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Showing posts by: Joanna Novins click to see Joanna Novins's profile
Mar 15 2012 3:30pm

Do Clothes Make the Man? Dyson, Raylan, and Devil’s Cub

Raylan Givens in JustifiedTelevision series are like visual Cliff Notes when it comes to romance.  In the span of a half hour or an hour, each episode must hit emotional high notes that romance novel builds up to in 300+ pages. Naturally, since TV is a visual medium, clothes are the easiest ways to hit these notes. Sometimes the cues are subtle: In the series, Justified, for example, Marshall Raylan Givens, wears an off-white Stetson—the first sign that this good guy might not be quite so good. He also wears the dark colors that are the uniform of the bad boy, usually an elegantly tailored sport coat, paired with jeans. This combination signals to the viewer that while Raylan has gained a veneer of sophistication during his time away from his hardscrabble Kentucky home, at heart, he’s still a rough and tumble cowboy.

Some visual cues are even more obvious. Dyson in Lost Girl favors black shirts and a dark blue and black vest with his jeans. (That is, when he’s not half, or completely, naked.) Occasionally, he tosses on a leather jacket. No doubt about it, black makes a bad boy even badder and when it’s black leather…rowwrrr.  (If you doubt me, Google Richard Armitage and Guy of Gisborne. Or Richard Armitage and black leather. In fact, there are entire websites devoted to evolution of the 6’2 blue-eyed, black-haired actor’s leather costume in the BBC’s Robin Hood series.) 

[As is only fitting...]

Feb 11 2012 3:00pm

Inspired by Downton Abbey’s Matthew Crawley: Literally Damaged Heroes

Matthew Crawley in Downton AbbeyOkay, I’m as big a Downton Abbey fan as any of the rest of you. But when I saw the trailer with Matthew Crawley preparing to go over the wall, I immediately thought:

1) he’s going to get shot

2) he’s going to get shot in the leg and

3) he’ll be in a wheelchair. (Okay, I also thought how come all the guys in the trenches look so well-fed and not particularly stressed out?  And also, am I the only one who’s noticed that the Downton guys seem to have their own trench?)


Back to the whole leg/wheelchair thing.  How did I know? Because when romance writers get together there are few things they enjoy discussing more than “acceptable romance hero injuries and amputations.” (Trust me on this.) Dueling scars are fine. One or both eyes can go missing—hey, who doesn’t love pirates, Mr. Rochester, and the Hathaway shirt guy? But a missing nose? An amputated ear? Missing teeth? Fuhgettabout it.

[Teeth are important...]

Feb 8 2012 10:30am

Why Can’t It Be Snakes?: Flawed Heroines

Ana Farris in What’s Your Number?I’m old enough to remember when Pop Warner cheerleading was the only sport girls could play, when female doctors and lawyers were rare as hen’s teeth, and “you’ve come a long way baby” was an ad campaign designed to get women to smoke more cigarettes.

When it came to heroines in popular fiction, girls were faced with a choice between the sickly sweet Nancy Drew and passive sidekicks like Maid Marion, who never got to wield a sword or shoot an arrow. Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub holds a special place in my heart because it was the first novel I read with a strong, proactive heroine; when threatened with rape, Mary Challoner pulls a gun and shoots the hero. (Just think how short Barbara Cartland novels would have been if her heroines did that every time the heroes threatened them with rape.)

I love that this generation of girls is growing up with the strong heroines created by great writers like Tamora Pierce and Suzanne Collins. I couldn’t be more thrilled by the emergence of the kick-butt heroine.


(There always has to be a but, doesn’t there?)

[It’s true...]

Jan 18 2012 10:30am

Imperfect Heroes, and Why We Love Them

Ricky Gervais in The Office UKI confess, despite its popularity, I’ve never seen the American version of The Office. The reason is this—I’m a huge Ricky Gervais fan. What I appreciate about his comedy is that he’s not afraid of being disliked; indeed, he revels in making his viewers uncomfortable. And within this discomfort is his edgy genius. I could be wrong, but I have a hard time believing that the Steve Carell, who always seems to emanate a certain ineffable sweetness, could ever match Gervais’s appallingly insensitive David Brent or would even try.

Just as Gervais doesn’t seem to care whether he’s considered likeable by his audiences, so too, British leading men also seem less concerned with appearing ‘perfectly’ handsome. I’m willing to bet you won’t see Clive Owen or Daniel Craig become freaks of plastic surgery like Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger in a desperate attempt remain box office beefcake. (Though of course, there will always be exceptions; I recently caught sight of Roger Moore in a made-for-TV Hallmark movie and he looks like the crypt-keepers fat-injected, botoxed older brother.)

There is something eminently more interesting about the imperfectly handsome hero. Perhaps its because we imagine we have a better chance of snagging him than we do of someone as eerily ageless and good looking as Tom Cruise? Or maybe it’s because the hero’s physical imperfections seem to be a reflection of the internal flaws that make him vulnerable, appealing, and ultimately worthy of the heroine’s redemptive gift of true love.

[Perfect’s boring...]

Dec 20 2011 3:30pm

It’s the Journey: “Beauty and the Beast” vs. “Cinderella”

Cinderella illustrationThough I’m not a gambler, I’d be willing to bet that “Cinderella” is the fairy tale most commonly retold in modern-day romances. What’s more appealing than the mistreated scullery maid who, with the wave of a wand, is provided a complete makeover, including fabulous shoes, and entrée to a ball, where a handsome prince instantly falls in love with her?

But in my opinion, Cinderella and Prince Charming are the laziest hero and heroine ever. Sure, there’s that whole grain sorting/floor scrubbing/impossible task so she gets magical help thing, but really, all Cinderella has to do win the prince’s heart is get a makeover and show up. As for Prince Charming, all he has to do is be tenacious in his efforts to find the owner of the size 5 glass slipper. Time consuming, yes, but heroic? Meh.

