Friday, February 26, 2016

Romance is About Feelings

Today's guest for our month-long feature of introducing you to men who write romance novels is Gordon Aalborg. I first met Gordon as an associate at Five Star Cengage/Gale and was intrigued by the fact that he wrote a number of romances.

Hello Gordon, and welcome to The Blood-Red Pencil Blog. Our theme this month is love and romance, and we are happy that you could join us for an interview. First I have to say that I enjoyed your book Wolf in Tiger's Stripes. I found it very well written and you were able to get into the viewpoint of a woman quite well.


My first question to you is the obvious one, why did you choose to write romance novels?
A - I got into Romance writing on a sort of bet, prompted by Alan Boon, then head of Mills & Boon, saying that no man could write category romance to the standard required by Harlequin/M&B.Three of us male journalists—upon hearing this—insisted (during a grog-laden dinner party) that men (if romantic at all) were even more romantic than women, so why shouldn’t a man be able to write romance. About a year later, with time on my hands, I tried one just for fun, enjoyed the process immensely, and was well into the second before the first was (quite deservedly) rejected. By the third, I was treated to a visit from then chief editor Frances Whitehead and the rest, as they say, is history.

How did you approach trying to understand the mind of a woman? There is the universal belief that a man would never be able to understand what goes on in a woman's mind, so how did you overcome that?

A – The universal belief—as stated—is nonsense. Romance is about FEELINGS, EMOTIONS. If I annoy you, your reaction might be to hit me with your handbag … if I annoy your husband, his reaction might be to punch me in the nose. But the feelings of anger, outrage, etc., are identical. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it—not least because it is true. When people say women can’t write male roles or men can’t write female characters, those who say such things are too often writers who’ve tried and failed to make it into the Harlequin marketplace. That said, there are male authors I know whose female characters are better drawn and more believable than their male characters, and vice-versa. You also have to take into account that, for many of us, secondary characters emerge as more interesting and more believable than the main characters, perhaps because the author is differently motivated, or feels under less pressure.

You mentioned that you are working on a memoir about writing romance from a male perspective. Tell us a little about that. What prompted you to write that book? Will we see the book in print soon?


A – You’ll never see it in print because if/when it ever gets finished, it will only be on Kindle, because I’m too busy to mess with the various other platforms and/or the intricacies involved. Indeed, I may never finish it, because I tend to think of people who write their own memoirs as frightfully, shockingly, annoyingly pretentious, and I don’t see myself that way. But the guts of that story is this: I was advised (by my then editor) before attending a Romance Writers of America conference in the early ‘90s – “Keep your head down and your mouth shut and remember you don’t exist.” My muse and pseudonym, Victoria Gordon, has chosen part of that line as the title for the memoirs she keeps insisting I write for her. “She”—not to put too fine a point on it, is frightfully, shockingly, annoyingly pretentious, and a bit of a tart, to boot. Much too bossy and annoying.

Do you think any male author working in any other genre could easily switch over to writing romance? Or do you think that only a few men are able to make that crossover?

A – I think they should try if that’s what they want to write. One should always write what one wants to write. Write to please your soul, not your wallet. I am generally thought of as the first man to make serious inroads into the Harlequin/Mills & Boon stable, but there have been several since. These days the company even admits it, but in my day it was one of the worst-kept secrets in publishing. Many publishers, even now, believe women don’t want some man writing their fantasies, but I think it all comes down to the quality of the work.

Why did you stop writing romances and switch to another genre?

A – I didn’t stop--I’m just doing other things at the moment. I had been doing a lot of mystery editing for a line that just died of corporate food-poisoning, and I’ve found I’m pretty good at telling other people what’s wrong with their work.

Did you experience the same stigma that so many other romance authors experience, that romance authors are on a rung below other authors?

A – Yes, but I think it is mostly in our heads, and the heads of those who’ve failed in their own bids. When I was on my hobby farm in Tasmania I used to wonder sometimes what my farmer/grazier neighbors thought about it all—eventually realized their only concern was whether I kept my fences mended properly and my working gundogs away from their sheep.

In your estimation what is the core ingredient of a romance?

A – EMOTIONS. If your work doesn’t make you cry, or turn you on, or make you angry, or afraid, or driven to nightmares—how do you expect to similarly influence your readers? I’ve met authors who claimed on one hand that they wanted to write romance, and admitted on the other that they didn’t read romance.

I know there are certain standards in the industry depending on what heat level at which a writer approaches a story. Do you consider romance novels love stories or sex stories?

A – Romances should be love stories with the sex content and temperature as determined by the characters and their personalities, etc. Sex stories, per se, are better classified as erotica, IMHO.

Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine you would someday be writing romances or is this something you just happened upon? Or was it purely a business decision because romance novels comprise so much of the sales market?

A – Back when I started, there were huge amounts of money to be made, and I got my share, but the significant issue was how much fun I was having. I’ve never written purely for money, even when I was a journalist, and I still don’t. I’ve edited for money, and occasionally still do, but more often because I get huge pleasure out of that, too. 

What would your high school buddies say about you being a romance author?

A – I couldn’t possibly imagine. The only one of my high school friends I’m still in touch with is my first ex-wife, and we will not discuss what she thinks of me. My other ex-wives, just by the way, remain friends, if not quite so close anymore. My Tasmanian ex-wife, in point of fact, had read my work before she ever met me, didn’t at first believe I was/could be the romance author I claimed to be, then fell in love with the concept of being romanced by a romance author, but eventually had to face up to the fact that fiction is fiction and writers are writers, and a lot of writers make damned poor spouses.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A – Probably a cowboy. My paternal grandfather rode with the American cowboy artist Charles Russell in Montana at one time, so I come by it honestly. I’ve written a western or two, and I enjoyed doing them.

Now conclude with anything you might want to share with readers.

A – Since we began with Wolf in Tiger's Stripes, I’ll point out one the weird aspects not atypical of the publishing world, especially the romance publishing world. Wolf was originally written for Harlequin/M&B, but was rejected at the first-draft stage for a number of reasons. One reason—the first one mentioned and the only one genuinely relevant (IMHO) was the fact the heroine evinced a preference for bleeding rare steak. Not “blue” rare, but definitely rare. And this was during the set-up for the romance, like early in the first chapter. The M&B editor reminded me that modern women didn’t eat so much red meat at all, and by the way, the managing director’s wife’s cousin’s babysitter’s aunt Matilda was a Vegan. Or some such comparable nonsense. It was sufficiently inane as to make me extremely cranky, and I refused to change the story (it would have meant an entire and complex rewrite), so I dumped M&B and eventually (years later) published the title with Five Star Expressions. Whereupon it made the BOOKLIST Editors’ TOP TEN LIST FOR 2010! Rare steak and all!

Thank you, Gordon. If you would like to see a full list of Gordon's books and find out more about him, visit his website, as well as those of his alter ego.


Gordon Aalborg has been a journalist, broadcaster, editor, and novelist in both Canada and Australia. He spent more than twenty years in Tasmania, and has traveled extensively in the areas where his suspense thrillers The Specialist and Dining with Devils are set. He returned to Canada permanently in 2000. Writing as Victoria Gordon, he is generally credited with being the first long-term male Harlequin/Mills & Boon contemporary romance author.

Gordon is on Amazon as Gordon Aalborg, G.K. Aalborg, and Victoria Gordon.

Interview by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was named the 2015 Best Mystery by the Texas Association of Authors. She has a number of other books published, including the critically-acclaimed Season Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 

8 comments :

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. (Trying again. Not enough coffee.) I loved this interview. The author seems like someone I'd like to meet and chat with. I admit I've never read Victoria Gordon, but "her" books have now become more interesting to me.

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  3. Thanks,Polly. I'm sure you will enjoy the books.

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  4. I think a mistake many writers make is to tell us what the characters are feeling rather than having us experience the feelings through the character's lens. It is an important bit of advice for all genres.

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  5. That was some dare, but you followed through and showed them you could do it!

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  6. I love hearing from a man that they can be emotional beings (emotions other than anger, that is). I need to read the works of our male visitors this month.

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  7. That was fun! I'm thinking I might write a romance under a male name - Daniel Greer? I'd have to stay away from conferences because I'm obviously not a man. It could work for me. ;)

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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