Tag Archive | heroine

Historical Romance Deal Breaker #6: Heroes With Mistresses or Who Sleep With Servants

Susana's Parlour

Literally decades of reading historical romances have led me to develop strong opinions of what defines a truly satisfying story, so the other day I set about making a list of characteristics that turn a potential five-star read into a one- or two-star. Admittedly, there are some skillful authors who manage to successfully incorporate one or more of these scenarios in their books; however, I have run across quite a few more who in my opinion haven’t quite managed it.

These are what I call “deal breakers”—characteristics that make a book a wall-banger instead of a pleasurable diversion. Not surprisingly, many involve character, particularly, the character of the hero and heroine. They have to be likable. They have to be three-dimensional, i.e., well-drawn-out characters with flaws, not fairy princesses. And they have to be able to fall in love, convincingly, the head-over-heels kind of love.

Overview of Susana’s Historical Romance Deal…

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Historical Romance Deal Breaker #4: Cliffhanger Endings

Blast From the Past: Susana just got back from traveling in Scotland and she thought some of you might enjoy revisiting some of her previous posts on Susana’s Parlour.

Decades of reading historical romances have led me to develop strong opinions of what defines a truly satisfying story, so the other day I set about making a list of characteristics that turn a potential five-star read into a one- or two-star. Admittedly, there are some skillful authors who manage to successfully incorporate one or more of these scenarios in their books; however, I have run across quite a few more who in my opinion haven’t quite managed it.

These are what I call “deal breakers”—characteristics that make a book a wall-banger. Not surprisingly, many involve character, particularly, the character of the hero and heroine. They have to be likable. They have to be three-dimensional, i.e., well-drawn-out characters with flaws, not fairy princesses. And they have to be able to fall in love, convincingly, the head-over-heels kind of love.

Overview of Susana’s Historical Romance Deal-Breakers

  1. Reluctant Heroes
  2. Adultery
  3. Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies
  4. Cliffhanger Endings
  5. Unattractive or Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroines
  6. Heroes With Mistresses or Who Sleep With Servants
  7. Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroes
  8. Promiscuous Heroines
  9. Contrived Endings
  10. Waifs and Silly Heroines
  11. Long Separations
  12. Excessively Cruel Heroes and Heroines
  13. Breaking the Rules: Why Some Authors Get Away With It

The fourth deal breaker is cliffhanger endings.

There’s nothing more annoying than to get to the last chapter of a book and discover that it’s not the end. That you have to buy another book to find out how your protagonists fared.

If I really care about the characters, I may buy the sequel. But I am seething inside, and any chance I will ever trust that author again is virtually gone. Even if it’s a favorite author.

If the sequel isn’t even available yet, there is no chance I will buy it. Because months later, I won’t likely care about those characters anymore.

Why do authors cheat their readers this way? If it’s meant as a technique to promote books, it’s a misguided one indeed. Nobody likes to be teased or manipulated. Eventually, readers will get disgusted and move on.

I adore a good romance series, with cameo appearances by protagonists from previous books. I love it when secondary characters from a previous book become the protagonists in the sequel. If the books aren’t spaced too far apart (i.e., I haven’t had time to forget all about them), I will buy all of them just to make sure my old friends are still doing well.

But if there’s no satisfactory HEA at the end of the book—if I discover that instead of being rewarded for their suffering, my hero and heroine have more tribulations in store for them in the next book—I’m seriously wanting my money—and my time—back.

What do you think? Are there some authors who can get away with teasing their readers with cliffhangers?

Historical Romance Deal Breaker #3: Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies

Blast From the Past: Susana is traveling in Scotland this week and she thought some of you might enjoy revisiting some of her previous posts on Susana’s Parlour.

Decades of reading historical romances have led me to develop strong opinions of what defines a truly satisfying story, so the other day I set about making a list of characteristics that turn a potential five-star read into a one- or two-star. Admittedly, there are some skillful authors who manage to successfully incorporate one or more of these scenarios in their books; however, I have run across quite a few more who in my opinion haven’t quite managed it.

These are what I call “deal breakers”—characteristics that make a book a wall-banger. Not surprisingly, many involve character, particularly, the character of the hero and heroine. They have to be likable. They have to be three-dimensional, i.e., well-drawn-out characters with flaws, not fairy princesses. And they have to be able to fall in love, convincingly, the head-over-heels kind of love.

Overview of Susana’s Historical Romance Deal Breakers

  1. Reluctant Heroes
  2. Adultery
  3. Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies
  4. Cliffhanger Endings
  5. Unattractive or Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroines
  6. Heroes With Mistresses or Who Sleep With Servants
  7. Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroes
  8. Promiscuous Heroines
  9. Contrived Endings
  10. Waifs and Silly Heroines
  11. Long Separations
  12. Excessively Cruel Heroes and Heroines
  13. Breaking the Rules: Why Some Authors Get Away With It

Deal breaker #3 is: anachronistic behavior and historical inaccuracies.

So many of the newer historical authors seem to be turning out what I consider contemporary stories in historical settings, and it seems as though many readers don’t care. The curvy girl on the cover wears a beautiful gown, and the novel is full of balls and handsome dukes, and if the girl sneaks out to the garden and engages in steamy sex with someone, reviewers praise it to the heavens for being “hot.” Am I the only one who questions the assumption that a gently-born young woman would be allowed to accompany a gentleman on the terrace for more than five minutes without her chaperone coming to look for her?

While I have to acknowledge that readers new to this genre may not recognize these problems, too many indications of the author’s ignorance of the time period can ruin a book for those of us who know better. And it may well be that the author doesn’t care. If all she is looking for are a few extra dollars and some temporary éclat, the ease of self-publishing can give her the platform, and her devoted friends and family can shower her work with favorable reviews until she moves on with her life.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the self-published stories that feature egregious historical inaccuracies. It seems as though the editors—if they still exist—are also unfamiliar with the time periods of the books they handle. Either that or they are so over-worked they hope the readers will be too engrossed in the story to balk at a few “minor” issues. And it’s true: I find I can ignore a problem or two in an otherwise wonderful read. However, if there are too many, or if the entire plot is dependent upon some unlikely scenario, that’s when the book ceases to be a pleasurable experience and becomes a wall-banger for me.

Here are some anachronisms and historical inaccuracies I have encountered just within the past five months in books considered historical romances (not erotica*), all involving young, innocent heroines:

  • The heroine is allowed to leave her home and walk around London without any sort of chaperone, in some cases even going to call on a single gentleman alone.
  • The heroine attends a house party hosted by a gentleman known for his scandalous house parties—which is enough in itself to ruin her reputation—but she is so loosely chaperoned that she and her lover can easily sneak into each other’s rooms at night.
  • In a medieval, the hero and heroine cannot marry because their siblings are married to each other, which by church law makes them siblings as well. So they run off and pretend to be married. Really? While our 21st century wisdom tells us this law is ridiculous, these characters lived with medieval cultural and religious mores; the guilt over time would eventually take its toll, even if their deception were never uncovered. NOT a satisfactory HEA.
  • The heroine attends a ball and inadvertently has sex with a stranger in a library so dark they cannot see each other’s faces.
  • The heroine’s father wants her to marry an old lecher and tells her to allow him whatever liberties he wants.
  • The heroine is allowed to remain alone in the family home with no supervision.
  • The heroine is allowed to host her brother’s scandalous house parties.
  • The heroine goes shopping for a gown to wear at a ball that very evening. (I suppose she dropped in at Harrod’s to look through the dresses on the rack?)
  • Waffles are served for breakfast.
  • The heroine is allowed to entertain gentleman callers and ride in a closed carriage with a gentleman with no supervision.
  • The hero is a male prostitute in a brothel where aristocrats bring their daughters to be “breached” prior to the wedding night. (!!!)
  • The author doesn’t understand British titles and refers to a young girl as Lady Davenport instead of Lady Camilla. (HINT: before writing a historical novel set in England, read up on the proper use of titles. It’s really not something you can just guess at.)
  • An illegitimate son is the heir to his legitimate half-brother’s title and estate.
  • A man is allowed to marry his father’s or brother’s widow, or a woman is allowed to marry her deceased sister’s widower.

What anachronisms and historical inaccuracies make a book a wall-banger for you?

 

Historical Romance Deal Breaker #2: Adultery

Blast From the Past: Susana is traveling in Scotland this week and she thought some of you might enjoy revisiting some of her previous posts on Susana’s Parlour.

Decades of reading historical romances have led me to develop strong opinions of what defines a truly satisfying story, so the other day I set about making a list of characteristics that turn a potential five-star read into a one- or two-star. Admittedly, there are some skillful authors who manage to successfully incorporate one or more of these scenarios in their books; however, I have run across quite a few more who in my opinion haven’t quite managed it.

These are what I call “deal breakers”—characteristics that make a book a wall-banger. Not surprisingly, many involve character, particularly, the character of the hero and heroine. They have to be likable. They have to be three-dimensional, i.e., well-drawn-out characters with flaws, not fairy princesses. And they have to be able to fall in love, convincingly, the head-over-heels kind of love.

Overview of Susana’s Historical Romance Deal Breakers

  1. Reluctant Heroes
  2. Adultery
  3. Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies
  4. Cliffhanger Endings
  5. Unattractive or Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroines
  6. Heroes With Mistresses or Who Sleep With Servants
  7. Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroes
  8. Promiscuous Heroines
  9. Contrived Endings
  10. Waifs and Silly Heroines
  11. Long Separations
  12. Excessively Cruel Heroes and Heroines
  13. Breaking the Rules: Why Some Authors Get Away With It

The second one is adultery involving the hero or heroine.

I’ve seen scenarios where the non-hero husband is cruel and abusive, even threatening to kill the heroine (especially in medievals), but I don’t find that a good enough excuse for adultery. I wouldn’t tell a 21st century abused woman that she either has to go back to her husband or go to a nunnery (perhaps the closest thing to a medieval equivalent of a shelter for battered women), but in medieval times there weren’t many other options. In one story I read recently, the abused wife ran away to a distant town with her lover and they pretended to be married. But the guilt of their deceit had already started to tarnish their relationship before the book’s conclusion, leaving the reader with a very unsatisfactory HEA. (In fact, the story was set up in such a way as to make a satisfactory HEA impossible.) I know this isn’t fair by 21st century standards, but you really should not write a novel set in medieval times and then proceed to ignore the social and religious mores of the time. Less knowledgeable readers might not notice, but those of us who have read widely in the genre will recognize an amateur when we see it. [Historical inaccuracy, another deal breaker, will be discussed in a later post.]

What about a spouse who is ill, disabled, or confined to a mental institution? Or a spouse who has run off with another person and disappeared? While I do not expect a hero to remain celibate forever under these circumstances, I cannot like the heroine to be his mistress. Remember Jane Eyre? She knew she couldn’t have a proper HEA with Edward while his wife was living, even if she was a lunatic. I mean, how can you justify stigmatizing your children with the label “bastard”? Somehow, the HEA has to include a legal marriage, and I can’t believe a heroine who starts out as a mistress can have that much confidence that her husband/protector won’t eventually deceive her as well.

Oh, and the plots where the sterile husband invites his best friend to impregnate his wife? NO! Forget it! It doesn’t matter if the husband is good or evil, the whole adultery/deception angle opens up a Pandora’s box of guilt and fear that always manages to tarnish the HEA in some way.

What about you? Do find adultery in a historical romance acceptable in some situations?

 

Historical Romance Deal Breaker #1: Reluctant Heroes

Blast From the Past: Susana is traveling in Scotland this week and she thought some of you might enjoy revisiting some of her previous posts on Susana’s Parlour.

Decades of reading historical romances have led me to develop strong opinions of what defines a truly satisfying story, so the other day I set about making a list of characteristics that turn a potential five-star read into a one- or two-star. Admittedly, there are some skillful authors who manage to successfully incorporate one or more of these scenarios in their books; however, I have run across quite a few more who in my opinion haven’t quite managed it.

Overview of Susana’s Historical Romance Deal Breakers

  1. Reluctant Heroes
  2. Adultery
  3. Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies
  4. Cliffhanger Endings
  5. Unattractive or Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroines
  6. Heroes With Mistresses or Who Sleep With Servants
  7. Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroes
  8. Promiscuous Heroines
  9. Contrived Endings
  10. Waifs and Silly Heroines
  11. Long Separations
  12. Excessively Cruel Heroes and Heroines
  13. Breaking the Rules: Why Some Authors Get Away With It

These are what I call “deal breakers”—characteristics that make a book a wall-banger. Not surprisingly, many involve character, particularly the character of the hero and heroine. They have to be likable. They have to be three-dimensional, i.e., well-drawn-out characters with flaws, not fairy princesses. And they have to be able to fall in love, convincingly, the head-over-heels kind of love.

The first deal breaker for me is the reluctant hero.

Nothing is guaranteed to turn me off a book so much as a hero who denies his feelings until the very last chapter. Certainly some initial reluctance is expected; what Regency buck is eager to tie himself down to a leg-shackle before he has sown his wild oats? But the attraction needs to happen fairly soon after he meets the heroine; there must be indications early on that he enjoys her presence, resents it when other men pay her attention, etc. Which doesn’t mean that love at first sight is de rigueur. Instant attractions can be quite wonderful, but ultimately, the feelings between them must be based on something other than physical characteristics.

Below are some examples of reluctant heroes I have encountered recently:

  • The hero was so in love with his deceased wife that he cannot imagine ever risking his heart again, so when he starts falling for the heroine (poor thing), he determines to marry another young lady he doesn’t care as much for instead. Heroes cannot be idiots.
  • The hero recognizes his soulmate, but continually spurns her because childhood traumas make him feel unworthy. Heroes cannot be whiners.
  • The hero is damaged from his experiences in the war, but not too much to fall into bed with his deceased best friend’s sister. When events come to the point where her reputation will be ruined, he refuses point-blank to marry her. Heroes cannot use the heroine and then abandon her.
  • The hero is a notorious rake who has determined never to marry, and when faced with the love of his life, he runs away with another woman, forcing her to marry another man, who abuses her cruelly. Heroes cannot be jerks.
  • The hero and the heroine share a kiss in a moonlit garden and arrange several more meetings. When the heroine, who is being pressured to marry a wealthy old man, begs the hero to marry her, he confesses that he is already married (how could he forget?), and abandons her to a miserable marriage. Heroes cannot be cowardly or adulterers.

Of course, the above cases are extreme; many times the reluctant hero is simply…reluctant. Not mean or cruel or particularly stupid. . . just there. While he may not get my dander up, he’s also…boring. And frankly, heroes cannot be boring either.

What do you think? Can you add some examples of reluctant heroes that you have encountered lately? Or can you think of stories where an initially reluctant hero successfully makes the transition into delightfully besotted hero? I’d love to hear about them!

Guest Interview: Author Cecilia Gray

ebook-delightful-arrangement-hi-resToday I’m pleased to introduce Cecilia Gray, author of The Gentlemen Next Door, a series of delightful Regency novellas, and also a series of YA romances, The Jane Austen Academy.

Welcome, Cecilia!

Thank you so much for having me! I read through your blog and saw your Deal Breakers and confess to possibly having broken one or two. Even though I am in complete agreement with them!

Tell us something about your newest release that is NOT in the blurb.

The heroine of A FLIRTATIOUS RENDEZVOUS is my most traditional regency-style heroine. My other heroines are ahead of their time (although not quite anachronistic!) in their pursuit of engineering or business, Hanna has few pursuits beyond that of the boy next door.

When I started writing Hanna, I thought I was crazy because how could a reader like a character with little individual identity? But I found myself charmed with the idea that her entire sense of herself is based on how much she loves her family and especially how much she loves Hayden Banks. I really did end up feeling protective of her and wanting her to find happiness.

(I know that makes me sound crazy, to talk about her like she’s real and like I had no control over her fate.)

Are you working on something at present you would like to tell us about?

Yes! While The Gentlemen Next Door series is complete, I’ve become fascinated with one of the side characters. I’ve since imagined her entire life and I think she deserves her own book—with a hero that doesn’t live next door and may not be so gentlemanly.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, the second book in a superb fantasy series about an epic battle between angels and demons that spills out of their world into ours.

What is your work schedule like when writing?

Unfortunately I don’t spend a lot of time writing because of other obligatons during the week—like my job! I spend a lot of time thinking about writing but usually won’t write actual words until midight and even then only for an hour. Once a month I’ll get away for a weekend and write my ass off. If it weren’t for those weekends, then I’d probably only release a book every decade.

The Gentlemen Next Door series are historical regency romance novellas. The entire series, including the latest release, A FLIRTATIOUS RENDEZVOUS, is available now.

Book #1 A DELIGHTFUL ARRANGEMENT is currently free at Apple, Kobo and Google and just 99 Cents at other retailers:

Phillip has a duty to marry Francesca. He has always protected his former neighbor and childhood companion, and now that she is of marriageable age, he will give her what she needs most – a real home where she is welcome and wanted.

Unfortunately for him….she is done with being dutiful.

After years of being an obedient daughter to a hateful father, Francesca jumps into her first Season. Francesca is ready to dance every dance, flirt with every bachelor and snatch what she wants most – a man she loves who will make her swoon.

Unfortunately for her…he now sees making her swoon as his duty, too.

And Phillip takes his duties very seriously.

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http://www.ceciliagray.com

 

 

Historical Romance Deal Breaker #11: Long Separations

Literally decades of reading historical romances have led me to develop strong opinions of what defines a truly satisfying story, so the other day I set about making a list of characteristics that turn a potential five-star read into a one- or two-star. Admittedly, there are some skillful authors who manage to successfully incorporate one or more of these scenarios in their books; however, I have run across quite a few more who in my opinion haven’t quite managed it.

These are what I call “deal breakers”—characteristics that make a book a wall-banger instead of a pleasurable diversion. Not surprisingly, many involve character, particularly, the character of the hero and heroine. They have to be likable. They have to be three-dimensional, i.e., well-drawn-out characters with flaws, not fairy princesses. And they have to be able to fall in love, convincingly, the head-over-heels kind of love.

Overview of Susana’s Historical Romance Deal Breakers

  1. Reluctant Heroes
  2. Adultery
  3. Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies
  4. Cliffhanger Endings
  5. Unattractive or Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroines
  6. Heroes With Mistresses or Who Sleep With Servants
  7. Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroes
  8. Promiscuous Heroines
  9. Contrived Endings
  10. Waifs and Silly Heroines
  11. Long Separations
  12. Excessively Cruel Heroes and Heroines
  13. Breaking the Rules: Why Some Authors Get Away With It

Historical Romance Deal Breaker #11: Long Separations

When the hero and heroine are apart for years at a time—I’ve seen couples separated for as long as ten years—a reconciliation just does not seem likely.

For one thing, can you really expect them to be celibate for so long a time? Even if the heroine does manage it, it’s not likely that the hero will, and I find it difficult to believe that a man can be sexually active with other women for a long period of time and still be “in love” with the woman he can’t have. After awhile, the memory of the previous love fades in comparison with the real woman in front of him. And the woman left behind has to worry about the ticking of that biological clock. Can she afford to wait an indefinite number of years for a man who may never return?

Secondly, it detracts from the romance if the couple spend too much time apart. One feels regret at the wasted years, the unhappiness and tragedies suffered during their long separation. And if their separation was caused by arguments or incompatibility, well, you have to wonder if those same problems will return to plague them again. (Like Richard Burton and Liz Taylor. The second time definitely was not a charm.)

On the other hand, if the characters have matured during their time apart, it is possible for this scenario to work. Too many times, however, little has changed except their circumstances, and one is left feeling as though something is lacking in the HEA.

Scenarios I’ve seen that I didn’t care for:

  • The hero goes off to war and the heroine’s father forces her to marry another.
  • The hero and heroine marry and separate/divorce and then get back together years later.
  • The hero has no way of supporting a wife, so he goes off to seek his fortune while the heroine has no idea whether he will ever return.

I have to admit, however, that some of my favorite books do incorporate long separations, such as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. In the case of Jamie and Claire, there was no alternative but to separate, and although some of the events that occurred during their separation caused them both much pain, the joy of their reconciliation more than made up for it. Frankly, I’ll read everything Gabaldon writes about Jamie and Claire. Some of the more tender scenes between them make me want to swoon! (How in the heck does she do that? The writer in me wants to know.)

What do you think about long separations? 

*Disclaimer: This series of “deal breakers” is meant to refer to books labeled historical romances, and not to erotica, which is a completely separate sub-genre and has an entirely different purpose.