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Blog Hop begins December 11th. Click on the graphic above for a schedule and list of giveaways, including a $60 Amazon gift card.

Friday, September 14, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY GUEST AUTHOR SANDRA PARSHALL


Sandra Parshall writes the Dr. Rachel Goddard mystery-suspense series, in which the tall, beautiful veterinarian is paired with the tall, handsome Deputy Tom Bridger. The newly published fifth in the series, Bleeding Through, was praised by Kirkus Reviews for its "nerve-wracking suspense" combined with "a twisty mystery." Visit Sandy's website and read her Wednesday blog posts at Poe's Deadly Daughters.  

Sandy has generously offered to give away a copy of Bleeding Through to one of our readers who posts a comment to the blog. -- AP

Why do heroes have to be tall?

How many current crime novel heroes can you think of who are short?

Maybe the more cerebral detectives who never get down and dirty with villains can find success without being hulks (or hunks), but if the book has any action, both writers and readers prefer a physically imposing protagonist. Six feet tall at a minimum. Well-muscled, with six-pack abs. Strong enough to handle anything thrown at him.

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher seems to have set the standard. Reacher is a fantasy figure, so big you could see him coming from a mile away, and so strong he could probably stop a speeding SUV in its tracks. When the news came out that Tom Cruise will play Reacher in a film, virtually all the protests – and there were plenty of them – centered on Cruise’s diminutive stature. Tom Cruise is about five-seven. He has been married to two tall women who wore flat-heeled shoes when they went to events with him and were still noticeably taller than he was. Tom Cruise is a talented actor, but he’s little. How can he possibly play the supersized Reacher?

Maybe he’ll stand on a box, the way Audie Murphy and some other mini-actors have done in their films. If the filmmakers fail to create the Reacher aura around Cruise, Lee Child fans will nod with satisfaction – See? We were right. – and go back to the books, where Reacher remains as tall as a basketball player and as strong as Mr. Universe, with mythically enormous hands.

Most writers don’t go as far as Child does, but we do like to portray our male protagonists as big and strong. My own hero, Deputy Tom Bridger, is six-feet-plus and in good shape. There’s just something about a tall, broad-shouldered man that says, “Step aside and let me take care of this.”

Height and strength are also common attributes of many female protagonists, particularly those who work in law enforcement and have to face off with the bad guys. And, of course, they’re young. Many are stunningly beautiful. One reason I love Barbara Havers in the Elizabeth George novels is that she doesn’t fit the mold. Barbara is short and dumpy and not terribly attractive. You will notice, however, that she partners with Tommy Lynley, who is not only tall and handsome but a titled aristocrat to boot.

I love Tess Gerritsen’s Jane Rizzoli because she has frizzy hair, unimpressive stature, and a plain face. (Even so, she ends up with a tall, dark and handsome FBI agent husband.) Look at the way Rizzoli has been transformed for TV, though. In Rizzoli & Isles, she’s played by Angie Harmon, a willowy six-footer with flowing hair who wouldn’t be less than gorgeous on her worst day.

In recent years we’ve seen an increase in heroines who are middle-aged and older, most of them appearing in cozies. That these books have an audience and the characters have devoted admirers is proof enough that not everybody wants to read about near-perfect female characters.

Male characters, though, still face a high bar. Literally.

How do you feel about this? Could you take an action hero seriously if he were described as five-seven, with a slight paunch and an ordinary face? Or do you want fantasy when you read fiction?

Thanks for joining us today, Sandy! Readers, would you like a chance to win a copy of Bleeding Through? Post a comment to enter the drawing. And don't forget to include your emai or check back on Sunday to see if you're the winner. If we can't get in touch with you, we have no way of getting your book to you. -- AP

26 comments:

Sandra Parshall said...

Thanks for hosting me! I'd love to hear what everyone thinks about the way characters are described. Does a hero have to be big and physically intimidating?

Nancy DeMarco said...

I guess I'm in the minority. I'm turned off by Adonis male leads. I want to see someone ordinary become extraordinary through his actions, not his genes. To me, that's a character all of us normal folks can identify with.

Judy Alter said...

