Guest Author: Rose Lerner

Posted March 11, 2010 by Holly in Giveaways, Promotions | 27 Comments

Today I’m thrilled to announce regency author Rose Lerner is with us to celebrate her debut release, In For A Penny. Please join us welcoming her.

The hero and heroine of my book In for a Penny love Le Morte d’Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory’s 1485 book collecting together various pieces of Arthurian poems and legend.

Le Morte d’Arthur is the major source for most of our modern retellings of the Arthurian legends, but at one point it was out of print for almost two hundred years. The Arthur legends weren’t all that popular in Britain until the Romantic craze for all things medieval brought them back into fashion (and made Arthur a popular name for English boys again). Just a few years before my story starts, in 1816, the book was reprinted for the first time since 1634.

I fell in love with Arthurian legend in middle school and read about a dozen retellings, from Idylls of the King to The Mists of Avalon. But Malory always seemed long and dense to me, so I didn’t read it until a few years ago when I decided it would play a small part in In for a Penny. What immediately struck me about it was the complete lack of judgment in the storytelling. Malory simply relates “facts” without feeling the need to comment on them.

This was especially striking with the women. In this excerpt, the Damosel of the Lake has just done a spell to get the guy she had her eye on to stop being in love with another woman:

‘Sir Knight Pelleas,’ said the Damosel of the Lake, ‘take your horse and come forth with me out of this country, and ye shall love a lady that shall love you.’ ‘I will well,’ said Sir Pelleas, ‘for this Lady Ettard hath done me great despite and shame,’ and there he told her the beginning and ending, and how he had purposed never to have arisen till that he had been dead. ‘And now such grace God hath sent me, that I hate her as much as ever I loved her, thanked be our Lord Jesus!’ ‘Thank me,’ said the Damosel of the Lake.

And that’s that! There’s a strong strain of what I’ll call “judginess” (it’s a technical term!) in British literature. As far as I can tell, it got more pronounced throughout the eighteenth century and reached its peak in the Victorian era (*cough*Dickens*cough*), and has been relaxing only gradually since the turn of the twentieth century. Virginia Woolf described it best when she said about Dostoevsky, “There is none of that precise division between good and bad to which we are used.” The British reader is really, really used to a precise division between good and bad. You always know exactly which characters you’re supposed to approve of and exactly how much. Large portions of most major novels are devoted to explaining that, in detail. And the rules are very strict, especially for female characters.

That kind of story makes me uncomfortable. I don’t mind a book having villains, obviously–In for a Penny has several. But I don’t like stories where I feel like the author is punishing characters for being the wrong kind of person, or rewarding them for being the right kind. I don’t like stories that feel punitive. I’ve never felt particularly good or triumphant about seeing mean people get their comeuppance. When I read the Grimm version of the Cinderella legend and discovered that the stepsisters had to cut off their toes and then have their eyes pecked out by birds, I was horrified.

t’s not because I’m just a generous, empathetic person or anything. It’s because I always had a sneaking suspicion I was the wrong kind of person, that I was a wicked stepsister and not a Cinderella. Punishment being meted out made me feel uneasy and unsafe. The standards for being a Cinderella are pretty high, and girls who are angry or lazy, or even who just want things for themselves and not for other people or aren’t pretty enough or talk too loudly, don’t qualify.

When I was a kid and reading tons of classic English novels, I loved the books but I was pretty sure they didn’t love me back. They made me happy, but they also made me feel guilty and angry and sad. And that was me, growing up in late twentieth-century America with a feminist mom. To my nouveau riche, Jane-Austen-fan heroine, used to constantly policing her own behavior for sense and ladylikeness and modesty, I can’t begin to imagine how intensely refreshing Malory would have seemed.

Do you like stories where evil is punished? Did you ever read a story where you felt sorry for the villain? Tell me about it in the comments! I’ll be giving away a signed copy of In for a Penny to one commenter, chosen at random. Thanks for having me!


Thanks Rose! What an interesting question. I guess I hadn’t thought about it like that before. I can’t wait to see what everyone else has to say.

