A Bitch Too Far

The other day, a friend on Twitter said I ought to “…write an ex-con romance. Where the heroine’s the ex-con. And she totally did the crime. A bad one.”

Sure, no problem! There are lots of ways to make even heinous crimes forgivable, even those committed out of spite or greed. Come on—crimes of passion? Lemme just get my brainstorming notebook…

This friend also went on to dub me the “Master of Unlikable Heroines.” And this friend knows heroines—she’s a connoisseur of the romance genre. She loves romance, loves it as she loves the Bruins—utterly and fully and with such ferocity and thoroughness that she’s earned the clout to mock that which she loves when it lets her down. And maybe I’m being naive, but I don’t think she meant the title as a slight.

And even if she had… Well, I earned it. Let’s take inventory.

Between myself and evil conjoined romance-writing twin Meg Maguire, our heroines have done some pretty questionable stuff. They’ve had an abortion (off-screen, in the past); they’ve cheated on their live-in boyfriend (with spurious permission, on-screen); they’ve done time in a mental institution; they’ve slept with someone’s lover after said someone was nice enough to fix their car; they’ve paid a male prostitute to take their virginity; they’ve let a sleazy Scotsman go down on them in exchange for cigarettes (kind of); they’ve established their own harem using the proceeds from their alimony settlement; they’ve gotten drunk and attempted to seduce their hero’s brother; they’ve videotaped their boss masturbating with the intent to use the footage as leverage (with said boss’s knowledge); they’ve blackmailed their stalker into being their friend; they’re known for having superior weed; they’ve shelled out good money for strangers to impregnate them; they’ve assaulted someone (in self-defense, off-screen); they’ve drugged animals; they’ve lied about their identity; they’ve robbed their hero in the dead of night…and those last four were all the same heroine. You better believe more than one has slapped the hero and had unprotected sex, and they have a tendency to withhold important information to cover their own asses. They’re kind of a mess. Explains why my DSM-IV-TR’s got more dog-ears and Post-It flags than my Roget’s.

But it’s not willful. It’s not any kind of statement or commentary I’m looking to make, no slut/stud or goose/gander double-standard I’ve made it my mission to challenge. My heroines just come out…questionable, sometimes. Often. And those examples were just from erotica and romance. The heroine of my lit fiction manuscript prostituted herself and sold her twin sister’s engagement ring for pill money. (Though the hero’s so thoroughly fucked, he makes her look like a girl scout.)

So yeah, I guess I’ve earned my new title. Do I get a badge?

But I’m curious now—what would I never let my heroines do? I must have some boundaries, some uncrossable lines. So I came up with a list. (Let me preface this list by saying I’ve never yet read a book in which any of these things happens, so none of them are intentionally referencing any existing stories. And if such books exist, I’ll be first in line to read them.)

Here we go. My heroines will never:

1. Torture any living creature for fun. (They may accidentally torture the hero psychologically, but that’s the nature of romance heroes. What fun are they if they’re not tortured?)

2. Sell their child into prostitution. Sell anyone into prostitution, for that matter…their own selves possibly excluded. And I’d totally write a madame heroine, so I’m not particularly opposed to them pimping.

3. Knowingly eat human flesh. Unless maybe it was the romance novel adaptation of Alive. Which really ought to be written.

This list is shaping up to be awfully sadistic, don’t you think?

4. Drive drunk or otherwise frivolously endanger others’ lives, on-screen (could have happened in their past).

5. Protect a child molester or rapist (as a grown woman. I could envision a heroine who dealt with molestation in her own childhood having protected the perpetrator out of fear.)

6. “Steal” a man from another woman. “Stealing” a man is of course impossible, but I can’t imagine writing a heroine who makes it her mission to lure a guy away from an established relationship. She can pine for him and he can wind up with her, but I don’t think I’d let her do anything designed to break up another couple. Feels kind of arbitrary, since I wrote that heroine who basically cheats, but there you go. Oh wait…there’s Natalie. She slept with Shane’s lover, in his bed no less, though she wasn’t trying to steal him… Hrrrm. I should probably retract this one. Otherwise I’m skewing a bit sisters-before-misters-style reverse-sexist.

So…that’s the list. Hrrrm. There should be more things, shouldn’t there? Now I’m starting to wonder how it is I have any readership at all. But for as long as I write about humans, I’ll probably write about screwed up humans as often as not, since the alternative is so terrifically dull.

Still, five and a half unforgivable sins aren’t nearly enough. I’d love to have ten, so that I may post them in my office, commandment-style. So tell me, fellow wonksters—what have I overlooked?

About Cara McKenna

Cara McKenna writes smart erotica—sexy stories with depth. Read more >
This entry was posted in Writing Wonkomance and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to A Bitch Too Far

  1. Ruthie says:

    I’m hoping you wouldn’t write a heroine who would commit rape — even the “funny,” just-for-his-seed-and-he-totally-liked-it kind we sometimes see in contemporary romance.

    • Cara McKenna says:

      Yes, good call! I won’t write a heroine who forces anyone to have sex with her. (Racking my brain to figure out if I’ve written one already who coerces anyone into it, though… Nope, I’m clear. The men were all willing, even Reece.)

  2. Amber Skye says:

    I’ve written a heroine that’s done one of those. Oh, poor girl. Ruthie knows which one :)

  3. Serena Bell says:

    You know, until Ruthie pointed it out to me, it didn’t remotely occur to me that your heroines were bad or potentially prickly. I loved them all like crazy. But I probably also like my female friends a little prickly.

    Do any of them have bad breath, sit on the toilet, or display ambition for the sake of ambition? I can forgive just about anything else … :-) :-)

  4. Ruthie says:

    Was just reading this again and laughing at the idea of the romance novel adaptation of Alive. Or, for those who love a good historical, a romance novel adaptation of the story of the Donner party. Ooh, or three castaways, and the hero and heroine have to kill and eat the third one. *makes notes*

  5. willaful says:

    Romance version of Alive — the fabulous Beau Crusoe by Carla Kelly.

    Which heroine had the abortion? I collect those!

  6. willaful says:

    It’s not really a version of Alive, come to think of it, because the survival stuff happened in the past. But worth a read.

  7. Merrian says:

    “our heroines have done some pretty questionable stuff. They’ve had an abortion (off-screen, in the past);”

    Interesting – I wouldn’t have called having an abortion ‘questionable’ which implies a negative judgement on the decision to do so.

    • Cara McKenna says:

      That’s a great point, Merrian. My semantics here are misleading, judgment-wise. My goal was only to list the choices my characters have made that are traditionally no-nos for romance heroines, and abortion is among them, chiefly because it’s so socially polarizing, and many publishers generally like to avoid allowing elements that may alienate readers. So apologies if I’ve stepped on any toes. I should have said, “questionable within the bounds of romance convention.” Thanks for catching me!

  8. Have I mentioned how much of a tendre I hold for your moral ambiguity, Cara? ‘Cuz I do. Or perhaps ambiguity is the wrong word, because there’s a sense in which I see it as the ultimate moral certainty, since there’s no futzing about with false, arbitrary bright-line conventions when we all know there are extenuating circumstances that could justify nearly any behavior. I’m not articulating that as well as I might, but anyway – it’s meant as a compliment, because you do write those fuzzy moral circumstances so very well.