Pulling off a marriage proposal is a tricky thing. Some women have terribly high expectations, and men are trying to step up to the plate, but it’s tough! Skywriting? A diamond ring hidden in a cake? It can be hard to pull off something that is surprising, romantic, and unique. Frankly, any woman who must be courted by such extravagant gestures may be not quite fully baked, but I digress.
For a romance writer, there is similar pressure to come up with something that will surprise and delight the reader. The writer can always go for stunningly romantic, but there is a charm in the bungled proposal, too. The Rose of Winslow Street will have seen a world-class botched proposal, but for your viewing pleasure, I give you a clip from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. This is surely one of the most wretched proposals in literary and cinematic history!
One of the most common questions any novelist gets is “where do you get your ideas?” I can’t speak for other people, but my hunch is that most writers have a mind that is always asking, ‘what if?’ As I go through the day, something will trigger that what if question, then my imagination takes over. Sometimes it can be a turn of phrase, a news story, an interesting picture, or even a piece of music.
Here is an example. I was reading a copy of the The New York Times from 1884 to get a sense of what people were talking about in the mid 1880’s, and I ran across a tiny news article at the bottom of the page about a group of Civil War soldiers who had all been hospitalized following the battle of Gettysburg. They bonded in the hospital, and vowed to meet exactly twenty-one years later at Niagara Falls. Amazingly, eight of the surviving ten members showed up on the appointed day. Now that is the basis for a good story!
There are lots of ways this story could be tweaked to turn it into an interesting novel or a short story. Perhaps instead of soldiers, it could be nurses. Or perhaps it is set during the American Revolution or World War I. Maybe they weren’t soldiers at all, but college students, or refugees from Nazi Germany.
I was moved by the story, but I know it is not something I am ever likely to use, so I’m throwing it out there to the world. Maybe someone will try to do some research on these amazing men and follow it up. Here is the story as it appeared on the front page of The New York Times on July 5, 1884.
I loved this book. I’ve been happily married to a “manly-man” for ten years. Although it is not politically correct to say, I do believe that there are inherent differences in the way men and women are wired. The author of Wild at Heartthinks so too, and it helped me understand some of the reasons men behave the way they do. It celebrates manhood…the rugged, daring aspects that are often stamped out in an attempt to make boys behave in the classroom or on the playground.
Eldredge’s thesis is that built into the soul of every man is the desire to be a hero, live a life of adventure, take risks, and be a warrior. Little boys like to play with toy guns. If you take the toy gun away, they will pick up sticks and make bang-bang noises to simulate a gun. If you take the sticks away, they’ll point with their finger and thumb. They are boys! Eldredge suggests that rather than try to stamp these qualities out of boys, these impulses should be channeled to allow boys to become the heroic warriors they have the potential to become. He is careful to draw the distinction between a heroic man and the dim-witted macho version of the unthinking male. Most importantly, he tackles the dicey aspect of how modern interpretations of Christianity are often at odds with those ideals, in which men are pressured to be “nice guys” who would be comfortable in great-aunt Irma’s parlor fetching her a cup of tea.
This is a controversial book. You will see from some of the excoriating reviews on amazon that many people reject Eldrege’s thesis. Anytime an author attempts to characterize 50% of the human race in broad brushstrokes, you are going to be able to point out thousands of exceptions. Nevertheless, I found Wild at Heartto be a wonderful, unapologetic celebration of manhood. HIGHLY recommended.
These ones are! Having spent a good part of my life in some not-so-attractive parts of Texas, I have a love-hate relationship with desert scrub. It can be dreary, dry, and dull. But deserts can also be ruggedly beautiful and inspiring. I think this is why so many of the early monks retreated to the desert for spiritual renewal. This video is wonderful:
I began reading romance novels in the 1980’s, where a common plot device was the Evil Other Woman (EOW). She was always older and more experienced than the heroine, and she generally seethed sexuality in contrast to the heroine’s wide-eyed innocence. The EOW usually had a sordid past with the hero, and continues to lurk in the background to torment and undermine the confidence of the heroine.
The EOW littered romance novels of the 1980’s and early 90’s, but somewhere in the late 90’s she started vanishing from the scene. What happened?
Most people speculate it has something to do with distaste for “woman-bashing.” Because these EOW were almost always sexually experienced, the implication seemed to be that while a Virgin equates with good and pure; the Experienced Woman was an unredeemable skank.
I can see the point of this, but I think something deeper was going on. The first wave of romance novels really didn’t have a lot of psychological heft to them. There was plenty of external conflict with pirates, wars, crops dying in the fields, etc…..but in order to introduce an internal conflict, the EOW was just so easy. After all, most of us remember what it was like during those painful high school years when we felt awkward, inadequate, and completely overshadowed by the self-assured goddesses who cheered on the football sidelines and always seemed to have the best of everything. Perhaps we were naturally predisposed to harbor revenge fantasies in which the unassuming heroine triumphs over the EOW who seems to have it all.
As the genre matured, authors can’t get away with cookie-cutter villains, and we needed to dig a little deeper to develop internal conflict and growth. The inspirational genre pushed this even further by welcoming a spiritual component into the mix. We’ve come a long way, and for the most part, I applaud the demise of the EOW.
Still, sometimes it is fun to pull out those wonderful old paperbacks with yellowed pages and tawdry covers to revisit the glory years of the EOW. One of these days I may have to bring her back for a visit in one of my books. I kind of miss her.