A Rant About Cold Mountain, Male Authors, and Search For Happily Ever After

Chuck Wendig has been tackling the juggernaut of misogyny over at his blog this week.  He’s thought provoking, articulate, and well-balanced as always.  All worth a read.  In one of his posts he talks about how he really expanded his reading palette and made a true effort to include women.  For which I totally applaud him.  I hazard a guess that most men won’t do this.

As an intelligent and generally open-minded individual, I feel like I ought to do the same because my bookshelves (the fiction anyway) are DOMINATED by women.  I just don’t read men’s books often.  I wrote about this back in 2008.  Men simply don’t tend to write about what I want to read about (relationships).  Or if they do, they seem to favor the bullshit pulled by Nicholas Sparks (who is improperly categorized as ROMANCE in almost every bookstore I’ve ever been in)–i.e. KILLING OFF THE HERO (or the heroine, depending).  HELLOOOOOO, this is not romance.  This violates the number 1 premise of romance.  THOU SHALT NOT KILL OFF THE HERO OR HEROINE (unless thou will be pulling a Scribe Virgin a la the Black Dagger Brotherhood–divine intervention is totally allowed).

One of the other favorites seems to be to bring the hero and heroine together long enough to get busy (which may or may not be actually emotionally moving) and then kill off the hero, leaving the heroine to have his baby.  Cold Mountain anyone?  I just finished watching it recently, which is the thing that spawned this rant.  I mean, what IS this ending?  Some male ideal of “oh I successfully spread my genetic material, so my death wasn’t in vain”?  The woman is supposed to be happy to be left ALONE to take care of a child, with no help (and in the particular time period of that movie, in a time where she’s as likely as not to die from childbirth, not to mention the additional financial hardships).  COME ON.  I don’t know any women who would be okay with this in real life, so why would we be okay with in fiction?

This is not a satisfying or acceptable ending to me.

Inman totally should’ve just killed the dude instead of running his mouth.  Noble should not equate to stupid.

So I go look up the book.  Sure enough.  Written by a dude.  This is a wholly sexist opinion, I admit.  But this is why I don’t tend to read men.  I want my romantic relationships (frequently NOT the focus of male work), and I want my HEA or HFN, damn it.  On the rare occasions I take a chance, I’m usually disappointed and left wanting to throw the book (or movie, as it were) against a wall, regretting the fact that I set a toe out of the romance world where that contract with me as reader is NOT going to be violated.

Detractors of the genre like to point out (among other criticisms) that romance is unrealistic, and real life doesn’t work that way, and and and…

I don’t give a rat’s ass.

FICTION IS UNREALISTIC.  Period.  Real life is (usually) boring and dull and full of misunderstandings and asinine, everyday problems.  I don’t wanna read about more of them.  By necessity, fiction has to streamline that and make things actually, you know, interesting.  Or it doesn’t get published.  Or read. With the exception of some literary fiction, but that’s not my point.

What the hell is wrong with giving some LOVE AND HOPE, I’d like to know?

Anyway, I have not given up on finding some male authors to read, but I want INPUT from all of you.  I want recs of books by dudes where they DON’T break that rule, where they actually recognize that SOMETIMES LOVE ACTUALLY TRIUMPHS and they’re not all killing people off like Joss Whedon or George R. R. Martin.

I open the floor to you, dear readers.

15 thoughts on “A Rant About Cold Mountain, Male Authors, and Search For Happily Ever After

  1. I will give this some thought. I also hate it when people try to write the other gender without fully understanding them. Women do it too. All of those unrealistic men in romance novels… Anyway, it really bothers me when either gender does it.

  2. This post is like you looked into my head, read my thoughts, and then wrote them down for me almost word for word!

    Now, unfortunately, I have no men romance author recommendations for you. They’re out there, and I do occasionally read books by men (great books!), but alas, they’re not in the romance genre.

  3. I read that blog post too, and had the same thought you had. I also felt bad about it. But, my solution was to read “classics” (THE TIME MACHINE, for example) I have meant to read (90% of which are written by men), I chose that, because they’re laying around the house anyways, so I should take advantage of that. But, I’ll checking in to see what people recommend to you. I guess I should add some living breathing people to my man reading list.

  4. I feel like I just had this exact conversation with my fiance. He’s trying to get me to watch Game of Thrones which I stopped watching after season one because, you guessed it, they killed off all my favorite characters. I need my HEA too. I stopped reading regular fantasy novels years ago because of this, I always finished the books still wanting, never fully satisfied. So, I switched to romance genres where I knew I’d never be disappointed. And yes, I too stick with female authors most of the time. However, there are more and more male authors who are writing REAL romance not mislabeled fiction like Sparks.

  5. I think you watched the Seeker series, which was based on the Sword of Truth books. Loosely. (“more of a guideline”) I loved the first book of that series, Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind. Amazing character growth of the hero, and an impossible relationship between. He does a beautiful job of sending Richard and Khalan off on a quest together, forcing them to spend all this time together, learning about each other, depending on each other, falling in love, all the while knowing that they can never touch. And then, he works that out.

    Then he writes a millions more words yanking them back apart and torturing them and I had to quit sometime in book 3. The library has that in ebook and audio.

    I also really enjoyed Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International, in which an everyday sort of guy finds himself drawn into the world of the paranormal and hooks up with a well-organized group of monster slayers. There’s a sweet romance starting there which plays out slowly, in large part because the hero is kinda shy. The fact that he’s also incredibly respectful and awed by qualities like bravery and kickass skillz rather than her tits goes a long way in making him a very endearing character.

