Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Less than cohesive thinking on reading, characters & power balances

There was a comment on a blog I halfway lurk on. (Time? Time seriously? I can't even lurk properly. Read half a post, get hauled away by traumas of video games and baseballs and lost ty beanie babies--BabyBoy is a bit obsessive about his beanies. ~sighs~ BabyBoy gets more than a bit OCD about a lot of things actually and the meltdowns can be v. loud. Curly&Blondie could bicker over the color of the sky some days.They're brothers & 14.5 mo apart in age. In other words--typical.)

The gist of the comment was m/m (romance) older/younger being nothing but m/f because of power imbalance. That made me headtilt a bit. And definitely writing thinky already with Lynn Viehl's left behind and loving it workshops and the not going to conference conference at Romance Divas this week which I'm trying to read as much of the workshops and linked articles as I can. So kind of pointless babbling ahead.

I grew up reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. Getting my hands on books really wasn't easy at times. I'd reread things I'd just as soon throw at the wall or run over with the lawnmower simply because well dang, it was a book. Still times that mentality hits and I find myself snarking and crabbing at something I should just put down and forget even exists.(Anita Blake, I've tried repeatedly, I just can't finish one. The premise, the background characters the world are rich and interesting. Anita comes on the page and I just cringe and want something to eat her and be done with it so the interesting stuff can be focused on)

My hometown has a population of roughly 600. The library there didn't exist until 1986. I can say that for fact because it was summer before I started 8th grade and I ended up helping with the little kids story time. The library then was 2 boxes of 1950s-1970s harlequins and six boxes of equally ancient little golden books & the like stashed along the side wall of the meeting room attached to the volunteer fire department's garage, where all one 1960s fire truck and marginally newer ambulance were kept.

Easiest things to get my hands on to read--Stephen King, old Harlequins, and Bodice Rippers. My one aunt was a good source of box full of old paperbacks picked up from garage sales she'd finished reading & sent my way once I was about twelve, thirteen. Otherwise newer books were limited to what was on the half-row of mostly magazines rack at Pamida or Kmart half hour away. (Walmart didn't even come to my neck of the woods til oh, my junior year of school? Not that Walmart's half aisle of books were any different than Kmart & Pamida's--both stores were teenytiny and could have fit within Walmart twice over combined when it came to the nearest 'city') These days, I'm in a slightly bigger town, ball park of a 1000, there's a fairish for kid books & ancient harlequins & bodice rippers library that's housed in one 12x20 room in this town. The nearest physically purchasable books (able to pick up, flip through & look at) are a little over half hour away--at Walmart and the nearest brick and mortar *real* bookstore a craptastic one that's 3/4 movies & video games over an hour's drive away. God I love the Internet)

Definitely can't deny the power imbalance of the majority of bodice rippers and old harlequins I grew up reading. Oh god some of those were bad. Clueless innocent sixteen to twenty year old girl kept in ivory tower so divorced from reality that it was almost enough to make you want to pitch the book. Especially the particularly mentally challenged heroines who grew up on farms or around horses/horsebreeding, "fiesty" and helped hold things together--yet utterly *clueless* about the facts of life both sexual and just plain reality. Never could comprehend that one even when I was fourteen or fifteen. The hero was minimum 10 usually more like 15 or twenty years older in late twenties to late thirties, had the money, had the power, tended to treat the heroine like a very pretty little trophy deocration piece, and honestly they didn't act like much more. Read one, read them all. Variants of setting, very rarely in descriptions because 90percent of the heroes--tall dark and handsome, 90 percent of the heroines--busty blonde blue eyed. occasionally a green eyed redhead prone to temper tantrums described as fiesty.

I think that's why Johanna Lindsey's Defy Not the Heart was one of my keepers and reread til it fell apart. Reina might have been just seventeen, but she was no clueless child some 20something heroines could be. She starts out in armor and trying to defend her keep from attack and keep herself from getting forced into marriage to the attacker. She's been running her recently deceased father's holdings for the last three years and tricked her leigelord into thinking the marriage contract for her was a done deal to get the wiggle room of her preference of the short list her father approved of. Ranulf--has his looks, his sword, his horse and a cat named after his half-brother's mother. There was some semblance of equality, even with the inequal structure of the timeframe (Crusades). Conversely Regina Eden from the Mallory clan is one that has driven me nuts through several books. The manipulative twit-behavior she's too smart for gets wearing rather than cute. Reggie/Regan's pushy manipulations delivered with non-stop chatter talking in circles around everyone just gets plain tiresome.

