Please note: the giveaway is now closed.
One question I’m asked frequently is what my friends and family think about the fact that I stopped practicing law to write. My response is always the same: that my friends and family rock. Truly, they’re all incredibly supportive of my writing. And not just my girlfriends—the men, too.
Recently, one of my male friends tweeted that he was reading About That Night and cracked me up with this reaction: Used my new pickup line on my barista: “I plan on being inside you a lot.” Her panties fell RIGHT OFF! Thanks, @juljames!
And then I started wondering . . . what do these guys really think about reading romance?
So I decided to ask.
Yep, I’ve got the straight skinny from the men-folk themselves, four friends of mine who were kind enough to join me here today and give us their perspectives on reading romance. For purposes of this blog, we’ll call them “Brian,” “David,” “Joe,” and “Matt,” because, well, those are their names.
Julie: All right, let’s start with an easy question. Tell us a little about yourselves and what you typically like to read. Bachelor #1, we’ll start with—Oops! Wrong blog.
Brian: I’m an attorney. Like Julie, I practiced at a large law firm in Chicago, where I specialized in employment law and litigation, and I now work as an in-house attorney at one of the largest biofuel companies in the world. When I’m not reading case law and/or reviewing documents for my job, I’ve generally enjoyed reading fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy.
David: I’m a lawyer and an agent provocateur, stirring up situations whenever I can (but not in the Ludicrous, “waking up with a story to tell” kind of way). Most people I know say they don’t know whether I’m telling a story or telling the truth, and thankfully that’s not because I’m a lawyer. I blame my uncle Greg for that.
But moving on . . . . Prior to reading your novels, you could find anything next to my bed or toilet except romance novels (seriously). Looking around my library, I would have to say that I read anything and everything – except romance. My interest tends towards aliens and astral projection and the closest I’ve come to romance is, well, some erotic fiction I’ve “accumulated” over the years starting back in college with perhaps the best title for an erotic book – Groove Tongue Nympho. And if you think the title is naughty, the cover is something to behold. But I’ll leave it at that.
Joe: I’m a labor and employment attorney for a very large corporate law firm in the Southwest. Newly married – which is helpful, because most people who see your books when we are laying out at the pool reading just assume they belong to my wife.
I am an avid newspaper reader (hard copy, too, not one of those Google Alerts readers who only read about topics they like). When I do read for pleasure, I lean towards John Grisham, Dan Brown and Stephen King.
Matt: I’m an Opera and Musical Theatre writer and professor, (And, yes, I’m straight. Really.) and a married father to an 8 month old daughter.
It may sound dull, but I’m usually reading scripts or non-fiction books about the stage – or research material for shows. When I do read fiction for pleasure, it’s light contemporary stuff like Douglas Coupland or Steve Martin.
Julie: I’m still trying to purge my mind of the cover imagery I’ve conjured up for Groove Tongue Nympho . . . . Okay, I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that none of you had read a romance novel before being blackmailed inspired to pick up one of mine. What expectations, if any, did you have going in?
Matt: I’ve always wondered if romance novels were more like chick lit/rom coms, or more like erotica. And I expected more Fabio than I got – but I didn’t miss him.
Brian: A part of me was very excited to read your first book—I mean, the fact that my good friend was writing a book and was being published was thrilling—but another part of me had some concerns. On the one hand, I’d read the amazing screenplay on which your first book was based, and I was hopeful that you could convert such a solid story into an enjoyable novel. But I was also really nervous that I wouldn’t like it—even if only because I’m not a fan of romance novels—and then I’d have to lie to you about how much I liked it.
David: Well, to be honest, I did not expect as much drama and conflict as I’ve found in your novels. A quarter of the way through A Lot Like Love, I was like, hmmm, this is not what I thought romance novels would be. There was more than just sexual tension going on, and I found myself liking the book in a way that I did not expect. And don’t get me wrong, I liked the sexual tension, and indeed was quite pleasantly surprised by the introduction of such things as the “underwater blowjob” – something my girlfriend said is impossible, to which I replied: “You’ll never know unless you try.” We are still dating.
