Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Where Have All the Balls Gone?

Having bored you with endless nattering about my weight loss long enough, I'm going to now talk about erotic romance again.

My current fangirl crush is JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood. I love those damn books. I've read all four of them three times, and I scarf them like chocolate every time one of them shows up in the store. I think I've figured out what it is about them that just fascinates me -- and by implication, what's wrong with mainstream romance, and why paranormal has suddenly become so hot.

First, JR has giant brass balls. Really. Who else would create a misogynist hero who hates his own penis, like Zsadist, or a hero with a crush on another guy, like Vishous's stealthy love for Butch? Now, this is the kind of thing that could easily make a reader throw a book across the room, but Ward pulls it off. All her guys are so damned sexy, tortured and generally fascinating, you love them BECAUSE they're weird. And part of the appeal is "What the HELL will she do next?" I have no idea, but I desperately want to find out.

Speaking as somebody who's been reading romance since she was 17, it's damned difficult for me to find a writer who consistently surprises me. That's because so few of us romance writers have any balls. And I'm including myself in that category.

In these politically correct times, I think writers feel heroes have to be so damned NICE. They can be sexy, yeah, but they can't be really nasty anymore. Otherwise, God forbid, you might offend somebody.

It wasn't always that way. When I was reading romance during the bad old days of the 1980s, we had all those bodice ripper bastard heroes. I loved those books. I remember reading one, STORMFIRE, over and over again, and crying. Now, that guy was a real bastard. He broke the heroine's ribs, raped her, and left her in a dungeon until she was half-starved. In retrospect, I have no idea why I found him so hypnotic. Probably because he might have been a prick, but at least he was interesting. You didn't know what he was going to do next. There was nothing heroic about him whatsoever, but he was fascinating.

Now, before somebody rips me a new one, I absolutely do NOT think there is anything at all heroic about rape. Heroes should not rape heroines, any more than they should murder people or rob banks. But there's a BIG difference between committing felonies and being a six-foot-three poodle. And there are entirely too many poodle men in mainstream romance.

I tried reading a historical the other day by an author who is an auto-buy for me. Oh, God. I got through about twenty pages and realized I didn't give a rat's ass. The hero was just too frickin' GOOD. He was honest and upright and straightlaced. And borrrrrring.

The problem with poodles is they're predictable. You know they're not going to do anything really nasty, because they're Good Guys. Which, okay. But really, they shouldn't be so damned good they never say anything sexist or rude or just plain MALE. Some of these guys talk and act just like women in Hessians. No wonder I don't find them sexually attractive.

And they're not historically accurate, either. Part of the appeal of historicals is that those guys hadn't been Dr. Phill'd to death. If you so much as open your mouth and say ANYTHING stupid now, you must be publicly pilloried, then methodically spend a month flogging yourself on camera. No, I don't like racists or sexists or bigots in general, but I'm really fond of free speech. And I think people have a right to occasionally put a foot in their mouths without being proclaimed Asshole for the Ages.

Be honest, now. Haven't you ever said anything you KNEW was stupid, insensitive or just plain ignorant? I have. I'm a Southerner, after all. We've built an entire culture out of being assholes. I work really hard against my asshole tendencies, but I sometimes I miss. After all, I'm human, and being politically correct is hard work.

That's why I love JR. She's not afraid to let her heroes be assholes. And really, there's not a man alive who hasn't been an ass at one time or other. That's part of why we love them. They're annoying, they're infuriating, they make you want to smack them, but they're GUYS, and that's what guys do. And every woman knows it.

I think that's why readers have fallen in love with paranormals. Vampires and werewolves, after all, are not expected to be politically correct. They get to bite people, grow hair, and run wild in the woods. They don't have to wear bows, paint their toenails pink and sit in your lap gazing at you adoringly. You have to chase them -- or maybe run from them -- and that makes them a lot more interesting to be around.

So I think for my next novella, I'm going to try writing a bastard.

It should be fun.


J R Ward said...

OMG I am SO feeling the love baby! ;)

Actually, I really am. Because seriously, in the Brotherhood books, what keeps ME interested is the fact that I never know what the Brothers are going to do next. And you're right. They are NOT perfect nor do they play perfect on TV. I think that's why I wasn't into Rhage when I started in with LOVER ETERNAL. I mean, he was so PERFECT on the outside, all beautiful and shit, and like, sex-godded up. But when I found his faults, that's when I really got into him.

One of the scenes that I've gotten some flack over- although admittedly not a lot- is the scene where Rhage goes out and is with another woman. He had to do it because of his curse, but he HATED it, and the heroine HATED it and he never did it again. It resulted in what was for me an incredible scene to write- the one where he comes back to his bedroom after it's over. God, that was a real clincher for me. Btu I thoguht it was gripping and dramatic too.

I've always been a romance reader. I think primarily because I need the happy ending. I do think, however, that one the way to the happy ending, the less predictable the better. Increased tension = increased gratification when it passes. So the greater the angst and the worry of the course of a romance, the greater the glow at the end. Certainly there are some things that for me as a writer and a reader are nonnegotiable buzz kills. That being said, I don't mind feeling challenged or a little uncomfortable. My favorite books tend to be main streamed-voiced, with alpha heroes who have a little bastard in them, and a lot of credible surprises. I mean, I loved your JANE'S WARLOD and let's face it, that hero wasn't a poodle, at least not in my estimation.

Anyway... I fear I'm rambling.

