Monday, November 29, 2010
Dueling Banjos OR Venus vs. Mars
Do you hear banjo music? I do. Why? Because it’s Venus vs. Mars Day here at Three Wicked Writers Plus Two, and Brindle Chase and I are facing off! Brindle doesn’t particularly like banjo music—a leftover scar from watching the movie Deliverance, LOL, but I love these little critters, and well, I just couldn’t resist.
Now all of you have come to know me as a woman with as many opinions as she has hair on her head—and I have LOTS of hair. But I’ve found someone who has just as many opinions and probably just as much hair too. Brindle. A man who must have nerves of steel to have joined this almost all female club of erotic romance writers. Kind of like a lonely little petunia in a cabbage patch—or is that onion patch?—but in this case, he’s the cabbage and all us gals are petunias—sorry, Brindle, I can’t be a damn cabbage. That’s men stuff. LOL And I’m a pink petunia too!
Brindle is published with Loose-Id Books, Breathless Press, and The Wild Rose Press. He’s become a regular commenter here at Three Wicked Writers Plus Two, and I like his style. AND--I get tired of talking with women all the time. (Admit it, all you ladies do too. LOL) Plus, Brindle and I don’t always agree. But we DO always agree to disagree. So we decided it would be fun to pick a topic and see where it takes us. Visit his website here: http://www.forlorn-hope.net So without further ado, let the games begin!!!!!
Why Men Don’t Read Romances
Tess: They don’t read them probably for the same reason they don’t eat quiche. It’s NOT very manly, now is it? Why isn’t it manly enough? Because there’s honest-to-god emotion in romance books. And we all know men are emotionally constipated, don’t we? Not to mention the fact that modern romances feature a lot of kick-ass women, and it wouldn’t do for a man to read about one of his own kind getting his ass kicked—metaphorically speaking, of course. (Well, sometimes they DO get their butts kicked physically too.)
Brindle: Makes a mental note to spank Tess later for the banjo music and…cabbage? How about a field of wild orchids and I’m the Canadian thistle who has taken refuge in the surrounding beauty? I like that better. Except by nationality, I’m Norwegian…A Viking Thistle?…Huh? Oh yeah, this is totally not about me. Onto the topic at hand.
Okay, in hockey, you know, that man’s sport, we have a saying, “Off come the gloves.” Men are not emotionally constipated. Well, not entirely. We do, however, process and interpret emotions quite differently. The main reason most men pass on the romance genre is the heroes within. These Greek God billionaires, that look like Adonis himself. Romances work for the female reader because she can relate to the heroine. If you can’t, then the story is much less enjoyable. However the male reader will try to relate to the hero but feel emasculated by the hero’s perfection. Not only are they super strong, super rich, super intelligent, super stable, and super gorgeous, but they seem to have received an instruction manual on how to push the heroine’s buttons, but all in the good way. The hero can piss off the heroine and be rewarded by the fiercest sex imaginable. If we mere mortal men try the same thing… we get a week on the couch. In short, we can’t compare, can’t relate, so for most male readers, there is little enjoyment in a romance novel. I like them but confess often the heroes make me laugh.
Tess: Note to Brindle—threatening an erotic romance writer with a spanking has no teeth. And thistle? Is that a flower—or something with thorns? Hmmm…now wild orchids I love. I remember the movie—Mickey Rourke—before his plastic surgery days, of course. What a hunk—great actor too—has this James Dean kind of quality. Saw him in something not too long ago and it looked like…wait, we’re talking about men not reading romance. Okay, back on topic.
When you’re right, you’re right, Brindle. Men DO interpret and process emotions differently. They interpret tears as meaning they might have to comfort, and therefore find something else to do real quick. They process a smile as an overture for sex and all of a sudden they sprout tentacles. Swat one away and another one latches on. Yep, lots of different stuff going on there for sure. Now let me see if I’m getting this right. You say men don’t read romance primarily because of the way the writers paint the hero. He’s not real, impossible to relate to by virtue of his super intelligence, strength, wealth, looks, etc. etc. etc. Interesting. Because almost all romance books are about women who don’t look or behave at all like real size twelve and up women. Do you honestly think we all have those Barbie Doll measurements? Hell no. Do you think we all just appear wearing just the right thing and meet just the right man by chance? That we always land these ab fab jobs and can identify with living happily ever after—and the house is ALWAYS CLEAN? Women, for some odd reason, seem to have NO trouble putting ourselves in the shoes of the heroine even though we’re nothing like the heroine. Do men not do the same thing when they read their spy thrillers? And when they read them, don’t they put themselves in the shoes of OO7? Is it any different than going to a hockey game and watching those dudes out there swing their sticks (just an extension of you-know-what) and getting INTO the game and feeling every swing, every slam into the wall? You’re NOT the player, yet you’re into the game—you ARE the player.
Brindle: Note to self: Tess likes spanking… Yes, we’re in agreement there, Wild Orchid was a hot movie. Of the Zalman King movies, Two Moon Junction was my favorite. Anywho…I think the reason men slink away from tears is they don’t understand them. I confess to not understanding completely, but I’ve never crept away. Making love to a woman, for the man, is not a sad occasion. So if she is moved to tears, he is not stricken with angst to get away from the crazy chick as you imply, but guilt for somehow hurting the woman he adores (At least I would and any man worth bedding in the first place should). I would feel guilt for bringing this beautiful woman, during this beautiful moment, to tears. Women understand why it moves the heroine in such a way. Most men would not. The emotions involved are not the same as he is feeling. His love, lust, adoration or whatever for her is expressed through his physical actions, so when hers are shown through emotional actions, he is at a loss. I concede that. However, 007 is different. We men can live vicariously through James Bond because his thoughts are similar to ours. When James happens upon Pussy Galore, we male readers are in tune to James’ thoughts. She’s easy on the eyes, sleek, mysterious and obviously, sexy. We connect with that, because when we meet a beautiful woman, wrong or right, we naturally appraise her in similar fashion. The romance hero, with all his unending reserves and excess of testosterone, does not. His first thoughts are sometimes how sexy she is, but his actions thereafter attune without any guidance, to the heroine’s emotional needs. He kisses her tears away. Holds her tenderly while she processes her emotional reaction to the lovemaking. A normal guy is terrified by her tears, let alone being clueless how to correctly deal with them. It’s just one example of how a normal male can’t understand or relate to the hero, let alone the heroine. Why is she crying? It’s rarely, if ever explained, because in the genre, it is assumed beforehand that the reader will be female and therefore, not need an explanation.
Tess: Did you know Zalman King starred on a soap opera for years and years before he got into making movies? I forget which one, but my granny watched and just loved his character. And you didn’t get what I was saying. Typical man. I was speaking of two entirely different scenarios. When a woman is reduced to tears, a man runs. Not talking about crying in the middle of sex here—just crying anytime. In other words, their ability to give comfort is seriously flawed. They can’t be bothered—so, of course, they wouldn’t understand and enjoy a romance novel. And men mistake the slightest smile from a woman as a come on. They turn just about anything a woman says into an invitation for sex. A simple look from a woman will get a comment from a man like: “Yeah, she wants me.” Uhhh…NOOOOOOOO. And men can identify with James Bond when the romance hero is far too unrealistic? OMG…I am cracking up here. James Bond. The man who jumps out of a plane with nothing for a parachute but a damn handkerchief, lands in the middle of the ocean, is picked up by a luxury yacht—probably JDepp’s—and his hair never moves? His clothes are never wet? And he’s never out of breath? Puhhhleeeze. You say James Bond’s thoughts are similar to the typical man and therefore men can identify. Okay, here we go. “The name is Bond. James Bond. I’ll have a martini. Whisper of vermouth please, stirred not shaken—don’t bruise the olive.” James flicks a piece of imaginary lint from his Armani tuxedo. “And by the by, is Pussy around? It would be a shame if she missed me this trip. I AM the sexiest man on the face of the Earth, after all. And, of course, if you shot me out into space I’d claim that title as well.” Oh yeah, Brindle. Identifying with James Bond, Mr. Conceit himself, the ultimate commitment phobe, is really the way for men to go. Face it! Men don’t read romance because they don’t want to know how miserably they miss the mark of being what a woman wants.
Brindle: Hmmm, I didn’t know that about Z. King. I remember when his Red Shoe Diaries first came out on HBO, where David Ducovney (sp?) got his start. Excellent little erotic shorts!
