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I Don’t Want Real. I Want Ideal.

RealismBob Mayer, the male half of the writing team of Crusie and Mayer, wrote in an interview with All About Romance about the difference between a male writing and a female writing male characters. In Don’t Look Down, the hero, JT, is faced with a naked starlett and does, according to Mayer, what any unattached male would do, and has sex with her. Mayer writes that a female author would have had JT walk away from the starlett but that JT, as Mayer has written him, represents the true male POV.

Other authors want to inject more realism in books. Barb Ferrer commented at the Smart Bitches that she is not writing wish fufillment. Eva Gale remarked that men, reading the thread about whether a man could have sex with someone other than the female lead in a romance book, would be “laughing their collective asses off.”

My response was that just because it was “real” doesn’t mean that it was a justification for putting in sex scenes outside of the hero / heroine connection. My argument at the time was that there are many realistic male elements that never make it into romance books such a belching, farting, spending more time on the sofa watching football than making love to the significant other.

But then I had a lowering moment. (Read the blog long enough and you’ll notice I have a lot of these!). I was fixing up my database for the host transfer when I noticed that I repeatedly made the complaint that certain elements were not “real” enough for me. I had to laugh at my own hypocrisy. I began to ponder exactly what I meant when I was looking for more “realism” because I don’t see romances as fitting with the realism trend. Realism in the arts is defined as the depiction of life, as it is, oftentimes focusing on the more seedy nature of society.

In examining my reviews, I think what I was trying to say is that the depiction of the character, whatever it was, wasn’t sold to me as authentic. I didn’t believe in it, whether it was that the character was a man’s man or a smart journalist or a sexpot.

I want my character to look, act, and sound real but be ideal. What I mean by that is the ideal in a mystery is that the mystery is always solved. Historicals do not show us the lower class romances. Surely even in the slums people fell in love. Ditto for contemporaries. How many romances involve two people living in a trailer park or how many people stay on the wrong side of the tracks? Nope, they are always moving to the rich side of town, getting rid of those pesky monetary issues, and living the happy ever after.

It’s great to have authentic characters but there are things that bother me in books. Things that I don’t particularly want to read. I want to believe that there is a happy ever after for every couple that graces the page. I want the hero to talk like a man, look like a man, but act like an ideal one which means when faced with a naked starlett, he doesn’t immediately jump into bed with her because he’s motivated by more than his member. I want the heroine to act smart, even if I wouldn’t in her situation. I want the flirtatious banter to be clever with the best comebacks possible even if in real life, it takes five minutes to think up a good comeback. I want the bad guys to face justice (not just shipped off to America as is so common in historicals). I want the fantasy or even the wish fulfillment.

I guess in romance, I am looking for idealism, not realism. What about you? Are you a realist? An idealist? or none of the above.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

56 Comments

  1. Estelle
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 05:09:56

    I wanted to say I’m in the middle but that wouldn’t be quite true so I must place myself firmly in the Idealist category.

    I’m with you on this:

    I want the hero to talk like a man, look like a man, but act like an ideal one which means when faced with a naked starlett, he doesn't immediately jump into bed with her because he's motivated by more than his member. I want the heroine to act smart, even if I wouldn't in her situation. I want the flirtatious banter to be clever with the best comebacks possible even if in real life, it takes five minutes to think up a good comeback.

    That’s exactly how I would have put it. Would that make us realistic idealists?

    That said, I don’t think Bob Mayer is right anyway. I’m pretty sure that plenty of guys wouldn’t be willing to jump into bed with a stranger just like this. I’ve discussed it with some male acquaintances and they seemed to agree with this.

    As women we’re always trying to get others *not* to lump us all in the same basket. We’re all different individuals. Sames goes for men, no? I’m pretty sure some wouldn’t hesitate to have sex with the naked starlet…just as I’m pretty sure some would just walk away.

  2. Bev(BB)
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 05:15:40

    I want “emotional realism” in my romances but beyond that I want an almost purely fantasy construct that the author has plopped me down into and convinced me to stay for the duration. Now that construct may have all the trappings of contemporary “reality” but I still have to like it and the people who inhabit it enough to want to stay with them for the entire story. ;)

  3. WendyPortia
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 05:39:24

    I was trying to think of something intelligent to say on this topic, but I think Bev has more or less perfectly encapsulated my feelings. ‘Emotional realism in a fantasy construct’… that’s brilliant, just brilliant! Exactly what I want in my reading too.

  4. TeddyPig
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 05:40:08

    “In Don't Look Down, the hero, JT, is faced with a naked starlett and does, according to Mayer, what any unattached male would do, and has sex with her.”

    It does point out one of the worst things I have ever read in romance. “The assumption”! The lack of motivation outside of the obvious.

    This generalized statement assumes the guy is attracted to the naked starlett because… why?

    If you wrote it was her body, fine. If you wrote it was because of her fame, fine. If you wrote he was just out of high school and had no experience, fine.

