After several lovely reviews, I finally got a bad review for my book, which I’d been expecting for awhile. And this was for exactly the reason I’d been expecting a bad review at some point: the reviewer hated my male lead, Paul.
There are people who get off on the fantasy of the sweet, gentle male lover, who is romantic and thoughtful. They enjoy the thought of a man who is, above all, concerned about her pleasure and being the best lover he can be for her. These are the people who generally find “I love you so much,” or, “Let me make you happy,” to be sexy lines.
And then there’s people like me, who like our fantasy boys demanding. We’re the people who think “get on your knees” is a sexy line, andoften we like some violence with our smut. We don’t want our boys saying “please” and asking permission; we want them saying, “No, this is what you’re doing, and you’re going to do it how I want you to do it.” We’re the ones who often enjoy dubious consent, psychological manipulation, and other tools that would usually horrify the readers in the first category.
I kept any violence out of Ink Me, since I was trying for something more vanilla than I usually write, and it’s far less manipulative and ethically iffy than most of what I write. But I’m still going to write about what I find hot, because if I don’t find it hot, nobody else is going to either. This means Paul is still going to be demanding and occasionally even abrasive (more abrasive at some points, less or not abrasive at others), and he’s going to see himself as and act like the alpha dog.
Ink Me was created from the first chapter of a longer novella, Arkham Dreams. Over the course of Arkham Dreams Paul does soften somewhat, and in the second chapter he shows himself as more attentive to her pleasure. (Although note that his stated reasons for doing so aren’t to please her – it’s that he would think less of himself if she didn’t get off. Even when he’s focusing on her, it’s generally for his own reasons. It isn’t until much later on that he starts focusing on her simply because he wants to make her happy.) But even at the end of the novella, he will still always be his essential self; he cares about her and doesn’t mind showing it, but he still enjoys dominating her sometimes just for the amusement of it.
Simply put, you can’t be all things to all people. I write for the people like me. Some of the people who aren’t like me will be, at best, lukewarm toward my book. Some of them will be left outright cold. With this particular review, there’s nothing wrong with her perceptions – from where she’s standing, Paul’s a jerk and an asshole, which is completely unsexy. From where I’m standing, he’s demanding and dominating, and therefore smokin’ hot. Both of our perceptions are correct; it’s that we have different ideas of what makes something sexy. If I were to read a book where the main male lead wasn’t demanding and at least mildly controlling, I’d be yawning my way through it and eventually drop it in favor of something else. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with such a book, because there isn’t. It’s simply for a different audience.
Now I’m going to get back to working on my revisions for my novel The Shadows of Dusk… and if the reviewer was appalled by Paul, I hope she never picks up TSOD once it’s published. Paul is a fluffy puppy compared to TSOD’s male lead Julian. And Julian is the epitome of a sweet, thoughtful lover compared to the male lead Damien in my novel Good Girl, who sometimes crosses the line into physically and emotionally abusive. Good Girl is an exploration of how a Stockholm dynamic works, so his abusive nature is necessary. But is it also hot? Why yes, yes it is. It wouldn’t be hot in real life (as I’ve said in the past, if one of my friends were dating someone like Damien, I’d be doing everything in my power to get her to leave him). On the written page, for the right audience, it’s scorching. But Good Girl would be triggery as hell for some people, and a major turn-off for a lot of people. Ink Me is written for people like me, and TSOD is written for people like me, times two… and Good Girl is written for people like me, times five.
Have I written anything with a sensitive, thoughtful, gentle male lead? Out of everything I’ve written, the Tonga story is the only one that comes to mind. And the male lead in that story has plenty of his own demons to deal with.
In short, Robin: not for everyone. Even on the rare occasions when I try to write vanilla, it just doesn’t work out that way. But that’s okay, because there’s plenty of people out there who love rocky road.