Are men the masters of romance? -- Nicholas Sparks, Eric Segal, and Eric Jerome Dickey have succeeded in writing love stories

If women are supposed to be hopeless romantics, and men equate emotional introspection with physical torture, then why have most of the recent spate of best-selling love stories been written by men? It seems the fairer sex can’t compete with the literary success of Robert James Waller, Nicholas Evans, or Nicholas Sparks. K.C. McKinnon’s Dancing at the Harvest Moon and Janice Graham’s Firebird — heralded as the next Bridges of Madison County and The Horse Whisperer, respectively — barely blipped on the charts. Sparks, for one, believes that most of history’s great love stories were written by men. ”You can trace it all the way back to the Greek tragedies and Romeo and Juliet,” he says. ”In modern times you can start with Erich Segal’s Love Story.” Best-selling novelist Jayne Ann Krentz begs to differ: ”Look at Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë. [But] those books probably don’t appeal to him, so he didn’t even consider them. That’s how easy it is to overlook the female author.”

For his part, Segal believes that men simply do a better job at what he calls ”sentimental fiction.” Not fantasy-laden romances, mind you — women still rule there — but real-life love stories that appeal to both men and women. ”I get the impression, without trying to be sexist, that what women write is for women,” Segal says. ”The ones that men write are crossover.” Krentz goes further: ”I think it helps to be a man in this genre because it gives it more literary cachet.” Moreover, Krentz says, ”Our culture tends to respect male authors more than female authors.” According to Warner publisher Jamie Raab, ”When guys write these emotionally drenched novels, readers feel like they’ve found a man who understands a woman’s heart.” In addition, Raab says, ”Men who are nice looking and have something to say about love — it becomes a marketing tool.”

Evans, Sparks, and Waller aren’t the only men out there successfully channeling Eros. Eric Jerome Dickey, often referred to as the male Terry McMillan, just sold the screen rights to his second novel, Friends and Lovers, to Whitney Houston. Debut novelist Colin Channer hit such a chord this summer with Waiting in Vain that women are still crowding bookstore signings to catch a glimpse of him. Even master of horror Stephen King incorporated a juicy love story into his latest, Bag of Bones.

”I get a lot of copycats who want to repeat the success stories of these writers,” says Raab, but, male or female, ”only the really good ones will rise to the surface.”