Soul Deep Nerditude

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Nerd series, in which a collection of nerdy heroes—programmers, accountants, lawyers, and more—win the affections of a host of glamorous heroines (including a stripper and a movie star).

Nerd in Shining Armor coverMy affection for the series may have something to do with the fact that some of my very favorite people are nerds. (Me? No, I’m glamorous.) Nerds are underrated. They can fix your computer and do amazing things with duct tape, and they make up for any lack of huge pectorals or fashion sense with abundant knowledge about and enthusiasm for sex.

Also, nerdiness is deliciously wonky. Romance heroes are supposed to be big, strong, rich, and alpha, and nerds, for the most part, are none of those things.

I can’t overestimate my affection for these books—all seven of them. They are funny, smart, cleverly plotted, and shockingly sexy. Still, I love the first one, Nerd in Shining Armor, oodles more than all the rest put together. And I’m pretty sure the way I feel about that first book is all about just how deeply, and genuinely, wonky it really is.

Nerd in Shining Armor is the story of how Genevieve Terrence and Jackson Farley get stranded together on a desert island, after their evil boss, on whom Gen had designs, deliberately crashes their little plane. The description on the back of my paperback edition captures absolutely none of the wonkiness. It doesn’t say, for example that Gen grew up dirt poor in a place known only as “the Hollow” and has forced herself to lose her hills-of-Tennessee accent (which would other wise result in utterances like “Tarnation, Jackson! You’re slower than a coon dog with a full belly.”). It also doesn’t say that Jackson’s clothing choices are on the far side of ugly, or that he is so easily sucked into his programming that he loses track of time completely, rendering him unable to successfully carry off a relationship. But all those details are the essence of what makes Nerd in Shining Armor such an amazing book.

What distinguishes Nerd in Shining Armor from the books that follow it is that Jackson is not merely a nerd on the surface but a nerd to the core. His nerdiness is also his wound, the mask he wears, the flaw that prevents him from connecting with women (and by extension, all of humanity). Another book in the series I loved, Nerd Nerd Gone Wild coverGone Wild, involves a private investigator and bodyguard who dresses up as a nerd in order to stay close to the woman he’s charged with protecting. But he’s not really a nerd. He’s an alpha hero dressed up as a nerd—a fake nerd, in other words. His nerdiness doesn’t penetrate—no, really!—to the core of who he is. The book is still good—it’s still funny, cleverly plotted, and sexy. But it’s not poignant, because its hero doesn’t suffer as a result of who he is. He doesn’t have to come to terms with how hiding in his work has separated him from the rest of the world. And for me, that adds up to the difference between an A+/Desert Isle Keeper experience and a solid B+.

The other books in the series all deal in faux nerdiness, to differing degrees. In one, a stockbroker is no longer nerdy once he takes off his hat with ear flaps. In another, a lawyer’s nerdiness goes no deeper than his obsession with Bigfoot. There was no true social ineptitude, and more to the point, no real rift between the hero and the rest of humanity. I missed Jackson’s real, honest to goodness nerdiness—his lack of attention to appearances, his inability to tune into the nuances of human interaction, his scheduling ineptitude, his self-esteem issues, his loneliness. You can’t, in short, fake wonkiness. A hero either is, or isn’t, genuinely wounded. Wearing the clothes won’t cut it.

What about you? Which is your favorite Nerd book? Do you like ‘em nerdy, or nerdier? And does wonky woundedness enter into your calculations?



About Serena Bell

Serena Bell writes stories about how sex messes with your head, why smart people do stupid things sometimes, and how love can make it all better. Read more >
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13 Responses to Soul Deep Nerditude

  1. Sabrina says:

    You’ve hit upon one of my all time favorite series and favorite authors and she does do wonky so well!

    You’re also spot on with Nerd in Shining Armor being the best of the series for exactly the reasons you give. Such a fantastic book and hero.

    I enjoyed the other books in the series – my other favs being My Nerdy Valentine and Talk Nerdy to Me.

    Sigh – I love this series and it’s wonkiness so much. Check out her paranormals – they get wonky too – but their missing the nerd factor that is so fantastic!

    • Serena Bell says:

      Ooh! I haven’t read any of her paranormals, but will get on that.

      (I also love My Nerdy Valentine. Even though the nerdiness in that book isn’t very deep, there’s so much other wonkiness that it goes a long way toward making up for it. :-))

  2. Ruthie says:

    Nerd in Shining Armor is one of my favorite romance novels ever. It was only the second time I read it that I realized how much of my enjoyment came not simply from Jackson’s wonderful nerdy awesomeness (the scene where he burns his feet OMFG) but also from how completely wonked the heroine is. Jackson’s hot-at-heart nerdiness is perfectly offset by Gen’s Grace Kelly looks and rediscovery of her true hillbilly self.

    • Serena Bell says:

      I love Gen’s embrace of her true self, too. The book is a master class in how to create character wounds that are deep enough to resonate without being too serious to be funny.

      • Sabrina says:

        This. The books that speak most to me are those that accomplish this – creating funny h/h and a zany story but with all the emotion and depth. Just because it’s laugh out loud doens’t mean it’s not full of a range of emotions.

  3. Amber Skye says:

    Okay, definitely reading this. My reading group is doing a “getting to know you” challenge anyway, where you pick books that have to do with you, so this one should work for me. Not the crashlanding tropical island bit, of course.

    • Ruthie says:

      The crash-landing tropical island bit was another lightbulb moment for me. I was reading that part and thinking, “This is completely off-the-charts unbelievable crazypants,” and also, “I am loving this SO HARD.” And I thought, “Hmm, Ruthie. Perhaps you need to let your characters do more wild and wacky things.” Verisimilitude — not all that important after all?

      • Serena Bell says:

        I deeply believe this, though I have not yet succeeded in putting it into practice. I think I’m getting closer, though. More willing to let chars fight, to let them do crazy things, to let them have offbeat characteristics.

      • Amber Skye says:

        Yeah, it’s true. When I think of some of my favorite books, there are some really weird, so unlikely plot points but it doesn’t matter. I don’t think I’ve figured out the difference between those and the ones that just seem unbelievable. Some mixture of voice and characterization and a dash of magic, probably.

  4. Regina Cole says:

    Nerd in Shining Armor was my favorite, definitely. Sigh. Geeks are so hot!!!!


  5. Love, love, love this blog and the comments that follow. Thank you, Serena, for validating my gut feelings about this. After Nered in Shining Armor, I changed publishers, and the new publisher wasn’t as on board with the true nerd concept as I had thought when I signed on with them. I was pressured to make the nerds not quite so nerdy, and I caved. I wondered if anyone would care or notice. And you did! Thanks for opening my eyes!

    • Serena Bell says:

      Thank you so much, and you’re very welcome! I’m thrilled to have you join the conversation. As you can see, you have many fans here at Wonkomance.

      I’ve watched a few writers struggle to stay wonky under various forms of pressure from “the market.” It’s definitely a tricky balancing act. We want to sell and keep selling and keep expanding our audience (and a “mainstream” audience may not have as much tolerance for wonkiness–though who knows?), but at the same time, we don’t want to lose the elements that make us quirky and unique. A never-ending challenge.