My hat’s off to the librarian who swears like an dinky-di Australian and talks about female comedians dropping the balls when it comes to being funny, being crass, and being an ageist stereotype of ‘what not to wear.’
Vassiliki Veros and I met and bonded on Twitter, before we met IRL. I love her. She’s a PhD candidate and, well, a librarian who reads a lot and loves, loves, LOVES books and reading.
She’s got it in her head that heroes would rive hatchbacks–by choice, but I don’t hold that against her. In this post she talks about deselecting books in the library (I’ll let you read her post to find out what that means), being in a reading slump–which happens to everyone I know who has done a PhD, myself included–presenting a paper at the upcoming Genre Worlds conference, going to Canada & the USA for the Romance Readers Meetup, where she’ll meet MORE acepants twitter folk (I’m totally jealous), gives an overview of what she is managing to read, gives us a cool pic of herself wearing AND ROCKIN’ pigtails with a pussy hat, before she gets down to a review of seeing comedians bitch about women of a certain age wearing pigtails.
March 12, 2015: Time Magazine’s Sarah Begley discusses How the Romantic Comedy for Senior Citizens Became Film’s Hippest Genre.The Time piece states, “that these stories are usually more grounded in the real world than many of their younger counterparts,” and that movies that show the diverse experiences of senior citizens is a good thing, both for the viewers who recognize themselves in the aging faces of Bill Nighy and Judi Dench in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and for younger audiences who can learn to see the elderly as the multifaceted people they are.”
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel do well to present mature-age in a romantic comedy, yet the really awesome thing would be to have Rom Coms for the over 40 crowd where sex IS a regular part of the narrative, where older adult sexual intimacy is shown as healthy, rather than a punchline. That is, there are no jokes about erectile dysfunction, Viagra or anything that views ageing as a running gag (as was the case with ‘old’ buddies Michael Douglas-Robert DeNiro meeting up in the movie Last Vegas) or a disease. Sexual intimacy lasts longer (no Viagra joke intended) than a few decades, and if we are mature enough (and I mean mature in the ‘we are all adults here’ way) to show BDSM relationships (even toned down ones) and explicit sex scenes on screen, then aren’t we also adult enough to view accurate portrayals of mature sexuality on screen as well?
Now, if we could translate ‘film’s hippest next genre’ to fiction, particularly to romance fiction, then we could about a real trend worth applause.
PORTRRAIT PAINTING / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
But wait. Is the mature-aged romance novel a trend? On 8 March 2015, in a piece titled Forget Bridget Jones, divorce comedy is the new romantic fiction, Hannah Furness of The Telegraph reports that Man Booker Prize Nominee David Nicholls, believes that stories of unconventional families and romance in older age are likely to become more common to reflect “huge cultural change.
In the words of Matthew McConaughey ”Well, all right, all right, all right, all riiiiight! In fact, Nicholls says that he wrote a protagonist to defy the stereotypes of middle-aged men in love. Well, gee, that sounds familiar, only I write about middle-aged women in love.
I bet you’re ALL so desperate to know about a day in my writing life. Hands up. Who thinks cookies and coffee play a part? Hop on over to the RWAus blogand see more and find out if you’re right.
Let’s give a good coffee fuelled morning to Sandra Antonelli, whose book Driving in Neutral is out now!
In one or two sentences, please tell us what genre you write in and what made you decide that particular one is your calling. I write contemporary, smart-assed romantic comedy for grown ups who aren’t really very grown up at all, which is due to my smartassed nature. Although, I do have a dark side…
An author of contemporary fiction. I love to write about mature women and examine how they face and overcome the family and the career issues they meet. I’ve chosen to write in this genre because this is what I love to read. I believe that older women and the events which impact their lives are often ignored.
I’ve been waiting to do this post. I mean REALLY waiting. I wasn’t sure how long it would be before someone made mention of a lead character’s less-than-stellar behavior in Driving in Neutralonce it was published.
I’ve been waiting because this book has a history, and not just a 75 days long blog series on fear history. Yes, kids, I spent 75 days focused on phobias. As a lead-in to the release of Driving in Neutral, the romcom I call my ‘love story about claustrophobia,’ guests dropped by to talk about their fears. For 75 days.
