Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Is There an Irredeemable Trait?


In Linda Howard's book All the Queen’s Men, Louis Ronsard plays the villian.   He’s a wealth arms dealer who is portrayed as completely amoral.   He is targeted as the middleman who sells stolen arms to terrorists.

Ronsard was a shadowy Frenchman who gave his allegiance to no one group; he was the conduit, however, for many, and he had made an enormous fortune providing what was needed. He probably wasn’t behind the development of the explosive, but he would be the logical person to approach as a middle man, one to handle payments and shipments-for a fee, of course

He was, though, not without some standards:

The maniac who wanted to explode a bomb in a school as a protest for world peace was not going to purchase that bomb or the materials through him.

But he facilitated getting dangerous weapons into the hands of men who would do terrible things, like bring down an entire airplane to get one man.    Despite this, there are a number of Howard fans who have found Rosnard interesting and would like to see him star in his own book.   After all, Rosnard had an excuse.   His daughter is sick and he’s amassing this wealth to save her.   Or at least that is part of his justification.

I never saw the appeal of a Rosnard, a man who helped terrorists.   I found that to be irredeemable.   His was not a book I’d want to read.    While it is just fiction, there are lines I have drawn, particularly in romance about the type of person I want to spend time with and even with some of my favorite authors, there are paths I can’t, or won’t, travel with her.    I note that it is generally within romance than I have more of a black and white view of the main protagonists (although in fantasy, I’m looking for the good v. evil fix as well).

There are tropes that are acceptable outside of romance that I think romance readers have a hard time accepting within the genre.   Incest is one of those.   V.C. Andrews’ famed Flowers in the Attic features a love story between the two eldest children.   Locked up in the attic for years, the two teenagers begin to explore their burgeoning sexuality with each other, knowing that it is forbidden.    This story is a horror story and the children suffer tremendous emotional and physical abuse at the hands of their grandmother and mother.   Perhaps in light of all that the children have suffered, the love of each other is a minor sin.

Within the romance paradigm, however, I can’t help but think such a story would not be countenanced.   More than one blogger has been so outraged by even the advertisement of a book containing incest that I cannot imagine the uproar that would exist if a legitimate publisher put forth an incestual romance.

Having said that, there are plenty of brother and twin menage stories and there is the famed Men of August series by Lora Leigh wherein the brothers had to share their wives with each other in group sex acts to feel whole and loved due to the fact that the brothers were mercilessly tormented as children.   (Shades of Flowers in the Attic?)

One area I have a problem with is infidelity.   In  Promise in a Kiss is the story of Devil Cynster’s mother and father.     The problem is that Devil’s father cheated on his wife with a Scottish woman and brought home the bastard to be raised by Devil’s mother.

  While Promise in a Kiss is written by an author who holds a strong grip on my reading emotions, the love story of the unfaithful Sebastien and Helena is one I simply couldn’t bring myself to read.

Yet, I’ve read books that feature infidelity within the genre trope that I’ve enjoyed.   I recently enjoyed a Michelle Reid glom and one of her backlist titles is The Ultimate Betrayal which features a husband who was unfaithful (to a certain point).   The infidelity happens off screen and before the start of the book.   Amy Garvey’s Pictures of Us is about a couple who had a picture perfect marriage only to find out that during a very difficult time in their relationship, before they were married, the heroine drifted away from the hero and the hero had a sexual relationship with another woman resulting in a pregnancy.   It wasn’t infidelity, technically, but the characters feel like they were being untrue to the other.

Then there is rape.   Forced seduction is an acceptable trope in the genre and some might even say that it is making a comeback.   I was surprised reading the March Sara Craven title, The Innocent’s Surrender.   I am a big Sara Craven fan but this one features a rape scene, or at least what I would term as a rape scene, in the beginning of the book.   Hero has heroine kidnapped and brought to his bedroom. His henchman lock the door and the heroine is not allowed to escape.   Hero tells heroine that she is not permitted to leave until she has sex with him. She begs him to allow her to leave, but he tells her that he has a letter indicating that she wants to engage in lascivious acts with him and that is what she will do until he tells her that she may go.

But what about Molly Sommerville in This Heart of Mine who raids Kevin Tucker’s shaving kit, climbs into bed with him, and while he is sleeping, proceeds to avail herself of his equipment and have sex with him while he is senseless.

The romance genre has con artists like the characters in Judith Ivory’s Untie My Heart, Jennifer Crusie’s Faking It, and Courtney Milan’s Proof of Seduction.     We’ve also had batterers, redeemed ones, in romance.   The Burning Point by Mary Jo Putney attempts to rekindle the marriage of a reformed batterer and his wife.

While I’d like to say a good author could make me accept anything, I know that is not true.   There are lines that I draw for characters and if they cross that line, it makes me hard to find them redeemable. I never enjoyed The Burning Point.   While I appreciated the writing in Ivory and Crusie’s books, I was never able to fully immerse myself in their stories.   In re-reading the Michelle Reid backlist, I’m not likely to revisit The Ultimate Betrayal.   I still have the willies after reading the first two Men of August books (could never make it to book 3) but I am able to read the twinsie/brother menages (because they aren’t touching!) although even that is losing its appeal the more that I contemplate it.

How about a bad mother? Could a mother who has abandoned her child, maybe even treated the child cruelly, be redeemed?   How about a pedophile?   A serial rapist?   An animal abuser?   Are there clear lines between the good guys and bad guys in your mind?    Are there lines that you draw in fiction?   Or is it all dependent on how good the author is?   Does it matter if it is romance or literary fiction? Why or why not?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Ellie
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 04:59:40

    Yes, I have lines. I’m not fond of infidelity, I can forgive if it’s “almost” and he feels remorse for it. But that’s a close one and can go either way, depending how the author does it.

    Anne Stuart’s Ice heroes come as close to the “line” as I get – they are cold, they are assassins, some of them, but what saves it is that they love, even if they are frequently confused by this weird emotion they feel.

    The list in your last paragraph are deal breakers for me; no animal abuse of any kind, no pedophiles, no rapists. I used to read menage on occasion but I cannot stomach that now, the only exception being Emma Holly’s Fairyville, and again, that’s because of the level of love and commitment the characters feel towards each other. That HAS to be there, or I’m not reading it.

  2. Kim
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 05:30:00

    Interesting that you mentioned Mary Jo Putney’s book, The Burning Point. I haven’t read the book, but I have read others by MJP where she tackles social issues in Regency Romances. The issues are resolved, in part or whole, through love to produce the HEA.

    I can appreciate that heroes have struggles, even internal demons. But I have to see a resolution and redemption.

    I see no redemption for terrorists, torturers, drug dealers, and human traffickers – issues that our military, police, and other dedicated civilians tackle every day to create a better world and promote human rights. These issues are irredeemable for me because too many have sacrificed so much for these cowardly acts.

  3. sol
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 05:33:23

    I think there is an irredeemable trait for every hero, but that it may be different for every reader.
    You mentioned The Burning Point, that was a book that i really enjoyed because it was sad but also hopeful, and the characters really grew a lot…
    So i could forgive a batterer but probably not a rapist or a peadophile…sexual violence/ abuse somehow seems more destructive to me than physical violence…
    Its more personal, calculated…

  4. Samantha
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 05:48:52

    I draw the line far earlier than at rape- some alphas are too much for me. Christina Dodd seems to excel at them, most notably Gabriel in ‘Scandalous Again’ (trading something the heroine wants for sex, then teasing her until she admits she would sleep with him regardless? Um, not sexy). I’m also not a fan of jealous heroes, like Alex in Eloisa James’ ‘Potent Pleasures’.
    Not to mention the ‘I only slept with her because she reminded me of you’ trope. Yuck.
    Personal preferences aside, I agree that getting past supposed irredeemable traits does depend on the skill of the author. For instance, the Comte d’Esmond makes a wonderful hero in Loretta Chase’s ‘Captives of the Night’ after being a convincing villain in ‘The Lion’s Daughter’.

  5. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 05:58:37

    I couldn’t follow Sherrilyn Kenyon into Stryker’s book. Never read that one and I don’t really want to.

  6. Marsha
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 06:09:31

    I can’t read any book in which Bad Things happen to children (on the page, that is – I seem to get a charge out of the tortured heroes who are coping with something that happened to them in their childhoods). I also cannot read a book wherein Bad Things Happen on Purpose to animals. I can take collateral damage, barely, but mistreatment is a deal breaker.

  7. Sami Lee
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 06:32:16

    Could never redeem a pedophile in my eyes, not even the most skilled author. Nor any man who would intentionally mistreat an animal or child. I’d be okay with most other things if there is a real effort by the author to explain or redeem the characters. I don’t like stories where the hero is say a hitman, con artist or drug dealer if he doesn’t go through some process whereby he decides his behaviour is wrong and realises he has to change it. If he’s going to go merrily along killing people into the future, I’m not so satisfied with that.

    I think it does make a difference if the book is a romance or literary or even mainstream women’s fiction. I’m more forgiving with other genres because I don’t have that expectation that the characters are ultimately going to be good people. One of the reasons I read romance is because I want to spend time with people I like, whereas I read in other genres for other reasons and the likeability of the characters is not so vital.

  8. Ros
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 07:11:53

    I totally agree with you about The Innocent’s Surrender – I was really shocked by that book. I reviewed it here and also left a scathing review on Amazon.

  9. DS
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 07:27:56

    Dexter– I’ve read the books and found them interesting but he seems to be regarded as a romantic hero by some women. Also hit men especially if they have been after the heroine.

    A friend borrowed Linda Howard’s Death Angel the other day. I warned her that she wouldn’t like it but didn’t tell her why. She came back later to say it was the worse book by Linda Howard she had ever read–nothing says romance like a hit man who hasn’t made up his mind if he is going to kill you or not.

  10. Jennifer Estep
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 07:43:54

    I really enjoyed All the Queen’s Men, and I’m one of those who would like Ronsard to get his own book. Howard make him likable enough for me because of the sick daughter angle. And I’m a sucker for those kind of spy books in general.

    A lot of it depends on the author and what she’s trying to do with the story. If I really like her voice or have liked other books by her, I’m likely to be a little more forgiving.

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Sebastian in Lisa Kleypas’ Wallflowers series. I know a lot of folks love his book. It was a good book, and Kleypas redeemed him enough for me, but I always remember what he did in the previous book when he kidnapped one of the heroines and was going to force her to marry him (among other things). But I liked Kleypas’ voice/books enough to keep reading them.

    But there are certain things that always bother me no matter who the author is or how much I like her books. I am not a fan of forced seduction (which is why I had a problem with Sebastian and his previous actions). I do not find it sexy or acceptable at all. Rape is rape, no matter what label you put on it. And forcing the heroine to pleasure herself is just as bad.

    I find this post interesting because I’m writing an assassin character. I gave her rules and a tragic past, but she’s still done a lot of bad things. But I’ve always liked reading about assassin characters, especially in fantasy lit, and wanted to write my own, even though I imagine that’s another turn-off for some folks …

  11. Tweets that mention Is There an Irredeemable Trait? | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary --
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 07:52:24

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Erotic Romance, dearauthor and Terry Odell, Valentine's Day. Valentine's Day said: "Is There an Irredeemable Trait? | Dear Author: Romance No…" Special Rose Sale – Valentines […]

  12. Carin
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 07:57:43

    From the original post: “How about a bad mother? Could a mother who has given up her child, maybe even treated the child cruelly, be redeemed?”

    Hey! Back up “given up her child” does NOT equal “bad mother”.

    That said, as a foster mom and adoptive mom, I cannot read a hero/heroine who is a former abuser. Same for rape, incest, animal cruelty. Thankfully, I can’t think of any romances like that off the top of my head. Well, ok, old school Catherine Coulter rapes – NOT rereading.

  13. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:00:31

    @Ros I am a big Craven fan but this book really shocked me. It felt dated and that first scene tainted the whole love story for me.

  14. Keishon
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:02:09

    What you said, it depends on the author. I draw the line at bestiality. Won’t read it. As an avid reader I’m open to almost everything else, infidelity, incest, rape, etc but if the author doesn’t seem to know what he/she’s doing with those elements in the story then I am bailing.

    I’d like to think that in romance, rules are set in place for a reason. Some serious topics like domestic abuse don’t fit and just wouldn’t work for me no matter how good the book is written.

    I would have loved to have seen the arms dealer from All the Queens Men get his own book. It would have been fascinating to read.

    Must mention that in one of Dennis Lehane’s Angie/Patrick series, Angie’s husband is a batterer but Lehane for some reason wanted to redeem his character and he pulled it off (at least for me he did). So I guess this long winded answer is it really depends on the writer and my comfort level and how much I can suspend disbelief.

