Saturday, September 30, 2006

He Just Looks Like He Sounds So Hot

I just got a care package from Kensington, and what should I find? Yet another Bad Boy that somehow escaped my notice.

I've only read a couple chapters, but I'm liking it a lot, fan that I am of those Brava Bad Boys.

So, I notice the guy on the "British Bad Boys" cover is so flippin British looking, he probably sweats pale bitter.

And it reminded me of another cover we loved a while back, the delightful Loretta Chase's "Lord Perfect." I mean , that guy has a riding crop and Hessians. Be still my naughty schoolgirl heart.
Maybe it has something to do with those Viking marauders and randy Normans that infuse the Briton gene pool, but can you help me out here? What makes these guys look so British? Is the term British Bad Boys oxymoronic?
Encore! Molto grazie, Pam Rosenthal, for entertaining us for the past few days! We loved having you, and really appreciate your personal attention to our questions and interest. Please come back any time. You're friends are welcome, too!
Encore due! Stacy, you've won a novel from Pam! Send me your snail mail at, Bella! Congrats, and thanks all for dropping in!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pam Rosenthal GuestBlog: Love, Sex, Power, and Knowledge

CONTEST!!! One commenting Bella will win one of Pam's fab novels (courtesy of Pam)! Buona fortuna!
Her novel, "Almost A Gentleman," changed the way I looked at erotic romance, and I feel honored Pam Rosenthal is visiting us today. But before I make this sound like we must bow before her, let me tell you that Pam is every bit as accessible as her stories and characters.

Which is good, because this is the day to talk erotic romance and erotica-- maybe even continue our discussion of euphamism -- with one of the best writers going who happens to write both. So please give Pam a warm Bella welcome...

Hi everyone, and thanks for having me, Michelle. What amazingly wide-ranging discussions you have here. And as a closet nerd, I adored the Back to School Week postings.

Or maybe the nerdiness isn’t so closeted. Because I haven’t exactly kept it a secret, how sexy I think reading is.

My early erotic novels (w/a Molly Weatherfield) are about an outspoken and outrageously well-read San Francisco bike messenger, who finds herself in a dark demimonde of power sex. Carrie isn’t sure where any of this is leading, but, as she tells us, “I felt as though I was in the middle of reading – of living – this epic story, and it was all I could do to keep turning the pages fast enough.”

And my first romance heroine, Marie-Laure, in The Bookseller’s Daughter, falls in love with Joseph when she reads the erotic fiction he’s written. Actually, she reads it a little too astutely for his taste – he’s frightened, angered, and of course fascinated that she’s learned more about him than he thought he was telling.

For me, love and sex are always joined in narrative, and narrative is a double helix of power and knowledge, curiosity and desire. Romance fiction is so popular, I believe, because our own most cherished personal stories are the stories of how we ourselves fell in love.

Who is this terribly attractive person, we asked ourselves. Can we get him to reveal a little more about himself? Hmmm, might be dangerous – do we really want to know, and do we really want to risk revealing our selves in return?

And even when we weren’t sure we wanted to keep “reading,” could we have stopped?

What a good erotic romance does is portray this power struggle, this game of show and tell, hide and seek -- in bed, and out in the world as well.

The best compliment a reader ever paid me was saying that reading Almost a Gentleman was like walking in on my characters making love, even when they weren’t.

But I also want to achieve the mirror image of that erotic voyeurism: during the most extreme, most physical scenes, I want the reader to see two people learning each other’s most private, cherished stories.

Call it intimacy. In any case, I think that’s what I was trying to portray in my just-released erotic historical romance, The Slightest Provocation, the story of a contentious couple who wrestle each other down to some very intimate basics. (The gorgeous cover does really suggest my heroine Mary. But to suggest my hero Kit – well, you could always try Ewan McGregor.)

So tell me. How does it work for you? Does the simple act of turning the pages to find out what happens next have an erotic charge? And what does love (and/or sex) have to do with the pleasures of a good story?


Encore! "The Slightest Provocation" has been out just a short time and already has spent 3 weeks on the B & N Bestseller List!
Encore due! Pam writes erotica as Molly Weatherfield, whose novel, "Carrie's Story" was chosen one of's 25 Sexiest Books Ever
Encore tre! Visit Pam and join Pam as she begins group blogging at (great for us historical fans!)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

In Praise of Perfectly Pleasing Purple Prose

Tomorrow, Thursday, Sept 28, Pam Rosenthal GuestBlogs with a topic near and dear. Pam writes erotic romance, and erotica under the nomme de plume, Molly Weatherfield.

