You!!! Guys!!! It’s June already! Freaking June and how did this happen?! Well, excuse me while I go have my little melt down at the year being half over. … Okay. Well, June is also my birthday month. (Whee!) So it’s extra packed with… the usual stuff but plus because it’s my birthday, okay?!
Anyway, every Tuesday we’ll be having a Guest Author & A Giveaway post. Every Thursday we’ll be having a Teaser Tuesday post. (Yeah, Thursdays become Tuesdays here on the blog in June. Deal.) And every Saturday, we have our special reader guest(s) sharing their Reader Post! Whee!
Here we’re starting out with a bang courtesy of dynamic duo Heidi Belleau & Violetta Vane!
4 Things Heidi and Violetta Love (and Hate) in a Hero
Hi! We’re Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane, a couple of co-writers from opposite ends of North America. Like all writers, though, we’re also readers, and we’re here today in that capacity, talking about what qualities we like and dislike in romance heroes. Between the two of us, we read M/F, M/M, and M/M/F, so there should be a little something here for everybody!
Four Loves. By Heidi, who is a part-time sparkle princess.
He has a sense of humor
Click your average online dating profile and it’s the number one thing people are looking for in a partner and it’s easy to see why. Who doesn’t want a lover who makes them happy, and what better way to make someone happy than to make them laugh? But it’s more than just finding your very own stand-up comedian, or a guy who has to get his witty two cents in on everything no matter who it hurts or embarrasses. Sense of humor isn’t just telling jokes, it’s a way of looking at life, an optimism, an ability to find joy in things or lighten a bad mood. How about Jason Segel, who has an unrelenting optimism and a charming ability to laugh at himself? Jon Stewart or Dave Chapelle, who can take depressing realities and make them palatable, even when the humor’s dark? Of course, your mileage may vary on who or what you find funny, but no matter your personal taste, a guy who can laugh at the world and himself can really lift your spirits.
Matt Lovell, from Josephine Myles’s free short Pole Star (M/M). Matt’s story could easily be the set-up for a moody drama: an injured male stripper in the emergency room meets a cute radiographer and is ashamed to admit to his real career but feels torn up about lying. Rather than going angsty with it, though, this story is all about the humor of this situation, starting with the fact that although Matt’s passing as a firefighter thanks to his stage costume, he knows the game will be up if anyone discovers his pants are the tearaway kind. The humor of this story could be mean-spirited, but it’s not, thanks to Matt’s charming, self-deprecating sense of humor. It’s a warm, human slice-of-life story that’s genuinely funny to read.
He challenges traditional ideas of masculinity
In M/F, Alpha Males are all the rage, and in M/M readers are constantly praising “real men” and coming up with often-hurtful standards of who gets to claim that title. But let’s give a shout-out to the guys who stretch our understanding of gender, either in how they identify, dress, or even just how they act. This can be as simple as a proud male nurse, as thoughtful as a character whose arc has him choosing not to follow in his father’s macho men-don’t-cry footsteps, or as sexy as a guy willing to experiment with sex roles or wear a little something lacy in the bedroom. Social conditioning is a powerful, pervasive force that starts the minute we’re born, the minute our mom or dad pops us in a pink or blue onesie or buys us a Barbie or a GI Joe. It takes a brave, brave person to push through all that and be the person they know they’re meant to be.
Who’s man enough to cry:
Silvio Spadaro from Dark Soul by Aleksandr Voinov (M/M & M/M/F). Take an emotionally stunted contract killer, living in the hyper-macho world of the mafia. Now make him moonlight as a crossdressing Femme Fatale. Oh yes! It’s just as amazing, sexy, and psychologically complex as it sounds.
I love me a good tragic past. A dark, mysterious hero with hidden depths of pain and anguish. But what I don’t love is a man paralyzed by it. I know that in the real world, the universe throws things at us that we just can’t handle, and sometimes people succumb to it. But romance isn’t the real world, it’s a fantasy, and while I love the angst of a tragedy, what I need in my hero is a man who can and has overcome. Maybe he hasn’t conquered all his inner demons, but he’s brave enough to face life in spite of them. Or maybe he keeps a sense of humor in the face of personal tragedy. Maybe he did go down some dark spiral at one point in his life, but now he’s picking himself back up and moving forward. How about a hero who’s overcome addiction, or one who takes his struggle with PTSD day by day? When you’ve seen him overcome other obstacles in his life, you can’t help but root for him to succeed in love, too.
Who’s a survivor:
Qiang, from Sharon Cullars’ Gold Mountain (M/F). Here’s a man from a poor fishing family who survives a horrific childhood accident, makes his way from China to 19th-century America, gets employed in the most dangerous job in the country (blasting holes in the mountain to build tunnels for the railway), has a racist white posse out to kill him and his African-American lover… and this is all before he gets involved with a murderous Triad gang. He handles it all with a heroic stoicism that’s also totally believable; we see how much it hurts and daunts him, and the points at which he could have given up. But he doesn’t.