  15. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:02:42

    @DS Ah yes, Death Angel. I was thinking about assassins when I wrote up this post because I actually like the trope. I like Nadia Stafford series from Kelley Armstrong and others and I couldn’t think of a story in romance that featured an assassin so prominently.

    Doesn’t Anne Stuart play on that same concept: the hit man who is sent after to kill the hero? I think that it is seen as “romantic” because the hero gives up his sole goal (and money) to be with the heroine. Skin Games by Ann Aguirre has that same concept – guy is sent to off the heroine.

  16. Keishon
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:03:02

    I think my comment just disappeared.

  17. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:07:06

    @Samantha Oh, hate the “I only slept with her because she reminded me of you” excuse. That’s very icky.

    I don’t mind the jealous hero or the jealous heroine, but sometimes in creeps into psychopathic territory (i.e., the hero not allowing the heroine to engage in any activity without him, being overly controlling, etc).

  18. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:08:19

    @Kim I’ve enjoyed Putney in the past but I didn’t love her contemporaries. For some reason, I always found her redemptive stories to be weaker. Was it the Spiral Path that had the man molested as a child and he was ultimately able to come to grips with this horrific past by writing in his journal?

  19. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:08:40

    @Lynne Connolly I don’t follow her so I don’t know what that is about.

  20. Ros
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:09:48

    @Jane: I agree, it was like reading something written 30 years ago. I had to re-read that whole scene twice to make sure it really was as bad as I first thought.

  21. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:11:14

    @Carin You are right. That was a totally inelegant way to phrase that. I meant more like abandon v. give up. In fact, there is a great story – Karina Bliss’ What the Librarian Did – that deals with the heroine giving up her child for adoption.

  22. MariaESchneider
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:20:34

    Definitely have lines and most of them seem to align with yours. I read for escape–not to see the world’s ugliness in terrorism, incest or painful abuse, rape or cheating. The last can be told well, but they will never be my favorite.

    It doesn’t matter whether I’m reading a mystery, a romance, or a fantasy. There must be some likable characters that have redeeming qualities. Mistakes, sure. Selling bombs…kinda tough to justify, especially on an ongoing basis.

  23. Kathleen O'Reilly
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:34:24

    There are few things that I will not forgive if the author writes them well enough. I did love Ronsard, because *to me* it was the story of a man who would break whatever laws necessary to keep his daughter alive. Although, thinking more about this, I read this a LONG time ago, and I wonder if an arms dealer would have the same sort of cavalier feel that it did to me pre 9/11?

    I enjoyed Death Angel, but I definitely like when Linda Howard writes more heroic heroes.

    One of my favorite shows was the Wire, and I thought the writers did a great job of writing anti-heroes and making them heroic. I loved Omar, and thought he was honorable. He had a code and he stuck to it. And also, for these kids, it was their world, and it meant survival. You did what you had to do to live.

    I think infidelity is hard to put in romance, because fidelity is a one-shot deal, like virginity. When you pop it, you can’t take it back. It won’t make me *not* pick up a book, but given two equal books, I’ll pick up the other.

    I’m writing a Mom right now that gives up her kids and I’m wrestling with how to write her and her motivations, so this is very timely.

  24. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:38:02

    There’s a Cheryl Holt book, The Way of the Heart, that I always think about when awful heroes are mentioned. He’s truly reprehensible. At one point, the heroine catches him cheating and shoots him (!), which is pretty awesome. I never quite bought the HEA, but the book stands out in my mind as gripping and thought-provoking.

  25. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:39:10

    @Jill Sorenson: Wow – I don’t know if I could read that but somehow I find myself intrigued against my will….

  26. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:41:41

    @Kathleen O’Reilly: I think you articulated it well for me. I know in re-reading books, I’m not interested in revisiting Faking It but I love Manhunting and several others.

    I would never re-read Death Angel by Howard but several others are on a yearly re-read rotation.

    All things being equal, I would probably prefer not to read books that have terrorists as heroes but maybe strong recommendations could move me to pick a book up that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own.

  27. jmc
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:42:52

    The sick child excuse for Ronsard does not work for me. And assassin heroes/heroines *in romance* don’t work for me either.

    Back when Ava Gray’s Skin Games was released, I struggled with this before setting the book aside. Morally ambiguous characters? Maybe, depending on how they are drawn. But the assassin hero and con artist heroine didn’t work for me as a foundation for a romance. Same with Linda Howard’s assassin hero and heroine.

    Flowers in the Attic…it makes me *extremely* uncomfortable that this book and series is being marketed to YA audiences.

    Two other books you mentioned, This Heart of Mine and The Burning Point were both books that I did not enjoy at all. I read them both pre-blog, but can remember posting a long rant on AAR or some other BB about the MJP book. Her issue books aren’t my favorites generally, but I finished TBP not believing in the HEA. THOM pisses me off every time I remember it. Lack of consent = rape. If Kevin had done to Molly what she did to him, readers would HATE Kevin. But no, it’s different because he’s a big, hypersexualized football player, so he must’ve wanted it subconsciously. THOM is the book that removed SEP from my buy category; I’ve never really gone back to reading her since.

    I have Reid’s The Ultimate Betrayal on my keeper shelf, but I seldom reread it, because I feel so ambivalent about the infidelity and the h/h generally. Another marriage-in-trouble with almost-infidelity that I like better (mostly because of the heroine, who has a spine) is Emma Darcy’s Marriage Meltdown. But, again, I don’t often revisit that book either.

    Serial rapists, serial cheaters, career criminals, animal abusers, incest, batterers/abusers. I’m not interested in reading about them in romance, not even if the romance is about their redemption.

  28. RStewie
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:43:07

    I’m pretty laid back when it comes to mores and morals in my fiction, but I will not finish a book that has animal cruelty or child abuse in it, by the protags or the villian. There are other ways of portraying characters that are not so offensive.

    I never read Flowers in the Attic because of the whole child-abuse-as-horror aspect of it…and this was me back in HS. I’ve never strayed from that mind-set.

    For me, the line is not usually drawn in response to the “social” aspect of the protags, though; I can handle assassins and killers and things of that sort, but I do draw the line if the “personal” aspects of the character’s: liar, cheater, abusive, etc.

    So far as rape and “forced seduction” in Romance…I’m not a fan. I’ll stop reading if the “romance” starts to feel more like harassment or an assault than two consenting adults falling in love.

  29. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:49:05

    @jmc: THOM, I hated that book because of the opening scene. Hated Molly. Hated the rape and how it was never treated as a rape. It did taint my view of SEP books.

  30. Sandy James
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:54:11

    Since my series is about “Damaged Heroes,” this is a topic I’ve thought about a lot. I wanted my heroes to be redeemable, so I tried not to put something so awful in their pasts that would make them a total turn off. I wanted damaged, not broken. I will say that Murphy’s Law was turned down because more than one editor said Seth was so unlikeable in the beginning. That’s one of the reasons I start the book with a Tennessee Williams quote about redemption. Should be a neon sign that says, “He has some growing up to do!” (sigh) However, when an editor finally gave it a shot, she told me Seth’s redemption was a “work of art.” Made me cry because she “got” my hero!!

    What is a “deal breaker” for me? ANY form of abuse — physical or psychological. Infidelity would turn a book into a wall-banger. I don’t mind an alpha male “taking charge” in a sexual encounter, but rape crosses the line. (Example, I love when Alex and Gwendolyn connect in The Witch and the Warrior by Karyn Monk.)

  31. Catherine
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 08:57:34

    I could never read a book about a “reformed” batterer.
    I used to read the rapey romances when I was a teen/early 20s, but now I have no tolerance for them and I consider them lazy writing anyway.
    Adam Black from Immortal Highlander is my favorite villain turned hero, and that one was a bit of a tough sell considering some of the things he was known to have done.

  32. Senetra
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 09:03:09

    I can’t see myself reading books where the hero is any of the things you wrote in the last paragraph. Or incest. However, adultery is a theme that I don’t mind reading. I have two old categories, one by Laurey Bright/Daphne Clair and the other might be by Robyn Donald. In the former, a Sil IM the hero cheated, and in the latter, it was the heroine in a Presents. The Coming Home Place by Mary Spencer also has a hero who cheats. My personal policy is zero-tolerance for cheating, but I don’t need my books to mirror my reality in that case.

  33. Joanne
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 09:05:55

    I, to the best of my knowledge, have never even been in the same room with an assassin. For me they are completely fictional and so have free rein to be the hero.

    Not so the rest of the list. The pedophile, the child rapist, the rapist, the bully, the cheater, the arms dealer are all too real and are not hero material.

    While their atrocious behavior can add and aide the plot, I won’t accept them as the hero or heroine.

  34. joannef
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 09:11:24

    I cannot stomach a hero who physically abuses women or children – for any reason, in any scenario. That’s what turned me off of “Outlander,” and some of the BDSM-themed romances leave me scratching my head as to who would enjoy being beaten. Light bondage and D/s themes are fine; but as soon as the so-called “hero” feels the need to redden a backside to get off – never mind raise welts and bruises – he moves directly into the weak & unmanly territory. IMO, a man who beats women for sexual pleasure is an insecure bully, and a woman who allows or seeks such treatment has serious emotional problems. NOT ROMANTIC!

  35. Babs
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 09:12:36

    I remember reading FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC at about the age of 12. The incest part was more shocking to me than the abuse…perhaps because the abuse was just so over the top and as a horror novel it was “expected”?!?! Not sure since it has been so long…

    As for deal breakers…bad things happening to children (hey, I’ve evolved since I was 12!), abuse and/or cruelty to people or animals, rape, pedophilia, etc.

  36. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 09:19:07

    @Jane: Stryker was a bad, bad Daimon and he caused a lot of Acheron’s problems, killed, sucked the life out of people. And there’s a link with Ash that makes it worse (avoiding spoilers here).
    After “Acheron” came “One Silent Night” and Stryker got his book. I didn’t buy the book because I didn’t want Stryker to have any kind of happy ending because of what he’d done.

    And damn, damn, damn, I just bought the Sara Craven book.
    Speaking of HQN, have you read “The Innocent’s Dark Seduction”? The hero was so beastly I wanted someone to kill him. There have been a few like that recently, and I really don’t like them. We have warnings about sex, about uncomfortable things in a book, can’t we have one for rape?

    Oh, and in Chantelle Shaw’s “The Spanish Duke’s Virgin Bride” the heroine’s father embezzled money from the hero’s bank. So in that one it was the hero I felt sorry for as the heroine begged and pleaded with him to cover up her father’s crime. It’s a bank! I don’t care who owns it or what the reasons were for embezzling, you just don’t cover that kind of thing up. Even for a magic vagina!

  37. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 09:34:09

    Apparently the things we are talking about today are triggering the spam filter so I’ll be checking it regularly to pull people’s comments out.

  38. hapax
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 09:46:37

    Interesting. The first thing that leapt to my mind as irredeemable was “torture” — and then I remembered Patricia Veryan’s wonderful old Golden Chronicles, and how the last in the series, THE DEDICATED VILLAIN, was on my yearly re-read list for the longest time.

    Infidelity, rape, incest, all trip my “squick”-o-meter, so I probably would have to be convinced to try them; but I think a good enough writer could make them work.

    Actually, I think there’s an awesome angsty novel out there waiting to be written about a pedophile who knows his desires are wrong and struggles with them daily, and the True Love that helps him cope. Probably not going to be written by me, however.

  39. rosecolette
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 09:46:49

    No rape, child abuse/pedophilia, animal abuse, spousal abuse by either party, or animal abuse. I love Dexter but don’t want to see a serial killer as the romantic lead, male or female. Assassins and hit-man/hit-woman I can handle; especially have been enjoying the Nadia Stafford books by Kelley Armstrong.

    I have difficulty believing that a batterer or cheater can be reformed. It’s a very rare thing in real life.

  40. Kalen Hughes
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 09:52:12

    How about a bad mother? Could a mother who has abandoned her child, maybe even treated the child cruelly, be redeemed? How about a pedophile? A serial rapist? An animal abuser?

    I was making a list in my head as I read and you pretty much hit all the things I personally can’t forgive (mostly because I don’t think they’re things a person can ever atone for fully, nor can they be trusted not to do them again).

    But I think the mother is fully redeemable. Bad parents can learn and grow, a mother abandoning a child isn't a deal breaker for me, but I need to see and understand the motivation (and I need the abandoned child to be safe, no left by the side of the road or something).

    Incest is a bar simply because it's too squiky. If that's who you love, fine, I just don't want to know about it. I certainly don't want to read about it (and for me, this applies to all the twincest out there too *shudder*; I don't even like reading about people who sleep with siblings separately, it's skanky).

    Infidelity however, is simply not a problem for me (at least not in the hands of a good author). For example, Pam Rosenthal's The Slightest Provocation has a couple that's been separated for years, and they've both been unfaithful during that period. I love that book! But if one of the characters is just out boffing like mad while their partner sits home and suffers . . . well that is kind of a problem. But if they learn a major lesson and I believe that they're genuinely a changed person, I might be ok with it even then. Eloisa James pulled this off in one of her books (can't remember the title though).

  41. Kate Pearce
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 10:11:07

    It’s an interesting discussion. I’m with the majority about what I don’t want to see in my romance novels, but I’m a little bit more interested in the consequences of adultery. Growing up in the UK, adultery did occasionally happen in romance/historical fictions (I particularly remember the Brenda Jagger books)and was dealt with in an appropriate, meaningful and hopeful way, so I didn’t realize until I moved here that it was such a big no-no.
    Overall, I suppose most of us read romance novels to escape the real world and all of the irredeemable traits mentioned remind us of stuff we have to deal with and don’t want to read about.

  42. Mina Kelly
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 10:11:21

    I’ll happily read almost anything. I mean, props to the writer who makes me like a paedophile or a rapist (and not just feel sympathetic towards or sorry for the character). For example, I find Humberto in Lolita quite likeable – that doesn’t mean I agree with what he does, but Nabakov is talented enough that I like him part-and-parcel with (and not despite of) his actions.

    However, if he got an HEA with Lo? It would be a very different book, and I’m still not sure it would be a romance. I don’t mind if a character with “irredeemable traits” gets away with it, I don’t mind if they don’t feel guilty or ever acknowledge they did something wrong, I don’t even care if they get to live happily ever after on their own, as long as it’s acknowledged that their actions have hurt other people. That’s what makes me feel as though the actions are being endorsed, if not by the author then at least by the narrator.

    It’s the romance that sticks, because in a romance HEA the implication is that the characters are happy and their relationship is healthy. Yes, one may be struggling to overcome something and there’s still work ahead, but it’s not usually something the other inflicted (and if it is, there’s a good reason for it to be forgiven by both the other character and the reader). It implies the irredeemable trait has been redeemed.

  43. Sandy James
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 10:17:26

    @Kate Pearce

    Overall, I suppose most of us read romance novels to escape the real world and all of the irredeemable traits mentioned remind us of stuff we have to deal with and don't want to read about.”

    Very good point. Yes, I like conflict and drama. But some things — like incest, abuse, and total a**hole heroes — aren’t what romance readers want. (At least they’re not what THIS romance reader wants.)

  44. jessica
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 10:43:32

    I LOVED all VC Andrews when I was in young middle school–probably between 9-12. My mom had no idea what the books were about. Almost every series had an incest subplot, which is bizarre.

    And I transitioned right into the Coulter books of yesteryear around 10 or 11.

    I don’t know what I would find absolutely unacceptable. Honestly, I think it’s a little creepy when the male is about 40 and the heroine is 17/18. I know that was typical at one time but it squicks me out. Then again, my real annoyance is when the couple InstaLoves but that’s another thread.

  45. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 10:52:42

    @jessica Did they? I only ever read Flowers in the Attic. I can’t even remember why.

  46. Jen
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 10:54:32

    I don't know about irredeemable, but one thing I find seriously icky in historicals is heroes who've used prostitutes in the past. I'm sorry, but why would it be awful for a guy to blackmail the heroine into having sex with him but fine for him to use some poor girl who has to put out for her survival?

    Maybe it's my lamentable knowledge of the actual, real living conditions of prostitutes in the 18th and 19th centuries that makes this so awfully appalling to me. YUCK! And don't get me on about heroes who seem to think it's fine to use the maids because, duh, we all know about working class girls, right?

    I accept the mores of the time, but sexually unequal relationships need to be treated with care. I'd take a remorseful hitman ten times rather than a guy who has behaved as if the lower classes are some sort of sexual shoe polish rag.

    Agreed, this behavior was much more common a while ago, but I still see it. And I never saw a hero who’d done it even realize that it’s wrong, so I guess redemption has so far always been out of the question for them.

  47. Lane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 10:57:55


    Flowers in the Attic…it makes me *extremely* uncomfortable that this book and series is being marketed to YA audiences.

    Oh, I hear you on that. I got twitchy when I saw Ender’s Game marketed in the Young Adult section.

    I actually think it may be more about how the bad stuff is treated in the context of the story than anything else. I don’t have as much an issue over When Jeff Comes Home or Counterfeit Son being young adult, mostly because how the theme is used.

    I would want to talk to my kid before, during, and after reading, and they’re definitely books that require parental discretion in deciding if they’re appropriate to the reading kid in question.

  48. Ridley
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 11:03:52


    Funny, I read Flowers In the Attic when I was 12 then went on an enthusiastic V.C. Andrews book glom. I enjoyed these and various dystopias as a YA reader. Kids are a bit savvier than we give them credit for.

    Judgmental much? No harm at all in consensual BDSM. I’d argue that denying yourself that pleasure because of a concern for people like you clucking their tongues would be where the actual emotional problems would lie.

    As for the topic, I have few hard limits, and even those flutter away if we leave the romance genre.

    For a romance hero, I need to believe he’s innately good, even if he has an odd way of showing it, and buy into the HEA. I can’t buy into a pedophile, rapist, child/animal abuser or batterer hero in a romance. Could they be sympathetic secondary characters? In the right hands, absolutely. But they can’t reform to be heroes. These are crimes against innocents, the worst sorts of abuses of trust and power. There’s no such thing as a recovering batterer.

    Well, maybe, now that I think of it. My grandfather beat my gram silly, knocking her teeth out and so on, and terrorized my mom and her siblings. Once he quit drinking, though, he turned into a wonderful family man until he died after almost 40 years of sobriety. But, that was my grampy. I only knew he was safe and fabulous because he was family. If a romance played that story back to me, with different principals, I would probably think the woman a dope for taking him back and think him the basest sort of cad.

    I can accept cheating, if it’s written well. Broken by Megan Hart might be one of my favorite books, and I didn’t think Sadie weak or reprehensible at all. People cheat, men and women alike, and marriages do sometimes survive these events. The Boston Globe had a little feature about this not too long ago. I don’t find it unforgivable if it’s handled right. But the “She reminded me of you” bit IS ridiculous, I agree.

    I love anti-heroes. Watching a character fight him/herself to do the right thing in the end is much more interesting than watching an unequivocally good person do what he/she always does. Can’t love anti-heroes without allowing authors to play with some sketchy characters.

  49. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 11:11:42

    I devoured the VC Andrews books as a preteen. I remember one about a girl who was stolen or adopted as a baby. Lots of sexual tension w/ boy she thinks is her brother. I recall finding this very titillating, forbidden love made okay because they weren’t actually related.

    Sandra Brown also wrote a category romance about an undercover cop who pretends to be the heroine’s long lost brother. Yeah, okay, I liked it! *embarrassed*

  50. Keishon
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 11:28:58

    I read VC Andrews in high school as well. I read not only that series but the ones that featured Heather Casteel as well. Riveting stuff. I can completely understand the ick factor especially marketing to teens but it seems that many teens are reading them today anyway…and I agree, teens are very smart and have a lot of diverse and interesting content marketed to them that I can’t help dabbling into myself.

  51. Linda Rader
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 11:30:53

    I can forgive a hero who makes himself the victim of his weakness, such as an alcholic, but not one who victimizes others, such as an alcoholic that batters his wife. I could forgive a hero who cheated on his past girlfriend but has reformed by the time he meets the heroine but not physical abuse.

  52. Ridley
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 11:43:37

    I think we forget what we were like as teens. I mean, I was having sex at 14 and took my AP English exam while incredibly baked (and scored a 5, TYVM, Partnership For a Drug-Free America).

    V.C. Andrews wasn’t nearly screwed up enough to faze me. I’m not sure what would have been. I loved the angst and drama of it all.

  53. Kalen Hughes
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 11:53:10

    V.C. Andrews. *shudder* I have very vague memories of other girls reading those. Even in grade school the subject matter squicked me out. Once I found out what they were about, I had zero interest in cracking one open.

    I do remember seriously loving a book called The Grounding of Group Six though. It was about “bad” teens who were sent by their parents to a summer camp to be killed (“grounded” by being buried with quick lime). Needless to say the “bad” kids win out in the end.

  54. Sandy James
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 12:13:22

    @Kalen Hughes:

    V.C. Andrews. *shudder* I have very vague memories of other girls reading those.

    The “Flower in the Attic” series was really popular back when I was in junior high — I think dinosaurs were still roaming the Earth… ;) I read a few and got really grossed out over the incest and extraordinarily weird storylines. It was easy to walk away.

    As an adult, I have more and better expectations for my characters. As I said earlier, I want “damaged” not “broken.” We all want to believe in redemption, but pedophiles, batterers, and philanderers have a poor (actually, impossible) chance of redemption. So why would I waste my limited free time reading about behaviors I despise? Especially when there are so many good authors and books out there to choose from…

  55. hapax
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 12:16:09

    I can't buy into a pedophile, rapist, child/animal abuser or batterer hero in a romance.

    One of these things is not like the other… Rape, abuse, and battery are ACTIONS. Pedophilia is an INCLINATION.
    There are many pedophiles who struggle successfully with their desires. There are many people who sexually abuse children who have no particular desire for them, just find them to be handy defenseless targets.

    My previous comment seems to have been eaten, but I’ll repeat one of my points from there. I could see a wonderful angsty romance with True Love helping a pedophile to deal with his dark sexual yearnings. (I couldn’t write it, but I can think of authors who could.) I can’t see a possible redemption of someone who actually hurt children.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t have believed that Patricia Veryan could redeem her series villain (c’mon, we saw him TORTURE), but A DEDICATED VILLAIN remained a favorite re-read for many years.

  56. Lori
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 12:25:57

    The problem with a batterer or abuser or hit man … that’s an adult making a choice to hurt someone else. I don’t know how such a character would be able to choose to cause pain at point A and by point B become a hero.

    The real heroes to me are those who choose the harder road of humanity. Then again, I don’t vare for the alpha male, lone wolf types. Show me a man who loves his mother and is kind to strangers and I’ll take him over some brooding leather clad brooder any day.

  57. Ridley
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 12:35:16


    And animal abuse tends to be an inclination as well. People who abuse animals tend to abuse people. The potential will always be there for them to snap, just like a pedophile.

  58. LoriK
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 12:52:51

    Like most posters I won’t read a romance novel about s pedophile, rapist, child/animal abuser or a batterer. I’m just too aware of how non-hero material such people are IRL to suspend my disbelieve for a book.

    I have a major issue with infidelity, but it works a bit differently for me than it does for other people. Provided that it’s well done and the characters show real growth I will happily read a book about a couple putting their relationship back together after one of them cheats. What I will not read is a story where the h/h get together by cheating with each other when one or both of them is married to someone else.

    I also really don’t want to read incest or quasi-incest stories because I think that’s just nasty. I have no problem with menage stories when they don’t involve people who are related to each other, but once you start involving siblings or cousins I’m out. I don’t care if they never touch each other, relatives should not be in a position to know what each other’s O faces look like.

    I read the first Men of August book because someone loaned it to me without telling me the plot. If she had told me there is no way I would even have started it. Flowers in the Attic was bad enough, but at least those characters were trapped in a attic. The August brothers have money & access to therapy and still chose to deal with their crap via semi-incest. To quote Cordelia Chase, “There is not enough Ewww in the world.”

    I really shouldn’t even think about the August books because they bring out my judge-y side. The whole thing was so gross to me that I tend to think ill of both author and fans and that’s really not fair.

  59. MaryK
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 12:59:46

    I have uncrossable lines and lines that move depending on the author. The things you mention (child cruelty, pedophiles, serial rapists, animal abusers) will keep me from even considering a book; they’re definitely irredeemable IMO.

    There’ve been a few books, All the Queen’s Men is one of them, where I’ve said, “If she writes a sequel with this person as a hero/heroine, I will not read it.” (And don’t get me started on the ones where the villains are let off with a slap on the wrist!) Those lines are more vague and depend more on a build up of unsavory character traits rather than one main fault.

    It doesn’t matter to me what the genre is. I want to read about admirable characters (I really like ones who end up admirable though they didn’t seem to be at first), not waste my time with unsavory ones.

  60. Kalen Hughes
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 13:03:22

    I can't buy into a pedophile, rapist, child/animal abuser or batterer hero in a romance.

    One of these things is not like the other… Rape, abuse, and battery are ACTIONS. Pedophilia is an INCLINATION.

    The way I see this is that you're not talking about the same thing. The first comment stated the issue as a character who is a pedophile (action taken), while you're talking about a character who has pedophilia (an inclination). I'm not entirely sure I can buy an HEA for a character who has pedophilia (because at some basic level they won't ever really be happy or satisfied with their adult partner and their true inclination will always be waiting in the wings to disrupt the HEA) and I KNOW I can't buy one for someone who is a pedophile.