I usually liked Jude Devereaux's heroines some of the heroes I kinda wanted to clunk over the head for being asses. Conversely there were a few heroes I wanted to clunk over the head because good grief you can't tell me that's the best you can do, and a few fell in the category of well, it was a book to read. The Twins set? Twin of Ice was a book to read, not bad but Kane & Houston I mostly wanted to thump over the head with a baseball bat, they were both unreasonable too used to getting thier own way, the fun in that was how much they really deserved each other, one was as stubbornly brattish as the other. Twin of Fire I enjoyed, I liked Blair and once Leander got the cob removed he was interesting (and not a Montgomery or Taggert which, kind of blended into one another after a while) Even the fact that Leander was engaged to Houston to start out didn't completely ruin the book--that was bad habit/everyone's expectations/Houston's stubborn rather self-centered singlemindedness. Devereaux's heroines made or broke the book for me, because well, the hero was a Montgomery or a Taggert. I'm not sure, of the books of hers I remember reading Twin of Fire might be the only one where the hero (or more rarely heroine) wasn't a Montgomery or Taggert. The Black Lyon & The Maiden (though there were Montgomery's wandering around, the Lyon's belt ended up in one of the Velvets & the Lanconian royal house eventually ended up part of the Montgomery family.

WHile Julie Garwood's historicals are a lot of fun, a couple of the heroines really made me wonder how the ding-a-ling didn't get killed by their own dizziness long before they met the hero even while you were amused by the antics, if you were yanked from the story by something then you were kind of wanting to beat your head on the wall with the omg twit heroine factor. Though ditzy or not, they were fun, and they were actually fiesty if clueless, and the occasional somewhat slapstick ridiculousness kept the plot moving enough (Jade is the heroine that stands clearest in my mind as the dizzy klutz, but she was a rather adorable klutz and it was a fun book though I for the life of me can't come up with the title atm with my swiss cheese middle of summer mommy brain. If it wasn't Castles it was in the series/connected set Castles was in.)

I got my mitts on Wild Swan by Celeste DeBlasis when I was...fourteen? fifteen? I read that book literally to pieces over the years, as well as Swan's Chance. Season of Swans not so much. Gincie/Travis and Lexy/(argh mommy brain blank on his name, though the man raising Lexy'sguy's son as his own was Sylvanus, my memory, let me tell ya) didn't grab me as much as Alex did but I still liked them, liked the continuation. (I'm a succer for sequels/series & how things went after the happily ever after if it can be done well and not lose in the telling of more stories, which the Swans didn't for me, Gincie and Lexy simply didn't quite grab me as much as Alex) Alex, St.John & Rane's triangle was well done, and Alex held her own with St.John and Rane both, even when she was barely more than a child herself. St.John really was unlikable for a chunk of it but was tolerably sympathetic even when wanting to bash him, enough with the damned pity party already. Alex for all she was so much younger, was the one who had the strength, and fortitude to see things through St.John's stupidity and ultimately had an equal in Rane. It's been...well at least four kids ago since I've read the Swan series (my copies died, and then well, kids ~laughs~ There is a nice long list of someday I shall replace these books. Damaged in moves, read to tatters or child destroyed.)

So yeah the accepted trope, can even standard, power imbalance of m/f romance is beyond established, it's the norm that tries to creep in even with newer contemporary novels that really have no excuse in some ways. (That Harlequin can put out a book with the title The Playboy Shiekh's Virgin Stable Girl in 2009, is enough to make me want to beat my head on the desk. Sounds like it should have been released about 1955. Though I supposed the word Virgin would have been censored out and Untouched or Innocent put in its place. Those were the days Lucy & Ricky couldn't even sleep in the same bed on tv). I grew up with fairly macho men, my father was a truck driver, my grandfathers were both farmers as were/are several uncles and cousins. But I grew up with strong women, irreverant, smart assed women too. (my mother, my aunts, older cousins, oh my my maternal grandmother started banging things around in the kitchen and cursing in German and Spanish? My grandfather hid. My grandmother was 5ft nothing and 90lbs dripping wet. Grandpa was right about six foot and a solid, strong man who was born in 1900 and had from cradle on worked on the farm, took over his parents farm bit by bit when his father started getting ill about 1914-1915 and completely when his father died in 1916. You'd never seen anything so comical as Grandpa trying to avoid the wrath of grandma)

I've read one m/m that made me cringe, a late 20s/just 30 yo starting to take off up the ladder business man and a barely 20 year old skaterboy slacker-leech that was totally unsympathetic and needed a swift kick in the butt and to grow up more than anything. Didn't finish that one. The characters and their stereotypes had me going argh by chapter two. Didn't get past that. Maybe they improved as the story went on, but they lost me before they even started.

