What does Megan Frampton want? A smart man.

tDGtCBIf I have any type beyond the physical, it is that the guy be smart. As in smarter than me, smarter than everyone in the room, but not a jerk about it. I want someone who knows things, who craves knowledge, who is delighted to share his arcane bits of ephemera floating around in his brain with me.

Of course, since many of us are working out our issues through our writing, and I am no exception, I will say that my dad was one of those guys. But he needed to know, and have everyone else know, that he was the smartest guy in the room (he usually was, too, but he could also be the jerkiest about proving it). In my fictional scenario, the smart guy in question is so confident in his smarts that he just needs to show he’s worthy of me.

And that, in its essence, is what good romance does—proves that each of the two protagonists are worthy of one another, even if they are not necessarily worthy at large to the world. The romantic world is a microcosm between two people (I am excluding ménage et al, since I don’t write that, and I wouldn’t feel confident I could speak with authority on what it wants to do). Those two people, by the end of the book, believe that only through being with the other one that they are complete, or stronger, or whatever their ultimate life-goal is.

Now, this makes it sound as though I’m writing super-weighty stuff, and I will be the first to admit that I do not. I write mistoricals, books that are set in history but are not always true to the period. But my characters (at least according to me) are universal for any time period, so they can act and react and generally behave as people would now, because love is love and being anxious about another person might feel the same two hundred years ago as it does today. That’s what I responded to when I read my first historical romances, especially Anya Seton’s Katherine and, somewhat less proudly to admit, Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber. I got so much interesting history as I was inhaling the romantic elements of those books, and the Barbara Cartlands I glommed that it was a natural thing for me to write historicals when I decided to try my hand at writing.

And my characters—because I had to return to my original point sometime—are hopefully smart in some ways, even if they’re not smart in all the ways. For example, Marcus in The Duke’s Guide to Correct Behavior is very aware of his own limitations, and how he has been altered by his upbringing. I don’t think many characters, much less heroes, are as sensitive to what made them be the way they are as Marcus is. Lily is more traditionally book-smart (she’s a faux governess, after all, but pretty good being that she’s faux and all), but she is also savvy about the world, and is smart enough to take charge when the situation demands it.

And my point? Well, I don’t have much of a specific point, but that’s kind of like my books—they ramble around for awhile, and things happen, and you (hopefully) meet interesting people, and then you get that sigh of satisfaction at the end (again, hopefully).


Megan Frampton is the author of five historical romances. She is a member and President of the Beau Monde (2004-2005), the Regency chapter of the Romance Writers of America, and a member of the NYC chapter of the RWA as well.

Possessive, check. Jealous, check. Volatile, check.

Mr. BigIt’s no mystery that the Alpha-Male character type has dominated romantic fiction. Nearly any romance you pick up will feature one of these tough, rugged, manly men out to woo their lady of choice with their muscular body and chiseled looks. I don’t mind indulging in this type of fantasy at all when reading romance, although I do enjoy the sweet, Beta-Male as well. However, lately, I’ve noticed that the trend has shifted away from the standard Alpha, which is normally a beefcake with a heart of gold, to what I like to call the Alpha-Douche. This guy is possessive, volatile, jealous, and borders on stalking the lead female. I have to wonder, why is it that this type of man has gotten so popular recently? Continue reading

Not Your Ordinary Hero

logan-veronica-marsI’ve spent the past few weeks watching the TV show Veronica Mars (I so love Amazon Prime.) I’d seen it when it first came out but my husband hadn’t. When the movie came out this year, I thought it would be fun to check out Veronica and her pals in Neptune again.

There are many things to love about Veronica Mars–Kristen Bell’s adorable snark, the stinging accuracy of its portrayal of class, the haunting and hip soundtrack, just to name a few. But the thing that strikes me the second time around is how unusual a hero Logan Echols (played brilliantly by Jason Dohring) is.

Logan is the son of two spectacularly screwed-up movie stars played by real life spouses Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna. Logan’s grown up with money, fame, and access. In the first half of the first season he is an unmitigated ass. And yet…

By the end of the first season, he’s a man in love, a guy who most of the time, I find myself cheering for even as I struggle to define him.

If you listen to Logan without seeing him, he sounds like an obnoxious, overly confident alpha male. And if you turn the sound off, and just watch him, his mien is that of a beta guy. His body leans away as he speaks, his facial expressions are gently mocking. He routinely holds up his hands as if to say, don’t mind me, I’m backing away. But he’s never really backing away. His laid-back schtick barely hides the rage that undergirds his character . He finds his own path, one that almost always leaves him on top of the proverbial high school heap. I find him fascinating.

The hero in romance novels who most reminds me of Logan is  Sebastian Verlaine, the hero of Patricia Gaffney’s controversial historical romance To Have and to Hold. Like Logan, Sebastian is, when the reader first encounters him, an awful person. And yet, midway through the book, he’s the hero of the piece, a man I trust. Sebastian, like Logan, is neither a villain or a hero. He’s something else entirely–a complicated man whose actions belie his admitted sins.

I’d like to encounter more such men in my reading. Who are the heroes who defy easy categorization? And do you like them? Or do you find that some sins are too grave for you as a reader to overcome?

Dabney Grinnan

mentioned in this post are:

When Strong is a Stereotype

THE OUTLAW  Poster for 1943 film with Jane Russell directed by Howard HughesI recently came across this wonderful piece by Sophia McDougall called “I hate Strong Female Characters.” McDougall is not referring to female characters with physical and emotional strength (for instance, she likes Buffy and Jane Eyre). Rather, she means the archetypal Strong Female Character, who establishes her “tough” cred through arbitrary rudeness, punching, slapping, kung fu, gunshots, etc. (McDougall calls it “behaviour that, in a male character, would rightly be seen as abusive (or outright murderous)”). Men are more powerful in Hollywood, on which McDougall focuses, but the female-centric world of romance has its share of SFCs, most famously in Lord of Scoundrels but also in some of my recent review books, such as Jo Beverley’s Seduction in Silk and Lilith Saintcrow’s The Red Plague Affair. But what about our heroes? Do we do the same token oversimplification of the other gender that male writers do? Are they strong, or are they Strong? Continue reading

I’m Never – No, Never! Getting Married

no-weddingNick is a romance hero. He’s never – no, never! – going to get married. You can see why, of course; you need conflict to drive a plot forward, and if Nick sees Elizabeth, falls in love with Elizabeth, proposes to Elizabeth, and marries Elizabeth without a hitch you’ve got one short (and probably not all that interesting) book. A hero (or somewhat less frequently, heroine) who is never – no, never! – going to get married can provide that hitch in the relationship that makes for a good conflict and interesting reading. Well, except when it’s totally lame. If there is one knee jerk conflict that authors like to turn to, this is it. I see it more often in contemporary novels, likely because birth control is widely available and modern sexual mores more permissive. But if pops up fairly often in historicals too, usually for different reasons. I can hardly open a book without running into Nick or one of his ilk. Since the my most recent read with a marriage phobic hero got on my last nerve, I decided to provide this helpful list of acceptable and unacceptable reasons to never – no, never! get married. Continue reading

Just Not My Type

gypsyheiress Do you ever find certain types of characters difficult to like? I wouldn’t say that any particular type of hero or heroine is completely a “no go” for me. I firmly believe that, in the hands of a good author, just about anything can be made to work. However, when I come across certain character types on a book blurb, the description is not going to have me clamoring to pick up the book – often because it’s something I’ve seen handled less than skillfully way too many times before.

Pirates definitely fall into that category for me. I don’t know if it’s my background of having studied European and Middle Eastern history, but nothing I know about pirates makes them terribly romantic to me. Most historical accounts I have read make them sound uneducated and brutal, and conditions onboard ship sound filthy and unappealing. While I will admit that Jennifer Ashley’s pirates worked for me, the first pirate hero I remember encountering came in Joanna Lindsey’s somewhat infamous A Pirate’s Love. If you look up “rapey ‘hero’” in the dictionary, you just might find an image of Tristan there.

Other pirate/privateer novels I read over the years tended to have similar issues. However, even among the ones that didn’t feature rapist “heroes,” I just couldn’t move beyond the difficult life of a pirate to see the story as particularly romantic. Various authors, including Meagan McKinney, wrote pirates or privateers that one could consider dashing, but Jennifer Ashley was the first author I found who managed to humanize that sort of hero and make him truly appealing.

On the heroine side, while I haven’t found too many in recent novels, I used to run across gypsy heroines in older books and I have to admit that they have yet to work for me. As any of us who cut their teeth on Barbara Cartland novels knows, Cartland had a huge interest in gypsy culture that extended to founding several gypsy camps in England. This interest seems to have extended to a hugely romanticized view of gypsies in her novels. Continue reading

Updated Special Title Lists – Suspense & Mystery, and Heroes in Pursuit

newimproved As we said several weeks ago, we were simply bombarded with submissions when we opened these two lists up for your nominations, with over 150 recommendations for each. We have now posted the revised lists at AAR, but have a few issues to raise as you’ll see below.

Suspense & Mystery List. We’re afraid that the Suspense & Mystery list – as currently constituted – may have outlived its usefulness. This list was created in 1997, long before the power search was available at AAR. We believe that the Special Title Lists should provide something different than the power search feature. For example, we don’t have a Special Title list for Medieval Historicals or European Historicals or Contemporary Romances. So does it make sense to have a Special Title list with part of its definition as Romantic Suspense? We don’t think so, but we’d like your thoughts. Continue reading

Is This Our Collective Fantasy?

My workout playlist runs to guilty pleasures, and Whatever You Like is among the guiltiest. I prefer this more indie, Joan as Policewoman version to the TI original. In case you’re not interested in listening – or unfamiliar with the words – the message in a nutshell is “I find you attractive and want to sleep with you, so I will buy you stuff. Expensive stuff.”

I got to thinking about this during the summer when I read two books with uber-rich heroes back to back. Both of them are household names: Roarke from the long running J.D. Robb series, and Johnny come lately Christian Grey from Fifty Shades. Roarke is of course the classic. He owns half the planet and plenty of stuff off the planet. In the earlier books, he was always working, wheeling, and dealing. Lately he seems to have enough time to own the world and serve as expert consultant, civilian on Eve’s cases. It’s a nice gig, if you can get it.
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Sequel-itis: Where Do You Stand?

regencyIn her recent review of A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare, Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, mentioned something that caught my attention.  A certain group of supporting characters who arrive in the heroine’s village, early in the novel, were seen by Sarah as being “a carriage full of sequel-bait…[not] so much individual as they are at times like an assembly of future characters and convenient plot devices.”  This jumped out at me, because I have felt this sentiment before, reading various books by various authors.

For me, the carriage full of characters in A Lady by Midnight worked, and I personally did not feel that they were sequel-bait.  (Incidentally, in a Goodreads chat to celebrate the book’s release, Dare mentioned that there are only two other planned stories in this series, a novella and a novel, neither of which will be about any of the carriage characters…  Although Dare did not rule out the possibility of revisiting one of the characters at a much later date.)  But I don’t mean this as a critique of either Sarah or Dare.  Rather, this is just a recent example of a phenomenon that I have been experiencing myself – the expectation of sequels.  In this case, I happened to read Sarah’s review just after reading Dare’s comment that she did not intend to write books for these new characters, and it got me thinking.

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