Ask a Wench about Tech!

Are you a high tech or low tech person?  Do  you enjoy all the bells and whistles of modern technology—or does it make you run for the hills?

Mary Jo here: Because the Word Wench site is transitioning to a new platform and there has been much flailing and some howling behind the scenes, tech has been much on Wenchly minds so this seemed like a good time to talk about it.

Technology, specifically the personal computer, literally changed my life.  I bought a Leading Edge, an early PC, to do copywriting and billing for my small freelance design business.  The Mayhem Consultant showed me how to use word processing–and very shortly after I realized that here was a great tool for writing down the stories in my head because when you fix the typos, they stay fixed!!! Three months later I was offered a contract for Signet Regencies and the rest is history.

Clearly I owe tech a lot, but that said, I’m a tech minimalist.  I love communicating with friends all over the world, my desk top computer is set up just the way I like it and I must admit that I like my iPhone for various reasons, including the ability to take quick pictures, such as this one of Riley the Wrecker and do of his Egyptian pals.

But I loathe upgrades, which usually make things worse, not better.  I have to be dragged, hissing and snapping, into new tech.  I have software that is a couple of decades out of date because I don’t want to waste time and brain space learning something new that I’ll probably like less.  Put me on the island with the Tech Dinos!

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Ask A Wench —about storytelling

Anne here, and today the wenches are responding to the question: Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

Little engine

Pat said:  In my case, I must accept that I was simply born with a love of books and writing. I can’t even say it’s in the genes because from what little I know of my family, my Great-Aunt Norma was the only one who wrote. She was a librarian and vanity-published a book of poems. She might possibly be the reason I love books, although that’s hard to say. For birthdays and holidays, she would sometimes send books the library didn’t want, even though they were inevitably much too old for a toddler who couldn’t read. So I’d pore over the wonderful pictures of lands far away and attempt to puzzle out what the words might say. To this day, I remember being appalled at a news announcer talking about an i-land when it was so obvious that he was talking about land surrounded by a body of water which. . . is land.

I can also remember a really old book of children’s poetry that I marked up with crayons as I sounded out the words. I don’t know how old I was at that point, but I apparently knew my letters and sounds but didn’t know better than to draw on books.

I have no memory of anyone ever reading to me, although I do remember the stories in the Little Golden Books (remember Pokey Little Puppy and the Little Engine That Could?   and kicking up a fuss until a book got tossed into the cart. Someone must have read the books to me at some point so I could follow the story later, when I tried to read it on my own.

All I really know was that I devoured every book in the house, reading and re-reading since my selection was limited. We had no library. By the time I was in fourth grade, I was buying classical English literature from the Scholastic bookfair with my tiny allowance. And since I never had enough to read, I wrote my own, filling notebooks full of stories.

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Ask A Wench: Where Do You Write?

Pat here:

This month, the wenches are all under the gun and chose an easy fun question to discuss: “Do you find that the seasons or weather or time of day can affect your creativity or productivity? What is your favorite place to write?”

Nicola's gardenNicola: I’m writing this sitting in our living room with the view in the photo. This is a problem because on the rare fine days we have had this summer I would prefer to be sitting out there enjoying the garden. I generally find this time of year quite soporific, especially if it’s humid weather; by the early afternoon I want to take a nap which could go on for several hours! It doesn’t help that August in the UK is holiday season and so there’s a sense of putting your feet up and relaxing. Sadly this isn’t on the cards when, like me, you have a 1st September deadline!

I’ve always been a bit of a lark rather than an owl so I will start work early, flag a bit in the early afternoon but get a second wind between about 4 and 6pm. Most of the time I work in my study at the front of the house which, because it’s a Victorian cottage, has thick walls and is cool in the summer and warmer in the winter. Autumn always feels an energising season to me which is odd when the trees are losing their leaves, but I love the colours and the sense of a crisp chill in the air. I’m definitely not someone who responds well to the heat which I think may come from my North European genes!

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Ask A Wench – Who’s Grumpy?

640px-A_Grumpy_Lion_(70010871)“Why, Grumpy… You do care.” Snow White discovers Grumpy’s compassionate side.

Nicola here, introducing this month’s Ask A Wench and a topic that has caused much discussion among the Wenches lately. (Photograph: Wikimedia Commons: Alex Patel).

“Adjectives to describe heroes have changed over the years.  "Grumpy" seems to be popular these days.  What does this mean to you? Are there other such adjectives you've liked or hated for heroes?”

