The longer I move in romance circles – reading, writing, studying, editing, coaching – the more apparent the phenomenon of every man vs. no man. I suppose this could apply to other genres, as well, but it seems prevalent in our romance heroes.
I finished ghostwriting a romantic novella last week. In it, the hero falls nicely into the brooding/tortured/loner archetype, but every single aspect of this guy is something fresh, something I haven’t read before. Every cliché I thought of, I twisted. I had some freedom with this. It’s a NA take on a modern Gothic. He’s eccentric and complex, as layered as Dante’s Inferno. He hangs the clothes in his cottage on antlers and keeps a yellow matchbox car on his mantle and leaves his house in both a Santa suit and a birthday suit. When a plot twist gives him exactly what he professes to want, he does the exact opposite. The number of actual men who might fit his mold in real life could probably only fit in my backyard. And maybe not even then. He is a “no man,” like no other man.
Simultaneously, I edited a contemporary romantic suspense from a long-standing client. Her hero is everything a romance reader wants: weak-knees kind of handsome, smart, protective, altruistic, rich, great in the love department…did I mention handsome? He rakes his hand though his dreamy hair when he’s upset. He pins the heroine up against walls (in a good way), listens when she has a problem and gets all up in his alpha when she’s in danger. Yet, we don’t witness idiosyncrasies like putting socks on that don’t match or how he walks one block out of his way to avoid a certain storefront or is obsessed with JFK history or that when he picks up a magazine, he leafs through it back to front. At some point in the story, the reader seamlessly superimposes her ideal man on him. He is “every man.”
The thing that baffles me?
They both work. Absolutely and unequivocally, work.
As writers, we’ve always heard that the golden ticket of characterization is uniqueness. But the power of a writer to gift-wrap a hero that will appeal to the greatest number of readers is not only brilliant, but savvy marketing.
Do romance readers want to fall in love with one particular guy or the particular guy they want?
Yesterday, the annual bombardment of perfume and cologne samples clogged my mailbox, slipping from glossy Black Friday ads like seduction bombs delivered by the cosmetic industry. Here’s the thing: as a writer, I save every one of them.
Remember how I always say that music is the short cut to Storyland? If music is the short cut, fragrance samples are the high-octane vehicle that gets me there. Sure, some smell more like the inside of a heiress’s steamy regrets, but sometimes I am able to attach just the right scent to just the right character and magic ensues. One whiff, and I’m right there with that imaginary character.
So in celebration of this olfactory phenomenon of writing (and because some of you may be considering purchasing a fragrance for a loved one – don’t, please don’t – that never works out), I give you the latest four that just tumbled from my mailbox:
Estee Lauder – Modern Muse
Aside from the writerly squees that occurred to me at this perfume’s title and the pitch line: Be an inspiration, this scent is one of your rich characters. Heels most of the time, the target market of every DeBeer’s commercial and just a hint of spice to indicate she moonlighted as a high-priced escort to pay her way through college. No PTA mom here. This chick will cost your hero. And betray him.
Coach – Poppy Wildflower
This character is a kindergarten teacher before she has crayola paint and boogers smeared on her skirt. She’s your little sister, Taylor Swift and Paris in the sunshine all rolled into one. You adore her initial sweetness, but it suffocates after a time. Like headache suffocate.
Ralph Lauren – Romance
Seriously, could this fragrance be any more targeted to my demographic? The ad even portrays a hunky guy and a woman trotting side-by-side on twin white horses. He leans over for a smooch, but kisses her eyeball instead. To so boldly proclaim that these notes of odoriferous emanation will deliver romance is a heady promise. What does it truly deliver? The perfect balance of everything, with not too much of anything but the glue meant to hold the sample closed. It’s like the Switzerland of Romancelandia. Kinda forgettable. Except for the eyeball kiss. And at $91 for 3.4 ounces, I would have expected something more. The UPS guy, for instance, to give an eyeball kiss upon delivery. Something.
Donna Karan – Cashmere Mist
Oh, wow. The name is already trying too hard, right? It’s like someone shoved a Harlequin novel into a phallic bottle. No man on this ad to suggest anything more than a scent, which is a good thing. This one is your futuristic antagonistic heroine who rose to too much power and must now be taken down. She doesn’t live entirely in her steel-and-glass fortress. Every now and then, she ventures out into the cashmere mist to frolic with squirrels.
Bottom line, don’t throw the samples away and don’t sniff them to death. Even if you dislike the scent, you never know when it will be the perfect connection to a character.
What do your favorite (or not-so-favorite) characters smell like?
My theory on what women want can be summed up in two words: romance novel. Not necessarily for the hero’s bulging biceps and rogue tendencies, but for all he doesn’t say. By and large these stories are written by women for women. Where else can men get a comprehensive study like that–Men’s Health? Yeah, right. Way off. Way.
So, we collectively offer up ten heady doses of reality, ones that chase away any notion of fantasy. I’ll start.
1. “I’m taking the Browns to the Superbowl.” And he isn’t talking football.
Comment from June:
2. “Not tonight, honey, I have a headache.”
Comment from Melanie:
3. “Honey, did you pack the Viagra?” LOL
Comment from L.A:
4. “Cramps, Shmamps. I’ve fought an entire brigade of blood-thirsty soldiers with a lance in my thigh!”
Comment from Stewart:
5. “Does it look strange when I do this?”
Comment from Sue L:
6. “Yes, it was fun, but your sister is much more bendy.”
Comment from L.A:
7. “My stallion is not accustomed to carrying such weight.”
Comment from Sandra:
8. “Do these pants make my butt look big?”
Comment from Pam:
11. “Honey, you look a little dumpy in that sweater…”
12. “After you finish cooking dinner and doing the dishes, will you iron my clothes so I have something to wear tomorrow? It’s been a week…”
C’mon, Vortexers. We can add to this can’t we? Go for it…
More Longmire Does Romance book covers
I ran across a great tip for anticipating holiday shopping: put your list in your cell phone. Be a good listener when you’re around your to-buy-for peeps. When they mention something, get it on the phone. Be sure to check it often when you’re already out running errands. Then, the gift is memorable for them, ultra-convenient for you.
But what about that hard-to-shop for blog reader who seems to have everything? Specifically, Vortexers, who are pleased only by the rarest gems of pop culture and WTH-ery? Fear not, dear followers. Our second Etsy installment is here!
Spice up that next scrapbook gathering! Cri-cut machines go perfectly with such progressive jewelry. Or how about sending a special message to that grocery sacker at Kroger? I may be buying unleavened pita bread, but Puritan waters run deep. Extra points to the seller for marketing them from “trashy romance novels.”
Enough said, right? Oh, the joy!
Men don’t wear cuff links often enough. What could be sexier than being dressed up and ready for time travel?
So Jason looks like Curly and has a tumor growing out of his left cranium. Art, like writing, is so subjective. I have a pen and ink rendering of how the water pipes run under my house from the water heater repair guy. $30. Free shipping!
What caught my eye here is the model’s pose. Show me a fan who hasn’t longed to do this in an open meadow and I’ll show you a hot liar.
Marrying a paper doll to a physics genius makes my heart sing. I would adorn him with colorful post-its, make him my muse and love him forever.
Would this prevent creepy hairy guy from speaking to me at Starbucks about his Camaro?
I would have distinctly remembered the lick. Artistic Liberty Schmiberty. On some fan fiction planet, this has inspired X-rated, I-want-to-believe fodder for Naughty Brooches.
Forty-five shopping days left, Vortexers. It takes time to find the crazy.
Next: The evolution of a brand
I could begin with a quote, as writers often do:
“New England is quite as large a lump of earth as my heart can really take in.”
I could write a poem, but I might struggle with finding a word to rhyme with bunghole, as in Bunghole Liquors in Salem, Massachusetts:
Zoom it, Vortexers. It’s there. And here. Nothing captures Autumn in New England like koozies that read “Planet Bung Next to Uranus”, right?
But mostly, I could just give it the Vortex 10 treatment. This is no moth-ball smelling, photo album-snoozing regurgitation down recent-memory lane. This is Romancing New England, Vortex-style.
Each day for ten days I’ll dish out a tiny, meaty portion of my quest to capture that elusive, famed, romantic state-of-mind that eclipses New England this time of year. Did I find it in the portrait of Barbara Bush on river rock? Or in the Mary Poppins-holding-umbrella flight through a downtown Boston alley? Or in the quiet moment of fail when I realized my continental breakfast had to be eaten outside in 40 degree post-dawn Maine? The Vortex 10 list will swell as steady as my stomach on chowdah and lobstah, so pull up a feed and check back often. Maybe you’ll find New England, like I did, somewhere between a Hawthorne and a bunghole.
Seriously, what rhymes with hole? Filet of Sole? Hairy mole? Yeasty roll?
Tomorrow: Romancing Public Transportation, or There is No T in Romance
How often do you see a television commercial that makes you laugh out loud? Hands down, my favorite right now has to be the Old Spice Ad: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.
Not only is it funny, but it is spot-on for its target audience: the been-married-a-few-years-or-more wife who picks up soap for her family while grocery shopping. Axe fantasies are something dating men buy into and gramps goes for the traditional Irish Spring or Dial, bar soap most likely. This just so happens to be the largest portion of the romance genre’s target audience. I see some serious parallels, don’t you? Brava, Old Spice.
My other favorite ad right now is the Google Love Story. So brilliant in its simplicity.
What is your favorite commercial, now or of all-time?
I hope Wells-y will forgive me for missing his birthday on Monday. National Geographic News has a great article on the staggering number of H.G. Wells’s far-off, science-fiction predictions that have come to fruition over a century later. Maybe his time travel machine is, in true science-fiction form, far more elaborate than necessary. But no contraption for temporal travel will ever be as sexy as his. Hmm?
So continue to make bump and grind jokes or strike a righteous pose when you open Oprah’s latest pick. I might even laugh along with you at the line that compares a Ford F-150 to a black stallion, but make no mistake: your disdain for romance novels is more an indiction of your ignorance of the genre than any story on the page. Read one. A recent one. Ask me or a dozen others on this blog for a recommendation. Then, and only then, will I respect your informed opinion.
Our week-long celebration of love and romance concludes today with the wealth of information found between the pages of a romance novel. Men are forever trying to figure out a way to pluck the right emotional string to reach that mystical realm of a woman’s heart. It’s hardly mystical, often uncomplicated and intuitive. Men need only to look to the heroes who populate romance novels for a compass. Who else but women who write for women are experts at the vast terrain of a feminine heart?
Romance Heroes understand there are regions of a woman’s heart he may never see. A woman’s collective experiences form a deep labyrinth of emotions: worry, hurt, triumph, truth, and thoughts she shares with no one. Heroes know that with respect and patience, a map to navigate the maze becomes apparent.
Romance Heroes are gentlemen. Chivalry may be a dead art in modern society, but the romance hero knows simple gestures place them at a serious advantage over other red-blooded males. This can be difficult terrain, especially for women who embrace feminism with an iron grip, but even a woman with a strong sense of her modern role in society can grow weary at times.
Romance Heroes recognize strength is not measured in pounds or arm-wrestling trophies. While heroes may be good at setting course for a specific goal and reaching it, women burden themselves with details and sacrifices and the whole of life such that they become the very fabric that allows others to reach their goals. Heroes never doubt there is a strong woman behind every great man.
Romance Heroes do not have body functions. Only the dicey romance writer will expound on his need to take a piss (ahem…guilty. The Lost Highway), but on the whole he is far too preoccupied with saving the heroine, child, world to engage in pull-my-finger antics. This is why he gets the girl and the only ones who appreciate your armpit noises are your drinking buddies.
Romance Heroes are out saving the world. They live by the others before self creed. They rescue dogs from hot cars, women who drop their purses, elderly who need a seat and step up without being asked.
Romance Heroes never smother. They’re diffusing a bomb that could annihilate the entire northern hemisphere. They don’t have time to call a woman’s cell phone seventeen times a day.
Romance Heroes embrace defining moments. When called upon during emotional peaks that life dishes out to us all, they react with character and integrity. They know their legacy carries on after three hundred pages.
Romance Heroes are scarred. Some of the best heroes in romantic literature are less-than-perfect men who sport limps or disfigurements. It is the same reason the Beauty and the Beast legend has been reinvented in alternate forms for centuries. Yes, some women like the idea of taming that which cannot be tamed; but mostly, we understand a hero is not always found beneath a Hollywood face.
However you decide to celebrate Valentine’s Day (or not) this week, I wish you all one glaring moment of peace where you feel the love around you and give it back in return.
Kim Lenox’s second book in her Shadow Guard series, So Still the Night will be a May 2009 release. Kim’s books are perfect specimens to study the ideal dark alpha hero. Love her writing. LOVE it.
Monday: Double blog-award day!! Thanks, Vesper.
Three legends exist about the origin of St. Valentine’s Day:
The first involves a man named Valentine who secretly married young couples during the Roman Empire. At the time, the Empire forbade the rite of marriage to lure all young men into the army and away from sentiments of the heart. When Valentine’s crimes were discovered, the Emperor banished him to prison.
The second involved a man imprisoned for his underground work with Christians. While in confinement, he fell in love with the Emperor’s blind daughter and healed her sight. Legend has it, he wrote a letter to the young woman prior to his execution signed, “From your Valentine.”
The third legend tells of a man named Valentine who was known to lavish children with flowers and sweets. Upon imprisonment with other Christians of the time, the children he’d impacted with his kindness tossed notes through the prison bars to him.
Hard to compare to a saint, isn’t it? These romantic ideals are of another time and place, but certainly we can become a Valentine for the one who has captured our heart. Here are some discovery questions designed to help you leave behind someone else’s idea of Valentine’s Day and create your own:
Q: What is something your Valentine sacrifices to be with you? Can you, if only for a day, give it back to them?
Q: What is the one thing your Valentine has always wanted to do/learn/be? Do it. Give your Valentine the tools to learn it. Help your Valentine become it.
Q: Without obligations, where would your Valentine’s interests lie? Take away those obligations for a time. Pursue that interest with your Valentine.
Q: Quiet your routines, your surrounding responsibilities, the noise of life. What is the true essence of peace for your Valentine? It’s there, in the stillness. Sometimes we can’t see it for all of life’s clutter. Give your Valentine that peace.
Q: What is one thing you’d never do for your Valentine? Do it.
Tomorrow: Everything I Need to Know About a Woman’s Heart I Learned from a Romance Novel
Art: A Painter’s Honeymoon by Lord Frederic Leighton, 1864