Thursday, May 24, 2018

Holding Out for a Hero - Dal Maclean

Hey, Dal has a new book out! 
This week on the blog we're doing something a bit different.

This morning we've got my dear pal Dal Maclean in to blog on a topic dear to both our hearts: infidelity. ;-)

Admittedly, it's a delicate subject. But I've known Dal for a number of years now--I've been a fan of her writing forever--and one of the things that drew us together is what I think of as a shared positive pragmatism regarding human nature. Human beings make mistakes. Good people do bad things. In fact, bad people occasionally do good things. Ink and paper notwithstanding, it's not a black and white world. And Dal and I instantly recognized in each other's work that sometimes painful mix of realist and romantic.

Anyway, there's lots to think about in this post!

TOMORROW the conversation continues as Dal and I bat around the topic of infidelity (and other character flaws) in our own writing and reading habits. Again, it's all happening right here on the blog.

We're hoping some of you will pop in and join the conversation!

1 – Do you believe a relationship can survive infidelity?

2 – Do you have personal experience with infidelity?

3 – Barring murder, can you think of a worse “relationship crime” than infidelity?


As an author feeling their way in the MM genre, I’ve been doing some thinking on MM romantic heroes -- what readers do and don’t want, and what they will and won’t tolerate.  I’m not sure if I’m going to be saying the unsayable here but--

I think most of us would probably say we like heroes ‘with real flaws’, but maybe we’re not being entirely honest about that. I mean, we’re not talking real flaws, like farting in public, or chainsaw snoring. or crotch scratching, or halitosis.  I would assume. We mean romantic real flaws, flaws the hero can have and remain a ‘romantic’ hero to the reader. 

I should declare a position here and admit that, (while excluding the farting reality) when I say I like flawed heroes, I mean flawed heroes, in the sense of emotionally flawed.  The kind of heroes who generate genuine emotional conflict.  And (to clarify again), by emotional conflict, I mean the kind of relationship conflict not solely generated by external events (e.g. Hero 1 and Hero 2 are madly in love and know it, but are kept apart by bad guys/homophobes/simple misunderstandings which they overcome to be together).

Personally, I love reading about relationships where Hero 1 and/or Hero 2 are facing and overcoming their own character flaws and issues, which create problems between them, though said issues may also stem from external pressures (e.g. fear of their own sexuality, fear of societal condemnation, fear of intimacy, inability to trust, other emotional ties, emotional unavailability etc).

I love stories where the conflict is real, and not an error in communication -- once perfectly summed up to me by Josh Lanyon as the ‘But Darling, She’s My Sister’ get-out-of-jail-free card for emotional battles. The thing is, I don’t want main characters to get out of jail free. I want them to have to fight and claw their way out of jail.  But that’s me.

Which brings us to what are accepted to be MM romance reader’s lines in the sand, and what I was advised about Romance Rule No 1 kind of surprised me, and kind of didn’t. 

In MM, it’s acceptable for a romantic hero to be a killer or a torturer or a corporate shark or a gangland leader or a thug or a slave owner. He can break down his love interest psychologically through torture combined with great sex; he can physically punish and/or even permanently scar/mutilate his love interest. He can break his love interest’s heart by leaving him without giving the love interest any choice in the matter, because He Knows Best. But -- he must not, under any circumstances, be a cheater.

If infidelity arises. it’s generally okay to have a hero cheated upon to push him toward his true love, but if the cheater returns, it’s to beg forgiveness and be kicked forever into touch.  Romance Rule No 1 though  - neither hero must cheat, or their character is pretty much irredeemable. It’s incredibly unusual for a character who’s cheated to get to the HEA or even the HFN.   Non-monogamy is acceptable if it’s consensual  – threesomes, ménages, open relationships. No problem. It’s cheating that’s de trop.

So - is it down to intolerance of dishonesty between lead characters?  On the surface it seems so, given ménages and threesomes are definitely okay in the genre.  Yet, heroes lie to each other all the time in various plots, about all kinds of very important, sometimes life threatening, and definitely happiness-threatening things,  and that is easily brushed past by readers.

 So why is the Cheating kind of lying, under any circumstances, the ultimate Romance transgression?

Perhaps, infidelity is too real?  It’s a situation in which readers are more likely to have been personally wounded or seen others wounded, in real life -- as opposed to finding out their partner is a mafia hitman or a slave owner or whatever.  It’s a closer to a farting, snoring, scratching flaw. Is that why?

Yet.  On the other hand.  Isn’t infidelity a rich seam to mine in touching on (relatively) realistic emotional conflict in a romantic relationship, and what drives people to behave in certain ways? Even in the once-removed-from-reality genre of plot-driven romance?

I’m coming at this by the way, as someone who can’t even read ménage books because of my inability to cope with one hero loving someone else as much as he loves my fave. I can’t read consensual threesomes or open relationships and really enjoy them. I have a fatal weakness for possessiveness and jealousy.   I am OTT into monogamy and true love as a romance reader.   Yet, as a reader I love seeing Infidelity explored and taken by the scruff and shaken out and overcome in Romance, vanishingly rare as that is in the genre. Possibly, because it is an ultimate romantic challenge.

