Men’s Romance Novels

Sometimes I think best-selling authors have no idea what makes their books sellable. I’m sure they figure they can throw anything out there, and their name will do the rest, which, truthfully, is often the case. But until they get to where their name is the selling point? Not a clue.

I’m reading a whole library’s worth of books by a guy who wrote adventure novels. The adventures are all thrilling, of course, and there is always a matter of heroics — generally a last-minute saving of the world from some calamity that will wipe us all out. The glue that holds all these books together is the romance. Not the male/female sexual romance, but the male bonding sort of romance. I understand that men — and men writers — don’t think this bonding has anything to do with romance, but it is a special sort of romance, often deeper and more meaningful than the romances conceived by women. The relationships in women’s books so often revolve around passion, feelings, family, while the relationships in men’s books revolve around loyalty, commitment, connection. Men might call it bonding, but it’s really a sort of romance.

These men characters respect each other, rely on each other, save each other’s lives and are more involved with their quest (and hence each other) than with the women they meet. I used to think the dismissal of women as secondary characters was a sort of dismissiveness of women in general, when in fact, it’s all about the romance of the men. The bonding. The adventures they share.

It’s this romance — not just the romance of the adventure, but the romance of the shared bonds — that make such books enduring (and perhaps even endearing).

But what is foremost in the author’s mind, and maybe even readers’ is the thrill of the adventure, and though they might feel the “glue” of romance that holds the story together, they don’t stop to dwell on it. (Unless you’re a person who’s isolated from the world because of a pandemic, and the library is closed, and all the person has to read are these books borrowed from another reader.)

So, moving on to a new adventure series by the same author, an adventure that should be romantic, involving as it does a loving married couple, but falls short of romance and adventure. The deep loyalty is missing. The unswerving trust is gone. (The husband always tells the wife to “wait here,” and after a bit of back and forth, he gives in. You’d think after years together, the automatic trust, commitment, and wordless communication would be there.) Even worse, the underlying importance of the adventure is gone.

In the first series, as I said, the adventurers were always on a quest to save the world from some enormity, and so any shenanigans, such as burglary and abduction and murder are minor infractions by comparison, and are usually done as a reaction to what the evildoers have done to them. But in the second series, the couple are merely curious. There’s no reason for them to burgle or kill except for their own ends. Nor is there any reason for them to be the instigators of such crimes. It helps no one, saves no one, and is only justified in the story because the victim is even worse than they are. (Though any money made from the treasures is donated to a worthy cause.)

The second series might sell well — after all, there is that famous name, even though it seems that most of the books were written by someone else — but they fall flat. Luckily, I have only two of these books and am almost through with the second. Whew!

I keep calling this the second series, though it might be the third or fourth. Apparently, the author, although now deceased, has a whole industry going with all sorts of people writing his books. But none seem to have the power and romance of the first series. Does anyone else notice? Probably not.

Would anyone else call them men’s romance novels? I doubt it. But that’s what they are.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Are You Envious of Other Authors?

A few years ago, I read the entire oeuvre of a bestselling author, trying to figure out the secret of her success, and I never found it. Perhaps it was hidden beneath her appalling writing style, but her poor writing dimed any possibility of my enlightenment.

Even a neophyte writer knows that any action a character undertakes must be motivated. Although in life we often act on a whim or a hunch, when a character in a novel does it, it comes across as too slick, too much author convenience, as if the writer couldn’t be bothered to take the time to come up with a plausible motive for the action.

For example, in one book, the writer had someone searching the character’s house for a set of papers, which weren’t there because the character had removed them on a hunch. You and I could never get away with that! We’d have to come up with a motive, and it’s not that difficult. The character could have taken the papers to a diner to peruse them during lunch. Or maybe taken them to a safe deposit box. Or any reason other than a hunch.

Even worse, when the character found out her house had been searched, she was stunned. Then why the hunch to remove the papers? Maybe she was expecting rats to eat them.

In a roundabout way, I suppose I did learn something: write intelligently, at least until you become a bestselling author. Bestselling authors seem to get away with increasingly shoddy writing (since I read this author’s books in sequence it was very obvious how lackadaisical her craft had become in her later books), and yet we are supposed to continue to treat them and their books with respect.

In a discussion on Facebook, a writer posed the following question: Seems nearly every day I hear a writer complain that Grisham has become a hack, or King should go back to drinking, or Clancy wouldn’t recognize POV if he tripped over it. When you’re struggling with getting recognition, how do you deal with jealousy of successful authors?

Before I was a writer, I was a reader, and as a reader, I have every right to complain that such writers have become hacks. In fact, it’s because the writers I used to like started turning out substandard work and I couldn’t find new authors that I like, that I started writing. I figured if I couldn’t read the books I liked, I could write them.

Apparently, though, once you become an author yourself, you are supposed to give up your critical capacity. If you say anything against another author, it comes across as jealousy, as if you’re envious of the other writer’s success.

In the particular case of the bestselling author I critiqued above, I am not envious of her success, I am not envious of her fans, I am not certainly not envious of her writing style. Though I’m mystified by her ability to write so copiously since writing comes hard for me, but I’m not envious of that ability, either.

I am, however, jealous of the time and money I spent on her books, and I’d like them back.