Ambigu-Wonk: Outlander

OK, if no one else is going to say it, I am. One of our favorite romances of all time—Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander—is a Wonkomance.

Maybe. I’m not sure.

In support of the argument, Outlander has:

  • A virgin hero
  • An older heroine
  • A modern heroine pushing her feminist views on a historical alphahole
  • A little spousal abuse and a debate about its merits
  • More than one thwarted M/M love subplot
  • M/M sadomasochistic rape
  • Politics up the wazoo (Claire’s magic wazoo, that is)
  • A subsequent series that skips merrily from HEA to disaster and back again with reckless disregard for genre rules.

Or, to put it in Gabaldon’s own words (if these look familiar, it might be because you have, as I do, a copy of Outlander from Gabaldon’s keynote at RWA 2011), “Within these pages of Outlander you will find it all … ‘history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul … you know, the usual stuff of literature.’”


Or is it? On the flip side, Claire and Jamie are oddly conventional. He’s big and strong, entirely capable of dominating Claire physically and more than able to manage the demands of 18th century Scotland and the American colonies. She’s bright and cheerful, undaunted by challenges, the sort of woman you’d resent in the same measure you adored her. Neither Claire nor Jamie seem to suffer from attacks of existential angst, at least not ones that outlast the moment. At its darkest moments, Outlander is way too optimistic to be called “dark.”

So, yeah, or not so wonky.

What do you think? Can we claim it?




Posted in Writing Wonkomance | 10 Comments

Jondalar: Father of All Alphaholes

I always tell people that the first romance novel I ever read was a Loveswept — Joan Pickart’s Warm Fuzzies, which has a hero named Acer Mullaney who talks to a six-foot-tall teddy bear created by the heroine, Lux Sherwood. And it’s true, this was my first romance novel, if you understand “romance novel” in a narrow sense.

But the truth is, my real first romance hero was a seven-foot-tall prehistoric babe-magnet flint knapper with blond hair, a talent for spearing things, and . . . well, a talent for spearing things.

Oh, Jondalar of the Zelandonii. You did give me some tingly moments.

The hair, the furs, the spears — guh. Just, guh.

The fun thing about the age of social media is that you find out that all the books and movies you secretly obsessed about as a precocious girl of ten and never mentioned to anyone, ever, were the exact same things all your Twitter friends obsessed about at the same age. So it is with Jondalar. I have a lot of romance writers and romance readers in my Circle of Twitter, and when I happened to mention Jondalar a few weeks ago, my Tweetstream exploded with fond reminiscence.

Dude, a lot of us were reading Jean M. Auel books back in the day. A lot of us. And it seems that most of us now write romance novels. Go figure.

For the uninitiated, Jondalar is the hero of Auel’s epic Earth’s Children series, which takes place way back when Man had fire and hunting but not metallurgy or the printing press. As Auel would have it, there were two types of two-legged, language-possessing humanoids on the planet at the time, the Flatheads and the Others. The Flatheads were an older, less evolved species. They spoke in signs and had an elaborate ritual culture. Also, they only had sex doggy-style, at the command of the menfolk, who were named things like Broud and Durc. The Others were, as far as I can tell, just like white Europeans, but in animal-skin leggings, and with goddess worship and a lot of sexytimes instead of all that annoying Puritanical crap that came along later.

Ayla, as played by Darryl Hannah. Because why not? She’s blond.

Ayla, the protagonist of the first story, Clan of the Cave Bear, is one of the Others who is found and raised by Flatheads. They think she is ugly, stupid, and clumsy. One of them hates her and serially rapes her. She has his baby, who’s declared a freak and almost left for dead, then near-universally despised. It’s a grim story, and at the end, Ayla gets exiled.

The second novel, The Valley of Horses, is the one where Ayla lives by herself in a valley, domesticates a horse, weaves baskets, tames a lion, susses out how babies are made (hint: it involves semen, not spirits), invents the whole idea of using flint to start fires as well as a variety of other useful household tools, and finally meets Jondalar when her lion kills his brother and strands him with a gaping thigh wound. Luckily, Ayla is a healer. If you rolled your eyes and said “of course she is,” you’re beginning to get the idea.

I never realized this before, but Ayla is a classic romance novel heroine. She’s very smart, but she thinks she’s stupid. She’s tall and muscular and stacked, but she thinks she’s ugly. She’s not a virgin, but she doesn’t understand that sex can be pleasurable. She’s used to being despised and rejected, but she’s totally industrious, competent, and just generally the kind of gal that a guy would want to keep around. She’s lonely and available for the right fellow to come along and plant his flag in her, explorer-style.

Before he was Jondalar the Alphahole, he had an emo teen phase.

And Jondalar . . . oh, Jondalar. The more I think about it, the more certain I am that Jondalar was the Original Alphahole.

Like Ayla, Jondalar is good at everything. He’s the best flint-knapper in all creation, the best spear-thrower, the best virgin deflowerer (iz totally a skill), the best sibling, the best-looking, the best story-teller, and he has the best schlong. It’s a Giant Schlong. No woman can ever take his entire schlong. You know where this is going.

I can hear him saying, “Jondalar doesn’t spoon, baby.”

