Sunday, March 12, 2006


Describes my head after all the kind things you people have offered in response to my flashing.
Thank you again for your encouragement. Warms my heart.
If my ego bursts right now, it will really stink.
We return you to the regular program.

Next to the Saint novels on that top shelf, I also found Z for Zaborra by Eva-Lis Wuorio.
I'm sure you've noticed the ritual complaints and observations offered up from time to time.
Posters who discuss their need to diet and who yearn for big, bodacious heroines.
Readers who express their disgust for virginal heroines or gentle, polite, wimpy heroines and hail chick lit for its "sassy voice" and sexual "who's next?"
Bloggers who claim a desire for a heroine with a few imperfections besides amnesia and the odd love child and want "real" heroines with asthma or diabetes or heart transplants.
Insert imperfection/handicap of choice.
Yearning for locales other than exotic islands or big cities.
Mention of places like Canada being regarded as kiss-of-death and evoking suggestions for change of venue reminiscent of high-profile murder trials .
Lack of "older" women heroines/tired of nubile, numb, 19 year-olds.
Yep, I've bitched about that one myself.
New! Fresh! Original!
Z for Zaborra was published about 1965-66.
Back in the Dark Ages.
Published by Holt, Rineheart and Winston, Inc.
Not the smallest press on the landscape at the time, I imagine.
And guess what?
The heroine weighs in at 190 lbs. Of course, that's reduced to about 145 lbs. by the end of the book, but still.
Zaborra means "the fat one."
[Defensive note: I weighed in at 118 lbs. when I decided this book was a keeper and I don't exceed that by a lot now.]
She has a mammoplasty, ie. breast reduction.
In between haring across Europe, she has to deal with roller bandages and stitches in her bosom.
Heroine is a 40 year-old from Canada.
Canada is actually mentioned.
Bloor Street in To. is actually mentioned - even though it jostles between Poland, the High Tatra, London and Calais.
Heroine has a mouth on her and an interesting past, explictly defined as "twenty lusty years."
Plot may be considered cliche. Now. The Borman-Nazi resurgence/espionage thing.
But I doubt if it was staled by custom at the time.
From a technical aspect, excellent management of backstory, with an economy that illustrates and reinforces several plot and character elements.
I remember once when I had got back after a really hell of a haul through most of Mittle Europa, doing the last trek in an absolutely stinking Yugoslav fishing smack manned by two of King Peter's men who had never seen a boat before, and all he said to me was, "You need a bath, don't you."

Books that break the conventions have been out there all along.

Beak: A magistrate; 18-20th c. In 16-17th c. a constable (form often beck); the nose.
Beak, strop one's: to coit; low; late 19-20th c.; obsolete.
Bean-belly: A Leicestershire man; mid 17-19th c.; vaguely in 15th c.; Leicestershire for centuries producing an abundance of beans.
Bear, play the: to behave rudely or roughly; late 16-17th c.; colloquial >; by 1600, Standard.


Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh boy. Let's not tell evilkev the definition for 'play the bear' or that'll become a play on my nickname...

Bernita said...

If he does, remind him that a standard characteristic of nics is to describe the exact opposite, ie. "Tiny" being 300 lbs. and 6 foot 4.
Otherwise, I can only suggest you live up to it and swat him one.

Rick said...

I wonder how book and author did at the time?

You're probably right that the Nazi angle hadn't yet passed its sell-by date. That is close to the time that the Israelis nabbed Eichmann, and in the mid-60s the plot might even have seemed a refreshing departure from Cold War spook stuff.

Bernita said...

Publishing details are singularly missing from my hard-cover copy, Rick; but I believe the book made paper back editions as well.
She wrote several other epionage novels, including "The Woman with the Portuguese Basket," but her output was mainly YA, I believe.
Another odd thing, don't believe first person was all that popular at the time - if that's so, she broke another convention there, too.

Dennie McDonald said...

Plot may be considered cliche.

there's no such thing... rather, there isn't something that hasn't been done (to death, sometimes), so ... do it well, and it stands out! then, now... whenever

Bernita said...

So they say, Dennie, but some plot types acquire a same-old prejudice in the eyes the Gatekkepers.
Didn't Agent Nelson say just recently that if she had to read one more YA with a portal in it, she would hurl?
Care to lay odds on the chances of a boy wizard at wizard school right now? Or a DaVinci Code look-alike?
Not good, even if the twist is original and the writing stellar.
Books hinging on a Hitler henchman-evil-plan rather saturated at one time. Faded when readership couldn't get excited about a villain who was 92.

Rick said...

First-person has been the norm in hardboiled, I think, since it came into being, though espionage is a fairly different subgenre.

Nazis would be hard to do now for just the reason you give - the villains would be awfully long in the tooth; yet the events are still too close and too horrific to be treated the way you might treat (say) someone dreaming of a Napoleonic restoration.

Bernita said...

A good subject, Rick, while we have oodles of biographies about L'empereur, not to many I can think of, off-hand, dealing with that. The subject of the Dauphin's secret survival has been done to death, though.

What I was trying to say earlier was that the keeper appeal of her book does not rely on the plot per se but on the main character, some delightful minor ones, some light pathos and her dry wit.

Ric said...

Conventional Main Characters.

This can go a variety of different ways for different reasons. While there is some interest in Monk - the OCD detective, I am more of the opinion that fiction is read for escape. I don't want to read about someone with diabetes brought on by their weight. We have to deal with that stuff in our real lives.

On the other hand, must we always be dealing with Twiggy type characters? Should we not be trying to be realistic? The reality is most people aren't like the characters in our novels. They have hemmoroids, an extra ten pounds, a large nose, bald heads.