I'm with Nancy. I like my heroes--and heroines--flawed in some way, physically as well as emotionally. Makes them more real and believable. after all, how many times do you meet someone like Reacher in real life? Besides I adore my son-in-law who is, as he said once, "not a long person."

All Mystery e-newlsetter said...

short or tall, I wanna know who to root for, and that's what makes Lois and Sandra winners in this areana. Thanks for the post, ladies! Thanks too for posting at the All Mystery e-newsletter yahoo group. Keep 'em coming, 'cause we're reading!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps our current protagonists have to be big and strong because much of the literature has become so much more violent than it used to be. Many best-sellers cross way beyond the line of what society thought was acceptable just a generation ago. Rabbi Small (Sunday the Rabbi....) would never make it in today's publishing world.
Llyn K.

JJM said...

I'm with Nancy DeMarco. Adonis turns me off, especially if he comes with size and muscle. In fiction, he comes across too much like a wish-fulfillment character; in real life, he often makes me feel a bit on edge. I prefer brain to brawn, character and personality to height. (Mutatis mutandis for Venus characters.) It's why I tend to stick to cozies.--Mario R.

petite said...

Perfection is not always necessary. In other words, Tall, Dark, Handsome and built is living in a fantasyland. I prefer reality where men are men, but they do have normal builds and frames and are appealing. They have a sense of humor, charisma and a real personality.

traveler said...

What a great and unique post which I felt was extremely thought provoking. Perhaps because I am surrounded by men who are slight and short, this is a dominant factor in my life. It has influenced me over the years. When someone describes the hero as big and strong etc. it does not endear me to him at all. It turns me off since it is so prevalent. There are many attributes that a hero has. His character, brain and personality can shine through.

Sandra Parshall said...

What are the current series that feature short, ordinary heroes? Notice I said current --Poirot doesn't oount. :-) I can think of Harry Bosch, but not a lot of others. Even the secondary love interests of heroines are usually super-attractive. Plain Jane Ruzzoli can't believe her luck in snagging such a devastatingly handsome man, for example.

Sally Carpenter said...

Many of the 1970s TV detectives were not tall or handsome: Lt. Columbo, Kojack, Cannon, Baretta. Which goes to show not every Hollywood hero is a hunk. For me, I'm six foot tall and I like my male protagonists taller. That's why my amateur sleuth Sandy Fairfax is six foot three. He's a former teen idol so he's attractive but he's boyish cute, not ruggedly handsome. As for women sleuths, Sue Ann Jaffarian's Odelia Grey (cozy series) is "plus size."

Kathy said...

For me reading is an escape. I picture myself as the heroine so I do like the hero to be big, strong and good looking. I am in the older and dumpy looking category so I don't particularly want to read about the same type of people. I don't mind blood, gore or sex, but the two protagonists have to make it through the book with a happy ending.

JJM said...

"What are the current series that feature short, ordinary heroes?" Well, short, I don't know, but Charlie Harris in "Miranda" James's "Cat in the Stacks" series.

Like Nancy, I read to escape -- but I don't feel I'm really escaping if the characters with whom I am to identify are characters who would make me a little uneasy in real life.

I've met very nice Adonis types, mind you, but I've met too many who are sure they're the universe's gift to women -- very unpleasant to be around, at least for me. And you can imagine how well I get along with the muscle-bound set, given how much I despise sports and athleticism. Those were the kids who strutted their way through the halls of high school, sure they were the gods of the universe. Feh.

For the most part, it's the ordinary-looking people, of either gender, with whom I get along best. The intelligent ones with a sense of humour. And those are also the characters I prefer in fiction. If the character is an Adonis or a Schwarzenegger, he'd better have a lot more going for him to make up for it, is all I can say ... ;)

--Mario R.

Kathleen Kaska said...

I don't care for the Adonis type as a hero either. I look for a protagonist who is smart, witty, and flawed in some way. If they are perfect, they're not real to me. Good point, Sally. I wouldn't call those guys handsome, but they had charisma. Humphrey Bogart comes to mind. He was short, not all that attractive, but he had great sex appeal. So, I guess what I'm saying, is; it's what'sinside that counts.

Lynn M said...

I am a tall woman and rarely find a man taller than myself (but since I grew up with Disney movies) I am convinced in some part of my mind that I need a taller man. So I like them in books. Hopefully they have some redeeming traits like being nice to animals and letting the older people on the bus have their seats if it is full, but yeah I like to merge fantasy and reality!

KathyW said...

I'm definitely not into Adonis heroes. But I do tend to make them taller than my heroine. In one of my wips, the heroine is quite small and I realized that the hero couldn't be too tall or they wouldn't "fit" together.

An odd observation: I'm fairly tall, even though my dad was small, and I like tall men. My daughter, who is taller than me, grew up with a tall dad but likes short men. Now we both adored our dads but went the opposite direction. Wonder what than means?

Sandra Parshall said...

Even when heroes are tall, dark, and handsome, they are always flawed, sometimes deeply so. They wouldn't be interesting if they weren't. But there's a strong romantic element in mainstream crime fiction today. The heroines are beautiful, the heroes are handsome, and their romantic sparring is part of the story. Unless you stick with noir or hard-as-nails thrillers, it's hard to avoid that romantic thread.

Camille Minichino said...

I like hit men, and they tend to be small, the better to sneak up on you. I'm thinking of John Rain, half Japanese, and of Keller, Lawrence Block's character.

They may be taller than I'm remembering -- but I don't pay attention to that; I'm watching their cunning.

Mary Frances Roya said...

Maybe in my next story I'll make my hero 5'7 with a stomach and receding hair line...humm.

I like the blog, I know that I like my heros tall, dark and hunky. And I know in real life someone like that wouldn't give me a look, 1st or 2nd. tee hee.

Great blog.

Sandra Parshall said...

Camille, I wouldn't classify hit men as heroic. :-) Notice that you have a mental image of these meanies as small and cunning...

Sandra Parshall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suzanne said...

Studies show that, for men and women, the taller you are, the more likely you are to be successful. Tall people get more attention because they take up more space. For men these days, that means being at least 5'10" tall. So I'm hoping my younger son grows another inch. :-)

The qualities with which a hero and a villain are drawn identifies the arenas where an author intends to play out conflicts between the two characters. I don't think a hero has to be big and physically intimidating. In fact, when I read about a strapping brute hero, I catalog him (or her) as a cookie-cutter hero. I do think a hero has to be intelligent, in decent physical shape, and made relatable with flaws. And a hero has to make some serious sacrifices.

All the heroes in my writings have been of medium stature. Michael Stoddard has average looks. His nemesis, Dunstan Fairfax, is also of medium stature, although I gave him a better physique and a handsome face, just because the stereotyped villain is short, spindly (or dumpy), and ugly. But intrinsically, the two men are on par for brains and guts. Those are the arenas where much of the hero/villain conflict plays out in the Michael Stoddard series.

Neil Plakcy said...

Before I started age-related shrinking, I was 6'1, and that affected how I view the world-- I used to be taller than most people, and that translated to the heroes I created. Now my college students tower over me!

Earl Staggs said...

Interesting subject, Sandra. The heroes and heroines I write are usually normal size, but are physically able to handle the bad people they go up against. In my new novel, however, my hero is bigger. He has to be. His job is to track - and terminate - terrorists. I even gave him an appropriate name: Tall Chambers.

Patg said...

As usual, great post Sandy. In too many books the description of perfect men give me the impression that they are topple over with height, or are so bulked up, they might as well be the HULK with huge hands that swallow all body parts.
I do prefer older female protags that have a lot of savy gained from experience.
Patg

Sandra Parshall said...

This has been a fun discussion. I've loved the differing views on what a hero should be like.

Polly Iyer said...

I'm all over the map on this one, and so are my heroes. But most are good looking. One is "interesting looking," another is a "hunk," but he's deaf, one is black but sexy. I think a lot depends on what you write. I write suspense with romance as a secondary genre. My husband and I like Detective Lewis and his partner because they look like normal cops, not Hollywood heroes. As for Cruise playing Reacher, I Googled tall actors and found there really wasn't anyone who fit the bill of Reacher. I'm sure they could have found someone taller that Cruise but maybe not with the box-office clout. Love him or hate him, he does the stunts himself. That counts for something.