Friday, June 16, 2017

Guys vs. Romance: Horror, Ignore or Abhor

There are few things in my opinion sexier than a well-read, educated man, specifically if it's Dolph Lundgren doing the reading, shirtless... next to me. I couldn't find a picture of that so I chose the next best one. (It's my blog... I do what I want...)

You'd be surprised how many men scrunch up their faces in alternating expressions of disgust or horror when they find out I write romance novels. Most automatically assume I write "smut" or "porn" and just about all consider that genre "trashy". I could and probably should argue their point in defense of the months (years, if you count the first Bimini book) that go into writing those pages but I'm not much for trying to beat my opinion into anyone's head (I'm lazy that way), so I  let it go and have accepted the average man appears to rather have a hot iron laid on his penis than read a romance novel or at the very least, admit to reading one. Sounds extreme but those facial expressions I spoke about in the sentence above are also pretty in keeping with such torture...
If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that I must have a filthy mind in order to write what I do, I could probably afford to solely write for a living. Sadly, neither my writing nor predicting what someone's husband or significant other is going to say about said writing, pays well. Story of my life.

At a family event a few weeks ago, one of my cousins and I were having a book discussion. She was interested in what inspired me to write Bimini: The Romance and Bimini: Blood on the Sand, as well as Texan. The conversation progressed onward as to why men seem to have an aversion to romance novels. She'd been trying to get her long-time boyfriend to read a few and was a little frustrated that he refused. I responded with, "Meh, guys don't like to read romance. They think it emasculates them."
Her counter-response got me thinking. She said, "But why though? Men are always saying they have no idea what women want and here you have novels like Fifty Shades of Grey that have pretty much laid it out in detail. Pick up a book and learn something!"

Right on, cousin... right on.

Most of my friends are guys and I've spent my life primarily around men. Some are readers, most are not. Of those ones who do read, they generally gravitate towards Science Fiction, Horror, or Crime genres and I'm not knocking any of those categories- I like them myself. I own three copies of Lonesome Dove because I love the book so much. If one copy goes missing, I want to have a back up and then of course, in the event that it's a serial issue of Lonesome Dove going M.I.A., I've got a back up for the back up. 
On my shelves, you'll find every type of book from Herbalism to Andy Rooney's autobiography. I don't throw books away, I've never met one I hated, though I've liked some less than others, and I'll literally read just about anything, including tech manuals. For the most part though, on my shelves, you'll find a large collection of romance because though I'm a fan of Clive Cussler, Robin Cook, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz; sometimes, nothing feeds the soul like a love story. As much of a tomboy as I might be, I can readily admit that I love LOVE. It's been a source of hilarity to a lot of my guy friends over the years and I'm not ashamed that I like romance novels. But apparently, if you're a guy, it's category of literature you should stay far, far away from and I wonder why?

Is it the stereo-typical idea that men aren't supposed like anything romantic openly or publicly and at same time maintain their masculinity? Or the idea that they might just have to revise their idea that women really aren't so complicated after all? Well, no more complicated than any other human. I bring that up because after all, we're talking about point of views written from a woman's perspective and it's a little hard for a writer not to project his or her preferences into certain POVs or character traits, correct?  Or is it really that "Women's Fiction" makes their guts feel all squirmy and points out a few places where they might be able to make some improvements or changes in the way they conduct or maintain their connections with their chosen partner? No one likes to hear "you're doing it wrong... read Chapter 20, page 198 for instruction..." Talk about a mood killer. But if men did take upon themselves to do as my cousin suggested and research these books; maybe he could teach his woman a thing or three also? And there's also a difference between a guy who just hasn't thought to read 'chick lit' and a guy who thinks it's below him to investigate.
The world is cruel enough already and for someone like me who has seen far too often just how cruel it can be, I think we'd all benefit from a little softness; male and female alike. So, yeah, the idea that men shouldn't or 'won't' read romance novels, does sorta annoy me because of it being so very stereo-typical. I also think perpetuates the notion that a romantic or attentive man is somehow less of a man. FALSE.

Romance is about time and attention. It's about recognizing a need in the other person and working hard to meet it. Some of the authors of these books do a fantastic job in conveying how important it is to touch, to listen and to really see the person you're not with. Not just look at them, but see them; beyond their face and the things they show the rest of the world because when you do, that's where the love is. When there's nothing left to hide and all the ego is gone out of the picture, love lives there. Those same authors also work hard to send a message that it's not all about the male doing the work and will happily put the responsibility of the relationship on the female as well. You know, 'cause life is that way. So for me, it makes for more realistic reading.

 Still though, I was curious about why men tend to genuinely abhor or at the very least ignore the romance genre. And because my particular brand of curiosity will nag the bejeezus out of me once it latches on to something, I decided to ask a long-time male friend what his thoughts were on the subject. While I won't publish his name because he works in a public service job, I'm grateful that he was willing to fill out the mini-questionnaire I sent him. I chose him because of his openly affectionate disposition and his attention to the females in his life. He's a romantic, but he's also pretty masculine, which I think makes for a perfect balance. 

1. When you have time to read, what genre do you generally gravitate
towards and why?  History...I find history so interesting, and understanding history helps me make solid decisions in my everyday life.

2. Have you ever read anything in the romance genre? If yes, what? If no, why not?  Does Penthouse Forum count?  JK.  I guess the answer is no.  As a guy, I've never considered reading a romance novel.