Another m/m I read had a greater age gap--15 years instead of 10. While the age dif was a bit of angst worry for the older partner, and a bit of snipping for the younger partner's family. The pair worked so perfectly together balanced each other well, and while one might "have the upperhand" in some aspects, the other did in other areas. The years were just numbers with the two of them. Granted the younger was also mid-20s and the older just about 40. The younger was old enough to have done a bit of living, and know what he wanted, not a little brat twerp of a boytoy. I've actually reread that one a couple times. (and plus rodeo cowboys at that. I like cowboys.) The age difference was there, nominally addressed, dealt with, and put aside. Doesn't make a whit of difference with that pairing.

It's not so much a surface appearance of a power imbalance that will turn me off, or even a power balance that goes to any depth initially. (Go back to Wild Swan, for crying out loud Alex was 15 when she ended up in St.John's bed and raising her sister's twins as her own with a kid on the way. Took St.John another couple years to finally pull his head out of his rear and grow up and he was years older. Yeah, StJohn really was unlikeable through several parts. Rane waited for Alex to be sixteen to go after her, goes to finally see her after a year, she's 'married' to StJohn and has a baby girl, her sisters twins and trying to pay the rent while StJohn's off being a drunk idiot. Kinda wanted to slap Alex cause dang girl why didn't you just grab the kids and Mavis the nanny and go with Rane. That she didn't made senes for characters mentality/time period/circumstances but still) How the power imbalance is dealt with and over come is what does it for me if that's part of the plot conflict. Playboy 30something Millionaire seducing and marrying his virginal secretary, handing her his gold card and letting her shop and arrange dinner parties on the allowance he gives her happily ever after and basically patting her on the head like a good little lap dog when out of bed...nope. not. no thanks.

Younger ages of heroines in historicals doesn't bother me, the extended childhood of the modern age didn't exist. A sheltered little twit, okay fine, if the circumstances she's in let her grow up, grow a backbone, become an equal partner (or at least behind the scenes/considered equal by husband depending on time period) rather than simply discover she likes orgasms and pout when she doesn't get her way, he thinks it's cute so gives into her a lot and buys her a new dress or goes to the ball he really doesn't want to. bah.

I like a bit of power-wrangling in character development in a romance, whether it internal/character's private doubts or part of the plot itself, the conflict between the couple at the center of the story. I don't mind imbalances--surface or deep--between the main pairing be it m/f or m/m or f/f (I'll read any, tend to write m/m or m/f) as long as the character development resolves them, characters grow and it evens out. (or it's the desired situation in a D/s relationship yep, I'll go there too. rarely tho, too much on toys and dominance and too little character headspace/emotional intricacy if it's purportedly romance not flat out erotica. "ooo kinky hot." gets monotonous to read real quick, nice once in a while, and I've read some excellent erotica authors that can blow you away with the sex scenes, but I prefer the whole package with the intricacies)

I spent too many years reading the exhausted cliches that give romance a bad name. The most gorgeously detailed settings, the best historical research, the most twisty suspense filled plot, breath taking edge-of-seat action sequences, the hottest sex scenes, well, they might get me to read through just to get the background details or the other details of the story done so well, but if the characters make me want to slap them every time they open their mouths, I'm not going to enjoy it. If the characters grab me, I don't care how imbalanced the opening situation is, as long as they find their way to even footing within the relationship.

I grew up with too many strong women to buy the inherent continuous imbalance of m/f that was implied in the comment that got me thinky. Societal restrictions in historicals or fantasy/paranormal verses outward trappings are unavoidable at times, but balance can be had within the relationship itself. I'm not going to be turned off by an age difference in any couple, m/f or m/m, as long as the characters breathe and grow up/find a balance.

Enough rambly thinky that probably makes a lot more sense picked apart in my head than babbled out my fingers, Baby Boy is up and in full-tilt monkey mode.

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