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Laurence MacNaughton | What Guy Authors Won’t Tell You About Relationships

October 31, 2012

Laurence MacNaughtonCONSPIRAcY OF ANGELSMany years ago, when I worked in a bookstore, a guy came up to me looking like he was on the verge of committing homicide. “How come I can’t find any J.D. Robb books?” he demanded. “You don’t carry them?”

“Sure we do. Right over there.” I pointed to the aisle labeled, in gi-normous letters, ROMANCE.

A mixture of terror and indignation washed over his face. He turned to me with a steely glare. “J.D. Robb does not write romance. Those books are mysteries.”

J.D. Robb, of course, is the pen name of bestselling romance writer Nora Roberts. Still, the customer is always right, so I pretended to look alarmed. “Sorry, sir. Must be a glitch in the shelving system. I’ll look into it.”

“You do that,” he snapped. Then he marched into the pink aisle, snatched up the latest J.D. Robb book and stormed out. “They’re not romance,” he insisted, on his way out the door.

It’s easy to look back and laugh, but his attitude shines a spotlight on something most guys will never admit. Believe it or not, guys need good relationships in a story.

It might not seem like it, but every good story is a love story. Whether it’s the red-hot passion of a romance or the lifelong friendship of an “I love you, man” bro-mance, relationships make a story work by infusing it with emotion.

And it’s always been that way. I recently found a letter from writer Raymond Chandler (creator of pulp detective Philip Marlowe) to Erle Stanley Gardner, (creator of Perry Mason). These two authors wrote some of the most hard-bitten tough-guy stories of their time. In the letter, Chandler talked about how his fans always told him that they loved the action in his stories. But he had a different theory. Even more than the action, he said, they loved the emotion.

Emotion? Relationships? In a hard-boiled detective story? It’s true.

No matter how macho a story is, no matter how many gunfights or car chases or helicopters a story has, it’s still all about the relationships. Guys just won’t acknowledge it. We’ll never admit that a buddy-cop story is just a different kind of love story. Nuh-uh.

And if we have to march into the Romance aisle to prove it, we’ll do it. We just won’t make eye contact, that’s all.

About the Author

Laurence MacNaughton is the author of CONSPIRACY OF ANGELS. His articles and stories have appeared in Writers’ Journal, The Rocky Mountain Writer, Pyramid Magazine, The Inkwell, Noir Journal, Mysterious Reviews, Omnimystery News and SF Signal. He teaches fiction writing at For more information please visit

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