But I admit, that as a mother of three sons AND a romance novelist, I raise my boys and draft my heroes to share certain characteristics. If I do my first job right, someday my boys will share their lives with people who will love, cherish and respect them until the day they die. If I do my second job right, someday my heroes will share their lives with people who will love, cherish and respect them until—and after—I write “The End.”
I want my romance heroes to be good-looking. I know it’s shallow, and I’m willing to let it slide every time an author writes that her hero isn’t “conventionally handsome.” But in my head he’s hotter than sin. Always. I’m okay with tall, dark, and handsome, but honestly I do prefer rangy and ginger. I would allow Kevin McKidd, for example, to do…things to me. Many, many things.
Now, between you and me, there’s not a lot I can do for my boys’ looks. I did what I could way back in 1993 when I married their father and agreed to recombine my DNA with his:
That mullet? Swoon. That mustache? Oh, baby!
Over the last two decades, I’d say Dr. Stevens has held up rather well:
Besides giving them good genes, I try to teach my sons good hygiene. When you’re raising boys, you spend much of your life telling them they need to brush their teeth, take a shower, and that no—they cannot wear the clothes they slept in to school just to save time in the morning.
Frankly, I like a hygienic hero as well. While I’m all for creative sex (believe me—ALL for it!) I have a hard time reading scenes set on beaches. I have had sand in my butt, people. Ain’t nothing sensual about that.
I also don’t care for sex in haunted houses (unless he brings along a cashmere blanket) or sex in the jungle (unless we can establish it’s a leech-free jungle). Or sex after ten-shower-free days of chasing the enemy, because…ew. Nasty. and NOT good nasty.
And while we’re at it…I’m not a big fan of sex in the middle of crisis scenes, either. If you are trapped in a closet hiding from the killer with the axe, don’t be knocking your boots against the closet wall. If your niece is in danger and the hot cop and you are rescuing her from the explosive-filled warehouse, please don’t take a break in the search for an explosive quickie.
Work before play, people…which is exactly what I tell my sons!
My motherhood mission statement is that I raise men, not children. If I do my job right, the Stevens boys will be able to feed, clothes and house themselves and anyone they bring into their families in comfort, while performing meaningful work that feeds their souls and contributes to the world. And my romance heroes better darn well do the same. Even the billionaire princes who don’t need to work a day in their lives should be running massive charities to provide clean water in impoverished countries. The men in my books need to be powerful in the bedroom and out.
But…one of the reasons I love romance novels is that they are at their core, feminist fiction.
Yup. Feminist. In the books I read and write (and I tend towards a hetero hero/heroine story although I’m interested in how power dynamics play in m/m and LGBQT fiction), the heroine always achieves a balance of power with the hero. Cinderella gets her prince—and becomes a princess on his power level. Sleeping Beauty wakes up - and takes control of how her life will be run. And those Alpha males who can be such, well, assholes? They learn to love, respect and admire their women by the end of the book not just because she has the magic hoohah that makes him feel like he’s finally found a home, but also because she is a genuinely worthy person in her own right.
And here is where I as an author completely diverge from the mother. When I write, I put these two characters through the wringer. I set them against each other AND put them in danger. I wound them and have them hurt one another. The sex is hot—and so are the tempers. Characters in romance novels should work their ever-loving asses off (there’s a pun in there, somewhere) to earn their Happy Ever Afters.
But not my boys. I’ve been doing my best since the day I chose their father’s DNA to raise men who ALREADY respect and admire women as worthy individuals. I’m teaching them to recognize and avoid danger (why, just yesterday I made the new household rule that no one can set anything on fire until Mommy comes home!) I teach them the potential problems they’ll face as adults so that they can avoid them whenever possible.
“Don’t be making any secret babies,” I warn my oldest.
“How is that even possible?” he asks.
“Don’t find yourself in a compromising position with a bluestocking!” I tell the middle son.
“I don’t know what any of those words mean,” he says.
“You can’t just hire your discarded mistress to raise your love-child,” I explain to the youngest.
“Where did you put my crayons?” he replies.
Um…yeah. This is working just fine.
What about you? Do the books you love influence the choices and plans you make in the real world? Where do the lines between reality and fiction blur for you?