    Also, from what I understand, all of these things are quite often simply expressions of control and power. The kind of person who feels they need to exercise that sort of control/power over a weaker being (be it a woman, child or animal) tends to be incapable of not repeating the action in the long run (they may be able to control their impulses with serious therapy and perhaps drugs, but I don't think I could ever really buy into their HEA). They also tend to escalate, especially under pressure or stress, further eroding my ability to buy-in to their ability to actually maintain “happily ever after”.

  61. MaryK
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 13:13:28

    @MariaESchneider: “Mistakes, sure. Selling bombs…kinda tough to justify, especially on an ongoing basis.”

    That was my problem with All the Queen’s Men. It’s not like he did what he had to do and stopped once he had the money he needed. I don’t remember what his daughter’s health was like in the book, but he was very wealthy. It started as “necessity” and ended up as a lifestyle choice.

  62. LoriK
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 13:45:19

    There are few things that I will not forgive if the author writes them well enough. I did love Ronsard, because *to me* it was the story of a man who would break whatever laws necessary to keep his daughter alive.

    I’ve been thinking about this and trying to figure out why I would never want to read a story with Ronsard as the hero. I think it comes down to this–while I sympathize with his love and concern for his daughter the simple fact is that the people he helped kill are also someone’s loved ones. The fact that he takes the attitude “me & mine are the only ones who matter” puts him way, way outside my hero zone.

  63. Robin
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 13:57:16

    I was thinking I didn’t really have any boundaries until I read @Marsha‘s comment. Torture in general is a turn off for me, be it animals, children, or adults. Although violence against women, children, and animals is particularly difficult for me to take.

    For example, used to love Shannon McKenna’s novels, but since she’s gone all evil Russian organ harvesting maniacally torturing and lots of sadistic violence toward women villains, I’m out. I’ve also been wary of reading Karin Slaughter, out of fear that she might step across that line from showing violence as part of the overall logic of her fictional world (being that I am already sensitive to violence, especially sexual violence) to victimizing her own characters.

    What I mean by that is that there’s a point at which the book imposes so much horrific violence on characters that it feels like the author is torturing them (in a sensationalized or exploitive way) rather than the world s/he’s created in the fiction. A subjective judgment, obviously, but when it feels to me that the line has been crossed, I usually opt out of the author’s work.

  64. Janine
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 14:14:59

    @Robin: Totally with you on that, and haven’t tried Karen Slaughter for the same reason. I wonder what you would think of Nalini Singh’s Archangel’s Kiss.

    But is that (dislike for violence) an irredeemable trait? It sounds like in the books you are describing the violence isn’t being perpetrated by characters whom the author then attempts to redeem. I interpreted Jane’s post to be asking whether there are traits we find irredeemable in romance protagonists or traits we find incompatible with those characters receiving a HEA.

    I always thought I would enjoy a sequel to ATQM if Ronsard reappeared as a secondary character, and died while in some way attempting to atone for his earlier actions. I could enjoy reading more about him, but not if he got a happy ending.

    That said, my boundaries are also very few. My favorite romance protagonist of all time is probably Sebastian in Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold, and he is as much a villain as a hero. I think it does very much depend on the author’s skill because I have seen many readers say that rape in romance doesn’t work for them, but then they name this book as one that they are glad they read.

  65. joannef
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 14:56:52

    @Ridley: Right back atcha, Ridley, as far as being judgmental about “people like” me. Please explain why self-abuse is a sign of emotional abuse, yet wanting someone else to abuse oneself is part of a “healthy” relationship. I stand by my opinion. A beating is a beating and a bruise is a bruise, whether it’s meted out with a fist by a stranger or a belt by a “beloved master.” People who get their jollies by inflicting physical damage on those weaker than themselves are violent bullies. Those who encourage others to beat them for sexual release do have emotional problems.

    So, do you believe it is normal for people to cut or otherwise physically harm themselves? Do you believe that spousal abuse is OK? What is the difference between a whip and the back of a hand? What is the difference between a black eye from a wife beater and a black eye from “Sir?”

  66. dick
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 15:25:00

    In a way, I can’t see that it’s possible to absolutely exclude anything from a romance, the whole idea of which seems to be the redemptive power of love. I do some excluding though.

  67. ewe
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 15:52:20

    @Kalen Hughes: I'm not entirely sure I can buy an HEA for a character who has pedophilia (because at some basic level they won't ever really be happy or satisfied with their adult partner and their true inclination will always be waiting in the wings to disrupt the HEA) and I KNOW I can't buy one for someone who is a pedophile.

    Thank you Kalen. I’ve been sitting here trying to put my thoughts down and you did it for me very eloquently.

    A pedophile is a pedophile whether they are thinking of potentially violating a child or they have already violated a child/children. I don’t want to read about the hero being one or even having inclinations to act on his impulses. Total turn off and a definite ick factor there. No HEA. THAT is an unredeemable quality in a hero.

  68. Robin
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 16:17:46

    @Janine: No, you’re correct about Jane’s intention, Janine. I just didn’t make myself clear.

    There may not be an irredeemable trait for me in a Rom protag, but there are books that are irredeemable to me as successfully romantic (or as successful Romances) when they move across that exploitively violent line. So Shannon McKenna’s books, which are most definitely categorized as RS, are just no long reedemably romantic for me.

    I know it’s not exactly what Jane asked, but it’s the one line I really have in terms of what is and isn’t redeemable for me in Romance.

    In fact one of the most perverse Romances I ever read and enjoyed (perversely, of course) was Debra Webb’s Striking Distance. The hero was a nutcase assassin and the heroine was one of those CIA psych profilers who kept wondering to herself why she was letting this nutcase guy use and abuse her. At the end, no way did I believe this guy was anywhere near capable of a healthy romantic relationship, but it’s not because I found him inherently irredeemable.

  69. LizaL
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 16:22:51

    Abuse and incest and rape, etc. do not make the book irredeemable, but they do make the characters irredeemably not a Hero or Heroine. When I read romance, I want Heroes. Literary fic does not have the same expectations for likable characters- its working toward different goals for the reader’s experience, I think. Not fantasy. I don’t demand that literary characters be my friendly companions as I do of romance characters (but I enjoy it more- throw me a rope, literary authors!).

  70. LoriK
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 16:30:48

    I stand by my opinion. A beating is a beating and a bruise is a bruise, whether it's meted out with a fist by a stranger or a belt by a “beloved master.” People who get their jollies by inflicting physical damage on those weaker than themselves are violent bullies. Those who encourage others to beat them for sexual release do have emotional problems.

    So, do you believe it is normal for people to cut or otherwise physically harm themselves? Do you believe that spousal abuse is OK? What is the difference between a whip and the back of a hand? What is the difference between a black eye from a wife beater and a black eye from “Sir?”

    The fact that you stand by your opinion doesn’t make it correct. The fact that you can’t differentiate between abuse and BDSM doesn’t mean that there’s no difference.

  71. TKF
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 16:50:15

    I stand by my opinion. A beating is a beating and a bruise is a bruise, whether it's meted out with a fist by a stranger or a belt by a “beloved master.” . . . .What is the difference between a whip and the back of a hand? What is the difference between a black eye from a wife beater and a black eye from “Sir?”

    The fact that you stand by your opinion doesn't make it correct. The fact that you can't differentiate between abuse and BDSM doesn't mean that there's no difference.

    I’m with LoriK on this one. Consensual rough sex or BDSM is NOT the same thing as being in an abusive relationship. Only someone speaking from a place of incredible ignorance would even put forth such a statement. It may not be a “kink” you approve of (clearly), but just because you don't understand it, doesn't make it abusive. Consenting adults get off on all kinds of things (pain, choking, getting peed on, dressing up in animal costumes, you name it). None of this is abusive per se. If it's done to you against your will, yes. If everyone's a consenting adult and it's part of what you want and need to be fulfilled sexually, then I simply don't see where it's anyone else's damn business.

  72. Aleksandr Voinov
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 16:58:51

    The funny thing is, I wrote a serial rapist in “Special Forces” – I wanted to stretch my own limits and start with a man who was very Nietzschean in outlook – “might makes right”. But this character, Vadim, get redeemed. It takes hundreds of thousands of words, but he is tortured by one of his victims, and he pays, he pays dearly. While I, as his creator, obviously felt for him, I was surprised at the reaction of readers… they started out hating him, then warmed to him, and at the end of the story, the vast majority was firmly on his side. Many crushed heavily on him.

    So, yes, you can pull it off, but, even for the writer, it’s bloody hard work to do and only works in a gritty, realistic scenario. “Special Forces” was never meant as romance, but has created the biggest splash amongst romance readers. Strangely enough. For me, it was just a love story between two messed-up special forces soldiers.

    Incest, pedophelia and bestiality are “hard limits”, though. I’m not crossing that line, and I’ve never written a violent rape scene that could be mistaken for erotic.

  73. Anonymous
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 17:19:00

    Wow I take real exception to the person who basically stated BDSM is abuse and all people who like having these things done to them have real emotional problems. Just because you’re vanilla and don’t understand the psychological make-up of a kinky individual doesn’t mean that it’s aberrant or unhealthy.

    I’m quite sure somewhere in your life is some thought or behavior that others would say points to an emotional disturbance in the force. Buy a clue before mouthing off about what you don’t know about. A BDSM relationship can be one of the deepest and most emotionally healing relationships you could ever have, with the right partner. It’s something that fills a sexual/psychological need in both parties and isn’t hurting you or anyone else. If you don’t like it, no one has asked you to engage in it.

  74. Ridley
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 17:26:45


    Do you believe that spousal abuse is OK? What is the difference between a whip and the back of a hand? What is the difference between a black eye from a wife beater and a black eye from “Sir?”

    Surely you have Google and Wikipedia on your internet machine, but I’ll humor you, since my WoW server is still freaking down.

    Of course I think abuse is wrong. I said so in my post. Abuse implies coercion, lack of consent and violation. BDSM requires consent. It’s a mutual scratching of an itch.

    The difference between a whip and the back of a hand? About $40 and a different sensation. Some people like the sharp sting of a whip while others enjoy concussive blows more.

    As for the black eye, I’m not sure any good top would leave his or her bottom with a black eye. I mean, maybe, if the bottom wanted one, I guess it takes all kinds, but that would be quite unusual. The guiding principle is mutual consent with the aim of giving pleasure. It would be hard to safely give someone a black eye, which is why I say it’d be unusual for a top to cause one.

    An abuser is not trying to give anyone pleasure, he or she is trying to hurt and overpower someone weaker than they are. It’s a selfish display of power.

    When you boil it down, it’s just sensation. Why are your pleasurable sensations better than BDSM adherents’? How is getting whipped by someone you trust disgusting, while football, hockey, bungie jumping and other unsafe adrenaline rushes are perfectly socially acceptable?

    Enjoying pain doesn’t make you weak-willed, it just makes more things fun.

    By all means, dislike and avoid BDSM novels. They’re not everyone’s cuppa. But there’s no need to judge people’s character based on their harmless sexual kinks.

  75. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 17:28:28

    Let’s refrain from personalizing this important topic discussion about BDSM and abuse. It’s an important discussion to have but overpersonalizing the discussion, on either side, won’t help.

  76. joannef
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 17:30:56

    I suppose you either missed or ignored where I wrote that I have no problem with bondage and D/s as long as no physical injuries are involved. You didn’t answer any of my questions either, of course. What’s the difference between a black eye from a wife beater and a black eye from “Sir?” Why is self-abuse considered to be a mental health issue, yet you find it perfectly normal to seek others to mete out the abuse on oneself? The result is the same, a body is being physically damaged and someone is doing the physical damage. What is the difference between a man who beats his wife with a belt out of “love” and one who beats his wife with a belt because “she was asking for it?” Especially if she actually IS asking for it? The legal definition of such is a crime. Maybe all those guys who were arrested for spousal abuse who claimed “she was asking for it” were telling the truth?

    I keep hearing that I “don’t want to understand.” Wrong. I do want to understand, but I have yet to hear an explanation that makes anything close to sense from a mental or physical health standpoint.

    BTW, dressing up like animals or getting peed on don’t kill people, but it’s still not something I would welcome in a romance novel. Choking and beating do kill many women (and men) every year. Assault or murder? Not sexy to me. More like wrong, perhaps criminal. You, of course, are most welcome to disagree. I never said my opinion was the end-all or be-all of taste in romance novels. I just said that it’s a huge turnoff FOR ME.

  77. RRRJessica
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 17:38:11

    @Jane: @jmc: THOM, I hated that book because of the opening scene. Hated Molly. Hated the rape and how it was never treated as a rape. It did taint my view of SEP books.

    I just finished this book, and as usual with SEP there were things I loved and things I hated.