Joe: To be honest, I expected a lot more formulaic, linear effort, particularly for the first novel. You know, like a legal brief. I’m very impressed that you are able to break out of that mindset in your writing – candidly, I’m sure I couldn’t do it. I not only write like a lawyer, I think like one, plan like one and even argue sports with strangers in bars like one. Yes, I knew you had a wicked, sarcastic sense of humor (fyi, I have known Julie for over 10 years) – I did not know that it would translate into your writing as well as it does.
Julie: Since we’re friends, I won’t put you on the spot and ask whether you liked my books. But I think people would love to get some sense of your reaction to them. Perhaps a few general thoughts? (And don’t worry about hurting my feelings—I’m going to edit out anything bad you say and replace it with “If J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and that dude who wrote Ender’s Game teamed up and wrote The Coolest Book Ever, they still wouldn’t be as kick-ass as Julie James.”)
Matt: Orson Scott Card. He has a name, Miss James.
I did enjoy the books! I entered with an open mind and the mantra that the books are not intended for me – not unlike when one has agreed to see a romantic comedy with one’s wife. When those movies (or these books) turn out to be well-crafted and/or appealing, it’s an extra refreshing experience.
Joe: I found myself chuckling through the first two books, because I was picturing you as the heroine in both of them. There is a more than a little of Julie in both Taylor Donovan and Payton Kendall.
I was also surprised by just how invested I became in the stories. How much I wanted the two main characters to get together and fall in love. For your last two novels, my wife has read them first, and I found myself looking at her and chuckling when, for example, she continues to read a chapter while we are walking down the aisle leaving a plane because she can’t put the book down. Then, when we are lying by the pool and I don’t notice I’m getting sun burned because I’m so into the book, she gets to return the laugh.
David: If I was writing a brief to the Seventh Circuit after Judge Ito found the books to be too romantic to be published, I would say the following:
• Julie’s books are not just about courtship. And while they do revolve around that most divine and hopefully sweaty dance, they do so as a part of a greater suspenseful story, both between the female and male leads, and between those leads and the outer antagonists.
• A well-written book is a well-written book. Period. Regardless of genre.
• Sex is also great kissing. Anticipation is not necessarily everything, but the build-up to the climax is crucial.
Brian: I have really enjoyed reading your books. They read a lot like the best romantic comedy movies I’ve seen, but with much better sex. Hands down, the thing I enjoy most about the novels is the amazing chemistry between your protagonists (who—let’s be honest here—spend most of the book in antagonist-mode), and the way it is often built, at least in part, through uber-witty verbal sparring between the two leads. I really enjoy the wit and intelligence the characters display. Reading the dialogue in the books reminds me of what it’s like to read one of the “Tyrion” chapters in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. (Hint for you Julie: That’s about the highest compliment I can pay you for your dialogue.)
Julie: Aw, thanks Brian. Given how much I know you enjoy the George R.R. Martin books, that is quite a compliment! Even if I have no clue what it means . . .
Okay, next question: female readers often talk about how they need to be able to relate to the heroine. I have my own test when writing my heroines—whether she’s the type of person I would sit down and have a drink with. Let’s flip the script. Is that something that effects your enjoyment of a book—your ability to relate to the hero?
Matt: Absolutely. These guys are clearly meant to be appealing and charming to the reader and to the heroine. If I thought the hero was a douche, I’d have to put the book down. Who wants to spend a whole novel watching a woman fall in love with a guy you’d want to punch?
David: Good question. For me, the most important thing is making the hero likable, regardless of whether I can actually “relate” to their lives. For example, your male heroes usually have firm – really firm – chests that make me put your books down and do push-ups, but I still like them despite their god-like appearances because they are interesting and likable and their faults are not deal breakers. If a hero had a deal-breaking fault, like if he was married to someone with cancer, cheated on her, had a kid out of wedlock, and then lied to cover it up, that would be a deal breaker.
