Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Guest Author Today and Tomorrow: Cynthia Wright, "Bringing the 70’s Bodice Ripping Alpha Male into the 21st Century"
Thanks to Regan for inviting me to be the guest today and tomorrow on her wonderful blog! I’m honored to be here.
Once upon a time, in 1975, I was a young wife at home with my baby daughter. Although I’d always been a voracious reader of romances, especially those by Georgette Heyer and Daphne DuMaurier, everything changed one day when I spied THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER on the bookstore shelf. Oh my gosh! Kathleen E. Woodiwiss threw open the bedroom door and nothing would ever be the same. After lusting over heroes Brandon and Wulfgar (THE WOLF AND THE DOVE), I moved on to Rosemary Rogers’s classic SWEET SAVAGE LOVE.
In those days, I was generally accepting of the behavior of those alpha heroes. Was it because the stories were set in other times, when men and women didn’t know about “acceptable” behavior in a relationship? Was it because those days preceded the Women’s Movement and my own consciousness hadn’t been raised? After all, I had cut my romantic teeth on GONE WITH THE WIND. When I blazed through that book at 14, all I wanted was my Rhett Butler fix, no matter how “inappropriate” his behavior was! Reading Woodiwiss, I gave all her heroes a pass. In fact, I couldn’t get enough of them! Sarcastic, harsh, strong, witty, courageous, and incredibly sexy, these alpha males took life and bent it to their will… and that included the heroines who couldn’t help loving them. Not until I met Steve, in Rosemary Rogers’s books, did I find a hero who ticked me off so much that I threw SWEET SAVAGE LOVE across the room and decided to write my own book. That was the beginning of CAROLINE – and career writing historical romances.
I know I’m not the only author from the last century who has resurrected her historical romances as e-books. One of my colleagues refers to us as “troglodytes.” I’ve had to adjust to a lot of things that weren’t around when I published CAROLINE in 1977: Facebook, Twitter, e-readers, blogs, and author websites. Last May, when I decided to dust off my 13 novels and send them to be scanned and formatted as e-books, I didn’t give much thought to revisions. I just loved the idea of those books that are part of me being enjoyed by readers again.
Alexandre Beauvisage, the hero in CAROLINE, was quite the alpha male. His behavior was frequently “unacceptable” and “inappropriate” by today’s standards. But when I created him 35 years ago, I was crazy about the guy! Imagine my consternation when I received the newly formatted .doc file last June, with an opportunity to edit it before its release as an e-book… and I met Alec all over again. It was like being in a time machine. Sometimes he was blatantly sexist and even verbally and emotionally abusive to the heroine. Never mind the fact that he takes her virginity and tells her to forget about it and he’ll help her find a respectable husband. It was a weird feeling to realize that I could make changes in a book that has been in existence since 1977. What to do? Leave him alone – or soften his edges to fit the 21st century?
On one hand, I know there are a whole lot of readers who love alpha males. They come right out and say so in their reviews of CAROLINE and my other bestseller, SILVER STORM. (There aren’t many heroes more rakish than Andre Raveneau…and don’t most readers love him and want to be Devon?) On the other hand, there is a 2-star review for the paperback version of CAROLINE with this outraged title: “Alpha Male to the Nth Degree!” The reader went on to list Alec’s sins, and the way Caro seems to let him walk all over her. When I saw it, I thought that it might have the reverse effect and actually attract readers…
As I spent more time with Alec in CAROLINE and Raveneau in SILVER STORM, I warmed to them all over again. Sometimes I would gasp or cringe a little when I read things they said or did (that I had written 3+ decades ago) – and yet, I came to realize that part of the appeal of those books is an opportunity for 21st century women to release modern constraints and travel to another world, in another time, with a man who is powerfully male. And since it’s just a fantasy, we can let go and just enjoy! I realized that it would be wrong to try to change or soften my alpha heroes, even if I could. I could almost imagine them rising up to protest any effort I might make to change them! However, there were a few moments in CAROLINE and SILVER STORM when I instinctively felt that the hero had crossed an invisible line and I took the opportunity to rescue him from himself in small, seamless ways.
For instance, near the end of CAROLINE, there is a love scene in the woods where Alec literally tears all the buttons off the jacket and vest of Caro’s new riding habit (overcome by passion, of course!). Good grief - he ripped her bodice! Then he commented, “I suppose I’ll have to replace this habit. It’s a good thing I can afford it!” (Never mind that they are married and it should be their money.) In the revised version, he tears the buttons open, not off. And when he makes the remark about buying her a new habit, it’s because he sees that a couple buttons are missing, not all of them!
While editing SILVER STORM for e-release, I read a scene where Raveneau is having his way with an old girlfriend who also is close friends with the heroine. (Of course, he is only doing this because he can’t face his love for Devon….) He doesn’t just kiss her, but does a little bodice-ripping that I felt went just a little too far. In the “author’s cut” e-version, Raveneau still behaves like a jerk, but he doesn’t go quite so far. SILVER STORM, which is rife with pretty “unacceptable” behavior by the hero, has always been my bestselling title… and of course, he sees the light by the last page.
The most controversial element in those 70’s historical romances was the “rape” scene, wherein the hero takes the heroine by force and then she goes on to fall in love with him. Many newer readers of the classic historical romances say they just can’t get past those scenes. (I did have scenes in both CAROLINE and SILVER STORM that involved some sexual abuse by villains and I was relieved to have a chance to take those scenes down a notch. If readers compare the paperback versions of those two novels to the “author’s cut” e-books, they’ll find the biggest changes in those passages.) There weren’t scenes of forced sex between the hero and heroine in my books. Even in the 70’s, that was a line I instinctively didn’t want to cross, and I’m glad I don’t have to make a decision about whether to soften those scenes for the 21st century.
I am dying to know what you think! How do you feel when you read a great historical romance from the 70’s? Should those alpha heroes be left alone, their bodice-ripping ways undisturbed?