    But Kevin calls it rape, Molly beats herself up for it mercilessly though most of the book, and they discuss it several times, so IMO SEP redeems Molly.

    My bigger problem was literary: I never felt Molly’s action was consistent with her character.

    I think readers are very hard on Molly, and are harder in general on heroines who don’t measure up.

    Another example of heroine rape of the hero is the assault of a drunken Simon by Daphne in Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I. Do readers get as upset about that as about Molly?

    As far as my limits, I’m not sure I have any, provided there’s moral recovery and repair, i.e. the narrative doesn’t implicitly condone the reprehensible traits.

  78. Polly
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 17:46:41


    I did not like the Duke and I in part for that very reason. I was deeply uncomfortable with the lack of consent. In fact, consistent or not, it actually bothered me more in the Quinn novel than in the SEP novel. At least in the SEP novel, Molly’s actions were a sign of how much was deeply wrong with her, psychologically. The fact that Daphne’s actions in the Quinn novel were justified because of what was psychologically wrong with Simon–nope, not for me.

  79. Ridley
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 17:50:45


    So you’ve benignly offered your permission for people to play at D/s so long as there are no welts. But what if the man or woman likes welts? Why can’t consenting adults get some welts if they want them? Tattoos hurt and leave a mark, and people who collect them cite the adrenaline rush, are those also a mark of mental instability?

    I sidestepped the black eye because a good top wouldn’t give a bottom a black eye because hitting someone near the eyes is unsafe. A welt on your thighs or bum will heal quickly and it’s a safe area to hit. Hitting someone in the face can blind them, cause concussion, and so on.

    As for getting whipped versus cutting, I guess the difference is intent or pathology. Most people who cut do so out of depression, anxiety, stress or mental illness. People who like to be whipped tend to be well-adjusted people who just like to be whipped for fun. Cutting is a reaction, whereas getting whupped is an activity indulged for its own stake.

    I’m sure there are better articulated reasons out there for why psychologists list self-harm as a disorder in their big book but leave off BDSM. They’re not a group prone to whimsy.

  80. Anonymous
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 17:51:53

    joanne, you’re talking from a point of extremes. What is “damage” to you? I don’t know of a single good dom who wants to “damage” his sub. Emotionally or physically. Do you consider red marks on someone’s ass “damage”? Really? Or a cane mark? Or a whip mark?

    If something leaves actual physical long-term scars, that’s a “little” different. Yet, at the same time there are people who like that. Why is a person not sovereign over their own body? Why is a tattoo acceptable, but a scar you purposefully sought unacceptable? Isn’t it somehow more personal than a tattoo? Is it less of a permanent or painful mark on your body?

    What exactly is the issue here? If YOU don’t want to do it. Don’t do it. If someone else does, leave them alone.

    Self-mutilation usually comes from a very different place than BDSM emotionally. But whatever someone does or has done to their own body, shouldn’t they be left to do it?

    Sure, some people out there are crying out for help. But some are perfectly content wherever they are. Not sure there is a problem that needs to be fixed here, except the judgementalism that says only the kinks in your comfort zone are okay.

  81. Anonymous
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 17:54:04

    LOL Ridley and I said the same thing with regards to tattoos! Good point about self-mutiliation being a “reaction” to something and BDSM being engaged in for it’s own sake.

  82. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 18:01:22

    @Polly Agreed. While i like Duke and I, I thought what Daphne did was really horrendous.

    But from THOM:

    His eyes narrowed, and his voice grew low and dangerous. “It would be called rape.”
    “You’re not seriously trying to say that I-‘I raped you?”
    He regarded her coldly. “Yeah, I think I am.”
    This was far worse than she’d imagined. “That’s ridiculous. You-‘you weren’t nonconsenting!”
    “Only because I was asleep and I thought you were someone else.”
    That stung. “I see.”

    Molly deems her actions as outrageous, but she never self identifies it as rape. Much like an HP hero.

  83. Ridley
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 18:05:35


    Heh, well, they are kinda like cane welts. Something you can look at afterward and think, “That was fun!”

    Not that I have any tats. I could never commit to a design.

  84. Anonymous
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 18:14:38

    LOL @ Ridley. Me either on committing to a design. Maybe if we were more decisive people we’d get tattoos instead of welts. Something to discuss with our shrinks. *sarcasm* :P

  85. joannef
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 18:16:05

    @Anonymous: “the judgementalism that says only the kinks in your comfort zone are okay. ”

    Where did I say this? All I can say about this reaction is WOW! Bruises equal tattoos? First I’ve heard that one. Methinks some doth protest too much!

    Don’t like rape scenarios in romance novels? OK!
    Don’t like cheaters in romance novels? OK!
    Don’t like terrorist heroes in romance novels? OK!
    Don’t like pedophilia in romance novels? OK.
    Don’t like incest in romance novels? OK!
    Don’t like group sex in romance novels? OK!
    Don’t like physical beatings between hero and heroine in romance novels? You’re ignorant and judgmental!
    If you say so.

  86. Ridley
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 18:27:48


    Look, you’re being dodgy now.

    You did not say BDSM novels just weren’t for you, you said:

    IMO, a man who beats women for sexual pleasure is an insecure bully, and a woman who allows or seeks such treatment has serious emotional problems.

    That’s passing judgment on people, not book characters, not to mention it’s just not true.

    Read around. BDSM practitioners are happy, healthy, well-adjusted people who just so happen to like to mix pain and pleasure.

    You don’t have to enjoy reading about BDSM at all. No one expects you to go on a Joey W. Hill glom. But don’t project your dislike for BDSM onto the people who do enjoy it. It’s misplaced.

  87. Anonymous
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 18:28:12

    Regarding BDSM, while I’m in no position to speak definitively on the subject, I’d like to share my own experience in the hope that it may shed a bit of light on how BDSM and abuse are similar in only the most superficial way.

    While I have no aversion to it, I do not consider myself to be “into” BDSM. It is in no way a necessary part of my life or my sexuality. However, my girlfriend *is* into it from a bottoming role, and it’s important to her. For that reason, and because she’s not the first partner I’ve been with for whom this is the case, I agree to participate and over the years have developed both a fair amount of skill as a top and an appreciation for the benefits that she gains from it. Yes, it can be learned even if you are not a sadist.

    An abuser is motivated by anger, and when abusing his victim I presume that his thoughts are on wanting to infict his anger upon her. I do not ever strike my partner in anger or outside of the context of a “scene”. When we scene my attention is focused intently on what I’m doing and her reactions to it, with my primary concern being her safety and my secondary concern being her satisfaction with the event. There is no tertiary concern. I use a variety of floggers (I don’t know anyone who actually uses real whips), and what’s going through my mind is a constant flurry of assessment and adjustment. “Am I going too hard? Too soft? Am I concentrating on one spot too much? Should I mix it up some? Does she look bored? Does she look like she’s in any kind of distress?” And on and on. I frequently stop and run my hands over her, both as a sensual act and to give me an opportunity to get a better handle on her current state (both by looking closely at her and flat out asking her how she’s doing). To tell the truth it’s a bit nerve wracking at times.

    I do not have a dominant personality at all, and in fact the women for whom I’ve explored BDSM activities are very strong, confidant, and assertive. They are NOT weak and they are not victims. Aside from the tactile sensation, what they get out of it is what I get out of it- an intense shared experience. To know that she trusts me enough to make herself so physically vulnerable to me, and trusts me to take her into this place she wants to go and no further, is an honor of sorts. She’s going through a lot during the scene, and it means a lot to me that she’s chosen me to take her there. It’s intense, and it’s a bonding experience. The only aspect of it that I see as at all self-interested for me is that once in a while I afford myself the luxury of taking a mental moment to appreciate how beautiful she is, how she looks, how she moves, and how she sounds. Always, however, concern for her physical and mental well being is paramount. Regardless of how I *think* she’s doing, with a single word or gesture she can get me to immediately stop. It’s never been necessary.

    My favorite part of the entire experience is immediately afterward. I release her (assuming she’s been physically bound, which isn’t always the case), bring her her robe and whatever juice she’s drinking that night, and sit quietly holding her. Gradually our cuddling gives way to conversation as she “comes out of her head space”. As the moment comes to an end we hug each other one more time and thank each other for the shared experience.

    As far as what’s actually going through her mind and what she’s experiencing, I don’t think that I’m qualified to say. But as someone who tops, if you think that BDSM is all about savagely beating someone and asserting one’s physical dominance then I suspect you’d be shocked by how much tenderness, concern, and love can actually be involved.

  88. LoriK
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 18:32:44

    you weren't nonconsenting!”

    So, a double negative and a self-justifying “heroine” with a stunning lack of self-awareness. I’ll pass on this book.

  89. jmc
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 18:42:07

    @RRRJessica: I can’t say how other readers respond to the rape scene in Quinn’s The Duke and I, but it made the book a wallbanger for me. I read the Bridgerton books out of order, and had met and *liked* Daphne as a character when she appeared in The Viscount Who Loved Me, but TDaI killed that, and my enjoyment of the rest of the Bridgerton series. Have never really loved any of her books that I’ve read since.

  90. hapax
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 19:02:34

    A pedophile is a pedophile whether they are thinking of potentially violating a child or they have already violated a child/children.

    And an alcoholic is a drunk whether or not s/he ever touches liquor.

    And anyone with anger issues who thinks “I’d like to kill someone” is a murderer, whether or not s/he has every lifted a hand to harm.

    And anyone who looks at a nice piece of jewelry in a story with acquisitive greed is a thief….

    and so on.

    If anyone bothers to go beyond Oprah in their research, they would find that pedophilia, like most paraphilias, is an extremely complex disorder that presents in a wide variety of ways, but can be successfully (I didn’t say easily) managed, and the pedophile can go on to lead fulfilling and blameless lives, romantic and otherwise.

    I didn’t say that writing a pedophile hero would be EASY. I *did* say that I wouldn’t care to write (or read) one myself.

    But to go back to the subject title of this post, I wouldn’t call ANY “trait” irredeemable (although many certainly trip my personal squick triggers) — only choices and actions can merit that kind of condemnation.

  91. SamG
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 19:21:56

    I could not buy a pedophile. I also had troubles with the assassins in Death Angel. I read it, but have not re-read it.

    I’m not totally closed to a reformed prostitute (Pretty Woman, anyone). I tried Mary Balogh’s “A Precious Jewel” recently. I thought the redemption may be interesting. That one didn’t work for me (I’ve already gotten rid of it and may have the title wrong), but someone may get it right.

    The hero in APJ didn’t work well for me either because he was, well, stupid. That’s the first hero I remember that had an IQ below average. Then again, I always liked smarter than average in real life too.


  92. Edie
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 19:41:09

    I can’t stand abuse, it is probably the one irredeemable trait that sends me up the wall. Physical or psychological. It is part of my reason for my psycho hatred of harlequin presents, too many of those alphas walk too closely or cross over the line of psychological abuse (sometimes close to physical – with the forced seductions etc) against the heroine for me they end up thrown against the wall or occasionally torn up. And sometimes the heroines themselves are classic examples of the battered woman in behaviour…

    Mind you, I love many BDSM romances – much more equal in the sharing of power and loving than a lot of other sub-gens.

  93. Joreth
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 19:52:33

    I’m going to chime in here as the “bottom” and partner of commenter #84 to give the other side of the scenario and what’s going on in the head of someone who actually practices sensation play, as opposed to a bunch of people who don’t seem to know anything about it. To those for whom this is relevant, I also have a background in psychology and relationship counseling.

    I am an extremely confident, assertive, even aggressive, dominant woman. I have always been this way, and not because anything bad ever happened to me. I had a completely normal childhood. I had no abusive relationships, I have never used illegal drugs (and avoid even legal drugs unless absolutely medically necessary), and I do not drink alcohol at all. My past relationships were more positive than negative and I remain friends with the majority of my past partners with no ensuing drama or tension. My parents have been married since high school and are still married, I grew up in the suburbs, I had exposure to a moderate form of Christianity with a loving God, nothing fundamentalist or extreme, and certainly not patriarchal. My parents encouraged me to finish college, to choose a well-paid career, to play sports, to keep my finances managed, to change my own tires, and to be an equal in my relationships.

    My parents believe that relationships are partnerships, between two, equal, and loving individuals and passed that belief along to me. I was raised in a very loving, and appropriate, atmosphere. There was no exposure to sex or BDSM in my childhood home, although I was exposed to affection, and yet I received science-based, age-appropriate, relationship-focused sex ed in school. So sexual activity was neither encouraged, nor a complete and total shock to scar my emotional and physical growth.

    And yet, my earliest memories of self-exploration included aspects of BDSM. I had bondage and spanking fantasies that only grew more elaborate and more authentic as I got older and learned more about BDSM. This has always been a part of who I am, as much a part of my identity as being intelligent, independent, strong-willed, and stubborn has been.

