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December 27, 2006

Male Romance Novels

This week, the Lipstick Chronicles will bring back a few of our our favorite blogs of 2006 -- the ones that made you laugh, cry and hurl epithets at your computer. Happy New Year, and may 2007 bring you everything you want -- but not everything you deserve. Elaine

By Elaine Viets

Let’s talk about male romance novels.

You’ve read them. You just didn’t realize it. That’s because the critics call these books "gritty realism," "hard-boiled," or "scathing social satire."

In these highly acclaimed mysteries, the hero is a broken-down forty-five-year-old man with no job and a drinking problem. A gorgeous twenty-five-year-old woman falls madly in love with him – and he doesn’t even have money.

Not in my book. There’s fiction, and then there’s fiction.

These are male romance novels. Most women are smart enough to know this doesn’t happen in real life. Too many men have this touchingly naive belief that beautiful young women will love them for their flabby bodies and fine minds. Even smart men fall for this fantasy. I was lunching with a reporter friend who’s hard-boiled as a four-minute egg. He saw an old gentleman escorting a young woman with man-made mammaries and three thousand bucks worth of Versace.

"What do you think she sees in him?" my friend said. He really was puzzled.

"He’s rich and she’s pretty," I said.

"How can you tell that?" he said, as we watched the flossy knockout settle into the old geezer’s Mercedes.

"Why else would a young woman date an old man?" I said. "She’s a material girl. She’s wearing more than you make in a week. Somebody has to buy it for her."

Why couldn’t he see the obvious? This man had a pile of high-powered journalism prizes, but he couldn’t figure that out. I’d worked a dress shop that catered to bimbos and learned that lesson in one week.

I think there’s a disconnect in the male psyche. When a younger man hits on me, my first reaction is: "What’s wrong with him? Does this guy have a mother complex?"

When a younger woman hits on the average male, his first thought is: "I am hot stuff."

But the love-struck bimbo is only one character in the male romance novels. There are at least two more:

(1) The sensitive stripper with the heart of gold.

In male romance novels, a sensitive stripper has been abandoned by a cruel husband. This sweet creature must support a child or an aging mother by working as an ecdysiast. Sometimes, she’s also working her way through school. She’s ashamed and hurting, but she has a family to support, and Mum needs an operation.

As a former reporter who actually knew strippers, I know this is pure male fantasy. Most strippers have boobs of silicone, not hearts of gold, and they’re supporting cocaine habits. The rest have figured out they can make more money taking off their clothes than keeping them on. Hard work is for the suckers stuffing twenties in their G-strings. Worse, from the male romance viewpoint, some of these women don’t like men at all. They prefer the love of a good woman.

(2) The psycho friend of the hero.

Another male romance favorite. In these novels, the hero is too noble to actually torture and kill anyone. Good thing he’s got a wacko best friend to do it for him. Then the hero can disapprove but still get the bad guys dead. The psycho friend has enough weaponry to invade Montana.

I really like it when a minivan dad and his psycho friend take on a couple of hired killers. In these novels, Minivan Dad’s wife and/or children are being threatened, and the police are useless to save them. In that case, a good man has to kill to protect his family. Minivan Dad, with a little help from his pet psycho, blows away the bad guys. In a pinch, he may even save the psycho from certain death with his newfound shooting skills.

I grew up in split-level land, surrounded by Minivan Dads. They were nice guys who made great fathers and loving husbands. But the only thing they ever killed was crabgrass. Real Minivan Dads love reading about Minivan Dad and his psycho friend. It gives them hope that under their dull suburban exterior lurks a cool killer.

There are lots of guns and gore in the male romance novels, but they’re as sentimental as a royal wedding. If men want to buy books that cater to that fantasy, fine. It’s harmless, no worse than the women who read romance novels where hunks carry them off to satin-draped beds.

But here’s what gets me: Female romances are derided as fluff. Male romances are treated with respect. Even critics buy into the male romance. I can understand men critics falling for this claptrap. They want it to be true. But what about women reviewers? What happened to your common sense? Didn’t your mamas teach you anything?

Please don’t tell me, "I never read cozies." Or, "I don’t like chicklit. I prefer serious mysteries" – then name one of the big male romance novelists.

