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.