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October 16, 2008


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If you'd like to watch something similar on TV, try "Sanctuary" on the SciFi channel.

I don't have television!

the romantic plot is really less than a third of the book

One of the problems that my wife has had is that her own novels sometimes keep the main characters physically apart from each other for long chunks of the stories. Readers don't like that much. If readers don't like too much deviation from certain story requirements, then the ppublishers wind up not liking that too.

Your description of the series above reminds me of the TV(*) series Dresden Files, which I understand is quite different from Jim Butcher's novels on which it was based. It's hard to dislike a wizard whose power-focusing staff is a hockey stick. My favorite character was Bob the Ghost, who haunts his own skull.

(*) I can hear Susan asking, in General Zod's voice, what this "teevee" is that we keep mentionning.

Sounds like an interesting book, and I do enjoy the occasional paranormal romance-ish book when I want a good fluffy read... but if you want to talk about personal buttons... I could never read anything with a main character named Hope.

(also, I tried getting into the Dresden Files on DVD, but it didn't grab me or the husband)

AJ... Got something against Hope Lange?

That's why I wonder how well they work for people who like standard romance-genre format. Only four of the eight books even approach the formula of getting a couple together romantically; in the others, the couple is already together and in three of them, not really even having any personal difficulties that need resolving. Those plots are driven purely by paranormal mystery elements. And one of those (Industrial Magic) is among my favorites. Of course, I like mystery novels, too, though I don't read heavily in the genre. Romance novels end with the happily-ever-after ending or close to it. They don't go on to the further adventures of the couple, even with hot sex on the side. Ask your wife. :)

These are also the Women of the Otherworld series, which means that the women all have supernatural powers of their own. It's not just "human woman meets dark and mysterious vampire/werewolf/etc." sorts of stuff. That's the backstory of one book, but it's not in the book; by the time we meet the protagonist she's quite powerful in her own right.

I wonder if anyone ever writes "supernatural woman meets human man" romance novels. I suspect they're rare for the same reason that in standard romance novels the men are usually older.

Hope is only the protagonist in Personal Demon. For the others you have a choice between Elena, Paige, Eve, and Jaime for your female leads.

Susan... Based on everything you've said, those books may be very romantic, but they are not romance novels, not as they are defined by publishers and by reader expectations. Another example of a very romantic story that's not a romance is 2006's movie Casino Royale. Yes, a James Bond movie. Many women who don't care about those gave it a chance and loved it.

My wife finds the requirements of romance rather tiresome, and that's one reason why she wants to make it as a fantasy writer even though ther eis less money in it.

As for this idea that publishers and readers think there can't be passion after the wedding night, I don't get it. The Mummy movie of 1998 was very silly popcorn stuff, and so was the sequel, where we find that the main characters are not only married, but they have a young son who's too smart for his own good. (And he does build a better mousetrap when his parents tell him to go elsewhere so that they can be left alone for a time.)

Well some of them are romances, I'd say, though heavily diluted with mystery. Armstrong has accomplished the interesting feat of taking the leads in romance novels and creating a non-romance series around them. That's kind of a nifty trick, and it must be working on people other than me, since she's got a whole bunch more books coming out over the next year.

As far as passion after the wedding night, while I'm obviously in no position to have an informed opinion, I'll quote Newsweek on the topic of the Obamas:

Reporters liked to snicker at how much looser the candidate seemed after spending the occasional night at home or on the road with his wife.

Oh, right, no TV. Maybe it will turn into DVDs. You guys should see what Charlie and others said about my bookgroup not liking the romance in the book we discussed yesterday. While I can see what Charlie is going after, it doesn't do anything for me.

What is "Marythan," Marilee? Does your book group read romance in general?

It occurs to me that your wife might want to look at what Armstrong has done for ideas on transitioning. Along with her main Otherworld series, she's also got a YA book set in the same universe and a couple of non-Otherworld thrillers.

<< I wonder if anyone ever writes "supernatural woman meets human man" romance novels. I suspect they're rare for the same reason that in standard romance novels the men are usually older. >>

That would make an interesting twist for the genre. However (and granted, I don't read a lot of romance, and the ones I do read are usually shelved with sf/f), it seems like part of the "allure" of romance novels is the idea that a normal woman ("just like me!" thinks the reader) could be swept off of her feet by a mysterious stranger (*swoon*) who loves her for how different she is from the other people around him. It's an escape fantasy.

And I don't know who Hope Lange is. I just know a Hope in real life with whom I've had a very large number of arguments, and she's my husband's best friend's wife, so there's no escaping her. Sometimes I get so annoyed at her that I don't even want to use the word "hope."

I've read #1-4. I felt that suprisingly little actually happens plot-wise and there tends to be a fair amount of repetition (how many times do they go wandering down alleyways whilst looking for the killer in Industrial Magic?). But I generally like the characters - almost all of them have at least three or four things going on, so they could surprise me while staying in previously established character.

Everytime she brings out a new book the back catalogue seems to be promoted as part of a 3 for 2 deal, so I'm unlikely to catch up unless I get very excited after the next one. Alternatively they seem to be in the teeny-tiny SF/F/H sections in train station bookstores so I may pick it up next time I'm short of reading material before a long train trip.

Susan, the novel happens during the very brief Queen Mary period. Marian would technically be right, but I figured too many people would be thinking of the virgin, so I bent Elizabethan and stuck Mary in.

No, we read SF. And these are SF books. This particular first one (and we always read the first in the series) has a romance in the second half between a cyborg and an Anabaptist. He doesn't know what she is, and it's her first romance and she doesn't understand how doomed a romance with a human is to start with, much less an Anabaptist. It's that part that Charlie likes and it just seems like useless plot to me.

That sounds like the start of a bad joke: a cyborg and an Anabaptist walk into a bar...

Wow, a guy who's read these! That's unexpected. Do you read romance novels in general, or are these definitely not romance? Do you find the sex scenes hot? (Hi, my name is Susan, and I have no boundaries.)

You might try skipping 5-6-7 (weaker books), reading "Wedding Bell Hell" on her website for the giggles, and going right on to Personal Demon. "Chaotic" if you can find it, but don't buy the anthology for that; the rest of the stories are beyond dreadful.

These must be shelved with SF somewhere, since I don't go to the romance shelves in bookstores and somehow one of them made its way into my home. (After the first, I started ordering them online and shelving became irrelevant.) I honestly can't remember where/when I acquired Dime Store Magic, which is where I started.

Normal women/mysterious strangers: yeah, and the power-differential thing, which evolutionarily speaking many women are going to be programmed to go for. (Yes, not every woman, but I bet it's a safe bet for marketing purposes with romance novels.) I used to read a lot of Regency romances (Heyer style - more about the witty dialogue than sex) when I was a teenager. I went off all but Heyer when I got older than all the romantic Older Men, who tended to be all of 25 or so. But it does seem like something could be constructed on the basis of the woman being different from everyone else. I mean, that's how my love life notably fails to work. So where is my pile of suitable romance novels? Or is that why I like the Armstrong books? Hrm.

Not using the word "hope" might prove challenging. Maybe we can help:

The Audacity of Dope, by Barack Obama.

Rope is a thing with feathers.

Once you choose soap, anything is possible.

He who has never eloped can never despair.

Susan... how much looser the candidate seemed after spending the occasional night at home or on the road with his wife

I find myself thinking of the musical 1776, when John Adams figures out that the way to get Jefferson to write the darn Declaration is to bring the latter's wife to Philadelphia all the way from Virginia. Jefferson's pen then starts flowing.

AJ... Hope Lange was Mrs.Muir in the TV version of The Ghost and Mrs.Muir. Today's young people...

I didn't know who Hope Lange was either, don't worry. (For that matter, I still don't know, never having seen that movie!)

Susan... I wonder if anyone ever writes "supernatural woman meets human man" romance novels

As far as I know, it seldom happens. That's not because the man usually is older but because most of the readers are women, and it's easier for them to identify with the heroine if the latter is the 'normal' element who is then exposed to the 'abnormal'. That might explain the drastic failure of my wife's novel where the woman, due to a telepathic screwup, also harbored the personality of a male relative in her head, and thought of herself as neither female nor male.

That being said, yes, like you suggested, I should mention Armstrong's novels to Sue.

Susan... the romantic Older Men, who tended to be all of 25

I suddenly feel extremely decrepit.

Not using the word "hope" might prove challenging.


and it's easier for them to identify with the heroine if the latter is the 'normal' element who is then exposed to the 'abnormal'.

Yes, the normal hero/ine getting thrown into a strange and/or supernatural setting is pretty popular even outside of the paranormal romance genre. I was thinking about this earlier today, and it's very common in children's stories. I think it taps into our childhood daydreams that we're all secretly a princess, changeling, magician, lost heir to a kingdom in an alternate universe, whatever. These sort of wishful thinking stories seem more popular than stories where the protagonist has been born into exciting circumstances (see also all the adult fantasy where the hero starts out as a small town boy or castle servant or whatever and then goes on to greatness).

I read one of Laurel Hamilton's Mary Gentry books, and the heroine in those is supernatural, but so are the gazillion men that she manages to sleep with in a single book. Same thing with the Weather Warden series, except replace "gazillion men" with "one man" (which is one reason why I've read that entire series versus one Hamilton book), and I seem to recall in both cases, all of the men were more powerful supernatural forces than the heroines.

You would think that there would be a market for supernatural romances where the heroine gets to be the strong one, rather than the one swept off her feet by mysterious magical strangers. Are women more interested in the idea of having a powerful man than in being empowered themselves? Hmmm.

(Oh, and I'm pretty sure I've seen Armstrong's books shelved in the SF/F section, but a LOT of what I see shelved there is paranormal romance, sadly)

Do you read romance novels in general, or are these definitely not romance? Do you find the sex scenes hot?

Hmm. It seems I'm not an owner-reader in that genre; I don't buy romances but I have been known to borrow or acquire them by mysterious means*. Since I've paid actual money for them (even if they were on special offer) I guess this defines them as not-romance. I've seen them in SF/F or Horror sections.