But I think you've started a really good discussion!

Love you baby! J.R.

Angela Knight said...

I'm really glad you don't think Baran was a poodle! LOL!

I think as far as the HEA goes -- Yeah, you have to do that. Without a HEA, you don't have a romance. But the hero and heroine have to EARN it. They've got to bleed for it, so that at the end, they're a bit battered.

As for Rhage and the other woman -- You're talking about with the Scribe Virgin, right? You had to do it the way you did. The way your universe was set up, you absolutely could not duck dealing with the fact that Rhage couldn't have lived off Mary's blood alone. So there wasn't any choice. And I think the way you handled it was very powerful.

J R Ward said...

See you and I are so on the same page. As usual!

Actually, it was when Rhage went out and slept with a female other than the heroine. He dealt with his curse (whereby he had to mediate his energy or his beast came out) in two ways- fighting and sex. He was so powerfully attracted to the heroine he was afraid of hurting her with the beast because she got him so juiced- he had to take himself down, reduce the burn, that kind of thing. As he was compromised and couldn't fight, he had to do something. He despised himself for what he had to do and would have chosen another route if he could have. It was a horrible situation- a prime example IMO of someone having to choose between two evils. He picked the one that would save the heroine but it was a horrible choice to have to make.

I think what made it palatable to readers is that he didn't just go, oh, yeah, I wanna bang some randomn chick for the hell of it. His curse put him in the position he was- it was not his fault. Adn he arguably did it for the heroine's safety.

But it was still god awful.

Angela Knight said...

Oh, yeah -- I remember that scene. That was a tough choice to make. Where did the rule come from, anyway -- that once the h/h meet, neither can sleep with anyone else, even for good reason? I'm told it's a hard and fast thing.

Sometimes the "rules" of romance can function more like a straightjacket than anything else.

J R Ward said...

Yeah, I see what you mean. It leads to so much predicability which, as we've been saying, kind of drains the excitment.

Things are hieghtened in the dark, feel me?


Courtney said...

OMG, my two favorite authors going back and forth! This is great!

And I agree with both of you; I can't stand poodle heroes either. Like Angela, that's why I read paranormals: the guys can be guys and not have to apologize for it. I'm an utterly devoted fangirl of WARDen's BDB series and what I love most about it is that it is truly driven by the male characters--and you just don't see that often in romance. All those warrior vampires are incredibly compelling with their curses and horrendous pasts and the shitty choices they sometimes have to make, like with Rhage and the other woman or when Zsadist kept pushing Bella toward Phury. Really, how cool is it that Zsadist got an amazing HEA, yet still retained those bastard qualities we love? JR Ward rocks, for real.

And the greatest side effect to having alpha males with a penchant for being bastards is that their heroines have to step up to that level. It takes a very special female to give a male like that a run for his money and to make him earn the HEA, too, because guys like that don't deserve a woman who lets herself be railroaded. I LOVE that Bella ended up saving the twins from Mr. O and that Mary tamed the beast. I love that it was Jane who killed the bad guy while Baran was down for the count. I can't wait to see how Dr. Jane Whitcomb matches Vishous--and how they deal with his feelings for Butch. (as a side note, I do wish something more had happened between Butch and V--that would have spiked my romantic-yet-scorching meter off the charts)

I need bastard heroes, too, and we're lucky that authors like JR Ward and Angela Knight are willing to write them. Another great one was Lachlain in Kresley Cole's A Hunger Like No Other. I hated that guy in the beginning, but it was great.


BadBarbs' Blog said...

Hi Angela!
I totally agree with your comments Angela. I thin paranormal is the last genre where it is ok for guys to be arrogant, demanding.
Why do you think I was drawn to your writing? You had me hooked from Decker on (who doesn't love Decker) Your heroes were not politically correct.

I have yet not had the pleasure of reading JR's books but it is because I KNOW I will be hooked. :)

Selena said...

First, what a great discussion topic!

Second, I hope it's ok if I play devil's advocate a bit.

I agree with everything that has been posted here. As an avid romance reader, I sometimes get tired of authors who are playing it safe with rather uncomplicated (read: boring) heros and heroines whose bad deeds are usually glossed over by the end of the novel because the author is afraid readers won't feel they've gotten the proper happily ever after.

At the same time, I do respect the sanctity of said happily ever after in romance. I want it. I need it. I crave it. It's why I read romance. And there are some things that DO compromise happy endings.

For me, the first rule of romance should be "Convince your reader that the hero and heroine truly belong together and will have a good life."

Now, this doesn't mean said hero and heroine have to be perfect. To paraphrase Grace Jones, though, they DO have to be perfect for each other.

I don't mind if a hero or heroine does something bad. For instance, I had no problem when Rhage slept with other women. I didn't like it, but it didn't compromise the happy ending for me because I still absolutely believed Rhage loved and respected Mary and wanted only her. He wasn't sleeping around because he was a dog; he slept around because he truly had no other choice. And he HATED doing what he did. BTW, it also helped that we never actually had to SEE the scene of him with other women.

Angela also brought up the case of Butch and V. So far, I've been fine with that bit of envelope pushing vis a vis the way V's feelings may or may not be heading towards romantic and sexual. The reason I've been able to enjoy it is simply because so far it hasn't compromised any key relationships. Even with the sexual ambiguity of some scenes between the men, I still thought Marissa was the only one for Butch and that Butch loved only her. In other words, I bought their happy ending.

I will say, though (and perhaps this is an unpopular opinion, but here goes): I wouldn't have cared for more exploration of Butch/V than we got, NOT because we're talking about two men, but because going further with them would have meant I wouldn't have believed Butch belonged with Marissa. And in V's book, I wouldn't want any Butch/V moments to make me think that V didn't really love or belong with his heroine.

So what's the bottom line for me as a romance reader? I love when people shake up the genre. Keep me gasping and guessing. But please, also keep me believing that your hero and heroine are each other's only destiny.

Thanks for a great topic!


S-Byte said...

Excellent topic, Angela. I think that the major appeal of the paranormal genre is that it allows men to be as alpha as they want. Something that was popular back in the day, but slowly moved out of vogue. With paranormals, you have an often animastic side to the men. You're starting with a different set of preconceptions on behavior. These guys don't have the same drives and inhibitions that a regular man does and I think it makes them very exciting. As you said, it's the unpredictability of their behavior which keeps the reader glued to the page.

I think that what makes the characters of the BDB world so compelling is that they're not carbon copies of the same alpha-male stereotype. Each has their own issues regarding intimacy, emotions, self-worth and it's affected them differently. It's a characters faults which make them fascinating and have readers salivating for more, because we want to know how he gets past them and how he deals with the emotional turmoil.

That being said, I don't like males who are just obnoxious, domineering bastards. One can go too far in making him nasty. There has to be something redeeming in him, like a desire to be someone better when he's with his heroine. With the BDB, there is a darkness in all the Brothers, but when it comes to their female, a whole different set of impulses kick in: love, bonding, and a strong protective urge. They'd never hurt their mate.

As readers, we want these strong alpha males, but ones that are redeemed by love in the end.

Beth said...

Angela I love your books mostly because of those politically incorrect heros. I love nice guys and read a lot of the traditional nice guy romances which I really enjoy, but I find myself looking for a little more "trouble" lately. There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the new book Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell. Some seem really upset about the "brutality" of the hero. To me it is a pretty historically accurate portrayal of how a Duke would actually behave when thwarted. I think Campbell showed some balls writing it, especially for a first novel. I haven't read any J.R. Ward yet, but they are definitely on the list. I read Jane's Warlord this weekend. It is the last of your work that I haven't read. When is Master of Dragons coming out? I am really looking forward to that one.

S-Byte said...

"Where did the rule come from, anyway -- that once the h/h meet, neither can sleep with anyone else, even for good reason? I'm told it's a hard and fast thing."

You know, this reminds of a Lisa Kleypas novel, Dreaming of You, IIRC, where the hero did sleep with someone else long after meeting the heroine. Derek Craven was another of those great, dark alpha males. He slept with someone who looked like the heroine because he couldn't have the woman he wanted. It was heart-wrenching stuff and so well done that it ended up highlighting how much he loved the heroine and how unworthy he felt.

I'm not sure if Lisa Kleypas got flak over that scene, but I thought it was fantastic and did show guts to write.

I think that what would bother me as a reader is if the hero slept with the heroine and THEN slept with someone else. But again, it depends if the author can explain the impetus behind that action. That's really what makes it or breaks it with these things. It's what the author does with it afterwards and whether it's a defining moment in the book. If 'cheating' on the heroine is a catalyst for his realizing what he feels for her, etc, then I'm okay with it.

Eva Gale said...

gaak! Angela, thank god you're on the other end of a loonnngg wire (hee) because I love this post so much I might have licked you had you been standing close.

Ok, so maybe not, but I really really agree. Verily verily.

There is a book...

Erotic Dreams, The Secret to Understanding Women's Hidden Passions, by Dr. Gillian Halloway. You should read what she says about Vamps and schtuff. Right along those lines.

Jill said...

Baran and the Brothers...together.......mmmmmm...

Oh yeah, what was I saying?

I completely agree. I need my males Alpha. I have a theory on this. As a modern, married, working woman, raising a family with 1000 responsibilities and pressures, I want to fantasize about NOT always being the one in control. I am a bit of a control freak in most other aspects of my life EXCEPT the bedroom or my romance choices. To be well rounded, I think something's gotta give and for me that's the place it gives.

I think old school romance spoke to women who were still feeling guilty about sex and had to feel like they were madly seduced or pressured to "give in" without culpability. Then in the 60-90's we see the guy with the feminine side come out to compensate for changing times. Now it's like, OK we get it, you have a softer side, now PULL MY HAIR DARN IT!

Selena said...

I read that Lisa Kleypas novel you mentioned, S-Byte and I agree with your take on it.

Again, I think readers can accept their heros and heroines sleeping with other people if the writer does a good job of explaining the motivation. And Kleypas set it up very well.

But I'll admit I usually prefer my hero and heroine to sleep with only each other once they've met. However, if an author still proves to me that the hero/heroine are IT for each other, I can buy just about anything.

It's tricky, though. I want obstacles and conflict, but I never want them to overwhelm my belief in the happy ending.


Cora Zane said...

Where have all the balls gone? Hmm... I bet we'd all find out if we patted down a few heroines of recent years. Has anyone else noticed that? The guys are all poodles, and the heroines have taken on the brass ball snarker role.

I've read quite a few romances like that, where the guy seemed just short a whipped by the heroine. The one's I actually finished before donating them to Goodwill made me think, "Wow, this is definitely a HFN book, because I can see where this relationship is going to be 5 years down the road." Heh.

I do like a guy who has a set, because let's face it... women have come into their own. If a guy can't stand up and be straight with a woman, he gets walked over like yesterday's shag carpet. That is the biggest turn of them all.

Those that can do, I say bring on the bastards. Let's see what they've got.

Zeek said...

Agree with everyone here.

I've been a proud advocate of the Alpha male heores for some time now. Many have tried to make me feel guilty for still loving the heroes of the 80's romance novels but I have held fast, thank you very much.

Where have all the ballsy guys gone?

Why to e-pubs naturally- exluding any non e-pubbed authors posting here of course!

Amanda said...

I love this topic. I was thinking that since I have found the WARDen's books and the 'Cell Library' that my thirst for the HEA has changed. Those books that I onced LOVED are now good but do not quite have that, uh, bite I'm looking for.

Though, there is one contemp author that popped into my head that is pushing the contemp hero toward being more human - Suz Brockmann. Her Troubleshooter series runs the gamut of males and they are all alphas. The story that comes to mind is Max and Gina. There was nothing pretty about their meeting, coming together, and eventual HEA.

That's my $.02.

S-Byte said...

Selena, I agree with you. In general, I like it that once the hero meets the heroine, he has eyes for no one but her. That being said, it's conflict that drives these books and if the author can make 'cheating' believable and important to the story...then go for it. You know, I think there was a...Jo Beverly book where the hero was cheating on the heroine for most of it. And yet, she made it plausible. So I guess the books are out there, but few and far between because of the difficulty in selling it to the reader.

Cora, you bring up an interesting point. There have definitely been some brass balls women in recent fiction like urban fantasy. I think that brings up the issue of balance of power. With stronger women in fiction, you absolutely have to have a strong man as her partner.

These men who are a bit of a bastard are only palatable when they're up against a woman that is equally strong. I think the modern reader would be turned off if the guy just browbeat the woman into submission. What makes it interesting is seeing the give and take of power.

With the BDB males, the are serious alpha males, strong, and used to getting their way, but when it comes to their female, they would do anything for them.

shygrrl2006 said...

Love this topic, thanks, Angela!

I agree that Alpha heroes are hard to find these days. Yet, without a compelling Alpha hero, I'm not going to reread a book.

I want my Alpha males to be more than just a stereotype, tromping through the pages like a bull in a china shop, tossing expletives left and right. No matter how sexy he is, if I don't care about the hero's goals, or believe that he and the heroine have something in common outside the bedroom, then he's BORING. I want the hero to have a sharp mind, show at least a smidgeon of a sense of humor, and be flexible enough to admit he's wrong at least once. ;)

End result - I want a hero who's a puzzle that I can keep coming back to time and time again because his secrets will never be fully revealed.

But it's rare to find such a hero these days, particularly in the suspense genre, where I expect to find strong law enforcement types. I think one of the problems is that many suspense authors are sacrificing character development for plot. And using too sparse language. I've heard time and time again that as writers we need to cut out adjectives and adverbs. To trim what's on the page to the bare essentials.

But you know what? Such writing may up the pace, but what happens is that, as a reader, I reach the end of a book out of breath, and with no sense as to who the hero and heroine really are. They're just cardboard cutouts. And if I don't care about the characters, why do I care if they get the villain? I forget about the characters as soon as I put the book down.

Which is why I love the way JR Ward has written the Brothers. They're complex, they're unique, and they're so compelling that I can't stop thinking about them even after I've finished reading their books for the umpteenth time!

Robin L. Rotham said...

Yes, JR Ward's books are wonderfully, terribly addictive, and I don't know how I'll live until my next fix, and if the series ever ends, I'll be one of millions of women who are forced to join grief support groups in order to cope with the loss.

That said, my dear, yours were the alphas who opened my eyes to what a hero ought to be. I gave up reading romance in the early 90s because it was just so damn bland, and then the kids came along and I didn't have time to read. When I finally rejoined the ranks, I was thrilled to discover Hq Blaze but discouraged to discover that steamier sex didn't make romances any more interesting.

It wasn't until I stumbled on Mercenaries that I realized it wasn't sex that was missing from romance -- it was strong, aggressive men who make no apology for who they are. Thank you for blazing that trail for the rest of us alpha-lovers.

stephanie feagan said...

Angela, I'm posting to say bravo - this is something I've thought about quite a lot of late. I pick up a book, am all excited to read it, and 200 pages later, I'm ultimately disappointed. I wonder, why? This is a good book, so what's the problem? It dawned on me not long ago, it's just not juicy enough - it's too....what? Careful? Safe? Boring? I don't read romance to learn great truths in life, or say awww, isn't that sweet? I read it to escape my own crazy, overburdened life for a while. (Kind of like how I'm reading your blog to procrastinate preparing yet another tax return - it's April 11 and I'm a CPA....)

Anyway, great post. Thanks!

And I'm still rolling over the poodle comment - dude, that was WAY funny!


katiebabs said...

I love a hero who has some balls but not a total idiot that if he was lost, he would still ask for directions!
These vampires, warlord, alpha types are just so perfect and sexy!
Kudos to both you Ms. Knight and Ms. Ward for giving us men we can dream about!

Courtney said...

This is a great topic! I've been reading romance novels of all types for at least 12 years, and I'm so grateful that I discovered the BDB and JR Ward last fall, because it made me realize why I originally fell in love with the genre, and what wasn't working for me with so many of the current stories.

I read books to escape my everday life and I think what's so great about alpha heroes is that I don't meet men like that in my real life and alphas with a touch of bastard make for far more interesting reading than the quintessential good guy. I don't want to read about the high school football player who gets his MBA from Harvard and becomes the CEO of a multimillion dollar company and woos his long-time crush from high school. I want to read about the biker from the wrong side of the tracks who got kicked out of school, had way too many fights, been with too many women, remembered Mother's day and falls hard for his perfect woman.

The other thing I think is interesting about the alpha males topic is that they seem to be given freer reign at least by their authors for having bigger and more unconventional sex lives, which also makes a book more interesting. I've noticed a disturbing trend with a lot of authors who started writing alphas in paperbacks that once they go hardcover, the alpha part and sex gets toned way down which I think is disappointing.

Great discussion topic!


Chris said...

What a wonderful discussion, everyone!

The bastard hero whose sweetness genes only come out when he meets his kickass-patience-is-a-virtue heroine is an equation that forever works for me, but I must admit that it is the “must not, can’t have” angst that actually resonates most. That’s not to say happy-happy-joy-joy is boring; but isn’t it strange how most people only learn to appreciate what they have when it’s gone *ahem*pain*, or learn to be self-sacrificing after someone else inspires it within them *ahem*hardship*, or revels in tsunami-strength-emotion only during especially trying times *ahem*pain*hardship*? What is it about heartache that we actually enjoy basking in the broody and ominous natures of our heroes and heroines?

From what everyone else is saying, writing about Darkness is back en vogue; although in truth, I don’t really feel it ever fell out of fashion. And I wholeheartedly agree with everyone that the Darkness, while sometimes intimidating, is also where the stimulation is. It holds the promise of an intensity that can’t be found in Girl Scout cookie cutter romances. And it’s that same intensity that can be exploited and can amplify feelings of exhilaration, perversion, nobility, corruption, and sensuality. I have no idea the whys of it, but for me, regardless of whether the feelings are good or bad, it’s just “better” in the Darkness.

The last thing I want to mention… I’m all for the HEA, but call me morbid, I don’t NEED the HEA. I read romance novels for the emotional journey, happy or tragic, it's romance to me. I may never feel the extreme betrayal of my cursed vampire paramour cheating on me, or mourn the loss of a 200-year-old partnership, or seek redemption after a century of physical/emotional/sexual torture, but I’d be damned if the intensity evoked from such trials and tribulations can’t be translated into real life. I guess this is where the author’s ability to transport me into their world and make it a credible transition comes into play.

I'm not sure I added anything to the discussion, and most likely didn't make any sense... But I just figured I'd give mad props to all you writers who can draw me into your world while letting me still be of my own.

(aka Ventrue)

S-Byte said...

"What is it about heartache that we actually enjoy basking in the broody and ominous natures of our heroes and heroines?"

I don't know, Ven. Inherent masochism of the romance reader? ;)

The truth is, the books that make my heart ache are the ones I'll read over and over again. When you can feel the emotional pain of the characters is when you get the full impact of their happy ending. And no one can generate the emotional turmoil like an alpha hero.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of predictability in romance, certain plot devices and 'rules' that authors seem to stick with. But after having Rhage sleep with another woman and after seeing a major character's death (I'm avoiding spoilers for those who haven't read) it's clear to me that I can't take anything for granted in the BDB world. And I love that.

meljean brook said...

Excellent rant. I'm new to the BDB world (I bought the first one, read a few pages, and was like: Wow, Ward's voice is VERY strong. So, because I'm kind of a wimp, I put them down again until I was totally certain of my own writing voice.) but I recently gave in, and I really loved them. The funny thing to me is that I hadn't avoided spoilers at all for these books, and yet they still surprised me in the execution -- even when I knew certain things were coming up, they got to me.

And I do love, at times, the comfort of the familiar, unsurprising read -- but I agree that it's those surprising moments that make me sit up and take notice when I'm reading, and make me remember it long afterwards.

I need the happy ending in a romance, but I do like the bumps along the way, whether hero- or heroine-generated. And as long as there's a reason for everything, as long as I know why he's a bastard and that there's an emotional pay-off coming, I'm right there along with it.

Angela Knight said...

Man, I touched a nerve, didn't I? Fantastic!

Very thought-provoking discussion, folks, and I agree. Especially about the part of how important it is for the heroine to be a match for her ballsy bastard of a hero. For one thing, I've never thought it was believable for this strong, intelligent Alpha to fall for a woman with all the intelligence and spine of a Boston fern. Whatdasnot? Nah. Not happening.

I like to write heroines who discover that they are more than a match for these guys. Because that's part of the fun. Romance is about conflict, and the conflict doesn't work unless both sides are equally matched.

But I also think it's a good point that, bastard or no, the hero still has to be heroic. One thing about all JR's guys -- they're definitely heroes. They have strong moral codes: protect the weak. You've got to have that, or the bastard is just a bastard. And he doesn't deserve his HEA.

MaryKate said...

Awesome discussion! I was struck by what Selena had to say about Vishous and Butch, and how she'd have had a hard time believing Butch and Marissa belonged together if V and Butch had gone over the line. I think I mentioned when JR Ward visited another blog that I, OTOH, wished that they had gone one step over the line. Mainly because I'd have been fascinated to see how it was walked backwards, because I have total faith in JR Ward to do that, and do it with grace, providing both characters dignity.

That being said, I get why they couldn't go one step further. I just...wish they did.

stephanie feagan said...

You did touch a nerve, Angela. I've been mulling this over and had a thought:

Do you think the watering down of heroes is as much due to reader/review blogs as it is the current culture to be PC? Are certain 'rules' of romance driven as much by what readers say as by what editors will buy?

For a while, I stayed off of blogs and wouldn't read reader comments, because they tend to stick and I found myself second guessing what I was writing, wondering if it was too far out there, pushing an envelope that might be a turn-off to readers.

Now that I've got a project put to bed - as in, being sent out for sale and out of my hands - I'm getting back to reading blogs, and sure enough, there's this huge kerfuffle about an historical with a rape scene in it. Comments range from 'You Go Girl!' to 'I'd NEVER read this book!'

And it makes me think...

Let's say Susie Writer is in the middle of her book and it features a rape scene. After she reads all the blogworld posts about the book under discussion, is she going to rethink it? Maybe tone it down? Make the hero drunk, or under the influence of drugs, or perhaps an evil spell, to explain his bad behavior? Will she hit the delete button and rewrite the scene with roses and sweet words o' love and seduction?

I further wonder if it's such a good idea for writers to read blogs aimed at readers. It's hard to resist, because I'm not just a writer - I'm a reader. Maybe other writers aren't so easily swayed. They can read lengthy commentary on why readers hate heroes with black hair, but go back to their project and write a hero with black hair.

Me, not so much. And I have to wonder if other writers suffer the same problem and this adds to the poodle hero syndrome.


Michaela said...

I think it's a fine line for authors to write strong alphas, with a touch of the bastard, without turning them into villians.

When it's done well, it's fascinating and compelling. When it isn't, the characters are cardboard or repulsive.

I think the connection comes in the characterization. The readers have understand and care about why an alpha hero is aggressive, domineering and abrasive.

IIRC, both Knight's Barran and Ward's Z, were the victims of horrible abuse. There was a reason they were mad, bad and dangerous to know. And it made for great reading to see them find a HEA with fantastic women.

It think that another attraction of alpha heroes is imagining that you are women enough to help an alpha find his softer side. One that he will ultimately share just with you.

I'm not an fiction writer, and I can only imagine the pressures of trying to get a cohesive story down on paper and meeting the demands of editors and publishing houses.

But as a reader, I'm looking for stories that pull me into a world – contemporary, historical or paranormal – and keep me there with compelling characters and intriguing plots.

Please ladies, keep up the good work.

Elise Logan said...

good heavens! What a fantastic discussion.

I think its a hard line to walk - writing a rockin' alpha male without tipping over into "I hate that guy" territory. Both you and JR manage it. I mean, a person can write nice-guy romances, that's fine, and sometimes they work (especially if there is a really strong external conflict), but having that internal conflict is so ... yummy. It's all tied up in the whole Heathcliffe mythology - nothing is as sexy as a reformed rake - but in order to be a reformed rake, ya gotta be a rake in the first place :P

Jill said...

Let me also throw into the mix Kresley Cole's "Hunger Like No Other". There we have a serious "bad" guy at the beginning who can be as bad as he wants to be becasue of a misunderstanding. It was a tad shocking early on but by the end you were in love with him. It was original and it really worked!

Courtney said...

Another author who does great alpha heroes with a serious dose of bastard is Anne Stuart. I like her older books (a lot of which are not out of print), but her new "Ice" series contains some very interesting and complex heroes.


Eva Gale said...

Let's say Susie Writer is in the middle of her book and it features a rape scene. After she reads all the blogworld posts about the book under discussion, is she going to rethink it? Maybe tone it down? Make the hero drunk, or under the influence of drugs, or perhaps an evil spell, to explain his bad behavior? Will she hit the delete button and rewrite the scene with roses and sweet words o' love and seduction?

If you're like me, youharass your crit partner and make her pat your head every two minutes telling you it's all going to be OK. And them you make a list of things you should change. And then you go make the list longer. Then you e-mail your crit partner again while hyperventilating. And then you say *fuck it*.

Jenna Leigh said...

So, what you're sayin is.. your heroes have always been rednecks? Cause, you reallly need to meet my relatives. *grins*
Nah, I feel you. I don't want to read about a complete and utter meanie, but a dangerous, slightly sadistic and twisted ass every once in a while to shake it up a bit is good to me too.
Maybe all the goodie two shoes in the romance books have helped people escape the real life nasties in the world for a spell.
I always try to make my baddies be have a little good, and my goodies have that slightly bad edge. Then again, I'm a wishy washy Libra, what the crap do I know?

Stephanie Feagan said...

Okay, Eva, now I see the problem, for me at least. I have no CP. I guess I should go straight to 'fuck it'. :)

Sair said...

I love a good story.
That's the basis of my reading, I do not suffer fluff <--draw a poodle analogy here!

I want character development and substance from my hero and heroine, which usually means they need to have a depth of emotion and strengths and weaknesses inside their alpha shells.

I asked in a forum recently for opinions about why Diana Palmer's stories are so popular. The main opinion was that the alpha heros were pure over the top alphas and the females were their extreme opposites (too young for them, too virginal, too innocent) and yet they could not function without them. So not PC but still going strong 30 years on!

I adore a flawed hero... Keep up the good work, please, JR and Angela

Cmarie said...

Now See this is a much better description for what I've been calling "Cookie Cutter books" Every Hero/Heroine is just like every other one. Where they all must play nice.

I had all but stopped reading the genera when I got turned on to the BDB. Talk about a wake up call.
JR Ward took me back to what I loved about reading romance in the first place. That's when I started on the paranormals. It is great to see a male actually acting like a male.

With real men, half of the time, your not sure whether you want to kiss them or smack the ever lovin shit out of them. I like it when an author can reflect those same emotions on a page.

Angela Knight also rocks. Don't sell yourself short baby. :)

Larissa Ione said...

Oh, criminy, what a great post.

One of the reasons I started reading and writing paranormal and erotic romances is because in them, the heroes are grittier, and in a lot of ways, more REAL than those in contemporary romances. The genres allow for heroes who aren't neutered by the damned "romance rules."

And Angela, FWIW, I love your heroes! :)

JR, I just finished Lover Revealed, and it was delicious! :)

Jenna Black said...

Fascinating discussion, though at the moment I hate JR for keeping me up so late last night--but there was no way I was putting Lover Revealed down until I was finished, damn it!!

I love the edgy, alpha heroes, but I think as an author, you have to have a track record to be able to get away with them. I think JR's books have gotten edgier now because everyone trusts her to be great. (I still remember reading the deleted scene from her first book--I bet it wouldn't be deleted now.)

I don't know if this is just perception on my part, or reality. I know with my own books, I've pushed a little more with each one--almost to see what I could get away with. But I can't help wondering if my darkest, most alpha hero, who will show up in my third book, would have been accepted by my publisher or by readers if I hadn't worked my way up to him. (Of course, I don't know yet whether readers will accept him, but I hope so.)

One other thing I think makes paranormal so good for these alpha heroes is that it's easier to believe in their redemption when the paranormal factors are what drive them to be such bastards. If a "normal" human male behaved like some of these guys, we readers would never believe he could change enough to be sympathetic. (And I mean sympathetic, not "nice." I hate when characters suddenly turn too nice based on their previous actions.)

And by the way, I'm totally fascinated by the Butch/V vibe. I can't wait for the next book!

Angela Knight said...

The point about Paranormals being better suited to let heroes push the edge is VERY true. Rhage was a womanizer not because he was a prick but because he had to keep his dragon from getting out and eating his friends. That's a motivation readers can understand and sympathize with...

And it simply wouldn't have worked in ANYTHING but a paranormal. That's why I love writing paranormals to begin with. You can get away with any damn thing you can come up with a wild-ass explaination for. And I can come up with an explanation for ANYTHING. Heh!

JC Alpha Male said...

Well, I guess I should say something.

As a guy who writes about Alpha Males for Changeling (as Jonathan Wright), one of my biggest challenges has been NOT offending the (primarily female) readers with my misogynist heroes. My editor is always telling me to tone it down (and this is Changeling, folks. If only you could read the first drafts...).

So, are you saying I should take off the gloves? Cool.

JC Alpha Male, back from the dead, balls intact

Sair said...

Angela has hand my brain ticking away overnight.

The male mysoginist, and non poodle male are what we all seek...
only if they have a redeeming features that makes them a "male of worth," otherwise they are just alpha pigs and not hero material.

maritza said...

I love the way you ladies are expressing yourselves you are all so articulate in your point of views. I cant articulate as beautifully as ya’ll so I’ll just say out of it and say we are so on the same page. This discussion makes me realize that I’ve always followed authors that wrote the bastardly alpha males and I loved reading their back booklists but once they started going soft (poodle men!!!!) I really don’t fly to the bookstore to pick up their new releases.
Angela I've been picking up your books for over 7 years and JR I got hooked on the brotherhood from the jump. Wrath's book hooked me and made me research your booklist. Thanks ladies. As Mary J. Blige said "you bring me joy"

Angela Knight said...

JC -- Writing for the other gender can be really tough. There is definitely a line, asshole wise. You have to establish that no matter what he may be saying and doing on the surface, he still cares about the well-being of others in general and the heroine in particular. True misogynists are a tough sell if you're writing for women.

We love bad boys with a touch of wolf. But we don't like a guy whose prick streak goes all the way to the bone.

Dragonmoon said...

Our love of an Alpha Male and Strong female???

do you think that its the developement of women and their new found independence and strength, that has us seeking this type of book???

what i mean is = take my mother she likes an independant and strong heroine but not a ball bustin bitch, cause she identifys with a strong heroine that is still a little conservative - because my mum is still a little socially shy so she just doesnt like in your face heroines.

NOW ME - lol - i was raised to believe i can do anything be anything - as good as any man - as good as any other woman.

i think thats why i love a ballsy woman - if i was living the book and was to identify with the heroine then i want to make her gutsy, strong, and not PC cause i am strong but not always gutsy and unfortunatly i find myself very PC, in order to deal with the public.

i think thats why im drawn to the bastards with balls Alphas and the woman that match them.

they are living what i would want LOL

ok i think i just admited that my dream man has fangs or fur LOLOL

truthfully i would settle for a man who treats me well but has a little alpha in him (wink)

*waves at Sair*

WendyK said...

I'm new to your blog Angela, I just wanted to say I love this discussion and totally agree. Do you all remember the song from years ago about heroes, it was the theme for a show I can't remember the title of now. But it asks "Where have all the heroes gone?"

That is what I seem to be feeling alot lately. Don't get me wrong. The stories I'm reading are good, nothing wrong with them. I just love a good tortured, wounded, can be a jerk alpha hero. I know there are authors who write these heroes I so dearly love. But it seems the majority are watered down versions. Or leaning more and more to Beta heros pretending to be Alphas.

Anyway, I just wanted to say great topic and I've loved reading all the comments.


Angela Knight said...

I think that yes, the changing roles of women have definitely changed what kind of behavior we find feminine. It's also true, I think that we're still struggling with that. That's why you have the problem of the "man in a dress" heroine. We're still figuring out what it means to be women, to some extent.

Of course, some women just don't like aggressive female characters at all. But for some of us, that's what we prefer. I like a heroine who can stand up to her incredibly butch, hot hero. Personally, I'm a wuss, so it's all part of the fantasy for me. :)

Eva Gale said...

Steph-yes! :p

Kat said...

Hi Angela,

I LOVE your books and this is my first visit to your blog :) I'm also a card-carrying, flag-flying Brotherholic Cellie. I love that neither you nor the WARDen are predicable in the way you write. As for the V-Butch relationship - I love it. Absolutely, hands-down love the relationships between the males in Ward's books.

I think you hit it dead on with why we love paranormals. I especially hate it when the h/h are so picture-perfect that they're predictable. I stopped reading a lot of historicals for that very reason.

A great book I just read, Anna Campbell's Claiming the Courtesan has been getting a bit of backlash because the hero's downright horrible to the heroine for the first 2/3 of the book. It's a historical, she was his mistress, she leaves him, he kidnaps her. No, he's not nice. Yes, he is like an actual 19th century man. And he's a da** compelling character. Just not postercard "nice."

I hope to visit here often. I can't wait for Master of Dragons. And I have to ask - is Tristan going to get a book one day and are we going to learn more about Logan?


lovelyferret said...

I have to agree with you angela. I find it is getting harder and harder to find good alpha male charters. I have been going more to paranormal and scifi more and more. I use to love historical romances but every guy has to be perfect have this strict code of honor. A code of honor is good but it is better twisted just slightly. I think another great alpha male is Eric from Charlene Harris southern vamp series. One of my all time favorite lines from him is where they told him sookie had fairy blood and he says "That explains it."

I think alot of writers are getting into pattern and it is hard for them to get out. They are trying to make the female charters so strong that they are forgetting the males. I have to say your charters are not poodles at all. I have enjoyed them all. I have also notice they have the slight twist also which make them great like the BDB.

Casee said...

I never really thought about why I rarely read historicals these days. This is the exact reason. The heroes are too boring. Too nice. Too blah.

Whenever I think about alpha heroes, I think of Linda Howard. Gray Rouillard in After the Night? Major alpha. A jerk too. But it's one of my favorite LH books. Rome Matthews in Sarah's Child? The list goes on and on. Sure, the books are outdated, but readers love them. Or love to hate them. I think it takes a talented author to make a reader hate the hero and then end up rooting for him by the end.

I agree with Courtney about Anne Stuart. I've read her OOP books and the heroes are still as "bad" now as they were then.

I'm just glad there are still a handful of authors who do have the balls to put a hero out there that isn't a lapdog.

Alle430 said...

Thank God someone has mentioned Anne Stuart. She came to mind when I read Angela's first post. Not only has Anne been writing "ballsy" guys for years...not one of her books (that I know of) are paranormal. I too agree that when I start a book and the guy is a real pussy...I immediatly drop it. NOT INTERESTED. Thanks all for this wonderful thread!

Debs said...

Hi all,

I found your blog quite by accident Angela; I was passing on your web site link onto a book readers group of mine, and boy I'm glad I did.

I don't know most of the other authors you are all referring to, the only paranormal's I read are Angela's but I 100% agree with the ballsy hero's and I love the Poodle reference LOL.

I don't want a pet Poodle I can lead around by the nose; I want a man with balls and who is not afraid to be a man. I work in an office full of lawyers, believe me I need some excitement in the pages of my novels ;)

I've just got my hands on Kel and he's delicious. I have a serious thing for Dragons so any information on any other dragon novels you know of would be terrific.

Anyhow looking forward to more riveting discussions.

Cheers, Debs

Angela Knight said...

Hey, thank you, Debs! Actually, my favorite book with a dragon hero isn't a romance, it's a fantasy novel called HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON by Naomi Novik. Imagine the Napoleonic wars with dragon airpower. It's one of the coolest books I've ever read. There's a whole series of them. No sex, but GREAT dragons. Amazon has them.

Debs said...

Hi Angela,

I've just tracked down His Majesty's Dragon and have the rest of the series on back order. It sounds fantastic. I saw Eragon at the movies when it was on and loved it so dragons are just my thing.

Cheers, Debs xxx

Ruby said...

That's the exact same reason why I fell in love with the Black Dagger boys. Zsadist learning to enjoy sex was probably the hottest thing I've read. The boys are so great because they're rounded, flawed, real characters.

I find it somewhat easier to write when the hero's a bastard. It's not so much about me having balls as it is me giving the hero his balls. "Here, take your balls and please be a sexy bastard!"

Angela Knight said...

Ruby -- I hear ya! It's much easier to make a guy sexy when he's got an edge. Tame guys tend to lack the vital UMPH.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Angela,

Combichrist will be the soundtrack to my next novel..

a Texan