One other thing. I need a hero – especially a movie star or billionaire hero – to have faults that I can relate to. I suppose for the same reason that some people like to see their emperors with no clothes. Coming from my background, class has always been an issue, and so, even where I’m at today, I still like to see such heroes taken down a notch or two.
Brian: I’ve always joked that your heroes are heavily inspired by me, but the truth is that I have nothing in common with them other than my great personality and killer looks. Those minor similarities aside, I’ve never really felt like I could relate too well with the heroes in the novels. They’re amazing and a little too cool for me to be able to relate to.
Joe: Candidly, I think your heroines are a bit more relatable than your heroes. Heck, I’ll admit it: I’m more like Cameron Lynde than Jack Pallas and always will be. But, I think men are okay with that – we are used to seeing Tom Cruise in Top Gun or Russell Crowe in Gladiator as our role models and falling woefully short of them. Even the male role models in “chick” movies – Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic – bear little resemblance to everyday men. Your heroes (at least in the end of the novels) are more akin to what men aspire to be – and I’m okay with that.
Julie: Pop quiz. If you could be any Julie James hero, you would be:
A. That movie star dude who drives an Aston Martin.
B. That FBI dude who knows how kill a man with staples.
C. That other FBI dude who gets all the cool undercover assignments.
D. That billionaire ex-con dude who dated a Victoria’s Secret supermodel.
E. The lawyer.
Brian: I’d definitely want to be able to kill with staples. Or at least seriously maim.
David: C. The other FBI dude who gets dope undercover assignments because, well, I personally know someone who used to get dope undercover assignments (wink). Did I just wink? You didn’t see that.
Joe: First, why do you have to make “the lawyer” option so bland? E is the James hero I’m actually closest to, and I’m not sure I appreciate your insinuation that I most resemble the least of the James heroes . . .
I would want to be a billionaire movie star who plays undercover FBI agents on TV and knows how to incapacitate a group of men with nothing but a stick of gum. Hey – it’s my fantasy world, who says I can’t answer A – D?
Matt: Of the five, I felt most akin to the undercover FBI dude, although I’d love to kill a man with staples. Dating a Victoria’s Secret model certainly has appeal, but after that hot tub stunt she pulled, she lost her luster.
Julie: Now let’s turn to the women. Female readers want to read about heroes who they, themselves, might fall for. Flipping the script again, how important was it for the heroines in the books to be someone who could pass the all-important take-her-home-to-meet-Mom test?
Joe: Wait a second, I’m married, I might have to plead the Fifth on this one. None of your heroines can hold a candle to my beautiful, smart, funny, sexy lawyer wife.
David: Hmm, another good question. I would have to say that one of the first things my Mom notices about a woman, or anyone she meets, is if they’re down to earth. So long as their feet don’t lift off the ground, save for an astral projection situation, then they’re good to go for my Mom, and they’re good to go for me. So, to answer your question, it is important that they pass the take-her-home-to-meet-Mom test.
Matt: Not important, as I was using the heroes as my proxy, not the heroine. If the heroine had an infectious energy, I’d still find them appealing, even if they weren’t women I’d want to be in a long-term relationship with in real life.
Brian: I’ve consistently felt like I was supposed to be cheering for your heroines, and I’ve enjoyed doing exactly that: cheering for the girl to land the guy, and seeing her do it on her terms. Even though I’m not always able to relate to the heroines, they usually have my three favorite qualities in a woman: super-likeable, extremely intelligent, and hilarious. I’d also add that while I also find the supreme inner strength and independence of the heroines to be really attractive, I don’t think a woman necessarily has to have such drive for me to take her home to meet Mom.
Julie: All right, fess up about the sex scenes. Weird to read those (since I wrote them), or just another part of the book?
David: Mostly just another part of the book, but I must confess that certain scenes and remarks reminded me of the times when I was young and watching “mature” movie scenes with my parents (and please note that I said “mature,” and not “adult”). Shoot, what am I saying, even now when I watch such scenes, especially with my Mom (which, by the way, does not happen often), I get a little, well, you know, weirded out. But it’s plenty easier to digest it with you than with my parents.
Matt: Definitely weird. Fun weird, but weird. When reading the sex scenes, I couldn’t shake the idea that I was gaining an insight into what you personally find appealing. (Which could be fallacious reasoning – you might be writing towards audience expectations or just postulating what your characters might be “into.”) So, that’s weird. And if the scenes were getting me “turned on”… well, that just seems downright naughty. Probably we shouldn’t be friends any more. (kidding)
Joe: A bit weird, particularly when you are on a plane or have your wife next to you while you are reading. Respectable men are taught to look at “adult” materials in private settings (you know, like a work computer). But your sex scenes just sort of sneak up on the reader out of nowhere, whether you are sitting in a train station or in your bedroom. A little redness tends to sneak up into my cheeks and ears. I know that my wife has hit one of those parts when she lets out a small giggle or an “Oh, my!”
Brian: At least initially, it was more than a little weird reading sex scenes written by my good female friend. But the scenes are smokin’ hot. So I got over it pretty quickly.
Julie: I always tell my friends that my books are rated R for “adult situations.” Were the books more or less explicit than you’d anticipated?
Matt: Going in I thought the plots for romance novels might be very thin excuses for explicit sex, like pool guys showing up in adult movies. Once I cracked these books, I found there was more story than I had anticipated (especially in the FBI books), and that they read more like romantic comedies or romantic action comedies than like Cinemax After Dark. That also meant when I got to the sex scenes I found them surprisingly explicit, but not in a bad way…
Joe: Well, let’s be honest, you are warming up as each book progresses. The first two books were about what I expected. As they’ve gone on, and you’ve become a bit more, ahem, descriptive, providing more vivid details and literal quotations, I was a bit surprised at first.
Brian: The first two books were about what I’d anticipated. The last three have been much more explicit. It’s been fun seeing you grow as an author, especially as you’ve grown more and more comfortable writing the adult situations.
David: They were just right, albeit the “spit or swallow” exchange caught me off guard, but I know that this topic tends to be discussed amongst close girlfriends (or so I fantasize) so it fits a genre primarily read by women. And I liked the build up in explicitness, which complimented the evolution of the character’s relationships.
Julie: That brings up a good point. Allow me to share some statistics. According to the Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2011, here’s how romantic fiction stacked up in terms of sales revenue:
Romance fiction: $1.358 billion
Religion/inspirational: $759 million
Mystery: $682 million
Science fiction/fantasy: $559 million
Classic literary fiction: $455 million
Given how well romantic fiction sells—a genre that is targeted primarily at women—and given that you now have all officially read a romance novel, do you think you’ve learned anything or gained any new insights into what women want out of relationships?
Joe: Yes, and shame on you for feeding those instincts and desires. Isn’t this world hard enough for a man without our better halves thinking there are men like Jason Andrews just falling out of trees? Yes, your heroes tell us to be more witty, romantic, honest, and attentive and those are lessons to take to heart. To be fair, they also tell us to be handsomer, funnier, better dressed, in much better shape, and wealthier than we are too! I cringe thinking about my wife, some day when I’m sitting on the couch watching a football game, saying, “I bet Jack Pallas wouldn’t be sitting his lazy butt on the couch!”
Brian: Not really. I think these romance novels are all fantasies in their own right. The heroines are wonderful, but they all aim to fall in love with these amazing men, who are far too perfect, and far more impressive than any of the guys I’ve ever known (with the possible exception of Matt). What woman wouldn’t fall for them? And, with the men that irresistible, that perfect, I think the main lesson for me is that if I were that irresistible, then women might want me pretty badly too.
David: This is a difficult one because I think I speak for all men when I say that I believe I was born with the knowledge of what all women want out of relationships (except for perhaps Yanomami women). With that said, I think reading good romance novels will help to keep me grounded in my relationship with my girlfriend, and will help to remind me that the dance should never end, but the dance does take on different hues and tones as life progresses. With that said, it would be cool to see a romance novel or novels between the same characters at different stages in their lives.
