There has been a joyful reason for my silence: Visitors to Fair England! I had my friends Ashling and the Durham Lass over from Ireland, and Cassie and Josh from New York, and many adventures were had. Picture it like an Enid Blyton series. The Case of the Picnic at the Pub, The Lion King Fiasco, the Mystery of the Baffling Pyjamas, The Curse of Cursed: the Worst Movie of Our Time, The Distressing Affair of the Cannibal Ducks and many more.
In keeping with this theme, there was one memorable discussion about starting a detective agency. The members of this agency would have been called Vin, Ginger, Muffy, Scooter, Peanut, Sig and Tony the Squid. Vigorous discussion of our dark pasts (Ginger's wheat allergy) and our super powers (Tony the Squid's ability to communicate telepathically with hamsters) were called to a halt by the bubble tea place we were in quietly pleading with us to depart and never, never return. (I completely refuse to tell you which one of the detectives I was.)
Visitors please me, because I can cook for them. I cook as a rebellion against my parents. In eighteen years Mama has not learned to use our oven, and my father once put himself in the hospital after a daring but ill-fated attempt to grate cheese. Once I started cooking in the home, my mother accused me of trying to cause dissatisfaction and rebellion.
Yes, I told her gravely. That is my scheme. Just call me Chili Con Che Guevara.
I do not want anyone to falsely imagine that I show visitors a good time. In the midst of cocktails and cannibal ducks, I always get a mad gleam in my eye and usher them into bookshops for a spot of Extreme Bookshopping. The innocent and sweet Durham Lass was hit hard and was lucky to escape with only Diana Wynne Jones' The Pinhoe Egg. Cassie is an Extreme Bookshopper herself and I was forced to bring out the big guns, laying the four-book Flambards series on her already tottering pile with a look of evil triumph.
As Extreme Bookshoppers must, I took plenty of hits myself. Expect reviews for Wilce's Flora Segunda, Lynch's Red Seas Under Red Skies and Mieville's Un Lun Dun shortly. Also, part of the Extreme Bookshopping gig is to busily arrange books into displays showing off the books I like best. This leads to Frequent Misunderstandings.
HAPLESS CUSTOMER: Hi, can I ask you something?
SARAH: Why... yes. For that is why I am here! To arrange books. For that is my job. My Appointed Task. For I work here. In this place. At this time.
LONG-SUFFERING VISITOR: Liar. Fiend!
HAPLESS CUSTOMER: Can you recommend me a book?
SARAH: Can I ever! Here, you absolutely must read this, and this, and this, and-
LONG-SUFFERING VISITOR: Lies make baby bookshopping Jesus cry.
Since I was inflicting books on people, I also starting inflicting book-related chatter on my poor friends, and one night and several drinks in I explained Sarah's Snacks! Theory of Male Main Characters. In summary, all male MCs (of the heroic rather than villainous type) can be divided into three categories: the Angst Muffin, the Sandwich and the Tray of Pastries.
1. The Angst Muffin is the hero with a dark past (or possibly a dark present) occupying a large part of his mind. It has changed him and left him tortured. If he loves you, he will open up to you about his secret pain. This may take some time: you should probably get yourself a cup of tea before he really gets into his stride.
The Muffin displays his tortured soul in a variety of ways: sometimes he stands around beautifully in the rain, sometimes he descends into terrifying rages, sometimes he does good works and occasionally delivers a cryptic monologue that hints at to-be-revealed pain. The point of the Muffin is that he is, in a very real way, defined by his pain. He also tends to be the most beautiful of the three Types, often with carved marble features and beautiful eyes, and to love once and for all time. Like actual Muffins, these muffins look good and inspire cravings, but are often a little heavy.
