Warning: This post is long, rambling commentary of how romantic books are packaged, old and modern. If reading about this genre is beneath you, feel free to skip it. 😉
I have watched hundreds of movies in past few months. Yes hundred, it’s not an exaggeration. I have read several books as well. But I read and watch more than I write. And I feel I must remedy that. In coming days, I will do my best to write about what I am reading and writing.
I was reading The Blind Assassin and The Clockwork Orange, both somewhat profound books. But the books didn’t seem to suit my tired state of mind, so I began looking for a fast read thriller, mystery or romance instead of a literary classic.I remembered A Reader’s Digest list had recommended Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Bay – Quinn Brother series. I remember I had searched and downloaded the books from Internet. (Yeah, I am biggest beneficiary of pirated ebooks. I don’t ever download anything else from Internet. Just ebooks.) And then had promptly forgotten about Nora Roberts. (You see I am big on hoarding books/ebooks than reading them. )
Until now. I have never read a Nora Roberts, though am aware she is a prolific romantic book author. I started reading the books. I can’t say I was tremendously pleased with the book, but it didn’t disappoint me. It had its downsides, but it was right fodder for my frazzled brain.
Reading these books reminded me of my teen days, when I would read MBs in one sitting, hiding in my textbooks. For the uninitiated, MBs stand for Mills and Boons, a popular women’s romantic fiction churning factory. The word MB is also an entry in Oxford Dictionary meaning ”a romantic book.”. Today it is a trend to snobbishly, disdainfully look down upon MBs and so called ‘chick-lits’. But I must be truthful to admit that whatever today I am professionally, it is because I read those MBs, outside my parents’ knowledge. Surprised!
I presented a case study of an MB plot in a seminar. My then professor suggested a change of stream; she said I must take “something to do with writing and creativity.” It was one decision that changed my life. Today I make my living designing training programs and that I could write played a very important part in it.
I went back to the case study of an old MB plot I presented while at college after I read Nora Roberts. Here’s the gist of a typical MB plot:
Female lead character, as expected, is beautiful, dainty girl; mostly a virgin, this latter fact is very crucial. I will come to that later.
Our leading man is tall, dark, handsome man with caveman tactics and usually a pukka womaniser. This womaniser factor is very much important to create tense chemistry and conflict in the novel. Virgin lady and a womaniser. The leading man is rich, he has to be. It’s ok if leading lady just manages to scrape through, all that matters is required of her to be compassionate and virtuous.
Usually either one of character thinks other as immoral. Better if our womaniser leading man looks down upon the lady. So he punishes her by kissing. (Punishment is always fierce kisses, which often leads to more) He takes her to bed only because he wants to take her out of his system (since she is so desirable). He is no doubt disgusted with himself that he wants her even though he hates her. Of course, he discovers in bed that lady is virgin. He instantly feels regretful, protective while lady is hurt because she thinks he regrets making love to her. Blah.
Leading lady may seem to have a boyfriend other than our leading man, but this character is mostly appendage. He is either a bad boy; brother or even gay. Or he is just a mistake and female lead feels some sort of guilt about hurting him. It will be revealed later woman hadn’t slept with him. Coast clear for leading man.
There may be maneuvered situations thrown in where it is required that leading man and lady pose as a couple. (You get the drift; they will eventually fall in love in real.)
Since man was womanizer in past, there are many not-so-virtuous, spiteful women throwing themselves at him. So leading lady is confused, but she has her pride and takes off becoming bad woman in his eyes rather than admitting love. There might be separation or may be book starts after old flames are meeting again. Nothing better than their secret baby that father will discover much later.
Setting is important. Every MB is set in an exotic, romantic place. Popular ones are Caribbean, Arab, Rome, Itlay, Venice, New Zealand, Scotland, cruises, ranches. It’s an opportunity to write about exotic food and any weird local customs that enhance the plot. 😉
Characters are contrasting too: doctor and nurse; nanny and the master; air hostess and air baron; clerk and tycoon; orphan and rich ranch owner; sometimes distant cousins and royal blood too are thrown in. Description of both male and female beauty is important. Even though woman may not be aware of her beauty, man is always aware that he is no less than demigod. Love making scenes are written, without any real sleaze. They are just there to tell how both swoon, moan and passionately fit each other. (Sometimes, some passionate writers make an exception.)
After a period of estrangement and misunderstandings, lovers make up and marry. I love you’s are said first time only on last pages of book and they are absolute. It is understood they live happily after.
(You bet I presented all of above with details, charming examples to elderly, scholarly ladies and gentleman. They were rolling with laughter by end of my presentation.)
In contrast, Nora Roberts did not have any character that was appendage. She could afford to. It was book with three sequels. She developed characters well, since she could use them as lead and support characters in next books. Chesapeake Bay series is a book set in small town of St. Christopher. Since it is a shore-based town, it is scenic. (Lot of nature writing gets intermingled in the plot. 😉 ) It’s a story of three Quinn brothers who have been adopted by a loving, childless couple (Ray and Stella Quinn) who made them their own. Each of them has been abused (not necessarily sexually) as a child before they are adopted my their new parents. As adults of course they are fine male specimens with distinct characteristics. One is flamboyant, womaniser and car racer; other is brooding waterman; sophisticated, chic ad man and youngest one is a painter. As you notice, only one of them was a womaniser. (He too will be domesticated in next three books.)
Together three brothers are thrown unwillingly in a situation where they have to take care of their younger brother, the fourth child (who grows up to be a painter) their father has adopted.
Each of the four books is love story of one Quinn brother. None of their woman is virgin, but of course three of them have one (just one if you notice) past failed relationship. All women make their own living, some very successfully. Most of them have dysfunctional family or family flawed in some other way. Each one is in emotional turmoil, and fall for equally turmoil-ed Quinn brothers. All of them have spunk, especially one called Anna Spinelli.
All male scenes have been written with curse words. It’s understood they will have bad language and box each other (not very violently though ever) when sorting their differences. And whenever they talk, they try to be tough.
Love making scenes are of course there, only steamier. They are worthy enough to be included as lessons in sex-scene writing classes. Virginity is non-issue. Trust is big one. And second being history of abuse in men, which fills them with doubts on and off. Therefore, their parents’ ghosts come down to show them the way. No kidding, I said ghosts. Though to her credit, Nora has attempted to make it less ridiculous as possible.
There are subplots of course, requiring the family to brave the crisis together. This subplot involves safekeeping of fourth Quinn brother and is often conflicting factor between the romantic. Of course, couples align in the end. They marry. (Too quickly, if you ask me.) First book “Sea Swept” is the best, while subplot is at its lamest in the fourth book.
Book certainly gets predictable when family members turn into mutual admiration society. Such dialogues are irritating. Most enjoyable and well written bits are those that have family bickering, tinged with love. Since it was a series, there was a lot of repetition for the benefit of readers who pick up books in middle. However, though written on lines of prolific, new age romance has moved away from virginity at least, but exotic and hot passionate element of it remains the same. 😉
It was nice down the memory lane. I dedicate this post to my dear friend Hypermom who openly declares to succumbing to MBs every now and then. And I can be magnanimous to share part tribute with Vee who once large-heartedly confessed to me he knows many men who read MBs hiding in closet. 😉 yeah, now you get the drift and reach of these novellas.