Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Male Leads, Heroes and Alpha-Males

You know, it’s difficult to see myself as a Romance writer but I guess that’s what I am now. Erotic Romance, admittedly, but Romance nevertheless. Yes, I still write short ‘stroke’ stories such as the Ladz "Local Lovelies" series , and they go down quite well, but there’s no denying that Lost&Found, Charlotte’s Secret and (when it’s finished) Chloe’s Education are anything but romantic in tone.

When I wrote my first sex story back in ’98—a story about a threesome at a housewarming party—I never envisaged being classed as a romance writer. Back then, for me at least, romance novels were still very much the “Mills&Boon” type. You know, heart & flowers, purple prose etc.

But Romance has changed. Readers now want ‘heat’. They want to know just what the heroines are feeling and what’s being done to them to make them feel it (if you know what I mean). Graphic yet sensual descriptions and thorough exploration of sexual needs and desires are the order of the day.

But Erotic Romance still has its ‘rules’. Rules updated from ‘old style’ Romance. There must be a hero and a heroine. The heroine should be a strong modern woman, but at the same time vulnerable. And the heroes need to be strong alpha-males. That’s what the girls want (or so I’m told) – the alpha-male. And since women are the predominant readers of Erotic Romance – alpha-males is pretty much what they get. And since it’s mostly women who write Erotic Romance, they are happy to serve up them up.

But I think I’m a little different from most of the erotic romance authors out there. For one, I’m a bloke. The majority of Erotic Romance authors are women – and most of the readers are women too – so hopefully I offer something a little different to your average author. A different perspective, if you like. A male perspective.

My male leads aren’t really typical alpha-males, mainly because I’m not what you’d call an alpha-male. I was the nerdy, booky type at school, the one who was bullied for wearing glasses, the one everyone came to so they could copy their homework instead of doing it themselves. And I think that reflects in my male leads.

Sure, they are stronger than that – they not going to be bullied, they will stand up for the woman they love, but they are ‘new men’ (if that term is still used – personally, I hate it). They are sensitive, they get hurt. They have their flaws.

In fact, I don’t really like referring to my male leads as “heroes”. I prefer to call them (like I just did) Male Leads or the Central Male Character. I guess I’m just more comfortable with that.

Let me try and show you what I mean by reference to the Central Male Character in Charlotte’s Secret.

David is, in some respects, the antithesis of an alpha-male. He’s an accountant—intelligent and respected in the local business community and far from what most people would think of as an alpha-male. He’s also trapped in a loveless marriage. Why? Because he did what he thought was right and married a woman he didn’t love just because she was carrying his baby (at least, he thought she was). Now, you know and I know that in modern Britain, marrying someone just because you’ve knocked them up isn’t the done thing anymore – but David is different. He’s from a broken home. He knows what it’s like growing up without a dad – and he’s going to make damn sure he doesn’t inflict that on any child of his.

And it’s David’s relationship with the little boy he believes to be his son that is central to this whole story. It’s that relationship that makes David behave the way he does. Look at this short extract as an example of that relationship and see if you agree.

He arrived at the doorstep, put the key in the lock and turned to look at his old car once more before entering the house. Susie was waiting for him in the hallway with their screaming son in her arms.

“Oh, good, you’re home. Here…” She handed Ben over. “He’s been horrible the past couple of hours, I think it’s his teeth. He’s ready for his next feed. Would you mind? You’re so much better at it than me.”

David took Ben in his arms and the nine-month-old immediately stopped crying. He looked up at his father, smiled, and started to gurgle quietly. David tickled under his chin, making Ben giggle. David was so engaged with the boy that he didn’t notice Susie had left the hallway until she returned carrying a sports bag. “Going somewhere?”

“The gym.”

“What, again? That’s every night this week.”

“I’m working on getting my figure back.”

“But we were supposed to go out tonight. You know I’m at that stupid conference next weekend.”

“I know, but the babysitter cancelled a couple of hours ago.”

“Did you try the others?”

“No point. They’ll all have plans this late on a Saturday.”

“What about your parents.”

“Mother had Ben earlier in the day--it’d be unfair for her to have him again.”

“So what about dinner?”

“I’ve already ordered you a pizza. It should arrive in the next half-an-hour or so. Don’t forget to tip the delivery boy.” With that, Susie strode out the house and climbed into her car. David and Ben were still standing the doorway when she’d backed off the drive and headed down the road.

David went back inside and closed the door. He looked at Ben, who stared up at his father, grinning and chuckling. “I guess it’s just you and me again then, little man. You don’t seem that hungry to me. Let’s see if Mummy wrote down when you last ate, shall we?”

David had kept a record of when Ben had fed and how much he ate, ever since the little boy was born. Susie had flatly refused to breast feed, despite David’s instance that it would be best for the child, so it had been easy to track how much he was eating. David carried Ben into the kitchen and looked at the record book. It was immediately obvious that that he was due a feed. David warmed a bottle of baby milk in the microwave and sat Ben on his knee. He stared into his son’s blue eyes, which were wide open, clean and bright, and felt more love for him than ever thought possible.

“I’ve said it before, Benny, and I’ll keep on saying it. I am never gonna let anyone hurt you. D’you hear me? Never.”

Ben gurgled through his bottle in response.

“I have to tell you, Benny, Daddy did something very naughty today. He went to see your Auntie Charlotte. Yes, he did. And Auntie Charlotte was very nice to Daddy. Yes, she was. Very nice. But then, she always was. Best not tell Mummy though. No, that wouldn’t be a good idea. Mummy doesn’t want Daddy to see Auntie Charlotte.”

Ben pushed the bottle away to indicate he’d had enough. As David put the bottle on the coffee table, the telephone rang. He picked it up.

“Laird residence, David speaking.”

“David, thank God. Can you talk?”

“Charlie? Yes, I can talk, but why are you phoning the land line?”

“Because I don’t have your mobile number. Susie made you change it, remember?”

“I mean, ‘What if Susie had answered?’”

“Then I’d have told her how much I enjoyed lunch and arranged another one.”

“You went for lunch together?”

“Yes.” Charlotte sounded irritated. “Look, is Susie in the house?”

“No, she’s gone to the gym.”

“Good. How long do you think she’ll be? Have I got time to come over?”

“Do you think that’s a good idea? What if we lose track of time?”

“No. That’s not why I want to come. I have to talk to you David.”

“We’re talking now, aren’t we?”

“No. I have to talk to you face to face. I have something I need to show you.”

“Can’t it wait until Monday?”

“Not really.”

“Okay. But come over right away. Susie usually stays at the gym for a drink with her friends, but might decide not to.”

“I’m in my car outside. I’ll be right there.”

David put the phone down and wondered what could be so urgent that Charlotte would take this kind of risk. He daren’t think what would happen if Susie caught them together. His train of thought was distracted when Ben snored gently. So often the little boy fell asleep in David’s arms. He studied him as he slept. His face was subtle mixture of pleasure and contentment. People often said that Ben had David’s eyes or his ears, or mouth, or any other feature they could think of, but David couldn’t see it. He thought that the boy shared his eyes with his mother and aunt, but they were the only features he recognised. He certainly couldn’t see himself in him--but he loved him just the same.

David’s desire to be a ‘good dad’ overrides any thought for himself. In the quest to be a ‘good dad’ he’s sacrificed life with the woman he does love in favour of one who he’s fairly certain will cheat on him. Does this make his a cuckold in the traditional sense of the word? Strictly speaking, yes. Although the modern definition means he’d have to watch and enjoy his wife while she was at it, the traditional definition simply means that his wife is sleeping around. And would an alpha-male allow his wife to cheat on him? No, of course he wouldn’t.

Of course, Charlotte’s Secret is all about how David goes about ‘redressing the balance’ so to speak. About how he can be with the woman he loves and his child. His plan is devious and ruthless – hardly the actions of an alpha-male, now are they?

I don't know, maybe it's because my male leads are all British - and you know how us British men are perceived, we're all a bit more Hugh Grant and Colin Firth than we are James Bond and Robin Hood. Slightly repressed and not particularly expressive or overtly masculine. Although, I think most of us would like to be James bond, but that's a different matter.

I suppose you could say that it’s my female leads that are the more interesting characters in my stories. Notice, again, how I don’t call them heroines. The word for me gives the wrong impression. Yes, it’s a personal thing, but hey, they are my creations, I can refer to them how I like, can’t I? But it runs right through – from Charlotte herself, to her scheming sister, Susie, Beth from Lost&Found and Chloe and Cassie from Chloe’s Education. Even Kelly from Reunion (an older story due for a major re-write). All of them are strong modern women, and in their own ways are doing what they want not what the world expects of them. So to that end, I’ll try and talk about bit more about my female leads tomorrow. But in the meantime, I welcome your opinions on male lead, heroes and alpha-males.

Charlotte's Secret and Lost & Found are available now from Phaze books and all good e-book sellers such as Fictionwise. Chloe's Education is a work in progress. The current version of Reunion is available via lulu.com.

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