Bear with me. I’ll get to the history bit soon.
The 75 Days Series should have highlighted that I like writing about fear. I like using fear as the key to hindering or unraveling a relationship, but I also like that a character eventually triumphs over fear, after all, I write romance where love triumphs over all. Love is a scary thing. Love can make a person feel vulnerable. Love can make a person act impulsively, and do dumb things. Love is primitive, emotional. People may be unable to filter their actions because love has jacked up their hormonal system. Everything is overloaded. So, let’s backtrack to the bit about vulnerability because like love, fear has a similar effect on a person. Fear is primitive, emotional. A person may be unable to filter their actions because fear has jacked up their hormonal system. In both cases, the amygdala, the centre of emotional behaviour, is doing all the work, while the pre-fontal cortex, the part of the brain that regulates behavior, that is, the part of the brain that tells you what is right and what is wrong, is sort of on hold.
Fear can make people act in ways that seem out of character, can make a good person do something bad. When it comes to a character pushing the boundaries of behavior, what crosses the line between an acceptable response and a reprehensible response to fear? Is retribution ever justifiable, or understandable within a character’s behaviour? Or is revenge always just plain wrong? This is what I wanted to explore.
Lead characters in romance fiction are often held to a higher standard of behavior; they are perceived by many readers to be a ‘better’ form of a human being, one who frequently rises above petty or malicious behavior. As a result of this, when a romance hero or heroine acts in a primitive way, when impulsivity gets the better of them and these good people do bad things, some readers will protest and deem that character to be unlikable, un-heroic, and unworthy of being a romantic lead. Other readers don’t care.
I wasn’t sure which lead character would push the boundary for some readers, since both the hero and heroine in Driving in Neutral behave quite badly. Getting trapped in an elevator brings out the worst in claustrophobic Maxwell. He raves and verbally abuses Olivia, the woman trapped with him. His reaction is completely childish and base. He is overwhelmed by his fear, is unable to filter, and works from a primitive space. He’s all amygdala function.
When Olivia’s fear surfaces she, too, is in amygdala overdrive. So jacked up is her response to her fear she misbehaves. Terribly. There are 4 reasons for misbehaving: attention, power, inadequacy, revenge.
Olivia feels aggrieved, exposed, and acts impulsively, which, at that moment when it all spins out of control, is her best way of coping with being vulnerable. Her reaction is completely childish, and base. What she does to Emerson is cruel, and, just as he feels remorse for abusing her, she feels remorse for her behaviour…eventually, once her hormonal system is back at a normal operating level.
Now the history bit. A while back, I entered Driving in Neutral in a writing contest. A judge took issue with Emerson Maxwell’s verbal abuse of Olivia, particularly with name-calling. I was scolded with, “A hero would never call a heroine names.” In case you’re wondering, those names were ‘wet rodent’ and ‘waterlogged hamster.’ Not exactly ear-scorching or profane, but I knew, based on that reaction, that Maxwell and my writing had crossed the line for that reader-judge.
What I want to know is this: Does the context for a character’s bad behaviour matter to you, or is bad behaviour always a no-go zone for romance leads, because romance heroes and heroines must maintain that ‘better’ form?
Fear can make a person act in ways that seem out of character, can make a good person do something bad. When it comes to a romance hero or heroine pushing the boundaries of behavior, what, to you, crosses the line between an acceptable response and a reprehensible behaviour? Is retribution ever justifiable, or understandable within the circumstances of a character’s behaviour? Or is name-calling and revenge always just plain wrong?
So what do I think, where do I stand on all this behaving badly stuff? My friend Swell, a longtime romance reader, sums up how I feel about lead characters behaving badly in a romance novel. Swell says that if the “reaction is realistic and a part of the character, and the reaction is used to complete the relationship between the hero and heroine, then I will feel that the response was appropriate for the character.” Amen sister.
During my lovely Valentine's Day Breakfast with Shrinky, we got into a discussion titled: What Valentine's Day Means to Me.
We agreed. VD has a double meaning for me & Shrinky. It has nothing to do with the PSA from the 70s, the one I post here every year. You know, the one with the catchy tune you'll find yourself humming long after you hear it. I mean this one here: Anyhow, Bitey-ites, Shrinky and I got engaged on Valentine's Day and not because it was Valentine's Day. It had more to do with a more practical reason, like time and a soon-to-expire Visitor Visa. As a result, because of the emotional connection to the date, we treat Valentine's day more like our anniversary than our actual wedding anniversary. We make a bigger deal out of the day, give gifts, and get all mushy. Our interpretation of Valentine's Day has no real connection to the modern, commercial aspects of VALENTINE'S DAY.
A little while after breakfast, I came across someone else's two cents on Valentine's Day with a blog post by Paula Roe titled What's Wrong With Valentine's Day.http://paularoe.wordpress.com/ There, Paula discusses her interpretation of Valentine's Day. She gives history, offers facts, and does a nifty little job on the commercialisation of a day that is an amalgam of a few Christan martyrs named Valentine. Thank you, Paula! I wave to you from my "little bubble of happy joy-bliss" and hope a loved one showers you with an abundance of soy decaf caramelattes from Gloria Jean's.
Yes, it's very interesting that martyrdom gave way to a romantic interpretation of love. Since we're dealing with interpretation, I always thought Valentine's Day ought to be the day of WORLD LOVE, another sort of Christmas-ish holiday espousing good will towards all man and womankind. So how about it folks? How about we turn the commercial VD aimed at couples into a commercial VD aimed at everyone? Tell those you care for that you love them. Show kindness to the goofy-looking kid in your class by giving her/him a Valentine–like kids used to do when they were 6 & 7. Share the box of chocolates (yes, I know that's hard for some people) or jar of peanut butter, or cup of coffee with your neighbour. In essence, Let's show the universe a commercial day about the many faces of love, just like Love Actually did.
I’ve been sitting on this for a little while, brewing my thoughts to get them just so. Usually, dears, we discuss that rare-but-subversive woman known as the Mid-life romance heroine–and lack there of. I’m heavy into that big ol’ taboo of fading beauty, saggy boobs, and gettin’ funky with middle-aged sex. This year brings us to another subversive, very particular taboo in romance fiction: The windy pop
Yes, kids, today I’m talking about farts. Turn away now if you can’t deal with my cheese-cutting-is-adolescent sense of humour.
Let’s get to it. I wonder why there exists a form of a double standard when it comes to Romantic Comedies and farting. In celluloid rom-com the bottom-burp (How many fart euphemisms can I work into this post?) is allowed. TV’s Sex And The City hadan entire episode based around the humble bun shaker. Rom-com films and Chick Lit aren’t afraid of firing a little stink torpedo, but Contemporary romantic comedies in print form run screaming from the threat of a tiny squeaker. Is a fart not really a fart if you can watch it come to life in a moving picture? In a big screen broad romantic comedy, like Bridesmaids, a little gas and diarrhea is fine, but why is it the game changes in print? Farting, like loose skin, or erectile dysfunction and vaginal dryness, or a little grey in the pubic area simply can’t play any part in the fantasy of romance in print. I wanna know why rom-com lovers can tolerate film & digital image gas but not when it’s printed on a page.
Here are some questions I pose to you, my worthy friends:
1. Is the issue with a printed fart your imagination? That is, is it because the mind’s eye vision of the passing of gas you read about much, much more malodorous than the one you watch on screen? 2. Or is it for the same reason you seldom find (or see) fictional 40+ romance heroines or older people having sex: it comes down to an ICK FACTOR?
If you answered yes to question 2, I say, hold on sweet talkin’ lover…it’s so sad if that’s the way it’s over.
Romance comes in all forms. If the romance is key to the story, why should the little bits like body shape, age, and less-than-perfect-all-too-human tooting ruin the fantasy? Yes, my romance fantasy may not be your romance fantasy. My idea of funny might not match yours, but maybe we can agree on a few things. Beyond slapstick stuff, comedy is generally situation based. Contemporary rom-coms are usually situational. Finding love is situational. Falling in love is situational. The fantasy of love is situational.
