Posted by Cassondra Murray Dec 7 2011, 2:42 am in bad behavior, bad boys, Cassondra Murray, Cassondra's blogs, emotional reads, heroes, jerks, keeper shelf, reading in bed
I’m a slow reader. It takes me most of a day and night—and yes, I do mean the WHOLE night, to finish a fat, single-title novel. The time investment—and therefore the heart investment–in a novel, for me, is considerable. I just finished one at about 4:30 this morning.
My downfall, you see, is that when I start a book, I can’t stop.
I read most nights before bed, and I can pull out any non-fiction book for bedtime reading, and I’ll fall asleep almost immediately. No matter how interested I am in the subject, I’ll intend to read just a chapter, but within a page or two, I’m nodding off and dropping the book in my lap.
But with a novel? Not so.
I’m a shameless hussy for a good story. I never fall asleep reading a novel.
Okay, there’s been one. It was a mystery. And no I’m not telling you whose it was. It was most certainly NOT one of Bandita Kate’s Bibliophile mysteries. I can’t put those things down. *thinks of Derek and wipes drool off chin*
So back to last night’s book. It’s by a well-known author. And I’ll tell you something. I almost didn’t read the second half. I’d started the book on Sunday night. I wanted something funny, and it did have funny moments. Great writing. Totally loveable heroine.
But you know what? On Monday afternoon, when I was on the phone, I called it a wall banger to one of my close friends. I was, frankly, pissed.
Yes, I was cranky and tired from not enough sleep…up reading the bloody effing book, ya know? I’d been staring at the computer, working without a break, for half the day since then. The weather system moving through Kentucky had given me a headache. And the whole time, I’d been thinking about that stupid book.
Because the hero was a jerk.
Let’s pause for a moment to define “jerk,” shall we?
Lots of readers—and writers—seem to call jerks “bad boys.”
No, no, no!
The proverbial “bad boy” is one who rides a motorcycle, wears a leather jacket, blows off convention, and wears aviator shades. Or flies a fighter plane, wears a leather jacket, blows off authority, and wears aviator shades. Or rides a horse in rodeos, wears a leather jacket, blows off silly expectations, and wears aviator…
Okay, so the aviator shades seem to be a common thing.
But lots of folks seem to use the same terminology—bad boy– when they’re talking about edgy guys your mom would not want you dating…(certainly true)….and when they talk about guys who exhibit jerk-ish behavior (not true at all, necessarily, in my view). I guess this is because they lump all “bad” behavior into one bucket.
I like leather jackets, love motorcycles, and –hold the phone–even wear my own…aviator shades. And I deposit my share of lust onto hot guys who wear and ride same.
Aaaaand then there are jerks.
A whole ‘nuther category.
Jerks are selfish, inconsiderate, and treat people badly.
Some bad boys may be jerks, but “jerk” does not equate with “bad boy.”
Are we clear on the definition?
Now…I know that we have to have personal growth for our heroes. And yes, I will say, reluctantly, that the worse a “hero” behaves, the lower the author can take him into the pit of despair which he so richly deserves, and the sweeter the reward at the story’s end when finally, finally, he sees the light, and is redeemed.
Intellectually, I get this.
I have no problem at all with a hero who has to be hit in the head with the proverbial two-by-four in order to realize the heroine is an angel sent from God just to redeem him. He’s a good man inside, and he’s just fallen on hard times and into bad behavior. In fact, I’d be perfectly happy to step up into the “hand of God” role, in many books I read, and actually wield the instrument of smitation upside the idiot’s head. Give the man his comeuppance, dangit! Make him sorry!
That’s why we read romance, right? We get to see the darkness transform into light in the hero and the heroine. And we get to see the happily-ever-after for that couple who has gone to hell and back to earn their happy ending.
So, honestly. I should know better, don’t you think?
I love Christina Dodd. I sing her praises to everybody. She’s brilliant, and she’s one of my favorite authors. But…okay (Cassondra crosses self though she is not Catholic)…I’m about to confess.
The first of her books I read was The Barefoot Princess. It was book two (I think) in her Lost Princesses series.
****Forgive me Christina, for I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of being a true fangirl. You don’t know me, but if by some off-chance, ill-handed twist of fate, you are reading this blog, please please please, read on to the happy ending of what I, one of your biggest fans, am about to say.****
I literally threw the book across the room. It lay forlorn on the floor, having banged the wall of my bedroom one afternoon, and every time I walked by, I snarled. Because the hero was an absolute, unmitigated, total JERK! Such. A. Jerk. A jerk to the point that I believed I could never care about him. Never want him to be with the brave, beloved heroine. He did not deserve her, dangit!
I tried to move on to other books. I read a couple, but could not get invested. Because I kept walking by that one I’d thrown, and scorching it with my most evil glare. (Yes, it still lay in the floor.) It haunted me, how awful that hero was. What was Christina thinking?! I could not get my mind off of it, but I was just too mad at him to keep reading. At last I determined I would finish it, because I had to get that book formally out of my to-be-read pile. Lay it to rest. Give it a proper burial. Oh and yes, I did have to vacuum.
So I picked it up. And was rapt.
I cried. And I cried some more. And at the end of the book, I was smiling while I cried.
Christina Dodd’s Barefoot Princess is one of my favorite books ever. The jerk got his, and got it good.
Anna Campbell’s incredible debut, Claiming The Courtesan, is another of the most perfect stories I’ve ever read. Her hero was so selfishly blind and cruel that I would never believe he could be redeemed. But sweet mother of God, Anna put that hero through hell. Kylemore had to slog through the muck borne of his own dark soul, and he had to drag himself out of that pit with his own bleeding fingernails, first to save the heroine’s life, and then to be worthy of the woman he’d so wronged.
