School is Out Linkdump

Today was the last day of school in Lower Saxony where I teach, which means six weeks (sort of) without school. And it’s about time, since we hit a late slot with our summer holidays this year, which meant that this school year seemed to drag on and on.

Now I have more time, I hope to write many detailed and well reasoned blog posts in the future. But for now, have a few links:

Over at the Pegasus Pulp blog, I blog about The New Pulp Fiction.

Lynn Viehl at Paperback Writer has a great post about building characters according to the LEGO principle.

At Time, Andrea Sachs writes about the rise of the cowboy romance novel. Now the appeal of the cowboy romance is something I absolutely don’t get, probably because any cowboy hero has to overcome the negative associations with the word “cowboy” that Hollywood westerns have left in my mind. Ditto for military romances. If you come from a culture where “soldier” and “military” have negative associations, military romances are not easy to digest. Though I still like Suzanne Brockmann’s Navy SEAL romances a lot.

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6 Responses to School is Out Linkdump

  1. Daniela says:

    I can’t really see the appeal of cowboy romances either, even though I actually like cowboys (or rather Westerns), but for me they have more to do with the loner, the outcast. I just love Clint Eastwood in the old Italo-Westerns. Or tough women batteling the frontier and breeding horses. Hm, that would already be the basic cast for romance, wouldn’t it? Male loner and tough female.

    But if I were tempted to write something with a frontier I would probably do SF (throw in some Cowboys and it’s Firefly-esque).

    And I really get you on the whole problem with military romances. My mind always veers off into moral debates, psychological issues and such. The weird thing is that I don’t have that big a problem when it’s a historical setting (aside from the Third Reich and WWII). One of my current projects deals with the Thirty Years’ War and I’m also getting more and more interested in Roman history.

    • Cora says:

      I always liked the Italo westerns (and Winnetou and Old Shatterhand of course) better than the Hollywood version as well. But the big budget Hollywood westerns (B-westerns were often okay) with Gary Cooper or John Wayne rarely did anything for me. And I don’t really see any of the traits attributed to cowboy heroes – courage, integrity, honour, etc… – reflected in the characters played by John Wayne and the like either. Not that the heroes of the Italo westerns had any of those traits either, but then the lone outcasts of the Italo western never pretended to be noble archetypes.

      The problem with military protagonists is that in the US, a soldier, particularly if it’s a marine or Navy SEAL or something, is automatically associated with courage, nobility and heroism. This doesn’t work in Germany, because due to our history we are skeptical of the military and don’t automatically equate “soldier” with “heroic person”. An author first has to convince me that his particular military character is indeed brave and heroic and won’t commit war crimes or shoot innocent civilians. But a lot of authors rely on the automatic positive associations that “soldier” evokes in the US and don’t do the work to show that this particular soldier is a good guy. And of course, with romances there’s always the knowledge that the Navy SEAL hero could be maimed or killed on some mission six month or a year from now, which does not make for a satisfying HEA.

      Interestingly, historical military characters, at least those pre-WWI, bother me a lot less than contemporary military characters as well. I guess it’s because time lends distance and because historical authors don’t rely on the “soldier equals good guy” association.

      • Daniela says:

        Winnetou and Old Shatterhand are cult :-D. Who doesn’t love the movies with Pierre Brice and Lex Barker. TV really should do a re-run of them.

        I never got into the John Wayne Western. Just wasn’t my thing. And I agree with you I didn’t see anything noble in figures like that as well. Sole exception might be Yul Brynner, but The Magnificent Seven also deals more with loners who become reluctant heroes and is of course based on Japanese source material. I would also recommend the Japanese movie.

        I spend my teenaged years in West-Berlin while the Wall was still up so military to me is still linked with the occupying forces. And while the US, British and French forces tried to keep their presence relative toned-down it was still noticeable (weapons-training in the Grunewald for example or driving past the barracks) and of course the Soviets were very noticeable. Same with the GDR forces. Autumn of 1989 was occasionally a scary time because no-one knew what the Soviets would do or whether the GDR-government would deploy the NVA. So that’s military for me, in addition to the West-German anti-military upbringing. So I definitely agree on the whole Military =/= heroic. I would view a soldier as heroic who stands up against orders to torture someone (think Abu Greib), but not someone who’s send out to assassinate a terrorist.

        I also never viewed Hercules or Siegfried as actual heroes even though mythology tries to sell them to me as such. For me Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo are much more heroic.

        because historical authors don’t rely on the “soldier equals good guy” association.

        Definitely. It also allows us to be able to view both sides of a conflict and find reasons to sympathize with both sides or even all three sides.

        • Cora says:

          I guess whatever appeal John Wayne or Gary Cooper or Robert Mitchum or any other Hollywood western hero have must be culturally linked to the US, because I have certainly never been able to see it. And indeed most non-Americans tend to prefer either Winnetou/Old Shatterhand or Spaghetti westerns. The only non-American fans of John Wayne and his ilk have all been Brits. And the only Hollywood westerns I have never liked are the ones that are not considered “real westerns”. And The Magnificent Seven is one of those Hollywood westerns that are not real Hollywood westerns because of the Kurosawa link. Which is also why it’s so shortsighted to see that article refer to the American cowboy hero as a universal archetype, when it’s really an archetype linked to a very particular culture.

          I wasn’t a big fan of Siegfried and Hercules and Ulysses and their ilk either, even though I was an avid reader of mythology in my teens. But those characters just frustrated me, because I was rooting for them until they did something utterly horrible in the eyes of the 20th century teenager that I was, e.g. Siegfried tricking Brunhilde, Hercules cheating on his wife (no wonder that she killed him) or Ulysses killing the maids. I could understand why he would kill the suitors, but the maids were just victims.

          As for the military, I grew up near a large American military base and always found the American military personnel very frustrating to deal with, because they wouldn’t let Germans into their shops to buy books or comics and pretty much blocked off any attempt at interaction. The soldiers had a bad reputation, too, and my cousins who were a few years older always steadfastly avoided the discoteques and clubs that were frequented by American soldiers. Plus, I was terrified of their low flying military jets, because I had been made to watch (because it’s history and education) WWII newsreels at a much too young age and therefore connected military planes with bombings of civilians in my mind and thus was always afraid that the military jets would drop bombs on us.

          I imagine Berlin with the whole “Frontstadt” feeling must have been even scarier. Though oddly enough I did not much mind the Russian soldiers we saw during the annual visits to my aunt in East Germany. I guess it was because the Russian soldiers paid attention to me (I was a teenage girl and quite obviously from the West, so it’s not really a surprise), whereas the Americans tended to ignore me even when I tried to practice my English on them.

          As for historical fiction, I agree that it allows you to look at all sides of the conflict in question in a way that fiction set past WWI rarely does. When I was about ten or twelve I watched an old Errol Flynn movie in which he played a Sir Francis Drake type character fighting the Spanish Armada and read a YA historical about two young Spaniards sailing with the Armada and fighting the English pirates in very short succession and I thought, “Hey, wait a minute. But those guys were the villains in the other book/film, so who really were the good guys here? Or was actually no one good or bad at all?” It was a big epiphany at the time.

  2. Rosario says:

    I agree with this completely.

    When I think of the Hollywood cowboy, I think of a character with a very black or white kind of worldview, the type that thinks seeing any shades of grey in the world around them is a moral failing. I find that sort of “with us or against us” type of worldview very unappealing.

    As for military protagonists, I have a very similar problem. I’m from a country which suffered a military dictatorship during the 70s. My most immediate association when I see a uniform is a person who tortures anyone with leftist views and then “disappears” them. Not very attractive. Like you, though, I still like Brockmann’s books, but that’s in spite of the military characters, rather than because of them.

    • Cora says:

      To me, Hollywood cowboys are craggy-faced racists and misogynists with a very strange black and white morality wherein it’s okay to hang someone for stealing a horse but no one bats an eyelash at shooting another human. In short, not hero material at all. Whatever virtues Americans see embodied in cowboys – and I’ve heard Americans talking of the honest and brave cowboy way too many times to discount it – it’s not something that translates well. And Germany actually does have a tradition of western fiction and even film. But the homegrown stuff as well as the output of Cinecitta in Rome is a lot more palatable than the Hollywood original.

      I’d also be interested whether the category romances with “cowboy” in the title, which is apparently a surefire sales increase in the US, sell as well in Britain and elsewhere. I actually have seen Linda Lael Miller’s books on sale in Germany, but the “Billionaire cowboy and his virgin bride” type categories are given neutral covers and titles in Germany.

      As for soldiers, in Germany memories of WWII are still so strong (and regularly reinforced) that a soldier is a person who shoots, rapes and bombs civilians, regardless of governmental attempts to create a positive image for the current German army. At school we use a worksheet showing various people with job specific clothing and attributes and the students are supposed to write down what job the people have and what they do. One picture shows a soldier and I inevitably get things like “He is a soldier. He shoots people dead and then he dies” Sometimes the kids even draw wounds in red ink onto the soldier. And these are kids who were born 50 years after the end of WWII. I imagine that memories in your country will be as long.

      I also like Suzanne Brockmann in spite of the military characters and not because of them. And it took a long time until I was persuaded to give her a try. Interestingly, she wasn’t translated into German at all until very recently and had no UK publisher either.

      This is why the quote about cowboys as the perennial romantic archetype (coming from Sarah Wendell no less, who should know better) is so ill-informed and US-centric. Because in the rest of the world, cowboys and US soldiers are all too often the face of US Imperialism and not romantic archetypes.

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