I wandered over to One More Page Books in Falls Church last week for another fun author talk. One More Page is an indie bookstore with a relatively small footprint but an excellently curated collection of diverse books, chocolate, and wine. What else do you need? They also put sticky notes on book spines to talk to potential readers. Delightful.
One More Page often hosts author talks and book launches for romance, but this was the first time I’ve been able to make my way across the river.
I wandered in to find a line of book purchasers and a small group of women seated before authors Lyssa Kay Adams and Andie J. Christopher. Where were the open seats? Right up front. So I walked my awkward self up there and tried to be friendly. And before long, our author talk began. Christopher, whose next book, Not That Kind of Guy, will release in April, was a witty and playful interviewer, so the conversation was light and fun.
Adams released book two of her Bromance Book Club series, Undercover Bromance, on March 10, so discussion centered on the new release and the themes of the series. If you’ve never heard the series origin story (I hadn’t), it goes like this: Adams’s husband is a sports writer, so one day she wondered what it would be like if she locked her husband and a bunch of his friends in a room with a bunch of romance novels…and then made them feminist. The result is the Bromance Book Club, and many of the conversations introducing Gavin to the club in The Bromance Book Club are based on this hypothetical conversation.
Yeah, it’s fun to get your book signed by the author, but the really fun thing about author talks is that they almost always provide insight into the author’s thoughts and goals. We can speculate about intention while reading, but knowing what an author was trying to achieve or why an author believed something was important can flip switches that change the reader experience.
So here’s what I learned at One More Page last week:
“Women don’t need heroes. They need allies.”
The conceit of Adams’s series is that a bunch of high-power, macho guys read romance novels to embrace their feminist sides and develop their emotional quotients in order to be good romantic partners and allies to women. This manifests in a few different directions.
Harassment and the #MeToo World
Both Christopher and Adams write romantic comedies with heavy themes. Christopher writes about race and class, and Adams designed the Bromance series with the #MeToo movement in mind. Both authors discussed how important it is to take these issues seriously, but also how it’s sometimes difficult to make such serious topics accessible. Adams expressed a wish that a book like Undercover Bromance had existed when she was younger and was dealing with her own experience of harassment in a workplace–a book that uses comedy to discuss the serious topic and still provides a message of empowerment and understanding to survivors.
Alpha Hero Characteristics
Toxic masculinity and the harm it does to both women and men figures into Adams’s books in a big way, so Christopher asked Adams why these men in the book club tend to have such traditionally alpha-ish tendencies. One the one hand, Adams replied that she enjoys writing characters with a personality trait we wouldn’t expect. On the other hand, she pointed out that we typically expect the hipster-type man to be “woke” and feminist. We’re probably wrong, but we won’t be surprised if this type of man behaves in this way. What we don’t expect is a macho NFL running back to deliver the feminist message. Adams wrote these guys to demonstrate that there’s no reason for any man to “hide behind a veil of masculinity.” Feminism is sexy. Toxic masculinity is not.
The Draw of Enemies to Lovers
Christopher raised the point that both of the Undercover Bromance protagonists struggle with vulnerability. Toxic masculinity or not, vulnerability is not something that’s condoned or supported in our culture. Adams pointed out that people build walls around themselves to protect their soft insides, and in an enemies to lovers trope, the enemy is the last person one would expect to be vulnerable with. Yet that’s what happens. One at a time, the protagonists have to fell walls to a person who will make them feel extra vulnerable, and it changes their perceptions of the other.
There’s also a sub-plot romance between an older couple, which might appeal to some readers. Adams included the older man’s story arc intentionally as a discussion of how the Boomer generation of men is coming to (or needs to) understand that comments that used to be funny “back in the day” aren’t funny–were never funny–and are harmful to women. This guy sounds amazing.
P.S. It’s not book three, which is currently in copy edits, but if you love The Russian, Adams is hoping that she’ll be able to extend the series and give him his own HEA.