It’s on my list of top five most satisfying reads ever.
So wouldn’t you think I’d learned my lesson about heroes who are jerks?
Really, wouldn’t you?
So yesterday afternoon, I was calling this book (which shall still go nameless) a wall banger. I stayed up until 4 this morning to finish it. And you know what?
I cried near the end. I’m jaded enough, now, that it’s hard to make me cry. But cry I did.
And I’ve been thinking about that all day long. Not the hero or the heroine–more on that later–but on the reason why I was so mad at that book.
What the blazes is wrong with me? Why am I so intolerant of jerks in my novels? How in the world did my standard for “hero” get set so blasted high?
This is really bothering me now because, as a writer who studies the likes of Christina Dodd, Anna Campbell, and yes, even the author whose book I just finished, I want my own readers to laugh and cry at the same time when they read my stories.
Now I will tell you that last night’s book…I did notice one difference about it. It did not take the hero to what I think of as a particularly low point. I think that’s why I was not thinking about them through the day. Those characters are not living in my psyche as real–not the way Christina’s and Anna’s are living there, still, months, and even years, after I read the books.
Granted, last night’s was a contemporary romance, so it’s not like the hero had to ride his steed to near death while bleeding out from a wicked sword wound in order to save the heroine from the gallows or a London prison. But still, there are emotional lows which can be fallen into, and there is a harsh, brutal light to be shined on the ugly stained souls of heroes who act like jerks. Last night’s book did not take the hero to that low, and the light did not shine as harshly or as brutally as I think it needed to shine. I did not witness that hero’s internal change in a way that made me go “oh, yeah.”
I think the hero got off too easily. Yes, I do.
Even though I cried, there was not the deep soul satisfaction that comes from watching a hero wade through his own personal hell to redeem himself for what he’s done–to fully comprehend the difference between what a good person does, and his own actions.
And as a result, this book is not a keeper.
So now I’m worried, and I’m out to find what makes this whole thing work or not work.
Here’s the problem I’m facing.
Most of the time, I write nice guys. Flawed, but generally good guys, with big hearts, lousy circumstances, and a situation with choices that…well…they suck. And I’ve started to worry that my heroes are cardboard. That they’re not complex and won’t be real to the reader.
I write contemporary and futuristic romance, among other things. But there is always suspense. Always. When you have a big suspense element in a book, it takes a lot of words—a lot of pages—to set that suspense up, develop it, and resolve it in a way that is satisfying. And unless you’re Diana Gabaldon, you have only so many pages in a book.
So maybe, when you have suspense in the novel, you can’t really have a guy with quite so big a hill to climb in his own soul, because after the suspense, you don’t have the pages left over to take him down to that kind of personal pit and then redeem him. Yes, the internal growth and the external problem or plot–that does need to happen all at the same time, and a perfect writer, I suppose, would make all of it happen in the same book, every time.
But if he’s a total jerk, it seems to me that it takes more time to heal him than if he just needs to learn to let go and trust his heart and love. He can do that lesser bit of healing while he’s saving the heroine from the vile villain. Maybe the total jerks work better when the novel is a straight up romance, where the focus is strictly on the people and the relationship?
But then I get scared. What if my nice guy will make a “meh” book? Can a basically good guy—one who would not like treating the heroine badly from page one–make a reader laugh and cry at the same time?
I just don’t know.
About the middle of any novel, if the hero is still being a complete horse’s patoot, there comes a point where I throw the book across the room. Or I want to.
Honestly it’s almost like I’m afraid to keep reading. I’m so invested in the heart of the heroine, that if the author fails to redeem the blasted ignorant man…if she fails ME, I will simply not be able to recover. And no matter how many books I read, that fear does not go away.
And yet, those lows, when the redemption does come, make up the books which often end up on my keeper shelf.
I want to be a keeper shelf author.
Some of y’all write, I know, but ALL of you are readers. So I want to know from you, how far is too far?
There are authors out there who I generally do not read, because the heroes tend to always be jerks. One of my sticking points is when the hero is simply a spoiled brat. So self absorbed and oblivious that I just don’t like them from the outset. The read is less satisfying for me if I think the hero has not really changed by the end of the book (this is true of the heroine as well—both must grow as people, and be better at the story’s end, but for this blog, I’m talking about the guys). A spoiled brat…he takes a mighty disaster to become unspoiled in real life. I know this. So it’s hard to make me believe he would change without that mighty disaster in a book.
A good person who behaves badly because of what he’s been through, is one thing. A basically rotten, selfish person is quite another.
So I have a dilemma, Bandits and Buddies..
Have you read books where the hero is a complete and utter jerk, but was so redeemed in the end that you truly believed he was deserving of the heroine’s love?
I’d love a list of books at the end of today. I promise to read every one of them I can…So tell me–
hat books have made you say, “He’s too rotten. There’s no way they can ever be together,” and then have made you laugh and cry and cheer at the same time when they finally are?
Do any of you think the heroine can have a happily-ever-after with a guy who is still a jerk? I have a tough time with that.
Come on, throw it out there. Help me understand.
How low can a hero really go in how he treats the heroine, and still be a redeemable hero?
How many pages into a novel can you read without seeing some light–some potential– in the soul of the hero, and still keep reading?
How far into a book can a hero act like a jerk without you slamming the book into the wall?
And…What does it take to make you believe a jerk has really changed and become a decent person, deserving of the heroine and her love?
Do you have any real jerks on your keeper shelf?