Thursday, January 24, 2013

It's Baa-aack!

Now that I’m almost a published YA paranormal author, I’ve been taking advantage of my local library and boning up on this genre I’m on the verge of becoming a part of. I read Twilight a while back, out of morbid curiosity. Since sending Slayer for Hire out to market, I’ve sampled a number of YA best sellers— Vampire Academy, Hush, Hush, the Hunger Games trilogy—and read reviews of similar books on Goodreads to save myself some time.

The results were … disturbing.

Most of these books follow what I’m coming to recognize as the Twilight formula: a beautiful young girl with low self-esteem becomes obsessed with the new boy in school, a brooding but physically perfect douche who treats her like kaka. Of course he’s harboring a Deep, Dark Secret—that he’s a vampire (or werewolf, or demon, or fallen angel, or Jehovah’s Witness)—which only makes him that much more attractive to the love-blinded heroine. He, of course, is totally smitten with her too, and demonstrates his undying devotion by insulting her, lying to her, humiliating her, ignoring her, keeping vital information from her (for “her own good,” to “protect her”), stalking her, and in some cases threatening her life. At least until the bad guy attacks, in which case he comes to her rescue, thus magically erasing the previous 400+ pages of abusive behavior and proving to the heroine (and us) that he’s a good guy after all, and theirs is a destined love for the ages.

Have I mentioned these guys are blindingly beautiful, and usually very rich? Have I mentioned the girl is a virgin with no confidence and woefully short on brains? Or she may be smarter than we think, since she manages to latch onto a hawt dude with money who makes her immortal at the height of her own dewy physical loveliness, so she never has to deal with backaches and saggy boobs or jiggling underarms or weight gain. Or having to look for a job, for that matter.

Having waded through more than one of these plots, and discovered the existence of uncountable others on Goodreads, I have to wonder: was the Women’s Movement just a mass hallucination? The girls in these books seem to never have heard of empowerment, or self-respect, or common sense, or rational thought. Their lives revolve around the totally hot boy who tells them to stay away, breaks into their bedroom to watch them sleep, and occasionally tries to kill them. They don’t appear to have any interests other than HIM. Quick: somebody tell me what Bella wanted to with her life after graduation from high school. Do not use the word “Edward” in your answer. Can’t do it? Me either.

The same holds true for the “heroines” in the other books young readers are devouring in droves. In some cases the girls themselves possess magical, even godlike powers. And they still act like emotional basket cases and let Prince Charming walk all over them with his perfect feet. It’s like Buffy and Xena and Hermoine Granger never existed. This is what we want our impressionable young daughters spending their time on? Lessons in Doormattery 101?

And then it hit me. Suddenly I recognized the pattern. I know now what I’m dealing with. All these books … they’re gothic romances.

If you don’t remember these, your mom will. A virginal young woman with no prospects ends up in a creepy isolated mansion (which the cover usually showed her running away from). The master of the house was a brooding older (“older” being late 20s-early 30s in those days) man with a ton of money and a deadly secret in his past (or in his attic, or the cellar). He was often abrupt, arrogant and insulting to the heroine. When the attempts on her life started, usually around chapter 4, he headed the suspect list. This didn’t stop the twit from falling in love with him and continuing to love him even when he threatened her with the andiron or threw the tea pot at her head. She was also prone to creeping down the cellar steps in the dark to investigate those mysterious noises, when anyone else with even one functioning brain cell would have lived up to the cover and run like hell by the end of chapter 3. Then in the last chapter the true villain was revealed, Mr. Broody rescued her from certain death, and they lived happily ever after, though I’m hoping not in the creepy house, because upkeep, not to mention taxes, must have been a bitch. Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt made these stories good. Lesser writers, not so much.

Mostly extinct since the ‘80s or so, the genre has apparently raised its hoary head and risen from the grave to infect the YA shelves. The foggy English moors have become the Oregon coast, the creepy mansion is a creepy boarding school (or a plain old high school, which can be creepy enough), and the brooding older man is a vampire or angel or some other paranormal creature, which makes him decades or even centuries older than the jailbait chick he’s dating. Why these guys keep going back to high school I have no idea. You’d think they’d use eternity to find a cure for AIDS or cancer or something.

The creepiest thing about these books is the message they send to the readers. Girls, it’s okay to act stupid and have no interests of your own, as long as you’ve got a really, really good-looking guy to build your life around. So what if he’s arrogant and demeaning? So what if he treats you like shit? He’s cute. He’s your eternal love. That trumps everything. Anyway, you’ll be living on blood soon, so who needs grocery money?

My book is nothing like that. Hope it doesn’t tank.

I suspect we’re going to be stuck with these neo-gothics until somebody writes the next breakout bestseller and starts another trend. I hope the girl in that one’s smarter and the guy’s not a douchecanoe. Or she can be the dark and brooding older heroine in love with the high school geek. Cougar Gothics! Throw in some steampunk and who knows, I might be on to something.


Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, right on, sister! I couldn't have said it better--probably not as good. And, that's why I never got into the whole gothic romance thing in any big way... back in it's heyday. And, why I find the whole Twilight thing to be a big turnoff.

I'd choose Buffy over Bella any day!!!

To be honest, that's one reason I can't handle a lot of the romance genre, these days, because essentially the same 'theme' runs through them. The heroines are treated like doormats, or less than, and only redeemed by the hero's love, no matter what a prick-creep-abuser he is. It's sick.

Serena Shay said...

Ah, Pat, Slayer rocks and shall not tank! I'm gifting it to Darling Diva, who is a huge Buffy fan, once it comes out. :D

Strong heroines are awesome and Milksop's are annoying, but IMO it's the heroine's who are the perfect mix of both that win the day.

The Women's Movement was awesome and should continue as we still have things to change, but as the daughter of a Movementer (is that even a word? ;) I sometimes felt like it wasn't okay to embrace my softer side. By day I had to be tough and do what the boys did, just because I should prove I could, even though I was a girl.

Guess what though, I wanted to play with Barbies, baby dolls and all things girly...

Gothics and even bodice rippers were like air to the secret romantic inside me. I couldn't get enough. :)

Was this every girls experience during that time? Nah. Heck, I'm probably in the minority, but as I read your well written and engaging post it made me think two separate things.

One, heck no I don't want Darling Diva on a steady diet of Milksop heroine YA novels and two...I wonder how many of the YA authors writing the doormat heroines grew up when I did and lived in the same minority?

So kudos to you, Pat for the awesome post and keeping my brain working on this frigid, freezing assed night. :D

By the your YA readings, did you try any of P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast's House of Night series? I've read the first few and I like her heroine mixture. :)

Savanna Kougar said...

Serena, gosh, that's sad that you were forced in the wrong direction for your soul. That should NEVER have been the women's movement, and I truly don't understand why it turned in that direction. It was supposed to be about *choice*. And stay about choice. I abandoned any manner of participation when the liberation movement turned into hating men, in general.

I too was forced in the wrong direction for my soul, often. I was expected to like and play with baby dolls, and all that 'be a little mother' stuff... while I loved the ballerina girly side of myself, I hated the other crap. I loved playing sports and had to do it on the sly, and was only allowed to play with the boys because I could often best them. Truthfully, it was mostly an everyday agony growing up... not so much because of my parents' expectations, but because of society's expectations.

I wish we would all just come together and respect each other, and our precious differences.

The bodice rippers certainly were/are the salvation for my deeply romantic nature. Because I love romance, the romance of love and the romance of life.

Serena Shay said...

I agree, Savanna, it was a terrible shame that the choice part fell short for so many of it typically happens the pendulum swings too far one way or the other.

The upside to the whole thing though, is that the pendulum seems to be coming home to rest where it should be...Darling Diva and her friends do have that choice and it's not "You can't do that" or "You have to do this" Now it's "What do you want to do?" Thank goodness! :D

Pat C. said...

There could be another reason these books are being written: Twilight proved they sell, and in large, profitable-for-the-publisher amounts. There's also a landslide of dystopian-future stuff out there, thanks to The Hunger Games.

If we want to bring the Buffys back, somebody needs to write a book with a Buffy in it and have it be a runaway bestseller. Hope it's one of us.

Serena, I'll gladly send you a free ARC for DD once I get one. Or just let her read the chapters I sent you. The finished product's not that different. I wish I could write Dina's story, but the only plot I can come up with has her staking her vampire boyfriend. That's going a tad too far off the "independent kick-ass woman" end.

Pat C. said...

I didn't play with dolls when I was little. I had a bunch of those plastic dinosaurs they used to sell in the 5&10s. I gave them names and personalities and made up stories about them. I was a strange kid.

My reading habits skewed toward comic books, SF and fantasy, where the women (sometimes) had personalities and did stuff beyond getting rescued. I didn't get into romance until the women became interesting and the men had to be worthy of them and not vice versa.

Wonder if anybody reading Slayer is going to notice I put Dylan in the "damsel in distress" role?

Pat C. said...

Here a fun video from YouTube:

Savanna Kougar said...

Yeah, I played with my plastic Breyer horses, mostly, and ran the neighborhood, even as a horse at times ~grins~ ... and read horse books, and other adventure books like a dervish. I wish my Annie Oakley side had been encouraged. And my ballerina/dancer side.

There's been a lot of Buffy-heroine type books written, and if it was an actual FAIR playing field, or just even close to FAIR, some of those books would have made it bigtime after Twilight. However, with the massive social engineering going on, even if another Buffy breaks loose, and sells like hotcakes, *they'll* turn it into something IT'S NOT. Guaranteed.

There's a war against women going on, despite the overlay propaganda about being equal. However, there's a war against humanity going on, to get rid of the best and brightest because the psychopathic corrupt at the top don't want to relinquish power.

It's called getting rid of the competition by any means necessary.

Serena Shay said...

Sadly, I rarely got to play with the plastic dinosaurs, my brother horded those. I did have some horses that I played with, but they became pets to the Barbie dolls I finally got as gifts. ;)

I did, however, sneak my brothers Hot Wheels cars and tracks into my room and built wicked cool raceways.

Thanks Pat! I'm definitely going to let DD read Slayer. LOL, maybe Dina's boyfriend is less vamp and more... How do you feel about zombies? She could stake him at will and he still 'lives' on. She'd actually have to learn how to deal with him with words. Seems like Zombies are the next Vamp. ;D

Pat C. said...

Dina's problem is that she's too much her father's daughter. Wally's a king/alpha, and so's Dina. It's why she had to leave home. She may not be able to make the emotional compromises necessary for a relationship. Plus, the vampire may not be a total good guy. I haven't decided yet. She's better off with her slaying partner, the wolf/coyote hybrid shifter. He's beta and doesn't mind her being in charge.

So I'll end up writing Twilight with Buffy instead of Bella, and she stakes Edward and runs off with Jake. Taylor Lautner's naked chest wins again!

Serena Shay said... was one fine chest! A beta shifter is a good idea for Dina, I can't wait to read it. :D