i thought that was only in miami herald building? hey…did you just re-use material. No skittles for a week if you did.

    Not in any book I have ever or will ever write. It is a glimpse into my own personal hell.

    Comment by FerfeLaBat — April 4, 2007 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  18. how about the “no-no” of the heroine not deserving her own HEA if she’s slept with a married man before meeting the hero?

    Yikes. I guess I can expect my 13-year marriage to implode at any moment, because I surely don’t deserve an HEA if THAT’s the standard.

    Yeah, once upon a time, I was NOT a nice girl. And then I grew as a human being, like human beings do. Which is what I like to see reflected in my fiction, even in something as relatively fantasy-like as romance.

    Comment by Selah March — April 4, 2007 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

  19. how about the “no-no” of the heroine not deserving her own HEA if she’s slept with a married man before meeting the hero?

    That’s a religious thing – not a Romance thing. Totally different. All bad behavior before meeting your one and only is cool – except child porn.

    Comment by FerfeLaBat — April 4, 2007 @ 1:53 pm | Reply

  20. So-what’s the shelf life on the no cookies for the sexed up heroine? Is it ex post facto? Cause I may have not gotten married.

    Skittles should be in envy.exe.

    Comment by Eva Gale — April 4, 2007 @ 1:58 pm | Reply

  21. I still say that ultimate redemption of an asshole – or a guy with asshole tendencies – or a GIRL with asshole tendencies, for that matter – through TWUE WUV is a major theme in romance through the ages, right up to and including now. Linda Howard, anyone? My God, the dickwads she’s written.

    And for me, that includes screwing someone else, even after the hero has met She of the Magic Hoohoo. ESPECIALLY if they aren’t even DATING yet. Criminy.

    Comment by Selah March — April 4, 2007 @ 2:06 pm | Reply

  22. Btw I have no objection to requested revisions. If an editor says, “I like this, but I want the sexual tension amped up and a car chase between pages 56-65,” then by God I’ll do as I’m asked. The goal is to sell it, after all.

    But otherwise, I don’t spend a lot of time tinkering with the same piece. I just keep writing because you never know what will be “the book.”

    Comment by Ann(ie) — April 5, 2007 @ 12:36 am | Reply

  23. Yeah, I’m pretty good at taking direction from editors, too. I’m even okay at being handed a theme and guidelines, like…

    10K to 40K words, male/female erotic romance, contemporary, theme: “taboo love”….and….GO!

    Sometimes I think I’d be good as a work-for-hire writer. One of those who does TV show or movie tie-in books, or writes for a packager within a specific line. But then the thought of never being able to take credit for the work starts poking my ego in the ass with a shiny silver…

    Ah…never mind. Need to get back to writing smut now. The imaginary people in my brain are trying to take over the conversation, and that’s never pretty.

    Comment by Selah March — April 5, 2007 @ 7:45 am | Reply

  24. Barb, my daughter wants to know when Adios will be a movie. 🙂 She thinks it will be better than The Sisterhood. Just say’n.

    Heh, Eva– tell her from her lips to some Very Rich Producer’s ears. Everyone who’s read that thing and talked to me about it, has mentioned that they think it would make a great movie. I mean, the music alone…

    As for the debate raging– I was going to post a response, but it got out of hand and rather messy, what with the foaming at the mouth, so I took my crank on over to my LJ. *g* What can I say? I had my own take on the Magic HooHoo

    Comment by Barb — April 5, 2007 @ 11:07 am | Reply

  25. Have women really reached the point where they want assholes in their fiction as well as their real life? Is that what you guys are saying? Because we used to read romances to meet men who were at least one step up from scum-rapist-drive-thru-Blockbuster-date-users.

    Reached the point? We were AT the point when the genre started, and we’ve never moved past it. Romance features more charismatic, borderline-psychotic assholes than Quentin Tarantino could ever hope to imagine. This was true in the 70s, it was true in the 80s, and it’s true now. Most romance novel heroes are assholes. Even the romances I love dearly–many of them are assholes, assholes, assholes. But the romance novel hero eventually reforms. Sometimes.

