Molly and I were recently having a conversion about some trends we’re seeing in romance recently. Certainly we’re seeing explosions in self-publishing success where authors are now receiving big time traditional publishing contracts, hitting lists etc.I’ve read a number of these breakout authors and while I still have my issues with content and copy editing, I do get why these books are attracting readers.
Now it took me a while, I will admit. I was so focused on what I considered to be flaws that I forgot what can be inherently compelling to readers. Especially women reading romance for that fantasy/escape element.
The absolute, dominant, no messing with, very large, very handsome, well hung (let’s face it, it’s true) Alpha-Ahole. Now, he’s been featured pretty dominantly in paranormal. There I think we gave him a pass because he was literally a monster. Or a vampire, werewolf, dragon etc.But now he’s made his way into straight contemporary. Who is this man? This man will make you sign a contract saying he can do anything he wants to you in bed. This man will have conversations with you by lifting your skirt to your hips, carrying you to a desk and laying you flat on it while he explains that it’s his world and you are just living in it.
This man is an absolute dick to the heroine for basically ninety percent of the story until he figures out she is his one true love. This man is good in bed, if a little crude. He usually likes to talk dirty. This man has no softness, unless it’s for animals or children (certainly not the heroine). Yet, this man is protective to the ultimate extreme. Don’t come home ten minutes late unless you want to get yelled at for making him worry. Don’t drive a car that gets a flat tire, (or do) because he’s probably going to buy you a new really expensive car (because most likely he’s a billionaire too) with run flat tires.Now you may be thinking I’m only talking about recent books featuring the Alpha-Ahole, but that’s when I figured it out. When I started looking at the qualities of the men in these books, and let’s face these books are all about the men, I remembered so many things from my past.
I knew this guy. Elizabeth Lowell perfected him in her late 80’s Silhouette Desire books. Linda Howard made a career for herself featuring this guy. Diana Palmer’s ranchers and businessmen – could those guys be any meaner to those twenty year old virgins they were always abusing?
I knew this Alpha-Ahole and I loved him. The meaner the better. Hello Judith McNaught, Double Standards anyone? Linda Howard’s Sarah’s Child? I mean these guys were A-HOLES. But I still remember them.
But then right about that same time something happened. This other author – you might know her – her name is Nora Roberts – she was also writing books at that time. And her men were strong, and smart, but they also tended to be funny and fairly laid back. And she featured women. Strong women, smart women, broken women. Woman who didn’t take “stuff” from anyone. Women who could kick butt. Women who had careers. Women who could solve crimes. I fell in love with those books too.So I guess there is no real moral to this story. Other than as I saw all these major deals I started to worry where I (and my heroines) would fit in. Could romance only support the Alpha-Ahole and the placeholder heroine leaving the meatier – I don’t mean fat here - heroines by the wayside? The answer: no. There always has been and there always will be a place for both.
But I do wonder if there isn’t some sort of deep psychological twist happening here. That as women statistically are becoming more independent, wealthier, staying single longer, not marrying again after divore, etc. that our Alpha’s need to be even MORE Alpha. Not just hot, but the hottest. Not just rich, but the richest. Not just dominating, but completely and utterly controlling.In real life most women I know wouldn’t walk but would RUN from this man. But romance isn’t real life and there is no shame in liking what you like. We just have to hope that all this testosterone is sometimes countered with books about incredible women. Because I want to read her story too.