Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fighting for the alpha male

So as Tracey mentioned, she and I (and other Supernatural Undergrounders Carrie Vaughn and Helen Lowe) went to Worldcon a couple of weeks ago. I do love a convention – the camaraderie, the inspiration, the education.

Sometimes the education is a personal one, in that you find out some people have some rather particular views of the world. An example of this occurred on the panel that Tracey and I did together – Girl meets boy meets dragon: fantasy and romance. A comment was made by one of the other panellists (can’t recall whom) in response to the question of why paranormal romance has become so popular – because it’s become politically incorrect to have alpha heroes in romance and with the beasties in paranormal romance we can indulge in the forbidden desire to be ruled by an alpha.

Tracey answered it well. I couldn’t formulate my answer then, but I know my mental “Noooooooo” was FULL of anguish.

Two weeks later, I’ve finally figured out my answer (yeah, I know, my brain needs time to mull things over). I have two issues with the statement. A) the assumption that there aren’t alpha males in romance any more and b) that we want a certain type of alpha male.

Back in the 70s and 80s, romance was ruled by a certain type of man. Many labelled him alpha male. I label him a jerk. This man was a leader – calm, poised, intelligent, determined, lethal (if required) – okay, fine, alpha. Except he also ruled his women with force. It wasn’t uncommon in these books for women to be kidnapped, raped, forced into marriage, blackmailed and so on.

The woman’s response generally went along the lines of “he’s handsome and rich and strong and he could have any woman he wanted and he’s chosen me so a) I must be in love and b) that makes everything he does OK.”

Thankfully, this jerk isn’t seen in romance any more but does that mean we don’t see alpha males? Absolutely not. So far this year I’ve read five non-paranormal romances. The heroes included a lord (love me a good Regency), a Nascar driver, a doctor, a paramedic and a fire-fighter. Everyone one of them was ruggedly good-looking, strong, hard-working, respected, admired, unwilling to give up at the first hurdle, a leader – in short, every one of them was an alpha male.

However, not one of them was a jerk.

So, having definitively proven that there are still alpha males in romance, let’s move to the idea that paranormal romance contains the old-style alpha male aka the jerk.

Now, I’m the first to admit that at times, those werewolves, vampires, shape-shifters, angels and the like leave a little to be desired in the social skill stakes. However, in my reading of paranormal romance (and I freely admit I’m not as widely read as most of you all here) I’ve never come across an alpha male who won the girl by being a jerk (and if he tried, then your typical PR heroine would kick him in the crotch and we’d all cheer).

The latest I read was Lord Conall Maccon, in Gail Carriger’s Soulless (I’ve only read this book – please don’t ruin the others for me). Maccon is one of the most alpha males I’ve read in a long time – he’s rough and gruff and so into his alpha status in the local pack that he even tries to woo Alexia as if she were a werewolf (loved those conversations – sorry sir, but that’s not how a man woos a lady in Victorian England). Even when you first see them together and he’s annoyed at all heck because this women just won’t show him the respect an alpha wolf deserves and growls his teeth off at her it’s just that – growling. There’s still beneath it all a grudging sense of – respect? Admiration? Lust?

He’s bad tempered, and finds the whole ‘why won’t she respect me, I’m an alpha?’ thing hard to handle, but Maccon isn’t a jerk. In fact, as the book goes on, the level of respect he has for Alexia becomes crystal clear and THAT’S why she falls for him (and also cause he’s hot).

So that’s my argument for why it’s so wrong to say that we read paranormal romance because we secretly still want the old-school alpha male. A – we don’t and b – we read paranormal romance for reasons other than wanting hot alpha males cause we get those in regular romance too.

So, what to you think folks? Do you think paranormal romance is the last bastion of the old-school alpha and do you think in 2010 we’re interested in reading them?


Tracey O'Hara said...

Nicole - I was a bit like you - thrown for a six at first by the statement.

I can see why some people may think that way given the portayal so some of the heroes on the screen such as Edward from Twilight and Bill from True Blood. Both of who I think are complete a jerks in the movie/versions. I think why so many women love Eric is that he lets Sookie be herself and is not ... a jerk.

Excellent post and excellently put. Two weeks think time has definately formulated your argument fabulously.

PS - LOVE a good regency myself - and some Anna Campbell and Christine Wells too.

Katie Dalton said...

I agree in part with what Tracy above me just said on the Eric note.
I like reading a book, paranormal or not, about the male letting the female just be herself. No matter what the story is about.

Do I prefer paranormal romance? Heck yeah! why? Because its filled with so many creatures and places that don't exist in real life romances. The men are hotter to me only because they are so different and special.

great question :)

Savanna Kougar said...

While I can agree with a lot of what you say in regards to alpha males, then and now. I also think it's a whole lot more complex emotionally and psychology.

I write shapeshifter erotic romance, and other paranormal fantasy ER. One reason, I do *NOT THE ONLY REASON CERTAINLY* is because so many of the heroes I've come across in today's romance novels are wimpy in their character, even if they're supposed to be alpha. As a heroine would I want them? The answer is NO!
As you say, RESPECT is the key. Regardless of how my heroines and heroes come to be together, an unintended kidnapping occurred in one of my stories, they end up respecting each other as well as being passionate for each other. Yes, and that magical way of the heart happens, too. Love.

So, while I don't agree Paranormals are last bastion of the true alpha, I do understand WHY that person made that particular statement.

Eleni Konstantine said...

Hey Nicole,

I think the statement came about after heroes in paranormal romances were described as dark and dangerous. They could kill you, they could enslave you...if you look just on the service. I didn't take it to mean the old school alpha.

I didn't agree that alphas are no longer in romance but the sense of danger and otherworldness, that is what I think they were getting at (though like you my brain can't remember right now who said what).

And I agree re Maccon. He's not a jerk, just an alpha of a pack that doesn't get these human conventions. Makes for fun reading.

Sharon S. said...

I love alpha-male stories when there is a kick-ass female to give him a bit of humble pie . A good example would be the Kate Daniels series.
I also like the males in JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series and Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark. The males are all "I am in charge, must have female, never been in love don't know how to selfish butt head attitudes. Then they end up wanting to sacrifice everything they are for the girl.

I have never read any of those old-school alpha male stories and don't think I could based on what you say .
I guess I really like alpha-females and they tend to like alpha-males.

Patricia Lynne said...

All the books I read, the alpha male can be quite controlling and at times a bastard you want to kick, but what keeps him from being a jerk is how willing he is to do anything for the woman he loves. He'll give up stuff, travel across the globe, and more. all because he's not a jerk and realises if he wants to keep this woman he needs to give as well as take. In a way they become equal. A jerk wouldn't let that happen. period.

Ash Wolf said...

I have to agree with the above posts. The "jerk" alpha is no longer seen in most paranormal or regency romances (I love to read both as well). If he is, I don't like the book and will stop. Respect and love are two things I'm looking for in the alpha male. Kresley Cole, Kerrelyn Sparks, Lara Adrian, and Deborah Cooke (just to name a few) try to aim for those things with their characters.

I hate it when the male lead is too much of a wimp or the other direction: too controlling of the situation. At the beginning of the book, sure that's ok. But if he doesn't grow out of it, the book is then rated two stars by me and never read again.

Crystal @ RBtWBC said...

I agree with you Nicole and all the above posts.
And I will def. continue reading romance with alpha heroes for the rest of 2010 and on. =)