But as chance would have it, Jondalar, despite being an all-around fabulous guy, is kind of a dick to Ayla. He tries to be nice to her, but she won’t talk to him, and he doesn’t understand her behavior, and he hates being cooped up in her tiny cave while she brings him tea and carries off his waste products and saves him from dying of the enormous gaping lion wound in his thigh. (Oh, and Ayla also invented sutures. Natch.) Then, one day, as his recovery is proceeding apace, Jondalar notices that Ayla’s not bad looking, so he plays grab-ass with her, and she gets all freaked-out and blushing (because she’s a victim of serial rape). That bewilders and upsets him. But she’s so hot, it’s hard for him to keep his hands off her. In fact, it’s starting to look like they just might do the deed when Ayla tells him that she was raised by Flatheads, had sex with one, and gave birth to his baby.

That’s when he calls her “an abomination.”

Cue four hundred pages in which Jondalar desperately wants to have sex with Ayla but can’t because she’s soiled goods.

Now, of course, in the end, he gets over himself, and he introduces her to the art of Pleasures (yes, they’re called that), and there’s a lot of sex that sure did seem graphic at the time. Here’s a moment I remember vividly from the very first sex scene, which involves tongue-circles on the boobs:

Not too shabby, Jondalar.

And here’s the moment when it becomes clear that the Giant Dong of Jondalar fits fully into the Capacious Sheath of Ayla:

 <–and then afterward, the cuddling.

True story: I took this book to Girl Scout camp. One of the counselors saw me reading it, and she said, “Isn’t that book kind of . . . graphic?” And I said, “Yes.” But the truth was, I had no idea what “graphic” meant.

Returning to the subject at hand: Jondalar. He is awesome at everything, petulant on his sick bed, inclined to be handsy and insensitive, rather dense about obvious things, totally dickish on the subject of Ayla’s soiled-ness, and a stickler for foreplay before the plunging. That makes him an Alphahole, right? Kind of a classic Alphahole? Possibly the classic alphahole, since clearly Cave Sex pre-dates all those regencies and even all those medievals?

Yes. I have found the Father of All Alphaholes, and his name is Jondalar.

The longer the series goes on — and it’s still going, and the books keep getting longer and less readable — the more awful he gets, because his primary function, plotwise, is to Be Jealous of Ayla for No Particular Reason. Indeed, Jondalar’s irrational jealousy is the primary conflict engine of every single book that follows Valley of Horses. He is a total whiny baby.

And yet I loved him so much, back then. I still kind of do.

You never forget your first, I guess. And I’m just going to go ahead pretend that it’s a complete coincidence that the boy I gave it up for in college was nearly seven feet tall. And blond.


P.S. Jondalar has a Facebook page.

Posted in Historical Wonktastical, Talking Wonkomance | 23 Comments

The Romance Noveltron 5000™

A lady-scientist, hard at work on the
Romance Noveltron 5000™ prototype.

I’m just home from a convention—the kind that’s 98% dancing and drinking and where “networking” is a dirty word yet “splooge” isn’t—and struggling to get my momentum back on the work-in-progress. So I wished aloud on Twitter that the urban legend were true: that somewhere there exists a supercomputer into which you can feed the basics of your romance novel, hit a button, and a fully formed story comes spilling out…ideally on that old-timey continuous paper with the tractor-feed edges. Like, plug in Gryffin, disgraced Navy SEAL, Allegra, mousy proctologist, small town Virginia, secret twins and the Romance Noveltron 5000™ whirs and smokes and out tumbles your RITA-winning story!

Well, it turns out that inventing said wundermaschine would require more time and money than actually writing my own book would, so I ultimately scrapped the plans. But what I did find when I Googled “story generator” was this site. A fully formed book it will not manifest, but OH MY GOURD did it spew out some killer elevator pitches, every last one of them a bona fide wonkomance begging to be written.

Check this genius:

In this story, an inexperienced garbageman falls in love with a misunderstood newscaster. What starts as disgust soon turns into obsessive love—all thanks to a wedding.

This story takes place in a large city in Iran. In it, a football player with a dark past falls madly in love with a healthy zoologist. It seems a detached gym teacher will bring them even closer together.

In this story, a combative barber falls in love with a spendthrift video game addict. Yet, how can a war tear them apart?

In this story, a pharmacist who lost meaning in life is introduced to an unathletic psychiatrist who belongs to a secret organization. What starts as obligation quickly becomes infatuation. It seems someone building a dwelling will bring them even closer together.

In this story, a promiscuous gym teacher ends up on the run with a stingy CIO. What starts as disgust soon turns into obsessive love—all thanks to longing. What role will an outlaw play in their relationship?

In this story, a college professor haunted by dark memories ends up on the run with an introverted librarian. What starts as curiosity quickly becomes obsessive love. It seems a gas station attendant will bring them even closer together.

In this story, a laborer who seems insane falls madly in love with a snide performance artist.

In this story, an unbalanced surgeon falls madly in love with a kind scuba diver. What role will an astronaut play in their relationship?

This story starts in a shooting range in an outpost. In it, a college professor with a false identity meets an unjust philosopher. What starts as indifference quickly becomes obsessive love—all thanks to an alienation. Yet, how can smuggling tear them apart?

In this story, a religious chemical engineer is in love with a terrorist who loves children. Yet, how can a trial tear them apart?

Well, you know what my next ten books will be about.

Posted in Writing Wonkomance | Tagged , , | 11 Comments