Matt: If the relationships in your books are an indicator of how women fantasize about relationships, then yes: Confident men, a little cheeky/witty. Handsome and put together, of course, and with an element of mismatch between his personality and that of the heroine that keeps things interesting.
Julie: With my Q&A guests, typically other romance authors, I like to wrap things up with a few fun questions. Figured I do the same here:
What are you watching on TV these days? (Or what are you reading?)
Joe: Sports, Celebrity Apprentice and I love the new Once Upon a Time show.
Brian: Watching: Game of Thrones. Reading: Nurture Shock (a great, research-based book that dispels a lot of the “conventional wisdom” on parenting), and I’m now re-reading the “Song of Ice and Fire” novels by George R.R. Martin.
David: I am reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and I am watching the new Sherlock Holmes on the BBC and wrapping up the last season of Battlestar Gallatica.
Matt: Not a lot at the moment. I watched “The Voice” but didn’t like the outcome. I watched “Face Off” which is an SFX makeup reality show. I DVR Jeopardy and Archer and Doctor Who. Jeez, what a nerd!
What’s on your iPod?
Matt: Mostly podcasts: Comedy show and NPR food. Music-wise: the new Jack Black, a whole lotta Led Zeppelin, some Mozart for work.
David: What’s currently on my playlist is Girl Talk, Arcade Fire, Frank Ocean (do yourself a favor and check out his Coldplay inspired “Strawberry Swing”), Sigur Ros, M83, various trance, Chris Botti’s When I Fall in Love, and I’m going through an 80s music period (The Cure, Depeche Mode, Human League, Flock of Seagulls, et al.).
Brian: Lots of Springsteen. And Wiggleworms.
Joe: Every genre, but I use it most when working out, so up-tempo dance music (like Armin van Buren, Avicii) tends to rule.
What is your biggest weakness? (Shoes, purses, chocolate, power tools, etc.)
Joe: My wife’s smile. Seriously. I don’t really have a weakness for material things – there’s nothing I couldn’t do without. I guess my somewhat fun car (a Saturn Red Sky convertible) would be the closest thing. I call it my pre-mid-life crisis car.
Brian: Lou Malnati’s deep-dish pizza.
David: The Call of Duty video game.
Matt: I’m afraid I have more ties than Jay Gatsby had shirts. Oh, and comic books – which I suppose are romance novels for boys.
Favorite role model- real or fictitious – for a romantic lead?
David: Without hesitation, mine would be Archibald Alexander Leach, otherwise known as Cary Grant.
Joe: My male crush, I mean role model, would be George Clooney.
Brian: 1980’s Robert Downey Jr. He was everything Hugh Grant has ever aspired to be.
Matt: Can they be deceased? Because I’d definitely choose Cary Grant or Gene Kelly, depending on whether or not dancing is required.
Complete this sentence: One fun thing about me that people might not know is…
David: I won two breakdancing competitions in my early teens and I’m now looking to dominate the world of fox-trotting.
Brian: I like to karaoke while sober.
Joe: I can dance—I mean, really dance (I was a serious hip-hop dancer when I was a little guy). It sounds like David, Brian and I need to form a group and take our show on the road . . . I’m sure there are literally tens of people in the world that might watch us (assuming there was no cover charge).
Matt: I have a Comedy Podcast (shameless self-promotion time) called White Dad Problems where my old college roommates and I yuk it up about the challenge of being grown-ups. You don’t have to be a Dad, you certainly don’t have to be White – but if you need a laugh check it out on iTunes or at whitedadproblems.com (Note that the language is Explicit, but if you’re already reading romance novels…)
Julie: Thanks so much to all of you for dropping by and giving us the male perspective on reading romance. This has been a lot of fun! And also quite interesting . . .
And here’s something else for all of you readers: to keep the fun going, five randomly-selected people who leave a comment below will receive a copy of any of my books (your choice). Winners can choose between a signed paperback or a Kindle, Nook or Kobo ebook. The giveaway is international and will remain open until 8pm CST on Wednesday, June 27th.