Friday, September 10, 2010

POT BOILERS AND PLOT BUNNIES

I apologize if I just made you think of Glenn Close and boiled rabbits. I’m not talking about hot water and cottontails. I’m talking about a genre of Old Skool romances.

If you’re of a certain age – i.e., in your 40s or older – you may have read books by Shirley Conroy, Judith Krantz or Rosemary Rodgers[1]. These ladies wrote great big glitzy sprawling over the top and totally awesome books in the 70s and 80s. The books were romances, but often so much more than that. I think they were what used to be called pot boilers or romans à clef[2]; they were definitely melodramatic. They could trace their lineage (at least to my mind – I bet someone’s already written on the subject) back to Peyton Place in the 50s or Valley of the Dolls in the 60s.

It’s been years (and years) since I read Lace by Shirley Conroy, but I’ll never forget the line “Which one of you bitches is my mother?” Or the four schoolgirls’ lifelong oath of fealty to one another: “Through thick and thin, and sick and sin.” And OMG, when you finally discover who the father is…

It’s been 25 years since I read Judith Krantz’s Scruples but I still remember Billie and Vito and Spider the sexy photographer and Valentine the sexy French couturier. I remember Princess Daisy and her evil/pathetic half-brother Ram and the farting in bed scene (which I talked about here.) I never read Mistral’s Daughter because the idea of a old guy becoming lovers with his late lover’s granddaughter is just creepy. I didn’t read I’ll Take Manhattan, either, but Valerie Bertinelli was fabulous in the made-for-TV movie. (In the made-for-TV movie of Scruples, Lindsay Wagner played Billie and Barry Bostwick (yes! Barry Bostwick! Of Rocky Horror and Spin City!) played Spider. I don’t remember who played Princess Daisy, but Robert Urich played the American hero.)[3]

This was also, incidentally, the heyday of the big sprawling Old Skool historical romances, the ones that spanned oceans and continents and years. These books didn’t get hung up on historical verisimilitude or believable plots – or believable characters, for that matter. Nothing was too big or too much or too long.

Whatever the literary equivalent of scenery chewing is, it’s these books.[4] They were, as we say in Texas, bigger ‘n Dallas. Bigger ‘n Dynasty, even.

There’s something quintessentially 70s and 80s about the glitz and panorama of those books. I’m not sure their kind are written today. I can’t think of modern equivalents.[5] I guess Jackie Collins and Danielle Steele still write something like it, but not exactly. I know they still place on the bestsellers. Judith Krantz got a $5 million advance for Princess Daisy. Steele and Collins probably make that and more from every book they publish, but I don’t know if they get those kinds of advances.

What’s all this got to do with plot bunnies? Well, lately a plot bunny has been bugging the heck out of me, distracting me from my methodical plotting of a Regency and the next novella in the world of Werewolves in Love.

Oh – what’s a plot bunny? It’s an idea that pops up unbidden and unrelated to anything you’re presently working on. Sometimes a plot bunny is the vaguest outline of a hint of an idea – a boy discovers one day that his family is not who he thought they were, or a normal American housewife is living a double life.

And sometimes a plot bunny comes fully formed and ready to lead you down a whole bunch of rabbit trials.

Like…a girl from an East Texas trailer park grows up to become a supermodel, and her best friend is a fellow supermodel, a gorgeous African American woman from New Orleans, and they divide their time between New York and London, and the best friend is in love with an English ________________[6] and the heroine, the East Texas trailer park girl, is also close friends with a gay English ________________ and an extraordinarily heterosexual American ________________, and the gay English ________________’s cousin is a tall, blond, ass kicking English _______________ who’s next in line for a ____________ he doesn’t want but in the meantime he’s _________________, and the first time they do it, it’s on a yacht in Monaco because honestly, when a supermodel and a ______________ make love for the first time, it needs to be on a yacht in Monaco. I mean, you can’t do a story like this without Monaco.

(I’ve always had a thing for Monaco.)

But what do I call this? Glitter, Glamour, Diamonds – all those kinds of titles have been used a million times. “Without Love It Ain’t Much” would be awesome but I don’t want to pay royalties to Sheila E.

Huh? What’s that? Oh – you’re right. That’s one heck of a plot bunny.

Gotta go. I think there’s gonna be an orgy in an English country house…



[1] Rosemary Rogers deserves her own post, actually. Along with Kathleen Woodiwiss, she’s considered one of the godmothers of modern romance. Raise your hand if your earliest knowledge of “real” sex came from Rogers and/or Woodiwiss. Yep, me too.

[2] I don’t know what the definition of a roman à clef is, actually; I’m going to look it up as soon as I finish this post.

[3] Honestly, the stuff that sticks in my head…

[4] And that is NOT a criticism.

[5] Can you? If so, leave them in the comments.

[6] It’s so awesome I can’t let anyone know about it.

6 comments:

Erin Nicholas said...

You are so funny, Kinsey! Wow, what a post! I haven't read much of the glitzy, over-the-top romances but now kind-a want to find some!! And I've never used the term plot-bunny but I love it! Great definition! :)
Erin

PG Forte said...

Roman a clef: a thinly disguised (and usually completely transparent to those "in the know") supposedly fictional account of something that really happened. ie a story where only the names are changed and NOT to protect the innocent.

As for big, sprawling, more-than-a-romance books, can I mention my Oberon series? Which, coincidentally, were actually likened to Peyton Place by at least one reviewer: http://www.euroreviews.be/bookdetails.php?book_id=757

Kinsey Holley said...

Peege: How come I didn't know about the Oberon series? Off I go to procrastinate...

PG Forte said...

Kinsey--believe me you're not alone. Many, many people don't know about that series (dare I add "yet" to this sentence?). LOL!

In retrospect, I'm not sure giving them their own website (http://www.oberoncalifornia.us) was the best marketing decision I ever made.

Oh, well, live and learn, I guess.

Kelly Jamieson said...

Oh I read all those books! And loved them! Even Valley of the Dolls - so shocking in its day. (Maybe dating myself here). I still have Judith Krantzish ideas ( er plot bunnies) for books.

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