This situation completely works for me. It’s the sweetest fart story I’ve ever heard, and it’s ripe (excuse THAT pun) for inclusion in a big screen AND print version romantic comedy. The story comes to me from VaVeros, author of Shallowreader’s Blog (http://shallowreader.wordpress.com/) It goes something like this:
Amy and Ryan (fake names, naturally) have just had their very first date. The date went well, very well, and Amy happily gives Ryan a ride home. She drops him off in front of his house. Windows down as she reverses out, Amy safely releases the gas she’s been, politely, holding in for the last few minutes. When she pauses to change from Reverse to Drive, Amy discovers Ryan leaning in at the passenger window to restate how much he enjoyed their first date. Of course Ryan was startled, but the air biscuit was all it took. Surprise gave way to laughter and then it was love, not at first sight, but first fart. Ryan fell in love with Amy the moment he saw (and smelled) her humanity. They’ve been married 15 years.
When it’s handled in the right way there’s not so much an ICK factor there as you might have thought, huh? You can see the entire romance blossom from that one little fizzler.
While on my way to Shrinkytown this morning I stopped by my local Giant Green Swirl SuperMarket Chain. I was after one thing and one thing only: Deli-sliced turkey breast for Shrinky's lunch. So you know I ended up with a hulargeous bag of "eat in moderation" type items, that I will not eat in moderation and some beautiful red peppers, which, instead of being last week's WTF price of $18 a kilo were now an Oh-Yeah-Mama $4.89 a kilo.
Anyhow, the grocery store was empty, I was the lone shopper, and I was able to shop quickly. I watched the Deli kid wrap my 1/2 kilo of turkey in nice white deli paper. I put the little white bundle in my shopping basket, right on top of the 2 packages of freshly-baked, still-warm oatmeal-raisin cookies, the Chips Ahoy, the bag of Dark Chocolate Chunk cookies–for Shirnky–and milk becausewith all those cookies there has to be milk to drink in between the pot of coffee I'll comsume with the first 2 oatmeal raisin beauties. I went to the self checkout with my basket of cookie shame and began to scan my items. I scanned the Chips Ahoy, the Dark Chocolate Chunks, the Red peppers and then the 1/2 kilo of slicked turkey, which rang up as Middle Rasher Bacon (like Canadian Bacon for you USA-ians), for the low, low, low price of $7.59. That stopped me dead. I stared at the touch screen readout, a little confused. The price was all wrong. Half a kilo of turkey should have been $12. Then my eye zoomed in on the word Bacon. BACON? For some reason, Vegetarian Bitey has no issue with buying or handling poultry products in the name of Shrinky, but I draw the line at Babe products. I was not about to pay $7.59 for a) something marked BACON; b) feel responsible for the kid behind the deli counter getting chewed out for marking Turkey as Bacon; and c) steal $4.49 from the Giant Green Swirl SuperMarket Chain, even though they have a stranglehold near monopoly on grocery stores in this country.
I called over the Self-checkout attendant, showed her the error, and told her I wanted to make sure no one got in trouble. The little squint rolled her eyes at me. She ROLLED her eyes, like my fwiggin' gawd what a CHORE to serve the customer, the customer who was, I should point out again, THE ONLY ONE in the store! Skinny McSquit took her time getting someone from the Deli to come to the front of the store. She passed the little white turkey-disguised-as-Bacon Baton to Slug-moving Deli Chick. Slug-moving Deli Chick snail-paced her way to the back of the store. I waited six minutes for her to return.
I know six minutes isn't much, but when you're the only customer in the establishment, and you're on your way to work six minutes IS a long time. Plus, by this point, for me it was about the principle of doing what I saw as the right thing. When Slug-moving Deli Chick returned she handed me the re-wrapped- re-priced turkey and huffed. You know, I almost got grumpy. I had that flash of sarcasm, that little bitchy barb ready to fire, but I refrained. Instead, I thanked her, satisfied in the knowledge that I did the right thing and that I'd use the shopping experience as a scene in something I write because it's perfection for a romantic comedy.
