Dear Gaelan Foley:
I get it. Really, I finally do! The first time I read Lord of Fire, I was in danger of injuring delicate ocular muscles, what with all the eye-rolling going on. I was bored out of my skull and irritated beyond belief and constantly bellowing at the book oh, puh-LEEEEEEZ. I regaled my friends with tales of its unsurpassable crappiness—until I read Lord of Ice, that is, and I began to get an inkling of what it is you’re about.
But now that I’ve read LoF again—well, skimmed because (wink, wink) we both know it’s not really for reading, don’t we?—all these years later, the scales have fallen from mine eyes. It’s like The Matrix and you just gotta BE the spoon, man. I’m well on my way to becoming Neo, and it’s all thanks to you. Seven dollars well spent, I must say.
See, I—naÃ¯ve and silly reader that I am—have been demanding quality of my romance novels. But what the hell makes me think that when I sit down to read a book called Lord of Fire, I’m going to get anything other than time-worn clichÃ©s, cardboard characters, and a plot – not just the prose, mind you, but the actual plot – that’s a study in aubergine? Sure, I thought that an author who wins awards and is praised as someone who pushes the boundaries of Romance, a “fresh new voice” in the genre, oh the talent, oh the brilliance and excellence and it’s like fine wine—wait, where was I? Oh yeah, here I was thinking you’d be different. And better. And, like, worth reading.
Dude, I KNOW how harsh that sounds. But my point is – I get it now. See, I shoulda known when you named your hero Lucien that he’d be “tortured” in name only. I should’ve known that this was all one big joke from the moment that Alice – our innocent and proper young thing who, for the sake of a nephew who has chicken pox (and how many times did I yell at the book: “dude, it’s JUST CHICKEN POX”, huh? Brill! You had me right in the palm of your hand!) hares off across the country to fetch her slutball of a sister-in-law at the secret underground grotto where Lucien holds ceremonial-esque orgies for the sake of gathering information about … something. I dunno, you were never all that specific on how any of this helped The Cause, but I gotta give you props for invoking (in my mind, at least) that too-forgotten Hanks/Akroyd remake of Dragnet and the secret cult known as P.A.G.A.N.
(Ya know – People Against Goodness And Niceness? Headed by Christopher Plummer? And they needed a virgin to sacrifice on the altar so they kidnapped the virgin Connie Swail? Man, that movie slayed me when I was 15.)
But see, I’m even dumber than that. I should’ve have understood that there would be a hidden subtext in all your writings before I even bought the book, because it’s right there on the cover. And incidentally, I think it’s really really cruel not to give readers the real key to enjoying this novel, right at the outset. Okay, I’ll give it to em now. No one should miss out.
But there it is, on the inside cover
The packaging itself is the key to unlocking the hidden meaning of the Lord of Fire! And for those of you who don’t really care for that post-modern jazzing around about literature, it’s just plain ole funny! Like the visual punchline, see. Let me give a practical demonstration of how I read this book, and you’ll understand:
Read page 2: He took another sip of wine, his silvery eyes gleaming with mayhem.
Then flip to the front
Recover from laughter, then read page 48: He pulled back his hood, unveiling a face of burning, satanic, male beauty…. No wonder they called him Lucifer, she thought. He was made for temptation.
Then flip to the front: Him!!
Ow… my side. This novel should come with a warning, I tells ye. I coulda ruptured something. So anyway, somewhere along about the time that the heroine mentions that she dabbles in watercolors and Lucien’s inward response is: An artist. Of course. Those beautiful hands. That penetrating gaze. The seething passion under her cool, demure surface…—and I started, in my exasperated fashion, to write in the margin: “Dude, they’re JUST WATERCOLORS”—that’s when I started to get it.
It’s all a big joke.
You get how bad it is. You MEANT for it to be this bad. You’ve gone beyond the purple, Ms. Foley, and for that – I salute you!
I mean, here so very MANY writers are working so hard and slaving to churn out something of real quality. Something that really SAYS something. And here so many readers are, looking and hoping and wistfully wondering if maybe this Romance novel will be the one to really speak to their hearts about love in a new way. We sit back and fork over our earnings, hope doled out in increments of $6.99 (Canada: $9.99), only to have those hopes dashed time and time again on the hard and jagged rocks of yet another boring motherfucking clichÃ© that I read back when I was thirteen. (Note: performative statement.)
But you’re right, Gaelen. You don’t mind if I call you Gaelen, do you? And you don’t mind if I break the fourth wall here for a second and admit that I’m beating up on you just because your oeuvre had the misfortune to be sitting at the top of a pile of steaming horseshit? (And by horseshit, I mean about a dozen other acclaimed romance novels.)
No? Great, then I’ll just continue, confident that you understand this is nothing personal.
So as I was saying, Gaelen, you’re TOTALLY right. It’s not about good writing or bad writing. Heck – if it was, could you get away with writing about the “teeming wetness” at the “core of her womanhood” and her “nub”? (Gads, I whooped out loud at that one.) And those are among the least offensive examples, of course. I spent a good five minutes staring at the sentence “The silence was almost holy with their love,” and trying to figure out if that was truly meant to be, like, moving or touching or something.