Typical man am I? Guilty in many respects, but I contest that I am typical. I think your allusions are warranted, but fall short in several degrees. You promote that men are shallow, but I disagree and contend that men are not shallow. Human beings are shallow. How shallow a person is, is not determined by their gender. I agree that James Bond is an impossible human being, but that is not what I was trying to convey. The romance hero and James Bond are both impossible human beings. But I was trying to show that 007 is who of the two, that men can relate too. Can we be him? No. Not even close, but just as the romance hero is the female reader’s illusion of a perfect man, James Bond is who men wish they could be.
I understand it is shallow to want women to swoon in a cascading wake as we pass through a room, allowing us to pick our flavor for the evening. That impossibly gorgeous women would throw themselves at us with no more effort than a perfectly witty opening line. All men wish this, except gay men and then the fantasy only changes the gender of those they wish would throw themselves at them. But is that any different or more shallow than what the romance reader wants in an hero? A super-alpha, mega-rich, sculpted with muscles, devastatingly handsome, who begs to wallow at the feet of the heroine (who the reader imagines themselves as)?
As for men not reading romance because they fear seeing what women wish they would be like? I agree. The bar is set so impossibly high, they feel completely inadequate for even the least demanding women. I forget who said it, but I contend there is a level of truth to the saying “Women marry men, hoping they can change him. Men marry women, hoping she will never change.” Or something to that effect.
And crying, well…yes. Men don’t understand how to react to crying. We were taught all our lives by our mothers, that big boys don’t cry. If a child dies, we cry. If we lose our wives, we cry. But if we cried because the toaster just won’t brown the bread like we want…the alpha-loving romance reader wouldn’t want anything to do with us. That’s why the alpha-romance hero works where a real man cannot. He attunes exactly to the needs of a woman. He is sensitive emotionally when it is exactly appropriate. Hard as nails, when that is what she wants. But I digress…
Therein should be our common ground. Readers don’t read romance for reality. They want an escape from the real men of her world, because if her man in real life was a romance hero, she wouldn’t have time to read, nor would she need the escape. As romance writers, we know we are casting a fantasy. Our heroes must appeal to the reader’s fantasy, before all else. The heroine must be relatable to the reader. The romance must carry the entire book and leave the reader with feelings of satiation and contentment. But the male reader is often left feeling inadequate and/or alienated, which is why the genre appeals only to a small minority of men.
Tess: I never watched Red Shoe Diaries. At the time I was way too busy to even watch TV. Careers have the tendency to rob you blind of relaxing evenings in front of the tube. So does writing and promotions—but that’s fodder for another blog. And I thought that old saying was “Men marry to get laid and women marry for love.” Lol Now, of course, you’re not typical, Brindle. I was referring to the male population at large. YOU could never be typical or I wouldn’t talk to you. Lol. I do have to agree that shallow doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with gender—although, I do think men have the edge—at least the men I’ve known. And that’s fodder for yet another blog. HA! But back to the subject at hand. You still have yet to explain to my satisfaction why men can read all kinds of books and identify with the men in those books---but can’t identify with the Alphas of romance. The heroes in those books that you do read and identify with are just as impossibly painted as those in romance novels. What I’m getting from you as to why men don’t read romance isn’t so much about the characteristics given to the men in romance vs. the ones you identify with—those rippling muscles, chiseled features, knows just what to say and when to say it, a sex drive to match a god’s, money out the ying yang, etc.—because the dudes in the books you CAN identify with are basically painted the same way. In essence, what I think you’re saying is it’s all about the failure of romance authors to write male POV correctly. Not about how they are painting impossible heroes. It’s a genre dominated by women—and I do mean dominated. In other words, we female writers are not thinking like men. I get that.
Brindle: I still think it stems from the confusion between real alpha males and romance heroes. But maybe I can explain myself more clearly if we look at motivation, rather than actions. An alpha would deck the villain in his way, as would a romance hero. Both want to get to the girl and won’t let someone stand in their way. But the romance hero is motivated by his undying, passionate love for her. The real alpha is motivated by his territorial defense. A real alpha male may not even give a crap about the girl, but he’ll be damned if anything’s gonna keep him away from his property! That’s his bitch and he’ll kick anyone’s ass that trespasses on that claim. A pimp is a textbook example of an alpha male.
So you see, when a male reader reads romance, he’s not seeing it by the actions of the romance hero. He reads an alpha and therefore the hero is a dickhead to the male reader. The alphas we, as men grew up with, were the bullies in school. The lying braggarts in the locker room, and the backstabbing, step on anyone to get a promotion at work, guys. It is actually very hard (I wouldn’t know how) to write it, so your hero would overcome this automatic assumption by the male reader, without detracting from the hero’s appeal to the female reader. I’m not saying women like jerks, but there are enough women who go for these cretins, as is evidenced by the sheer amount of battered women’s shelters across the nation.
But I think maybe we’re onto something here, that it is that the male hero’s motivation is not clearly defined, so the male reader knows right way, this hero is not an alpha dickhead. He’s a romantic James Bond. He resembles an alpha, but his motivation comes from love. A desire to protect the heroine. Not just bang her.
Anyway, I concede, that in general, men may seem outwardly more shallow than women. Where on the opposite side of the coin, I’m sure you’d agree that women tend to be more catty than men. By gender, we have distinct characteristics, but those attributes are also seen in the opposing gender as well, just at lower levels.
I think for men to start reading and enjoying romance novels, the alpha romance heroes need to be a little more like James Bond. 007 is a womanizer to be sure, which is not the quality you want to use in the romance hero. But 007 is a hero. He does good. Fights the bad guys. He is not a bully and does not beat up on defenseless henchmen, unless he has to. Getting to his woman should never be conditioned on having to rely on fist-a-cuffs. If she does, she’s high maintenance, and not appealing to the male reader. Remember, the hero’s actions must be justified to the male mind if you want to appeal to male readers. Fighting for a girl is dangerous. No one really wins in a fight. We men know the hard way, that even when you win, you hurt, you break, you bleed. So she better be damn well worth it!!! Hehehe. So in closing, I think it’s a very precarious endeavor to appeal to both male and female readers with a romance story, which is why it hasn’t really been done well. Movies are more successful in this because men are visual creatures and a well crafted romance plotline is easier for men to digest on the big screen. It’s simply that critical first introduction of the hero that does it I think. Because the audience is overwhelmingly female, the hero must appeal to the female reader, which in turn sends the male readers running.
Tess: So we write pimps, huh? And I don’t cry over toast. Maybe a broken nail. And yep, I think we’re onto something here. Definitions change with their usage. And that’s definitely the case with the meaning of Alpha in romance novels. Alphas are not as you describe them. They might have similar characteristics to the school yard bully you talk about, but by no means are they the bully—that’s the bad guy’s job—the common foe the hero and heroine must thwart together. The other thing that most readers may not understand with romance books—authors too—is that writing male POV can’t be just about the man. Just like that fairy tale happily ever after that we so often argue is not realistic, but is a MUST HAVE for a romance book---the way we write male POV has definite rules as well. Some of those rules are pretty subtle—not easy to get. But there are rules. We’re writing FOR women because that is the nature of the romance beast. Ninety percent of all our readers are female. So we must target those readers. It’s not enough for the hero to say IN POV, “The blue dress looked damn good on her.” Which is exactly how a man would think of a blue dress. Lol He has to say it in such a way that the female reader—our target audience—is entertained by what he says. So he needs to say: “The ice blue dress hugged her body and showed off her ample curves.” Now it wouldn’t work for him to say: “The cobalt-blue gown clung to her body, the shimmer of the silk fabric as it cascaded over her ample curves accentuating her every movement.” Why wouldn’t that work? Because a man would NEVER say anything like that—at least not an Alpha. So in writing good male POV—male POV that entertains the target audience (again, women)— and at the same time does its best to satisfy what a man really would say, authors walk a fine fine line in finding the happy medium. In some instances going for realism is what’s needed (so that first line could work dependent upon the scene) and in others, we simply have to fudge. And because of the fact that romance is basically by women, written for women, I understand why men can’t get into romance. They simply aren’t our target audience. However, with that said, it might do them some good to pick up a couple of romances and see what their lady is fantasizing about. Just sayin’. Lol
Hey! We gotta wind this up—and being a woman—a catty female—hee hee hee—I am NOT going to give Brindle the last word. HA! Take that Brindle! Lol You ladies, and any gentlemen who might be here as well, should check out Brindle’s books. He’s a very talented author with a promising future ahead of him. Download his free read at Barnes and Noble http://search.barnesandnoble.com/books/e/2940011053313 and his latest release from Loose Id Books
Gothic City Lights http://www.loose-id.com/Gothic-City-Lights.aspx Stop by his website to take a look at other great reads. http://www.forlorn-hope.net
And because Brindle is such a good sport and played along today, I’m going to make up for those Dueling Banjos and give him some “Alpha Music”. The chest-beating kind. LOL