I am on vacation! I’ll be back next week with a Cara Recommends and a new podcast on the Feminist Romantic. Have a great week!
Before I begin this blog, let me direct you to a few pieces of information:
- Sarah MacLean’s article about how she re-wrote Day of the Duchess after the 2016 election. She discusses the alpha male trope in romance, from a mostly positive perspective, and then how she had to do something different in light of the very toxic “alpha” male culture that is very real, and present, and damaging in our world right now.
- Adam Ruins Everything: Alpha Males
I’ve said this here and elsewhere on the internet–one of my “to be written” story ideas is about a wolf shifter pack that is based on actual science and studies of wolves. Pack structure would be familial, and the “alpha” (aka Dad) would be the one who plays with the young, makes sure the smallest members of the pack are fed, models good wolfly behaviors, accepts his mate and older children’s input on pack decisions, and exerts order through respect and assertion of boundaries, not threats of violence and subjugation of anyone not as strong as him. In situations where packs would need to combine for some purpose, duties would be shared according to ability and proximity, and while decisions are ultimately up to the alphas, they do what is best for the pack, and the alpha in larger packs isn’t always the biggest and strongest. Mating is generally monogamous (although situations can lead to changes in pairings, so they don’t always mate for life), but there are also polygamous groups.
Also they would be aligned with raven shifters who are their allies.
But I digress.
The point of this blog is to talk about the alpha male in romance.
In Sarah MacLean’s article for the Washington Post linked above, she writes about the kind of alpha I actually like–the one who was always good, caring, and compassionate, but was socialized not to show it. The one who was taught incorrectly and needs to find his mate to learn that he is wrong.
The pitfall there is that some authors treat his love interest as some sort of singular oddity among women, and so when he comes to respect her and treat her as an equal, he doesn’t have to extend that respect to other “less worthy” women. Not everyone falls into the trap, but I’ve seen it happen, and if you’re writing a story like this, make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
In general, though, I can live with that sort of alpha. I wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with him (MacLean’s assertion that he contributes to the culture of toxic masculinity is spot-on), and I don’t think he exists (or if he does, he’s very rare), but I can stand to read about him without throwing my tablet at the wall or wondering what in the hell his love interest sees in him.
Instead of an alpha male, however, some authors write an alphahole.
Alphahole is a mash-up of “alpha male” and “asshole” and it’s exactly what you’re thinking. Characters like Christian Grey live solidly in this category. Manipulative, gaslighting, controlling, abusive (physically, emotionally, etc.), jealous, obsessive…I could go on.
These are the characters who are supposed to make us swoon and want to be taken care of, but who are, in truth, terrible caretakers. They see their women as possessions, not people, and you can’t truly care for a person you consider an object to own.
I want to look at that last sentence a little more closely. I will admit that one thing that I like about romance is when characters claim a little bit of ownership over each other. I always want that to be equal–they belong to each other, not one owned by the other–but I do like it. And I recognize that as potentially problematic. But I think it’s a matter of degree. When people agree to be in a closed relationship, they are essentially giving ownership of some things over to the other person–usually including sexual activity (masturbation not included). But agreeing to only have sex with one person and allowing them to “own” that aspect of us, for whatever length of time, isn’t the same thing as being owned by that person. Sex isn’t the entirety of our lives, and in other areas, our mates shouldn’t rule us.
But that’s exactly what the alphahole wants. He wants to rule his lover and decide everything they do. Ostensibly, this is to keep them “safe,” but really it’s about control. Their lovers aren’t free, and if they aren’t free, that isn’t love.
Don’t blame the wolves for your alphahole. Wolves aren’t like that. They may (usually) mate for life, but they don’t control each other. Mated pairs work together for their packs. They survive because they are stronger as a team.
If you want to take something from the wolves and apply it to romance narratives, that’s what I would recommend: love is stronger when everyone is equal, contributing toward a mutual goal.
Please, no more alphaholes!
I said I would do it, and now it’s almost here! Beginning August 16th, the Feminist Romantic podcast will go live! It will be available on iTunes, YouTube, and LibSyn to start, as well as thefeministromantic.com and here on my blog.
The Feminist Romantic will be a half-hour podcast, coming out every other week on Wednesdays. Topics will include many of the things I feature on this blog, but in a more entertaining form, such as my romance pet peeves, how to write sex scenes, and more. I also intend to look at various romances in books, TV, movies, and video games and discuss them from a feminist and sex-positive perspective. I will occasionally invite other romance authors onto the podcast as guests or for interviews, and will also occasionally read excerpts from my work in progress.
If any of that sounds interesting to you, subscribe now! And if I’m not already on your favorite podcast aggregator, let me know and I’ll try to get on it!