Not me, of course. I'm still the Love God I was in high school. :-)

Good post, Bernita. Interesting topic. The trick, I think, is to embue our characters with human attributes, recognizable but not overwhelming. Unless of course they are germaine to the plot.

December Quinn said...

I do go out of my way to make my heroines a little out of the norm-not stunningly beautiful, not big-busted with tiny waists, not sickeningly pure (the only thing about romance heroines I don't like is that they always seem to be the sweetest, most wonderful women ever-they're all Melanie Wilkes only nicer).

Diabetes and stuff, though...well, I read other books besides romances (and I'm talking more specifically about romances, because I hear these arguments a lot referring to them). That's where I look for more serious issues facing the H/h. Romances are for fantasy and fun-an exciting story.

Besides, whenever I see people commenting on stuff like that, I wonder why they think health issues are such a terrible conmplication in the lives of the characters. Diabetes is a concern, yes, but why are they implying that the heroine can't live a pretty much normal life because she has it/a weak heart/a club foot/whatever?

I have a cold. I might not be making sense.

Tsavo Leone said...

Ric: You promised you wouldn't talk about that picture of me in public!

Bernita said...

What I find cute about the complaint that the heroine is always too beautiful, too slim,etc. is that in the presentation of the alternative heroine - the mousie,dowdy,over-weight, secretarial-kindergarten teacher one from Wawa, Ontario -the hero is usually still the bronzed god-cowboy-sheik-millionaire-secret agent type.
Masterful, either by position or personality, brooding, dangerous.
Only a little reality, please.
We are Sellers of Dreams and escape as you say, Ric, and there is sometimes too much emphasis on appearance and stereotype character.
One of the things I like about Wuorio's book, is that other than a few preliminary comments about having let herself go, our main physical descriptions come from other characters - and that not all at once.
Another thing, it was not usual to have a female protagonist in a spy thriller during the 60's, or was it?

Bernita said...

Yes, you make sense, December.
They tend to sterotype the condition, not just the character.

Tsavo, you know very well that men can get away with not being cover guy. Pretty boys make me, for one, gag. Besides, you lie a lot.

Ric said...

Tsavo, sorry, couldn't resist.

At least in romances, the guy cannot be the mousy, pudgy kid with glasses. The stereotype is too strong to imagine him doing much more than fighting his way out of a paper bag - let alone saving the heroine.
They could, however, be the butterflies that emerge from the crysillis of high school, trading on each other's inner strengths.

Men, Bernita, tend to like what they see in the full length mirror. I know it's biological, but most men feel very good about their looks.
Women tend to not like what they see.

It's not a matter of getting away not being cover guys - most of us think we are....

Bernita said...

Now that's interesting, Ric.
~Imagining guys preening naked in from of full-length mirrors ~
Wouldn't have thought guys were so vain.(Had to say that - so Bonnie can yell "my eyes, my eyes!")
Sooo, men are only critical of the female body? Or just non-critical about their own?

Erik Ivan James said...

With all due respect Ric, and certainly no offense meant, I must take the counterpoint that most guys are not happy with the way they look. For those few that are in fact happy with their appearance they are likely the ones that fit by nature or very hard work at the gym the stereotype we typically see in book characters, tv characters, etc. The difference, in my humble opinion, between men's satisfaction with their physical appearance and women's satisfaction with theirs is; women will admit they would like to look better whereas men won't because it's not macho. If we admitted that we don't like our physical appeal then the first thing that would have to go is the beer(gut). However, age may be an important factor with regard to this attitude--I donno.

Rick said...

It isn't so much that men (at any rate most straight American men) are only critical of women's bodies, as that we really only notice women's bodies. We aren't preening in front of the mirror; we aren't standing in front of it at all.

But as to the question of characters' appearance, in some genres the protagonists are supposed to be just a bit larger than life, so shouldn't they be somewhat striking in appearance as well? Not necessarily conventionally beautiful/handsome, but striking, and standing out in the crowd.

Tsavo Leone said...

I must admit that I'm not really one for going in to detail about a character's physical attributes unless it serves a purpose. I much prefer to just deal with the character themselves, because that's what I'm used to reading about. Part of it may come down to my over-riding desire for characters to simply be an every(wo)man, because extraordinary things do happen to ordinary people too.

I've mentioned before that I 'cast' some of my characters in advance of writing them. However, for the most part my main protag's are left uncast...

Bonnie Calhoun said...

"My eyes....word pictures, word pictures!!!! Geez Ric, i come over here for a little rest and relaxation and you put my heart into an applectic little minx!

Oh, Bernita...don't think the "118 pounds when I bought the book escaped my scrutiny...LOL!
Girlfriend, I have a thigh that weighs that much!

Ric said...

Laugh out loud funny, Bonnie.

Guys, I didn't dream that comment up - I say/heard a study that says just that. Guys are mostly pleased with the way they look naked. Women are not.

Men are generally looking and usually unaware that women are looking at us as well. Most of that is biological. If we didn't look at each other, not much would happen to propogate the speices.

and Tsavo, I agree with you here on description. The more vague, the better. Bigger than life, as Rick suggests, but not every hair described. I've had readers say, "That wasn't how I pictured him at all."

The best point about fiction is the reader gets to fill in the stuff we leave out. If you simply say a petite blond, I have my own picture. If you say a 200 pound wannabe blond about 5 foot 4, well, I've got that picture too...

Bernita said...

In romance, descriptions are a convention.
C'mon, Bonnie, we've seen your picture - and you're not supposed to lie like that.