Too Stupid to Live

Back in February, I mentioned that I had a list of tropes I dislike and was determined to avoid when I wrote Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold. At the time, I mentioned a list of 9 things other than the many times heroines refuse to marry the hero and run away because he hasn’t said, “I love you,” in exactly that 3-word fashion.

Tonight here I am, ready to go on with another couple of those 9 things, and I can’t find the list. Rather than try to remember 9 things tonight, I figure to rant about a new one that had me grinding my teeth recently over two books in a row.

I hope everyone understands that these are just my own personal hobby horses. Some of you probably love things I hate and vice versa. I’m sure some of these things go unnoticed or get shrugged off by less opinionated readers.

If anyone ever did the math, however, I bet the one thing most romance readers would agree they dislike is the TSTL heroine. Heck, she doesn’t have many fans when she shows up in mysteries, thrillers, and other genres. I’m right there with the majority, but of course we all draw the line in a different place between what we consider TSTL behavior and what seems reasonable in certain circumstances.

What I don’t see mentioned, though, is the TSTL hero. That’s what I came across in two books in a row recently. These particular heroes irritated me to start with, but when I thought about it, why is the complaint about the TSTL heroine standard, but TSTL not mentioned when it comes to the guys?

For men, the gripes are about alpha jerks or whimps. I saw a long thread in that place I’m still addicted to and need to join a Twelve Step program over about physical attributes of heroes different readers don’t like. But what about Mr. TSTL? In the particular books I encountered, there were guys doing genuinely clueless, dumb things (get the virgin heroine to bed, leave the next morning and disappear for a month and never suspect she might be a tad upset by the time he shows up again). Men who have so little self-control they endanger themselves and/or the heroine drooling over her exquisite breasts in life-threatening situations are another kind of TSTL, and there’s a third kind that has to be coupled with a dumb as a box of rocks heroine that I’ve put in a separate category all its own and will rant about another time.

So is it me? Are women uniquely TSTL and men some other kind of dumb that gets its own label? If so, what is it? Cute? Endearing? Expected?





21 Responses to Too Stupid to Live

  1. linda says:

    I enjoy your writing very much are there any new novels in the works, and what authors do you read?

  2. Barbara Wadman says:

    Ellen, If you want to read a book where both H&h are TSTL try Jennifer Ashley’s latest book in the MacKenzie series “The Seduction of Elliot McBride”. I was so confused as to what was going on I could not finish the book. Especially the hero (for want of a better word) who had traumatic events in his life and seemed to cope with it by either choking people or having a sexual event with the heroine, his wife whom he married on the day she was jilted at the altar by another man. There was the crusty weird uncle and various clich’ed minor characters. The entire book was too stupid. It seemed to consist mostly of sexual encounters with little story around those events, which is too bad as the first book in the series was especially good. Ah well, I will have to sit down and reread EOSEOG in order to get the bad taste out of my mouth. Barbara

  3. Linda – Thanks. Yes, I’m going back and forth between another dog mystery and another romance right now. Probably not the best way to get either done, but that’s what I’m doing.

    My favorite romance authors (I read a lot of mysteries too) seem to be retired (like Maggie Osborne) or writing other romance subgenres (like Lorraine Heath). I bounce around trying this and that and can’t say I’ve hit anyone lately that has me reading every book she ever wrote.

    I really liked some of the romances by Penelope Williamson (The Outsider) and her sister Candace Proctor (Whispers of Heaven). Proctor is now writing the Sebastian St. Cyr historical mysteries as C.S. Harris, and I like them even better. They have a romantic element but wouldn’t qualify for the romance genre.

    Last night I finished A HEART MOST WORTHY by Siri Mitchell, which I liked a lot. Some people wouldn’t consider it a romance either, though. The story follows 3 young women working together in 1918 U.S. Each of the three does have a romance with a HEA, but of course none of them is as detailed as in a book that features just one couple. It was quite engrossing, and I looked at the list of Mitchell’s other available books on Amazon. I’ll probably try another one or two, but some of them are set in periods I don’t read and some don’t sound like my kind of stories.

    Barbara – Thanks, but no, I don’t think that sounds like one I want to read. One problem with the Kindle is you don’t have the satisfaction of throwing a book that really offends across the room. Even books that have a good story irritate me when they have pages and pages of sex scenes and would be nothing but a novella if you took them out. My taste in romance seems to be that it should happen in the middle of an adventure story. Not that I’ve never read slower things that entertain, but usually I go for active external conflict.


  4. Rhonda says:

    Hello Ellen…

    Fact is, I rarely read romance novels … largely, I suppose, for the very TSTL reasons you mentioned. I do like the way you write so much … and the adventure story you create, during which the hero and heroine truly discover and uncover each other. Love the strength in your relationships and balance. I fully expect to read every book you ever write and if yours are the only romance novels I ever read, well, that suits me just fine! Carry on!

  5. Rhonda – It wouldn’t surprise me if you polled those who read my books and found that many are like you. I’m not sure the term but let’s call it borderline romance readers. I know a few guys have read them who were probably looking for straight westerns, or maybe they knew what they were trying and hoped they could concentrate on the adventure part and skip the mushy stuff. Most of those seem to have been pleased enough, but one of them left an unhappy review recently because of the sex scenes. I’m sorry he got something he wasn’t looking for, but anyone who thinks my books are too sexy gives me a chuckle. ~Ellen

  6. Rosheen says:

    Hee hee loved the TSTL rant. Picked a new book to read yesterday and both the hero and heroine were TSTL (so your blog was very timely). So, I after getting half way through that book, skipped to the end (that was very easy to guess plot finally) and picked up eyes of silver and eyes of gold for a reread. I got to the part just after Anne tapped Cord brother in …… and had to put book (iPad) down as I was snickering so loud at your characters interaction and it was after midnight and i woke my partner up opps. Thank you for not writing stupid characters. Cheers rosheen

  7. Ellen O'Connell says:

    Hey, Rosheen – It’s cool to realize that Eyes is anyone’s go to book for after a bad one. I have a couple of those myself, although I tend to head for a mystery after a bad romance and vice versa. Getting right out of the genre of the offending books seems to help. ~Ellen

  8. Tina says:

    Hi Ellen,
    I’ve been reading romance off and on for years, and I know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s so hard to find authors that can write smart, interesting characters. You are definitely one. Even though they are Urban Fantasy, and might be out of your normal genre, I feel that Jeanine Frost, Ilona Andrews, and Nalini Singh do a great job of creating complex characters with a romantic edge. If you want to stick to romance, Sarah MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels and By the Numbers series have great heroines that are believable but not trite. Oh yeah, also Agnes and the Hitman by Jenny Crusie and Bob Mayer was GREAT. 🙂

  9. mesadallas says:

    I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a hero that fits into this catagory but can’t come up with one. Not that there aren’t any- I just haven’t come across one that comes to mind. I think writers take care to give their hero intelligence as they know it’s something most readeers want in their hero’s persona.

    My top pick of TSTL heroine is Scarlett O’Hara. Who in their right mind would want to stop having sex with Rhett Butler for God’s sake?

  10. Ellen O'Connell says:

    Thanks, Tina, I think I’ve read MacLean in the past, but I’m one of those bad readers who don’t keep much track except for a list of favorites and never agains. I’ll check out the ones you mentioned. I remember reading a Jennifer Crusie (had a dog on the cover – surprise) and enjoying it, but I also remember it as more on the light and humorous side and think of her books that way. That’s good for me once in a while as a change up, but as I used to say in the good old paper book days, all my most favorite books have tear stains on the pages. Admittedly I cry easily.

    mesadallas – I’m not going to mention specific titles because the last time I did, the stats on the blog showed people were searching “O’Connell review of ___________.” I just mentioned a particular book as an example of something and never meant it as a review. I decided early on with all the accusations of review swapping, putting other authors down over jealousy, etc., I’m not doing reviews.

    However, the particular books that got my goat were as I said. In one, the hero and heroine are trying to escape hostile Indians, and they almost get caught because he’s so busy thinking about sex he gets careless. I’m sure there are guys like that. They aren’t my heroes. The other was as I said, a guy who intends to marry a girl leaving her right after first sex without explaining where he’s going and why and staying away quite a while – long enough for her to realize she’s pg. Then he’s surprised when she’s mad. I KNOW there are guys that dumb, but again, they’re not my heroes.

    I read Gone With The Wind a long, long time ago. I don’t remember Scarlett as dumb so much as the epitome of a selfish bitch. The dumb ones there were the men who had anything to do with her.


  11. McD says:

    Since I read across sub-genres of romance and don’t just stick to westerns, I’ve come across a number of TSTL heroes recently in contemporary romance in a similar mold to Christian Grey from FSoG.

    These Neanderthals harken back to the days in romance when ‘No’ from a woman means (to them) ‘Okay’. Their controlling, domineering personalities are borderline psychopaths who come across not as alpha males but creepy, abusive stalkers.

  12. Hi McD – Follow the money is as true in writing and publishing as anywhere, so the success of 50 Shades had to herald a renewal of the abusive jerk. I don’t understand the appeal, but obviously it’s there for a lot of readers. I read something halfway decent the other day, got a second book from that author and found myself with a story featuring bondage (carefully rationalized by the H’s background, of course).

    I don’t care that others want to read that kind of stuff, but I wish books were labeled better so one could tell before wasting money. I got mad enough over one not long ago to return it and checked the “offensive content” box on Amazon’s form quite happily, but I don’t do that often and suspect Amazon might not appreciate it if I did do it once a week. ~Ellen

  13. McD says:

    One of my longtime fav authors released her latest title recently and has unfortunately succumbed to the lure of FSoG and bondage. My rating reflected my disappointment.

  14. Ellen O'Connell says:

    Oh, that’s a shame. I bet her publisher’s “suggestions” had something to do with it. Now that authors are talking on the Internet, you hear how many of them wrote rape romances in the good old days because they had to if they wanted publishers to keep buying their books.

    Marsha Canham has said she retired for years rather than give in to publishers and write Regencies.

    Losing a favorite author that way would be even worse than loving someone’s historicals and having them switch to contemporaries that didn’t do it for you.


  15. mesadallas says:

    This last comment really hit the mark with me. I love western historical but don’t really go for western contemporary. Linda Leal Miller is one of my favorites but she seems to have switched to writing contemporaries over historical the last few years and they just don’t float my boat.

  16. Ellen O'Connell says:

    Hi mesa – Yes a lot of authors who wrote western historicals have switched to contemporaries, to regencies, to whatever. I suppose the audience for those subgenres is larger. You’d think readers would get tired of one more duke at some point. ~Ellen

  17. mesadallas says:

    From the number of romance novels you’d think there were thousands of eligible Dukes running around England but the number of peers is actually pretty limited. The chance of all these penniless commoner heroines ending up with an aristocrat was and probably still is next to nill.

  18. I saw a chart listing how many of each level of royalty actually existed back then. Can’t remember exactly, but the figure for Dukes was something like 23. Given 23 men who never lifted a hand in their lives to do anything, how many of them do you think were somewhere between 25 and 40, had all their teeth and hair, excruciatingly handsome and with six packs?

    That’s not really my problem with the whole Regency thing. After all, in any romance the reader has to suspend belief to some extent. My problem is finding being a member of such a parasitic bunch of people desirable. I have the same problem with contemporaries where the desirable guy has to be a millionaire (or these days a billionaire). I missed the want to be stinking rich gene. Comfortably well off? Sure. But so wealthy I couldn’t even think what to do with it? No. I see the reports of people with a dozen houses and god knows how many cars, and instead of envy, I think yuck. I haven’t the foggiest why I came out that way. It’s not like my whole family is the same. ~Ellen

  19. mesadallas says:

    I saw a similar chart for the titles in England and if I’m remembering correctly all of the titles together only come to around several hundred (knights not included) for the entire United Kingdom. Regencies are just so unrealistic- which is why I tend to go with cowboys- at least the hero is somewhat plausible to reality.

    I envy you, Ellen- living in a rural area with some acreage and having horses. That sounds like my dream life.

  20. Ellen O'Connell says:

    You have to weigh the pros and cons. Having livestock can tie you down as thoroughly as small children. The expense can be stunning. Even without huge vet bills, just surprises like the price of hay trebling last year because to the drought (and it will never go down, even if it rains for 40 day and 40 nights next year) could wreck a budget. Getting out there in extreme heat or cold or when you don’t feel too perky is a real downside. And that’s off the top of my head.

    Cowboys can be hard to believe too. I shouldn’t put this out in what’s basically a public place, but can’t resist, so I’m changing the last name. I saw a blurb in a forum the other day about a western, and the hero’s name is Desperado Smith. Just typing it I’m laughing again. How can anyone take that seriously? “Oh, Desperado, you’re my man.” Was it here that we were once joking about naming heroes Balls? I don’t think that would make me laugh any harder. I’ve seen a few others lately that make me wonder if the authors take the western genre seriously themselves. E

  21. mesadallas says:

    Yep, I know having a horse is a lot of work and expense (my husband never stops reminding me I really haven’t any idea) but I still want one.

    I don’t think it was here there was a ball naming conversation- cowboys or anyone else’s; that’s one I wouldn’t forget.

    Desperado Smith? For real? Sounds like the same author of such literary masterpieces as “Santa Wore a Stetson” or “His boots under Her bed.” I’ll pass on that one.

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