I’ve been fortunate to receive some wonderful reviews of With Good Behavior, and several readers have commented that they fell hard for romantic hero Grant Madsen in all his McSailor McMuffinicious goodness. However, a couple of reviewers commented that Grant was too soft and sensitive, particularly since he’s a former Navy lieutenant who just emerged from prison.
I’ve learned that I shouldn’t hang my hat on any particular review, but one of the most intriguing parts of writing for me has been the wildly different reactions readers have for the same novel. Challenging the believability of an emotionally expressive romantic hero really got me thinking about two questions:
1) Can a man be sensitive and kind, shedding a tear when pushed to his limits, and still be masculine?
My answer to this question is a resounding YES! In my role as a psychologist, I observe men cry. Most of the times they’re embarrassed as hell and promptly apologize for their tears. But I never view emotional expression like that as a sign of weakness. I think it takes incredible strength to face feelings head on–much more strength than numbing the feelings through a drinking binge, for example. We’re human and we feel emotions whether we like it or not.
Unfortunately, our culture teaches men to stifle those emotions. In his thoughtful book Real Boys, William Pollack explores male socialization.
Pollack examines the lessons we pass along to boys. We teach boys to be stoic, strong, and rugged. We tell them to suck it up, that they’re only acceptable if they’re star athletes. We administer tough love from a young age, erroneously believing that showing warmth and understanding will make boys weak. If boys stray from the tightly controlled behavior we expect of them, others call them cruel names and homophobic slurs. Boys quickly learn to behave in stereotypically masculine ways.
Is this a good thing for male development? I’ve found that suppressing all emotion sure can make adult relationships difficult. What if a boy feels drawn to be an artist or dancer? What if he hates sports? What if he’s not very muscular? These boys suffer greatly and often become the targets of bullies. I believe we should love boys and men for who they are instead of forcing them into a very limiting mold.
Onto my second question:
2) How do you feel about “beta” males? Must the romantic hero be an “alpha”?
I think this is a highly personal preference. Alpha males are typically dominant, muscular, demanding leaders. Beta males are more respectful of women and less power-hungry.
I prefer a man to have alpha and beta qualities. My romantic lead Grant Madsen is a survivor of childhood abuse, making him somewhat of a people pleaser and sensitive to others’ emotions. However, he’s also physically strong, intelligent, and capable. What kind of romantic hero is your favorite?
Because I love to explore themes of healing and redemption, I strive to write characters growing stronger throughout the series. And I believe that “stronger” could mean becoming more alpha or beta–whatever the man needs to be authentic and confident. I’ll be curious to see what reviewers think of Grant’s character in the second installment of The Conduct Series: Bad Behavior (coming out in March, 2011).
Well, it’s Monday again, and I have to work even though it’s a holiday. *pouts* Perhaps the Meet an Author Monday Blog Hop will lift my spirits. Check out Lisa Sanchez’s blog for details.