Friday, May 09, 2008


The Pink Hat,
David Levine,
( painting once the property of Greta Garbo.)

It's a fine and difficult line.

Between the modern awareness of sexual assault and the traditional model of the the alpha male.

Between demonstrating sexual allure and articulating the hero as a neanderthal. Or, to make it current, an asshole.

An intelligent heroine doesn't appreciate or respect a hero who acts like an asshole. And the time-worn excuses -- overwhelmed by her beauty/sexyness/ fit of temper/whatever -- just won't wash.

So, unless I produce and expand on convincing reasons for the hero's conduct that don't make him look like a total asshole, I may have to delete the following scene -- no matter how much I may like some of the lines.

My hand met and slid past his chest because he grabbed my arms and muscled me up against the side of my car. Surprised, I clutched at him. His hands shifted to grasp my head, his fingers sliding over my cheekbone to hold my face immobile.

"You warned me you were a danger to me, Leannan. I think this is what you meant," he said, and put his wicked mouth on my open one. And his wicked tongue. Instant lust. I wanted to wrap my legs around him, lock my ankles and pull him tighter. Public place, with people passing by, be damned indeed. I hated myself for that impulse. I hated him for my impulse.

So I bit him.

By itself it might not have been enough deterrent; but just then, behind him, someone hooted and snickered and someone else advised us to get a room.

Johnny dropped his hands, braced them on the roof of the car, turned his head. He said, with menace, "Fuck. Off."

Two sets of baggy pants and baseball caps worn backwards hurried past to the 7-11.

The interruption allowed me to slide down the side of the car to the asphalt. Firm ground. I needed it.

"That makes one more good reason not to give you the time of day. Give me my keys and keep the hell away from me," I said with much more aplomb than I felt.

He rubbed a palm across his mouth, looked at the smear of blood on it and smiled down at me.

"Don't pretend you're not attracted, Lillie."

"So. What."

Shivering, I looked around the deserted lot. Fog curled along the street. The street lamps, triggered automatically by the mist, glowed like a row of corpse candles.

"Lillie, I need you."

"Buy a blow-up doll."

"I'm offering you Federal accreditation and a Federal contract."

"I don't believe that for a minute. Real jobs don't get offered in the dingy parking lot of a min-mall unless it just occurred to someone they left themselves open to a charge of sexual assault. Do I have idiot stenciled on my forehead?"

Maybe I did. In large letters. Here I was still talking to him. Standing as if my runners were velcroed to the pavement.. But I needed my keys back. I needed to catch my breath too, and lower my heart rate under two hundred.

"Last chance," I said, "I want my car keys." If he failed to hand them over, I would just lock up the car and walk home.

"Recruitment test, Lillie. Let's have coffee and I'll explain."

"What you said to those teen-agers. Consider it repeated."


Ric said...

I think you're right. He does come off as something of an asshole. But, if there is a setup, some sexual tension build up before, it will probably work.
Even if it's how all the other women view him, with lust, or tales of his sexual exploits preceding him. If his actions are something he considers a right, then the scene and her reaction work.

Did I help?

writtenwyrdd said...

Well, I like this scene, and it seems like a logical scene. Johnnie's pushy, agressive and overbearing to a certain degree. Some women like that. He's not approaching rape, and she tells him he's a jerk. I would suggest, however, that he discovers the error of his ways and ammends them to a more reasoned approach.

(And I happen to like stories where the guys get all hands on and agressive. Lots of gals do!)

BernardL said...

With the attraction you hinted at in the scene, I'm confused why Lillie would fight him off as if he were a mugger. If Lillie were not thinking of locking her legs around him, the scene would not be incongruous to me. :)

Bernita said...

Ric, you always help.
He's made moves on her before.She is not, however, ruled by her hormones.

Written, I do like the arrogant, alpha male.
She's not going to find his excuse this time particularly flattering though.

Bernita said...

Bernard, she perfectly willing to admit she is attracted to him, but believes, in the circumstances, his actions are highly inappropriate and unethical.

writtenwyrdd said...

He's trying to sex her up and hire her, so yes it's unethical. She tells him so then and there but isn't going to fall for something that's practically an attack. But I wouldn't toss the scene. You might want to tweak it later on, but the scene appears to be useful in that he's complicating the situation and driving her away and this includes their budding relationship (if you can call what they have a relationship) and the whole "offering Federal accrediditation and contract" thing.

BernardL said...

Seeing the scene from her mind's eye gives me conflicting vibes. The impulse of joining in whole heartedly while drawing his blood is certainly a conflict. :)

ChrisEldin said...

I like the scene. It's honest. It goes through a series of emotions in a short time, and I think you nailed it.

If you wanted to make it more PC (which I wouldn't, but it's your story), I might delete the bit about the sneering teens. The bite, coming from *her* is enough of a deterrent.

(I have a short story called Johnny's Addiction. I had the opening on EE a while back. I'm writing another Johnny story now. I promise I didn't take your character's name! I want you to know that in case I ever post it)

Belinda (Worderella) said...

I like the scene, especially because she bites him. He may be an alpha male, but she's definitely not a submissive female. I see her as strong as he is, so I don't worry, as a reader, that she can't defend herself or teach him a lesson or two.

I think, instead of him being unfazed by her biting him, and to make him seem a tiny bit less of an ass, you can have him be surprised by it. If a woman bites a guy, and the intent is vicious, unless he's a real creep I doubt he'd be smiling after and just wiping the blood away. But that's just my suspicion.

Robyn said...

Okay, you know how I feel about cavemen.

I like the idea that he shakes her up. And if you add a scene later where he acknowledges the ethical transgression, it would work.

Anonymous said...

What a great scene. I've had the pleasure over your blog life to see your writing get so strong it snaps off the page and punches you in the face. Great, great work. And I agree about the sexuality/aggression. It doesn't seem to go too far for me.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Written!

Conflict, there definitely is, Bernard.

Chris, I worry more that I'm too much PC at times.
No problems. Not as if Johnny was a rare name you know.

Thank you, Belinda. Think I'll put his surprise back in.I had edited it out.
Earlier in the story after she finds out a crucial detail, she told him had she know it, she would have bitten him the first time he kissed her.
He just learned she meant it.

Robyn, he has to justify his actions and recognize he blew it.

"so strong it snaps off the page and punches you in the face."
Jason, that is so NICE! Thank you!

Rick said...

Hollywood lip rape - if there wasn't a term for it before, there is now. The woman alway either wants it, or likes it once she gets it, but a spunky heroine slaps him anyway as a matter of principle. We have all seen this movie before, and we will see it again, because otherwise where would the child stars of tomorrow come from?

Forcing a kiss differs symbolically from other uninvited attentions - certainly from grabbing her T's or A - because a kiss connotes intimacy. It signals desire to have a woman, not just use her. (Guys, don't try this trick at home; in Hollywood they use trained stuntmen.)

My only grump here is purely incidental - I can't see a teen in a backwards baseball cap saying "Get a room!" Only someone older, who can imagine renting a hotel room, says that. Actually I'd imagine something more like "Ooo, baby, go for it!"

writtenwyrdd said...

"but a spunky heroine slaps him anyway as a matter of principle"

Yes! That's it exactly!

Rick said...

Writtenwyrd - and that is why he doesn't need to apologize. She got her own back. An apology would be wincingly PC, like some small liberal arts college in the upper Midwest where you have to get a girl to sign a consent form to date her.

It is appropriate for the hero, later, to make some wry witty comment that she's got a great backhand/set of chompers/future in women's pro soccer, depending on where and how the lady in question made her point of principle.

Bernita said...

Rick, thank you. That's a very good point and good psychology about an apology. For some reason it didn't feel right to have him offer an apology per se. Not at this point in the story.

BTW, "get a room" merely means find some place private.It's a slogan of sorts and teens do use it.

Seeley deBorn said...

I don't see a single thing wrong with that scene. Asshole, be damned. I'm sick of political correctness invading fiction.

Bernita said...

Ha, Seeley, I'm more worried about my own essential prudery invading my fiction!

StarvingWriteNow said...

I don't think it's too much, but I would need more information to make a decision. More motive, more story, more backstory... oh, just send me the whole manuscript. ;)

Bernita said...

I've put him in a bad spot, WriteNow!

raine said...


No, really--I have no problem with the scene or Johnny's behavior. I'm sure enough of your talent as a writer to know that something significant has led up to this, or it wouldn't be there. And Johnny's passionate earthiness is a nice compliment to Lillie's "other-worldliness". One has the definite impression from previous work that they've held their feelings in reserve for a long time. That makes this romantic, and Lillie's bite is nearly as sexy as it is a deterrent.

And the description of the "corpse candles" is wonderful, btw.

"I'm offering you Federal accreditation and a Federal contract."

Is that what they're calling it these days? ;)

Bernita said...

Dear Raine. Thank you.
He's just had a shock,what he thinks is a confirmation of something.

cindy said...

love this :

The street lamps, triggered automatically by the mist, glowed like a row of corpse candles.

and love the "get a blow up doll" retort! WOOOOO!! hee!!

bernita, i think you should keep it as is. it is a great scene. and a man can be an asshole sometimes--we can all be assholes sometimes. the scene reads very real to me.

i love it!!

Bernita said...

Oh, Cindy! Thank you.
I'll gallop onward then.

You people have no idea how valuable your comments are to me.

Charles Gramlich said...

If this was all we saw it would definitely seem he was an asshole. Redeeming him may be very hard if he is to be her lover, but if he is to just become a good friend then I think it could work.

Bernita said...

He has to be redeemed, Charles, because of that eventuality, though it may be a little distant.

Dave F. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave F. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave F. said...

If his mouth and tongue weren't "wicked" the scene might read different.

I could live with his momentary lapse of restraint {?} but when he adds "I'm offering you Federal accreditation and a Federal contract."
That's called sexual harassment. He's in a superior position and uses it for sex.

If you want him to act Male Chauvinist Pig-like and idiotically clumsy in his first profession of love to her, then don't ties his words to her future work. He makes it about something other than his affection for her and says "Recruitment Test." That not diverting the topic from his love for her, that's further linking sex with a job. Find another way to divert his intent.

From what you've written about these two characters, this sounds truer to her than to him. I think that your first reaction was correct. It's a great scene, vivd, nice action, good imagery, well defined and DOOMED!

(I had a really awkward misspelling that I had to fix)

Bernita said...

"He's in a superior position and uses it for sex."
Not quite, Dave.
Since she repulses him, he assures himself that she is not a leannan sidhe, as suggested by her husband ( ah yes, turns out he's alive after all) as well as a mischief-making bean sidhe who called her "cousin" in his hearing.

Lisa said...

I think this is great and I'm at a bit of a disadvantage because I don't know what events led up to the moment of the incident. If they've been drinking, I get it, but I'm not sure what would trigger a guy to spontaneously do that. A couple of nits (I'm guessing you are looking for feedback on anything that I stopped to consider) -- When she said, "That makes one more good reason not to give you the time of day..." I felt like she might have something a little less cliche to say. There's nothing wrong with it, but I think you could either skip that or give her something more cynical or clever to say. I also didn't think her response to his assertion that she was attracted to him would be "So. What". It seems like a concession and I would imagine her probably turning away or making a gesture or giving him that sarcastic puff of air (I can't describe it right now) that's a reaction to BS. I think I also agree with Dave on the dialog about the "I'm offering Federal Accreditation..." line. I don't think anyone would come right out and say this. I think what someone is more likely to say is something about making her life easier or helping her career. But this is very strong and I think the physical encounter and reactions are great. I also like the comment from the passing punks and his reaction. Gives her a nice closing line. But this is all difficult to comment on with the scene out of context -- makes me want to read the whole thing, so that's good!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Lisa, very much.
Yes, a couple of things would be clear if you had the context of the previous scene, especially the "one more reason" line.
The accreditation line does need work.

Dave F. said...

"leannan sidhe" I missed that. I thought this was just a clumsy attempt at romance.
I'm not that much of a faerie lore person. I am afraid my knowledge of banshees and succubi, well what can I say but, sucks.

Bernita said...

I hope the scene's a little more complicated than romance.
I'm not much of a faerie lore person either, Dave, but a few basic Celtic legends do figure in this story

writtenwyrdd said...

Okay, I didn't get that recruitment test thing until reading the comments. I don't think it's clear in the excerpt that the kiss is a job try out. We probably would know from context what the leannan is and why this would be a test of some kind (riiiight. Suuuuure. It's a test. Uhhum. No wonder she bites him!)

Bernita said...

Written, I think his explanation has to come next and after. It is from her pov after all.

writtenwyrdd said...

Hey, you are the grand master of this tale, so whatever works for you. I was just saying what I figured was happening, not trying to dictate what must be, lol.

Where does she bite him? The lip? Tongue?

Gabriele C. said...

No matter how attracted she is to him, at that point the kiss is non consentual and a sexual assault.

But I've read a few books with the same basic constellation - mutual attraction, the man being a jerk, the woman fighting against her own lust - to know it's genre typical and thus works for most readers.

If there's enough other fun stuff in a book (like in Lynn Viehl's Darkyn series), I can deal with alpha heroes though I never get why readers like men who don't accept a NO - even in fiction.

Bernita said...

I think the lip, Written.

Gabriele, it may be genre typical because it may frequently reflect real relationships.

jjdebenedictis said...

I really liked this scene; great tension, very snappy.

Unlike what other commenters said, however, the lust on Lillie's part was the only thing that seemed weird to me. Maybe have her feeling jumbled-up lust and rage at him? Mixed emotions are always tasty.

Rick said...

Gabriele, it may be genre typical because it may frequently reflect real relationships.

I'm sure it does, especially when you allow for a bit of literary exaggeration. The fact is that any guy going in for a first kiss is not sure how she will react - so a bit of aggressiveness is necessary, as coded into our dating culture.

A funny thing about this discussion for me as a guy is that the vast majority of sexual-tension scenes are written in genres aimed at a primarily female readership (not just romances), and probably by women writers. Curiously, of all the stereotypically guy-book genres, the only one I can think of that you could read for dating tips - even bad ones - is hardboiled detective.

(Of course, now women writers are shoving the R word even into science fiction, Cthulu help us all!)

I find myself in the position of having to deal with significant romance elements even though my story is a young woman's political development.

Chumplet said...

When she bites him, I see him turning away and clutching his mouth, a muffled 'Fuck!' from behind his hand.

If you don't want him to be a complete asshat, you can give him an expression of chagrin rather than cockiness while he wipes his mouth and checks for damage.

It's a great scene! I can't wait for more.

Bernita said...

Thank you, JJ.
If you knew this is the not the first time he's kissed her, would it then seem weird?

Ah, those girl cooties, Rick!

Thank you, Sandra.
Don't want to over use a valuable word.
But you and Belinda are right, his reaction needs to be included.

laughingwolf said...

a total asshole, in my book... she's right to reject him, on every level

Gabriele C. said...

If that reflects real relationships, I'm doubly glad I never dated.

Rick, maybe that explains why the majortiy of the books I like is written by men. ;)

Bernita said...

Then I've really put him in a spot, Laughingwolf, and his excuse had better be damned good.

Ah well, Gabriele,people aren't perfect and in relationships sometimes otherwise terrific people act like assholes now and then.

Gabriele C. said...

Sure they do. It's just that I can't forgive assholery in connection with sex. No is No. Period. It's a question of respect.

That said, I'm still looking forward to reading your book one day because I know there will be a lot more in it than Johnny being an asshole once or twice. ;)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Gabriele!

Travis Erwin said...

I actually like that scene a great deal, and as a reader I can forgive a character for occasionally being an asshole if I already knew him before the screw up. If this comes later in the book and we have seen his more admirable qualities I don't think this alone would make me turn agaisnt him.

But maybe female readers would feel differnetly.

Rick said...

If anything, the female commenters here have mostly been easier on Johnnie than the males have. Maybe because we read ourselves into his role, not hers. From a male point of view, man is he being an asshole, and if I were a gal I'd knee him so hard in the groin he'd be singing soprano in the choir.

Are you gals more forgiving because even if he's being an asshole you can imagine Lillie still getting hot & bothered? Except for Gabriele. I guess if I were a Roman around AD 80 who wants to date one of those blonde barbarian girls, I should try sending her candy or something instead of just doing the good old Sabine Women thing.

Bernita said...

Comes in around the 70,000 word mark, Tarvis.
He's still largely an enigma to Lillie.

Rick, Lillie's not in a position to knee him. She does the next best thing.
Perhaps some of women commenting have extrapolated from the occasional excerpts and see the situation in more complicated terms.

Gabriele C. said...

Rick, you better send her some candy. Those blonde barbarian girls were pretty good at groin kicking. :)

Seriously, some of my Romans are surprised about the greater freedom German women enjoyed, compared to the Roman upper classes.

Belinda (Worderella) said...

Rick, I think this also has to do with that whole "bad boy" image that many women fantasize about but in real life would run screaming from (mostly). In fiction, it's ok because most of the time the female main character gets back at him, or he learns a lesson,... in other words, he reforms. We female readers tolerate the asshole moments because we expect reformation, or death.

Maybe not death. Maiming is acceptable, too.

laughingwolf said...

not much of a woman IF she takes EXCUSES, not REASONS, for his shitty behavior, no?

ok, i do like her, at this point... so needs must read the book to get at the truth... she's such a powerful character, at least from this glimpse :)

Bernita said...

"Maybe not death. Maiming is acceptable, too."
~chortle, chortle~
Women do expect a certain amount of assholery from the breed.

Yep, Laughingwolf, reasons, it had better be.

laughingwolf said...

and they get it... cuz that seems to be the nature of the beast....

kmfrontain said...

I like this scene. Women can be attracted to bad men and still say no to them...

Corollary: men can be attracted to bad women and still say...

People just get so f---ed up, which is all very good story fodder. :D

Bernita said...

Thank you, Karen.
The nuances are very complicated in scenes like these.

Vesper said...

I liked this post, Bernita, and the fragment is very, very good.
I haven't read all the comments but I'm sure I'm repeating what others have already said. Still...
We all like and need to fantasize, and I think this is acceptable in a work of fiction. In real life though (for me at least) it would be an absolute no-no.
The scene works though.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Vesper.
I'm still fussing over the personality logic of this scene.