Ahab in Tight Pants

I’ve just wrapped up the last bodice-ripper I’m likely to write for a while (I’m starting a new sci-fi trilogy), and I was thinking, man…what would it take for me to read this stuff? (I mean, obviously I’ve read loads. I had to, to master the formula. But, like, for my own pleasure—what would make me love romance?)

There couldn’t be billionaires, or their historical equivalents. No kings, dukes, sheikhs, or emperors. No cowboys, either. I’m not for the country life. And no Navy SEALs. I’ve had it with soldier books. They’re always so…oh, I don’t know. Five pages in, I’m singing YMCA, and the same goes for firemen, and anyone in uniform.

Come to think of it, let’s nix all the standard jobs. No doctors, no athletes, no CEOs, and no thugs. Rock stars can stay. I’m okay with rock stars. But you know who’d be hot? Funeral directors. Think about it: they wear those sharp suits. They’re dignified. Unflappable. They comfort you in your hour of need. They, uh…take your grandpa downstairs and suck out his innards, and pump him full of formalin, and fill his veins with red dye so he’ll glow in his casket. They stick a plug up his arse and sew his eyes shut. They—

—I mean, they are pretty sexy, when they’re not doing that. I’d read a funeral director romance. Or a butcher romance. A butcher would be good, or a whale boat captain, any profession that evokes raw carnality. (Well, maybe not the whale boat captain. Ahab in tight pants, that’s not so charming.)

The other thing that’d have to go would be the pure-hearted protagonists. I mean, I get that these stories are fairy tales for adults, but just once, I’d like to see the evil stepmother get her man, the ugly sisters in a three-way with the prince. I might even read a billionaire romance if the hero had no heart and the heroine no shame, and she plundered his pockets while he plundered her snatch—if the revolution came and they died like Don Giovanni, unrepentant to the end. Now, that would be fun.

My last request would be interesting language. Not purple prose, but…there’s this assumption among romance publishers that the audience reads at about a third grade level, which leads to a lot of this sort of thing:

Julian’s office was the definition of intimidating. He sat behind his huge, dominant desk, his five thousand dollar suit stretched tight over his bulging biceps….

…like, come on. I’m not getting extravagant wealth from that. I’m getting that episode of The Office where Dwight Schrute is manager for a day, and he paints the walls black to “intimidate his subordinates.” You can’t just say words like “dominant” and “intimidating” and expect…actually, let me be blunt. For me to enjoy a billionaire romance, it’d have to be three parts wealth porn, one part porn-porn, and NINE PARTS GLEEFUL MISANTHROPY, Elmer Gantry plus explicit X-rated content, minus redeeming social importance.

Y’know, there was this Irvine Welsh book—Ecstasy, I think it was—with a whole subplot about a romance author who got sick of it all and had the Duke (or was he an Earl?) trip over his wife’s frock and break his neck, freeing her up to shag every groom, butler, and stablehand in sight. That might be too much shagging, but I’d give it a go.

I suppose what I’d be looking for would be an unapologetic fuckbook, indulgently written and soapy to the max. Reality TV in paperback format. Like…what Chaucer would write, if he were still knocking about.

(This is why I write to order. I need supervision.)

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