 Yes I love fluff, but first I love the emotionally hard-core to get to Fluffsville. Challenge and reward.

To clarify yet again, I’m not talking about inveterate horn-dogs who cheat compulsively and forever.  I’m not talking about the Leopards Never Change Their Spots kind of cheating. I’m talking about cheating driven by a real issue.  A thing that happened for a coherent reason. Coming back from that believably, is a huge challenge for a reader and writer, and if it’s done well…?  It’s The Prodigal Returns. Redemption and Forgiveness.  Genuine mistakes, genuine regret. All are powerful drivers of romance for me. 

So, that’s my guilty truth. I find reading books that deal head-on with infidelity and other huge emotional conflicts and still lead to a believable happy ever after,  incredibly rewarding.  How small is the minority I’m in with that?   There’s me and…

For the record my own difficulties with character behaviour in MM romance lie in physical torture, pain, maiming or death for a loved character or by a loved character, even if it’s called hurt/comfort. There speaks my marshmallow core.  Go figure as they say across The Pond.


Dal has a brand new book out this week called Object of Desire. The book is terrific--no surprise there--so go buy it now!

AND three copies of Object of Desire are up for grabs thru May 28th.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Bummer. I cannot follow on twitter as I follow too many people and few follow back.

    1. Well, you can always join in here, Debby. I admit I don't follow many people on Twitter--but then I use Twitter mostly as promotion.

  2. I'm always surprised by the people who say they absolutely will not read a book that has infidelity. By the same token, they want their books real. Truthfully, I read to escape. Infidelity is a real issue, though it doesn't really apply to me these days, though it has in the past. If it is handled and dealt with realistically, just like any other conflict, I'm okay with it. If it happens and our heroes find their HEA on the next page, I'm probably not going to believe it or like it. In my reading, as in life, I don't think there are too many things that are irredeemable. Maybe if someone killed a dog..

    1. Ha. Yes. We all have our breaking points. I can't stand to read stories set in prisons or really any kind of institution (barring schools, which come to think of it...) ;-D I don't like political drama and I don't like stories where people are falsely accused OR books with children... Now that I think of it, I have a HUGE list of things I won't read. But infidelity is one of the things that DOESN'T worry me. :-D :-D :-D

    2. Im the same but the things I cant deal with are extreme violence and mutilation. Especially lovingly described. Or slavery where the enslaved and abused character loses his agency and will to resist because of good sex. And ironically I cant cope with menages to non monogamous endings while readers who cant handle infidelity storylines can happily accept both. I have no idea what that says about me. Probably nothing good :p

    3. Oh yeah, books with kids, or even young adults. Can't relate. It's an automatic no for me.

  3. If you can not worship me as the fabulous creature that I am, and instead get it on with the mongrel down the lane, then there is nothing left but for me to ignore you, forevermore.
    Now, however, if you were to come to me and say, "hey, why don't we invite that mongrel over for a bit of fun?". Sure, that's a possibility. Good clean fun between adults.
    Of course I prefer my stories to be fluffy, with the biggest character flaw being fish breath....well, that's not actually a flaw...anyway, fluffy. So fluffy there is a high probability of hairballs.

  4. I admire your magnificent feline ruthlessness Mr Pinkerton. Im not sure I fancy the chances of the mongrel down the lane to be honest.

  5. Yep...animal abuse and I’m out of there, and I’m not fond of ménage, but infidelity does not bother me as long as I can see the reasons for it. I want to read all the messy, ugly, emotions that go along with the infidelity. I think seeing a couple at their very lowest, their weakest, and then seeing them claw their way back to something stronger is beautiful. It’s satisfying. I need to read about those moments, to read someone’s heartfelt and heart wrenching apology, and to see it accepted, I need to read someone’s forgiveness, and know there is hope for the rest of us.

    ...and a good murder for catharsis is always welcome. ;)

  6. I just finished Object Of Desire and looooooooved it. Holy Cow, that book hit the emotional gas right away and just kept right on revving it up. Such a gripping read; I’ve been thinking about it all day.

    Not to be too spoiler-y, but my initial reaction to the infidelity was definitely negative. It’s definitely a big NOPE of mine (although not a hard and fast DNF) but I felt that both the choice of POV character and the length of time between the infidelity and the reconciliation made me...I don’t know. More willing to accept it? More willing to not feel like it negates the HEA? (Which is how I often feel about infidelity between a romance couple). For whatever reason, it worked for me with the characters and the story.

    1. Hey anon, thanks for commenting! Im very happy you liked OOD! But - some comfort! Tom didnt cheat. The public pic was taken for a purpose - to convey a message but that was it. Tom actually has a loathing of infidelity (cos of his mum) which is mentioned in the text a couple of times but I know when a story is fast moving its hard to pick everything up first time! That relationship we dont mention for spoilers reasons was his one agreement to monogamy and he stuck to it right to the end. What he did was still shitty - but it wasnt infidelity. Does that help? In any case Im thrilled you still liked the book and I actually agree with all you said. I think there has to be a period of penance and regret for the culprit if infidelity is addressed in a story - there has to be some form of redemption. Thanks again!