I adore Pam’s “Almost a Gentleman,” and her writing is top-shelf. She also creates some of the best erotic scenes in the biz, ones which are honest and genuinely arousing.

But some writers' love scenes contain lots of euphemism, some of which reads shockingly purple in or out of context.

Yet I and lots of the romance lovers I know still love and appreciate the books, because they’re emotionally-charged and make the heart ache in a delicious, over-the-top way that only a skilled writer can accomplish.

So, read this excerpt from “A Perfect Bride,” by Samantha James -- a book on my keeper shelf, btw, then answer the question below:

Her body yielded. With his thumb he circled her secret pleasure button. His finger sank deeper, gliding, stroking, gently stretching. Sweat beaded his upper lip. He ached with the need to exchange his finger with his rod. Not yet, he cautioned himself. Could she take more? He wondered wildly.

She could…and did…

He nudged her cleft, feeling her sleek, wet passage stretch to accept him…

For despite his most stringent preparations, her frail barrier of innocence barred him entrance. And though he wanted his possession to be slow and unhurried and careful, the feel of her silken channel clasped tight around his surging helm tempted him past bearing. Knowing he was first, that not other man had touched her like this, sent a raw, primitive rush shooting through his veins.

His eyes squeezed shut. Blindly he thrust…

Purple Prose or Crack for Smart Chicks?

What's the place of euphemistic, florid writing in romance?

Does only realism count in romance?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

CinemaBella: The Big Easy

Welcome all to


Today we explore "The Big Easy," with Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin as our hero and heroine. The film's by Jim McBride.

So, ask your own questions of one another, or maybe start with these:

What themes do you find in the film?

How are the things that make the film good different from those we find appealing today?

Does watching the flick post-Katrina change add/detract or change your opinion of the flick.

Would the film make a good romance novel? Why/not?

Have at it. And remember to vote for next month's CinemaBella selection:

"French Kiss" or "Dangerous Liaisons."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Mend It Like Beckham

So, David Beckham calls me and he's all like, "Michelle, Bella, I wanna thank you for posting my pic during 'Back to School Week: Scholars on Romance.' Most people think the lot of us footballers are just so many blee- sorry, luv, blinkin dundereheads [his words, not mine.]"

"But," he went on, 'I noted the discourse became heated at several points. It seemed rules of kind behaviour weren't always being followed, let alone rules of good volleying about of grand ideas."

Becks says: DO be confident when you blog your opinion. Look us "in the eye," and know that your opinion counts here.

Well, I noticed, too, that at times last week we weren't all so polite in acknowledging each other's opinions and supporting each other as, at the very least, nice people who all love romance novels. And I guess some of this is coming from discussions I've had on other romance blogs. (Can anyone anymore agree politely to disagree -- or does the shorthand nature of blog comm preclude this?)

So, Becks gave me a couple of tips on good behaviour as he sees it, and I'm gonna encourage you to give us your thoughts on good blogging behaviour.

What is good blogging etiquette?
What do you do when you visit romance blogs where folks are not nice to one another, and wear their cloaks of anonymity to trash each other's ideas, authors, covers, etc.?

Becks says: Don't put your muddy boots on Victoria's 700 count Egyptians. In other words, when you blog, remember that your writing doesn't always read as you mean it and, at least here at RBtheBook, we care about each others' feelings.

Becks told me of this last pic, "Spicy -- I like to call Victoria that, just not to her face -- was at the gym during this shoot, and I just couldn't resist demonstrating my alpha-boyish charm."
Encore due! Our winners in Friday's contest: Monica Burns and nearhere. Send me your snailmails at Felicitazione, Bellas!
Encore tre! A very special Bella thank you to Eric Selinger, Eloisa James, and Bill Gleason for making "Back to School Week" a success! We learned so much, and were pleased you were interested in what we readers have to say! Please come back any time, but no pop quizes, OK?
Encore quattro! I never told you, but my fave Quinn brother is...Ethan! He's intense, but quiet and simple, until his struggle with his attraction to his woman gets the better of him and he goes alfalfa on her in the seagrass, showing her how easily some creep could overtake her if she wasn't careful. He was so unsure, he had to use that excuse. And what he overcame from his childhood? Roberts did a fab job showing it w/out being maudlin.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bill Gleason GuestBlog: What Do (Reader) Chicks Want?