    What if he’s not?… Why? Gay, turned off by her attitude, his heart is not in it… etc etc etc. Now, would that not make a more realistic and complex man?

    If all you can write is characters that do things simply based on assumption and generalization then your characters are going to be bland and pointless. Just because “that is what everyone would do” makes for bland reading for me.

  5. Jayne
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 05:44:54

    I’m trying to figure out that little picture….is it a tootsie roll sitting on the toilet?

  6. TeddyPig
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 05:49:17

    “belching, farting, spending more time on the sofa watching football than making love to the significant other.”

    Oh let’s add that NO ONE DOUCHES before anal sex.

    Have you ever read a scene where they stop *oh I’m dirty, here let me go take care of that* to go clean out?

  7. TeddyPig
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 05:50:39

    It’s like “Leave It To Beaver” had no toilets.

  8. Jayne
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 05:54:39

    Have you ever read a scene where they stop *oh I'm dirty, here let me go take care of that* to go clean out?

    Major gross out is from anal to vaginal or oral with no cleansing step.

  9. TeddyPig
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 05:57:19

    Oh sorry about catching you in bed like this.

    Bob Mayer meet Roseanne Barr, Roseanne meet Bob.

    Go get her killer!

  10. TeddyPig
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 06:13:50

    “Major gross out is from anal to vaginal or oral with no cleansing step.”

    Oh honey, you just have not met the “right” man. *snort*

    Condoms and wet wipes all in one.

  11. Jaci Burton
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 07:02:00

    I don’t mind realism, to a certain extent, then my idealism kicks in, so maybe I’m half and half. I want Happily Ever After, not a lousy ending that makes me sob like a baby because one of the main characters died or the characters broke up making me want to fling the book against the wall. I don’t expect the characters to be perfect. I don’t mind flawed characters. I like to see them fall and pick themselves up again. I guess I enjoy the journey…how they change through the course of the book. As long as what they do isn’t unforgiveable. I want to emotionally fall in love with them, so as long as they don’t cross the line too far, I’m fine.

  12. Darlene Marshall
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 07:03:12

    I think we want both. We want realistic characters, but we want them to fit our ideals. I try hard not to think about the state of dentistry back in the good ol’ days. I just pretend all my heroes have teeth and move on from there.

  13. Nora Roberts
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 07:30:11

    What is the purpose of the sex within the context of the story? We’re not retelling reality, we’re writing a story–a fictional tale. For me, action, reaction, must have a purpose within the framework of the story and the character.

    No, I don’t think every guy out there would jump into bed just because a woman is naked and available. If we’re going with reality, how about a little STD?

    I grew up with four brothers, raised two sons, have had two husbands (sticking with number two) and a father. I think I have a pretty realistic view of men–and their considerably varities.

    Did the guy jump into bed with the naked lady for a reason, within the context of the story? To show character, to further the plot, to create conflict or resolve it? If so, jump right in. If not, don’t–because then it’s just a sex scene.

    Reality is what we live with, fiction is how we manipulate it to tell a story. If that story has a Romance base, the sex must surely have an emotional connection. Or what would be the point?

  14. Jane
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 07:43:00

    I think the counter argument is that showing a man’s desire and attention to his body is reflective of natural assumptions about men. I.e., men think of sex every 7 seconds or whatever the statistic is. Or that inserting more “realism” into a story makes it more gritty, more emotionally powerful read.

  15. kardis
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 07:48:24

    I want a certain amount of reality, but after that I want the ideal. I want it all, both ways, whatnot. If the sex not between the h/h is necessary for the story then go for it. Make me believe it’ll work and I’ll love you for it. But if it’s just to show how “dudely” the character is then for me personally, I’ll get annoyed. I hate “dudes” they aggravate me enough when I have the audacity to walk down the street, I certainly don’t want one to be a hero because it’s “authentic”. There are plenty of men out there, well, there are some men out there who would not behave like that. I want to read about men like that!

    Sorry, I didn’t really intend to turn this comment into kardis’ mini-rant! Well said Jane and everyone!

  16. Jackie
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 08:22:37

    I think it’s a fine line between realism and fantasy/wish fulfillment. Too much realism, and yawn, where’s the attraction/spice that keeps me wanting to read more? Too much fantasy/wish fulfillment, and that pulls me right out of the story because I can’t help but think “That would NEVER happen.”

    So, while I think that it would have been understandable and funny for JT to WANT to hop into bed with the naked starlet, it would have been better if he held back from acting on that impulse because let’s face it: in real life, it just doesn’t work that way.

    But then again, I roll my eyes whenever characters stop running from the bad guys because It’s Time To Have Sex, so maybe I’m not the best judge of character…

  17. Keishon
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 08:42:28

    What purpose would such realism qualify to add such characteristics such as farting, STD’s and other bodily functions in a love story? None in my opinion.

