Sunday, December 31, 2006

Paper Dolls


Elizabeth Moon's Paksenarrion - one of my favourite action heroines.
As you can see by the tattered cover.

Sometime ago, Harlequin discontinued its Bombshell line - which purported to feature kick-ass heroines. - because it didn't deliver where it counts - at the cash register.
Recently, ran across another examination of reasons behind the line's demise at the Hackman-Adams site.
Scroll down to a December 17 entry.
These writers make several good points.
Occupation does not a kick-ass heroine make.
Just assigning her a job as body guard, cop or secret agent, dressing her up in ball-busting boots and a cross-draw holster doesn't suffice.
She has to deliver the action - and not just in bed - or else she's just a paper doll in a neat new outfit.
And the action heroine is more than a smart mouth.
Grafting the chick-lit dialogue, while enjoyable reading, doesn't make our heroines kick-ass either.
Apparently, what the heroines in this line lacked is creative punching.
While women will usually fail in the mano-a-mano, brute strength department, a realistic ass-kicker would have been trained in and have developed alternative methods to compensate.
A failure of the essential attitude of mind which translated into a failure of exciting action.
A kick-ass heroine does not admire the hero's buns and the bulge in his jeans when the bad guys are crashing through the door.
And she doesn't psychologically depend on him to rescue her.
Her idea of side-kick is to knock the legs out from under the villian or pop his knee-joint.
The heroine has to be involved in the danger, the action, as a participant, not a victim.
Or there's no real thrill and, further, nothing new, except the same old tropes.

35 comments:

Amie Stuart said...

All great points but what I heard from a Bombshell author was that they coulnd't find their market. People who read action-chick books weren't looking for them in the category romance section and category readers weren't looking for Bombshells.

It makes sense. *shrug*

Steve G said...

Bernita, I hope you have a kick ass New Year.

Bernita said...

So, a marketing placement problem complicated any form issues, Amie.
A real pity, and not something the writers could do anything about.

Cute, Steve!
Thank you. You too.

spyscribbler said...

A kick-ass heroine does not admire the hero's buns and the bulge in his jeans when the bad guys are crashing through the door.

Yes, that was me laughing out loud. (DH just called down: what's that sound?!)

The covers and length didn't even grab me, and I WANT Bombshell-type fiction. Part of the problem is with the name of the line itself (put me off), the covers, and the fact that I think they should've leaned towards a thriller crossover. 'Course, that's just me.

I'm tired of reading about male spies. Where are the kick-ass females? I HATE man-rescues-woman plots.

Rick said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rick said...

I'd guess the same thing that Amie did - that even gals who would like a kick-ass heroine don't have that at the front of their mind when they're browsing the romance shelves.

Also, putting it in romance just about eliminates a significant readership from my side of the aisle - YA fantasy author Tamora Pierce, whose girl heroes (no "heroines" for her!) kick serious ass, has told me that about a third of her readership is guys.

Spyscribbler makes another good point - Bombshell? That word is sometimes applied to a news event (e.g., "bombshell revelation"), but just by itself it most connotes "blonde bombshell" - more to do with having a great ass than kicking any.


Indulging in a snippet, a first lesson in kicking ass:

"MaĆ®tre!" shouted the huntmaster's assistant, a young man named Lasceaux, unaware that his master heard no more. Catherine looked over her shoulder. Solange stared back at her, dark eyes wide with disbelief. Madeleine was bent over; for a horrified instant Catherine thought she too had been shot – then she straightened up, crossbow in hand, and Catherine found a moment to envy her splendid presence of mind. Behind her, servants' voices were rising, shouts and cries, startled, afraid, not knowing what to do. With Lasceaux at the rear, Catherine realized, she alone must take charge, to make her own way and her company's. So long as I live! she thought, which may be but little --

Dumont rolled to his left, out of his saddle to fall in a heap. His half-pike was still upright, held by strap and socket. The other huntsmen were drawing their weapons. Figures stepped into the track ahead, armed with staves and swords. "Se rendre!" one cried.

On unthought impulse Catherine spurred past the huntsmen and seized Dumont's half-pike. It was far heavier than she'd imagined. She struggled to balance herself and get the half-pike clear of Dumont's saddle without dropping it. Her foot slipped from the stirrup; for a frightful moment she felt herself tumbling. Leaning forward she clung desperately to reins and pommel with her left hand, the half-pike with her right. Then her foot was back in the stirrup. "Charge!" she cried in her father's tongue. "A l'avant! A l'avant!" Not looking back to see if any heeded, even heard, Catherine dug in her spurs.