Prof of English at Princeton, Bill Gleason is one of the nicest guys I know. When I met him, I was 25 and didn't have my degree yet. I remember his still treating me as if I had intelligence and something to say.
Today, he wants to hear what you have to say about romance novels, and is asking some very important questions, the answers to which should be listened to as we define romance for ourselves and the "outside" world.
Oh. One lucky commenting Bella wins Diana Gabaldon's "A Breath of Snow and Ashes!" Another, Toni Blake's steamy "Swept Away." Professore, the podium is yours...

Greetings everyone!

Wow, this has been such a fun week. Can we get a quick round of applause for Michelle for putting this all together? Thanks, Michelle!

Here’s my story: I teach English and American Studies at Princeton University, including courses on the history of American popular literature. For example: I teach an undergraduate course on “American Best Sellers” that runs from the colonial era to the present. We start with a thunderous Puritan poem called THE DAY OF DOOM (a catchy ballad about judgment day) and work our way through some of the most widely circulated American texts of the past couple hundred years, with heavy sampling from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

I try to include examples of the most popular genres—seduction, adventure, romance, the sentimental novel, the western, detective fiction, children’s literature, and so on—and I focus primarily on the massive best sellers, books like UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, LITTLE WOMEN, TARZAN OF THE APES, GONE WITH THE WIND.

In my experience, many of the students come to the course feeling interested in, but also a little superior to these books. (“Well sure, they were popular, but they can’t actually be any good, can they?”). Others take the course because one book on the syllabus—almost always GONE WITH THE WIND, but sometimes LITTLE WOMEN—is their favorite novel of all time. (Interesting combination, no?)

So it’s not a romance fiction course per se, like the ones Eric teaches, although sometimes we do read “real” romance novels. But the idea of romance, and particularly the appeal of the romantic plot, enters our discussions nearly every week. (Did you know that the subtitle of the first Tarzan novel was “A Romance of the Jungle”? Talk about your alfalfa male!)

And so here’s where I could use your help. Whatever the genre, I try to get the students to think about literary and cultural history (what helped make these books so incredibly popular in their particular moment?), about audience (who was reading these books, and why?), and about narrative power.

It’s the middle topic—who was reading and why—that critics and historians of popular literature traditionally have the hardest time figuring out, because most spend no time talking to actual readers. So:

If you could give a guest lecture in my course, what would you tell my students about romance readers and romance reading? What assumptions do you think college students have about this genre, and what myths would you want to dispel?

You could talk about what makes one romance novel better than another for you, or any other details about your reading, from the profound to the mundane:

Where and when do you read? How do you pick your next book? Do you reread your favorites, or prefer to keep moving to something new? Why?

I’m probably not even asking the right questions. Maybe a better question is: What should students interested in romance readers and romance reading be asking you?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Introducing...Romance: By the BookClub "Pleasure for Pleasure" Contest

You may have noticed on the sidebar a sign-up form for "Romance: By the BookClub." Basically, you send me your name and email address, and I shoot you a quickie email once a week telling you what who's being interviewed and featured at Romance: B(u)y the Book," as well as who's GuestBlogging and what's happening at "Romance: By the Blog."

Join RBtheBookClub before Friday, Sept. 29th
and I'll enter you in a drawing to
win an ARC of Eloisa James' "Pleasure for Pleasure."

Today I'm guest blogging at "Romancing the Blog!" It's a very cool spot on the Inet for readers and writers to meet, and the best clearinghouse of blogsites dedicated to romance fiction. Hope you'll visit then come back again to chat.