[Wow, when you put it like that...]

Nov 11 2011 4:30pm

Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe and Harper: A Fine Bromance

Sean Bean as Richard SharpeOver the last few months, I’ve been obsessed with Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series. I’ll confess, it was initially Sean Bean who brought me to the series. After Game of Thrones ended on HBO, I wanted more sexy, craggy-faced, Yorkshire-accented thrills. A Bean-related searched on Netflix introduced me to his role as Richard Sharpe in the British television series.

Bean is younger, sexier, and far more swashbuckling than Ned Stark in these stories, which revolve around a street-wise London thug who joins the British army to avoid a murder charge, winds up saving the life of Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington) and, as a result, is promoted to the rank of officer—a feat that would have been nearly impossible in the 1800s when such positions were restricted to the upper classes who usually purchased them.

[An officer but not a gentleman?...]

Mar 24 2011 1:00pm

Do Childhood Reads Hold Up?: Revisiting The Sherwood Ring

The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie PopeI was talking to an old friend about books, and she asked, do you think your favorites from childhood would still hold up if you reread them? I thought about one of my favorite books of all time, and suddenly I was dying to know.

 I don’t know how old I was when I picked up Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Sherwood Ring.   Probably middle school (I found it in the library in the children’s section, though the heroine is 17.) I do remember the title, because I’ve always been a huge Robin Hood fan and I assumed it would be about Robin and his merry men—it isn’t.

[Its not? . . .]

Mar 16 2011 1:00pm

“You Had Me at ‘Hello’”: Unforgettable Opening Lines

Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire“You had me at 'Hello.' ”

A friend of mine once said that first lines of books are like pick-up lines in bars. To a certain extent she's right: First lines and pick-up lines ask that you take a leap of faith and trust that they—either the book or the person—are worth spending some quality time together.

First lines are first impressions. As one of my writing mentors, Lisa Fugard (author of the amazing Skinner's Drift) pointed out, if you're going to introduce something fantastic into your story, your best bet is to do it in the first line, or at least in the first paragraph, when the reader's sense of belief is temporarily suspended. Introduce it later (oh, by the way, my hero is an alien, this story takes place on Mars, the killer just happened to be standing outside the door, she's not my girlfriend, she's just a good friend) and fantastic becomes often becomes simply unbelievable.

(I should point out, that first lines from books rarely, if ever, make good pick up lines. In fact, I suspect that I may have frightened the author M.T. Anderson at BEA when I greeted him with the opening line of his book, Thirsty. Though in my defense, I wasn't trying to pick him up, I'd just slipped into babbling fangirl mode.)

[Hey, we fangirls are only human . . .]

Mar 12 2011 11:00am

Madly, Blindly, Passionately in Love: Rereading The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska OrczyAt any given moment in time, there's something I can't find—my keys, my reading glasses, my cup of coffee, the portable phone. I'm constantly missing appointments. And if we've been introduced, there's a good chance I won't remember your name. If you've told me something about yourself, however, I will remember it. I never forget a story. Which is why I rarely, if ever, reread a book.

One of the few exceptions to this rule is The Scarlet Pimpernel by the Baroness Emmuska Orczy. Perhaps it’s because of the intricate plot, the fast pacing, the strong, intelligent characters, or the scene, midway through the book, that I believe is one of the most heart-wrenchingly romantic ever written. Or perhaps it’s because every time I read this book, I discover something new. Not too surprising, considering that this is a story about multi-layered secrets; the hero is a master of disguises, the heroine is an actress, and in the course of the narrative, they must discard the numerous masks they wear in order to transform their idealized notions of love into one that is oh, so very real.

[Stand by for major spoiler alerts . . .]

Feb 26 2011 10:00am

Audiobooks Aren’t “Cheating”!

Flickr image by andronicusmaxI have two sons, and while both are voracious readers, my younger son is severely dyslexic. Not surprisingly, when they were little, reading was a weapon in the arsenal the older one used to torture his younger brother. He’d loudly announce he’d just finished a great book, then proceed to describe the story with just enough detail to make it irresistibly appealing. When his younger brother took the bait and asked, “What happened next?,” he’d fold his arms, smile and say, “I can’t give away the ending, you’ll have to read the book.”

As a lifelong bookworm, writer, and mother, the idea of using books—or rather using what’s inside of them—as a weapon horrified me. So I put a stop to it by introducing my younger son to books on tape.

My older son, being a typical sibling, tried to spoil his brother’s newfound pleasure by telling him he was “cheating.”

[Cheating, really? . . .]

Feb 20 2011 3:00pm

Romp & Circumstance: Poldark

Poldark Saga movie posterWhen the going gets rough, the tough turn to romance . . . at least, that’s what I do.  Usually, it’s a romance novel, but since life’s been unusually tough lately, I've found myself scrolling through Netflix, jonesing for a hit of sweeping, swashbuckling, toss-me-over-your-shoulder-and-carry-me-away to-a-magical-world-of-happily-ever-after romance in film or television. Imagine my delight when I discovered, under New Direct-to-TV Releases, Season 1 of Poldark.

[I'm intrigued . . .]

Feb 13 2011 6:00am

Splain It To Me, Lucy. How Is Gone With The Wind Romantic?

Gone With The Wind Book Cover

Last February, I went to hear a panel of romance writers discuss their work.  Since the event was being held in a bookstore and it was close to Valentine's Day, the moderator—a bookseller—asked the panelists to tell the audience what they thought was the most romantic book they'd ever read. Gone With the Wind, gushed several of the authors.

[Really? Like, really? . . . ]