    Comment by Candy — April 5, 2007 @ 3:47 pm | Reply

  26. What is the point of including the sex scene with the mistress? After all, I just want to read the story for the couple, not the couple’s previous lays.

    Is there no other way to show the assholishness of the guy? Or does it just show how manly he is because we measure manliness by how many women he can screw?

    Anyway, Susan Johnson had her heroes screwing other women. There was also an opening scene in an Enoch book which featured the man getting head from a woman NOT THE HEROINE. So it’s not an unwritten rule, but I often wonder what the point of it is. Then I also wonder what the point of villian sex is – as if kinky sex shows just how very depraved the villian is. Ohh, look, the villian does it doggy style.NO WONDER he’s into killing and maiming.

    Comment by Jane — April 5, 2007 @ 8:18 pm | Reply

  27. Someone mentioned charismatic, borderline psychotic assholes?

    In the words of Squiggy…HELLO!

    You know, it’s interesting to me that there’s so much debate over whether the hero can be a jerk, especially since the heroine of my latest unfinished-but-shelved opus generated quite a bit of bad feeling from my crit partner, who will go unnamed, but whose name rhymes with Melah Starch.

    Anyhow, I’m pretty sure that Melah wanted to yank my heroine’s pretty head right off her neck and plant it on a stick, then wave it at night to keep the crows away from the corn until the heroine in question started to come around…because that’s the character arc. Redemption, reversal of negative traits, all of those things add up to the HEA. If they were perfect at the start of the story, there’s not much room for an arc. I’m just putting my two cents in…

    Comment by Donald Francis — April 5, 2007 @ 8:25 pm | Reply

  28. Donald – the difference would be that I didn’t go around saying, “You can’t write her like that! That’s just WRONG. Stop it. Stop it now, or it’ll never sell.”

    I hated her, but I was willing to see her through to the end.

    Um…when will that end come again? Just askin’.

    Jane – sure there were other ways for the author to show the asshole tendencies of the hero. She chose this one. It has to do with his backstory, what his “issues” are, and how his character arc works, which is pointless to go into here. Mostly because I’m not the author.

    Should we take this particular way of showing a part of the hero’s character off the map? Remove it as an option? Why? Because some people don’t like it. But some people don’t like non-virgin heroines. Some people HATE vampires. Are we going to start polling the worldwide readership before we write our stories?

    The consensus seems to be, if you write it well, they will come. Some will never come back again if you do something they don’t like. Them’s pretty much the breaks, and damned hard to avoid unless you write such middle-of-the-road pap that it’s likely an editor wouldn’t buy it anyway.

    You don’t like to read about heroes who sleep with others within the context of the story. More power to you. Read other books, and I’ll take up the slack, because they don’t bother me at all. 🙂

    Comment by Selah March — April 5, 2007 @ 8:34 pm | Reply

  29. Hey, or how about this for a novel concept? The author wrote it that way because she… wanted to and had a good reason and trusts that the reader is smart enough to figure it out without being smacked upside the head with a 2×4?

    Wow… the sheer novelty of that.

    BTW, hi Don! *waves*

    Comment by Barb — April 5, 2007 @ 9:27 pm | Reply

  30. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t write it, I am saying why do you care to ask the question? I.e., what is the point of the rant/article? Write what you want. No one is saying you can’t write what you want. It might not sell. It might sell.

    These “rules” are broken all the time and so long as the story is good, then most people won’t care. Or they will and you the author have to re-evaluate whether breaking the rule is more important than finding a different way to convey a message that a broader spectrum of the readership finds palatable.

    Comment by Jane — April 6, 2007 @ 10:01 am | Reply

  31. I wrote it that way because I wanted to show how cold he was. And by the reaction that the scene got-I achieved it. I just hope that I brought him back enough for a HEA.

    Comment by Eva Gale — April 6, 2007 @ 12:06 pm | Reply

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