3. Would you ever consider reading anything in the romance genre
without prompting from your spouse/partner/SO?  Yes.  I think as I get older and more mature, I can see myself diving into a romance novel.

4. In YOUR opinion, why is that genre so popular among females?  I think most males fail when it comes to satisfying women (on all fronts).  Through romance novels, females can live vicariously through the words.

5. Do you feel that by reading this genre that men in general could
gain a better understanding of what females want out of
relationships/sex?  Absolutely!!!

6. Do you feel that the standards set in romance novels for the male
counterpart are out of reach or impossible for the average guy to
achieve?  No.  A little work never killed anyone.

7. As a male, if you were to read a romance novel, what would you choose (I gave options of categories):  I would pick Military and Second Chance.
8. If asked by your spouse/partner/SO, would you read a romance novel?  Yes

9.. Would you be open to trying anything specific she pointed out in said book?  Hell Yeah

10. Why do you feel that men tend to stigmatize the romance genre?  Peer pressure from their dumbass Bros.

I think my buddy makes some good points, especially his answers for questions 3, 4, and 6.

At a certain point we all stop looking for lust and start to focus on love. We want to explore the avenue more, rather than just run down it at a breakneck speed, getting to other side as quickly as possible like we did when we were younger. As we mature and grow, it becomes more about taking a leisurely stroll and seeing what you discover, not just about yourself, but about your partner.
In my own opinion, well-written romance novels showcase the complexities that make up the vital relationships we humans are hardwired through DNA to develop with one another. It's less about appearance and really more about chemistry on a molecular level. It's taking the science of human behavior and biology and layering it with the little every day things that cause a relationship to move from a chemical reaction (lust) into love.

As writers of this genre, we want to connect with our audience. We want you to experience those first flutterings of chemistry between our leading lady and her chosen guy, but we also want you to see them as ordinary, every day people. Fallible, imperfect, human. It's not just men falling short when it comes to holding up their end of the relationship. Woman can and are guilty of that, as well. It takes two to make it and often times, it takes two to break it. Partner relationships do take work.  It's one of the hardest jobs you'll ever have, even beyond parenting. It's not like parental love. You know, you have these kids, and even on bad days when they're being assholes, you still love them. With a partner, every morning when you wake up, you have to make a choice to stay with that person; to be present and to do what it takes to make things work if you love them enough. Taking the good with the bad is a choice. And even still, sometimes, no matter how much you love a person, no matter how much work you do, it still fails- especially when the other partner isn't as invested in the relationship. But for sure, it won't work if you just let it sit idle while you're both respectively doing other things rather than paying attention to each other.

Romance writers in particular, study love and relationships as well as the people who are involved in them. We're often real-life experts on unrequited love stories, second chance love stories and the angsty "I love so-and-so but it'd never work out" stories, which of course as writers, we make it work anyway because what's the point of reading romance if there's no 'happily ever after'?
Most of us attempt to write our characters from a realistic standpoint these days. We write about characters struggling with PTSD or child abuse issues. We write about relevant issues that affect us or people we know; cancer, sex trafficking, drug addiction, poverty...  Not just because we want to call attention to these things and the struggle they contain, but because in today's society, these are things that regular people encounter and relate to. It also adds to character or storyline depth.
Once upon a time, in the romance world, if you wanted your work published, it had to fit a certain standard and that standard didn't include social issues. The women had to be kind, in distress, petite or tall, but never overweight. The men had to be brusque, overly masculine, with bulging body parts and "piercing eyes". That old format also dictated that the couple fall in love immediately with minimal complications except for a villain or two thrown in the mix. Those lead characters were a little hard for some of us to relate to. I mean... I'm not "tall and willowy with sweeping chestnut curls..." I'm 4'll. My lanky, board-straight hair gives mute testament to the fact that there is literally no ethnicity in my genetic makeup and I'm shaped like the Goddess I worship (round). I fall horribly short- no pun intended- when compared to the old format for romantic heroines. So for me, a lot of the lead females weren't remotely relatable. It's not that those books don't have merit. I cut my proverbial teeth on them in seventh grade and still own some of the ones that were my favorites back then.
And if you're looking at romance novels from the aspect of what they used to be even twenty years ago, rather than what they've evolved into today, then yeah, I can see why men would be turned off by that genre. I have a hard time going back and reading those old books because now the characters seem pithy and a little impossible to connect with.
But like anything else, things have changed. In today's market, the formats have changed and there are some ladies who are shaped just like me as the leading character. The writing styles have also changed and so have a lot of the points of views. The female characters aren't so helpless or so easily won over. We also like our book boyfriends to be something akin to what you'd find today. Slightly insecure, a little dysfunctional... you know, like the rest of us. Just a guy trying to cope with his own baggage while helping his girl juggle hers.

To be fair, however, I have to point out that while male readers of romance might be few and far between, male authors have begun to jump on the romance train. Writers such as Lucian Bane and Chance Carter are paving the way in making it OK for males to take the genre leap, both as storytellers and readers. I'm hoping it's a trend that continues because in a genre that has been traditionally all women since women were allowed to publish books, the storylines have gone a little pat. It's pretty cool to pick up my favorite kind of book and have the POV be from a legit male's perspective. Perhaps if the male romance market becomes successful, we can really begin to learn what both respective sexes want from a relationship instead of expecting one gender or the other to do all the work.

Sometimes you really DO need to read the directions and some romance authors give damn good ones.

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