As for the hotness of the sex scenes, other than some werewolfy bits they don't seem to have stuck in my memory, so I'm going to have to go with "okay" (they can't be bad or that would have stuck in my mind).

(Hi, my name is Susan, and I have no boundaries.)

Not to worry, I'm British and have been trained in how to deal with this kind of situation. Does anyone want a cup of tea? The sky looks threatening - do you think it's going to rain? Have you heard they're taking the shipping forecast off Radio 4? Shall I get the biscuits out?

* As in asking all the flatmates and everyone who had visited for the last month but none of them admitted to leaving an Amanda Quick novel lying a round. It must have been the Romance Pixie!

As far as I know, it seldom happens. That's not because the man usually is older but because most of the readers are women, and it's easier for them to identify with the heroine if the latter is the 'normal' element who is then exposed to the 'abnormal'.

See, I personally have a lot of trouble identifying with "normal" heroines in romance novels. I've never felt normal, and I can't quite prioritize the whole happily-ever-after thing. The "must...get...married..." bit seems to have been left out of my programming. So I tend to think "you know, she could just ditch this jerk and go off and have a really fine life as a single woman." That's why I avoid modern romances in particular; at least in historical settings that's not such a viable and obvious option.

I guess the Armstrong novels have abnormal heroines meeting abnormal heroes, and I identify better because while not supernatural, I'm definitely abnormal. Okay. I can live with that. And the lack of romances involving abnormal heroines and normal heroes is because that combination just doesn't work? My personal experience bears that out, certainly, though I'm not convinced the opposite way works all that much better in RL. I guess men have somewhat more cultural freedom to be abnormal in certain ways.


That might explain the drastic failure of my wife's novel where the woman, due to a telepathic screwup, also harbored the personality of a male relative in her head, and thought of herself as neither female nor male.

I think any sort of transgender issue in a het-marketed romance novel is a recipe for failure. Just saying.

I read Laurel Hamilton's stuff for awhile and got thoroughly, utterly, completely sick of it. I'm poly, so that's not the problem, though quantities that could be described as "gazillions" are not that interesting to me. But the soap opera elements of her Anita Blake series just bored me silly. I need some platonic plot mixed in with my suds, thank you very much. I never tried anything else she wrote.

Powerful men instead of empowered women:
Gah, I think that's accurate, at least in romantic fantasies, and how depressing and retro that is.

Mentally checking over the plot of the fantasy novel I'm not writing, I note that the relationships in it involve powerful/supernatural women and normal men. Heh. I hadn't noticed that in particular, even though I thought it up after a semi-joking complaint (I'll spare you the details) about the lack of proper female characters for me to identify with.

I know who Hope Lange is. Aren't the Kim Harris and Rosemary Edghill books with strong women?

The only reason that I ended up reading the one Mary Gentry book is that a friend of mine loaned it to me, because we were both trying to read popular fantasy authors to get an idea of what was selling. We both agreed that if that was what we'd have to write to get published, we'd prefer to remain unpublished.

What really bothered me about the one I read was the fact that most of the sex was between people with very little emotional attachment to each other. It was just sex for sex's sake. If I'm going to read a romance, I want it to be, well, romantic. Maybe not in the traditional "swept off her feet" sort of way, but in a "I like these people and I want them to get together" sort of way.

And then there was the laughability of some of it, especially when the protagonist gets stabbed in the very upper thigh, and the guy she's with has healing powers, but they only work if he LICKS the wound, and I'm biting my tongue not to giggle about it years later. It's just so *silly* and predictable.

But the worst part is that I liked the concept of the series, with faeries in the modern world. If there had been a better plot to smut ratio, it would have been a good guilty pleasure fluff sort of read for plane rides and sick days.

Susan... I personally have a lot of trouble identifying with "normal" heroines in romance novels.

Sue also prefers non-normal heroines, but alas romance readers feel differently. Then again, they don't read F/SF.

(trying frantically to keep up with my own blog)

Amanda Quick is not a borderline case like Kelley Armstrong. Those are undeniably romance novels of the spicy rather than sweet variety (judging from the ones of hers that I've read). Have you read the one you found lying around the flat? I'm now fascinated by trying to figure out what a guy gets out of a romance novel, so if you have read any Quick, I'd love to be enlightened.

There are plenty of romances that feature non-normal heroines, but their degree of abnormality tends to be small enough to barely register on my scale. In a traditional Regency romance, "abnormal" might be defined as a bluestocking or a woman who's taller than average or wears spectacles. These are things worthy of (negative) comment in a period context, and possibly to some degree still in a modern one, though glasses seem to be less of an issue nowadays.

But while all of these are fine traits and certainly near to my own heart, I am reminded of why I don't have many close friends in the historical dance community: for them, dressing up in fancy costumes and doing the ballroom dances of a previous century is the weirdest thing they do. For me, it's the most mainstream.

I haven't read any Kim Harris; don't even know who she is. Rosemary Edgehill I've only read one book by (that I can think of): Shadow of Albion. That one went sailing across the room on the basis of dance scene errors and inspired an outraged email to Tor. But that one was billed as fantasy, with an alternate-Regency setting. I haven't read any of her stuff that's been marketed as pure romance.

