Woman to Woman: The Alpha Male

On a day when the sharp scent of peppermint permeated the air (I’m not sure why it did), Kitty came to me with a request while I lounged outside.

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Kitty: Can we talk, woman to woman?
Me: Sure. What’s on your mind?
Kitty: Can we talk about boys for a minute?
Me: I’m pretty sure we’ll fail the Bechdel test if we do.
Kitty (unfazed by my remark): Would either Gandalf or Jordie be considered an alpha male?

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Me: Um, well, maybe Gandalf. Jordie . . . frankly no.
Kitty: Good. Then I will choose him as the companion of my heart.
Me: Huh? Why?
Kitty: I am alpha.
Me: Uh . . .
Kitty: Thank you for helping me clear that up.
Me: Uh . . .

I found this conversation timely, since I’d just finished reading Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart, which has an alpha male secondary character. While reading it, I wondered whether or not the concept of the alpha male has changed since the 1950s when the book was written. With Sigourney Weaver’s awesome performance as Ellen Ripley in the 1986 film Aliens, an increasing desire for strong female heroines ensued (hence Charlize Theron as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road; some men complained about her role, however, according to the Chicago Tribune). Has the fictional alpha male evolved consequently?

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Under Gandalf’s disapproving gaze; Sigourney Weaver as Ripley

First, I wondered about the universal characteristics of an alpha male. When I picked up another Mary Stewart book, also from the 50s—Madam, Will You Talk?—I found a description of a dude who is “singularly good-looking” and who “had that look of intense virility and yet sophistication—that sort of powerful, careless charm which can be quite devastating” (Stewart 11). Though he was not the alpha, this description seemed apt for alpha males on one level.

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I decided to compare that description with one found at this post at Romance Novels for Feminists, which mentions romance author Jill Shalvis’s view on the subject:

Rather than describe a male character’s characteristics in detail, Shalvis uses the shorthand “alpha” to signal to readers that the character possesses a certain type of über-desirable masculinity, a masculinity characterized by toughness, strength, and the need to protect those around him, particularly his girlfriend/spouse/mate.

So far, only women have given an opinion. What do men think? I found out at AskMen.com:

An alpha male has certain unmistakable characteristics. A natural leader, he is a pack-builder. He leads, provides for and protects his pack (his significant other, his buddies, his teammates, and so on).

the-alpha-male-gray-wolf-canis-lupus-jim-and-jamie-dutcherInteresting. In the young adult novel I finished writing months ago, my 17-year-old main character views himself as alpha, but meets a female (the other main character) who disagrees. He has to learn how an alpha really behaves. The AskMen article, “Signs You’re Not An Alpha Male,” vividly discusses this behavior. You can find that article here.

We’re used to fictional alpha males like James Bond; Dirk Pitt (Clive Cussler’s books); James T. Kirk; Batman; Aragorn; Odysseus; Beowulf; Green Arrow; Daredevil; Gaston; Jack Ryan (Tom Clancy’s books); characters Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Humphrey Bogart, Samuel L. Jackson, or Jet Li played; anyone from the Fast and Furious movies; Duke Nukem; Wolverine; Superman; Robin in Teen Titans; the Man with No Name Clint Eastwood played in westerns; Russell Crowe as Maximus or Jack Aubrey; Tony Stark; Captain America (Steve Rogers); Hal Jordan (Green Lantern); John Stewart (also Green Lantern), Thor; Black Panther; Frank Woods (Call of Duty); Nathan Drake (Uncharted); and many, many others. While some might be viewed as relics of a bygone era, others reflect the changing face of the alpha male.

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Cap, Bruce Banner, Tony Stark; Black Panther

In a Slate.com article, “Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them” (click here for that), I learned about an omega man:

While the alpha male wants to dominate and the beta male just wants to get by, the omega male has either opted out or, if he used to try, given up.

Yikes! But I don’t want to get off on an omega man tangent here. Yet it shows an interesting backlash of sorts against those viewed as “domineering” (see the Romance Novels for Feminists post) alpha males.

Maybe that’s why James Bond received a reboot. According to this article by Paul Whitington at Independent.ie., “[Daniel] Craig’s Bond [in the film, Casino Royale (2006)] was young, confused and even vulnerable.”

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So today’s alpha male is strong, but tries to keep it real by admitting to foibles (i.e., Tony Stark admitting he’s a “piping hot mess” in Iron Man 3). Yet audiences are divided on the evolution of the alpha male.

But let’s get back to Mary Stewart. When I opened Nine Coaches, I expected to find an archaic viewpoint. Stewart, however, showcased an alpha male and a strong heroine, neither of whom is threatened by the strength of the other. I love that!

What do you think of the alpha male? Got a favorite or a strong opinion on the subject?

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Can their love survive?

AskMen Editors. “Signs You’re Not An Alpha Male.” AskMen.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.
Grose. Jessica. “Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them.” Slate.com. N.p., 18 Mar. 2010. Web. 24 May 2015.
Horn, Jackie C. “Evolution and the Alpha Male.” Romance Novels for Feminists. N.p., 26 Sept. 2014. Web. 25 May 2015.
Stewart, Mary. Madam, Will You Talk? New York: William Morrow, 1956. First published in Great Britain in 1955. Print.
—. Nine Coaches Waiting. New York: William Morrow, 1958. Print.
Whitington, Paul. “Film… From Craig to Connery: The Many Faces of James Bond.” Independent.ie. N.p., 12 Apr. 2015. Web. 24 May 2015.

Black Panther from Marvel.com. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Chris Evans as Captain America, and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner from news.doddleme.com. Daniel Craig as James Bond from fanpop.com. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley from oblikon.net. Book cover from Goodreads. Alpha male gray wolf from fineartamerica.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: The Shadowfell Trilogy (Part 2)

JM_with_Harry_smallerHey! Welcome back to the blog. The incomparable Juliet Marillier is here for day 2 of our discussion of her current trilogy: Shadowfell. In case you missed part 1 of the interview, you can find it here. Take a look at these covers. Beautiful, aren’t they? (In series order.)

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I’ll be giving away a set of these books. But you’ll have to wait till the conclusion of the discussion for more details. So fasten your seatbelts, and let’s get this show on the road.

El Space: Are you an outliner or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer? Please walk us through your writing process, Juliet.
clipboardJuliet: I’m at the planner end of the spectrum. I usually sell a new novel or series on the basis of a proposal, which means I have to write a complete synopsis, including the ending, before I start. There’s no wandering in and letting the story take its own course. I like to know where I’m going. My process goes a bit like this:

  • Get an idea for the plot, setting, and main characters. What is the theme? What/whom is this story about? What is the journey for the main characters?
  • Make some decisions about voice, point of view, and structure. How do I want to tell this story?
  • Write the proposal, including a full synopsis.
  • Develop the synopsis or outline into a chapter plan.
  • At the same time as the above, do the required research for the book/series.
  • Start writing. I generally write about three chapters, then go back and revise them. I tweak the chapter plan as I go along. No plan is set in stone—I make changes if I find something’s not working, or if I get a great new idea. However, the overall structure—the architecture of the story—usually doesn’t change.
  • Repeat the last step until the manuscript is finished. Every three chapters I go back and revise all of the previous chapters, so by the time I reach The End, the manuscript has had a lot of refining.
  • All that revision means (a) I work quite slowly and (b) what I have at that point is close to a final draft. I would generally do one or two complete passes through the manuscript to tidy things up, then it goes to the editor(s) at the publishing house. She writes a report, and I attend to her suggested revisions. Then it’s more or less done.

402045El Space: Your books are historical fantasy, some of which are based on fairy tales. Please tell us what excites you most about the genre and why you chose to use real settings as the basis for your books.
Juliet: I didn’t make a conscious choice to write in a particular genre. When I started out, I wanted to use a particular story I’d loved in childhood (“The Six Swans”) as the basis for a novel about a real family. I wanted to explore what the personal cost would be for the sister and brothers who had to deal with the catastrophe of a magical curse. At that stage I didn’t read fantasy, in fact I was hardly aware of it as a genre for adult readers, though I had read some of the classics—Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Mary Stewart’s Arthurian books. The way I write is connected with my lifelong love of traditional stories, and my style is rather like oral storytelling. I believe those old stories have a great deal of wisdom that is still relevant even in our time. They were and still are wonderful tools for teaching and healing. Only three of my sixteen novels are actually based on fairy tales, but the tropes and motifs of traditional storytelling are woven through everything I write.

Most of my novels are set in “real world” history and geography—the Shadowfell series is an exception. Some contain more accurate history than others. I made some beginner’s errors with the history in my first series, because at that stage I didn’t realise readers who were happy to accept uncanny characters and magical happenings would at the same time expect accurate historical detail. I became more meticulous with the research as I went along. I find real history endlessly fascinating, especially the “grey areas” about which few contemporary records remain. I seized on a snippet of story about a Pictish king being tutored by a druid as the basis for the Bridei Chronicles. I wrote that series using a combination of known history, informed guesswork, and pure imagination. The uncanny elements in my novels are usually based on what the people of that time and culture would have believed in.

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The Bridei Chronicles

El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Juliet: Authors whose work combines great writing craft with compelling storytelling. I have too many to list, so here are just a few, all of whose work I read and re-read:

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El Space: An eBook of The Caller, book 3 of Shadowfell, will be released by Pan Macmillan Australia on February 25 with the print edition debuting in Australia in June and in July in the United States. I saw on your website that you’re working on a book called Dreamer’s Pool. Please tell us a little about that.
Juliet: The series title is Blackthorn & Grim, and it’s an adult fantasy series, quite a bit darker than my previous work, with older, more damaged protagonists. The first novel is Dreamer’s Pool, coming out from Penguin U.S. and Pan Macmillan Australia in November 2014.

Here’s how the story of Dreamer’s Pool starts: The embittered healer Blackthorn is incarcerated and awaiting a hearing when she is told she’s to be summarily executed. Then a mysterious visitor offers her a lifeline—she can be freed provided she promises to live by the visitor’s rules for the next seven years. Each time she breaks a rule—there are three all up—another year will be added to her term. Blackthorn knows she hasn’t a hope of keeping any of the rules, especially the one about not seeking vengeance against her archenemy. But with the fey involved, she’s not going to get away with lying.

In each novel of this series, our two protagonists are faced with a mystery to solve. The setting is early medieval Ireland. I’d describe the Blackthorn & Grim books as dark fairy tale + mystery + struggle for personal redemption.

Well, that about wraps it up. Thank you, Juliet, for being my guest! I’m so glad you came by. I’m looking forward to Dreamer’s Pool! 

And thank you to all who visited today. If you’re looking for more information about Juliet and her books, head to her website or to her official fan page on Facebook. Be sure to check there for publication dates for her books.

The Shadowfell trilogy can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s Books
iTunes Books

One of you will win not just Shadowfell books 1 and 2, but a preorder of book 3! Comment below to be entered in the drawing. (TODAY ONLY!) The winner will be announced on Monday, February 23! Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Author photo and Shadowfell series covers courtesy of Juliet Marillier. Other book covers from Goodreads and Wikipedia. Clipboard from www1.imperial.ac.uk.