Christina here and I don’t actually mind grumpy heroes, if they have a reason for being that way. Recently, I’ve read quite a few contemporary stories and Grumpy cat - Gage Skidmore Wikimedia Commons the grumpy heroes usually tend to be billionaires, which seems a bit odd. I mean, if you have enough money to buy anything you could possibly want, what’s there to be grumpy about? Mostly they’re tired of being pursued for their money, rather than their personality, which is fair enough. But if they’re just grouchy in general, they need a good kick up the backside so hopefully the story has a heroine who can administer that. Or they have been working too hard and the heroine injects some much-needed fun into their lives. If anyone has to be grumpy, I’d prefer it to be Grumpy Cat! (Photograph: Wikimedia Commons: Gage Skidmore).

I’ve seen “loner” and “damaged” a lot to describe either a historical hero who’s scarred from a recent war, for example, or a present-day hero who might be some sort of modern war veteran. This, to me, implies psychological scars, which can be difficult to sort out, but a kind and caring heroine is all they need.

“Brooding” is another adjective used to describe heroes, and this one I don’t like. It just conjures up images of a scowling man who is taciturn and stand-offish. Those are not attractive traits. Reminds me of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, a hero I could never take to or understand.

If an author wants to hook me with their blurb, all they need to do is tell me their hero is a “bad boy” and I’m there. (OK, that's two words, but still …) Now that is something that will draw me in every time!

WarthogMary Jo:

Writing book blurbs is challenging because one wants to capture the essence of the plot, the characters, and the feel of the story.  Words must be chosen very carefully.  Characters can be brave, kind, resourceful, tormented, reserved, warm-hearted, witty, charming, fierce, stubborn, and many other possible describers.

But I have to say that describing a hero as "grumpy" is at the absolute bottom of my list of adjectives.  To me "grumpy" is someone who is bad-tempered for no good reason.  Probably immature, irredeemable, and certainly not good company. 

 To me, this picture of a warthog pretty much defines, "Grumpy."  Not at all romantic except perhaps to another warthog!

(Picture: Wolfgang-Hasselmann, 

Anne: I don't mind the term 'grumpy' for heroes. To me it's shorthand for a hero who's 'hard to crack' and that signals a fun journey to romance. I generally Dog grumpy assume a grumpy hero has been pursued for his money or position or used in some way, and as a result has become cynical and maybe even a little embittered about women. Whatever the reason, he doesn't believe in love. And isn't that a challenge we all enjoy?

But 'cynical' or 'embittered' or 'damaged' are not attractive-sounding adjectives to put in a book blurb, whereas grumpy sounds temporary enough that the hero can change, which is what we want. Perhaps he was even a romantic in his youth, but something happened to change him into the man he is now. So as a reader, I want the heroine to chip away at his hard, protective shell, and make him believe in love again. 

It's a description often used in contemporary romances, but there are plenty of historical romance heroes of the 'grumpy' sort. Quite a few of Amanda Quick's heroes could fit in this category — Seduction, Scandal, to name a couple. And maybe Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels. Possibly Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. Julie Garwood's Saving Grace?  Mary Balogh has a few. Even my hero in Gallant Waif was listed as a "hot grumpy hero" in this list on Goodreads. 

So, I take the 'grumpy' description with a pinch of salt and expect a 'hard to crack' hero and a fun romance. It doesn't always happen, but I'm certainly not turned off by the term.

(Picture: Charlesdeluvio, 

EagleAndrea: We Wenches had an hilarious ”pre-game” discussion on this question as we composed our answers, so I hope you are all having as much fun with this as we did! 

“Grumpy” is not a word that would leap to my mind when thinking of adjectives for a hero. However, I don’t see it as an irredeemable flaw. I'm thinking of Roy Kent in Ted Lasso, who came across as a total grump, snapping and snarling at everyone. But viewers were given backstory hints that his demeanor was a protection for his inner vulnerabilities. And I found it delightful to watch several of the people around him—including his 8-year-old niece—slowly wear down his defenses. That he ultimately learned to laugh at himself and not to be afraid of expressing his feelings made for a very feel-good story of friendship and love.

Yes, there are some people who can’t be redeemed.  Self-absorbed, selfish men who have no empathy or sense of humor will never be heroes in my book. But men who have been hurt before, or are struggling with inner self-doubts make wonderfully complex characters and it’s fun to create a heroine who can stare dwon thie scowls and draw them out of their shell.

(Photo credit: Gerda DaRif)

Pat: I can’t top a grumpy warthog or cranky cat, so I went to the source—Merriam Webster, which says “grumpy” means “moodily cross: surly.” Synonyms Gorilla are a bit harsher: choleric, cross, peevish, grouchy, cranky. . .” 

