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Man Talk

I’ve always been a little macho. I blame my parents. They were the ones who had three daughters and a ranch. Somebody had to be the oldest son. Oh, yeah, there was that one boy who came trailing along at the end, but by the time he was old enough to be good for anything, it was too late. I’d already been brain-washed.

I compounded the problem by choosing sports medicine as a career. My college education included eighteen hundred hours of internship as a student athletic trainer (no, I am not exaggerating, I had to track them all). At least half the time, the ratio of men to me was about thirty five to one.

You don’t last long on the sidelines, in the weight room, the training room or the gym if you blush easily. One day, while we were taping ankles and wrists for practice, several of the football players were debating what one of them should get his girlfriend for her birthday. He looked at my fellow student trainer and said, “You’re kind of a girl, Jean. What do you think?”

That’s when you know you’re one of the guys.

The point to all of this is writing from the male point of view comes naturally to me. I’ve watched and listened to so many of them in their natural habitat, when they’re not putting on a show for the girls, I have a pretty good idea what’s really going on inside those thick skulls. Which is why, as a romance reader, the male point of view will make or break a book for me.

When a man looks at a beautiful woman, I expect him to think, “Wow. Hot. Want.”

Okay, maybe my men have a little more couth than that. But not much. My boys think coral is something you pen cows in, not the color of a woman’s lips. If they’re watching a girl, they’re probably not admiring her stunning blue eyes. They’re thinking, “I sure hope she bends over in those shorts.”

They don’t have to be macho tough guys. I love the ones that are confused and uncertain and tripping over themselves inside their head, even if they’re putting on a pretty good show for the rest of the world. I adore it when an otherwise cool, sophisticated type gets thrown for a loop. I have a soft spot for men who don’t know one end of a wrench from the other and aren’t afraid to admit it. I just want them to be real.

Nora Roberts writes great men. But then, she doesn’t suck at much, does she? Still…Roarke. Damn.

Virginia Kantra is another of my favorites. Mark DeLucca from her Trouble in Eden series still makes my heart go pitty pat, and I’ve read it at least half a dozen times. Marilyn Pappano does great men. Reid Donovan from her Southern Knights series was a real sock-knocker.

But pick up books by other very popular romance writers and it doesn’t take long to figure out not all readers share my taste. Their men think of women as ‘enticing’ and ‘lush’. They speak in a language more flowery and eloquent than any of my big galoots. And the readers love them for it. Which leaves me to wonder if I’ve missed an entire sector of the male population, or if that’s part of the fantasy for a lot of readers.

Maybe we want our fictional men to think like we wish they’d think, not necessarily like they really think. (Yeah, I know. That’s clear as mud.)

As women, we’re constantly told in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that we must measure up to the standards set by the beauty industry. We polish and paint and powder as instructed to make ourselves pleasing to the opposite sex. And damn it, if I’m going to spend an hour of every day of my life in front of a mirror messing with my hair and makeup, I want those idiots to notice my eye shadow is particularly well done. Or at least to be able to fantasize that men actually pay attention to that stuff.

Except I’m not much for the primping, which is probably why I prefer the men between the covers of my books to be more like the man between the covers of my bed, who didn’t notice for three weeks that I’d cut six inches off my hair, but perked right up when I got a new pair of jeans.

In the end, it’s about meeting readers’ expectations, fulfilling their fantasies. And since my expectations and fantasies and yours are never going to be exactly the same, it’s a good thing we have so many wonderful writers with so many styles to choose from, because that means there’s a Mr. Right out there for everyone.

As any true romantic knows.

So how about you? How do you like your man talk?

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13 Responses

  1. Great post. I’ve given this some thought because I have trouble with my male characters for this very reason. I want them to appreciate what they see on a base level but with some sort of ‘couth’ (as you said).

    I agree with your last paragraph wholeheartedly.

  2. It gets complicated, because you’re trying to be true to the character while trying to keep in mind the ‘guidelines’ of the line you’re submitting to.

    I try very hard to use what a man observes to reveal his character, plus make my descriptions as unique as possible.

  3. fantastic blog. Very thought provoking.

    If you haven’t read Nora’s latest book (The Search), her hero is right up your alley! No flowery prose from him.

    But Roark? Yeah, he can do some flower prose. He’s more verbal about emotions than Eve. He’s more likely to be caring and in touch with his emotions than Eve too.

    I can’t wait to hear what others think!

  4. This is truly a great post. I’m like you, I’m in what was traditionally a male field (changes have happened over the last 20 years though) and I am seen as one of the guys and they do not temper their thoughts around me at all so I usually have male characters like yours. Once in a while, they can say some really romantic stuff but usually not.

    I think trying to blend the coarse with the smooth is a real challenge. But a fun one

  5. Cyndi: I haven’t read Nora’s latest. I love her style and her voice, but I can only do so much of the serial killer/stalker storylines, even if it’s an original take. I actually prefer her straight romances to the romantic suspense. Which makes it just sad that I haven’t read the Bride series, either.

    SFcatty: I have the advantage of writing mainstream fiction, so I don’t have to worry about the profanity constraints of category romance. I think one of my characters is even pushing the mainstream limits this time, though. I’ll find out when my beta readers and my agent get their hands on it.

  6. Wow. Thank you. You can put me in a paragraph with Nora Roberts any time.

    Totally loved The Search, even though the hero moves beyond inarticlate and into brusque. (Kari, you might like this one. There are relatively few Big Brown Couch moments – you know that mental furniture you really wish you hadn’t brought into your house?) But the hero works for me, because his actions are all about the heroine, even when his mouth and his brain haven’t quite caught up with his heart.

    I’m a big fan of the Stand Up Guy.

  7. *stumbles fumbles trips over tongue* OMIGOD! Virginia Kantra just spoke to me *swoons*

    Yeah, now you guys know why I don’t go to Nationals. Imagine if this were FACE TO FACE.

    Looks like I’ll have to check out The Search. I’ve heard very good things about the hero from several sources. And Virginia, the Trouble in Eden books live on my nightstand, too. Tess is amazing.

  8. hm. Interesting and there are different tastes. I know I’ve used the t-word for a woman’s chest from the male pov and I’ve gotten slammed for it. but that seems real to me.

    for other men, I have gone more flowery. It just depends on the guy for me and I can read either.

  9. I like both. I think you gotta have a nice mix – true to male thought/action processes and still write it for a woman.

    We like to think they notice the caramel highlights in our hair. Heck, some guys do. Mine did, but he didn’t say “The caramel highlights really brighten your face.” That’s what my stylist said. My husband said “What did you do to your hair?” Bet almost all of your significant others have said the exact same thing to you before, huh. 🙂

    I write category so I can’t use the “t” word though I think a few of my heroes would use that word. Especially the one I’m writing now. He’s my “man whore” and he’s all about noticing assets.

    Nice post.

  10. Liz: I thought you nailed the mix with Jack. He had a great voice. Sophisticated, but still a very believable male.

  11. I LOVE Roarke and Dallas, they have a cool kind of balance. You’ll be a happy camper when you can squeeze in reading time and pick up NOra’s Bride Series.
    As for the men in books, well, as a reader I’ve been known to snort chocolate milk into my lungs when a man I’m reading stares at cleavage. The men in my mostly man world belch, fart, scratch, stare at t and a…. and don’t have a clue what color maroon is – or beige for that matter.
    However, they aren’t the guys that romance readers are dreaming about so as an writer, I find myself toning them down.

    So yeah, hard to find a good balance of real and not so much.

  12. Kari, you’re giving me the giggles.
    Thanks for making me feel welcome!

    Okay, back to it. I’m doing a 20-something couple in the next book. The difference in the generations is harder for me to overcome than the gender difference!

  13. Virginia,

    Oh, please, stop by often.

    I’m also writing twenty somethings, but lucky for me I was in college for so long I still remember it vividly. Plus I’ve never really gotten around to growing up, so I can put myself right there emotionally. I do have to check my music and movie references with some of my younger friends to make sure I’m not showing my age, though.

    Katt: You know, I’m not sure if I’ve ever used the t word in a book. If I did, it wasn’t one of my main characters. I have a minor character who would use it, though. Huh. Might have to do a ‘find’, just out of curiosity. I did use boob a couple of times recently, but that was my female lead’s POV. My only limit is to avoid making my men sound like sleazeballs. Even if they’re a little crude, they have to show a certain level of respect for women or they’re not romantic hero material.

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