Austen—A Romance Trope Creator?

Austen—A Romance Trope Creator?

Jane Austen

The other day I was looking for one of my favorite TV adaptations of Jane Austen’s Emma (the one where Mr. Knightley is played by Johnny Lee Miller) on Netflix (don’t bother; it’s not available there) and it got me thinking about how Austen basically created some of the most popular romance tropes to this day. Nothing new, I know, but I had never thought about it that way before.

Of course, not everyone is a fan or has read Austen’s books but I love them. She was ahead of her time, writing strong, willful women who fought for (and won) what they wanted and loved. It’s no wonder her popularity has survived for so long.

But less thought of when discussing Austen and her books is the fact that she was the “inventor” of at least three of the most popular tropes in romance literature today. The romance style is largely reviled by the “serious” readers today as crap or smut, but Austen is here to remind us that romance can be, and often is, a weapon against society’s prejudices and preconceived ideas about women (among other things). Not to mention the fact that romance can be well written and worth of as much praise and attention as any other genre of literature.

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Pride and Prejudice, arguably the most famous of her works, is an enemies to lovers romance. Elizabeth Bennet begins as hating and being disliked by the handsome but brooding and often obnoxious Darcy. We all know how that ended.

In Persuasion (possibly my personal favorite) Anne Elliot unwisely shuns Captain Wentworth despite her love for him, but eventually gets her second chance with him. A second chance romance.

Emma is clearly a friends to lovers romance. Emma has a best friend in Mr. Knightley and despite her attempts at matching every single woman in town with the perfect bachelor, totally misses the fact that the one she loves has always been right in front of her.

Mansfield Park is both an example of forbidden romance and love triangle with poor young woman Fanny who is loved by one man but in love with her cousin who is promised in marriage to another woman. In fact, this is also a friends to lovers romance since Fanny was best friends with her cousin with whom she grew up.

Nowadays these tropes are still being written with varying degrees of success. I am personally partial to the friends-to-lovers and second chances tropes and have written a couple books along those lines. Which kind of proves that a good love story never goes out of style if Jane Austen’s vast popularity even today is anything to go by.

Do you read romance? Do you have a favorite trope? I’d love to hear from you.

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Dark and Bright- Review

Dark and BrightDark and Bright by P.M. Hernandez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book surprised the crap out of me–in a good way. Don’t want to reveal any spoilers but the plot was flowing away and I kind of knew (or thought I knew) what the truth was behind all the meds Carrie was taking but then about half way through the book, bam! Hernandez hit me over the head with something I certainly didn’t see coming. It reminded me of the old TV show, Dollhouse, and I’m going to leave it at that so I don’t give anything away. I was shocked and disgusted (with one of the characters, not the book) and my only critique is in connection with that. I thought Carrie didn’t react as strongly as I thought she would when she found out what had been done to her. I was expecting more fireworks than what I got. But other than that, this was a great read with great likable characters (Luis was the sweetest thing ever. Loved him.) who you really care about and feel for. Can’t wait to see what the second book brings.

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Is Mystery Dead?

My wonderful publisher just opened a new imprint for mysteries and thrillers. That got me thinking. I’ve always loved mystery, even as a child, and quite a few of my favorite TV shows fall–or fell–in that category. I always add an element of mystery or suspense in my romances too. So why am I not reading more of it? Or watching it?

Bones, NCIS, The Closer, Rizzoli and Isles… I watched and loved them all. But more recently I noticed I’m not getting into those shows anymore. Some are off the air but others, including some new ones, have either made it out of my list of preferences or never made it there. For someone who used to devour Agatha Christie’s books, Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfell’s series, even lots of the extremely sexist gumshoe series of the 70s I sure am not paying much attention to the genre.

Detective

In recent years I have read very few mysteries, at least those who fall entirely in that category. I’ve read many books that included mystery in the plot but that’s it. Some of those I read were The Gone Girl (hated it–a story for another time), a couple of Dan Brown’s books (loved it), one or two cozies (fun) and not much more.

A lot of the shows I used to watch faithfully (Criminal Minds, CSI, etc) became more and more gory as if their popularity depended on how gross and despicable the crime scene was. The mystery itself looked like was taking a back seat. I lost interest. I like the puzzle-side of mystery, the putting all the pieces together to solve a conundrum. Some shows quit doing that and began focusing more on the shoot-outs, the car chases, the bizarre ways killers were choosing to murder people. Not that interesting.

bloody water

I’m not against a bit of gore if it’s necessary to show the horror of the situation (I’ve written it myself: there’s a torture scene in Lavender Fields for example), but do we really need to see a body shred to pieces by a wood chipper or another literally smashed to smithereens and glued to the tires of a car? Don’t think so.

I’m just sorry that real mysteries seem to be a thing of the past or maybe I’m just reading the wrong ones. On the other hand I have read some excellent books that incorporated good mysteries within the plot such as Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours.

What do you think? Do you know of good mysteries that do not rely on gore, shoot outs, or any other shock-factors? What about cozies? Have you read any good ones lately? I have a couple written by a writer friend on my TBR. I was fortunate enough to read a couple chapters and loved it, so I have high hopes. What do you suggest?

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The Slandering of Fairy Tales

A few days ago I was watching a news’ report about how several female celebrities are raging a war against Disney movies, claiming they’re sexist and promote rape culture (I’m paraphrasing). I get very upset when people bad-mouth Disney movies. I’ve been a groupie my whole life and before Disney, I was a fairy tale nut (still am) and I really don’t like the insinuation that I am supporting sexism by watching those magical creations of human imagination.

Fairy tales were written a long time ago when things were very different from today, but they are also works of fiction that ooze symbolism while trying to teach important lessons. No, I don’t think the lesson is “girls can only succeed if a man comes to rescue them”. Instead I’ve always thought that the message is that nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams, and that kindness and honesty are always rewarded. The men in the stories are the mere personification of the girls’ goals and not necessarily meant to be taken literally.