After you've visited, head back here as
"Back to School Week" wraps up tomorrow, Sept 22
with Princeton prof Bill Gleason!
He's one of the nicest guys I know, and a great fave of his students. That's what he tells me, anyway.
Encore! Molto grazie, Eloisa James, for visiting yesterday! We look forward to your visiting in November to talk "Pleasure for Pleasure."
Encore due! Contest winners: krissyinva/Nora's "Dance of the Gods."; cheekywench/"Pleasure for Pleasure." Congrats, Bellas! Email me at w/ your snailmail!
Encore tre! Why Becks? Just because I can. You're welcome.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Eloisa James GuestBlog: The Low Down on High Culture

Even though this NY Times bestseller is a mom, wife, author, and university prof, Eloisa James is never too busy to hang with readers. Which is why it's especially nice to have her visit us again, but this time with her thinkin cap on.

Smart, funny, nice, pretty -- and she even has a special contest for you! One lucky commenting Bella wins an ARC of "Pleasure for Pleasure," courtesy of Eloisa! Oh, but it's a marvelous novel. So, please...a warm Bella welcome for our friend, Eloisa. Professora, the podium is yours...

Hi everybody!

The only problem with following up Eric's terrific blog is that I don't actually teach romance
I teach Shakespeare. This semester I'm teaching Shakespeare and Popular Culture, a course that investigates the ways that Shakespeare leaks into ads, rap songs, movies, and TV shows.

The class has been trying to figure out how to define pop culture. One way to think of it is everything left over after we define "high" culture. This rings true to me when it comes to romance – and I think it also helps point to why romance is so looked down on in our society. Back in the days when Shakespeare was writing, he was decidedly a pop writer. Have you seen Shakespeare in Love? Kit Marlowe was considered a much better writer than Shakespeare—just as depicted in the movie.

But in the late 18th century, Shakespeare's plays started moving from the stage to the page; in other words, people started saying that the plays had to be "studied" in order to be enjoyed. Before long, "high" culture was defined as hard to understand, and "low" culture was easy to enjoy. Never mind the fact that Shakespeare had always been easy to enjoy and enjoyable. Obviously, romance is too easy and fun to be "high culture."

Still, today's "low" may be tomorrow's "high," just as with Shakespeare. Comic books are "low" – except when they suddenly get labeled "graphic" novels – and then they're "high"! How about Elvis Presley? How low could his hips go? And yet now he's an American classic.

My next novel, Pleasure for Pleasure, is not only named after a Shakespeare play (Measure for Measure), the whole plot is inflected by A Midsummer Night's Dream. If that's not high, what is? And yet…it's Mayne's turn to marry – surely that particular story is going to be "low" (*grin*)!

In honor of my particular effort to blur the boundaries between high and low, we're giving away one advance review copy of Pleasure for Pleasure from among the commentators.

So please put your mind to this puzzle…Who or what have you seen go from the bottom of the cultural barrel to the top? What genre, performer, musician, text would you bet on moving up, going from low to high?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

To MaryKate, With Love, Nora.

You asked for it, MaryKate, and it was a great ideer. Especially cause so many of you suggested to yesterday's GuestBlogger, Eric Selinger of RomanceScholar listserv, that you think Nora's books are scholarship-worthy.

So...Have At It! Tell me about Nora, what you love about her newest, her best, what makes you love her JD Robb.

And out of all the Bellas who can guess My Favorite Quinn Brother, one random selectee will win a copy of Nora's "Dance of the Gods."
Back to school tomorrow, Bellas, as
Wed, Sept. 20.
Encore! Thank you Eric Selinger for visiting yesterday and telling us about your awesome job, listening to our suggestions, and generally showing us a great time. Please visit again soon to bring us UTD on the new trends at RomanceScholar listserv!
Encore due! janet benoit, hope you're up for "All U Can Eat," cause you're our winner from yesterday's contest. Email me at with your snail mail. Congratulazione, and thanks to all who chimed in to make Eric feel welcome!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Eric Selinger GuestBlog: Teach Me Tonight

We've been waiting for months, but finally, Eric Selinger is in the hizowse! In addition to creating RomanceScholar listserve, the De Paul U prof is just a regular guy who happens to read and appreciate romance. Nerdy and romantic. sigh.

As a treat today, one lucky commenter will win a copy of Emma Holly's "All U Can Eat!"

Professore, the podium is yours...

Good morning, class! Welcome to the special "Back to School" week at Romance by the Blog. I'm Eric Murphy Selinger, and here at DePaul University in Chicago, I teach undergraduate and MA courses on romance fiction. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. Michelle thought you might like to hear about what happens in those classes, and about how this very male, very married professor of poetry ended up a fan of romance.

