Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Last Bird Fluffing

Last Girl Dancing by Holly Lisle My pal Debi keeps telling me I should write romance, but I don't know. She's basing her opinion on the fact I can write hot bird-on-bird and fly-on-spider sex scenes. But, really -- how tough is that? The real challenge would be to create believable (human) male and female characters*, get 'em to fall in love, and have the reader care about them. I've never tried this, but I suspect it's a lot tougher than it sounds. For one thing, I'd have to crawl into a female skin and imagine sexual attraction from a female POV. I don't have any homophobic resistance to doing this; I'm just not sure I could. Men are . . . well, you know. Icky. Holly Lisle takes on the challenge in her "police procedural romance" (one Amazon reviewer's description of the genre) Last Girl Dancing. Lisle shifts back and forth between her female and male leads, and does a respectable job on both. I liked Jess Brubaker, the aggressive workaholic cop who finds herself with a dirty, dangerous, and soon to be very personal assignment. Jess is beautiful, sexy, self-sufficient, but also broken, emotionally wounded. Thirteen years ago, her twin sister went missing while working as a stripper. Jess went into the police force to find Ginny, but she hasn't been successful. Now she's being asked to pose as an exotic dancer to track down a serial killer specializing in strippers. I also liked Hank Kamian, the male lead. Hank, a martial arts instructor, is a former Ranger who sustained some serious wartime injuries. He also carries more than a few emotional scars, but he doesn't piss and moan about things. Hank is a man's man. Think Clint Eastwood circa High Plains Drifter, or Mel Gibson circa Road Warrior, before he got all flaky. Think Jake Barnes with functional equipment. Hank's a wee bit psychic: enough that he gets strong (and usually reliable) impressions from crime scenes, not so much that the story is over by page 20. Part of the fun here is watching Hank use his power to try to figure out Jess in the early phases of their relationship. A creep would use this knack to bed every woman in sight, but not Hank. He's a good man -- no, wait. He's a Good Man, and it's clear women readers are supposed to dig him. Lisle does a great job setting and sustaining a creepy atmosphere. I didn't care much for the mystery, but I'm not a big fan of police procedurals. (Full disclosure: I think I've read two or three in my life.) I read it for the romance, and enjoyed it as such. Romantic tension mounts steadily as Hank and Jess circle each other, trying their best to avoid the plunge. But, as the Borg say, resistance is futile. After they've hooked up, we have the added anxiety of (1) hoping Jess doesn't get herself killed, and (2) hoping the murder investigation doesn't trash their fragile relationship. So: could I do this? According to what I've read over at Smart Bitches, there are a few men who write romance (under female pseudonyms, apparently). I wonder how their work differs from that of their female counterparts. And are they all gay? I thought of a more interesting question, but I'm going to preface it with an observation. Men crave love and affection every bit as much as women. Why, then, is there no male counterpart to the romance genre? In other words: male protag seeks and ultimately finds love, aimed at a male readership. Women would read it. But how would you get men to read it, too? . . . Without putting lots of sex in it, cuz that would be cheating. D. *One each, naturally, to keep the grand old dames of the RWA well plastered with frigid rictuses.


Blogger a.a.johnston said...

I think you should suggest the Smart Bitches give you a guest spot. As funny as their reviews can be, I just read your review of Lisle's book and am seriously tempted to go buy it (or maybe just peruse at the local B&N)

And while I'm not sure guys would read romances form a guys POV, I would adore it. I thinkit's why I stopped reading romance almost entirely...I get (for the most part) the woman's POV -- getting the other side is far more interesting.

At any rate, I'm enjoying your blog now that I've found it. Spiders and all.

8/10/2005 08:08:00 AM  
Blogger Jona said...

Men are icky... but spiders and flies aren't?! lol, you're certianly unique, Doug!

And plenty of men love romance, they just work harder finding the books with decent covers ;o)

Have you read Gabaldon yet? You must! She does a grand job of providing a great story with romance as a bonus.

8/10/2005 08:32:00 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

According to what I've read over at Smart Bitches, there are a few men who write romance (under female pseudonyms, apparently). I wonder how their work differs from that of their female counterparts. And are they all gay?

Both Emma Blair and Jessica Blair are men writing Romance (both write sagas, I believe) under pseudonyms. "Jessica" is, to the best of my knowledge, the only person who is a member of both the Romantic Novelists' Association and the Bomber Command Association. Jill Sanderson, who writes medicals for Mills & Boon, is also a man.

Tony Parsons writes books that would, if they were written by a woman, be unhesitatingly categorised as Romantic, but as he is a man critics seem to hesitate to use the label, and I think that Parsons doesn't like it much either - shades of Margaret Atwood and the Science Fiction label which better writers than her (eg Doris Lessing) seem to be quite happy with.

Gay romance is different of course - Scott Pomfrett writes what he calls "Romentics" and has just been accepted by the Romance Writers of America to much ballyhoo.

On to your question about why men don't read this sort of stuff. I think that it is partly because most of what is out there being published is written with women readers in mind - emphasis primarily on the heroine's pov - and partly, if not mainly, because it is marketed for the female reader. Romantic fiction is rarely reviewed in the national newspapers but is reviewed (and short stories published) in magazines aimed at women. Most men will never learn about the existence of these books.

There isn't a huge amount of differece in terms of content between Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books and Jennifer Lindsay's The Lady Soldier. The latter has both male and female povs while the former has only the single viewpoint, but the subject matter and the balance of fighting and sex is pretty similar. But because one is treated as romance and the other as war story they are treated very differently.

My view - on which I am staking my nascent writing career - is that there is scope for books that are about relationships as well as about action to be read by men as well as by women.

By sticking to the Regency period I am however ducking the whole business of sex scenes for the time being.

8/10/2005 01:17:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Take home message, I think: if I want to sneak romance in on a male audience, I'll have to disguise it as something else.

Science fiction, for example ;o)

Thanks for your comments, folks.

8/10/2005 07:39:00 PM  
Blogger Pat said...

One of the few "romances" that I've read is a novel called Circuit of Heaven. It's SF, written by a man named Dennis Danvers, and I have to say, it's a piece of work.
It's a love story between a woman ready to upload her consciousness to the Bin, and a man who refuses to. I was honestly so pulled into the romance side of things that I had tears in my eyes at one point. (I can only think of one other time when I cried reading a book, and that was a sudden, shocking death scene ("In This Haze of Green and Gold") in a Stephen King novel.)

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