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I’ve been on a solid diet of fairy tales and Disney movies since I was a little girl and never once hoped or expected a man to come and make all my dreams come true. Yes, I dreamed of being loved (who doesn’t?) but I wanted to succeed on my own, have a career I loved, achieve my dreams. Never did I make plans for a big wedding and wished to stay home and take care of babies while my husband went to work and reached out for the stars.

Fairy tales don’t teach girls that they are helpless without a man. Cinderella dreamed of “moving up” and she did. The Little Mermaid wanted adventures, to learn new things, and see a new world. And she did.  Snow White (not my favorite character) managed to control seven guys on her own (Reverse Harem anyone?) and got rescued by a kiss. She was an unloved child who, like everyone else, needed to be loved and have someone to love. Love does not equal subjugation or dependency. It’s a vital emotion that all humans need for a happy life. Does it have to be the love of a man? No, but fairy tales are simplistic stories trying to convey a message in a way that will grab the attention of readers. The man in fairy tales represent dreams to be achieved. And yes, back when these stories first were imagined, the world was a very different place and marriage was indeed a female goal because there weren’t many other options for women. But what those men symbolized then hasn’t changed: they still represent dreams come-true, wishes realized–even if those dreams have changed substantially.

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Don’t underestimate your daughters. If you teach them right, they won’t think that the message behind a fairy tale is that the only way for a woman to succeed in life is getting married. I’ve been a feminist my whole life and I love fairy tales for what they are: magical stories about finding what we always dreamed of. Nothing more, nothing less.

What do you think? Do you think fairy tales and Disney movies are sexist and they give the wrong message to little girls everywhere? Or do you think they are simply stories that entertain and feed the imagination of children around the globe?

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The Vocabulary of Sex

Caution- This post contains words that may be considered offensive.

As readers and writers we know how powerful words can be. Words can make you happy or extremely miserable. Words can melt your heart or freeze it. As a linguist I may have an even more acute awareness of how powerful words can be and how we all should be more careful about how we use them.

I’m a romance writer, but I must confess I am not exactly in love with most of the romance novels being published today. I have a few favorites and I hope to find a few more as I read through the thousands of romances out there–both indie or traditionally published. For some time I thought the reason why I didn’t like many of the romances–including some written by very popular authors–was because a lot of them center their plot around sex scenes. But recently I came to realize that I was wrong. It is not the often overwhelming quantity of sex the characters in many novels are having, but the words used to express it.

Portrait of shocked pin-up girl

My current read is a dystopian romance written in collaboration between two pretty successful and popular romance writers. I came across it accidentally when I was desperately seeking other adult dystopian romances like my latest, Heart’s Prey (most of them are targeted at young adults). After I read the blurb, I was truly intrigued by the premises for the plot and decided to read it.

But let me back up a little bit. I am from an older generation (and no, I’m not geriatric quite yet) and a different culture. I was brought up to believe that words hold meaning and connotations, and that there are certain words you should never use unless totally necessary. Enter words like fuck, dick, pussy and others that are commonly used in today’s romance novels when describing a sex scene. These are all words I have–as many others of my generation and background–associated with a non-romantic sexual act. Maybe a one-night stand, or having sex just because well, it feels good. Or worse, associated with sexual assault. Being a feminist–no, it’s not a dirty word and I have never burned my bras or hated men because of their gender–I also connect those words with men talking about women as purely sexual objects, a word totally devoid of sentiment.

Let me make it clear that I do not endorse the ridiculous language used in romances twenty years ago or more when describing sex or the parts of the body involved in it. But if you are going to describe a woman’s or man’s genitals I much prefer–as clinical as they may sound–to read the words penis or vagina than pussy or dick. To me those words have nothing to do with love-making and everything to do with reducing the other person to a sex object.

Beautiful pair lays in a bed

I have given up on many romances because I just couldn’t stand the way the author used those words. It made me not respect or like the characters, and if I don’t like the characters I lose my interest in the story. In my current read, which is riddled with all of the above words and more, and has sex on almost every chapter, the words are not stopping me from reading and enjoying it. Why? Because so far (I’m about 70% through the book and I hope it doesn’t disappoint me because it’s a great speculative story) the use of such language is totally appropriate; it is part of the world building. In a world where people have sex just to have babies and where love is a thing of the past, it makes perfect sense that words like love-making get replaced with emotionless words.

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I agonize over sex scenes in my own books. Not because I’m a prude, but because I want to describe those moments in a way that shows how the couple feels about each other on a higher level than just the physical. In other words, I want them to make love, not fuck each other.

Have I ever used the above mentioned words? Yes, I have when it was appropriate, when I wanted to emphasize the way a character felt at that moment or when showing disrespect for another. I have used them when I was “building” a character’s personality or wanted to infuse the moment or situation in anger or hate.

I predict, as a linguist, that those words will lose most of their pernicious connotations in a few years. In fact it’s already happening. The twenty-or thirty somethings of today pepper their everyday conversations with them and obviously see nothing wrong with that. I’m not criticizing, just pointing out a fact. Language changes and evolves, with words taking on or losing meanings over time. That’s just the way it goes. However at this moment we are in a sort of overlapping of generations that view these words in very different ways, making it difficult for me to read and enjoy a romance that reeks of unhealthy relationships as I’m sure a younger one will read books like mine and think of them as not romantic, maybe even insipid.

Obviously there isn’t an easy answer for this, but tell me: where do you stand on this subject (no judgement) and do you think this is a generational thing or a passing trend?

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For a good laugh check out this Buzzfeed list of sexual words you probably didn’t know existed.