    All of my relationships have included some aspect of BDSM even before I knew what that was. But until I learned the word for it, and the culture surrounding it that absolutely requires “Safe, Sane, & Consensual”, I always felt as though my relationships were lacking something. They never felt “right”. The more my partners resisted including BDSM elements based on some arbitrary “right way” to “treat a lady”, the more “wrong” that relationship felt.

    The “right way” to treat anyone, lady or no, is the way that person wants to be treated. And how I want to be treated is to be spanked and flogged and tied up when I want it.

    Being cuffed to a cross and flogged by my partner is a fantastic sensation – to those of us for whom that sensation translates as “fantastic”. It doesn’t feel like it looks like it feels. It doesn’t hurt like stubbing your toe in the middle of the night, it hurts like a really deep-tissue massage hurts. It hurts like stretching a sore muscle hurts. That is to say, it hurts and feels good at the same time.

    Chemically, it releases hormones that, in the person who enjoys these sensations, activate the reward center. The endorphin rush feels really, REALLY good. And the seratonin and oxytocin levels are what creates the “bonding” feeling with another person, so for a person who is wired this way, it becomes an intense bonding experience.

    Emotionally, everyone is a little different, so I’ll just explain what it does to me. Being such a strong, assertive person means that I’m often in charge of things. I’m in charge at work, I make decisions, I maintain my own household & pay the bills on time (being unmarried tends to do that), I’m always in control, and I enjoy this about myself. When I give myself up to my top, I voluntarily give up that control temporarily. It’s an illusion, of course, because a single word or gesture from me and he gives it right back. So one could say that I never REALLY lose control, which is an important distinction between BDSM and abuse.

    But I can relax. I can choose to let someone else take over for a while. I can let this moment be all about me, how I feel, what I want. And this moment is given to me by a person who has my complete and utter trust.

    That’s a pretty strong statement for someone as independent as I am. He has to know me, intimately (and I don’t mean sexually, when I say “intimately”). He has to know me almost better than I know myself. He has to focus his entire attention on me, on my reactions, on what I’m doing. He has to anticipate what I’m feeling. He has to care, above his own wants, needs, or desires, ultimately about *me* in that time and space.

    This kind of situation makes the bottom feel incredibly loved and cherished. In abuse, the focus is all about the abuser, what he or she wants and feels. In BDSM, it’s the exact opposite – the focus is all about what the bottom wants and feels. The top in a BDSM scene does not top because he gets off on smacking his partner. He “gets off” on providing an experience that his partner actively desires and has consciously requested and negotiated. We all like to do things for and with the people we love, BDSM is simply one more thing that a person can do with his loved one.

    My top and I discussed, at length, EXACTLY what actions he would do and not do, why I want it done, why he is or is not willing to do it, and he checks in with me continuously throughout the scene and throughout our relationship.

    Afterwards, as he said, he brings me my robe and holds me while I ride the endorphins and reflect on our time together. The combination of the adrenaline and the emotional bonding chemicals makes me feel vulnerable and creates an incredibly intimate atmosphere where I let my guard down and reach out to him, both physically and emotionally. He gets to see me in an emotionally vulnerable state that I deliberately orchestrated to allow him to see and he honors that act of trust and intimacy by his care and consideration before, during, and after the scene.

    As for the word “damage” being the deciding factor between abuse & BDSM, that’s complete and total bunk. Several people have already mentioned tattoos and piercings. People alter their appearance in pretty much all cultures throughout history. Today, tattoos are considered an acceptable form of self-mutilation but scars are not. I happen to have a scar that I received from a light-saber battle (I’m a Star Wars geek) that I’m quite proud of. I like how it looks and I very much enjoyed the activity that left it there. Was my mock-battle “abusive” because it resulted in a permanent disfigurement?

    Now, in that case, it was accidental, but in BDSM, any visible marks are deliberate, and consciously chosen by both the recipient and the person making the mark. I happen to love being marked. It’s a reminder, for as long as the mark lasts, of my time with my top, of his adoration of me. It’s a symbol that he cherishes me, as much as a ring or a tattoo with someone’s name in it can be. My marks are never permanent, however, which means that I also don’t get tattoos. But because I, personally, don’t want a permanent tattoo, it doesn’t mean that I think there is anything unhealthy or screwed up in someone who does choose to mark himself in that way. It means he likes how something looks and feels that I happen to not like on my own body.

    Being marked by someone, in addition to providing a lasting symbol of the time shared together and the emotional connection between people, is also an incredibly intimate, and trust-building moment. To give another person permission to physically alter your own appearance is to put yourself in one of the most vulnerable positions you can. You have to trust that the person knows what he is doing, cares enough not to go “too far” (for whatever definition of “too far” the bottom uses), and is paying enough attention to the bottom to ensure that the line is never crossed or to pull back even before the agreed-upon line in the interest of safety.

    I ask you to present a single abuser who would honor that.

    There are many paths to building and maintaining intimacy between two people. BDSM is merely one vehicle for that intimacy. It’s core values are the exact opposite of abuse. The official psychiatric medical community also agrees that BDSM has no relation to abuse, and when its practitioners argue over and over what their *actual* motivations and benefits are, continuing to insist that BDSM and abuse are the same thing is a blatant disregard for the evidence, and for the feelings of those you are claiming to be defending.

    No one has to enjoy BDSM, nor even try it out if they don’t want to. But do not be so arrogant or condescending as to think you understand the mindset of another person better than that person does himself. When the medical community that studies a particular subculture and members of that subculture itself say that you are incorrect in your assessment of those members’ mental or emotional states, you would do well to heed them.

    I am an adult woman with no history of abuse, nor any mental condition or chemical imbalances. I am independent and strong-willed and happy with life in general. I enjoy the sensation of pain in the context of BDSM scenes with a specific person and my relationships are strengthened by the intimacy developed through such scenes, thanks primarily to the care, concern, and consideration of the individuals I have chosen to share those moments with.

  94. hapax
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 20:30:39

    Joreth@92: Thank you for sharing that. That was passionate, beautiful and brave.

    I’ll be honest, BDSM is not and probably never will be my kink — I’ve tried a couple of recommended titles, and couldn’t get into the headspace — but I’ve known far too many happy, healthy and whole BDSM couples (and a triad) to think that there is anything inherently “damaging” in such a desire.

  95. Polly
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 20:41:16


    You’re right–I was forgetting how much they laugh off the rape aspect. It’s treated as the last of a series of poor decisions that Molly makes, which is true in its way, but is ultimately still about Molly and her problems. There’s no real acceptance that this was one decision that was not just about Molly, but was a rape of another person.

  96. Joreth
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 20:43:15

    Hapax, I don’t actually like reading most books with BDSM in it. I find them to be either unrealistic, or covering kinks that aren’t mine and headspaces that I can’t get into.

    The only BDSM I read at all are erotic short stories that are specifically written *for* me, or stories written by people I know personally (in the way I would appreciate any form of art a friend would create).

    Reading BDSM and experiencing it are two different things, and what one likes in fiction is not necessarily the same thing as what one might like in literature.

    That being said, you don’t have to ever like any aspect of BDSM. If you’re into vanilla, hey, it’s not my kink, but it’s not my place to say what yours should be ;-)

    I will say, in response to your comment about my bravery, that my explorations with BDSM have directly contributed to the courage I have today to be who I am. It has had a visible, measurable, effect on my self-confidence and courage in all areas of my life. In addition to the benefits to my relationships, BDSM has had a positive benefit in my life in general and to my own emotional self-growth. I have discovered totally unrelated aspects of myself through my exploration with BDSM, and I have learned to be more comfortable with myself, and to love myself, and to KNOW myself through sharing myself with a caring partner in the way I described above.

  97. Shiloh Walker
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 20:45:35

    Wow…I’m coming in way late on this conversation.

    To the initial question-is there something irredeemable…for me, as a reader?

    Yes, although there might be one or two select authors who may make me willing to at least TRY the book.

    The traits I’d find irredeemable would be:

    an abuser-too many abusers don’t WANT to get help and change, so there’s little that could be done to redeem them.

    a pedophile: while s/he may never give into the urge, pedophiles are drawn to children, so how can they have a HEA? Can they truly BE happy with a hero/heroine? Plus… I don’t really want to go inside that mind. I just don’t.

    a child molestor: Can’t. Don’t want to. Don’t care if that’s bothersome or not.

    adultery: that’s a line for me and it’s a personal one-I know it might not bother some people the way it bothers me, and that’s fine. For me,it’s not something I want to read in my romance. Although, ironically enough, I had actually wrote one book that dealt with adultery.

    incest: not in my romance, please. I read VC Andrews and enjoyed the earlier books, but they weren’t romance.

    Now…onto the other tangents. Yikes. While I’m not going to read all the comments, I caught a few here and there.

    I could never, ever condone anything a man (or woman, because it does happen) did that was abusive to their spouse/SO/etc.

    But there’s a difference between abuse and what happens two consenting adults in the confines of a sexual relationship. I don’t know the in and outs of BDSM, and I don’t really want to-too much much of it pushes me outside my comfort zone.

    However, if the people involved in that relationship truly ARE consenting…well, what they do is their own concern and it’s not the same thing as a a man hauling off and whaling on his wife because she didn’t have dinner ready or his shirt ironed.

    If it works for the individuals involved, and nobody is being forced into something they don’t truly want, then who are we to say anything about it?

    This doesn’t mean that there aren’t people in BDSM relationships that don’t get abused-I’m sure there are. But there’s plenty of people in more typical relationships that get it, too.

    For me, it boils down to this… to each their own.

  98. Polly
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 20:46:40


    Thanks for sharing. You’ve done a better job of letting me into the mindset than any stories on the topic have for me.

  99. Elyssa Papa
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 20:50:56

    I honestly thought this was such an awesome and thought provoking blog. For me, it’s stuff that bother in me real life . . . that would make it harder for me to believe in the HEA. Rape is a big one for me, and the novels that were already mentioned were big no-nos for me because of that. But, on the same hand, it’s clear that Sebastian rapes Rachel in Gaffney’s novel, and I actually could believe in their HEA. So perhaps, with any subject, it merely depends on the level of execution by the author and how successful s/he is in putting that subject out there.

    But, having said that, if there’s one thing I can’t accept—no matter what—is physical abuse. I absolutely hated The Burning Point—I don’t think people who have abused in the past (whether it be human, child, or animal) can ever be redeemed. And maybe it’s the same problem I have with rape and cheating, because I think if the character did it once, s/he can do it again.

  100. Joreth
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 21:06:27

    Thank you @Polly. I would like to make a disclaimer here, though, that BDSM is an intensely personal activity, and there are also a huge range of activities that not every practitioner shares an interest in. So I hope I was clear on what parts are my personal experience.

    I wrote from the perspective of someone who enjoys sensation play and bondage, but I do not engage in Dominance/submission, as it is typically understood within the BDSM community.

    With my words of “giving up control” and having a “top”, someone not familiar with all the nuances might mistakenly confuse the various aspects of BDSM.

    However, being a member of the BDSM community, with a social circle of almost exclusively BDSM practitioners of some sort or another, and that psych background I mentioned, although there may be some differences in certain details about what’s going on in the head of someone who explores a different aspect of BDSM than the ones I do, the bottom line remains the same: BDSM is about trust, communication, honor, cherishing the partner, being intimate & vulnerable, etc. and, most importantly, not a symptom by itself, nor an expression, of abuse.

    “If it’s abusive, yer doin’ it wrong!”

  101. Jennifer Leeland
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 21:09:26

    I do have some pet peeves.
    I haven’t read the book but I STRONGLY objected to the blurb and excerpt for “Comfort Object” by Annabel Joseph. In the short paragraphs listed on Fictionwise, I could find absolutely no way the author could redeem the hero for me.
    I always THINK I know my limits, but then read something that proves me wrong. I wondered how in the WORLD Joey W. Hill was going to redeem her character Jonathan Powell. His character in “Natural Law” seemed completely without remorse and without hope.
    Yet, “Mistress of Redemption” stands as one of my favorite Hill books. Probably for the very reason that it is a powerful story of Jonathan’s journey to becoming whole.
    The redemption of a bad guy can be powerful.
    Incest squicks me out. Pediaphelia does as well.
    Rape is an interesting question. Anyone read “Prisoner of my Desire” by Johanna Lindsey? Forced Seduction? Yes. But I remember thinking it was rape. Both ways.
    Yet, again, one of my favorite books.

  102. Joreth
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 21:14:38

    Oh, and my partner’s comment has moved rank now, so he’s not at #84. At this point in time, he’s Anonymous at #86. He’s the one who talks about not being a dominant at all, but learning how to because of me and other partners before me, the one who brings me my robe and juice, the one who spends all his time concerned about being too hard or too soft, the one who understands just what an honor and a privilege it is to be the person trusted with the responsibility of a top, and the one who (although he didn’t say it) I feel honored to be the recipient of such tenderness and concern.