Most of the time, ENG 286 and 469 are just like any other English classes. We study the pre-history of the genre, from ancient Greek romances, with their pirates and shipwrecks and star-crossed lovers (think Skye O’Malley in togas), to the great debate between “romance” and “realism” that runs throughout the 19th century (quite helpful to know when you read Sarah Bird’s The Boyfriend School), to E. M. Hull’s The Sheik, which introduces us to our old friend, the alpha male. (I had a student once who wrote about the “alfalfa male” hero all through a midterm exam, but that’s a whole other story.)

As the novels get racier, my students often get a little giggly—picture thirty-four young women, three guys who don’t know what hit them, and me, discussing the bondage-with-donuts love scene at the close of Bet Me. But humor gets us through the rough spots, and I always let them discuss the books anonymously on line, as well as in class, so that the shier folks can have their say.

Twenty years ago, academics who studied romance did so as outsiders, often with an axe to grind. Times have changed. In my classes, we may read with psychology in mind, or philosophy, or history, especially women’s history, but mostly we talk about these books as books: “little worlds made cunningly,” to paraphrase John Donne.

Romance novelists play with the conventions of their form just as poets play with the conventions of the sonnet, or musicians with the givens of the twelve-bar blues. As my students read essays by writers like Jennifer Crusie and Laura Kinsale, they realize just how smart, self-conscious, and artful these novelists can be. The best new academic work on romance fiction, like Pamela Regis’s A Natural History of the Romance Novel, gives us a precise vocabulary to talk about that artistry, and in my class, we learn to use it!

When the course begins, most of my students are embarrassed to buy the books. By midterms, they bristle when the guy at the register snickers. By finals, when their roommates, classmates, and boyfriends call romance “soft-core porn for women,” they smack them upside the head with questions like this:

As we have seen in class, Hunting Midnight by Emma Holly isn’t just an “erotic romance”; it’s a novel about Eros, desire in the broadest, most philosophical sense. Write an essay that explores at least three different sorts of desire in Hunting Midnight: for sex, for knowledge, for freedom, for community, for mutual recognition, and more. Show how these desires end up related to one another, whether as versions of one another, as complementary or supplementary to one another, or even as contradictory, or mutually exclusive.

Or this:

John Milton described "fit conversation" as the test of true love and companionate marriage. Write an essay about the various sorts of conversation in Julia Quinn’s The Viscount Who Loved Me. Why does Quinn have her hero and heroine talk in precisely these ways in this order across the novel? Be sure to think about the final, more "one-sided" conversation in the final chapter, in which Anthony speaks and Kate mostly just listens. Why might Quinn end the novel that way, rather than with an actual exchange between the two?

Here’s what one student wrote me, late in the quarter:

After being in this class for eight weeks I have found that I no longer shy away at telling people that I am reading romance novels. At first I would carry the book to work and stuff and kinda hide it or tell people that yah, it's for class I have to read it. But tonight I found myself carrying it around and not caring. Someone asked what book I was reading and I was like, yah, it's a romance novel, it's pretty good. In fact, I am now proud to say, yes I read romance novels...and like it!”

They’ve learned to take romance seriously, and just how good it can be.

Reading romance has changed my life, in big and little ways. When my daughter walks around the house belting out Dusty Springfield, when I actually notice women’s shoes, when my trusty research assistant hands me a book and suggests a little private, follow-up investigation, I have these novels to thank. (Twenty-two years after we first clashed in a sophomore Lit seminar, my wife and I finally agree about some books! Believe me, studying postmodern poetry was never this fun.)

These books have also introduced me to a world-wide network of writers and scholars, especially via the
RomanceScholar listserv, the Wiki bibliography of romance criticism, and the jointly-written academic blog, Teach Me Tonight.

Since I’m still getting to know the best that romance fiction has to offer—the texts that a thoughtful, celebratory class really ought to include—let me ask you all this question:

What romance novels, new or old, do you think a course like mine should cover?

What are your “must reads” for my next romance syllabus?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Finding Nima

Meet Nima Arkani-Hamed. My 9-year-old son brought him to my attn yesterday, waving his copy of Popular Science at me and saying, 'Mumma. I think you'll like this, you know, cause you like [he inserts air quotes] hot guys, and all. Isn't this the best-looking physics nerd you've ever seen?"

Well, yeah. But maybe this work-at-home thing is having a negative effect on my children. I mean, the last time he inspired my writing like this, it was with the SI swimsuit cover.

At 32, Hamed already is "making waves" with his approach to string theory. I’m guessin that means the Harvard physics prof gets lots of requests from cute nerd chicks for independent studies, and the less continental-looking experts in the biz are a little peeved.

Hamed says, "Things that seem incredibly different can really be manifestations of the same underlying phenomena."

Guess that makes us smarty-pantses, too, cause we feel the same about Romance Fiction and “Real Lit," and all look forward to --

Romance: By the Blog
“Back to School Week”
Sept 18 – 22

Monday, Sept.18, get ready for Eric Selinger of DePaul U! He teaches romance fiction as literature, but also created RomanceScholar Listserve.

Eloisa James of Fordham is here Wed. 20th!
Bill Gleason of Princeton visits Fri. 22nd!

It's Back to School time, Bellas, but don’t bother taking notes. You’re gonna need all your brain power to survive the fun these folks can serve up.

Who was that teacher or prof you crushed on back in the day?
Maybe you're crushin on one now?
Encore! robinl, you're Michele Hauf's winner, Bella. Email me at to score.
Encore due! What's better than a hot theoretical physisist? Chocolate and a sexy romance. Felicitazione, robinl!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ann Herendeen GuestBlog: Phyllida's Law

She's back! Ann's here to talk "Phyllida," and those sexy Corinthians, Andrew and Matthew. OK. So Matt's not exactly a Corinthian, but he is a strapping alpha hunk. So enjoy a glimpse inside the writer's mind, and a peek at her choices were she casting the book. "Read Phyllida?" Let Ann know what you think. Don't know Phyll yet? Here's your chance...

Hello, Bellas! Thank you, Michelle, for having me back. I had such a good time in June, discussing my bisexual Regency romance, Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander, and specifically the question of: Why a Bisexual Hero? (answer: HOT!) I think everybody had a good time weighing in on that meaty (pun intended) topic.

This time around I’m not sure if a topic is necessary: people might just want a chance to comment on whatever they liked or didn't like about the book, or ask questions. I also thought it might be fun to consider who should play the main characters in the movie version (a girl can dream!) My choices: Clive Owen for Andrew, Kate Winslet for Phyllida, and for Matthew, Heath Ledger. Many people might think of Rupert Everett right off for Andrew, and he’s really the one I envisioned all along. Anyone else remember him in his debut film, Another Country? He was the tallest, darkest, slimmest, sexiest gay leading man I’d ever seen, and I was smitten. When I think of Kate Winslet, it’s as she was in Sense and Sensibility, zaftig, curvaceous, rosy and blooming, just like Phyllida herself. And as for Heath Ledger—anyone who can go directly from playing an inarticulate bisexual cowboy to Casanova ought to be able to play a blond, blue-eyed, gay Regency hunk of a Yorkshireman, don’t you agree?

However, in the interest of fairness, since I devoted my entire post last time to the bisexual hero, it seems only right to give Phyllida, the heroine of the story, equal attention. And to start, I’m going to ask: What kind of woman is a good match for Andrew Carrington, this masculine, bisexual hero? In a perceptive and critical review on the Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels Web site, Sarah said, in what I thought was a perfect encapsulation of Phyllida's character: she "has balls in all senses except the one that would matter most to Andrew."

One of the great things about writing fiction is the god-like power I have over my creation. I can decide who I want in my little world and then simply make it so. But just like the real world, a good novel contains characters who, if they’re brought successfully to life, develop minds of their own. So, as much as I like to claim that the character of Phyllida, who agrees to the marriage of convenience to the gay hero, is based purely on me and my preferences, ultimately what determined her nature is what I felt would work. That is, I “listened” to Andrew, paid attention to his likes and dislikes, and gave him the right kind of Eve for his Adam.

When I was first imagining the character of Phyllida, I was aware most of all that Andrew is only going to be distracted from his pursuit of men by a woman who is not only sexy but has a strong personality. A shy, modest, demure woman won't register on his consciousness at all, however much he might think that's what he wants. At first, the most important characteristics to capture Andrew's attention are Phyllida’s calm acceptance of his preferences and her sheer physicality. She isn’t squeamish about sex, despite being inexperienced, and Andrew can’t help noticing, and approving, her lush curves spilling out of a gown that’s too small for her. After Andrew’s initial wariness, his response to the effect of her sitting on his lap, and their shared kiss, is, as we see, a very firm one indeed.

But it's not long before Phyllida's spunk and courage become almost as intriguing to Andrew. Phyllida provides the two essential elements to pique Andrew's sexual curiosity: she both shocks and excites him. He's shocked at how she stands up to him and her mother, insisting that she be allowed to continue writing her novels, and almost throwing away the chance to be a wealthy lady of leisure in the process. But he's also excited by her courage; and when, despite her virginity, she's brave enough to let Andrew know that his performance on their wedding night left something to be desired, he's hooked. However his ego may suffer at first, he's secure enough in his masculinity to "rise" to the challenge.

Some readers and reviewers have found Phyllida implausibly independent and strong for a young lady of her time. A Jane Austen heroine, it’s claimed, would faint dead away at Andrew’s frank proposal. Part of my justification for her character is my belief that the morality we read in Austen's works is not necessarily the standard for everybody at that time, or even for Austen herself. Readers of Austen’s letters or of any recent biography know that in private she was sharp, witty, and very much a woman of the world—her world—with all its hypocrisy and petty vices. Today we’re far more accepting of romance novels as legitimate fiction (thank goodness, although we still have far to go) but we forget that Austen was also a satirist, not just a writer of love stories. How she portrayed her heroines was a factor of what was permissible in fiction two hundred years ago. Writing in the 21st century, I felt free to show a somewhat more candid portrait of an intelligent and outspoken young woman.

Still, I knew I had to provide some explanation for Phyllida’s remarkable personality, and I fell back on that old standby: blame the parents. I gave her a mother who had begun her adult life as the "companion" of a widowed older man, and a father who was a handsome young army officer. He must have been an appealing and interesting man—a younger son of a gentleman, pursuing a career in the military because of the system of primogeniture in which the firstborn son inherits everything, and the others, unless their father is unusually wealthy, have to provide for themselves. Capt. Lewis, like his eldest daughter, followed his heart, falling so in love with the undoubtedly alluring young Thelma, Phyllida’s mother, that he was willing to overlook her extremely compromising situation and marry her anyway. Between her mother’s earthy, practical outlook on sex and marriage on the one hand, and her father’s gentlemanly devil-may-care attitude on the other, Phyllida has grown up to be a very free-thinking young lady. She’s more like the previous generation, like Mary Wollstonecraft, the proto-feminist who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women, or Frances (Fanny) Burney, aka Mme. D’Arblay—mentioned in the story—a prolific and successful author of popular novels.

I also felt that spirited young women have always existed, even in repressive societies, but haven't always had an opportunity to express themselves. This marriage, in so many ways, gives Phyllida the chance to be herself, however it appears to be doing the opposite at first—even sexually. Like many of us today, she’s turned on by seeing hot guys getting it on with each other. Of course, as a proper young lady in most respects, she has no way to know this about herself at the beginning of the story; but what a pleasure for her as she discovers that she and her arranged-match husband are perfect for each other, a rare case of a matchmaker truly making a "match made in heaven."

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Now, This Just Makes Me Hungry

Owen here wants you to know that Ann Herendeen is back tomorrow, Sept 14, with a "Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander" re-cap, this time with a GuestBlog about our heroine, Phyllida!

It'll be fun chatting with Ann about the book, and why Phyllida, like Ann, finds it as easy to love two hunky men as one.

While many of us wouldn't deign to argue with that logic, and even though "Phyllida" isn't erotica or a menage, I'm still wondering:

Who would you choose to create your ideal fantasy luv sammich?
That's m/f/m, if you need it spelled out.

ex: David Duchovny, ME!, and David McCullough. Ooops. That's a brain sammich. Just strike DM and add Edward Norton. Which is still kinda brainy, and definitely goofy, but it's my sammich, dammit.
Encore! Thank you, Michele Hauf, for your GuestBlog in praise of Hot n Goofy guys. Congrats on the release of "Getaway Girl!" Visit us soon, ok? Don't forget to check out the iPod soundtrack, Bellas!