    Human behavior should always be grounded in some foundation of reality. Action and reactions are usually sometimes set in stone. I could suspend disbelief in other things except the human action/reactions of people.

  18. Eva Gale
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 09:00:04

    Ah, I was wondering when you were going to get to this.

    Men/sex with starlets-he knows the hero-I haven’t read it, but I’m reserving judgment because I trust that there is a reason his hero did that and for me to make a blanket statement that ALL BOINKING SHALT BE WITH THE HEROINE (Romance Commandment #1) is a bit arrogant on my part. I’m going to trust that each writer brings me on a journey, and that they have reasons for their hero’s deviations. Messing up and showing how they grow from commitment phobic men to hero material being one. But I’m easy like that, my only rule is that it ends in an HEA.

    The reason I have my hero with his mistress is to show him closing off that part of his life. It’s showing his new goals, his new motivations and inner conflict about what he wants from his relationships. It’s cleaning his slate to make room for the heroine and showing you more about who he is.

    I’m up for anything realistic. (Teddy-if you want anal douching go read Robin Rotham’s Seniorella, a free read on her site. Cute, funny, hot and with a dose of realism.)

    I like to leave each author to tell their story. They have reasons, that we will not understand but that hopefully-if they are a good writer-and we read the book, they will show us why they had certain plot devices in there. But to say -That shouldn’t happen! it is/isn’t realistic -is like tying the writers hands and making them tell you the story while holding a crayon in their mouth. I hope that all writers are able to pull off what they see in their imagination onto the page in such a way that the reader is satisfied, but I know that isn’t always the case. But I will give the the benefit of reading the story before I make a call. And from there, you end up in the territory of the subjective because what to me is a crash and burn, to another reader is ambrosia from the gods.

  19. Jennifer Estep
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 09:02:27

    My significant other brought up a good point about realism in romance the other day — he asked me why lots of romances (and especially the covers) feature guys with perfectly ripped abs and fantastic hair.

    While those guys do exist in real life, they’re the exception, not the norm. But, if you were an alien from another planet learning about humans by reading romances, you’d probably think all human guys looked like cover models. Yet, we applaud authors who make their heroines less than gorgeous and give them more realistic body types. (I have to admit I’m guilty of doing both of these things myself).

    I think readers expect a certain amount of fantasy in any type of book, whether it’s romance or mystery or sci-fi. How many scenes do you read where characters take a break to go to the bathroom or brush their teeth or do any other sort of mundane chore? Not many. Everybody does that in real life. People don’t want to read about that. They want to read about the sweeping romance or the gruesome murder or the magic sword that can change the world because those are things that not everyone experiences in real life.

    I’d say I’m about half-realist, half-idealist. I enjoy reading about characters that are larger-than-life, whether it’s in looks or toughness or street smarts. But sometimes, I just want to say to a character like a Harry Dresden or Jack Reacher, “Dude, chew some aspirin and take a nap before you go fight the big, bad evil again. You need the rest.”

  20. Jane
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 09:08:49

    I don’t really know what the point was of JT sleeping with the starlet. It was kind of a throwaway scene to me. I think it was meant to show character development on JT’s part but because of the quickness of the story (takes place over 4 days and he goes from sleeping with the starlet to sleeping with the heroine rapidly), I had a hard time buying into the HEA.

    I also don’t want to force a writer to write a certain scene a certain way, but I know that there are things that I like and don’t like in a book. When I was reading the Caridad Piniero book wherein the hero has sex with three other women, other than the heroine, both before and after couple coitous (lack of a better term), I wasn’t so much put off by the infidelity as I was by the fact that sex with the heroine didn’t really mean much.

    There’s no hard and fast rules that I have about authors other than the HEA, but certain aspects will have me turning away from a book, even a well written one. I am sure all authors want the most open minded of readers, but people have bias that are ingrained from childhood and then molded, shaped or cemented as they grow older and as open as a person may want to be, oftentimes those bias hold people back.

    So I don’t think that you can say to a reader, you just need to be more open and allow the author to take you there. Trust the author. Because with a new author or a new book, the reader just doesn’t know why she should trust the author. And finding distasteful things in one book can lead the reader to distrust the author in future books.

  21. Eva Gale
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 09:12:18

    After reading the interview (and again, I haven’t read the book-yet) it would seem that there is a reason the hero does what he does. What a great interview! Now I love him even more! (I first became enamored of him on Romance By The Blog when he said Jenny had to remind him to have the hero say I love you) I wanted to break out singing Do You Love Me? from Fiddler.

    And I don’t get at all that he’s saying that ALL men act like that. When he is giving his responses, he’s doing so with full knowledge in his head of who the hero is, what his goals and motivations are, and the hero’s arc. So if you haven’t read the book it’s like listening to one end of a phone conversation.

  22. Jane
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 09:17:45

    I have read the book and I have read the interview so the one end of a phone conversation is Mayer talking to himself because I just never connected with him. I know that he has alot of fans amongst the female romance writing contigent but I don’t get him.

    JT and the busty starlet and JT as truly representing the male POV. Here’s what Mayer had to say:

    “Well, that’s what he initially came there for – get paid and get laid. Rather simplistic, but men, we’re kind of simple. Realistically, a single man, not in a relationship, coming into his room and a naked starlet is in his bed??? Wilder didn’t know he was going to end up with Lucy and at that point he thought she was with someone else. In retrospect it looks different, but…

  23. Eva Gale
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 09:20:15

    I am sure all authors want the most open minded of readers, but people have bias that are ingrained from childhood and then molded, shaped or cemented as they grow older and as open as a person may want to be, oftentimes those bias hold people back.

    Very true, but we can’t all write with those biases in our minds or we’ll end up with no story. I can’t outline a book and go-“Oops, *that person* won’t like it.” I’d stifle myself creatively.

  24. Eva Gale
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 09:23:13

    I’ll have to go get it today. We disagreed on Megan Hart’s Dirty too, this will be interesting.

  25. Rosie
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 09:49:58

    JT’s behavior in DON’T LOOK DOWN didn’t bother me. Neither does Mayer’s explanation for it. I have 5 brothers, two sons, one husband. Some of them would have done the same thing as JT, some would be mortified and NEVER even think of touching a woman in that circumstance. Men are as varied as we women are.

    As for the realism/idealism thing. I think every book has it’s own tone. If I had a complaint about DON’T LOOK DOWN it would be that it didn’t have a consistent tone. Is it romance? Is it adventure? Is it mainstream fiction? Just what. For the most part the tone is what didn’t work for me.

    There's no hard and fast rules that I have about authors other than the HEA, but certain aspects will have me turning away from a book, even a well written one.

    I agree wholeheartedly. There can be plenty of realism in a book, but as long as the author can bring all the elements together for a believable HEA I’m okay with it.

    Reality is what we live with, fiction is how we manipulate it to tell a story.

    Yes! That’s what I look for and love most.

  26. Janine
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 10:07:03

    If I wanted pure realism I would read mostly nonfiction. However, within the general category of romance, I tend to prefer the romances that feel more authentic to me, books where the characters behave in a convincing way. I find that the romances I like best are generally somewhat grittier than average for romances.

    I’ve been mulling over a blog piece that’s related to this subject, but I don’t want to say too much about it because then I’ll have nothing left to blog about.

  27. Eva Gale
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 10:14:22

    I’ve just started Robert McKee’s Story and I thought this applied:

    Some see this craving for story as simple entertainment, an escape from life rather than an exploration of it. But what, after all, is entertainment? To be entertained is to be immersed in the ceremony of a story to an intellectually and emotionally satisfying end.

    […]To retreat behind the notion that the audience simply wants to dump it’s troubles at the door and escape reality is a cowardly abandonment of the artist’s responsibility. Story isn’t a flight from reality, but a vehicle that carries us on our search for reality, our best effort to make sense out of the anarchy of existence.

    Rosie, do you think the cause of the inconsistent tone was the fact that it was two authors? I’ve seen women co-write with what, to me, is seamless writing. I wonder if the lack of consistency in tone is because of the difference in sexes and goals for each writer. Hmm, I’ll have to think about that while I read it.

  28. Kerry Allen
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 10:23:09

    [quote comment="27101"]And finding distasteful things in one book can lead the reader to distrust the author in future books.[/quote]

    In that case, that reader and that author are obviously not a good match and should go their separate ways.

    I have a “never again” list of authors that have put me off for various reasons. I happily avoid them. Other people happily buy their books. Everybody is happy here. The idea has never crossed my mind that any writer, no matter how much I think they suck, should change what they do to accommodate my personal preferences.

    There is simply no such thing as a story that pleases every single reader. It’s not a matter of the reader’s open-mindedness or lack thereof. Sometimes the reader-author relationship just doesn’t click. (“It’s not you, it’s me.” “You’re right, it’s you.”) As with any other relationship, everybody involved should cut their losses and move on instead of endlessly bemoaning the reasons that it didn’t work out.

  29. Teddy Pig
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 10:44:37

    “The idea has never crossed my mind that any writer, no matter how much I think they suck, should change what they do to accommodate my personal preferences.”

    Right, I do not think anyone is dictating to the author here.

    But… When it is clearly communicated “what the issue is” the author should not be surprised why some readers dislike the character.

    “endlessly bemoaning the reasons that it didn't work out.”

    I don’t think the Janes bemaon very much but I like their thinking and their willingness to share their thoughts..

  30. Zeek
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 10:47:46

    How about realistic fantasy in romance? that’s what I like. If it’s too out of the realm of possibilities of my experiences I’m done with it. But every reader is different- so I’m with the group (Kerry) that says “writers, just write” the readers who like your angle will read it and those that don’t, won’t.

    Really, I’m up for anything if the story is good.

  31. Bev(BB)
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 10:59:52

    Two quotes from two different comments jumped out at me:

    Very true, but we can't all write with those biases in our minds or we'll end up with no story. I can't outline a book and go-�Oops, *that person* won't like it.� I'd stifle myself creatively.

    And finding distasteful things in one book can lead the reader to distrust the author in future books.

    In that case, that reader and that author are obviously not a good match and should go their separate ways.

    One thing I think we have to keep in mind, however, is that this isn’t simply a two-way relationship between reader and author no matter how much we wish it were. There is a go-between in the guise of the ones who bring us the books called publishers. Authors have to sell to them and readers have to buy from them.

    Freedom of creativity and open-mindedness is all well and good but publishers have to know enough of a market is out there to support a book being published or they won’t buy it anyway and where does that leave anyone? Posting it on their websites for free?

    Somehow I just don’t think that feeds the kids in the long run. ;)

  32. Bev(BB)
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 11:01:29

    GRRR, the sentence above starting “In that case” was also supposed to be in quotes. What happened?

  33. Sybil
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 11:05:35

    [quote comment="27110"] “You’re right, it’s you.”

    As with any other relationship, everybody involved should cut their losses and move on instead of endlessly bemoaning the reasons that it didn’t work out.[/quote]

    Are you asking why talk about it?

    Well why are you here? It is a blog. Blogs chat about whatever the blog is about. Dear Author is a book blog, so it would discus… books… right?

    No subject is new. LLB could say whatever is being discussed here she has talked about before as SB could discuss the same thing in two weeks. And I am sure others have talked about it before LLB and will talk about it after SB. Each conversation could have a different take, different comments and all be vaild.

    Once you stop talking, you stop learning… at least I think so… there isn’t a right or a wrong there is just opinion and whatever you take away from it.

  34. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 11:34:19

    idealism, not realism.

    Can’t I have both….

  35. Sybil
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 11:42:43

    Okay I haven’t read the book, I think I have it but will check when I get home. I have a couple of questions.

    How old is the hero? Are we talking a 30 year old man or 20? There is a difference here.

    Is this a romance novel? Or fiction?

    From what little I see here, we are talking male fantasy. I can’t think of too many men who run the risk of walking into their hotel room and finding a nekkid chick in their bed. So if this isn’t romance, well isn’t it the authors job to know their audience? If men are who you are trying to get to read your shit it makes sense that your character will appeal to their vanity. Every woman wants him and every man wants to be him. Well shall call him marty. Of course that is no more reality than what us feeble little women romance readers want.

    Nothing is black and white. And saying any man would screw any nice cut of meat that says do me, isn’t reality. Trying to say any man over the age of 30 would fuck any woman who spread isn’t just wrong it is sad, insulting and degrading. And not to women. Would every man think it, yeah. Would every man do it without thought – no.

    And if this is a romance, well then we get back to the whole know your audience thing. Of course I am female and everyone knows sex comes easier for women from the get go. So there isn’t as much awe involved when you are offered a taste. Of course that leads me back to the whole how old is the character. Because boys in their 20s… yeah I could see that but if we are talking a man then there would need to be a lot of character growth to sell him as being anything other than a childish pussy ‘who can’t turn down sex’. And time for the tests to come back clear before the heroine would let him into her bed.

    Of course I haven’t read the book, yet. I will give it a look see tonight.

    Oh and at the risk of being redundant – I heart nora.

  36. Eva Gale
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 11:46:27

    There is a go-between in the guise of the ones who bring us the books called publishers. Authors have to sell to them and readers have to buy from them.

    Yep, but good stories are still published.

  37. Sybil
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 11:46:53

    [quote comment="27118"]idealism, not realism.

    Can’t I have both….[/quote]
    LOL you are the writer… you tell me *g*

  38. Robin
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 12:06:08

    I think it’s just as true that a guy in JT’s position would jump into bed with the starlet as it is false; that is, I don’t think you can’t generalize either way.

    I have to say that it took me aback a little when DLD was released, because despite my own ‘meh’ reaction to the book, I was surprised at how many readers seemed to find Mayer’s perspective added “realism” and embraced him unequivocally as some kind of representative man. It was a little like how I think sometimes a Romance heroine falls for a guy all too quickly, only to learn that maybe he isn’t the hero she thought he was. Or maybe he is, but it still takes time to know, and one woman’s hero is another woman’s, well, not hero, I guess.

    Anyway, as to the general question of realism, I do get frustrated at the way the “this is Romance — it’s idealistic” assertion is used to invalidate the importance of, say, history in historical Romance (very much like the way history is IMO incorrectly asserted as the rationale for rape in Romance). But on the other hand, I realize that a sense of realism doesn’t extend to head lice and open sewers and other things we tend to exempt from Romance because they’re just not “romantic” for the most part. So I tend to look at it this way: give me an authentic setting, one that *feels* real to me as a reader, even if it isn’t chapter and verse *true*. You don’t have to include the head lice, but it would be very nice if you got your major dates correct. You don’t have to describe the sewage situation, but I’d appreciate the inclusion of accurate atmospheric and setting details that remind me I’m not in my nice little house in 21st century California. Make me feel that your world is real and I’ll forgive you — for the most part — the fact that it isn’t complete in its accuracy. Unfortunately, what I’ve found too often is that “idealized” settings and characters just don’t feel authentic to me, not because they’re idealized so much but because they haven’t been drawn with dimension and placed in a fully realized world, however idealized and fictionalized that world may be in the end.

    As for character actions that don’t fit the idealized pattern, well, if an author sells it to me, I will generally buy it. If I feel that something is included for sensational purposes only, or for the reader’s titillation at the expense of the characters or the story, I probably won’t buy it, and in fact, I think such careless inclusions may discourage readers from being open to seeing the very same thing done well in other books. I don’t generally like stuff that comes out of the blue (and rarely buy the argument that “this kind of thing happens in real life) UNLESS it makes sense in the world of the book, too.

    Books create fictional worlds, and however realistic or idealistic, they (should) all have an internal logic that is discernible in the reading process. The better an author is at building the logic of his or her world, and the more details added that enhance my appreciation of that landscape, the happier I tend to be as a reader. In the end, that may be less of a realism v. idealism thing and more of a good writing thing.

  39. Rosie
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 12:18:41

    Rosie, do you think the cause of the inconsistent tone was the fact that it was two authors?

    I’ve wondered the same thing, especially since I have Jenny Crusie books I absolutely adore. However, I think it’s more with the book not being one thing. I don’t think I’d ever recommend it as a straight Romance and not to someone who doesn’t like to read outside the genre. I don’t think it would be satisfying read for them.

    Reading some of the comments it seem like there is too much emphasis on generalizing what a particular man would do. The fact is some men would. To me that’s all Mayer is pointing out. He (Mayer) decided his character Wilder was one of those men. Also, there hasn’t been any conversation about the blonde bimbo and why she’s in Wilder’s room. Instead of our concern about Wilder taking her up on her offer, why aren’t we insulted by this woman wanting to notch her bedpost? I’m a romantic (not just ‘cuz I read the books) but I didn’t see in the context of the story where it hurt the main love story between Wilder and Lucy. And, for those of you who haven’t read the book yet this is a SPOILER.

    I don’t feel that the ending of DLD is a traditional HEA. I was left feeling that while there is an awareness by both parties that they have something unique, wonderful and worth pursuing, they have both been around enough to know it’s not a slam dunk. They love each other and are going to work with that. Complicated, like real life.

    Also, while writing this I received Robins comments and just want to add that the observations using the word “authentic” really hit the mark. If it feels authentic to the reader, we will take the ride with the author.

  40. Jane
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 12:30:30

    I did get the sense from this interview and from other comments that Mayer views the romance depiction of males with some disdain. In his interview, he doesn’t state that this is JT’s POV but more broadly a man’s POV. As not being a man, I can’t really gainsay him.

    But, like Robin, I’ve seen him embraced by romance writers as if he is the oracle of maleness. But he is just one man with one man’s opinions. I don’t even know if he reads romances or embraces the genre.

    I was told that DLD was a romantic adventure or an adventure romance or something but that it really wasn’t a romance so I couldn’t criticize it for not believing in the HEA.

    What I think is a bit ironic, is that while Mayer is striving for the true and real male POV, DLD is a fantastical story full of alligators, a precocious child, lots of guns, CIA, etc., etc. all on a movie set. The plot of the story requires suspension of disbelief because of all the “real world” laws that would prevent the type of covert action that is described in the story. The setup is a fantasy even if the author wants the characters to be “real.”

  41. The Good, The Bad and The Unread » Manly Men Do Debbie
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 12:35:54

    […] Dear Author has an interesting post today about idealism vs realism. […]

  42. Rosie
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 12:36:21

    The plot of the story requires suspension of disbelief because of all the “real worldâ€? laws that would prevent the type of covert action that is described in the story. The setup is a fantasy even if the author wants the characters to be “real.â€?

    Excellent point Jane. I didn’t hate this book, but I think you may have hit on what didn’t work for me. The mix of that bite of realism with the suspension of disbelief. It didn’t mesh for me to truly embrace the book.

  43. Bev(BB)
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 12:36:23

    [quote comment="27123"]

    There is a go-between in the guise of the ones who bring us the books called publishers. Authors have to sell to them and readers have to buy from them.

    Yep, but good stories are still published.[/quote]

    Well, yeah, but so are bad ones so I’m not sure what your point is there. ;)

    Seriously, all I’m saying is that even though I want every writer out there to strive to write the books of their hearts, I’m still going to look for the books I like to read and feel comfortable reading. Publishers know this and ultimately it is going to effect the market in ways we may not like. We can rail about it but we can also celebrate the small victories, too. There are those “unusual” books published that are successes. Will they ultimately change the market? For good or for bad? Who knows.

    I’ll tell you one thing, forget the seventies bodice rippers that everyone always gets hung up on for a moment. The reason I say that is because about twenty years ago I’d almost given up on the romance genre and I wasn’t even a fan of those single title historicals that qualified as “bodice rippers” then. What brought me back to the genre? Futuristic romances and realizing that somebody was finally exploring the fantasy/science fiction angle combined with romance that I’d always wanted to see.

    Now don’t get me wrong. Romantic suspense with some spooky elements have always been a part of romance going all the way back to the old style Gothics a la Victoria Holt. But what I was craving was a heftyt dose of action/adventure with my romance and suddenly I was seeing it tickle into the books. It got my attention and because of them I started looking around and actually tried out some historicals for the first time. Yes, the very first time.

    Here’s the thing, the books that originally caught my attention in that first wave of futuristic romances weren’t all that successful overall. I doubt all that many even remember them. Something caught on, however, and now we’re inundated with paranormal elements all around. Is that a good thing? Heck if I know. All I know is that the books touched a cord in more than one reader, enough so that the “movement” if we want to call it that took off.

    And to bring this back to the topic at hand, the only way that works if for the stories to work at that basic emotional reality level regardless of setting or character. But as someone else just mentioned, the writers better know their audience too because I strongly suspect that what a mostly resonates as emotional reality for one audience isn’t going to work for another. Does that sound sexist? Probably but I’ve run across way too many old style romances that made me wonder who exactly wrote them to accept that there isn’t a difference in approaches and attitudes at play here.

  44. Robin
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 13:00:11

    What I think is a bit ironic, is that while Mayer is striving for the true and real male POV, DLD is a fantastical story full of alligators, a precocious child, lots of guns, CIA, etc., etc. all on a movie set. The plot of the story requires suspension of disbelief because of all the “real worldâ€? laws that would prevent the type of covert action that is described in the story. The setup is a fantasy even if the author wants the characters to be “real.â€?

    YES!

    And let’s think about this for a second. Crusie has said that she was feeling very burned out and that the collaboration with Mayer sort of reconnected her to her muse. But what did Mayer want out of the Crusie collaboration? Ah, to grab some of that mainstream Romance readership, perhaps? Although DLD felt ragged and unmeshed to me, it wasn’t because I thought the Romance elements were unrealistic and the adventure elements were too realistic — it was simply that I felt the book didn’t deliver on a coherent, compelling narrative and a satisfying story. And I’ve wondered since how Crusie feels about all the attention Mayer has gotten from her fans. Not that for one second I think Crusie has a hard time standing up for herself, but it’s been sort of interesting to watch Mayer infiltrate Crusie’s fan base so effortlessly. Was it Mayer himself, Crusie’s reputation, or his novelty as a guy that accomplished that, I wonder.

  45. Sybil
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 13:07:03

    [quote comment="27140"]And I’ve wondered since how Crusie feels about all the attention Mayer has gotten from her fans. Not that for one second I think Crusie has a hard time standing up for herself, but it’s been sort of interesting to watch Mayer infiltrate Crusie’s fan base so effortlessly. Was it Mayer himself, Crusie’s reputation, or his novelty as a guy that accomplished that, I wonder.[/quote]
    Maybe he liked Crusie’s writing style since he seems to have a love for the genre *g*.

    Is he that big a deal in romance? LOL damn next you will know the stero type that women just like to be treated like shit to love a man will come to head. Since the other male romance writers don’t get no respect.

  46. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 18:13:26

    LOL you are the writer… you tell me *g*

    I do try. ;o) you’re the reader. You tell me if I manage or not.

  47. Eva Gale
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 19:35:51

    Yep, but good stories are still published.

    Well, yeah, but so are bad ones so I'm not sure what your point is there.

    Sorry for not explaining myself, but I basically say what you do but from a wtiters point of view.

    I meant story trumps it all. There are many books we can all name that blew doors open, that weren’t quite genre but maybe genre bending. Some writers started trends while everyone was looing the other way. Some people hate that-they love tradition, but it breaths life into the genre. Had those writers listened to all the traditionalists or the crit partners who got nervous at the ideas presented, or bbeta readers who didn’t like the hero because of …-the books wouldn’t have been written.

    Sometimes writers have to hang out in the basement and just write, stay true to story and with enough talent/work their book may be the next one that starts a new trend.

  48. Jan
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 20:52:24

    Jane, Romance = An artistic work, such as a novel, story, or film, that deals with sexual love, especially in an idealized form.

    Idealized is the key word there. Romance has, from its inception, been about the ideal in some form or another. To bring it completely down into the dirt is well, to take the romance out of it. IMO.

