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? 

The Qualities of a Gentleman

A_Gentleman_at_Heart_posterNicola here. An astonishing twelve years ago, I wrote a blog piece about what constituted a gentleman in the modern era. Is it dress, manners, background or behaviour? I was thinking about this again recently (and indeed, wondering what makes a "lady" in the equivalent sense) after reading a depressing article in the paper at the weekend which claimed that everyone is getting ruder as a result of the pandemic making us forget how to relate to one another and the pressures of modern life being to great. The article cited stories of drunken fighting in the theatre and abuse of waiting staff in restaurants, of cities like York overrun with Hen Parties and places like Cheltenham  (surely not that centre of Regency society!) becoming no-go areas at night when the races are on. And yet, if you go online, there are any number of websites giving advice on the sort of qualities a modern lady or gentleman should cultivate. It seems there is still a demand for guidance on good behaviour. And a lot of us are still entranced by the manners and mores of past times.

It was all so much more clear cut a few centuries ago. In 1583 Sir Thomas Smith wrote: “One who can live idly and without manual labour and will bear the port (deportment) and countenance of a gentleman, he shall be taken for a gentleman.” The luxury goods and extravagant clothing of late 16th and 17th century London were an avenue to social mobility. Sumptuary legislation – the laws that governed the types of clothes that the different social classes were entitled to wear – had lapsed and a consumer revolution was taking over. Eighty years after Smith was writing, the diarist John Evelyn complained: “How many times have I saluted the fine man for the master, and stood with my hat off to the gay feather, when I found the bird to be all this while but a daw.” In other words, in the 17th century smart clothes and an appearance of wealth made the gentleman. Or perhaps gave the appearance of a gentleman.

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Battle Babies!

TreeNicola here, talking about names. Back in July, Christina posted about names and saints’ days, and recently a previous Wench guest, Elizabeth Hawksley, wrote a fascinating piece on her own blog here about why the name Thomas fell out of popularity in 1532. It seems to me that whether we’re talking about about choosing names for characters in books or how we feel about our own names, it’s a perennially fascinating topic.

This time around, my interest was sparked by the BBC genealogy programme Who Do You Think You Are, which returned to our screens in the UK last week with a new series. The first programme explored the family history of actress Jodie Whittaker. Among the family stories that emerged was one relating to her grandmother, who was called Greta Verdun Bedford. This was the moment I learned something completely new to me – that in the past, babies have been named after battles.

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Austen —romances or not?

Anne here. P&P
Yesterday I was on several panels at the Melbourne Writers Festival, and for one of them, the topic we were given to discuss was Unpicking Classic Romances — with particular references to historical classics, rather than those 20th century novels regarded in genre romance as "classics".

ClareToni&meMWF2019I don't intend to write a full report on it, but I thought wenchly readers might be interested in the topic, and could offer their own thoughts on some of the questions and discussion points. Here are the three writers who were on the panel — from left Clare Connelly, Toni Jordan and me. Calla Wahlquist, a journalist from the Guardian (Australia) and also a budding academic, chaired the panel and asked some thought-provoking questions. Sadly by the time we remembered to take a photo of us all, she'd left.

Jane Austen's novels came up for quite a bit of discussion, as did those of Elizabeth Gaskell and the Brontes. Thomas Hardy got a mention, and we even did a brief  drive-by of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. And someone in the audience raised Gone with the Wind. But for this blog, I'll just stick to Austen.

So, on to Austen.
Clare and I felt strongly that Austen's novels were romances, but Toni argued that while the books were definitely courtship novels, they were not romances. She argued that Austen spent much more time in her books, describing and dwelling on the parts in the story where things fell apart than when love was declared and celebrated. And she supported her case with quotes, one of which was the very last paragraph of Emma, which sums up the wedding of Mr. Knightley and Emma Woodhouse thus:

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Mothers and sons

Blue2 . Jo here, pondering mothers and sons in historical romance, in part because the heroine of my MIP, The Viscount Needs a Wife, keeps mentioning or thinking about the subject.

Also,  two things came at me in close succession, and got me thinking. Why don't the heroes of historical romances have deep bonds with their mothers?

So, first question — am I wrong? Do you know any historical romances in which the hero has a deep bond with his mother that plays a part in the book?

Let me explain the two things that caused my pondering.

The first was an article about Dorothy Dunnett's writing, which reminded me of the emotional intensity, and the complexity of her character Lymond.You can read the article here.

The second was a reminiscence piece on the radio about World War 2 soldiers who returned to Jersey after the war. The Channel Islands were the only part of Great Britain occupied by the Nazis. Click on the link for more about that.

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