    I didn’t read further in the series, partly because I was scared. After all, Phillip Pullman was doing such lovely things in His Dark Materials and then… Rug. Pulled.

    From Heinlein’s repetitive scholarly old man with bevvy of practically personality-free young women who want to get with him, to Stephen R. Donaldson’s fascinating and sympathetic protagonist, Thomas Covenant, who suddenly snaps and brutally rapes the young woman who is being kind to him (that left a dent in wall), to Tolkien’s Bromance of the Rings, if you’re reading for your own pleasure, it seems safest to stick with what you enjoy rather than to be constantly dissatisfied or disgusted reading books that were written for someone else.

    1. Which has pretty well been my policy. It just seems…like men are allergic to HEA. As if they don’t think they’ll get to keep their man card if they don’t write some shitty ass, sad ending. Or if they write a relationship where the woman is more than just a casual f***. I’ve known plenty of men who are just as happy with HEA endings as I am, so where are THEY represented in the male canon?

  6. I just watched Cold Mountain the other day. I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it. I was SO mad at the ending that I wanted to scream! I did NOT see that coming. There was absolutely no reason to end it that way. I don’t know when I’ve been so mad at the ending of a movie.

    Even with the one horror book I wrote, although I had to kill off some characters because of the nature of the story, I would NOT kill off my main characters. There was a romance between them and I wanted the HEA for them. The horror I’m writing at the moment will have to have some bad things happen. But I can still tell you, there will be a happy ending for my main characters. That’s not a spoiler…that’s just the way I’m always going to write.

    You know I read a lot of Stephen King. And sometimes he does some pretty good happy endings. The two main characters with a romantic relationship in Needful Things, for instance, were still alive and together at the end. But he has been known to break up some couples. I really don’t know a male writer that’s safe to read.

  7. Well, it’s not exactly romance, but David Eddings wrote some good books a while ago. There are four series I’m thinking of. The Belgariad, The Mallorean, The Elenium, and The Tamuli are the names. They’re fantasy adventure but there’s some romance (especially in the Elenium & Tamuli) and it doesn’t leave you going WTF?!?!? He does have some stereotyping with the female personalities but it’s not too bad. I first read them in high school and to this day I think he’s my favorite male author and one of the few on my bookshelves.

  8. From this guy’s perspective, I certainly am not out to stomp on a woman’s desire for love and hope. It might even be what I’m going for in a story I write, but it’s very possible I might go about it in a way that isn’t a happily ever after. I promise you my reasons for writing a story that way would have nothing to do with making sure it keeps its manliness. I’m not against happily ever after. Two people falling in love and living happily ever after is a beautiful thing. It’s not what I, primarily, read fiction for, but I do like it.

    On the flip side, I have read/watched some pretty bleak stories (Can’t think of a specific example. Maybe A Walk to Remember? Wouldn’t consider it bleak, but I do love the movie.) that have left me feeling the same way you feel after a good romance. But I wouldn’t suggest them to you.

    To me, it’s just the differing expectations of two people. And why fight it? You like what you like, so stick with it. If you venture outside your comfort zone, do it because of a rec from someone who knows your taste. You’ll have less of a chance for disappointment and a good chance of finding a new author you like.

    I do hope, for purely selfish reasons, that the majority of women don’t feel this way about male authors. Eventually, I’d like to publish a book and have it appeal to men and women. Reading this (and the comments) makes me feel like I’ll have a tough time with that.

    1. Well, remember that I write romance and most of my visitors are therefore romance readers (probably), so we don’t represent ALL women. I know some women who steer clear of romance because they don’t find it believable (in most of those cases, I’d wager they either never read one or haven’t read once since the Mills and Boon era, but I digress) or who just aim for other stuff (mystery or horror springs to mind). But we romance readers are legion and shouldn’t be ignored 😀

  9. I’m just the opposite of you, in many ways. My shelves are dominated by male authors. Parker, Westlake, Leonard, King, Jim Butcher, etc. — and mostly those guys are good at delivering action, making things happen. Maybe it’s a misogynistic conceit, but my foray into female writers has taught me that few are really good at actually making things happen in their books.

    Notable exceptions: Joyce Carol Oates, Sue Grafton, some woman named Kait Nolan. 😉

    I am okay with romance and with happily ever after. I can take almost any ending if it makes sense within the world the writer has created. I always like the relationships Parker writers, honestly. His ideal of Spenser and Susan is extremely satisfying and rewarding. Their love is unconventional but enduring, and it’s the foundation Spenser sets for himself. Parker’s answer to Gatsby, a beautiful novel called Love and Glory, is also a wonderful male look at relationships.

    1. As a woman who is, I promise you, more widely read in women, I can agree with you that scores of women suck at action. I am very picky about that (as you know) and if they do something that I find unbelievable or irritating (like trying to change out the shot in a shotgun shell with rock salt BY HAND…idiot), I’ll stop reading. There are several urban fantasy/paranormal romance writers who do it well. Meljean Brook. Nalini Singh. Marjorie M. Liu. Lilith St. Crow, to name a few.

      1. Often by action, I also mean simply moving the story forward, too. I like for things to happen, damn it. If you’re going to spend five pages describing a long walk on the beach with the main characters, make it count down the road! I can live with an author stretching his or her wings a little in description or exposition as long as there’s a payoff at some point!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.