Bernita said...

Feel the same way, Spy.
Though I don't mind the cavalry riding to the rescue, sometimes.
Read an Intrigue last night and came across something that bugs me big - even when the heroine does something half-assed smart, the villian always is miles ahead of her and her effort is for naught.

Bernita said...

"blonde bombshell" - more to do with having a great ass than kicking any.

Oh ~snort, snicker~ so true, Rick.

And part of the problem is also to insert the necessary heavy breathing/ nipple massaging/panty wetting passages, writers often end up sticking them in at the most silly moments and insulting the brains of both the hero and the heroine.

And your excerpt illustrates the subtle point - it's the attitude of mind, the determination to do something, and the calculated understanding that action may have results that makes a kick-ass.

raine said...

Interesting post (as always...)

I confess, never read a Bombshell. But must also admit that, if I were in a bookstore looking for that type of book, I wouldn't think of checking the category section.

The idea of an 'action' heroine certainly appeals to me (old-school big-time Annie Oakley/Wonder Woman fan here!), but I'd also need variety in my heroines--and weaknesses.
And I'm actually more inclined to admire a heroine who can use her mind or wits or some secret talent to undo the bad guy than simply to kick him in the balls.

(And she'd definitely admire the hero's buns and the bulge in his jeans AFTER the crashing of the door problem is settled, lol).

Sela Carsen said...

I missed having a real hero in the few Bombshells I read. Call me unevolved, but sidekicks who are only good for shagging purposes just don't do it for me.

And I missed the lack of brains. Oh sure, tell me your heroine is a PhD in Gobba-Gobba. Unless she's also a martial arts expert (a la Karen Murphy of the Harry Dresden Chronicles), she's still dumb as a box of rocks if she tries to go toe-to-toe with the bad guy.

Bernita said...

There does seem to be a problem with definition of kick-ass, Raine.
To me, the qualities you describe:

And I'm actually more inclined to admire a heroine who can use her mind or wits or some secret talent to undo the bad guy than simply to kick him in the balls.

(And she'd definitely admire the hero's buns and the bulge in his jeans AFTER the crashing of the door problem is settled, lol).

are what makes a kick-ass heroine.
But she can use her mind and wits in a physical sense as well.
It doesn't mean she pounds every bad guy into a bloody pulp, but she's not afraid to get stand-up physical as well as horizontal.
Good offense takes brains and calculation, not just physical strength.

Bernita said...

And that's another point, Sela.
The simplistic role reversal.
Rather than a co-ordination and a compliment of strengths.

Rick said...

Bernita - the attitude of mind, the determination to do something

Just so. From your snippets and background comments, I get the impression that Damie is not in a kick-ass profession as such. Isn't she some kind of forensic analyst? A job in which she's had plenty of chance to observe kick-ass people, but not called on to kick any herself. When thrown into a situation, though, she has the will to respond vigorously, and just enough accidental background to have some idea what to do.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Rick.
You have deduced her very well.
She is able to flip the switch and act.
Also because of her fundamental principles regarding predators/evil, etc., that she is old enough to have clarified.
She has answered the "what ifs" already, so there is no hesitation.

ORION said...

Along with this...I like to see my heroines transform. Not be heroic right away but evolve. It gives me hope that I could be heroic!
Kiss ass heroines.
I like the sound of that.

Carla said...

Haven't read any of this line (not sure whether we have them in the UK, even?), so I can't really comment, except to say that I like Rick's excerpt as an example.

Bernita said...

f you mean transform/evolve in the sense of reveal, Orion, I'll go along with that.
Action= confidence= repeat action.
I don't care for the absolute mantra that a character must "grow" or "change" as if they were all perennial adolescents or YA characters.
Mature characters don't particularly "grow" - what they do is discover or reveal strengths and weaknesses already formed, with the help of unexpected vagaries of circumstances.

"Kiss ass?"
Lots in the erotica section.

Ha. Fumble fingers.
If you get this as an email, Orion, ignore and delete it.

Not sure I have either, Carla, since I don't always pay attention to the imprint name.
Post is on an "if this, then maybe" basis.

Rick said...

Bernita - Though I don't mind the cavalry riding to the rescue, sometimes.

Good, because in the end it has to ride to Catherine's rescue (well, actually the navy, and it sails).