I'm okay with sex for sex's sake if everyone's on the same page with expectations and (in fiction) as long as it doesn't take over the book with sex scenes which don't advance the plot. But it wouldn't fit well into the conventions of the romance genre.

Faeries in the modern world: have you read War for the Oaks? I'm also partial to Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino, though the faeries stay in faerie in that one. But we've definitely got faeries and romance (lesbian) and modern (well, 1980s). I just gave away my spare copy, unfortunately.

I haven't read either of those books, Susan, but I will look for them next time I'm at the used bookstore. War for the Oaks sounds familiar. Is it by the same author, or someone else?

(I know Tad Williams wrote some sort of faerie book, and I have it, but I haven't read it yet because I'm still mad at him for Otherworld)

Susan... There are plenty of romances that feature non-normal heroines, but their degree of abnormality tends to be small enough to barely register on my scale

It's like what you said about the historical danse community. What people who post here consider run-of-the-mill or extremely passé is far out for most people. Last week, Walter Jon Williams was at the local SF club's meeting and mentionned that his next book was a technothriller. I asked if, since those are not really aimed at SF readers, he had had to hold back on the SF content. He said that he started the book with that approach, but his publisher, one that specializes in SF, told him to put more in.

Susan.. I'm okay with sex for sex's sake if everyone's on the same page with expectations and (in fiction) as long as it doesn't take over the book with sex scenes which don't advance the plot.

Ah, those books. Sue describes them as having wall-to-wall sex. (Hmmm.... I wonder if that could tie in with Neil's idea for a steampunk house of pleasure.)

Answering your questions by a roundabout route - I was a voracious and omnivorous reader at an early age. I worked my way through my parent's books and got to Georgette Heyer starting with her detective novels and didn't really notice that her "historical" novels were romances (I have a feeling the first one I got to had a plot that involved evil French spies*, so looked like a historical mystery.) As we're all aware her novels are full of wit, historical detail, characterisation and romance and I enjoyed it. At some point I realised that this wasn't something that boys read, but then again most boys weren't reading anything, let alone adult novels at that age.

Anyway after a quick google I'm pretty sure the novel was Dangerous with a heroine (with rather heavyhanded irony is named Prudence) who investigates spectral phenomena and a hero who solves crimes under cover of being a rake. As it turns out it's quite witty (the hero, having promised the heroine not to fight a duel with her brother, apologises, then promptly offends him again, and apologises then offends him) has historical detail and interesting characters and some hot sex which we see from both the naive heroine and the worldly hero. THEN just as I was losing interest, they get married, but only later realise they love each other, which was a twist.

Did that one have French spies in too? I think it's in the rules of Regency Romances that a French spy has to be foiled. Or maybe I can't remember - it's been a while and that isn't in the descriptions I checked to jog my memory.

* Are there any other sort?

I have her name wrong: Kim Harrison. And for Rosemary Edghill, I have the eluki books, plus the Bast trilogy.

And there's Kat Richardson's books, which have a strong female protagonist involved in paranormal, but the romance you expect never happens. At least in the first two. I see there's a third I need to get.

Oddly enough, I own exactly two Amanda Quick novels: one which I have read, called Late to the Wedding, in which I now reread only the sex scenes, though I recall that it had an adequate mystery plot, and one that I have not yet read and am actually not sure how I acquired. Perhaps it was that Romance Pixie operating transAtlantically. And you'll never guess what book that second one happens to be...

(I am slightly stymied in this conversation because I want to ask all sorts of dreadfully impertinent personal questions, and I can't quite bring myself to do so. Pass the biscuits?)

Neil... evil French spies

Cette insulte envers les patriotiques espions de la France demande réparation!

Susan, I'm away for 48ish hours, but after that if you have any, well not impertinent, but pertinent questions, then ask away. If I don't want to answer I'll put the kettle on just say so.

As Serge demands satisfaction, I apologise. I've been causing trouble in France since I was 9 months old and they haven't caught me yet! (I probably shouldn't boast about it as I'm off again in a couple of weeks for some Cristmas shopping).

Neil...I've been causing trouble in France since I was 9 months old

They seek him here, They seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven? Or is he in hell?
That damned elusive PimperNeil!

War for the Oaks is by Emma Bull.

Pas de réparations ici! Nous sommes amis!

Wall to wall sex doesn't interest me (in a book, anyway). Even if I'm reading actual porn, I can't read page after page of sex scenes without getting either bored or distracted enough to have to stop reading. Porn like that I just dip in and out of, reading only a few pages at a time, unless it's extremely creative sex. And my standards for that are fairly high.

Biscuits! All the pertinent questions feel too impertinent. I depart in confusion!

I read Dangerous this morning. It was okay. No French spies. Overly convenient solution to mystery. Hot sex scenes, but not enough of them to balance out the fact that I don't much like it when the woman is ditzy relative to the man. And the amount of spectral phenomena was not sufficient to tip it over into a paranormal. But at least Quick can write, and her sex scenes are free of unlikely body part descriptions. Not remotely as witty as Heyer, alas, but who is?

I found another of Quick's books lying around my gigantic to-read pile, too. Busy Romance Pixie!

Susan... Pas de réparations ici! Nous sommes amis!

Mais bien s&ucircr!

So, no French fries in the Quick book? So much for fast food.

Kim Harrison had one of the stories in the Dates from Hell anthology, and I found all those except the Armstrong quite dreadful.

On a romance roll, I just read the other Quick, Rendezvous. This one had French spies, though they were English traitors rather than actual Frenchmen. The spy plot was actually fairly good; it twisted around nicely and kept me guessing, though the ending was a bit weak and I had to endure lines like "The Spider never loses. He cannot lose." Quick has an unfortunate tendency to give her characters ludicrous titles: the Spider. Nemesis. Fallen Angel. Feh!

The hero was basically a rewrite of the Scarlet Pimpernel and was paired with yet another ditzy female, though not quite as bad as the one in Dangerous. What is it with Quick and the ditzy heroines? And this was another where the leads married early on and discovered love later. I haven't read enough of her books to know whether that's a standard device of hers. The sex scenes were reasonably hot and not ridiculous, though I have to wonder if she's ever seen an actual Regency carriage; they're a lot smaller than you'd expect and don't have a lot of space for acrobatic pastimes.

I think I would like Quick's stuff more if I didn't find the heroines so annoying.

Susan.. I have to wonder if she's ever seen an actual Regency carriage; they're a lot smaller than you'd expect and don't have a lot of space for acrobatic pastimes

I suddenly have this vision of a steampunk Regency where the Nobility goes to their equivalent of a drivein theater and they do what two people did in our driveins - with equally awkward results. Hmmm. That sounds like another idea for a steampunk anthology, along with Neil's Hot House of Pleasure.

Susan... Quick has an unfortunate tendency to give her characters ludicrous titles

It may be that Quick loves comic-books and pulps. Mary Jo Putney is mostly known as a romance writer, but she is a con-attending fan too.

The internet suggests that Amanda Quick is one of the pseudonyms of Jayne Ann Krentz. Wikipedia says the following:

As Jayne Ann Krentz (her married name) she writes contemporary romantic-suspense. She uses Amanda Quick for her novels of historical romantic-suspense. Jayne Castle (her birth name) is reserved these days for her stories of futuristic/paranormal romantic-suspense.

So she could be a pulp or comicbook fan.

I mentioned this discussion to my husband (as a spin-off of "Wow, that Twilight movie looks like crap"), and while he doesn't read romance or erotica, he brought up a valid point, which is that a lot of anime and manga has the normal guy gets exotic/supernatural/robotic girlfriend theme.

Of course, the interesting thing with that is that those stories seem to be geared towards guys, and I think a lot of them are semi-humorous. So perhaps in Japan it's more acceptable for a guy to read something that has romantic elements? (especially if it also contains stupid jokes and/or lots of T&A fan service?)

We also decided that guys, instead of reading romance novels, have those mannish adventure novels where the dashing hero does get the girl, but he gets her in a "no strings attached" lack of commitment sort of way.

Finally, the villain in my novel goes by The Fox. Do I face ridicule now, or is it more acceptable in fantasy? ;)

AJ... the villain in my novel goes by The Fox. Do I face ridicule now, or is it more acceptable in fantasy?

Where did Susan put that pillory?

It's acceptable in fantasy, or in comics. In historical fiction it's a bit eyebrow-raising, since the setting is supposed to be realistic. (Okay, we can all break for a round of hysterical laughter now...)

I don't think I like her Regency romance novels enough to seek out her "futuristic/paranormal romantic-suspense," whatever that means. There's an almost Kiplingesque undertone -- in this case, that isn't a compliment -- to her romantic leads. Men have intellects, women have instincts. Women pull stupid stunts, men rescue them and then perform the tasks competently while the women gaze adoringly. Men chase spies, women chase spectral phenomena. I'm feeling a certain anticipatory tedium at the prospect of more of this. Maybe I could just read the sex scenes. (Though what I wouldn't give for a sex scene where the woman blows the man away - so to speak - by her amazing expertise rather than by her rather unlikely response to her first experience of sex.)

Susan, the news just said that even though rules were put in place in 2002 so blacks and women had equal chances with white men at liver transplants, they're still getting fewer. We're just minimized everywhere.

Susan, that's reassuring. I've got enough doubts about the book without worrying about a better name for The Fox (as it is I'm still trying to decide if I like the names any of the other characters have!).

AJ... a better name for The Fox

Unfortunately, 'Zorro' is already taken. There probably already is a 'Renard' somewhere, too.

In historical fiction it's a bit eyebrow-raising, since the setting is supposed to be realistic.

What about The Scarlet Pimpernel, Robin Hood or, relevantly, Zorro?

(Must... maintain... straight... face...)

According to the article here, it's a little more complex than that. Blacks and whites are now equally likely to receive a liver within three years, but they are still 4% more likely than whites (down from 5.3%) to die or become too sick to receive a liver before they get one. That's probably less a result of the transplant system than of earlier health care; blacks tend to be sicker when they go on the list.

