Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Romantic Pitfalls

My OnDemand is working once more, and without me really being stuck in the "waiting for the cable guy" circle of hell, since he was reasonably prompt (and I startled the poor guy by opening the door before he knocked when I guess the sixth sense kicked in and I happened to walk by the door right as he approached). It stumped the tech support guy on the phone last week, and then stumped the guy who came today. I ended up with yet another converter box. They must either not recondition them well or get lousy quality in the first place because I seem to be going through at least one a year, and I really am not attacking them with a sledgehammer when they don't cooperate or when I don't like a show. He did say he fixed a few other things with the signal outside the house, so it was better than if I'd just gone over and picked up a new box myself. Now that this is fixed, I can catch up on all those season premieres I didn't bother with because I could watch them OnDemand later.

It does sound like I won't have to bother with Terra Nova, though, because the discussion boards all seem to be mentioning the bratty, obnoxious teenage boy character, and I'm allergic to those. I'm not sure why they seem to think that character type is a great idea, but they keep showing up in these kinds of shows (the bratty teenage boy was one reason I stopped watching V). Even bratty teenage boys probably don't like the bratty teenage boy character, since they don't see themselves as bratty but would criticize the same behavior in others. They aren't even authentic bratty teenage boys. I know some bratty teenage boys (or teenage boys who have bratty moments), and they're nothing like any of these characters. So, yay, that's an hour of programming I won't have to worry about.

While I've been so busy with convention preparation and book rewrites (that I really must get to today, as I got very little done yesterday), I thought I'd work my way through some of the books on my To-Be-Read pile. I need something to read a little of before I go to bed at night, but I didn't want anything that would turn into a distraction, and the category romances in the pile sounded like a good fit since I was already in the mood for something romantic. I remembered why I quit reading category romances. I used to read a lot of them, but now I can't recall if I ever really liked them or if I liked the idea of them while finding that the actual books usually fell short of what I wanted them to be (much the way I've been with most of the steampunk I've read -- I LOVE the idea, haven't really found the book that lives up to what I want that sort of thing to be).

For one thing, there's the challenge of finding ways to have conflict. I will admit that a book that goes along the lines of "I like you, let's get to know each other, and then we'll gradually fall in love" would probably be boring. I'm not a big fan of the "I hate you, but you're really hot" plot, but then it's way too easy to fall into weird contrivances to keep apart people who actually like each other. One of the worst that I can recall involved a woman who'd spent much of her life taking care of other people and now had a chance to be independent, so she'd decided she was going to be on her own for a while. Then when she met Mr. Perfect, her big "dilemma" was that here was this great guy she wanted to be with, but darn, she'd already decided to be alone. I can totally get the deciding not to deal with dating. That's essentially what I've done, but if I met someone I actually wanted to date and get romantically involved with, I would be willing to reconsider. I wouldn't be all twisted up into conflicted knots because I wanted to date him, but I'd decided not to date. It's really hard to get into a book when the dilemma is so easily solved -- change your mind! It's not like she'd just taken vows at the convent or become married to Mr. He'll Do when she met Mr. Perfect. I think this is a big reason why I like my romance mixed in with science fiction, fantasy, mystery or adventure. Then you can have two people who like each other and get along but who still have conflict. It's "I like you, but people are dying left and right/the orcs are attacking/the aliens are invading/the evil secret organization is chasing us/the evil wizard is trying to take over the world, so we'll have to get to know each other during the crisis, and hey, if we both survive, then we can live happily ever after."

The other problem tends to come later in the book at what is often called The Black Moment. It's the Death/Resurrection part of the hero's journey, or, in a romance it's the "boy loses girl" part, where it looks like there's no way things can possibly work out. But in a lot of these books, I've started to think of this part as The Big Hissy Fit. The thing that tears our characters apart just when you thought everything was going to work out can't be too huge, or else they couldn't get together at the end, and that generally means it's a misunderstanding or petty dispute. A lot of times, it's when the secret one person has been keeping comes out, but that can get awfully silly. The book that may have been the last category romance I read until last week took the cake. The hero had some low-paying public servant type job in a small town, and The Big Hissy Fit came when the heroine learned that he was a former financial whiz who'd had some kind of epiphany, realized how meaningless all that was, and he'd walked away from that world. All the money he'd socked away allowed him to take a meaningful but low-paying public servant job and still live modestly but comfortably while still contributing to worthy causes in the town. And the heroine was actually furious to learn this. She felt so betrayed that she refused to speak to him and left the town. I know I just hate it when a guy I'm falling in love with turns out to be even more amazing than I imagined, and that I can have someone who is both wealthy and contributing something to society. I could have understood if he'd been pretending to be wealthy to lure her in and then turned out to be poor. I could even have maybe understood if he'd pretended to be really poor as some kind of test to make sure she wasn't a golddigger, since that implies a lack of faith in her. But I can't imagine any normal person flipping out because she learned that her boyfriend had more in his bank account than she expected. Is there something wrong with living below your means but in a way that's comfortable for you? Are you obligated to live in a mansion and drive a BMW just because you can afford it, even if you'd rather live in a smaller house and drive a pickup truck?

In the book I read last week, something the hero did caused the single mom heroine to lose the extra job she'd taken so she could pay her daughter's tuition at the fancy college her daughter had always dreamed of attending (never mind that the mother didn't consider letting Special Snowflake go to a state school closer to home that she could afford). To make it up to her, he established an anonymous scholarship at the school and had it awarded to the daughter. She didn't learn this until after they'd gotten into a relationship, and she was furious to learn it. Maybe I'm greedy, but I'd have felt like he'd taken a good step toward atoning (though I might not have started sleeping with him after he lost me my job).

I guess I prefer my black moment to be some kind of literal life or death situation, where it's not something inherent to the couple and their emotions that threatens to tear them apart, but rather that the thing that they're up against is so big that there's a chance that one or both of them might not survive, or there's a chance that if they fail in their mission, the situation that will result won't be conducive to a romantic happily ever after ("well, we may be spending the rest of our lives in an orc prison camp while the evil wizard ruins the world, but at least we have each other" doesn't quite work for me).

I think I'm going to go against my nature and put all these books in the "donate for library book sale" bag, even if I haven't read them, because it's a good bet that I won't enjoy them.

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