It’s not about writing realistic characters and keeping staying true to those characters. I mean, if it were about that, then the sensible and “not particularly bold” Alice wouldn’t agree to stay in the house of an orgy-throwing manipulator of satanic proportions who outright says he wants her there so he can seduce her—not without excellent motivations, because she has an awful lot to lose. See, that tortured soul of a hero (the dastardly rogue!) forces her to choose which woman
will be his prisoner for a week: will Alice sacrifice herself or will the poor widdle nephew’s debauched and unfeeling and always-absent mama – who’s been screwing Lucien for weeks and loving every hot inch of it – stay with him and get fucked? Alice chooses to ruin herself, the dumbass, and why? Just so that her nephew (WHO HAS THE FUCKIN’ CHICKEN POX, I MEAN YOU COULDA GIVEN HIM A FEVER OR SOMETHING, LOOK HOW SHOUTY I AM!!!) can have his mother-in-name-only at his side, even though this mother is the kinda woman who says to Lord Lucifer (in his “secret headquarters” [oh, and you described it thusly, too! what artistry!] overlooking the orgy) that she’s been “coming her brains out” at his little soirÃ©e. Yeah, let’s send her home to tend the poxy toddler. That Alice sure does care.
I also learned that it’s certainly not about an even half-way decent narrative voice. I mean, why on earth should I, the reader, have to do any thinking at all? Why should I have to rely on the author to build sexual tension and emotional intensity? Why should have to wait to see these characters’ deepest emotional needs and scars revealed in the due course of their life-changing relationship, when I could just have it spelled out for me? Repeatedly. As in: “His only hope of saving his soul was to put aside all his powers of seduction and manipulation and to reach out from the deepest , truest—and most vulnerable—part of himself.” Page 200. Not that one should shoot ever one’s wad so indiscreetly, but one certainly shouldn’t do so at like page 200.
And just a note (because I’m a prose whore, sorry) that you may want to keep in mind, as an experiment maybe? See, when you use that many adjectives and adverbs and exclamation points and you consistently point out at least a few times on every page of the novel, that this or that is Important or Intense or Very Very Meaningful—well, it’s a lot like putting big fat red exclamation points on all your Outlook emails. If they’re all urgent, then none of them are, see.
Anyway, I was thinking it was really about the spirited old-skoolness of it all, what with the (literal) grotto of lovin’, the narcolepsy-inducing spy plot (ps: Claude Bardou and Rollo Green? EXCELLENT cheesy spy names!), and the crapulent “only you can heal my wounds” dialogue. Plus, it’s just so totally reminiscent of like a pirate novel – ooh, he’s so bad, he will take her, she doesn’t want to want him but he stirs something in her, he WILL have her! Yadida yadida – great fun, all of it. So I was all into it. But then when you totally blow it (um, no pun intended) on the nookie—well, I won’t say it didn’t confuse me. I mean, it should be sizzling, in the tradition of old-skoolery, non? But it’s not. He doesn’t rip her bodice. She doesn’t resist. Not even a LITTLE bit. And I won’t pretend, Gaelen—I was way wicked bummed out.
But then I remembered your true purpose: this whole novel is a wink and a nod to the savvy reader. Funny lil secret handshake among those of us who get it. And what is it that we get?
This: There IS such a thing as good and bad. It’s not just a matter of taste. It’s a matter of fact. It’s not my opinion that Lord of Fire and a good 90+% of Romance is utter shite writing, lazy and tired and sloppy and just plain bad—it’s a fact.
Because this is a bad book – crap characters and a crap story and even crap nookie (um, not kinky nookie involving crap, though, you know what I mean). Sure, some people may like it – and like it a LOT, and are sitting at the monitor, working up a healthy bit of indignation at what a rip-roaring little bitch I am – but having defenders doesn’t make it good writing. Good writing is qualitative, and so is bad writing. And there’s just something about this genre (I dunno, maybe because girls are taught to play nice?) that makes it impossible for reviewers to come right out and say: This is BAD WRITING. You might like it and it’s not wrong to like it, and I don’t think less of you or your intelligence for liking it, and bully for the author who can care so little and sell so much. But the bottom line is that It. Is. Not. Good. It’s not even just sorta-okay. It’s downright bad, so Jesus effing CHRIST, can we all stop pretending that it’s simply not my cuppa? Can we all just say that we WANT good writing instead of being nice about the stuff that other people seem to like, and it’s what’s on offer, so okay apparently it’s “all a matter of taste”?
No, apparently we can’t. The closest we can get to it is agreeing on One Really Bad Author coffConnieMasoncoffcoff and deciding it’s okay to laugh at her. (Insert social commentary here, about the momentum of mediocrity and the tyrrany of egalitarianism, how too-threatening it is to have to recognize definitive excellence and definitive dreck because heaven forbid anyone is better than anyone else in this world. Oh and as long as I’m at it, I’ll quote my friend Paul who says that “some stuff is just better. Platonically. God loves it more.”)
But we can have you, Ms. Foley, to write a book that is so blatantly bad that it proves the point: there is such a thing as Good. And it’s not this. Some novels are the “it’s so bad, it’s good!” kind—and this is that, to the casual reader. But thankfully, I saw the deeper meaning, which is more like: “it’s so bad that it’s bad.” And it’s sadly got so very many friends on the shelves.
A Reader and Humble Student
And PS: I just really have to thank you, because I just read page 91 again: He was fierce as a tiger, as quick as an adder, and as wily as a fox… And then I flip to the front: