Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to LOTR as band instruments

Ah, another Saturday morning and I’m sipping a cup of Yerba Maté tea and listening to the sweet sounds of raccoons fighting in the ceiling and walls above and around me. Song playing right now on my playlist: “He Won’t Go,” Adele.

Writing and the Writing Life:


Romance Writers:

Jane Austen:

  • Over at the new blog, The Popular Romance Project, Dr. Sarah Frantz wrote a piece called Austen, romance novelist about the reluctance of some Janeites to call her books Romances because it’s good literature, so of course it can’t be Romance…

Browncoats:

  • An artist has done some awesome posters of different sci-fi favorites reworked various ways. Here’s his Firefly Muppets mashup

Randomness and Geekdom:

What’s an Alpha Anyway? Guest post by Rachelle Ayala

Wednesday’s post on the dirth of non-Alphas in Romance generated a lot of interest. One thing that came out of it is the misidentification of what makes a true Alpha. So, I thought I would ask one of my critique partners who loves true Alphas to guest post. Without further ado, please welcome Rachele Ayala:

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Recently there has been a backlash against Alpha Males in romance novels. The typical Alpha is defined as a brash, dominant man who is all brawn with little brain. He overpowers anyone who gets in his way, is ruthless and forceful and comes off as an unfeeling jerk. He is often so mean and hard-hearted, mechanical and emotionless that he’d be better off portrayed as the villain.

Sadly, I don’t believe any self-respecting woman would sympathize, much less fall in love with such a man, and I have a hard time portraying this type of man as a hero. Which leads to my definition of an Alpha male…

He is 100% male, unabashedly a man, and one who does not apologize for being a man. He knows what he wants, sets goals, is sexy as all get go, and is protective of those he loves. Show me a hero, and I’ll show you a man who’s loyal to a fault, decisive, and in command in every area of his life except for his heart. He does not sip tea over crumpets, nor weep at movies, but in a disaster or a life-threatening situation, he takes charge and acts. He has a tough exterior to protect that tender little boy’s heart and presents a challenge for the heroine to overcome.

To Alpha or Not to Alpha

Our heroes should be complicated, interesting and larger than life. This does not necessarily mean fitting him into the stereotyped Alpha role. The recent trend toward describing an Alpha as super muscular, taller than a monstrous Highlander, with biceps the size of basketballs, and a vocabulary even Arnold would eclipse causes stilted and clichéd stories. In order to match these domineering men, the heroines have become bitchier and pricklier than porcupines with steel-tipped quills. Romance becomes a War with the reader rubber-necking for the unbelievable HEA.

A hero does not have to be traditionally Alpha to be interesting. As my critique partners point out, I have unorthodox heroes and not quite so strong heroines. A hero may have an Alpha edge and a bad-boy vibe with the suspicious scent of danger. He may have a trick up his sleeve, but he is determined and single-minded, possibly jealous and possessive. Any relationship with him is destined to be a turbulent ride.

How do we portray a man, one that has Alpha traits but does not fit the stereotype? By exploring and deepening his interactions with the heroine and other characters in a unique way. He may be dishonest in one area, but have high minded principles elsewhere. Perhaps he has trouble keeping his pants on, but he respects the heroine’s religious beliefs and refuses to compromise them. He may go to great lengths to deny his feelings for the heroine, but his instinct to protect overrides his denial and he charges forth, sometimes in a controlling or overpowering manner. Deep inside, he’s a softy, and she may be the only one who sees that side of him.

How to Tend to Your Male Hero

Keep your male hero strong. Give him a heroine who will stand up to him, but also comfort him and forgive him his faults. Never make him violent toward your heroine or any other woman. If he needs to get violent, have him beat up the bad guys.

He may be uncommunicative about his needs and make the wrong assumptions, but do not let him push the heroine for sex. That is reserved for villains. The heroine should always feel protected and safe with the hero. She should trust him never to intentionally hurt her. Give him a moment with a small child or injured animal so she can observe his nurturing side.

He may have a one track mind, is unbending in his beliefs, but he’s got that soft core inside a hard exterior. He’s not everyone’s best friend, and he presents difficulties, but once the heroine in his heart, she’s there to stay. And did I say protective? A strong hero feels responsible. Hand him a problem and he’ll solve it for her instead of asking her how she feels about it.

He is secure enough in his manhood to be strong and yet sensitive on the inside, controlling and yet yielding when he has to, silent yet expressive in multiple nonverbal and sexy ways. Being loved by a strong male is feeling secure and protected at all times, able to let him take the lead and make the decisions, but never pushed-over and dominated.

Being a hero is tough. He is expected to be strong at all times, have all the answers, and not show any weakness. But when life dishes out heartaches and grief, the one set of arms he can turn to is the loyal and nurturing heroine, herself a survivor who understands the pressure he is up against. And the one thing that makes him so rewarding is his single-minded love. This is a man who doesn’t go around telling about his love, but shows it in the privacy of his heart by his actions, whether the tiny choke whenever he sees her off on a long trip, or the possessive stance when another man gets too close. One thing’s for sure. It might have been hard to penetrate his hide and steal his heart, but once an Alpha loves, it is forever.

What do you think? Do you like your heroes strong and silent, or weepy and your best girlfriend? What characteristics of a heroine do you like to see paired with a strong male hero? Would you write the stereotypes in hopes of being published? Or would you take a chance and write fresh and unique individuals?

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Rachelle Ayala is the penname for a retired software engineer, a mother of three and a Ph.D. in Mathematics. While FORTRAN was my first language, C my second, and Java my third, I indulged in English to write short, satirical stories about my work life.

My first full-length novel, Michal’s Window, portrays the life of King David through the eyes of his first love. It is due out this year. My second novel is a romantic suspense about a software build engineer caught among a bunch of reckless drivers.

Please visit me at my blog or follow me at FB  or Twitter: @AyalaRachelle

I look forward to chatting with you.

Non-Alphas Need Not Apply: Can only Alpha males get published in Romancelandia?

Recently I received an email from a writer friend who’s agented, but has not had any luck selling her first novel. She told me that her agent says that the problem is that her hero and heroine are too much like real life and that she needs to make them into the romance cliché, and for the male, that means he needs to be Alpha, baby.

Sigh.

I’ve read this friend’s novel and I loved the hero, he had a quiet strength, he was intelligent and he respected the heroine. Her agent loves the characters too, but apparently the editors she’s pitched it to don’t. The agent said she needed to revise the hero so that he is more arrogant, more aggressive, and more domineering.

As new writers, in order to get published with traditional publishers, are we doomed to stick to this stereotype? Is this why many have chosen to go with smaller, independent presses? Apparently the Big 6 demand this type of hero and so if you’re tired of it, you know whom to blame. It’s this all-pervasive monolithic stereotype that allows us to chuckle at this 2-minute regency romance because it’s so dang true.

I know there are many readers and reviewers who lament the pervasiveness of this type of male in Romancelandia. In a Google search on the subject, I’ve come across these various opinions:

Strong, confident Alphas have become monstrous and overbearing

In the old school romances of the 70s and 80s, Alphas were assholes who practiced forced seductions if not rape. Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan of Smart Bitches Trashy Books (SBTB) gave this hero the term alphole in her book Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels and that today this type has thankfully become the minority. But Jane at Dear Author discusses how even the stereotyped Alpha male has morphed of late from strong and confident to monstrous and overbearing. She goes on to lament:

We have this warped view of alpha men.   They are caricatures relying primarily on physical prowess to serve a romance shorthand for all those things that we view a hero should be.   But the unfortunate thing is that it straightjackets the heroes’ character such that they aren’t allowed to drink mixed drinks or sleep in pajamas without being viewed with immediate suspicion that perhaps they are, in fact, from the other end the Greek alphabet.

She ends her post with this valid question, which elicited some great comments about what readers want and their definition of an Alpha male:

Now, you readers might tell me that your books don’t have these uber alpha characters and if that is so, tell me the titles of those books. Or perhaps the alpha male means something else to  you or you really must have an alpha male for the book to interest you.   I want to know why because ultimately the question I have is whether the alpha male that we read about today is reflecting what readers want or whether its a literary exaggeration done unconsciously to evoke a certain reader response [emphasis mine].

The blog Heroes and Heartbreakers has an excellent post on when an Alpha becomes too Alpha, and uses the excellent Loretta Chase novel Lord of Scoundrels as a perfect illustration of the need to match that Alpha with a strong heroine:

Since most Alpha Male heroes tend to be physically more powerful, the best romance authors compensate by matching them up with heroines who are stronger intellectually, who use words and wit and cunning. Either way, when paired with a strong-willed heroine who is capable of defending and maintaining herself, the hero’s forceful personality and aggression come across as challenges rather than threats

What about the poor Beta male?

Heroines With Hearts blog wants to know what’s wrong with the Beta male:

I blame the romance industry (publishing) for their unbidden constancy of inflicting Alpha males upon readers of romance. What’s wrong with a Beta male?  To be honest, I always fancied Dandini rather than Prince Charming. The latter too vain in every way: Dandini the charmer of the two. Hee hee, and a man on his knees placing glass slipper on feet far more to my liking!

Are non Alpha males viable in Romance?

Sarah over at SBTB kicked off a great discussion a while back on what makes a real-life hero and asks if there are such in Romance novels. In the comments one reader referred to these as the Omega hero, and another referred to them as The Sandwich. I just HAD to know what the latter meant and it brought me to this great post by Sarah Rees Brennan where she breaks down Romance heroes into 3 types: The Angst Muffin (which would be most Alpha males), The Sandwich (reliable and dependable) and The Pastry (wide-ranging varieties that can initially be off-putting but are sweet inside). It’s a great read and she gives examples from books for each type.

My writer friend said that she couldn’t think of examples of romances featuring non-Alphas, but Sarah Rees Brennan’s post mentions a few for each. In my recent reading experience I can name an example for the other two, and oddly (or not so oddly, as I’m really coming to believe she’s one of the best in the genre) they are both Loretta Chase novels. In Lord Perfect, we get The Sandwich delightfully thrown into a situation that ruffles his world. And in Mr. Impossible we get a wonderfully strong and sweet Pastry who surprised me time and again with his non-Alpha responses to the heroine.  It’s been awhile since I’ve read some Julia Quinn, but I’m thinking some of the Bridgerton brothers weren’t Angst Muffins, or am I misremembering?

And there are those that are tired of the Alpha male

A writer on the absolutewrite.com forum posed this question:

The Hero’s are always tough guys that get what they want because they are either rich and sexy, a dangerous Vampire and sexy, or a medieval lord and sexy. I’m not talking about having a weak willed guy keeping his head down with a female dom, but when I wrote my next book I did it with the idea that this guy wouldn’t walk around with his chest puffed out all the time, though he could still handle himself when needed. But that seems to be the problem in my story. My critique partners are saying that any medieval lord had to be a dominant alpha in order to protect his lands, and I can understand this and have made a few changes to hopefully buff him up enough so that they’re satisfied, but does an alpha hero who knows how to handle himself have to be an arrogant jerk?

And it generated a lot of comments.

And Wendy Palmer doesn’t like them either. She likes:

Calm, competent men who actually get things done while Mr Arsehole Alpha is off ranting or brooding or obsessing about status or measuring the size of his mobile phone or whatever it is these Heathcliff types do. They also have the decency to converse politely with women they don’t find attractive and don’t intend to sleep with, which some real-life wannabe alphas don’t (it’s always fun trying to make small talk withthem in a social situation, I can tell you).

But she also says what she’d like to see are male characters that are well-rounded, instead of being pigeon-holed:

Of course, the most important thing … is that they are decent characters first, and fall into those categories [Alpha, Beta] second — and even then, generally only loosely — just like real people, none of whom are 100% alpha or beta or omega or whatever animal classification you want to try to force on them. One of my favourite characters ever is Lord Peter Wimsey; he’s nothing like the modern alpha male but nor could he really be called a beta with its unfair undertone of submission.

Which brings us to…

Give us real males

Erotica author Freya Duquesne had a great post on this subject in which she sums up with:

What I’d love to see in more nov­els is not Alpha Male or Beta Male, but real males. Real guys that stand out­side and beyond the Alpha Male/Beta Male cliches. Flawed, yes, but maybe not in the stereo­typ­i­cal ways. It would be nice to read about heroes that know how to com­mu­ni­cate, who do value women for more than just sex, who are socially con­scious and…humble. Who are will­ing to lis­ten and con­sider the ideas of other people, instead of act­ing brashly on their own.

In defense of the Alpha

Suzanne Brockmann was asked why she loved Alpha males, and I thought her response very enlightening. She says:

When I create my characters, I don’t think in terms of labels. I don’t say, okay, I’m going to sit down now and create an alpha male or a beta male. Instead of male or female, alpha or beta, I create a human being.

I’m a strong believer in the theory that environment and upbringing play an important part in establishing a person’s personality. It’s true, there are quite a few personality traits we as individuals are born with, but if a boy is born with a sensitive, beta-type personality but is raised in an abusive, be-tough-or-get-crushed type environment, chances are, he’s going to grow up to be more of an alpha male. He’s going to learn to fight, and he going to learn to hide his feelings — perhaps he’s even going to learn not to feel.

She then explains in a thoughtful way, what she loves about an Alpha male, and I think the lesson here is that what she loves in an Alpha is when it’s done right.

So what does all this mean?

There are examples of non Alpha males in Romance and there’s definitely an audience for them, but can you only push those boundaries once you become a well-respected author like Loretta Chase? As a new writer do we need to conform first and then break out? This is worrisome as my hero is not an Alpha male. I posted this question in a private forum with some of my critique partners, and they were worried too since their heroes weren’t Alphas either. One commenter said:

I like the romances that Mira books print. Those books (by authors like Debbie Macomber and Susan Wiggs) have strong, interesting characters without all the stereotypes. I really hate the arrogant male. He annoys me. I am not attracted to that type in RL, why would I spend 300 pages reading about a guy like that. I understand the frustration. It’s so two-faced.

Another said, “…they want stereotypes…they just want nice little bows on them so they don’t look like stereotypes, but still are.” She’s worried too because her hero isn’t an Alpha, but yet her crit partners loved her hero and told her not to change him.

What do you think? Can a new writer get published with a non-Alpha male? If we write about a non-Alpha male, are there other elements that need to be present in order to compensate? Do you like Alpha males? Do you have romances you can recommend that feature Made of Awesome heroes that aren’t Alphas?

Six Sentence Sunday – 2/5/12

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. I’ll share a snippet from my time-travel romance WIP tentatively titled MUST LOVE BREECHES.

Here’s my new pitch/logline: When a modern girl finds herself stranded in 1834 London, she must find a way home while navigating the pitfalls of London society, resisting her attraction to a hunky lord, and ultimately having to decide when her true home lies.  (You can see the other entries here.)

So far I’ve only shared examples that were meant to be humorous or were requests for feedback. Today I thought I’d switch it up and share a moment when things get a little, uh, heated. They are in the British Museum, it is Lord Montagu’s POV, but starts off with the tail end of Isabelle’s dialogue (she’s been going on about the exciting things she’s seeing):

“…Everything in this room is all jumbled together from places all over the world — Alaska, Africa, New Zealand…”

When she finished talking, her hand still remaining on his upper arm, she looked at him waiting for his reaction. Her passion for these items lit her eyes.

The claws of instinct and desire gripped him. Her passion for history: he had to drink it, transmute it into another kind of passion. He framed her face with his hands, pushed her back into the recess between the two cases, and captured her silken mouth with his own.

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here. Othe time travel snippets this week from: Gayle Ramage, Chris Kelworth and Ginger Simpson

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! Have a great Sunday!

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to P&P Ceramic Tiles

Writing and the Writing Life:

Romance Writers:


Browncoats:

  • Who will you vote for?

Ada Lovelace:

  • Okay, this isn’t about her directly, but a relation. It’s just so uncanny I had to post. This is the future Lord Byron who swam the Hellespont like his ancestor Lord Byron. Look at the resemblance!

Jane Austen:

In Geekdom:

Insecure Writer’s Support Group – I’ve caught the new writer malaise

It’s time for another edition of The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh. On the first Wednesday of each month, writers participate in this blog hop sharing their doubts and concerns and receive support from other participating writers. This is my first official post, since last month I wrote my first insecure-ish post and it happened to fall on the 1st Wednesday of January and so I hopped onto the back of the caboose.

I’m not plagued with a specific doubt or insecurity this month, but with an overall doubt or worry: how best to proceed from here as a new writer.

Maybe I’ll number them:

  1. I still hear the siren call of self-pubbing and I wonder if I’m dooming myself by going the traditional route. It’s scary to commit to a potentially three-year long arc to publication when the industry is changing so rapidly.
  2. I’m also intrigued by going indie – I already have one offer for a contract with an independent e-pub and I sometimes wonder if I should try that route.
  3. My dream is to go traditional, but I worry my novel isn’t good enough.
  4. Which pushes me to keep learning and learning my craft and revising and revising and revising. I really do need to be firm though and set a limit on the number of drafts because I worry I might be using this as an excuse to delay putting myself out there. For those that already think this (I’ve had some tell me this), I really do need to do one more draft to incorporate the last of my Beta readers’ input.
  5. I’m still insecure about letting the rest of my real-life friends know (some already do) that I’m writing a Romance. It’s such a misunderstood genre. I think once I have a contract, I’ll put on my Big Girl Panties and deal.
  6. I’m sure like all writers, I worry my characterizations aren’t deep enough and that my plot isn’t strong enough, which also leads to #4.
  7. And, of course, I worry I don’t have a strong enough logline, query, summary and pitch. I have one month to get those nailed down and my draft completed since I plan to go to the FF&P Conference the first weekend in March.

Whew! I think that’s enough, no?

What about you? What worries or doubts plague you right now? Any advice for me or other new writers?