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I was asked this question in an interview  in which I talk about Dedication–now on sale at AllRomanceEbooks (cheaper than amazon or kindle!) but the question of the day there is what rules you tolerate being broken in romance. Many thanks to Layna Pimentel for having me visit, and please go visit–we’re a bit quiet there at the moment.

You can also find out which Austen character I’d like to be and it’s such a fascinating topic I thought I should extend it here.

Lizzy Bennett. No. Not even if you snag the 1995 Colin Firth. A lifetime of jollying him along and trying to stop him telling Bingley and Jane what to do?–no thanks. Besides which, exactly how often do you expect him to parade around in a wet shirt?


Mary Crawford. Smart, manipulative, daring, but brother Henry has possibly screwed up her chances for the good marriage she needs to shine. Besides which, she’s the SISTER of the best looking guy in the movie, I mean the book.

Anne Wentworth nee Elliot. No, not even if you snag the 1995 Ciaran Hinds. Life aboard ship, even as the Captain’s lady, was nasty (ruinous to the complexion too), and how will Wentworth take to life ashore in peacetime? The last time he diverted himself by flirting and marrying. Uh oh.

Emma. Oh dear lord no. Rich and clueless and has to sleep with Mr. Knightley.

Dashwood sisters–see above re Hinds and Firth, and I always thought Alan Rickman looked particularly jowly in that role. Marianne, I’m sure, is destined for a short life of ill health following her nearly fatal strep throat, and Elinor is… well, you know what Elinor is, it makes me fall asleep just thinking about her.

Catherine Tilney nee Morland. Exactly how many children is she supposed to have? Awful father-in-law and brother-in-law? No. (But she is married to Henry…)

Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Now we’re talking. Clueless but it doesn’t matter because she’s rich and powerful. It’s all about the power, baby.

Now you see where this is going, don’t you? So tell me how violently you disagree, or visit Layna Pimentel to see if you agree with my choice there.

Amanda’s Monday post on heroes got me thinking about the appeal of the tortured hero. A dark hero can be a bit scary, and it’s been proven that fear triggers a lot of the same responses as sexual arousal. Edgy can be sexy. But how edgy is too edgy? Sometimes tortured hero stories are said to tap into the unhealthy hope some women have that they can change their abusive husbands. But I think that’s when the fantasy is taken too far.

A good tortured hero wants to be well, and gradually he allows the heroine to get close enough to help him. I think this is the real reason readers love tortured heroes. It’s exciting to identify with the heroines whose love has such power.

But what I really wanted to blog about today is tortured heroines.

Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order.

Margot from PETALS IN THE STORM, by Mary Jo Putney. Gang-raped by a group of men who just killed her father—how much more tortured can you get? Of course, the hero, Rafe, is tortured too (Mary Jo Putney never lets any of her characters off lightly!) but in the end it’s his love that heals Margot.

Frances from ILLUSION, by Jean Ross Ewing (now writing as Julia Ross). While in India, her father is killed and she is taken captive and trained to serve as a concubine. She is drawn into intrigue with spy hero Nigel (also quite tortured), and has to rediscover her identity and her place in England again.

Melanthe from FOR MY LADY’S HEART, by Laura Kinsale. She cloaks herself in evil, as a way of protecting herself and those she cares for. The beauty of this story is how Ruck (one of Amanda’s favorite heroes, I noticed) loves her even before he learns the truth about her.

Stories like these help us imagine ourselves being loved and healed as these heroines are loved and healed.

I know they worked for other readers as well, since all these books have gotten some great reviews, along with 4-5 star customer reviews in places like However, some readers hated these books and complained they were not as good as others (the more hero-centered ones) by the same authors. Some explicitly said things like the heroines should get over themselves. One even wondered why Margot was hesitant about sex with Rafe.

I can only guess at the reasons. Maybe these readers don’t have the life experiences to relate to a tortured heroine. (But there’s nothing that awful in my past, either.) Or maybe the notion of needing healing is frightening?

Any other favorite heroines, tortured or otherwise?


Reading Megan’s post on Breaking Rules last week and some of the comments it generated made me think about common tropes regarding romance heroines and their looks.

I’m not sure there’s a rule that heroines need to be beautiful, although it’s definitely a common trope. In my mind, it goes along with the billionaire or duke (depending on subgenre) hero—a fantasy that’s OK in moderate doses and not taken too seriously.

I do get put off by books that continually emphasize the heroine’s beauty, especially when in her own point of view. It grates on me when the heroine repeatedly tosses her red-gold hair and flashes her sapphire eyes. It’s clumsy writing and yet such books can be popular, maybe because some readers love that fantasy so much.

I want the knockout heroine to have some substance. It’s fun when she recognizes her assets and uses them (as in BEAUTY by Judith Ivory) or if she has to downplay them in order to be taken seriously (MISS WONDERFUL, by Loretta Chase). It is going too far if the heroine is completely unaware of her beauty (false modesty) or is too full of self pity because people don’t value her for anything else.

Then there’s the trope of the too-tall, too-thin, too-whatever heroine, or the one with a limp or a crooked nose or mismatched eyes, or just plain in some way. I think that appeals to many of us who lived through an awkward phase, or are insecure in some way about our looks. We may long for, and with luck find, someone who appreciates us as we are. (Hopefully, in time we learn to do that for ourselves.) There’s also the fantasy of being made over, which can be really fun.

This trope can fail if the heroine only thinks she is plain, i.e. she thinks she’s too thin or hates her red hair, but we know everyone else can see she’s gorgeous. Again, it’s false modesty, really a kind of narcissism. Other ways the trope fails is when it’s a gimmick to inspire sympathy, or the heroine dwells too much in self-pity.

Done right, the plain/odd heroine can be very cool, especially if the heroine and others learn to see her physical traits as part of a total package they appreciate. The classic example is JANE EYRE. Among modern historical romances, my favorite (perhaps one that spawned some bad imitations) is the tall heroine with mismatched eyes in Mary Jo Putney’s THE RAKE AND THE REFORMER.

I’ve also enjoyed the descriptions of several of Julia Ross’s heroines: one with a longish nose (NIGHT OF SIN) and another who is freckled (CLANDESTINE). Maybe these stories go where Janet and Amanda were suggesting: the heroine of ordinary looks who doesn’t have any hangups about it, and whose hero enjoys her physical quirks along with everything else.

What do you think about these common tropes regarding heroines and their looks? Any particular sorts of heroines you enjoy reading about, or would like to see more of?


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From Barbara Cartland‘s The Prince And the Pekingese:

You have come!” the Prince exclaimed.
“Yes,” said Angelina softly. “I have come.” The Prince paused for a moment looking at the beautiful young woman in a way that made her tremble. “You are so lovely and yet … ” There was a throb of pain in his voice that made Angelina long to comfort him. Whatever we feel for each other, “she whispered, “I realize your country must … come … first.” The Prince looked up sharply. “We feel for each other?” he repeated. “Tell me … what you feel for me.” Angelina shyly lowered her eyes, but his tone was rough and insistent. “Tell me,” the Prince said again. And suddenly, as if it came from the very depths of her being, Angelina’s clear young voice miraculously cried out: “I … love you. I love you. I love you!”

Oh. My. God.

I cannot believe I devoured this stuff when I was young. Granted, I was young, but still–

Along those lines, I was thinking lately about how I’m not comfortable writing heroines who are under 20 years old; when I was 18, in age similar to Cartland’s ellipsis-talking ladies, I did many foolish things. For example, when my first real boyfriend broke up with me, I wore gray eyeshadow so it’d look like I had been losing sleep and walked around with a copy of Vladimir Nabokov‘s Despair so he’d know how I was suffering.

And, of course, that’s not even mentioning the poor fashion choices I made, or how I cut class to go with my best friend Anthony to watch him play video games (he was good enough to spend a quarter for about an hour’s worth of play).

So now that I’m older, and theoretically wiser, I want to read heroines who I believe would make good choices. I don’t want to read about high school age girls who are way wise beyond their years, or who behave like real high schoolers do. Either one is unappealing. I like the current trend towards more mature heroines, although that means us authors have to devise new ways of still making them available (poor family, governess, widow) and somewhat inexperienced (spinster, widow whose husband had some potency issues). It makes it harder and sometimes anachronistic, to write and read heroines who fit the high, yet realistic, standards us romance readers demand.

Have you noticed the trend towards older heroines? What type of heroine did you cut your first romance teeth on? Do you still read those books? And what’s one of the foolishest thing you did in high school?


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I love makeover shows. I’d like nothing better than to wake up some morning and be ambushed by Stacy and Clinton to go off on a $5000 shopping spree in NYC. At this point, I’m probably not enough of a fashion disaster to make the cut. But there was a time when my children were small, sleep was scarce and my beauty regimen consisted of showering. When I watch these shows I can definitely relate to some of the moms in their baggy sweatpants and bad 80s jeans!

But once in a while, when friends of the fashion victim say she deserves the makeover because “she does everything for others and never thinks of herself” it almost seems like a reward for martyrdom. It almost makes me want to go back into those Mom Jeans and see if someone will nominate me! 🙂

Which makes me think about the Caregiver Heroine. In Regencies, this is often the lady whose father gambled away the family fortune. Now she’s taking care of the estate and a bunch of younger siblings. Maybe she’s selling herself into marriage with a wealthy rake (or even submitting to a Fate Worse Than Death). Or she’s scrimping and saving so a younger sister can have her London Season. Georgette Heyer’s FREDERICA is a classic example.

With caregiver heroines the hero can provide that whole take-me-away-from-it-all fantasy which can be fun. On the other hand, the caregiver heroine can be a cliché, a shortcut to characterization. I’m glad to see that more recent releases feature heroines who are striking out for themselves in some way.

A caregiver heroine can still work for me, though. It’s part setup and part attitude. I want to know she really doesn’t have better alternatives and isn’t just enabling poor Papa’s gambling problem. At least let her be angry with him about it! I want to know she’s not putting her own needs on a backburner just because she doesn’t value herself. FREDERICA works because the heroine is a happy person. She enjoys the shopping and parties involved in giving her sister a Season; I’m sure she’ll have even more fun once her burdens are lightened.

So what do you think? Do you enjoy reading about caregiver heroines? Do you have any favorites? Where is the boundary between a heroine who is bravely dealing with a difficult situation and one who is just making a martyr of herself?


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