I just spent a long weekend with one of my childhood friends to celebrate our 50th birthdays. Yes, I'm still celebrating and I don't want to hear any guff about it—and I'll tell you why. First, I respectfully disagree with another of my friends who believes that the mere fact of meeting this milestone as a privileged American female who's had every conceivable opportunity is not necessarily worth celebrating. It is. For me, it's more than important to mark and rejoice in every happy life event because, God knows, life delivers more than enough adversity to each of us. We should glom onto life’s joyful occasions like chocolate frosting clings to the tops of cupcakes. All that gooey goodness should be savored against the time when our mouths fill with the ashes of failure, loss and despair. Because the bad stuff will come, sure as the earth will continue to rotate on its axis and the sun will rise tomorrow.
So, back to my weekend with an amazing woman who is literally changing the world. This was the last of my trips to spend quality time with my lifelong friends looking back on how far we've come, how much we've been through together and taking the time to appreciate the gift that these strong, lasting friendships are. And because I'm me, I couldn't help but relate my band of ‘besties’ to the many tightly knit bands of brothers in the paranormal fantasy books that I love almost as much as my sisters of the heart. Except that my delightful daydream was disconcertingly interrupted by the realization that there are some disturbing differences between my reality and my fantasy books.
One difference on my side of the fact/fiction divide is that I can't truthfully characterize my small group of friends as a pack. It's true that all of these women know each other, and most of us grew up together attending the same school for most of elementary and high school. And we've been through many of each other's life events together and they've all shared each of my major milestones where they are coerced into camaraderie for my sake, including my wedding, baby shower and the funerals of my parents. None of these women actually like each other, however. Their only real common denominator is that they love me. So they tolerate each other for my benefit, but would never seek each other out as independent friends. This makes things hard for me, as there are no fun-filled collective gatherings. Which is sad for me, but I've long accepted the way it is.
But the other major difference between my experiences and those I read about in my beloved fantasy books is that almost without exception (the one stand-out being Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series), when my fantasy authors give us para-familial groups of vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures who live, love and fight together, providing support and strength to each other as my friends do for me, they are always male. Several examples spring to mind.
At the top of the heap we have JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood and Karen Marie Moning's mysterious Nine (not to mention the MacKeltars in the same Fever series). Then there are Lara Adrian's Midnight Breed warriors, Katie MacAlister's variously colored Dragons, Dragos' Sentinals in Thea Harrison's Elder Races series (there is a token female in the group, but she's a Harpy, which, by definition, makes her a bitch who holds herself aloof from the group of guys). I could go on, but I think you get the point.
What I find somewhat surprising about these testosterone-fueled friendship fests is that in my experience it's women who pursue and nurture these kinds of relationships, not men. It's almost as if all of these authors, who are uniformly women, have transferred the intimacy and unwavering loyalty that I've seen among female friends to their groups of imaginary males. Now, it is true that men who fight together over time and live through intense circumstance form especially tight bonds, so it's not as if this phenomenon is unknown in the real world. So I don't have a problem, per se, that we are offered these groups of connected male characters who are tailor-made to form the basis for an ongoing series where each one in turn finds a life mate and whose journey to their HEA is the basis for the plot for the books in the series.
There is nothing wrong with highlighting male bonding. What's missing for me in this genre, at least as a gross generalization, is the dearth of comparable female relationships. In fact, much of the time in the series listed above, the poor female protagonists are forced to leave their previous lives behind to cleave to their supernatural soul mates and learn to make new friends among the mates of their boyfriend's brothers. Seems unfair. Not to mention an opportunity squandered to showcase the deep love and profound bonding that gal pals can achieve over a lifetime. Such lifelong friends could serve to anchor our female protagonists in their essential selves as they embark on the not inconsequential task of adjusting to having life as they know it irrevocably upended (usually by falling I love with an über alpha male who happens to belong to a paranormal species the woman had no idea existed prior to their meeting). Wouldn't it be nice if these ladies had their peeps behind them to catch them when they faint from shock? But no, the arms that usually catch our erstwhile heroines belong to their male loves—which makes these women all the more dependent on their men for support.
As much as I love and adore my husband of 20 years, who is not only my life partner, lover, co-parent and friend, I still need my girlfriends. These women nurture aspects of my being that would wither and die without their specific brand of love and support. Not to mention that I would hate to burden my husband with the care and feeding of all the different aspects of my personality and my soul that exist. That could overwhelm even my most devoted of mates.
So, all you writers who are my rock stars, perhaps you would consider illuminating this element of reality and injecting this truth into your fantasy. It might be worthwhile. It certainly makes my life richer and more fulfilling.