You heard the lady. Leave a comment answering her questions above and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of In For A Penny.

Rose is holding another contest at her website. She’s giving away another signed copy of In For A Penny, plus one package of 10 of her favorite Regency books (there are some awesome books on her list, too)! Click here for details.

In For A Penny is available from Leisure Books. You can buy it here.

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27 responses to “Guest Author: Rose Lerner

  1. I think that depends on how evil the bad guy is. When he has done something really really bad, like rape or murder, then it’s just kind of fair and satisfying to see him punished (realized I’m assuming it’s a man, there are villainous women as well, though ;-)). But sometimes there are villains where I’ve got the feeling they deserve to get a second chance, e.g.when the author shows us he does have a soft spot or cares about something that really matters. I think that happens most often when they did something bad out of pure desperation. Heroes like St.Vincent from Lisa Kleypas come to mind, well,he did get his second chance.*g*

    Relly liked the excerpts of your book and hope to read it soon!

  2. I really love it when villains are given depth to the point where you can *almost* sympathize with them, but I do not like to see bad deeds go unpunished. Regardless of the motivations, if their ultimate goal or the execution of their actions is to hurt people, I like to see the good guys beat them down. I think if I ever read a story where the hero or heroine decided, “Let’s just leave him be and give him another chance,” I’d probably grumble about it. That said, I love it when the antagonist of a story is a surprise — hidden, twisty plots where good guys turn bad and bad guys turn out to be not so bad.

    So looking forward to reading In For A Penny!! 😀

  3. I do like when evil is punished, but I like when evil turns around and becomes good as well. I guess not all evil is forever? I’ve never read a story where I felt bad for the villian.

    Thanks for stopping by and for the contest. I look forward to reading your book.

  4. I love it when an author can make me sympathize with both sides. Probably most memorably, Guy Gavriel Kay did it for me in TIGANA. No one in that book is white or black. And you get it hammered home from all their perspectives so that any outcome is bittersweet at best. It’s a lovely reading experience.

    I’m an Arthurian junkie as well! Loved your post and thank you for the giveaway.

  5. Anonymous

    Forgot to answer question – yes when evil is punished, it is great; sometimes evil turns good. That is nice.

  6. Anonymous

    Revenge is sweet. LOL, so yes it is great when evil is punished.

    And it is nice when an author turns around a bad character and makes him good.

    Rosie G.

  7. I’m not saying I want evil to go unpunished!…exactly. I guess I would say I believe strongly in justice, but not revenge. I want good to win, but I don’t want good to shove evil’s face in the dirt and then laugh, if that makes sense. For example, I can think of a lot of movies with a “mean girl” villain who is punished at the end by an extended scene where she’s laughed at by a large group of people, treated like dirt by the protagonists, and/or socially ostracized, and it ALWAYS makes me feel icky and uncomfortable. Cruel Intentions is a good example. I want Katherine to learn the error of her ways, but I don’t enjoy seeing her humiliated, and it seems especially unfair because she isn’t any worse than Sebastian and he gets to be redeemed.

    Gwen and Rosie and Helen–I also love stories where it’s not black and white, and bad people can turn out to be good, or can be redeemed, and where the good guys have to face harsh truths about themselves.

    Angiegirl–I will have to check out TIGANA, it sounds awesome!

  8. J

    The reason I get the icky feeling about those scenes line the one at the end of Cruel Intentions is that the heroes are supposed to be better than the villains. There’s a scene in Glee that captures this, where the popular girl is about to become much less popular because it’s about to get out that she’s pregnant, and the glee club is the first to learn. Her rival comes and offers friendship. She replies with the observation that she would have made her rival’s life miserable if their situations were reversed. Her rival replies that she knows, but the popular girls will need the club, and they will be there for her. And that’s what I look for, heroes that are human, but decide to be better than their villains.
    One book that jumped to mind in answer to your question was And Then There Were None, but the villains and the heroes are so mixed up there, it’s hard to sort out.
    Can’t wait to read In For A Penny!

  9. Anonymous

    I prefer villains that have a human side and I have definitely sympathized with some, though I’m having trouble thinking of examples off the top of my head, of course. Gaudy Night is coming to mind — the villain is ultimately so pathetic, it’s hard not to feel sympathy. — willaful

  10. Anonymous

    I like my villains to be more nuanced rather than pure evil – for example, I really dislike stories with serial killers in them. Because of that, sometimes I do believe it is possible for the reader to feel sorry for the villain and for the villain to be redeemed by the end of the story although I can’t think of any examples offhand.

    However, if the villain is pure evil, I love it when he/she is properly punished.

    This book sounds great. I’ve added it to my wishlist and will look forward to reading it. I love Regencies where either the hero or heroine is not an “aristocrat”. –

  11. Chelsea B

    Okay. So. I mightpossiblymaybesometimes root for the villain. Hey! I said SOMETIMES! You know, when he’s reedemable and everything. But if he’s not, well….Bring on the punishment! 😉
    I think your book sounds really good! I can’t wait to read it!

  12. Hi Rose, definitely want to read your book.

    I see your point about justice, and that’s fine by me for some villians, but then there are others who do much worse things and do deserve punishment.

  13. When the villian is completely evil then I definitely want him/her punished but sometimes the villian’s actions have a reason and then I want them to get a second chance.

  14. This is a tough question. I believe in forgiveness and compassion. I don’t need evil to be punished, per se, but I do need for it not to profit. It’s easy to feel sorry for anyone who has faced awful things in life (as villains frequently have.) But I think what makes someone a villain is how they choose to deal with their situation. That’s a choice. Certainly, evil behavior is a very poor choice, indeed, and it should carry consequences.

    Your book sounds like a wonderful story and I’m looking forward to reading it. Thanks for visiting.

  15. J–“The reason I get the icky feeling about those scenes line the one at the end of Cruel Intentions is that the heroes are supposed to be better than the villains.” Yes, this exactly! And this–“heroes that are human, but decide to be better than their villains.” That reminds me of a great Star Trek episode where someone tells Captain Kirk that humans are killers and he should just accept it, and he says “Maybe we’re killers. But we can still say ‘I’m not going to kill–today.'” Okay maybe everything reminds me of a great Star Trek episode, but that really resonated with me, that idea that we can choose how we act, even if our feelings and impulses might be beyond our control.

    Willaful–I agree with you about Gaudy Night! That poor person. (Don’t want to spoil anyone, heh.)

    Jen–I’m not a fan of serial killer stories either. I also tend to be upset by suspense stories where the “villain” turns out to be mentally ill–so often these characters are played as “evil” or somehow horrifying, and I can’t help just feeling sorry for them. And yes, while I do love lord and lady stories, it’s nice to read something different, or at least something that’s aware that the hero and heroine don’t represent 97% of the population. I remember going to an exhibit of historical underwear as a kid and being horrified by the Victorian corset, and my mom telling me, “Don’t worry, no one in your family ever wore one of those, we were too poor.”

    Chelsea–I will admit it straight up, I frequently root for villains. Sometimes it’s because I don’t like the heroes, though. I hope you like the book!


    Maureen–I guess if a villain is completely evil, it almost feels like cheating to me, as a writer. Like it’s making it too easy for your heroes to be superior, or something. Surely no one is COMPLETELY evil–unless it’s a fantasy novel, of course, and the villain is a demon or dark wizard or something, but even then pure evil often bores me unless it’s really well done.

    LSUReader–I completely agree! Everyone is accountable for their actions, no matter how sad their life is. Books where the villain is presented as evil because of their *choices* work much better for me than stories where the villain is presented as evil because they have the wrong sort of personality. I’m having trouble explaining the difference, but I know it when I see it–and something I often enjoy is when the hero and the villain are uncomfortably unlike in some ways, but they made different choices, and that’s what separates them. (I will admit to an embarrassing fondness for movies where the villain makes a “We’re not so different, you and I…in another life, we might have been friends” speech. I ALWAYS love it. Especially when the hero says something snarky in response. I think there was a Dresden Files book where Harry said “Yeah, we could have worn matching outfits.” I laughed REALLY hard.)