Love Across the Universe
Twelve Stories of Science Fiction Romance
Set on Intergalactic Shores
From Stars and Stone Books
Summer love is summer love, no matter the planet. Climb aboard your spacecraft and travel across the universe with these twelve tales of love on beaches in the future and among the stars. Includes stories by USA Today Bestselling Author Traci Douglass, Cara McKinnon, A.E. Hayes, Sheri Queen, M.T. DeSantis, L.J. Longo, K.W. Taylor, Mary Rogers, Elsa M. Carruthers, Emmerite Sundberg, Serena Jayne, and Oriana Maret.
Traci Douglass – “A Dream to Build a Kiss On”
A Dreamworld Short Novella
Can passion bloom between a bookish botanist and an analytical android?
Cara McKinnon – “The Pirates and the Pacifist”
Kai doesn’t believe in violence. Sam and Dek believe the ends justify the means. Will passion be enough to bridge the gap between the pacifist sent to broker galactic peace and the space pirates hired to keep him away at all costs?
A.E. Hayes – “Tristan’s Tryst”
One mysterious being. Two lovers who find her. Can this threesome handle the heat of this scorching summer?
Sheri Queen – “Red Sand”
If she can only save one thing, which will it be—the red beaches of Mars or a love she can’t imagine living without?
M.T. DeSantis – “The Princess of Sands”
Secrets and lies. Can they be each othe’s freedom?
L.J. Longo – “Breathless”
The manager of a resort planet and the head of its secret defense unit team up to save the guests—and discover danger is a potent aphrodisiac.
Serena Jayne – “You Only Love Once”
Carpe diem the hell out of love.
K.W. Taylor – “Reprogramming”
Alex didn’t want to be marooned on an alien planet with a robot, but it may just be exactly what she needs.
Mary Rogers – “Breakfast on Pluto”
A chance meeting of two people unaware of their destiny with each other results in an unbreakable bond, but even duty has its boundaries. Will love help them break free—and will love be enough?
Elsa M. Carruthers – “All B+ut You”
In a world where looks are so important that Genetic Modification is standard procedure, how will those without Genetic Modification cope, let alone find love?
Emmerite Sundberg – “Fluid”
She’s everything she’s ever wanted but with one flaw—they can’t actually touch.
Get your copy of Love Across the Universe now!
All of my recommendations are for authors that I love to read and respect as writers, but this month I’m also recommending an author who is a friend. I met J.L. Gribble through the Seton Hill University WPF program. She graduated before I arrived so we didn’t go through the MFA program together, but she always came to the yearly alumni workshop, In Your Write Mind (see my report on this year’s workshop here) and so I’d seen her around. Until about a year ago, I knew more “of” her than actually knowing her, but last year we joined a group of authors who mutually support and promote each other. That led to reading each other’s books, and that in turn led to us becoming fans as well as friends.
J.L.’s books (to date) are all set in the same world: an alternate Earth where the existence of vampires, were-creatures, and elves caused massive changes to history, such as: the Roman Empire is still a thing, and the Romans and Britannia are at each other’s necks most of the time. Also, the Qin empire (China) and Britannia got into a huge war two hundred years prior to the start of the series, nearly wiping out the world with nuclear weapons and creating a vast Wasteland in North America. They were stopped by the elves, who cast a magical spell on the world suppressing technology.
The first book in the series, Steel Victory, acts as a sort of primer to the world. We’re introduced to our two main series protagonists, a vampire named Victory and her adopted human daughter Toria. They live in a neutral city called Limani that sits between the British colonies to the north and the Roman colonies to the south on the East Coast of what in our world is the US. Limani was founded by the Greeks before they were subsumed by the Romans, and it has held on to its tenuous neutral status for a long time. But that status is threatened by encroaching forces from without and prejudice and fear from within.
In the second book, Steel Magic, Toria and her partner Kane (partner here is a magical term–they’re a bonded mage pair, and were raised as brother and sister) go off on their first mercenary contract. In the course of fulfilling their contract, Kane falls in love and their group ends up uncovering secrets about the world’s magic that cause them to have to make some very difficult decisions.
The third book, Steel Blood, takes place concurrently with Steel Magic and follows Victory’s adventures while Toria and Kane are off investigating magic. Steel Blood officially releases next week, but I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of the paperback at IYWM. The story starts when Victory and her daywalker Mikelos head to a Qin province during a trade negotiation with Britannia, and is complicated by a headstrong Qin princess who wants to escape her rigidly proscribed life and a reckless British Earl who wants to prove his worth. Their solution: get married, despite objections on all sides. And of course Victory finds herself right in the middle, since she’s assigned as the princess’s bodyguard.
I can recommend all three books without a moment’s hesitation. They are tightly plotted and written, with a great mix of action, mystery, family relationships, and romance. The characters are diverse, the women are strong (and not just because they kick ass with swords), and the worldbuilding is exquisite. Having beta-read the fourth book (which won’t be out until next year), I can also guarantee that the series continues to get better with each installment.
The Steel Empires series is not to be missed!