Back from RomCon and thoughts on “perfect” heroines (warning: a small rant)

I’m back from RomCon!  Although I came back pretty darn exhausted, I had a wonderful time.  It’s always so much fun to catch up with readers, bloggers, and other authors. Like others have mentioned, there were some kinks in the system that hopefully will be smoothed out next year, but the overall vibe at the conference was fun and casual, and everyone I met was extremely friendly. Others have gone into detail summarizing the conference, so I thought I’d simply mention a few highlights/interesting moments from my personal experience.

–Yep, the setup of the book signing was odd.  Authors didn’t have books at their tables, instead readers needed to purchase them in a separate room.  Which meant, in some cases, that readers didn’t know which authors were inside and available to sign books.  A funny moment:  one reader stopped at my table, looking surprised, and said, “You are here!  Someone in the line said that Julie James wasn’t here because she’s sick.”  Then she paused and said, “Oh, well.  I bought Cindy Gerard’s book instead.”  And walked away.   (By the way, I had a lot of fun telling Cindy Gerard that story.)

–At the signing, I sat between Tara Janzen and Elizabeth Hoyt–not bad company to be in.  And I have to share this, which really made my day:  while talking, Tara and I  discovered that we’re both Starbucks junkies, and we lamented the fact that there was no Starbucks within walking distance of the hotel.  Tara, however, had discovered one a few miles away, and at the end of the signing, she drew me a map so I could find it.  I checked my watch and noted that, sadly, I wouldn’t have time to get there and back because I was scheduled for back-to-back panels for the remainder of the afternoon.

Five minutes later, I was in the room for the Mingle with Contemporary Authors panel when Tara sneaks in, comes over to my table, and says she’d decided to make a run for Starbucks and wanted to know what she could get me.  When she insisted I give her my order, I blurted out my standard: “Tall Mocha Light Frappucino.”  Tara blinked, then smiled and said, “I’m on it.”  And fifteen minutes later, she came back into the room (during the panel) and hand-delivered me the drink I’d been craving for two days.  How sweet is that?  I was really touched by Tara’s thoughtfulness–after spending two hours with her at the signing, and talking to her afterward, I have to say that she’s one of the friendliest, most engaging authors I’ve met.  And now I’m dying to read her books–they have these crazy/cool romantic suspense covers that remind me of Janet Evanovich and I want to buy one today. Any suggestions on which one I should start with?

–I mentioned the Mingle with Contemporary Authors panel. . . I also did a panel with three other authors on The Perfect Heroine, which was very interesting.  Author Catherine Anderson led the panel, and she asked readers several questions about their heroine preferences: whether they liked attractive heroines, heroines who were sexually confident, heroines who slept with a guy on the first date, older heroines, etc.  My view, which I expressed during the panel, is that it all comes down to execution and the development of the character.  If done right, an author should make me be able to identity with any “type” of heroine.

In reflecting more after the panel, I thought of two examples of this (sure, these involve male characters, but stick with me for a moment):  First, Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman. The guy is a multi-millionaire, a workaholic, reserved and controlling, power-hungry, and is used to having people bend to his will… not necessarily someone the average person would identify with.  But five minutes into the movie, we see his flaw: he can’t drive a stick-shift car.  All that money and power doesn’t mean anything when he gets lost in his Lotus on the streets of Los Angeles and has to be rescued by our heroine.  That set-up instantly makes him seem more “normal.”  Another classic example is Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark: the guy appears nearly super-human and unflappable in the opening sequence of the movie until we learn. . . he’s afraid of snakes!  Not a complete tough guy after all–instantly, he’s more likable.