The Muffin is actually my least favourite of the three Types, which has baffled many people who confidently expected me to love several Muffins. No, while I have liked some Muffins, I have never and will never love a Muffin. He is the least humorous of the Types and I urgently require funny in my man. Also, I have a short attention span, and am likely to wander off in the midst of the Muffin's Endless Pain. This is OK: the Muffin is very popular with other people and does not need me, I will not be adding to his Endless Pain. Well-known and/or recent classic Muffins include: Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Louis in Interview with the Vampire, Alec in Swordspoint, Roiben in Tithe, Edward Cullen in Twilight. (I think many of these are fantastic books, by the way. I just also think the heroes are Angst Muffins.)
I might add that Dream in the Sandman series is a Muffin I like, and I think this is partly because he's written by a man. I am all for MCs being presented as cute by the author (I like the enthusiasm of an author who knows and wants to display her/his character as attractive on many levels, including the physical) but since a Muffin is not my particular bag, I prefer to see a Muffin without that element and instead being poked fun at by the narrative.
2. The Sandwich. A Sandwich is decent and reliable. A Sandwich is a real regular guy, often known by the heroine or the hero (if he's a main character and not the hero himself, or if he's one of two possible heroes in a love triangle). If a book focused on a heroine ends with her and a Sandwich, she often spends her time with Muffins and Pastries and ends up so sick of them that she is dying to just have a tasty, nutritious Sandwich for the rest of time.
If the Sandwich himself is the main focus, he often thinks to himself 'If only I were a Muffin/Pastry' while the heroine coughs in the background and says 'You know, I could really use a SANDWICH right about now.' Sandwiches are often seen as boring, and sometimes seem to just be grabbed as 'he's here, and he's not a bad choice' much in the same way as people pick up sandwiches when they're on the go, but it's a mistake to think of a Sandwich as boring. Sandwiches have layers. They're reliable, but they're not dull.
The Sandwich is the least likely of all the Types to be supernaturally attractive, but is usually quite pleasant to look at. Freckles are sometimes involved. Also, a Sandwich is less likely to inspire instant raving passion than the other two Types, so an author generally has to show much more of a Sandwich's conversation and in-depth relationships.
A Sandwich done badly can be very bland, but there are some Sandwiches who are really for me. Examples of well-known/recent Sandwiches include: Mr Knightley in Emma, Freddy in Cotillion (one of my all-time favourite Sandwiches), Parker in The Bermudez Triangle.
3. Now a Pastry is the diciest MC to define. It's like in a cafe, when you ask to see the pastries menu: you could get a selection of very different things. Basically all you know is that there's going to be a wide range, they're often going to be surprising, and they will be sweeter than you think.
Generally a Pastry is not going to come onscreen looking good. Whether he comes off as an evil slavering monster, a cold-blooded killer, or simply someone who's rude at parties, the initial impression will not be favourable. A few scenes in, though, and the sweetness of the Pastry will start to show.
A Pastry has a better chance of being supernaturally gorgeous than a Sandwich, but he also has the problem of sometimes being truly, truly hideous or completely inhuman-looking. This helps with the bad initial impression: a good-looking Pastry should usually try to be caught holding a bloody, dripping knife or at least insulting the heroine's looks in his first scene.
Pastries can end up being a little irritating - like Lymond in The Lymond Chronicles, where at the start of every one of the six books we're apparently supposed to forget that we saw the the hero's sweetness in the last book and have reverted to the bad first impression. (This is not to say I don't like the Lymond Chronicles, I do, but the hero falls into a Pastry trap.) Pastries are my favourites, but now and then you can get sick of Pastries and want a Sandwich, and now and then a really excellent Sandwich will win my love away from a Pastry, however good said Pastry may be.
Well-known/recent Pastries include: Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, Ravus in Valiant, Nathaniel in the Bartimaeus trilogy, Locke Lamora in the series of same name.
There are, of course, variations and blurred lines all over the shop. Sometimes a Sandwich has delusions of Pastry. Sometimes a Pastry has a distinctly Muffiny edge. But when I'm explaining why I liked one hero and didn't like another, I find it really helpful to be able to say 'Well, he's a total Muffin, don't you see!' or 'It's hard to resist a Pastry.'
... Well, I find it helpful until the people I'm talking to stare and back away, that is.
So do the Three Types convince you at all? And if so, which is your favourite Type?