For women, the situation has gotten worse with the new formula. They think this might be because women are smaller and have less muscle mass, and the tests they are depending on for guidance don't properly balance these factors. They hope to tweak the tests.

The overall problem (16,000 people on waiting list and 6,000 livers per year available) won't be solved unless organ donation becomes more widespread. Has everyone signed their organ donor cards and told their next-of-kin their wishes? Here, we can have a flag on our driver's licenses that marks us as organ donors.

You know that zorro is Spanish for fox, right? El Zorro is the Fox. Were you just being subtle?

I just knew someone was going to bring up the Pimpernel as a counter-example! Fair catch, though if you write as well as Baroness Orczy I think you should get some leeway on these things. That would roughly parallel Quick's Nemesis and Spider (spy and counter-spy), though I don't recall the Pimpernel calling himself that while declaiming dramatically the way I quoted the Spider doing. (Yes, he was speaking of himself in third person, as all good villains do upon occasion.) But that leaves Fallen Angel, which was a purely social nickname for a known person, a decadent aristocrat. That's not something that feels realistic to me.

Zorro's only semi-reasonable as a parallel: masked populist bandits are not exactly realistic to start with. And Zorro definitely had a pulp novel origin.

I'm not sure I'd count Robin Hood, given that (1) I'm not sure those quite count as historical fiction (more like myth or folk tales) and (2) it's a reasonable nickname, since I think his name in the tales was Robin of Locksley before he was outlawed. There's also a historical candidate for the origin of the tales who was named Robert Hode.

Susan... Were you just being subtle?

I've been called many things, but I don't remember 'subtle' being one of them. Hehehehe.

Actually, yes, I know about the true meaning of 'Zorro' from reading the original novel nearly 20 years ago. Also, the Banderas movie of 1998 had a scene that said so. (I enjoyed that movie, but its sequel was stupid.)

I thought from the use of Renard in the same comment that you might, but wasn't 100% sure. Sorry!

Needless to say, I haven't seen the Banderas version.

Susan... Heck, no need to apologize. I thought it was funny.

About 'funny' names, my favorite scene from X-men 2 shows that the people behind the camera understood that those are True Names.

"What's your name?"
"What's your real name, John?"
"Quite a talent you have there, Pyro."
"I can only manipulate the fire... I can't create it."
"You are a god among insects. Never let anyone tell you different."

On the other hand people do get and in some cases use nicknames; Hotspur, Black Prince, Kingmaker, Coeur de Lion. This might be to with mythic or bardic tradition of using epithets for people (presumably to give alternatives to make it scan) - Achilles is The Mankiller and also The Son Of Peleus and there's loads of them in Norse poems, none of which I'm able to bring to mind.

(I'm giving suggestions ahead of reading AJ's exerpt, so am currently contextless. Hopefully I'll have a nice quiet weekend to catch up on things like that and may make relevant comments)

I could have sworn Serge's comment about Zorro wasn't there and I thought I was so clever remembering that Zorro was fox in Spanish (or something like that; someone once tried to tell me it was coyote).

Serge:I suddenly have this vision of a steampunk Regency where the Nobility goes to their equivalent of a drivein theater and they do what two people did in our driveins - with equally awkward results.

Complain that the play was spoiled because something the people in the coach next to them did spooked the horses?

And looking back, I feel I should say that just because I, or someone else British, offers you a cup of tea doesn't mean you've necessarily said something wrong. The point is, it's never inappropriate to offer someone a cup of tea, so it can be used to cover gaps or divert conversations, but it might just mean I'm gasping for a cup.

Neil... I'm gasping for a cup

There has got to be a joke in there, but good manners prevent me from uttering it in the presence of the fine ladies of this little salon.

One of the characters in the X-men comic-book is a young woman who has the power to generate a forcefield that contours her whole body. Ever since she chose her True Name, she says to the Beast, Wolverine has been picking on her:

He says that if my name's "Armor" then his name is "Claws" and Ms.Frost's name is "Brain" and Ms.Rogue's name is "Suck".

I should just surrender gracefully on this, shouldn't I? :) One more try: all of those people were famous for something more significant than mere sleeping around and looking dark and mysterious. I will now proceed to demolish my own argument by noting the existence of such actual historical figures of the late 18th/early 19th century as Cripplegate, Jockey, the Bard, Jehu, and (my favorite) Skiffy. All of these names, for some reason, sound more natural to me than Fallen Angel, which I guess just makes me inconsistent.

People are forever offering me tea. I don't actually drink tea.

There will be no jokes whatsoever about c*ps here. The mere word gives me a faint shiver of nausea.

Susan... I thought it might.

Susan, I'm going to side with you here. Fallen Angel is a ridiculously unlikely nickname for a character in a historical fiction novel. It would even seem a bit much in most fantasy, except maybe a dark fantasy set in the modern world, centered on a Goth club.

Also, X-Men comics would be hilarious if Wolverine was called "Claws" instead.

AJ... X-Men comics would be hilarious if Wolverine was called "Claws"

When Armor was first derided by Wolverine, they had just been blown out of the sky high above an alien planet and her forcefield is the only thing that had protected most of Wolverine during re-entry. Some of it wasn't protected though, leaving him extremely severly burned, but his healing factor kicked in. Still, after he made fun of Armor, she suggested that maybe he should call himself Stinky.

A few years ago, when the New Mutants came back, someone made a crack to Cannonball that maybe he should rename himself Jet-Ass.

Jet-Ass... hehehe. My husband had a character in a roleplaying game who made forcefields, and people liked to call him "Bubble Boy."

I've still yet to hear anything that makes me want to pick up X-Men comics again, though.

AJ... I liked what Joss Wheadon did with X-men, the moments anyway. The overall plot was awkward though. Then again, I've always felt that way about his story structures, especially in the movie Serenity even though I loved the Firefly's crew. That being said, I don't really read that many comics anymore aside from Captain America, Superman and the various HellBoy/BPRD stories. I enjoyed Strange Girl, but that series ended some time ago.

Random comment:
A reviewer on Amazon characterizes Armstrong's books as "Urban Dark Fantasy," which I guess means books that sit on the cusp between horror, romance, and mystery. Whatever. I'm now wondering if there are also genres such as Urban Light Fantasy, Urban Middling-Grey Fantasy, and Urban Plaid Fantasy.

I just had some tea! I haven't signed to be an organ donor because nobody would take any of my organs, not even my skin. I have signed an agreement for Hopkins Nephrology to get my body when I die, and then have it cremated and combined with the kitty ashes and thrown in the nearest ocean.

I signed up to be an organ donor when we moved. I was able to change the address on my ID from the website, and there was also a box to check to say that I wanted to be an organ donor. Chris knows my wishes, but I should probably make sure that my parents know, too, in case we're both killed at the same time (grim thought).

Is an Urban Plaid Fantasy when you daydream about all the attractive men in your city wearing kilts?

Serge, I completely missed Wheadon's X-Men run. I stopped reading in the late '90s. I've seen the movies, and enjoyed them, but mostly in a nostalgic "I wish they'd made this when I loved the comics" sort of way. I prefer to read indie/small press stuff now, and a little manga. My two favorite series are Ted Naifeh's Courtney Crumrin tales, and Hiroaki Samura's Blade of the Immortal, which I really need to catch up on.

AJ... I gave up on X-men some time around 1986, and pretty much stayed away. It felt so tired. I could see from glances at the comics store that they were doing new stuff, but it just wasn't enough to draw me back in. The the movie happened, and I decided to take a closer look. Things have gotten tired again though.

Again, I'd recommend Strange Girl, if you can find back issues. I mean, how many stories are there about what happens after the Rapture to a girl who was left behind because she rebelled against parental authority?

I stopped reading X-Men about the same time as Serge did, partly because the story turned me off (this was the time of the Mutant Massacre) and partly because I went to college and suddenly no longer had an allowance to spend on comic books. I did like the first movie a lot. What they did to the later Phoenix saga makes me froth, however.

Strange Girl sounds interesting; has it been published in collected form?

My only steady reading in the last ten years other than Modesty Blaise collections has been Strangers in Paradise (links at the upper right, under Addictions). That's somewhere in the adventure/romance/humor genre; it's a little hard to pigeonhole. No F&SF element at all, other than the unlikely fighting prowess of some of the characters and some slightly over-the-top plots. I highly recommend SiP, and it has been published in about a dozen collections, so it's not a matter of chasing after back issues.

Lately, I've been reading in fascination all the later Elfquest material that I skipped the first time around, since they're posting the entire run of all the different books on the net for free at Digital Elfquest. Much of the 1990s stuff is, shall we say, worth what I'm paying for it, which reminds me why I stopped reading it. But I have a strong sentimental attachment to the original quest, which I read as it came out back in the very early 1980s (I still have the original issues) that carries me through even the most dreadful stories and art.

Susan... I think the first issues of Strange Girl were reprinted as thin trade paperbacks, but I don't know about the rest of the series. I could lend it to you, if you want.

AJ... One comics mini-series you might find interesting is Marvels, by Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross. I talked about it here. I shows some of the historical events of Marvel's comics, but from the point of view of a normal being. Quite chilling, especially the chapters about the X-men and Galactus.

Wow, that (Marvels) sounds intriguing! I'll have to get my hands on it sometime to read, though I'm not sure I want to own it. Could I borrow both that and Strange Girl sometime? No rush.

Susan... You certainly may. It shall be in your PO Box next week.


Fallen Angel sounds like the sort of thing someone might coin around the dinner table. ("I hear the Earl of Angelbrook* has fallen in with a bad lot*." "We might call him The Fallen Angel then!" [General Amusement]) If someone sufficently fashionable and not especially witty used this joke every time he was mentioned it might catch on. But yes, it's a bit silly. I'm not really an expert on this as I've never really had a nickname.

Urban Middling-Grey Fantasy - I guess mild danger, cloudy but not actually raining (and never a thunderstorm), meetings with, I don't know, femme léthargique? in brightly lit bars with decent beer, mysteries that noone really cares about and behind it all, the godfather of, well, not crime, but general rudeness and sharp practice, a man who is so mean and has been here so long his clothes have faded - Gandalf the Black.

* Or whatever, I'm not doing a whole lot of research for this

You're welcome, Susan.

Speaking of comic-books... One of my favorite characters is Doctor Strange, whom I was introduced to by my favorite high-chool teacher back in the 1960s. Alas, Stephen Strange seems unable to hold on to his own series for long. Still, Marvel brings him out now and then for a mini-series here, a mini-series there.

Doctor Strange! I picked up on him through an appearance in Tomb of Dracula, of which I have a large but not complete collection. (I could just shortcut by buying the compilations, but where's the fun in that?) I never followed him consistently, but I liked him and Clea quite a bit.

I never read Tomb of Dracula, but, yes, guest appearances are another way that Doctor Strange has been kept around. I'm not sure why he never lasts long. There's plenty of potential in the premise. And it has had good artists involved, like Mike Golden, and Craig Russell. (THere was a D2V animated feature released last year, but it was just ok. And Clea never appeared in it.)

Susan, thank you for the reminder and link to Digital ElfQuest! I picked up a flier at Comic Con and then promptly forgot about it. When I was 11, the original ElfQuest series was the first "grown-up" comic I was allowed to read. My Dad had been a bit of a comic collector in the 80s, so he had the original original series, and two copies of every issue of the Marvel run (1 to read, 1 to keep to collect), and since they weren't worth much as collectibles, he let my brother and I have his extra set. I *think* they're out in the longboxes in the game room. I also read the Blue Mountain mini-series, but none of the others.

Lots of memories in those comics! Feeling all grown-up because I was reading something with implied sexual situations. Thinking that my parents' rabbi's wife was stupid because she said elves were evil. Writing what I now realize constitutes as ElfQuest fan-fiction. Ah, I was such a little nerdling. And of course, the comics were especially awesome to me because they were co-written and drawn by a *woman* and had lots of strong female characters.

Serge, Marvels does sound interesting. I may take a peek at it next time I'm in B&N.

May I make a bit of a shameless plug? I write for an e-zine that's mainly about comics, but also other geekly things (I write a gaming column, the occasional comic review, web comic reviews, genre book reviews and movie reviews, we also have columns on manga, collectibles, and whatever else people feel like writing about). It's written on an entirely volunteer basis and is completely ad-free, a labor of love for all of us, especially our editor. You might enjoy it. It's at:

Thanks for plugging, AJ... As for Marvels, its 4 issues were originally published circa 1993, but the whole story is available as a trade paperback and in hardcover. It was funny recognizing who the artist used as models: Timothy Dalton as Tony Stark, Donna Reed as Sue Storm, and who could be Ben Grimm's girlfriend if not Linda Hamilton?

I also originally stopped after the Siege at Blue Mountain mini-series. In the more recent stuff that's new to me, I find the Kings of the Broken Wheel and Shards series pretty good, and some of the material in the early issues of Hidden Years (when it was still Wendy drawing it) to be excellent. I'm not very impressed with the other artists they recruited, though. Some of them are just appalling. I can't imagine what the Pinis were thinking, letting the quality slide that badly. But it's very interesting to catch up on the whole saga at such a relatively rapid pace (several new issues every week). With the original quest, it was a loooooong three or four months between each issue!

And hey, plugs are welcome. I'm delighted to have such talented people around!

I read your review of Super Stupor and went and looked at the first strip on the web. That's quite a super-power. Does he get to, ah, employ it later on?

I should watch Mystery Men again. Wannabe superheroes! William H Macy as the Shoveller! Geoffrey Rush as Doctor Casanova Frankenstein! And Jeaneane Garofalo as the Bowler!

Susan, yes, yes he does. I think that's a major reason for the Mature Audiences warning.

AJ... Has your dad rcovered from knowing you read such stuf?

By the way, do you know about Kurt Busiek's AstroCity?

I couldn't find one online, but the strip-sequencing is broken somehow (it jumped me from April to June). Should I keep looking online or do I need to get a copy of the print edition?

Serge, I don't think my Dad has read my review, so he might be blissfully ignorant.

I've heard of AstroCity, but I don't really know anything about it.

Susan, it may be best to buy the print edition. As I mentioned in the review, most of the print edition is new content which isn't on the web. That includes utilization of that particularly naughty power.

I enjoy his comics, but his webpage is definitely getting way too clunky with that many on it, especially when he goes months without updating most of them.

AJ... Kurt Busiek started writing AstroCity in the mid-1990s. Instead of taking Alan Moore's approach where the existence of superbeings is taken to its logical and nightmarish conclusion, he instead explores what it'd be like to live in such a world as it is depicted in comics. Basically, he accepts the conceit, but he subverts it. The Samaritan, his equivalent of Superman, has no life of his own because he is obsessed with saving everybody. He also doesn't shy away from using some of the old comics's silliness, as he did in story set in the early 1960s, where we're introduced to characters like the Bouncing Beatnik. But even, when he deals with the silliness of a character who basically is a lifesize Barbie Doll, there can be sadness.

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