A question I ask myself is why things should be any different with heroines.  After all, heroines are just characters, like heroes–shouldn’t the same standards apply?  Meaning, shouldn’t we be able to have a multi-millionaire, power-hungry workaholic heroine yet still find ways to identify with her?  I say yes!  Here’s the problem: I think writers don’t always give those heroines a chance to be likable.  I have a feeling that if the Pretty Woman scene had been written with a woman in the Richard Gere millionaire role, the character would be portrayed as being far more cold and unapproachable when the hero walked up to the Lotus to rescue her.  Because in Hollywood (and, I think literature sometimes), too often a “strong” woman equals, well, b*tch.  Remember the recent romantic comedy, The Proposal, with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds?  Exactly my point.  And the scene with the snake in the plane in Raiders of the Lost Ark that instantly humanizes Indiana Jones?  Did we see any sort of similar softening/character insight-type scene in the Lara Croft movies?  Nope.  Heaven forbid we’re given a chance to actually like our kick-ass heroine-types.  Too often, at least from what I see, there is a deficiency in strong, well-rounded, heroines who can be tough yet also have a softer side.  And of course it can be done.  Two words: Princess Leia.  Or two more words: Ripley from Aliens.  (Okay, that was three words.)

Whew!  Enough of that rant, especially on a Monday morning.  For those of you who are thinking, “Listen, Ms. Soapbox, I just wanted to hear about the darn conference,” let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

–Certainly another highlight of the conference was that I got to meet and hang out with Nalini Singh.  I’m a BIG fan of her books and thus had to restrain myself from not asking thousands of questions about both her Psy/Changeling and Guild Hunter series.  I limited myself to mere hundreds of questions instead. : )  So here’s me and Nalini, who is every bit as fabulous in person as her books:

Man, that photo makes me look about six months pregnant. Oh. Wait.

–I scored a copy of Courtney Milan’s book, Proof By Seduction, at the conference and already started it on the plane ride home.  Confession time: it was on the chair next to mine as a giveaway during one of the dinners, and when the guy sitting next to me–yes, a guy, as in Some Random Dude in a suit who didn’t appear to be with anyone at the conference–wasn’t looking, I swapped my book with his.  Hey, I’ve heard great things about Courtney’s book; I was willing to play a little dirty when I saw it sitting right within my grasp.  And if you’re reading this, Some Random Dude, sorry–all is fair in love and romance novels.

So there you have it.  As with all these types of conferences, at the end of the day what makes them work (or not work) is the people you meet, and in that alone it was truly an A+ weekend.

Now, on an entirely different note. . . tomorrow I’ll be running a SUPER fun giveaway, one that I’m doing with author Beth Kery and bloggers Stacy at Stacy’s Place on Earth and Lea at Closetwriter.  There will be multiple opportunities to win prizes, and it’ll be a little different from the standard giveaway.  But awesome.  So be sure to come back tomorrow to check that out…

15 thoughts on “Back from RomCon and thoughts on “perfect” heroines (warning: a small rant)

  1. tennismom mary g says:

    Terrifio post Julie. You look wonderful BTW.
    I hear you on the rant. Having come of age during the beginning of Women’s Lib, one of the first double standards was that it’s okay for men to be agressive but when a woman is, she’s a b*tch. It seems to reach into fiction as well. I happen to love alpha heroes with a bit of vulnerability but I love kick-ass heroines like that too. Your sensible take on the subject was quoted on other blogs. I love your smart (& smart-mouth)heroines.

  2. Jessika says:

    Thanks for your rant! It’s definitely true, it’s all in the portrayal of the characters. I loved Sandra’s character even more in The Proposal when she danced it out. Any odd quirks or chinks in their armor always makes a character more likable. Glad you had fun!

  3. Jackie U says:

    It was great meeting you finally! I wish there had been more time to sit and talk with you, but they had those panels stacked right on top of each other. I realized, belatedly, that I failed to do the fan girl squeal and ask you for a picture. Maybe next time. : )

  4. Kim says:

    Glad you had fun at the conference. I think you’ll enjoy Courtney Milan’s book. The younger brother of the hero has his own story being released in the fall.