  103. Joanne
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 21:59:22

    @Jane: Well at least now I know what I’ll be re-reading this weekend. TD&I — because I don’t remember that at all and I have to wonder why when the similar scene in This Heart of Mine made me incredibly uncomfortable with Molly.

    @Joreth: I feel like an Oprah-Wannbe but thanks for sharing your insight into your lifestyle. I’d like to ask how long that trust takes to establish? I’m sure every person is different when it comes to trusting a partner. I ask since the few BDSM books I’ve have people meeting and then entering quickly into sex acts with virtual strangers.

    Of course that’s true in straight romances too, mores the pity.

  104. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 22:03:03

    @Joanne The difference for me, and this may be a distinction without a difference or however that saying goes, is that Daphne and Simon were in love and having regular sexual relations. The act itself was not rape. Simon would have enjoyed having sex with Daphne, drunk or sober. It was that Daphne did not get off of him when he ejaculated, stealing his sperm. He told Daphne he did not want to have children and she took matters into her own hands. It was a wrong and cruel thing to do to Simon.

  105. Courtney Milan
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 22:29:23

    @Jane: That’s interesting. I’m not sure I would call that rape–he was definitely interested in consenting to sex with her. I think he was just not interested in consenting to children.

    But in a sense, if you think about it, she wasn’t doing anything to him that he hadn’t done to her. He’d implied to her throughout the whole book that he was *incapable* of having children–he knew that she believed it was a physical incapability–when he was in fact engaging in a choice about reproduction without consulting her. He knew that she desperately wanted children, and he refused to even have the conversation with her about his own wants. Instead, he pretended it was beyond his capabilities.

    What she did was surely worse in magnitude, but in my mind not different in kind.

    Neither of them were really informing the other about their reproductive options. To me, what happened between Simon & Daphne felt a little more like this: a woman telling a man who desperately wants a family that she is barren, only she is secretly taking birth control pills. He discovers her stash of pills, and is furious that she’s lied to him, so he replaces them with placebo.

    They’re both wrong, and they’ve both put the other person in a horrible place.

    I’m not trying to say your reaction is wrong, just that I didn’t read that as rape. He consented to sex.

    Maybe, in the legal lexicon, this counts as a form of battery?

    I suppose I saw it as Daphne taking her own sexuality into her hands after years and years of ignorance–an ignorance he had consciously encouraged to suit his own needs.

  106. Jane
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 22:31:38

    @Courtney Milan: I didn’t say that it was rape, but it was nonconsensual and given Simon’s fears, it was cruel to him. Perhaps his cruelty to her outweighed her cruelty to him but it was an act of cruelty by Daphne.

    Whoops – reread my comment. I meant to say that the act itself was not rape.

  107. Joreth
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 22:34:28

    @Joanne, how fast trust is built depends entirely upon each individual dynamic. No two relationships are the same. Every relationship covers slightly different ground because each relationship includes different people from any other relationship. It’s a mix of how I feel about a particular act and how my partner feels about a particular act, and how we feel about each other, together as partners. So even with me as the common element in all of my relationships, the speed of trust is not constant, and what I trust someone about is not the same either.

    Books (and movies) tend to show the characters progressing rapidly because the details of a courtship and intimacy-building are actually not very interesting to people not going through it. The most brilliant writer in the world can’t detail 2 years of dates and conversations in which trust is built, so even if that much time really has elapsed, the scene is set but the details are glossed over. What’s interesting is the tension that the couple has to overcome, and possibly the first-time events. The 20th recount of playing MarioKart, not so exciting, but no less important for the couple doing the trust-building.

    Much of a relationship’s intimacy is developed through a repeated pattern of behaviour, such as regularly returning home at night at the time promised, or going to eat at the same place often enough that one’s partner learns to order for you. There really are only so many ways one can say that before it gets repetitive.

    That and some writers are just not as good as others.

    We also have a cultural expectation that passion and romance is “like a whirlwind”, something that sweeps us away. So to write about the slow culmination of a friendship that deepened over years until two people just happened to be in the right time and headspace to click one day, is endlessly fascinating to the two involved (as evidenced by our tweets – my partner and I were friends for years before dating), but only mildly amusing to those not participating. That type of slow-building relationship is extremely difficult, and only a few notable Classics have managed it.

    I’ve had relationships that felt like we’d known each other forever after having only met a few weeks prior, and I’ve had relationships take months or years to deepen into a level of trust that could accommodate a BDSM element.

    All relationships are unique, all partners are individual, and no one could ever take the place of any other.

  108. If They Can Be Anonymous, So Can I
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 22:41:25

    I can’t read BDSM because I just can’t not see the dominant’s action as anything but abusive, even if it’s consensual.

    I’ve tried. I keep thinking I’m missing out on good stories people keep raving about. But all I can see is abuse and pain.

    So they’re on my list of “irredeemable” for me, along with just about everything else others have posted here.

    Oddly enough, though – in romantic fiction, erotic or other – I can fully buy into a menage-or-more relationship!

    I had more trouble with the August Brothers’ domineering attitudes than I ever had with their sexual-sharing. Go figure.

  109. Suze
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 22:56:22

    Lora Leigh’s Nauti series lost me when she started off one book with a scene of the heroine being tortured by the enemy in her capacity as badass spy. I read it just when the whole Waterboarding: Torture or a Just Fun Day at the Beach? thing was going on in the media, and it just underscored for me how completely stupid it was to even be debating it. Surviving torture as authorial short-hand to show off that your character is badass. That’s a line for me.

    The heroine being tortured in Patricia Briggs’ Dragon Blood, on the other hand, really worked for me. For starters, Briggs is simply a much better wordsmith than Leigh.

    I’m trying to decide if it’s something I can’t accept in an erotica story but is acceptable in fantasy, but I don’t think that’s it. I really think that Leigh’s treatment of torture trivialized it, and Briggs honoured it, by which I mean that she wrote it such that the heroine was damaged and hurt by the torture in real, brutal ways, and not in a facile, oh-ain’t-she-sexy way.

    Like many others, I can tolerate just about any irredeemable trait depending on the author’s handling of it, but there are things that Romance hero/ines just cannot participate in and still be sympathetic.

    ETA: …That is, I can tolerate such traits in a story, but NOT in the hero or heroine of a Romance.

  110. Robin
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 23:09:26

    I’m just scared of those barbed penises in Leigh’s Breed books.

  111. Ridley
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 23:25:50


    I haven’t read a Breeds book yet, but I grabbed some during the FW sale, and I also worry about the whole barbed bits thing. Lots of people love the series, so I guess I’ll just have to give it a go and hope for the best.

  112. Suze
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 23:35:09

    Leigh’s penis barbs are just little extra nubbins, not actual sharp or pointing things. The thing that freaked me out was the flagellum in Emma Holly’s Prince of Ice.

  113. MaryK
    Feb 09, 2010 @ 23:52:05

    @Lynne Connolly: Wait, that’s the March Sara Craven? I have it in my Harlequin cart. Bummer. I thought you were talking about a backlist title.

  114. Irene Chandler
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 00:13:05

    Just to muddy the waters a little bit more-‘does the age at which the protagonist commits the crime or transgression make a difference to any of you?

    For instance, I can see myself rooting for someone who abandoned a child she had when she was fifteen, especially if she did it out of panic and regretted it ever after. You could also make a tortured hero out of an abused boy who turned around and abused his younger siblings, perhaps out of a distorted sense that he had to be a parent to them and that’s how parenting works.

    I also think it makes a difference whether the author is trying to match the redeemed hero with the person they hurt. It would be a tremendously hard sell, but I might be able to believe in an older hero who was abusive to his first wife and then left, got help, sobered up, and built his entire life around not being that guy anymore. If the author tries to match him with the woman he hurt all those years ago, though? Total. Wall. Banger.

    This is a great topic, by the way. I realize I’m trailing in on the very end of it, but I hope the discussion continues for a little while longer, because I’m fascinated by questions like this.

  115. Maili
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 00:40:48

    I’ll probably be seen as a silly bit for saying this: I can’t stand martyrs and the passive aggressive type.

    I like honest or straightforward people, and I feel the passive aggressive / martyr types aren’t. Furthermore, I view martyrdom one of the most selfish/self-centred emotions one could possibly possess.

    Such as heroines who reject child support because of pride or whatnot (Please, don’t be so selfish – this isn’t about you; it’s about your child’s right to a better quality of life).

    Or heroes reject heroines because they think heroines would be better off without them (oh, please, get the f over yourself and don’t treat her as if she was incapable of thinking for herself; she’s not a child, which you already knew because otherwise, you wouldn’t have slept with her).

    It’s a fine line between genuine angst and being a self-centred emo kid. So of course, it depends on each author’s skill, but most authors don’t see anything wrong with it, so they didn’t bother to try redeeming their hero/ines.

  116. DM
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 00:51:00

    Pardon me while I put on my Sara Craven apologist hat.


    If it looks a bit dated, well…she’s been writing these things since the Nixon era. Seriously. With titles like “A Place of Storms” and cover art drawn by Marcia Brady. And some of them were keepers. Quotable even. Deliciously campy.

    But her old school titles rarely had sex in them, and when they did, were always marred by a decidedly mid-century morality. Sex was something the heroine had to be coerced into if she was not yet in love with the hero. And something she had to feel guilty about if they were not married.

    Nowadays Sara Craven jumps through hoops to give us heroines saving themselves for marriage, as in the current title, where the heroine is raised by conservative Greek foster parents straight out of central casting.

    I always buy her new titles hoping for some of that old school Presents magic, but I always find them off-putting. Rape and guilt are definitely joy kills in my romance reading. But I don’t think her books represent a trend. I think they are aimed at the audience that’s been reading her since the 70s.

    And folks like me who want to be whisked to a world where the glamour of international travel did not include having to take your shoes off in airport security, and most of our daily exchanges occurred with real people and not over the internet or via cell phones (neither of which generally appear even in her contemporary titles).

    But I’ve learned my lesson now, and when I want a fix, I hit her backlist.

  117. Maili
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 00:54:59

    @Elyssa Papa:

    And maybe it's the same problem I have with rape and cheating, because I think if the character did it once, s/he can do it again.

    If s/he genuinely feels s/he wants or needs to change, they probably will and tend to stay that way for the rest of their life. It’s a lot more effective than being caught and apologise while promising s/he wouldn’t do it again.

    A desire to change self in order to able to live comfortably with self is a powerful motive; a lot more than a desire to change self for someone or love. If s/he changed themselves for someone, I think they are likely to repeat their mistakes.

    I mean, having someone changed for someone might be romantic to some because it implies that that someone is special enough for him or her to change, but how could one love them if they don’t love themselves enough to change for themselves?

    I’m not sure if this makes sense, but like I said, it depends on each person, really.

  118. Janine
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 01:31:03

    @Courtney Milan & @Jane: The discussion of The Duke and I is interesting. I remember having more sympathy for Simon than I did for Daphne, and seeing her actions as worse than his, probably because I have a strong belief that children should not be brought into such a situation on purpose. If one of the couple doesn’t want kids, for that person’s spouse to scheme to conceive a child anyway harms not only the spouse who wishes to remain childless, but the child as well.

  119. joannef
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 07:27:06

    @If They Can Be Anonymous, So Can I:

    Thank you! That’s the point I’ve been trying to make, obviously with much less finesse. I have read enough BDSM to know where my limit is. Most of it doesn’t bother me. I have read some where the “bottom” is not really free to make their own choices. For instance, after being in an established relationship and having the rules changed as far as the intensity of the experience and being forced to choose either abandonment or accepting whatever the “top” wishes. I’ve read books where the submissive has a “safe word,” but is told the relationship is over if they use it; or given a “safe word” and then gagged or otherwise prevented from using it. “Do what I want or you’ll never see me again, your wishes don’t matter.” How can such behavior not be considered unfairly coercive or abusive? I can’t understand how such cannot be considered unhealthy. That’s not an example of free choice.

    Really, I don’t go looking for reading material that goes beyond my comfort level, from reading the teasers I’d never have thought they were anything beyond the run-of-the-mill, relatively mainstream D/s erotic romances. I know where my line is, and shouldn’t be condemned for it.

  120. Ivy
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 08:19:55

    All these viewpoints are so interesting. It would be beyond boring if we all liked the same thing.
    As for where I can’t go….Abuse. Doesn’t make any difference if the abused was a woman, man, child or animal. A POW scene etc..that’s different. I have trouble buying the “reformed abuser”. Not saying it doesn’t happen, just that I’ve not seen it personally.

  121. Stephanie Draven
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 14:21:03

    I find this thread fascinating, partially because I have a book coming out in October with Harlequin’s Silhouette Nocturne and the hero is also an arms dealer.

    However, I was very cognizant of just how difficult this trait would be to overcome. I gave him a good reason and more understandable lines–he’s not selling to terrorists, he’s selling to combatants in a war-torn area that the world has forgotten about. He’s taken sides when his government refuses to.

    More importantly, I made him remorseful, accountable, and set up a scenario in which he would have to change his ideas, and change his ways.

    For me, I can accept almost any kind of hero as long as his bad acts are in the past, or if he’s in transition into becoming a better man. If he’s going to stay the way he is, however, and people are going to make excuses for him, I’m totally disgusted.

  122. Robin
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 15:16:00

    @Ridley: You’re braver than I, because I could not bring myself to get any of those, lol.

    @Suze: I thought I read in one of those multi-author anthologies a Breed novella where the hero had something that hooks on to the inside of the heroine. No? Yes?

  123. Angelia Sparrow
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 18:32:03

    Where I will put the book down? Pedophilia. Not Ephebophiles (I’ve mistaken a 16 year old for 20 myself once) but those who like prepubescent children. I had to put LOLITA down after 20 pages.

    Otherwise? bring it. Anti-heroes welcome. The guy is into kinky sex, commits rape as a weapon and political tool, cannibalizes his enemies and sleeps with his lover and his lover’s twin? Sure. The guy who is insanely jealous and abuses his lover until sleeping with Satan himself looks like a better deal? Yep.

    I’ve been rejected for writing a gunslinging, hired-killer who showed no interest in reforming by the end of the book.

    But, I’m coming out of SF, westerns and horror. I have no problem with those genres crossing into romance and breaking the rules.

  124. Edie
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 21:49:54

    One query a lot of responses have been related to heroes.
    Are the same rules for heroines?
    Gun-running heroines etc?

    Just curious

  125. Joan/SarahF
    Feb 10, 2010 @ 22:16:53

    @joannef: I’ve talked a lot on here about BDSM books that do a truly terrible job of depicting “real” Safe, Sane, Consensual BDSM relationships, where stuff like what you describe does happen and is labeled BDSM when it should be labeled abusive. So I’ll agree and say there’s some so-called “BDSM romance” out there that isn’t either. But you know what, there are terrible romances out there that do an awful job of showing “real” m/f vanilla relationships, that are border-line abusive and definitely unhealthy. That doesn’t mean that all vanilla romances show that type of relationship and that obviously has nothing to do with all “real” vanilla relationships.

  126. DS
    Feb 11, 2010 @ 09:30:11

    @Jane: Yesterday I ran into my friend who had read Death Angel and told her about this conversation. She stated she couldn’t buy the idea of being attracted to a stone cold killer even if he hadn’t quite made up his mind if he wanted to kill the heroine or not. She also said she did not believe in his reform because it came after finding out there was an afterlife. It was, like all the guys who get religion while waiting in jail for their trial, only promoted by the possibility of punishment.

    And that led us to talking about women who fall in love with jailed killers. We had both read Women Who Love Men Who Kill by Sheila Isenberg. Isenberg is a journalist so it’s more populist, than scholarly. Her theory is that most women who engage in this type of relationship are addicted to the eroticism of being in control of a top predator– as long as the men are safely behind bars.

    I did kind of wonder if this if like the trope of the abused killer horse that only the heroine (or sometimes the hero) can tame.

  127. LVLM
    Feb 11, 2010 @ 09:30:25

    Or heroes reject heroines because they think heroines would be better off without them (oh, please, get the f over yourself and don't treat her as if she was incapable of thinking for herself; she's not a child, which you already knew because otherwise, you wouldn't have slept with her).

    This! I hate it and it’s hard for me to get over a hero who does this.


    The condescending hero.- this is very subtle. He treats the heroine like the “little (dumb)woman” and that pisses me off to no end.

    The betrayer/disbeliever: this is the type, usually in romantic suspense, who doesn’t believe the heroine and actually puts her in danger. That, is unforgivable. Shannon McKenna did that and no, just no.

    The subtle abuser: this happens when authors try to write BDSM but are clueless. This is the guy who really is insecure and likes lording it over a woman but uses BDSM as the context to do so. “I know better than you what you want and need.” Which goes back to the condescender type. I have no personal experience with BDSM and it’s not my kink, but I’ve read really good BDSM and I know the difference.

  128. Mary
    Feb 11, 2010 @ 18:16:25

    In general, I would say that almost any trait is redeemable in a person who genuinely regrets it. I do believe change is possible – but the author would have to work very hard to prove this change to me.

    That said, I just read a romance that I didn’t finish because I thought the hero would never be redeemable. This is Victoria Holt “Demon Lover”. The hero rapes the heroine, repeatedly, against her fighting (no “forced seduction” going on, not by any definition). What broke it for me is that he does it not because he loves her, but because he wants to score a point against her fiance. I just could not see such person changing, and it felt not like mistake, nor even insecurity/need to control that can change with enough effort. I just could not believe that this particular person would be willing to change, and if he did, he would be so consumed by guilt and remorse, it would take him decades to recover, and then it would not be a romance.

  129. Suze
    Feb 11, 2010 @ 19:19:42

    @Suze: I thought I read in one of those multi-author anthologies a Breed novella where the hero had something that hooks on to the inside of the heroine. No? Yes?

    Hm. I haven’t read everything, and I don’t clearly remember everything I’ve read (DAMN the post-40 brain!). In one of the early Lion shifter books, I clearly remember the male had a barb, and it was an extra bit that swelled and rubbed the female pleasurably. I don’t remember reading about anything hooking. Ugh.

  130. brooksse
    Feb 11, 2010 @ 22:36:10

    Not really villanous, but sometimes I’ve read a book where a character is presented in an unflattering way or as not measuring up to the hero in one book. Then that character becomes the hero of a later book, and sometimes the transition just doesn’t work well for me.

    It can be overcome if handled right, but if my first impression of a character throughout an entire book was someone who wasn’t hero material, it might be a little more difficult to buy having that character suddenly presented as the hero in a later book. Especially if there was no reason given for the change. If it’s not done right it can end up looking like a character who didn’t measure up in the first book suddenly measures up in a later book, with no real explanation given for the change.

  131. Ros
    Feb 12, 2010 @ 16:53:11

    @DM: Maybe. I just think that if she can only write women who have to be coerced into having, and then enjoying, sex, she probably shouldn’t be writing romances. At least not for that line. And surely an editor should have picked up on that scene and told her to rewrite it? There were ways she could have got from the set-up of that book to the happy ending that didn’t involve rape.

  132. April
    Feb 13, 2010 @ 08:51:08

    The “irredeemable point” is definitely a personal thing.

    I LOVE con artist stories. Faking It and Untie my Heart are two of my faves. I get all excited when someone is going to pull a heist ala Ocean’s Eleven.

    However, someone here at Dear Author positively reviewed The Price of Desire by Jo Goodman and it disgusted me on many levels. The childhood abuse of the heroine was just gratuitous, but aside from that…the hero participated in an exploitation of the heroine that I found unforgiveable. The hero is made out to be her saviour, but at the beginning he sent two men to “retrieve” her with the intention of holding her at his home as a marker in an unpaid debt. Like some sort of object, commodity. No. Absolutely unforgiveable to me.

    Then there was the Betina Krahn book recently, Make Me Yours. The hero participated in exploiting the heroine. Forget the fact that he changed his mind and fell in love with her, the fact remains that he went after her with the intention of securing her as a mistress for the prince and forcing her into a marriage so that the prince wouldn’t have bastard children hanging about. (!!!!!!)

  133. Joreth
    Feb 15, 2010 @ 13:27:53


    As someone said above, the cornerstone of BDSM is “Safe, Sane, Consensual”. Without these three elements, it’s not BDSM, whether someone uses the label or not. If someone does, he or she is using it incorrectly. It’s like a person who calls himself monogamous, but has sex with prostitutes and he can somehow rationalize or justify this exception. This is an incorrect use of the term, and anyone who behaves as you described is not participating in BDSM, no matter what they call it.

    By definition, BDSM must be “Safe, Sane, and Consensual”. If it’s not, it’s abuse. That’s the distinction.

    For the record, when an actual practitioner of BDSM gags his or her partner, a visual “safeword” can be given. A common one, since gagging often goes along with other forms of restraint, is to give the bottom something to hold, and when he or she drops it, that’s the safeword and the top must stop.

    Most of us also have a variety of safewords or elements to cover degrees of severity. For instance, there might be safewords to convey “stop doing that particular action, but don’t break the scene and keep going otherwise” or “keep doing that, but not as hard” or “I need a break but I don’t want this to be a complete end” or “that’s it, I’m completely done, end the scene, stop everything”.

    BDSM requires a great deal of communication and negotiation, and it is not static either. The rules and agreements and boundaries are constantly fluctuating depending on the participants’ needs and wants. This is another reason why it’s such an intimate act. It is very rare to find another method of relationship that not only encourages, but demands such a high degree of self-knowledge and sharing that information with one’s partner. You have to know yourself very well, and your partner has to know yourself as well, if not better, in order to successfully participate in BDSM. In a society that boasts magazine articles with titles like “7 Things Never To Tell Your Man”, the level of trust and intimacy gained through BDSM is rare indeed.

  134. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 18, 2010 @ 06:48:44

    I’ve come back and read the thread after a surge of edits kept me working for a while!

    I love this thread and to the BDSM lady and her partner, I found your posts incredibly interesting and brave. Thank you. What it showed for me is how different people we tend to lump into the BDSM community are in what they want and how they go about fulfilling it.

    I think I draw the line in anything that is done badly without understanding. From bad historical research to company executives who don’t actually do anything, they irritate me because the treatment is inevitably superficial. And internally, too.
    Even an abusive man can be redeemed, if it’s approached in the right way, if we see him face the consequences of what he’s done.
    Cowards. And that can be anyone, from a SEAL to a badass vampire. People sometimes use violent and seemingly alpha behavior because they’re running away from something, psychological or otherwise. But if they turn and face their fear, that can be interesting, too.

    “Lolita” isn’t a romance, so I have different expectations when I approach that book, just as I did when I read “American Psycho.”

  135. sherry mauro, author of VCA inspired fiction
    Feb 22, 2010 @ 19:45:02

    V.C. Andrews isn't a phenomenal writer, but she is a talented storyteller. I started reading her (his) books in my teens.

    I always thought FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC had an ingenious plot, a haunting storyline, and intriguing characters. I reread it about every other year or so.

  136. Loving the Unlikeable Heroine | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Mar 16, 2010 @ 04:01:18

    […] some readers, these heroines may be more akin to the keepers of the irredeemable character trait, but I often like them immensely. I often find their heroism in the lack of compromise to their […]

  137. khan
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 09:38:04

    The irredeemable line is not really as hard fixed as some people like to promote. The world is not a Black and White place and the various characters in literature simply represent the real life (or some sexed up version of it any way).

    For example, while it is very easy to agree that rapists, pedophiles etc all fall into irredeemable category, the line gets blurred when it comes to other chars, like for example as mentioned in the opening post… arms dealers. Not focusing on one particular char, just being an arms dealer does not make a character irredeemable. You mention selling arms to terrorists, err terrorists by whose definition? People blowing up school buses or restaurants are definitely terrorists but what about people blowing up the same restaurants and schools but this time from an aircraft? Without getting into the political debate, lets not forget the biggest arms dealer in the world is in fact the leading democracy/human rights champion in the world..aka US government.

    What i want to say is sometimes real life is a whole lot of shades of Grey, and people define their “lines” based on their own experiences/perceptions. One good example of how our perceptions effect what is acceptable to us are the treatment of soldiers, in romance and in real life. We repeatedly have the soldiers presented as “noble heroes” (specially if one reads lots of British historical romances) when if examined closely, most would end up being labeled mass-murderers when looked up from the other nations point of view.

    The above is just one example. The point i am trying to make (perhaps not very well) is that our upbringing, the society we live in, the moral/ethical values we grow up with end up determining what we perceive as redeemable crime or not.

  138. Jennifer Leeland
    Jun 21, 2010 @ 06:22:54

    I haven't read the book but I STRONGLY objected to the blurb and excerpt for “Comfort Object” by Annabel Joseph. In the short paragraphs listed on Fictionwise, I could find absolutely no way the author could redeem the hero for me.
    I always THINK I know my limits, but then read something that proves me wrong.

    And just to follow up, I bought and READ “Comfort Object” by Annabel Joseph. I was wrong. Though the hero, Jeremy, is a “mean” Dom, his kink matches the heroine’s perfectly. Fantastic book!!!
    Isn’t that what romance is all about? How many times have we had the discussion about alpha males and so on?
    With a great writer, maybe every hero IS redeemable.

%d bloggers like this: