Guest Post: Author Alexandra Lambert Brenton Talks Humor in Romance

Today at Romantic Book Affairs, we’d like to welcome Alexandra Lambert Brenton—author of Tide’s Ebb. Let’s give her a round of cyber applause and a warm welcome. Take it away, Miz Lambert Brenton!
Marilyn Monroe said, “If you can make a girl laugh, you can make her do anything.” (At least, I think Marilyn Monroe said that. I just read a quote from Abraham Lincoln that suggested that “The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that you never know if they are genuine.”)
“Making the girl laugh” is key to many romance novels. Humor builds the romance and takes the edge off of the most alpha of heroes. I think this is why romance writers create the funniest dialogue. Think about Dain and Jessica in the classic Lord of Scoundrels. Dain is positively vile (he even frequents brothels—and it’s not for the conversation). Jessica is so smart, pretty and perfect that you wonder how she’ll ever end up with this jerk.
But Dain is not just a monster, he’s also a master of the one-liner:
Jessica: “You great drunken jackass!”
Dain: “I did not give you leave to use my Christian name.”
Jessica’s dry wit makes her more than his match:
“I have the imbecilic idea that you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. Except for your coiffure,” he added, with a disgusted glance at the coils and plumes and pearls. “That is ghastly.”
She scowled. “Your romantic effusions leave me breathless.”
Sometimes, the humor is more situational, but it still pushes the couple together, like in this great scene from On Dublin Street:
“Babe,” he gave me a look that suggested I was missing the obvious, “I never kid about blowjobs.”
Our waiter had descended on us just in time to hear those romantic words and his rosy cheeks betrayed his embarrassment. “Ready to order?” he croaked out.“Yes,” Braden answered, obviously uncaring he’d been overhead. “I’ll have the steak, medium-rare.” He smiled softly at me. “What are you having?” He took a swig of water. He thought he was so cool and funny.
“Apparently sausage.”
How do you top that?
But humor in romance is particularly tricky. Sometimes, we read romance for deeply personal reasons. Look at the thread-titles in Amazon’s romance forum—it’s full of very specific requests. Sometimes, we’re looking for a romance to work through serious real-world problems (threads requesting “The heroine is hurt/raped/assaulted by the villain and the hero goes after him.”)Sometimes, it’s clearly wish-fulfillment (“Books with a big guy shy about his size?”) or crazy-sexy fantasy (“Any books where H and h like to engage in public sex while dunking for apples at the Texas State Fair?”) (ok, I made that last one up.) It’s just not as personal in other genres (On the fantasy forum, we don’t see posts like “Any good books with 2D/1E ménage?” (i.e., two dwarves, one elf…)
So what happens when you combine a genre that is intensely personal, with humor, which is always personal?
You get books that some people will love—and others just won’t get at all. Take a wonderful book like Seduction and Snacks. Gavin is a foul-mouthed four-year old who says hilarious shit:
“Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do, watcha gonna do when they cut your wiener,” Gavin sang as he pointed his gun at random objects.
“Wow, cops have gotten pretty hardcore lately” Carter muttered.”
But for some readers, this isn’t funny—it’s proof that Gavin’s mom, Claire, is a terrible parent.
I’m sure Tara Sivec doesn’t actually believe in teaching four-years to say “HOLY SHIT”, but it doesn’t change the fact that these readers legitimately aren’t feeling the story. Why though?
It comes down to is absurdity—some of us like it, and some of us don’t.
Take this discussion in Seduction and Snacks between secondary characters, Drew and Jenny:
Drew came up behind Jenny then and wrapped his arms around her waist, leaning down to kiss her cheek.
“Excuse me, I was wondering if you have someplace I could put my boner?”
Jenny giggled and Liz gagged.
It’s an awful line! Some of us giggle, and some of us definitely gag. But you’re supposed to laugh because it’s absurd that someone would say such an awful line.
I wish there was more absurdity and satire in romance right now (at least on purpose, because there are plenty of absurd plotlines… How many recent books are about billionaires with fathers who write completely ridiculous last wills and testaments that require the billionaire to marry within a year, or lose everything? Try enforcing that shit in court…)
Think about the gulf between Regency romances and Jane Austen. After reading Regency romance after Regency romance, it’s easy to forget that Pride and Prejudice wasn’t a love letter to the Regency—it was a satire of it. Pride and Prejudice’s immortal opening line –“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” is a laugh-out-loud smackdown of Regency values.
When I wrote Tide’s Ebb, I wanted to inject some satire and absurdity into contemporary romance. What would happen if you acted like a romance heroine in real life? What kind of contemporary romance values need a gentle poke in the ribs? For example…
“it was good for every hot woman to have a slutty best friend because being able to judge your friends is one of the greatest gifts of friendship.”
So I tried to write Jane Austen meets Tom Wolfe (but who am I kidding? The result is probably more Stephanie Meyer-meets-Tosh.0…)

Tide's Ebb
by Alexandra Brenton
Sassy Manhattan lawyer Marianna Holt has the perfect life and the ideal fiancé. But a shocking bedroom revelation shatters her limits, her confidence, and her world. When her law firm sends her out of New York for the first time, Marianna feels lost at sea.
Life-long Rhode Islander Captain Lawrence doesn't need high-maintenance city women or a last name. When the gruff sea captain saves Marianna from drowning, he knows he's in over his head. The head-strong odd couple shares only two things: a deep dislike of each other, and an undeniable attraction. Sparks fly, but will they catch fire at sea? Tide's Ebb is based on a true story.

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1 comment:

  1. Oh, now I want to find some books with 2D/1E ménages... :) Very funny and informative post! I never considered the very personal aspect of both romance and humor. Now I can see how it would definitely polarize people.


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