  49. Miki
    Apr 24, 2007 @ 22:21:36

    I think, when it comes to romance, I edge toward the fantasy (the ideal) over realism. That’s not to say that I don’t smirk and roll my eyes when a hero describes a heroine as “delightful” (I don’t think even my grandfather would use that word), but I’d prefer that to a supposed hero who’s eyes won’t look higher than the heroine’s chest or a hero who tells his size 8 wife that she’s getting fat. (Sorry, was that too much realism, but those are the pi… “real guys” I grew up with).

    On the other hand, I can enjoy an emotional moving/draining story, chock-full of realism and selfish, imperfect humans…I’ll pick up “mainstream fiction” or “literary fiction” or “dark fantasy”.

    For romance, give me the fantasy. Give me the HEA. Give me the man who notices when his woman changes her hair, who thinks washing dishes while she dries is sexy, who – despite his warrior heart – is gentle and kind with kids and dogs. Give me the dream, not the nightmare.

  50. Bookseller Jolie
    Apr 25, 2007 @ 12:07:51

    I know I’m a little late to the conversation, but I just had to add my two cents worth . . .

    It’s funny that this conversation should center on the Jennifer Cruise and Bob Meyer book, which has been WIDELY publicized, promoted, blogged about, talked about and whose sales fell far short of all expectations.

    I really, really wanted to like this book – I truly did. I had seen them together at RWA and had visited their blog regularly. I loved their interaction. Those in romance would say they ‘sparked,' they had chemistry! And I think they still do, in the real world. In the world of romantic fiction, as far as love and romance go, they're not ideal.

    Romance readers want idealistic realism. They want the best of both worlds and many authors give it to them, the ones that don't have little hope of selling in romance. Remember, I'm talking romance readers here.

    Authors can write about whatever their hearts desire, but that doesn't mean the romance reading public will buy them. Take a look at the authors who have responded to this discussion, look at their viewpoint and then think about how they sell.

    Think about the romance authors who top the bestseller lists. Those are the authors who truly blend the realistic and the idealistic.

    Bev said it best, emotional realism – it’s what grounds a book and makes us readers feel like the fantasy part might not just be a fantasy. . .

  51. Charlene
    Apr 25, 2007 @ 12:31:18

    Am I the only reader who hated that scene because JT gave her his gun? I couldn’t buy that. She’s a total stranger and he lets her hold his gun. He knew better. Nobody who knows guns just lets anybody get their hands on it. It struck me as very out of character, not to mention dumb.

    But back to the topic, which is not gun safety, but romance and realism. I have to agree that I like my characters to be real yet ideal. I don’t want to read about a real jackass, for instance, no matter how true to life the depiction might be. Unless it’s the villain. I want my heroes to be heroic. Same for heroines. It’s a fine line and everybody probably sees it as crossed in a different place, but I do like stories to be rooted in real but ideal.

  52. Jane
    Apr 25, 2007 @ 12:34:50

    He was mesmerized by her breasts, as all real men would be. And giving her his gun and seeing it cradled between her breasts was the best thing ever for him. And even though he wasn’t quite sure he took out the extra bullet before he handed it to her, he was sort of sure.

  53. Keishon
    Apr 25, 2007 @ 12:38:02

    [quote comment="27161"]Jane, Romance = An artistic work, such as a novel, story, or film, that deals with sexual love, especially in an idealized form.

    Idealized is the key word there. Romance has, from its inception, been about the ideal in some form or another. To bring it completely down into the dirt is well, to take the romance out of it. IMO.[/quote]

    Thank you. I agree with you.

  54. Emma Wayne Porter
    Apr 25, 2007 @ 16:16:33

    Women don’t eat chocolate for the taste alone. We eat chocolate because it contains serotonin and makes us feel good. The sensation’s often likened to being in love.

    Just to be a putz, I’m theorizing romance novel HEAs cause a vicarious release of seratonin, similar to the chocolate experience. It’s possible. And probably even likely.

    So that could mean romance readership goes a bit beyond escapism or entertainment into a temporary (and harmless) ‘high’ of biochemically simulated pleasure.

    That would make romance authors the dealers in this scenario. Do we risk messing with our readers’ pleasure for the sake of realism?

    I haven’t read the Mayer/Cruisie ‘real man’s POV’ novel, and probably won’t. No offense intended to either writer, but a chocolate-covered sweatsock is still a sweatsock at its core. Personally, with so little reading time at my disposal, I’m not risking my happy joy-joy HEA high for that.

    But that’s just me.

  55. Bev(BB)
    Apr 25, 2007 @ 16:47:44

    Personally, with so little reading time at my disposal, I'm not risking my happy joy-joy HEA high for that.

    Snicker.

    And that ain’t a chocolate covered one either. ;p

  56. Nicole
    Apr 25, 2007 @ 20:21:10

    Speaking of the book, Half Price Bookstores should be getting a bunch of the hardbacks for cheap. I think like $5 each. Least mine does.

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