Right now, I’m reading a book where the heroine is “snarky,” which to me, is far worse than “grumpy.” One can be grumpy when getting up in the morning before coffee. Snarky takes work. But in this book, the heroine has very good reason to be “peevish and grouchy.” It’s a wonder she’s still alive and hasn’t killed anyone yet.

I will totally accept grumpy heroes or heroines—if they have good reason to be so. If they’re just perpetually irritable, I’ll probably quit the book. (actually, if they’re billionaires, I’ll probably quit the book because who cares about their problems? I never liked Prince Charming either) I want likable characters, even if they’re likable despite themselves.

So the hero who has been badly burned by those he loved or trusted has every right to snarl at a heroine who chirps about true love making the world go ‘round. If she keeps on chirping despite his attempts to put her off, he can even bark loudly. I’d sure the heck do so. Okay, maybe I like grumpy because I am grumpy!

(Image by TitusStaunton from Pixabay)

Susan: The word grumpy can be misleading and subjective. Grumpy can have different meanings for everyone (it kind of reminds me of Grumpy in Snow Grumpy hawk photo by otto park White, who turned out to have a heart of gold, aww!). This discussion of grumpy heroes touches on the basic question of what qualities make a story hero a heroic and appealing character. Is a "grumpy" hero a man who is reserved, cautious, protective–yet basically emotionally mature and emotionally attractive – or is he a guy who might be selfish, spoiled, petty, and irredeemable? Is the grumpy sort worth the heroine's time and energy (and worth the reader's time and energy as well)? This "grumpy" descriptor works two ways – he's either a negative or a positive character and influence in the story. This grouch is either heroic at his core, or he is further down the scale toward non-hero. 

A gruff hero has substance and heart, and can lead to transformation and great reward for hero and heroine in the story. But a grumpy guy who is just difficult and not all that fixable — maybe he's better off as a villain.   

Years back, Mary Jo Putney and author Eileen Charbonneau and I did a few workshops on a hero type we called the Warrior Poet — the WP. We also called him the M&M hero, the tough guy with the outer shell that's hard to crack, yet he's yummy and loving inside (we handed out M&Ms to our workshop attendees!). Today we might call this guy a little bit grumpy or gruff. Beneath that hardened outer emotional shell, the restrained emotion and invulnerable facade, the WP/M&M guy can be soft-hearted with a deep capacity to love. That has tremendous potential in a romance hero. And it’s up to the heroine (and the writer) to bring out the best in him and help him get past what makes him so cautious and protective to help him discover his innate capacity to love. The story variations on this theme are endless.

This is my favorite hero to write, and I've played with variations on the Warrior Poet/M&M/Oscar the Grouch type many times. Open up almost any of my books and you'll find a guy who's a bit grouchy, standoffish, wry — but he deeply loves his family, his principles, he has tremendous integrity that he doesn't put on display. He's got a lot of secrets, with reason. But he's there in a flash for the heroine, and through her, he learns to crack that shell, open that door, and grow as a warrior, a poet, and a guy who loves M&Ms.  (Photo by @wings_in_light found here)  

Nicola: So there you have it – our thought on "grumpy" and other sorts of heroes and heroines. For me, like Susan, the first thing I think of when I hear the What_are_you_staring_at__(19878331218) word "grumpy" is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I didn't like the original Grumpy, heart of gold or not! Gruff seems a much more acceptable term to me for that tough, taciturn exterior that hides a heroic heart. But it's all in the interpretation and that is always subjective.

What are your thoughts on "grumpy" and the other words that are used to describe heroes? 

Ask A Wench

Muse_reading_Louvre_CA2220_(cropped)Pat here, with this month’s question from Karen:

I very much enjoy the monthly What We're Reading columns, and I began wondering about books that you, the Wenches, do not mention. I'd be happy to hear the answers to any or all of these questions: Do you abandon books with abandon or do you finish every book you begin? Do you read a significant number of books that you don't mention for any reason? Are you a slow or quick reader?


Do you abandon books with abandon or do you finish every book you begin?

 I’m quite a hasty reader in the sense that if a book doesn’t grab me reasonably quickly I will probably abandon it. I’m certainly not the sort of reader to battle on regardless on the “I’ve started so I’ll finish” premise.  I think I may miss out on some good books this way by not giving them the time to get going, so sometimes I will come back to them for a second attempt. Once I’m into a book it’s very unusual for me to give up on it but if something happens in the story that makes it a wall- banger then it’s all over! I recently read a top 10 bestseller that I was really enjoying until very near the end and then (to my mind) it took a completely wrong turning and I wanted to give it up. However I also wanted to know what happened at the end so that was a real dilemma for me!

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