Thursday, January 10, 2013

What's old is new again - the Alpha-Ahole

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.


Eileen said...

Very interesting. I spoke with a class at UC Davis who had been studying Twilight (yes, studying Twilight) and their feeling was that what I saw as the abusive relationship between Bella and Edward was present in most romances. They had a lot of examples.

It actually bugs me a little and yet, I kind of love a good Alpha Ahole.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I think he's coming back around - he spent some time in paranormal but he's creeping up in paranormal. And part of me is sad about this - while I love a good alpha hole too, he limits the dynamic and I don't want to read romances from twenty years ago with modern sensibilities. If he's coming back I want him to be different in some serious way - and the heroines that manage him different. Not just feisty - lord save me from feisty. But the dynamic has to be different. Right now these alpha holes are coming back in books I've already read 20 years ago, with hotter sex scenes.

Anonymous said...

Great post! so hard to do the alpha guy and make him relatable. It's why the Zadist book worked so well for me, because he's Alpha in some regards, but not when it comes to the heroine..
And it's where the Kristin Ashley book, Motorcycle man did not work for me. Couldn't see him as sexy. And I'm in the minority there... so it's really subjective.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Good point Molly. We love him, but how can we do him differently.

And Sinead I never really thought that about Zhadist. I would have put him in the Alpha column, but you are right in many ways he isn't.

Eileen - were they studying "Twilight" or the reaction to it. I think that's the only interesting aspect of that book.

On the plus side I do think romance has picked up a LOT of these Twilight readers.

Eileen said...

The reaction and the book both. I wish I could remember the name of the class. A friend of mine taught it and I was a guest speaker after she found out how much I hated the book.

No feistiness, Molly? None at all? Could she be adorably clumsy like a sweet kitten instead? ;-)

Maureen McGowan said...

Zsadist (third spelling is the charm?) was alpha everywhere but with the heroine. So true!

That conflict of him falling apart completely when faced with an aroused female (because of the horrible things done to him in the past) was such an interesting conflict. Must read that book again.

That book and The Iron Duke both blew me away in terms of having big alpha dudes, who were also so vulnerable.
But those are both paranormal...

I still don't know if I've read a book in a contemporary setting with that kind of hero and liked it... I can kind of imagine one I might like as I'm typing this... Hmm... Either I need to read more of them or write one. ;)

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