But I have to be really honest here. While I have scruples when it comes to Bacon-wrapped Turkey with the wrong price, and paying the correct amount, if a bag of money fell out of the Brinks Truck and landed on the highway in front of me I'd be all over the cash like Me on an Oatmeal-raisin cookie.
I discovered two things in the last two days. The first thing involves drinking coffee (my lifeblood, as may of you know) and eating cheese, which, to my great surprise, is NOT a winning flavour sensation or delightful combination. Milk and butter go so well with coffee–hello cookies and croissants–but Iwas pretty startled that cheese does not. Man, I thought there was a milk product to go with everything. Turns out there isn’t. Naturally, I had to consume more coffee to wash out the astonishingly crappy oiliness left behind by mellow Bega Mild.
Next on my list of shocking discoveries was the realisation I don’t like Four Weddings and a Funeral (4WAAF). Well, that’s not exactly correct. I should say I saw it years ago and enjoyed it, but it is not a romantic comedy that works for me more than once. I like Hugh Grant. Andie MacDowell is lovely, gorgeous in fact, but while I watched the movie I noticed that, despite some really awesome writing and bantery dialogue, their characters never really quite…spark. There’s no smoulder, no glint. There is a lot of Andie’s eye batting and Hugh, in his floppy haired stage, established his now trademarked and charming blinkety-blink-blink. For the most part, for me, the pair lack chemistry. And in a romance chemistry is everything. Although I’d seen the film before and knew what happened, I still found myself hoping it would end differently, like Hugh would wind up with Kristin Scott Thomas, who had better lines than Andie. The scenes with KST, Hugh seemed natural. With Andie, Hugh seemed extra blinky. After a while, with Andie’s eye batting and Hugh’s blinking, things started to seem like a silent movie. I had would not have been surprised if dialogue had shown up on black cards. However, what I do like about 4WAAF is that, as a romance, the movie broke some romance genre "rules," and you know I’m all for knocking convention on its ass.
I like it when someone dares to remix romance elements. My vote for one of cinema’s best chemical reactions is The Cooler with William H. Macy, Maria Bello and Alec Baldwin. It’s got sleaze, it’s got guns, it’s got violence, it’s got gamblers, and pubic hair. Yes, my Bitey-ites, this dirty little foray into the crime underworld is actually a romance rather than a gangster movie, it’s even billed as a romance drama, and it shakes up a few romance tropes. Most importantly, The leads, William H. Macy and Maria Bello have totally believable chemistry, which may seem odd considering our hero, Bernie, is a lonely loser. Bernie loses at gambling and at love. In fact, Bernie is such a loser, he’s paid to sit at tables in Alec Baldwin’s casino because when Bernie’s around his loserly life seems to rub off on the other gamblers. His presence ‘cools’ winning streaks and turns winners to losers. Our heroine, Natalie, is a cocktail waitress. When Bernie falls for Natalie, his loserdom begins to change. Little does Bernie know Natalie has been paid to seduce him. However, Natalie actually does fall for Bernie and then all hell breaks loose. People get kneecapped and dead because that’s what happens in Vegas gangster movies. But unlike other ultra violent films that make you think of Joe Pesci and bodies being buried in the desert, and, despite a body count, The Cooler, like any romance, has a happy ending.
And I’m pretty sure there’s a scene where they drink coffee without eating cheese.
Welcome back. We hope you enjoyed the brief, DeLorean-free trip to the past and apologise for today’s bumpy landing. To refresh your memory, we were discussing
Sleeping with someone other than the hero;Being a bitch; using foul language; and (my favourite)Having the cojones to be over 40.
Yep. You heard that right. It’s a taboo to be 45 and in love… in Contemporary romance.
I’m being specific about contemporary romance fiction for a reason. I’ve always loved interplay of real life with the fantasy part of falling in love. That’s why contemporary rom is what I most enjoy reading, it’s what I write, and what I’ve noticed is oddly age limited. It’s pretty freaky when you know the average age of a romance reader is 44.9 (see RWAwww.rwa.org/cs/readership_stats) because despite that, a form of segregation creeps into Contemporary. After 40 a woman’s characterisation changes. She becomes what I’d like to suggest can be viewed as an additional incarnation of the ‘other‘ woman, where her age equates to a source of comedy, an unworthiness, or form of evil. ‘Other’ women have a place in romance fiction. I like a well-crafted female villain, but this isn’t about the purpose served by that sort of characterisation, or even about the way ‘other’ women are typically punished, although I can argue that the segregation I mentioned is a form of punishment.