In one way or another, heroes are more than your average schmo. They’re bigger, badder, broodier, funnier, richer, smarter… you get the idea. Now, there’s something to be said for average: a decent looking guy with an unremarkable job, who’s good at a few things and kind of inept at most others, who can answer 1 out of 5 questions on Jeopardy, run a half-marathon, but can’t parallel park. But I already married him. Not that I won’t read romances about average guys, but above-average has its appeal, too. I’m happy with the guy-next-door, but the Old Spice guy gets my motor running too, and since I can have the guy-next-door in real life, I’ve learned to really appreciate the Old Spice guy and his motorcycle hot tub in my romance novels. Think Moulin Rouge: sure we know it’s a gross exaggeration and that the reality could be just as romantic, but the fact that it’s so Out There just enhances and adds to the escapism of the reading (or viewing) experience.
Jerricho Z. Barrons from Karen Marie Moening’s Fever series (M/F). I imagine that Jerricho is a hate him or love him kind of character, although I’m firmly on the side of love. But it’s easy to see why he could be polarizing: he doesn’t do anything halfway. He’s immortal! He’s racially ambiguous! He has an unknown accent! He owns a sprawling rare book store! He goes to exclusive clubs! He has a massive collection of expensive cars! He’s acerbic and intelligent and sexy and he has tattoos! And the more outrageous he gets, the more compelling (in a guilty pleasure kinda way, admittedly) he becomes.
Five Hates. Violetta did “Hate” because she’s older and grumpier.
When it comes to politics, I’m somewhere slightly to the right of Karl Marx. And although I understand how easy it is to divorce real life beliefs and fictional enjoyment, in this area, it’s almost impossible for me. I don’t like kings and princes. I stopped reading almost all high fantasy decades ago (a genre I used to breathe like atmosphere) because I got sick of all the kings and princes. I can read some aristocratic settings, but only if they’re not presented too positively. I loved the French movie Ridicule, for example, and I find Game of Thrones somewhat watchable only because all the nobility are total psychopaths.
I automatically dislike noble heroes—historical, fantastic, or contemporary—and that goes for special-snowflake Chosen Ones too. Any dude who thinks an accident of birth makes him awesome by default is a snob for me, and unsympathetic… unless they get taken waaaay down and humanized.
He has an incongruously plot-convenient sexuality
I love MMF but I’m very picky about it. One trope that I avoid like the plague is the one where two men who are presented as already being in a monogamous, happy, stable relationship inexplicably decide they need a woman to “complete them”. I need some semblance of psychological reality, I don’t find that realistic in the slightest, and in fact it strikes me as… icky.
Menage stories ideally thrive on complicated sexuality. Flattening out sexuality issues via Soulmates! or Completion! hammer ruins everything for me. If a hero has a sexuality that comes straight out of nowhere, I stop believing in them as a character, and they start to resemble a Ken doll instead. If I’m reading most contemporaries, I want to see men struggling with their GFY or OFY or BFY (bisexual for you). Homophobia (and biphobia) doesn’t ever need to take center stage, but I don’t like it handwaved, either, unless it’s in keeping with a tone where other negative social forces are handwaved. And if I’m reading science fiction, I want to understand how sexual socialization has evolved and how the hero fits in (or doesn’t fit in). If it’s the 51st century and everybody’s doing everybody, awesome! Though maybe our hero has a smidgen of angst on account of being a closet monosexual…
One book I loved that doesn’t do this is Amber Green’s Steal Away. Two men, one very bisexual and the other one very gay, end up in a relationship with a woman, and it’s not instant happy happy sandwich time, and no one’s sexuality flies out the window—it’s complicated, and therefore, fascinating.
He has no friends or family
Research has shown that men tend to drop social connections once they’re in long-term relationships with women, whereas women maintain them. So when their respective partners die, men tend to be more psychologically adrift than women, more isolated and depressed.
Maybe I’m weird and morbid, but I think about that a lot. So I like reading about heroes who have healthy friendships and family connections. I like mysterious loners too, but I pull for them to develop camaraderie and belonging. If the hero gets in a relationship with a woman and the story is just the two of them wrapped up in each other, I get a sense of claustrophobia and wonder how their HEA is really ever going to be happy in the long term… and if he’ll cling and cling until he smothers her.
I’m not talking about the no-female-friends sports-and-poker bros-before-hos kind of socialization. I just like for them to be able to make human connections outside of the relationship.
Smug and patronizing heroes just plain piss me off. And this is a fine line for me, because I do rather enjoy certain narratives where there’s a vast power differential between partners… real or acted. For example, I like BDSM stories but cannot stand telepathic doms who always know what’s best for the sub.
When it comes to fantasy or paranormal heroes with godlike powers, I much prefer outright antiheroes who are utterly honest about being selfish, amoral bastards out to please themselves first. “I’m only doing this for your own good!” Yeah, fuck you, buddy.
And on that positive note, what are some of your loves and hates?