    The synopsis on the blogs about RomCon was a bit disjointed. One particular blogger attributed quotes to an author that actually came from an audience member. It made for a lively discussion about a quote that the author never uttered. LOL I think you may have been on the panel.

    As for strong heroines, I do believe there has to be a bit of vulnerability, so the reader can empathize with her. If the reader belives the heroine has an attitude, why would we belive that the hero will fall in love with her?

  5. Vi says:

    I’m still laughing at your Courtney Milan book swap. That’s stealth right there.

    Any tidbits you can share in regards to Singh? Did you get out of her who Hawke’s heroine will be?

  6. emh says:

    First of all, Tara sounds great! How nice is it when you meet someone and you immediately click? And the Starbucks is just a fabulous bonus!

    I couldn’t agree more with the stereotype that if it’s a woman who’s the hero of the story the only reason she’s the hero is because she’s a huge B. Because apparently you can only ever get ahead as a woman by being a B. It’s the 21st century, who are these people?! Women can be just as capable of being the hero as a man!

    And I love the way heroes are never quite who they seem. For instance in the Proposal when they’re talking while in bed and Sandra starts telling him all her random secrets, etc. That’s when you really learn who the character is! Everyone is good at putting up a front but when you get past the facade, that’s where the goods are.

    Great post, hopefully next time you go they’ll have everything in order 🙂

  7. KristieJ says:

    I love it when I see that authors can have the same kind of squealing fan girl moments as strictly fans. Of course authors were and still are readers too, but I think we as readers sometimes don’t clue in that authors can get just as excited at meeting and hanging with authors too.

    And you make some excellent points on strong heroines. I think the key is to make them vulnerable in some ways that most women can relate to. If the author can accomplish that, then I think it would make for a really great connection for the reader.

    And *g* it was great seeing you at RomCon. I didn’t have a chance to ask you about SYTYCD though – hopefully in a couple of weeks though.

    And I agree with Lori – Crazy Hot. Another one of her books I adore before she started writing as Tara Janzen is River of Eden written as Glenna McReynolds – specially if you like the Indianna Jones type hero!!!

  8. emh says:

    Did I read this wrong or did you drop in that you’re pregnant? If so, Congratulations!!! How exciting! If not, well then, look at me assuming things…

  9. cindy gerard says:

    Hey Julie. Great meeting you at RomCon and I couldn’t agree more. The conference Rocked!!
    And I’m so sorry you were sick … even though it netted a book buy for me :o)

  10. Julie says:

    Hey everyone!

    Lori: thanks for the recommendation. I’ll definitely check out Crazy Hot.

    Mary G: Great comments. And thank you. 🙂

    Jessika: I agree–I liked when Sandra Bullock’s character let loose in the movie. But my question is why the “strong” women characters have to start out so cold. Meaning, let’s see some vulnerabilities the whole way through.

    Jackie U: it was great meeting you as well! I know–the conference days flew by so fast. Next time. 🙂

    Kim: I don’t think that was my panel… I was only on two–Mix and Mingle with contemporary romance authors and The Perfect Heroine–but admittedly, I haven’t read all the blogs about the conference. Very good point re: the need to see vulnerabilities. Not only because it shows why the hero would fall in love with her, but because we also want to see that the hero brings something to the table that she needs/wants.

    Vi: LOL. No, she didn’t tell who will be the heroine in Hawke’s book. I did tell her my guess, but she gave nothing away in response. Which is good–I actually don’t want to know until the book comes out, anyway.

    emh: It was such a pleasure to meet Tara. Like I said, she’s a very warm, engaging person. And yes, yes, yes re: the heroine being just as capable as the man.

    And yep–I may have dropped a hint like that… Thanks for the congrats!

    Katiebabs: great to see you, too! Always a pleasure.

    Kristie J: What’s so funny is that I had the same exact thought! I wish we’d gotten a chance to discuss SYTYCD. I’m guessing you’re going to RWA? We’ll definitely have to discuss further there. And yes– we authors definitely have our fangirl moments, too!

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