    Okay wow that comment got long. Sorry!

  16. FD

    Interesting question. It sort of depends upon genre; in a murder mystery – which Lois McMaster Bujold suggests could also be called a fantasy of justice – the villain must at the very least be caught, even if retribution is left to the justice system.
    In a romance, the central theme isn’t about justice, it’s about falling in love etcetera. So the villain doesn’t need to be caught or punished necessarily; it would be enough for him or her to not threaten the happy-ever-after. In a way I prefer that – in real life justice doesn’t always prevail, the wicked evade retribution and there are frequently loose ends. It makes the HEA seem more solid somehow if it’s not all puppies and kittens and ribbons and rainbows.

    I’m not keen on the punishment thing really, particularly in romance – far too often the villain’s sins are more along the lines of being in competition with the heroine / and or having different means& mores to her. I utterly LOATHE the ‘evil other woman’ trope.

    Sympathetic villains? Well, The Duke of Andover springs to mind. And as suggested above, the villain in Gaudy Night – in several of the Wimsey books actually. I like me a rounded villain – ‘because he’s the eeeeevilest evil that ever eviled his way’ motivation really doesn’t work for me.

  17. I’m not keen on the punishment thing really, particularly in romance – far too often the villain’s sins are more along the lines of being in competition with the heroine / and or having different means& mores to her. I utterly LOATHE the ‘evil other woman’ trope.

    Yes! This is exactly the kind of thing I mean. Sidenote, I’ve had a crush on the Duke of Andover since I was about 13. Oh, Tracy “Devil” Belmanoir and his Gothy fashion choices, how so awesome?

  18. shalon

    without evil there can not be good. so sometimes i do find myself rootin for the “bad guy” but i always love the hero too..

  19. J

    Rose, everything reminds you of a great Star Trek episode because they’ve done a great episode about everything! Star Trek is wonderful!

  20. Interesting that you should also mention Jane Austen, because she never seemed to dole out punishments for the characters. Not much black as night evil behaviour there, but punishable stuff to many readers. Alas, the current crop of sequel writers these days seem to enjoy doing that to Robert & Lucy Ferrars, Caroline Bingley and Mr. Collins.

  21. J–So true! I love Star Trek a LOT.

    veedham–It’s funny you should say that, because while Jane Austen is certainly much more subtle and restrained in her punishments (very few characters die or go to jail or are laughed at in extended scenes of humiliation), she’s one of the first examples that comes to my mind for judgemental authors. Her treatment of Marianne Dashwood in particular has always unsettled me, which is actually something I talked about in another blog tour post, here:

    It’s interesting that modern sequel writers would want to take that farther, isn’t it? I remember reading one, for example, in which Mary Crawford dies of cancer or syphilis or something.

  22. OMG Tigana!!! My favorite book ever, maybe. Certainly Guy Gavriel Kay is one of my very favorite authors, and part of the reason is that he does character motivation so well. “Bad” characters have their reasons for their actions, and sometimes the motives of “good” characters are no better (nationalism, family loyalty, love). I love when authors can make that work.

    Certain kinds of “bad” behavior actually cross the line into evil for me as a reader, and those people I need to see punished. Or reformed, if that’s possible. Child molesters are right at the top of that list; there have been a couple of romance novels where I was unhappy at the end because I didn’t think justice was served in that regard. I can’t be satisfied with a “happy ending” if one of the characters was molested as a child and the molester isn’t either dead or adequately punished.

    I agree, Rose, that as a reader I want justice, not revenge. Indeed, giving up revenge for love is a plot that sometimes works very well in romance, although not always (getting revenge on someone by ruining his female relative almost always ticks me off).

    On another note, I am also a total Arthur geek. Along with other myths; I just love the various reworkings of mythic archetypes. It’s always good to find a kindred spirit.

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