But, after all, three teenage girls versus 30,000 men would be pretty stiff odds even for the most redoubtable young ladies.

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

May you enjoy a bright and happy New Year, Bernita, my friend, filled with great joy; the comforting warmth of love; good health and wellbeing; the delight of true friendship; and enough of whatever you want and need to fulfill your deepest dreams and desires.

Thank you for being a part of my life this past year and making it so much richer!

Bernita said...

Daisy, dear heart, the riches are mine since I found your blog.
Thank you, and may yours be filled the same.

anna said...

OOF I would like to kick ass Blogger! what a pain.
as for kick asses I quite like
Paretski's lady dick. She is kick ass and also smart.
once again Happy New Year Bernita

Jaye Wells said...

Happy New Year, Bernita.

Rick said...

Happy New Year to all!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Anna, Jaye and Rick.
May the coming Goodyear not mean treadmarks.

Amie Stuart said...

I just realized, many hours after the fact that that sounded rather abrupt and final. I didn't mean to imply that was the only reason Bombshell failed. I still have a few sitting on my TBR pile so I can't actually comment on content.

Robyn said...

Happy New Year, Bernita. I was blessed when you came by my blog.

And part of the problem is also to insert the necessary heavy breathing/ nipple massaging/panty wetting passages, writers often end up sticking them in at the most silly moments and insulting the brains of both the hero and the heroine.

I dunno. When I've just been chased and shot at and nearly killed and have just about an hour to rest before my nemesis goes for my throat yet again, my first thought is always some adrenaline-induced tonsil swabbing. Calling police or back up? No. Food or medical attention? Nah. Coming up with a proactive plan? Fuhgedaboutit. I'll have just enough time for bouncy bouncy and a quick shower before fleeing for my life.

Bernita said...

Amie, it didn't. Further, you added a necessary dimension to the discussion.

And I was blessed when I found it, Robyn.
~bouncy bouncy~
I love Snarkling Clean.

Gabriele C. said...

I prefer male MCs, so I'm not even a target audience. :)

I read books with female MCs if they're recommended by someone whose taste I trust, but I never seek them out.

December Quinn said...

Excellent point. This is, I admit, partly where my personal distaste for the "KA" heroine comes from--so often, tough jobs are subbed for actual toughness, and the heroine is usually an absolute ballbreaker of a person, too. Very rarely is she just plain likeable, with a tough job.

And I write a lot of action and a lot of sex, but I do make sure my H/h are in a safe place and no one is chasing them at the moment before they fall into bed. They've kissed with the wolves at the door, but then they realize it's not a good time and stop.

Rowan said...

Mmmmm, Paksennarion remains one of my all time faves.
I can see why they didn't find their market. I would expect something like Paks in the SF/F section (where I found it, many moons ago), rather than romance.

I do enjoy the kick-ass female heroes who seem to abound in SF/F (which I read & write). Honor Harrington, Kris Longknife, Paks, Heris Serrano. All of whom are real, living and breathing characters. That's what it comes to, in my mind. Take a properly fleshed out character, and drop her into a compelling story. Maybe that's why my MC is a woman. Just seemed right, and she's got a lot of role models. :-)

writtenwyrdd said...

"Her idea of side-kick is to knock the legs out from under the villian or pop his knee-joint."

That pretty much sums it up. I've worked in law enforcement. I found those characters offensive and stereotyped when I picked up a few of those bombshell romances and saw the wimpy, needy women working in law enforcement and other 'tough girl' jobs. That put me off the imprint.

cyn said...

i'm so glad you posted this, bernita. just recently, i was trying to find this book but had forgotten the author name and couldn't spell pak's name. ha! my friend had gifted me with the deeds book. i read it once, then gave it away during a major home remodel. i regret it as i would love to read it again.

Bernita said...

We seem to have the same taste in heroines, Rowan!

Exactly, Written.
One of the reasons I like Moon, she does good action -physically and psychologically. Of course, it helps she was in the Marines.

Don't you hate it when you do that in an excess of generosity or careless whim, Cyn?

writtenwyrdd said...

Elizabeth Moon's Paksinarrion trilogy was the best. I have practically worn out my copies. Her Sassinak stories are good as well. I particularly liked The Death of Sleep.

writtenwyrdd said...

And don't forget Miles Vorkosigan's mother, the Captain Cordelia, who actually stars in her own book, Cordelia's Honor. Good strong female characters in all Lois McMaster Bujold's books. They are also very funny.