By John Schneider
Like most of the people reading this, I’m an author. I’m on social media, following all the posts. I relate to and feel for my fellow writers when they talk about struggling to bring their characters to life, getting through a difficult scene, cutting a significant portion of their manuscript, and when the words just won’t come. I understand just how they feel when they are offered a publishing contract, or when a box of their books arrives at their house, or when they get a royalty check, no matter how small it might be (and I admit to being a tiny bit jealous of those who get those big royalty checks). I become obsessed with my main characters and their troubles, worries, and triumphs. I want to beat myself with a baseball bat when I find a grammatical typo in the final copy of my manuscript seven seconds before sending it off to my publisher, then spend the next three months worrying about what else might have gone uncorrected.
Everyone who considers themselves a novelist can relate to all of this. But, with very few exceptions, I’m definitely in the minority of writers.
You see, I’m a male romance author.
Yes, there are a few of us scattered about, and many, like Leigh Greenwood and Nicholas Sparks are quite successful. It’s encouraging to know there are some role models out there to tell me I can succeed despite my extra Y chromosome. But there is no doubt that we are in the minority. While it doesn’t really bother me, it does fascinate me.
To some extent, I’ve always done my own thing, which didn’t exactly lead to a lot of popularity growing up. It would have been tough to explain to the other players on my varsity football team that I spent a good amount of my free time drafting stories about two people falling in love in a particularly difficult environment – and by tough I mean I would have been ridiculed to within an inch of my life. So I chose not to share such information, and I got a reputation as a studious recluse.
With age comes perspective and the realization that it’s pointless to worry about what others might think of you. It’s very liberating to understand that freedom, and it meant I could write the books that I wanted to write. Sure, my romances lean towards the “action/suspense” side of things, but my writing exposes a more passionate side of the big goon that most people see me as, and I do not discourage that side when writing.
One of the funnier things about being a male romance writer is attending RWA conferences, whether at the chapter, regional, or national level. As many of us know, these are a great place to network, discuss tradecraft, sell yourself a little, and interact with as many people as possible. Of course, the overwhelming majority of those people are female. (My standing joke is that every conference consists of a thousand women, three bored husbands that got dragged along, and me.) I can tell you with great accuracy how most authors – or even agents or publishers – will react when upon my approach, long before I open my mouth.
First, they give me a suspicious look. It’s not quite fear; it’s more like confusion. Why is he here? Is something wrong? Is he going to hit on me?
After introducing myself, they offer a handshake and their eyes snap down to my name tag. That’s when the real fun begins. He’s a writer? But he’s a guy.
I then fully introduce myself, and break the ice by asking what kind of writing they do or represent. The response, regardless of their sub-genre, is always stated with an emphasis on the “romance” aspect. “Contemporary ROMANCE.” “Historical ROMANCE.” “Young adult ROMANCE.” Maybe he doesn’t realize this is a romance conference.
When I respond that I write romantic suspense, they almost always fully relax. He DOES write my kind of stuff! Then, impressed with the novelty of speaking to this rarest of unicorns, they engage fully and the conversation takes off, and I can finally learn from my fellow writers. (And, after that initial period, almost all romance authors have proven to be some of the friendliest people in the writing community.)
Of course, they ask me questions as well, and I’m happy to answer to the best of my ability. My favorite question is one you might think obvious for a male author in the romance genre; How do I understand and write female characters? My response, while it may sound snarky, really isn’t; How do you understand and write male characters?
As writers of any type of fiction, we all observe the world and the people around us, and our characters are an amalgamation of some or all of the traits those people display. Females create their male characters in the exact same way. Despite what my wife and other women might tell me half-jokingly, most men are not incomprehensible dullards, nor are we sex-crazed, sports-obsessed, or power-hungry. We are unique individuals with personalities that entice, excite, infuriate, and engage the reader. And that’s how I come up with my female characters. It’s just the other side of the same coin.
I attended the RWA National Conference last year, and was both heartened and saddened to see so many minority women winning awards at the dinner; heartened because such awards recognize great novels and exceptional writers offering unique perspectives, but saddened because it seemed that such recognition was far too long in coming on such a big stage.
I don’t want to suggest in any way that I, as a male, have been subject to any of the obstacles that these women of color have faced. I do want to applaud those who have figured out that a novel should be judged on the quality of the story, the depth of the characters, and the writing. I shall never pretend to understand why characters being Black or Asian or Latino or queer should matter at all if they are appropriate and part of a good story. For that matter, it should not matter if the author is Black or Asian or Latino or queer – or male. A good book is a good book – hard stop.
I feel fortunate that I’ve been accepted into this community. It’s very reassuring to be able to write while receiving so much encouragement, being offered so many tools and techniques, and having so many friends willing to guide me, advise me, encourage me, and even tell me when my prose doesn’t measure up. Writing is a release that I enjoy, and my gender doesn’t matter one whit to me. If you pick up one of my novels, I hope it won’t matter to you either.
J.M. Schneider is an active and enthusiastic member of the Hudson Valley Romance Writers of America (https://www.hudsonvalleyrwa.org/) chapter. Every month he looks forward to (remotely) getting together with the small but amazing group to discuss, among others, works exploring historical, regency, psychological, contemporary, and suspense aspects of romance.
He published his first novel, Love at Point Blank Range (https://tinyurl.com/y5v34wax), with Scarlett Lantern Publishing in October of 2019, and his next book, Kensie’s Treasures is scheduled for release in February but is available for pre-order on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/yafrd4s3 or Smashwords https://tinyurl.com/y7xohg22.
You can learn more about him at https://jmschneiderauthor.com/.