Sunday, April 19, 2009

Straight from the Horse's Mouth...

Romance is not a genre generally associated with male readers, yet I managed to find a man who admitted to reading romance and he agreed to talk with me, as long as he could keep his face hidden with a paper bag. I asked him a series of questions. His answers were quite enlightening.

How did you become interested in romance novels?
It's very simple. My wife had a few titles laying around and I had nothing else to read.

Are you a frequent reader of romance or do you consider yourself more of an occasional reader?
Occasional probably is more accurate. I get a little self conscious if I read it too often. As a man, I feel like I should be doing something more serious and challenging with my time. I do like it as an escape when I am on vacation or if I've just finished a more heady tome.

What romance authors are you familiar with?
Not many really. I have read most of Linda Howard's stuff and several Karen Marie Moning books before she changed focus from her Highlanders and began to write more urban-type fiction. I've also read some of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. I've read a few others, but I can't remember the author's names.

Do you ever suggest or recommend that other men read romance novels?
Not actively. I wouldn't want them to get the wrong idea. However, since this is anonymous I will say that reading romance can be good for men. Men can be pretty unimaginative in the bedroom, or so I'm told, and reading about a really steamy affair can add nuance to their approach, pace and execution. Some people may use porn for that purpose and I suppose that can work, but romance does more than simply suggest new positions. When a romance book is well- written, it helps create a state of mind that can get you better in tune with your partner's experience and expectation. Also, some good fresh fantasies always help to spice up the lovemaking.

What makes a romance novel or story appealing to you?
Interesting characters. They have to be believable and face challenges that make sense. I am willing to grant quite a bit of literary license to an author, but there has to be a core of plausibility even if the basic premise is very fanciful. For example, I read a novel recently about a woman who fell in love with the ghost of an old highlander lord. That part was fine. Her trying to teach a bunch of old Scots to surf the coast of a Scottish isle was not. Do you get my point? Imagination is great but don't try to tell me that a character is a brain surgeon when she is portrayed as a weak and vulnerable lightweight. That is inconsistent and ruins the story.

Is there any specific genre that appeals to you more, such as, romance/suspense, fantasy, time travel?
I can think of examples of all of these formats that I have liked. There always has to be
some tension in a story to hold my interest and romance/suspense is good for that but I am particular about plot. I have no problem with using coincidence as a plot device but a story that hinges on a smart person doing dumb things and overlooking obvious warning signs for the sake of the story doesn't work for me. I am a real sucker for a well crafted time paradox story but it has to be clever and original.

What’s your take on the concept of the alpha male, the independent, hardheaded, stubborn, protective, possessive hero portrayed in probably 95% of all romance novels?
A little boring really. I don't feel competitive with a strong male lead. In fact I enjoy identifying with them but I prefer more complexity in my characters including some weakness and vulnerability and even insecurity. Like a really strong leader who secretly feels unloved by his father and wants to prove himself. I can relate to that. Or a macho leader who secretly is yearning for true love instead of sexual conquests, or who secretly has the soul of a sensitive poet. I don't like characters who are cliches.

Along the same line, how do you like your heroines? Weak and helpless and in need of saving or feisty and independent?
A little of both. The feisty and independent character can be just as trite as the weak and helpless (but gorgeous) woman. Again I prefer a more balanced characterization. The aggressive personality with secret fears and insecurities or the perceived vulnerable damsel that stands up for herself if the situation demands it.

Do you prefer sex scenes or love scenes? What’s the difference?
That's a good question. I prefer love scenes with sex I guess. The sexiest scenes in my experience are those where the main characters have had a slow buildup and finally are going to do it when, bang, something happens that stops them in their tracks and a)starts an argument or b)makes them run for their lives or c)requires them to quickly pursue other priorities. Then when they do finally do get together the consummation is that much sweeter for the extra anticipation. Romance novels really are made by these first sexual encounters. By having an almost encounter then the real event makes things hum a lot longer. When it actually happens it should be fast and explosive. Save the long, sensuous interludes for later when everything is sorted out. That's my take anyway. I don't like literary casual sex without context at all no matter how many exclamatory verbs are used. It just doesn't make it for me. Naked body parts sliding around are not sexy. How they characters feel about what they are experiencing is sexy. If the sex is engaged in mindlessly with lust as the only object it just does not achieve the desired effect. Not for me anyway.

What kind of writing do you stay away from?
The kind where the adjectives outnumber the verbs and nouns combined for one. As I stated before, I am not interested in stories with weak plot structure or so many characters that they are hard to keep straight. I also try to avoid romance novels that are too long. 250 to 300 pages is fine, 400 or more is definitely too big of a commitment. Lastly I avoid writing where the author clearly doesn't know and understand what they are writing about. How can I tell? It is usually pretty obvious. The story doesn't make sense and is unbelievable or I know first hand that the author has the facts wrong.

I had so much fun with this interview! So listen up ladies...straight from the horse's mouth!


Mona Risk said...

Oh My God, I just love this interview. Julia, you did a fantastic job. LOL

Well tell your male reader that my hubby read all my books and even offered suggestions on correct moves when some were not, hum, exactly feasible according to him. And he read romantic suspense books that I gave him when he had to be in a plane for a long time: Roxanne St. Claire, Heather Graham, Lisa Gardner.

I received letters from three male fans about To Love A Hero and French Peril that delighted me. Love men who love romances. High five to your reader for this interview.

Regina Carlysle said...

Gotta love a man who'll admit to reading the books that women love! Kudos to you both. Great interview and outstanding answers. Lots of food for thought here.

Fran Lee's Romance Blog said...

I agree that a good, exciting romance book can definitely liven up a waning sex life. I found a male friend reading one of my WIP's and the look on his face was a gem. That night, his wife got the surprise of her life. She could do nothing but gush about what a romantic evening her hubby had treated her to the next day, little knowing her hubby got his ideas from my book...I never ever told her. And neither did he. heh heh heh

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Great interview, both of you, and thanks for giving us a little more insight into the male POV.

Amber Skyze said...

Ah, the male insight. It's a lovely thing. Thanks for the great interview! Tell your friend he's a gem for answering the questions.
My husband also reads my wips. He's made some pretty darn good suggestions. But if he's reading any other female author's he's not telling me :)

Amber Skyze said...

Ah, the male insight. It's a lovely thing. Thanks for the great interview! Tell your friend he's a gem for answering the questions.
My husband also reads my wips. He's made some pretty darn good suggestions. But if he's reading any other female author's he's not telling me :)

Julia Barrett said...

Yes, I think a little romance reading can definitely spice up a love life. This guy is pretty no-nonsense so hearing his take on romance novels was very interesting. Even no nonsense Alpha males like a little romance, I guess!

Marianne Stephens said...

Great blog idea...getting into a male reader's head! I found it intereting to read what he stays away from reading. I too like the shorter stories!

elaine cantrell said...

Very interesting to hear a male's point of view. If more men would give romance novels a chance they might be surprised how much they like them. I have a friend (male) who reads my novels, and if he has any criticism it's usually about my heroines. They're either too fiesty or too weak. I guess I gotta work on that.

Mia Watts said...

Fantastic blog, excellent idea to interview a man. Am immediately jealous and wish for my own male reader to prod for answers.

Well done both of you. Hope your bag-headed speaker returns for future insights.

jean hart stewart said...

Great idea... give that male reader a hihg five from all of us.. and one for you too....Jean

Anita said...

Sorry for the delay in commenting on the blog.

That was a great interview and how clever of you to find a man willing to be interviewed. He was very interesting and up front with his likes and dislikes.