  7. I like infidelity as an issue, as long as the erring partner doesn’t evade responsibility: you were neglecting me! Lame. I’d like to read stories where they have real divided loyalties or their actions say something about them or their relationship. Even a slip where they deal with the issue as adults. Hurt feelings, sure, but we are going to work through it.

    1. Totally agree! There has to be a believable reason that makes sense in emotional terms I think but even then I as a reader need a redemption process -- there has to be huge regret from the guilty party and some 'punishment' for the reader to believe in redemption. I read a story a while back where the guy who cheated came back after a few years and never apologised or explained but was forgiven because the (still angry and hurt) cheatee couldn't resist having sex with him and people around him were advising him to stop holding a grudge because it was making him bitter ...yeah much as I love reading that kind of hard emotional conflict, that one I personally found hard to take because of he implication that the guy who was betrayed was 'making a fuss'.

  8. Teal aka Howie BingMay 24, 2018 at 7:25 PM

    I'd never go purposefully looking for cheating in fiction, but the insta-monogamy I see in m/m romance bores me. You know, where 2 available (always available, strangely never already in a relationship) guys cross paths and never from that moment on have physical contact with anyone else -- even though they haven't yet started a relationship.

    I'd love to see characters go through a slow process of realizing they're ready to give up their life of casual sex for a committed relationship. But that doesn't work if they're abstemious from the very moment they lay eyes on their future love interest.

    Also I'd like to see how things play out when one or both parties are ALREADY in a relationship. That process of realizing he's not the one, and someone else is -- that's a huge deal, potentially full of complications and opportunities for growth and self-realization.

    1. Ive got to say I'm with you Teal/Howie! And that last scenario... hmmm. That IS a good one. Think think. But is that then infidelity I wonder? Its emotional infidelity even if nothings done about it but its such a human situation.

  9. This is something I've been thinking about a lot. I adored Bitter Legacy, and I'm loving Object of Desire too. As well as the Adrien English books. :)

    For me, the emotional punch of having a character 'cheat' totally works. It provides such real, painful conflict. It's like catnip! But for it to work for me the hero has to be open about it with the person he's going to end up with (going behind their back would be hard to take) and in the end he has to recognise the damage he's caused, the hurt he's caused, and most importantly has to have resolved the issue that made him do it. We have to know he's going to be monogamous and committed in the future.

    But to reach that happy ending, I love to see the couple struggle and hurting. It makes the HEA so much more satisfying. :)

    1. Hi Sally! I agree with all of that to the letter Thats the blueprint for it to work for me too. And yeah - literary catnip :p Its like my guilty secret. :p By the way we've moved to the next page and we're still babbling away over there, so come on over!

  10. i'm so interested in these thoughts on this topic, and it's one dal and i have been chatting about also. my only sense for why readers seem to be okay with characters who torture and murder but not ok with characters who cheat is that it comes down to the genre? since the genre is romance, there's the possibility for anything outside of proof-of-love to stand as merely backdrop or décor to the one true thing, which is the romantic love. since murdering someone doesn't indicate not loving your boyfriend, it doesn't intrude into the proof-of-love, but (for some people) cheating does indicate that, so it intrudes and ruins the fantasy.

    it also seems to be quite strictly gendered, so there is a sense that it's alright (sometimes even fetishized) for characters who are men to murder/torture as long as they still love bc culture tells us that for men to love reveals a kind of sweet softness that somehow exonerates them from these indications of sociopathy. whereas i have never read or heard of a romance where a woman who was a murderer/torturer was found to me swoony and beloved because her ability to fall in love somehow belied her hard, violent exterior.

    as a reader, i'm interested in infidelity, and if it was explained and worked through it wouldn't be a barrier to the romance for me. as a writer, though, i totally agree with you—i've found that not only do readers have a problem with cheating, but that they also have a problem with non-cheating, like one main character sleeping with someone else while the couple is broken up, or before they're together. which just underscores for me the sense that many readers are on board with things that are tangential to the romance but not at ALL ok with any threat to the central romance itself, even when the sex outside the relationship isn't cheating.

    1. Thats a great analysis actually Roan. That could be what it is. Anything is acceptable except something that is perceived to threaten 'proof of love' I suppose rationally you'dthink being enslaved, raped, tortured and had your will broken by your love interest would make anyone doubt 'proof of love', but it really doesnt, does it? But as you say a MC sleeping with someone else, even when they'd split with their SO, might. Its an absolutely fascinating psychology. I take your point about the 'maleness' of violence too. Something someone pointed out yesterday interests me too -- that cheating emotionally or even physically on a main characters current lover with the main love interest is sort of okay (usually because the current lover is 'a dick'). So its not cheating per se thats viewed as unacceptable, but cheating with someone not the soulmate? Im still not sure about that. Brilliant answer--really made me think :)