Archive for January, 2012

Cal Toleffson saw the love of his life for the first time at 5:47 p.m. in the Dew Drop Inn, downtown Konigsburg, Texas.

He wasn’t exactly dressed for the event.

He’d spent the forty-five minutes preceding Happy Hour tending to a sick goat. “Tending to” was the polite way of describing it. The goat was large, sturdy and attractive from a goat’s point of view. From a human’s point of view, even a vet like Cal, it smelled like, well, a goat—and so did he, after about ten minutes in the goat’s company.

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Lay Off Stephanie

Okay, I just read my first review of One For the Money, the first movie version of one of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. Granted this particular review is more concerned with dragging Katherine Heigl over the coals than actually talking about the movie, but here’s the thing: The reviewer has obviously not read the book and even more obviously has no idea who Stephanie Plum is.

This is another example of what I think of as the romance-novels-don’t-exist phenomenon. Evanovich’s Plum novels have been bestsellers for years. Most of us in the romance community (and probably in the cozy mystery community as well) know them. I’ve read most of them, although I began to lose my enthusiasm for them when it became obvious that Evanovich wasn’t going to resolve the Stephanie/Morelli/Ranger triangle anytime soon (plus the characterization of Lula skates close enough to racist to make me uncomfortable). Evanovich may not be anywhere close to Nora in terms of sales, but she’s definitely up there.

Which makes it all the more annoying that this reviewer not only has never heard of the books but has no interest in them. The “terrible” dialogue he quotes sounds very much like Evanovich to me, and it also doesn’t sound all that awful. That’s the way Stephanie and Joe talk to each other, and I’d venture to guess it’s popular with Evanovich’s legions of fans. Stephanie and Joe’s interactions are typical examples of the banter you find in a lot of comic romances. I don’t contest the reviewer’s right to dislike it. But his tone of amused contempt bugs me.

Somehow I have a feeling that if this movie had been based on, say, a long-running series of thrillers by James Patterson or Michael Connelly, the reviewer would have acknowledged the books in the review. But Evanovich’s books don’t even get a nod.

I’m sorry to see that the studio didn’t show this movie to critics. That’s usually a sign that a movie is a stinker. It’s always seemed to me that Stephanie Plum was tailor-made for movies, or maybe even a television series (hey, it worked for Charlaine Harris). Now it looks like this may be the first and last Stephanie Plum movie.

But the fact that the movie may be lousy doesn’t release the reviewer from the responsibility to know that it grows out of a wildly popular series of novels. Yeah, it’s a comic mystery with a heavy romantic subplot. Deal with it.

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The Paula Problem

chef's hatA while ago I wrote a blog post defending Paula Deen against attacks made by Anthony Bourdain on her cooking and her attitude toward food. It seemed to me then and now that these attacks had more than a slight whiff of sexism and elitism since Bourdain had a real problem with female Food Network stars who hadn’t attended culinary school. Now Paula Deen has revealed she has Type 2 Diabetes and has known about her diagnosis for over three years. And I’m suddenly wondering how I feel about Paula these days.

I should make it clear going into this discussion that I realize diet does not cause diabetes. According to Paul Campos’s helpful review of the literature, diabetes is a genetic disease. If diabetics are frequently overweight, that’s an indication of the nature of diabetes rather than proof that fat people inevitably become diabetic. So implying that Deen caused her own diabetes by advocating unsafe food is simply untrue. On the other hand, it’s undoubtedly true that diabetics need to follow a careful diet in order to maintain their health. Thus it’s somewhat more accurate to say that the foods Paula Deen particularly likes are not necessarily the foods that diabetics should be eating on a regular basis.

But it isn’t so much Deen’s diet that bothers me in this whole imbroglio. It’s the fact that she kept her diagnosis secret for over three years while she continued to promote food that wasn’t necessarily the kind of food she and her fellow diabetics should be eating. When asked why she delayed making her story public, Deen said that she wanted to “bring something to the table” when she finally let everybody know about her illness. Which is all well and good, but what she’s apparently bringing to the table is a deal with drug manufacturer Novo Nordisk. That makes her decision sound rather like an attempt to find some kind of revenue stream before telling the world about her health problems.

I don’t begrudge celebrity chefs their product placement. If Rachael Ray wants to sell me a garbage bowl or Ina Garten a cake mix, that’s okay with me. I’m a big girl, and I make my own decisions about what I use in the kitchen. But there’s something vaguely…sleazy about Paula Deen hawking diabetes medicine. It’s as if she knew her health problems would be big news and found a way to capitalize on them.

So I wish Paula luck. I hope she can deal with her health problems and go on enjoying her life in Savannah. And I sure as hell don’t feel like signing on with Anthony Bourdain, who still strikes me as a snobbish jerk. But I really wish I didn’t get the feeling that Paula was trying to monetize diabetes. Because that really would be something to snarl about.

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The Stalker Hero

Woman writingSo I’m reading a recently reissued Jayne Anne Krentz from 1985, The Waiting Game. It has a typical Krentz hero—a solitary alpha, brooding, craggy, withdrawn, who immediately falls hard for the heroine. He recognizes right away that they’re Meant For Each Other and knows he needs to do something to claim her as his. Granted he’s been primed to believe this by the heroine’s equally alpha uncle, but he falls hard and never lets go.

Now normally I’d see this as a sort of standard eighties trope—the hero who knows that the heroine is The One and goes about claiming her. But it so happened that I picked up The Waiting Game just after I’d finished the new Norah Roberts, The Next Always, which features a villain who’s stalking the heroine. This particular villain is certain that the heroine is The One, and he spends a part of the book trying to claim her. The hero ends up pummeling him into a pulp.

Which leads to a basic question for romance writers: How much is too much? When does a devoted hero turn into a nut job?

A lot of romance heroes fall fast and hard for their heroines. In fact, few romances feature a hero who doesn’t find the heroine attractive at all (unless, of course, she’s soon to undergo a radical makeover). I think this trope stems from a fairly straightforward principle: unrequited love is no fun. We want the hero to want the heroine. But we also want the hero to understand limits. There’s something a little creepy about a lot of eighties romance heroes. In their alpha haze, they’re frequently convinced that they know what’s best for the heroine. That they’ll take care of her despite her own silly desires for him to do something else. Sometimes these plots show that the heroine really doesn’t need to be hovered over in the way that the hero wants to hover, but frequently it turns out that Daddy Knows Best. The hero demonstrates to the heroine that it’s best if she just relaxes and lets him take care of everything.

Not to put too fine a point on it, that’s close to stalker behavior. And it’s a little hard to justify in contemporary romance.

In contrast, heroes in historicals can actually get by with a version of this. After all, historical heroes exist in cultures in which men are supposed to be protective of women, as long as they’re of the right class and type (let’s get real here). But these days even historical heroes have to back off a little. Kasey Michaels’ terrific Midsummer Night’s Sin features a hero who’s trying to break up white slaver ring. The heroine has a very personal interest in said ring since they’ve kidnapped her cousin. The hero tries to keep her out of the pursuit, but when she insists, he doesn’t lock her up. Much against his own desires, he takes her with him and allows her to play a part in the rescue.

I guess the point is this: we’ve come a fair distance since the eighties. The idea of the fixated hero is no longer quite as attractive as it once was. And as authors, we’re still trying to find the right balance between protective and psycho.

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