Some of you have read my schtick before. You regular Biteyites know I research the phenomenon that moves a woman 40-plus out of contemporary romance fiction and ushers her, or for the sake of this entry, segregates her, into those genres that fall under the term of Women’s Fiction—the Hen, Matron, and Granny Lit type stuff where the story is driven by the female protagonist’s emotional growth. In contemporary romance, when a forty-plus woman makes an appearance it is often as a secondary character, sometimes with a subplot of her own (hello Susan Elizabeth Phillips!), but most of the time Ms. Forty is cast as a stereotype rather than as heroine.
Lately, there’s something I’ve noticed. A heroine’s age is treated differently across a few romance subgenres. In historical romance, most authors strive to be accurate with the context of their story’s place and time. Historical authors are aware that life spans were more limited in the Eighteenth Century than in the Twenty-first, which means middle age in Regency times (and this is a big fat guess here) was somewhere around, let’s say, 28-32. For the sake of historical accuracy, a 19 to 20-something old-maid heroine is not out of place in a Regency romance. In Paranormal and urban fantasy romance age exists in a magical world that has no bearing on a heroine’s part in the story if she’s a vampire, shape-shifting, alien witch-goddess. Indeed a woman can be all that she can be in these subgenres, but in contemporary romance it’s uncommon to find a woman of a certain age allowed that same agency.
Oooh. I threw you for a loop there, with that bit about ‘agency’ didn’t I? ‘Scuse me, my dissertation’s showing. Think of all those forms of ‘other women’: the Stifler’s Mom cougar, evil stepmother, cranky old lady, mutton-dressed-as-lamb-whore, grandma, menopausal-wise-crackin’-best friend. None of these ladies are allowed to have centre stage. None of these women get to star in a book of their own.
OK, sometimes they do. The Age-Sinning Heroine is out there in Contemporarylandia. There are those who buck the trend. Julie, is in her sixties in Jeanne Ray’s Julie and Romeo. Nora Roberts has Roz in The Black Rose. Jennifer Crusie’s got Nell in Fast Women. But come on, we’re talking Nora and Jenny! They can do almost anything because they’re, you know, Roberts & Cruise!
Roberts & Crusie—sounds like a cop Buddy movie, dunnit? Maybe it should it be Crusie and Roberts…
Anyhow, I’m here to make a point, so let’s get back to the idea of the ‘other’ and look at one more Crusie offering. J.C. brought us Shar in Dogs and Goddesses. Shar’s 48 and, like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Claire, she appears in a world where magic is possible, where being 48 doesn’t matter, where age isn’t made an issue to the love story. This “other-worldliness” of paranormal fiction connotes an older woman can exist as a heroine, but only if she possesses some sort of extraordinariness that propels her further beyond the usual fantasy of romance, beyond the ordinary realities typically found in contemporary fiction. The heroines in paranormal romance are allowed to be much more subversive than their contemporary counterparts. They aren’t sissy girls. They can behave like ‘other women.’ They can sin. They can act like men. They can cuss. They can be bitchy. They can kill people. They can sleep with another man besides the hero. Oddly enough, if you leave out the vampires, changelings, magic, and telekinesis, when you get down to the actual fantasy of romance, the paranormal romance heroine is the most realistic warts-n-all representation of a real woman. And they aren’t punished for it.
What this says, and I’m talkin’ bottom line here, is that if you’re looking at the other side of forty, and you wanna be a real woman, you wanna be bad, you wanna get to fall in love, be confused by the trip, have wild chimp sex, a happily ever after, or happy for now, forget contemporary romance. Pick up a paranormal to find your ‘normal.’
Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing my contemporary romantic comedies with non-sissy 40+ women who man up and act like sinful paranormal heroines.