Stephie Smith never dreamed of becoming a writer until a series of her humorous essays about family were published behind her back. Unlike most things done behind her back, this one she actually liked.
And now she writes.
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I was brought up in a family of women. Well, obviously, there was a man—my father—but he worked long hours and when he wasn’t working, he was watching sports. My mother was also brought up in a family of women. So, my childhood relationships were with my five sisters and a mother who is clueless about men. Not that she didn’t try to educate us on the subject, but her nuggets of information weren’t all that helpful. (Men are arrogant … men are spoiled … men are idiots.)
Thankfully, I was precocious—okay, boy crazy was the actual term everyone used—so I began educating myself on the exotic species at an early age. And guess what I discovered? Boys are arrogant … boys are spoiled … boys are idiots … No, actually, I didn’t discover much of anything. I was too busy chasing boys.
It wasn’t until I started writing romance that I began to analyze men. Sure, I’d picked up information along the way there, but I never gave that information much thought—until a writing contest judge marked up my historical romance manuscript.
“A man wouldn’t explain himself,” she said. “He wouldn’t qualify his opinions, he wouldn’t notice the furnishings, and he wouldn’t think these things about the heroine.”
THE HELL YOU SAY was my knee-jerk reaction—I tend to react this way whenever I’m criticized—but the next day I was giving those criticisms serious thought. Of course, first I did defend myself to myself. I mean, I had dated plenty of men who explained themselves. Usually the explanations began with, “It’s not what it looks like …” and ended with the guy running after me, clutching a pair of somebody’s underwear in front of his naked penis. But hey, those were explanations, so that judge was obviously wrong.
I was trying to be open-minded, though, and besides, I have this irritating habit of assuming that everyone knows more than I do about whatever it is they’re professing to know. So I did some research on how to write men. I even took a workshop called, “Have you turned your hero into a woman? Writing men the way men REALLY are,” and I persevered through the workshop, while disagreeing with almost every rule the woman gave. A few are paraphrased below.
“Men speak in short sentences with no extra information or words. If the heroine asks him a question, he’ll answer it, but barely.”
Huh. This is not my experience. A normal response from my boyfriend when I asked him, “So, how was your day?” was along the lines of, “Well, first off, on my way to work this morning, the stoplight turned red just as I got there.” Thus began the recounting of his day’s events, each and every one. TMI, honey. Just say great or terrible and a sentence about why—unless you win the lottery, are the victim of a crime, or a bird shits on your head. In a case like that, feel free to expound.
“Men don’t want to discuss the relationship. They don’t even notice the relationship or the fact that it IS a relationship.”
If only that were true. I can’t tell you how many times another boyfriend started the conversation with, “We need to talk” and then proceeded to complain that I never discussed my feelings, he couldn’t tell where our relationship was going, blah, blah, blah. So Strike Two on the workshop about the way men REALLY are.
“Men don’t start their sentences with qualifying phrases.”
Oh, puh-leeze. I had one date with a guy who started every sentence off with, “In my opinion—and I’ve had a lot of experience with this …” I tried to turn the conversation to things he couldn’t possibly have had a lot of experience with, like a flying squirrel nesting in his oven batting, or a wild rabbit hopping in through his back door and then ping-ponging all over the house while he tried to chase it out, but no … he was totally experienced in every subject I brought up—in his opinion.
Okay, so maybe I’ve dated weird guys. I’ve been around a few hundred blocks, so I guess it’s to be expected. But my point is, no one can say men are this way or men are that way because men are people and people aren’t clones.
And then (dum-da-dum-dum), a few weeks ago a friend told me a story. She’d written her first novel and she wanted a reality check on the dialogue between two guys. In the scene, the hero and his best friend were discussing the heroine, and as the hero listened to his friend’s opinion, he privately wondered about the heroine’s character and her story. I was afraid my writer friend was asking me to be the reality check, but thank God, she had already sent the scene to a male friend. And this was his reply:
“When we meet a woman, we don’t notice that stuff. We’re just thinking body parts.”
Reality slapped me in the face. I had written my first historical romance solely because of the stupefied-at-first-sight reaction the hero and heroine had for each other. That romantic attraction between my characters was what kept me writing. And this guy was saying it was all a lie.
I took a minute to let that sink in and then I realized I didn’t care. I read and write fiction to escape reality, not live it. If men are really like this, then in my opinion, they shouldn’t be in a romance novel or at least, they won’t be in mine. I don’t want to read a romance where the hero is just thinking body parts. I want to read a romance where I close my eyes and sigh and whisper, “Oh, to have such a man think of me in such a way …” Because otherwise, what you get is pictured below. And who can live with that?