I’ve got news for you. My Dead-End Job series is more realistic. It shows the drudgery of minimum wage work. It has bimbos who milk rich old men for money, which really happens. It also has a few laughs and pastel covers, but don’t let those scare you. It’s social commentary wrapped in pink ribbons.

Let me break it to you gently, gentlemen. There are no sensitive strippers, Minivan Dads with psycho pals, or sweet young things with designer duds and fake boobs who fall in love with much older men – not unless the gray guys can advance their careers or keep them in style.

Bite the bullet, boys. Be a man and admit that "Lord of the Rings" is gritty realism compared to your three favorite fantasies.

Should you read male romances? Of course. I do. I love them. I even take them to bed with me. I enjoy them all night long.

But I don’t respect them in the morning.

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Comments

There's gotta be a sensitive stripper out there somewhere, just waiting for me--after some unforseen and unblameable disaster strikes my family and leaves me alone and broken. Nothing shows love and Holiday Spirit more than a $500 tip for a lap dance.

You also forgot the Reformed Prostitute, although she also May Not Be Quite Reformed Just Yet, but still loves our Man enough to see his child(ren) and go antiquing with him, between tricks.

The other thing that cracks me up is women who say they don't read romance--but they will read "character-driven" novels where the characters just happen to be driven into a romantic entanglement. I've been shopping a cozy to agents lately and before I got the nerve to do so, I had a half-dozen people from my mystery-readers group read it for slow bits, dialogue problems, etc. To a one, they wanted to know what was going to happen to the relationship between the two main characters. But these people don't read romance.

Puh-leez.

You forgot the slim, cool, elegant girlfriend with multiple degrees and a high-powered, yet feminine career (psychologist, foreign service, pediatric surgeon). She's busy enough that she is grateful for the time he spends hanging out with his friends and on his cases, yet can stay with him 24-7 to nurse his wounds after yet another run in with the bad guys.

Sure sign that you are reading a male romance - you start making bets with yourself as to whether the hero's love interest will be alive at the end of the book.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm always curious as to what happens to the relationship...even in Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler (or Harlen Coben). I like to believe authors put characters in a book for a reason, not just window dressing. :o) As for cozies, I can't say I don't like them. After all I got started with the queen of cozies, Agatha Christie. Just not fond of some. Not fond of all hard-boiled either. I do want well-written characters. So maybe I don't make a distinction between 'male and female'romance. If the book is good, it's good. Although I'd take a Kent Krueger book over a Danielle Steel any day of the week :o)

That was great. My husband and I have had the same conversation, but not as well articulated. I have a friend that refers to the genre as "dick lit". He had a pretty funny satire of the cliches that go with the turf:

https://bookfraud.blogspot.com/2006_08_01_archive.html

Elaine - this was one of my favorites too. And I am still hoping the term Dick Lit catches on.

Ah -- this was the blog that brought me to TLC, courtesy of Laurie R. King, who mentioned it on her blog. Thanks, Laurie and Elaine!

The character who always makes me gag in the male romance novels, movies, and TV shows is the ice queen: the professional scientist or business woman who needs Our Hero to peel away the protective layers and reveal The Real Woman within. This process is, of course, conveyed visually through the trope of him taking off her glasses and loosening her hair. Ugh, ugh, ugh!!!!

I like cozies, romances, and "chic lit" a *lot* better than I like these books . . .

Dave Barry said once that when women look in the mirror, they see all their flaws, but when men look in the mirror, they see a hot guy. Doesn't matter what they really look like.

When I wrote my first Annie Seymour book, I had no idea the interest the "love triangle" would spur. I really just threw in the other guy because when I put the reporter and the cop together all I could think of was "cliche" and wanted to shake it up. Suddenly I had "romance." But I also have four-letter words that have elicited some criticism. I often wonder if I would've gotten less criticism if my protagonist were a man...and he probably could've slept with two women in one book, too, and not had a reader bat an eye. It's all a huge double standard.

Hi Karen -

Great - another series to check out! I am so sad to be losing some of my favorites that I'm happy to have found a new one!

Having been bamboozled by a "stripper with a heart of gold" in real life, I usually avoid those books that promote that illusion.

I've only started reading "chick lit" the last two years in order to unlock the mystery of women. I am still only in the exposition chapters of this analysis. Yet I am fond of "Wollie" and "Bubbles" and I am saving "Murder Unleased" for this weekend.

Speaking of "Unleased" curs, "Rocky Balboa" features a great dog named "Punchy."


Hey, Maryann -

So am I! Even when it's not a "romantic" relationship but a business one or a familial one.

I've mentioned in other posts (I think it's on this blog, but it might have been the Cozy Chicks) that the one thing that will make me stop reading a mystery series is lack of character growth from one book to another. But in many series books (like those of the wonderful women who write this blog), the romantic relationship is part of the driving force of the growth and development of the characters from book to book, even if it's not so important in the interior of each book. And yet, my friends who "don't read romance" don't have any problem with them, even when there are explicitly romantic scenes in them.

I can't help but think it's the stigma of the cover art and the label.

Myself, I rarely read straight romance (though I will if it's as much humor as romance), but I am a big fan of romantic suspense (and regular suspense, and thrillers, and...hmmm...is there something I don't like?). And I do look forward to watching romantic relationships grow in cozy series. (Hey, Nancy, if you're reading this...you're driving me nuts! ... and I love it!)

I also think it's bizarre when I run into a man who says he "doesn't read books by women". This happens more frequently than you might think. I wonder if it's because they don't tend to have "male romance" in them. Some of the most hard-boiled mysteries are written by women!

--Laura

Elaine, let's take turns being each other's psycho sidekick. That would really keep people off base when they saw us coming.

Charlaine Harris

What always amuses me in this genre is The Hero does it FOR FREE! Remember Joe Mannix? Shot at, shot, cracked over the head, run off cliffs, beaten badly...and he never collected a fee from a client.

That's why I've always been partial to Travis McGee; he would often refuse his percentage for compassionate reasons, or just accept a token payment, but he did collect some money for his troubles. Current favorite is F. Paul Wilson's "Repairman Jack". Jack lets the client know up front, this is his BUSINESS, not a hobby, and he is to be compensated for the risks he takes. In the novella "A Day In The Life", Jack takes specific issue with such mythical do-gooders, in particular THE EQUALIZER (changed in a later printing to "The Neutralizer", I think.)

hey, don't hate on younger women with older men. It's not, in my case, ever about money. With mature faces come mature attitudes...

hey, don't hate on younger women with older men. It's not, in my case, ever about money. With mature faces come mature attitudes...

Are there no other types of male-dominated romance novels? Like "The Professor" by Charlotte Bronte? Older men that find true love late in life? There has to be....

I just stumbled upon this, and as a man who's read "women's" romance novels as well as the men's romances you mention, you make some really good points. However, I also think women's romance novels have their fair share of fallacies. For one, it seems like the conflict is often centered around the man having some reason he can't/won't fall in love with the woman. He's had a rough history, had his heart broken, doesn't think he can be with her, etc. They're "fixer-uppers" where if only the woman can melt their hard hearts, they'll live happily ever after. I'd argue this is just as difficult to believe as a young woman falling for a fat broke older man. In real life, these men can't/won't fall in love because... they can't/won't fall in love. I've had wonderful female friends fall for guys in this category, and their hard hearts never melt. They just move on to the next optimistic woman.

Well, I was definitely agree that most women are smart enough to know this doesn’t happen in real life. Anyway,you have a nice blog so informative.

isey

So interesting it is, I like it !

There are guys out there who gag at the idea of dating a stripper, lose sleep over imaginary wrinkles they're getting in their 20s despite being told they're attractive on a regular basis, and hopelessly fantasize about lifelong monogamy in an alien world revolving around casual sex. I'm one of them.

Maybe I'm wrong but I think all guys start out like this.

After being rejected/dumped a couple times though, a guy can't just bounce back like a girl can. He has to choose between his manhood and his romantic side at some point. Leading up to that decision is when the awkward compromises begin; the fantasies about romps with terminally ill strippers, etc.

They need that 'disposable' element going on as an emotional safety net. Once a guy guy convinces himself something is going to last forever (and it never does), he's gambling his manhood/ego in the name of his juvenile romantic side.

The desperate stripper and apocalyptic 2-week-love-affair-then-everyone-dies-in-a-crazy-shootout-before-anyone-has-the-chance-to-see-me-shirtless scenarios give him 37% of the romance without any of the emotional risk.

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