One of my favourite historical details about the Regency is that men used to cry in Parliament to express their sensitivity.
But I digress. Earlier this year I entered a whole bunch of the American contests, just to get my MS out there when it still wasn’t quite ready for agent submissions. The scoresheets have been coming back in dribs and drabs and giving me a pretty good cross-section of what reader reactions might be to my novel. A few mornings ago I received this:
Your Hero, and please do not take this the wrong way but use this as constructive criticism. At points in your story I had to re-read some paragraphs. Example When the Dukes friends were over after whites it sounded more like a group of women talking to each other call them by pet names. My impression at that time was that the Duke was bi-sexual, not that I have a problem with that, but this is a Historical Romance Category. I’m not impressed with his image at all for a Hero.[Note to self: bi-sexuals ok, just not in Historical Romance.] Although the Duke suffers Panic attacks does not make a man weak. His character or what I’ve read of it sounds like a weak, selfish and insecure Duke who thinks he is in love with one sister who is not the Heroine. I would focus on a better Character for this Duke. [So what you're saying is - that Really Average Character I've given him isn't working?] I would not have him thinking he is in love and I would not have him sleeping with a married women who is your Heroines sister. I would also not have him calling other men pet names. He needs to be a little tougher like you had him acting at Whites, when the Earl of Benruin confronted him.
You also mentioned in your synopsis how he and Kit your Heroine had sex. They should be making Love and Sex should be with the other women who shouldn’t be her sister….[I shall have to look into this "making love".]
Confusing once again due to the amount of characters introduced in the first few chapters. Example all the dandies sounded the same with calling each other by pet names. Try to maybe have one dandy and one who is Mr. Serious and the other a jokester. [Then the jokester can come out with lines like, "I don't know why they call him Mr Serious. They should call him Mr Seriously Can't Tie A Cravat. Because look at his cravat." Comic gold. I see where you're going with this...] This way your characters will all have a distinctive voice. [If by distinctive you mean hilarious.] Try and match a voice to your Duke. Make him a man most girls would fall for. Hansom, tough looking and can melt butter when he entertains the ladies and a mouth that shots bullets when talking with a man. Distinctive. [Hmm, my husband doesn't really look tough, so I guess that counts against him. But on the upside he's very handsome and does occasionally melt butter while entertaining me. I haven't noticed any bullets shooting from his mouth, but who knows what he gets up to when I'm not around? Manly things, I suspect.]
Okay, so it’s a bit mean to pick this apart – and the truth is that I really appreciate the time and consideration this judge put into reading my entry. Nothing obliged her to read it but her good will and desire to support aspiring authors. And the other truth is that, should this book ever see the light of day, a large chunk of readers are going to react in exactly this way to my hero.
He is not, as the judge went on to say, A Hero.
He’s slight, and effeminate. He calls other men by pet names. He has sex with them. He’s having an affair with my heroine’s sister (though he never is in love with her – I think this judge read love where there is only respect and affection). He’s so clever he tangles himself up in it, and because he has no idea how to express intimacy like a normal human being he tends to be vicious to the people he loves the most. Oh, and he wears a dress – and not only that, he wears the whole persona of a gorgeous, charismatic, powerful Georgian woman.
Actually, her statement about what girls (and here let me say, mine is definitely a novel for women) really like in a man made me feel a bit sheepish, because this happens in my book:
The single word was violent as a bullet shot through the house…
That’s BenRuin speaking – the cuckolded husband of my heroine’s sister (my hero’s lover. Keeping up?). He is big and tough. He’s handsome. He comes straight from the Alpha mould.
A lot of readers are also confounded by the fact that the book starts in his POV – and through his eyes the reader sees my hero as a frippery. The readers who are confounded by it tend to be the readers who would prefer to read BenRuin’s book.
I did that on purpose. BenRuin is A Hero. Darlington is not.
In a recent podcast, Dan Savage gave this advice to a young bisexual dude: Be confident in your sexuality and the ladies will flock to you to get some of that. (More or less.) I agree. I find the idea of a bisexual man really hot. And I get that some women don’t.
I’ve always known that as a fairly queer book (there’s a tertiary gay romance, too, that’s boiling away in the background) My Lady Untamed won’t be for everyone. But when I only knew that theoretically, I kind of couldn’t imagine how anyone would not just fall for Darlington completely. To me he’s heaven. So it’s great to have proof and be able to put a shape to how some people will read it.
But it also solidifies for me that the kinds of heroes I fall for aren’t what the judge described. And that’s really why I start my novel with BenRuin. He’s the old guard. He’s A Romance Hero. I wanted him to see and dismiss my hero, because my hero is something else.
In the most recent Dear Bitches Smart Authors podcast, Sarah Wendell, Molly O’Keefe and Stephanie Doyle talk about the women who are pushing historical romance to its limits: Cecelia Grant, Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran. They’re writing complex characters and redefining what sex is in romance. They are, without hesitation, the authors I aspire to stand beside.