Meg Benjamin: Slayer of the TSTL heroine 34


Ever gone to a party and no one showed up? That’s what happened to today’s guest blogger and I. We were told there was a chat we were supposed to be representing Samhain at way back in … January I think it was. Except we were the only ones there. No moderator showed up, no other authors, no readers … just us. Yup, even though I was buried under three foot of snow I could hear the crickets chirping. (Turned out someone gave us the wrong date and we were a week ahead of schedule.)

It wasn’t that bad because it gave me some time to get to know another (then) brand-new-to-Samhain author, Meg Benjamin. We’ve both had our first books release since then – my Private Property, and Meg’s Venus in Blue Jeans.

What I learned from Meg that night is that she’s a Texas girl and so she’s set her book in Texas hill country, in the fictional Konigsburg, Texas. We chatted a while, and we’ve kept in touch over the past six months. Meg’s sold a second book Wedding Bell Blues that will be released on July 21st. Her third, Be My Baby, releases in December. (she puts me to shame!)

Who knew you could find the love of your life at the wedding from hell…

Konigsburg, Book 2

Janie Dupree will do anything to make sure her best friend has the wedding of her dreams, even if it means relinquishing what every bridesmaid covets and never gets—the perfect maid-of-honor dress. Problem is, family drama as tangled as a clump of Texas prickly pear cactus threatens to send the skittish bride hopping aboard the elopement express.

Janie could use a hand, but the best man’s “help” is only making things worse.

Pete Toleffson just wants to get through his brother’s wedding and get back to his county attorney job in Des Moines. He never expected to be the engineer on a wedding train that’s derailing straight toward hell. Janie’s the kind of girl he’d like to get close to—but her self-induced role as “Miss Fix-It” is as infuriating as it is adorable.

If they can just fend off meddling parents, vindictive in-laws, spiteful ex-boyfriends, and a greyhound named Olive long enough to achieve matrimonial lift-off, maybe they can admit they’re head-over-heels in love.

Warning: Contains hot steamy sex, wedding-based cussing, drunken revelry, dart assaults, Momzillas, and the most beautiful bridesmaid dress ever.

(I love those Samhain warnings! I wish I could write them as well as Meg does.) But while writing these cussing sessions and drunken revelry, Meg’s discovered that there’s certain things she expects from her heroines. From all heroines. So say hi howdy to Meg Benjamin …

***

I just finished a thriller that made me want to throw my e-reader across the room. It’s part of a long-running series by an author I like (thus I’m not going to identify either author or book). However, at the climax of this particular book, the heroine has to make a decision about whether to go alone to a rendezvous with another character. Now although the author tries to make the clues fairly unobtrusive, only a really dim reader will not have figured out by that point that this particular character is actually the villain. Only a really dim reader, I should add, and the heroine, who’s still clueless. The heroine spends a few moments wondering if she should call her boyfriend the cop, but ultimately she decides he’d be too “protective,” and so she waltzes into the villain’s lair, still totally unaware that she’s walking into a trap.

Once I’d finished grinding my teeth, I flipped through the chapter in which the heroine is almost—but not quite—killed off, muttering imprecations. Because, you see, the only way the heroine could get into that situation is by being an idiot. Even if she hasn’t figured out that the villain is the villain, she knows something nasty is out there. Although the villain has specified no police, there’s no reason to think her boyfriend the cop couldn’t follow her without being detected. And her reason for not contacting her boyfriend is so flimsy that it defies logic. So the normally logical, intelligent heroine suddenly behaves like an idiot for the sole purpose of putting herself in jeopardy. That, my friends, is lousy plotting!

The whole heroine-in-jeopardy plot is a true can of worms. I’ve done it myself—in Venus in Blue Jeans—and I really had to work hard to get Docia into a situation where she could legitimately be threatened. Wedding Bell Blues has less of a threat, but there’s a moment when the heroine is in danger in a parking lot, and I had to figure out how to get her there without having the hero at her elbow. Be My Baby, the third Konigsburg book (which is due out in December) has an even greater threat and again I had to spend a lot of time figuring out how a woman who already knows she’s in danger could end up in a situation where she’s in serious jeopardy.

If you’re doing the heroine-in-trouble thing, you have to come up with a plausible way for the heroine to be there in the first place, and the threat has to be substantial (there’s no real reason to send a heroine into minor jeopardy). In general, you have to come up with a plausible reason for the heroine to place herself in harm’s way without making the heroine’s choice seem idiotic. In other words, you’re trying to avoid the old “There’s a monster in the house, you stay here while I get help” plot.

Once upon a time, you could have had the hero rescue the heroine (and you still can, I guess, if the book is from the hero’s point of view). Now, well, not so much. Today’s heroine has to at least try to get herself out of the soup and that means you also need a plausible reason for the hero not to be around when she’s in danger. In Venus, I used the ever-popular lovers’ quarrel diversion, and that’s always a possibility, assuming you can do it without making either heroine or hero seem like a jerk. The hero can also be called away on real or bogus business; that is, he can be called away legitimately or called away by the villain in an attempt to separate him from the heroine. Or, most interestingly, you can have the hero come along and then be incapacitated, so that the heroine ends up rescuing him. Kathy Reichs does this in one of her best Temperance Brennan novels, Death Du Jour.

But here’s my point: if the heroine is standing outside Dracula’s castle, she’s got to have a good reason to go inside, assuming that’s what she does. Maybe she doesn’t know it’s Dracula’s castle and she needs help with something. Maybe she does know it’s Dracula’s castle and she figures, probably erroneously, that he’ll still be dozing in his coffin. Maybe she thinks someone she loves is in there and needs rescuing. Maybe she’s Buffy and has decided it’s time to take that sucker out. But what she can’t do is say, “Well, it’s Dracula’s castle all right, but I’ll be perfectly okay because nothing will happen to me.”

Or rather, she can say that, but if she does, she’s an idiot. And who wants to read about an idiot heroine?

So what do you think? What makes you buy into a heroine in jeopardy? Have you run into any really smart heroines lately (or even any idiots)?

***
Meg’s heroines are far from idiotic. Oh, and those warnings of hers I said I loved? How about this one from Venus in Blue Jeans?

A guy. A girl. A Chihuahua. Two of them will find the love of their lives.

Konigsburg, Book 1

Coming off a broken engagement to a lying charmer, all bookstore owner Docia Kent wants is a fling, not a long-term romance. And for her fabulously wealthy and fabulously nosy parents to butt out of her life for a while. The Texas Hill Country town of Konigsburg looks like the perfect place to get both. Especially when she gets a look at long, tall country vet Cal Toleffson.

Cal has other plans for Docia. One glance at the six-foot version of Botticelli’s Venus, and he knows he’s looking at the woman of his dreams. Now if he can just fend off the eccentric characters of Konigsburg long enough to convince her romance isn’t such a bad idea.

One night of mind-blowing sex isn’t the only thing that leaves them both stunned. With Docia’s bookstore under attack, Konigsburg suddenly doesn’t seem so welcoming. Once again she finds her trust tested—and is left wondering if she was ever meant to have a happily ever, after all.

Warning: Contains explicit sex, hot Texas nights, cool sarcastic friends, the world’s sweetest hero and the world’s saddest Chihuahua.

Normally I don’t put two excerpts into one post, but Meg is giving away a copy of one of her books (your choice) and I figured I’d save you some surfing … although you really should wander over to her website. You see, Meg’s a little out of sorts lately – she’s been turfed from her Texas home and has settled into a new home in Colorado (where the neighbors worry about dry spots on the lawn. *Gasp*)

But don’t forget to answer Meg’s question – What makes you buy into a heroine in jeopardy? Have you run into any really smart heroines lately (or even any idiots)?

(wondering what TSTL means? Too Stupid To Live.)


34 thoughts on “Meg Benjamin: Slayer of the TSTL heroine

  • Keri Stevens

    My new peeve, honestly, is cell phones. In real life (and, therefore, a contemporary setting) everyone has one. Many problems/dangers could be averted or minimized if the heroine just flipped it out and called 911 or, well, anyone. The cell-phone-less heroine needs to be explained to me now. She needs to be in a setting without reception, have a dead battery, left her purse in the car while racing to save the flopping deer on the side of the road, or whatever. If she so much as sniffs danger and doesn't take the obvious step of pulling out her Blackberry, she'd better have a darned good reason (or else be considered TSTL, IMHO)

    I feel the same way about the hero. I want my alpha to be brazen but smart. Why wouldn't he call 911 as he races across town to the abandoned warehouse to pull her out of the den of thieves? Balls don't replace brains.

    Ah, cell phones. You have made my life so much more complicated now. Perhaps it's time to write historicals.

  • Leah Braemel

    Keri – YES, cell phones have really complicated things. And email (which has thrown a spanner in the works for a "they lost touch all those years ago" thread in my latest WIP)

    I actually had to think about cell phones etc. in Personal Protection and have Rosie telling Sam off for not calling in the police for one particular stupid thing he does toward the end.

    Although to be honest, until yesterday I rarely carried a cell phone. Couldn't see the need for them. I had one, and would hand it to the boys if they went out & might need to call me. Only needed to use one twice. Once when the car broke down and like you suggest, I was out of signal range (in the middle of the city – go figure), and the second time to call the CAA because of a flat tire. (I'd had the cell phone 1 day at that point in time) So maybe you could have the cell phone-less heroine just hate the damned things the way I do.

  • joyroett

    LOL @ Keri. Excellent point about cell phones.

    Stupid situations in books piss me off too. I'm a pretty analytical thinker and I can only suspend reality for a short time.

    There are many ways for the heroine is jeopardy trope to work. Getting caught unaware because she's in a normally safe place works for me. Discarding all common sense and charging in alone does not work for me.

  • Karen H in NC

    Hi ladies,

    Excellent post today. I really enjoy blogs that discuss the thought process that goes into getting that story on paper.

    I read mainly historicals, and while I dislike the TSTL heroine, I really hate the book where the heroine is written out of character or she is a little too 21st century in an 18th or 19th century setting. That drives me nuts and I probably won't finish the book if I can't believe in the heroine.

  • Meg Benjamin

    Cell phones do add a whole new wrinkle, but since I now live in a cell phone "dead zone" (although AT&T assures us the coverage is "good"), I'm more sympathetic with heroines whose cell phones go on the fritz.

  • Meg Benjamin

    Karen–yes, ma'am, absolutely! Some day I'm going to do a blog post on that, i.e., why modern heroines just don't work in nineteenth century settings (or anyway, they don't work for me!).

  • Lori

    For me, it's the heroine who's been competent and independent all the way through up until the climax (no pun intended) and then acts completely out of character.

    I will accept TSTL behavior from one author only and that is Shannon McKenna because she is my crack. TSTL heroines, too alpha over the top heroes, unbelievable storylines. It all works for her somehow. Everytime.

  • Llehn

    I think what I like about a heroine is someone whom I can relate to – not too super smart or too dumb, not overtly good looking, someone who is always trying to make the best of things in the worse of circumstances.
    Those people always have my respect.

  • HockeyVampiress

    Yes Dead zones are all over… my family is camping up in northern Ontario right now… the campground is a dead zone but a few miles into town reception is fine. I too get erpt when it is just plain dumb for the heroine to go into something you know is a setup. Even those who have a job that involves danger are sometimes pushed into stupid things. I love a strong woman who can not only use her feminine wiles to get the man but use her head for something other than a hatrack and hairspray depository.
    Leah… spanner…. LOL reminds me of a Brit cartoon my kids used to watch….LOL

  • Anonymous

    Yep, those dead zones for cell phones are a legit excuse for not being able to use one. I've seen that on TV shows a lot….or just when someone needs to call for help…the battery goes out…lol!!

    Anyways, I think we are all a bit more savvy and clever these days and I can only tolerate a stupid heroine if she's been stupid through the whole book, but then I probably won't like her very much and would be wondering what the heck the hunky, handsome, smart hero is doing with her.

    Give me the strong, sassy woman, who if she does find herself in a sticky predicament…hehe!! Has a few good ideas up her sleeve.

    And I agree, I LOVE those Samhain warnings…I always look for them.

    Valerie
    valb0302@yahoo.com

  • Sue

    I;ll definitely have to check out the Texas set story. I love that area. and ditto to everyone on the cell phones. Although, as someone who travels alone a lot to out of the way places, it's not usual for me to lose coverage or to end up with a dead battery depending on how long I've been away from the truck.

  • Jane

    It's easy to get annoyed with a heroine who is reckless. I can understand putting herself in danger if she was rushing to save someone or something.

  • Marley Delarose, Author

    I like Keri Arthur's Riley Jensen, a smart, take charge heroine. Just discovered her.

    Colorado would be one of the best place in the world to live after Scotland… My hair never frizzes in CO like it does in Louisiana.

  • Minna

    One of my pet peeves is stupid heroines who don't use the cell phone -or any phone when they should, who rush into obviously dangerous situations, when any sane person would run the other way etc.

  • Meg Benjamin

    Ah, yes, Colorado does have very dry air– I left my frizz behind in Texas. On the other hand, during the colder months you get static electricity shock every time you turn around, sometimes literally. Discovered last spring that you need to touch metal with a knuckle when getting out of a car, or else you run the risk of getting shocked on the butt as you brush past. Ouch! And on that note, sometimes I'll buy a heroine walking into danger if she's suitably scared about doing it. The heroine on "In Plain Sight" does this sometimes.

  • SFWriterMasha

    The TSTL heroine (well, character) belongs in the first fifteen minutes of a campy horror flick. That way the audience can find out where the danger is and how people get horribly killed.

    But then, that's also why I don't watch horror flicks. At least not the campy ones.

    Weaker, smaller, less skilled and less experienced doesn't mean stupider. Who doesn't like to watch David take on Goliath?

  • Leah Braemel

    Marley & Meg – LOL about the static electricity. We get it from about October through … April? up here in Canada too. And some of those shocks really hurt!

  • tigger9

    i'm like you meg where i hate for the heroin to be stupid and not use any common sense. I guess what makes me buy in is when the heroine doesn't know that doing something is putting her in danger. i'll buy heroines walking into danger if they have a good reason and have a chance of fighting or the right skills to do it on their own. I'll buy into, towards the beginning of the book, a heroine overwhelmed and thinking she needs to just leave she can't believe what she was told. (usually paranormals though)
    I haven't run into any really stupid heroines lately.
    lexeetoste at sbcglobal.net

  • lindseye

    The stories with TSTL heroines seem straight forward but the news is unfortunately full of women being injured or killed in situations that looking in one would think they would avoid. In real life people are distracted or just too unwilling to believe the worst of someone. So while I get frustrated with the TSTL heroine I think it is more true to life than most people want to contemplate when they are looking for escapist fiction.

  • Leah Braemel

    Lindseye, you know you're probably right. (Yes, I've opened the door and gone into my backyard when I heard what I thought was someone screaming — turned out it was a racooon. But then my hubby was with me and I had the cordless phone in my hand.) But I think back on some of the stuff I did when I was much younger and living alone … yeah, but then maybe I am TSTL, LOL.

  • flchen1

    I'm OK with a heroine in jeopardy who recognizes the danger and *does NOT* feel compelled to run out and try to save the hero or prove her independence by running full tilt unarmed into a clearly dangerous situation. If that means she needs a little rescuing, so be it! That's infinitely preferable to a heroine who is so intent to showing she can take care of herself that she ignores common sense and shows instead that she doesn't have the brains to use the phone God gave her 😉 (Assuming she's not in a dead zone!)

  • RKCharron

    Hi 😉
    What a terrific blog post!
    Thanks.
    Some of the best heroine-in-danger books that make the situation and danger realistic (in terms of the story of course) is the Mercy Thomspon series by Patricia Briggs.
    And of course, Robert Jordan's Eye of the World series.
    And George R.R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series where he actually *SPOILER* killed one of the heroines.
    🙂
    Love from Canada
    twitter.com/RKCharron
    xoxo

  • etirv

    Elizabeth Hoyt always has believable heroines in jeopardy. Their stories just suck me in. My favorite is Helen Fitzwilliam in To Beguile a Beast.

    delilah0180(at)yahoo(dot)com

  • Cybercliper

    I can believe a heroine in jeopardy if its self-serving, self-sacrificing, or self-destructive to the heroine. You can do a lot with those three.

  • Nancy G

    I hate those heroines who have the "I know what can go wrong with this" discussion in her head, and then STILL goes ahead with it anyway. I have actually put books down and read something else a few times because of this. For goodness sake, woman, if you know what could go wrong, it probably will go wrong. Grow a brain, please.

  • Viv Arend

    Got to mention the cell phone thing again. I don't have one. Well, had one for 3 months when I lived in a camper and it WAS our phone. 🙂

    Up north there are huge areas of dead zones, and I just never got into the mindset. I have to remember that for the rest of the world a cell phone is usually attached to their hip.

    I find shaking an enormous bear bell works well…

    But TSTL heroines? I've seen then and now avoid the publisher/author etc.

    **shudders**

  • Meg Benjamin

    Wow, y'all! Just got back from a day out with DH and saw all the great comments. What an interesting bunch of people dropped by today. Thanks!

  • Natasha A.

    I gotta go with Joy. I watch certain movies or read certain books, and I just shake my head. I can't get over how they get themselves into the situations they do. I am analytical and cautious. I don't get it. WTH are you doing running UP the stairs?????

  • Kytaira

    OK, hopefully this doesn't wind up a duplicate post since I've tried twice to post it.

    I can accept alot of bad and TSTL behavior out of the heroine. To be honest, I really don't connect with the heroines and tend to almost ignore them. I'm all about the hero!!

    BTW – I don't exactly have a cell phone. We have two pay as you go cell phones that the kids take only when going out with friends or we take on a trip, or when the hubby goes fishing. Otherwise they sit at home. I don't carry one with me on a daily basis. And since we are both prior military and moved around alot, we have lost contact with a large number of friends. Does all that make me an unbelievable heroine?

    A recent strong heroine that I read was Phillipa Elliot in Susan Sizemore's Primal Heat. She's a former cop and military reservist that left both after being shot in the line of duty. She's strong physically and mentally.

    lynda98662 at yahoo dot com

  • iokijo

    agree great posts..
    I'm going to throw out another reason for no cell phone.. money. While it might seem everyone has a cell phone, that's not how it is. Yes a lot of people consider them high on the priority list, but there are still a lot of us out there that have to pick paying the light bill over a cell phone… good reason for the character not to have one. As well as some that I know people have done.. dropped it, got it wet, forgot to plug it in the night before, cat chewed the charger cord, forgot to pay the bill.. there are actually a lot of them.
    As for going into danger.. I think one thing it depends on is the age of the character..in real life the younger the person the more the mind set of "bad things won't happen to me". Plus it seems the trend now is that the majority of women characters are kick ass, I can handle anything… sorry that's not realistic to begin with. As someone who worked in a dangerous profession most people would be considered wimps in today's books.. so I really don't expect logical actions from most of the characters. I know too many people who have done stuff that puts them in the TSTL category; I did too many of those TSTL things when I was younger for it to bother me too much from a character in a book.
    ioki_jo at hotmail dot com

  • Karin

    Very good topic. I definitely have issues when a smart heroine suddenly turns stupid just so she can place herself in jeopardy. There definitly needs to be a good explanation for how something like can occur for me to buy into it. A good example of that is in Romancing the Stones by Catherine Berlin where both the hero and heroine were trying to lay a trap for the villain and thought they had covered all the bases. Turns out they didn't, but it wasn't a situation where the heroine had suddenly turned stupid, which is why it worked.

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  • L M Gonzalez

    Great topic Meg and Leah.

    I can't say I've run across TSTL or idiot heroines lately. I do know what you mean about modern heroines in historicals. That does drive me up the wall. 🙂

    Lupe

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