Friday, February 03, 2012

A Date With Kate - What is A Hero?

On Wednesday evening  the Babe Magnet and I braved freezing temperatures and miserable sleety rain to watch a show.   A dance show. Brendan Cole –  the ‘bad boy’ dancer from Strictly Come Dancing – has  a solo tour and we had  tickets.  It was the perfect evening for a romance novelist – perfect  research – drama,  passion, elegance, glamour  - romance  . .. oodles of romance even if it was deliberately planned, carefully staged, practiced again and again until it was so skilfully executed.

And if you wanted to consider the male physique - it was very difficult not to! – there were  lean, toned bodies,  powerful legs, muscular arms – all displayed to great effect in fitted trousers, sleeveless vests or the elegance of a perfectly fitted tailcoat.  All the things we ask of our heroes when we write.

But we are told  (It’s not a ‘rule’ – I don’t believe in rules, but it is often emphasised) that  male dancers don’t work as heroes.  They are a ‘hard sell’. Along with other artists  - painters , writers, musicians. It’s not any  feeling that a dancer might be gay -  Mr Cole  himself,   Mikhail Baryshnikov and so many others make a nonsense of this.  So why , I wondered  as  we drove home from the show  - why is it that these  talents  - talents that I personally would find extremely attractive in a man -  are considered difficult  to  ‘sell’ as part of a hero’s make up.

There’s no doubt about the appeal of the Mediterranean lover, the sheikh, the billionaire, the Prince. Or if you prefer your heroes rather less  of a fantasy – the cowboy, the doctor, the architect.  But the creative arts are still underrepresented in the  world of romance.  I once had an argument with an editor who had object ted to  the  fact that my hero was a music producer – not a rock star or  concert pianist   but a  Simon Cowell type figure who managed   the careers of  singers, and other musicians.    This was some years ago so I wonder what would happen now if I tried to give my hero the same background and occupation.

 Are we in danger of limiting our heroes too much?   Are we at risk of creating  ‘hero’ templates that are all too much the same – the sheikh, the  cowboy – the billionaire who sometimes doesn’t even reveal how he actually made his money – he just has it!   Personally I’m all for more individuality, more scope, more ‘talents’ in the heroes I read about   - and write about.

 I’m running a workshop on writing romance  for Valentine’s Day. One of the exercises I  do  for building characters is to project a large image of a handsome man  (Hugh Jackman always works wonderfully)  on a screen and ask the students to tell me  who he – as their hero –  is. What is his name? Age?  Occupation?  Family background?  Interests?  I’ve used this  a lot and when it works well, it shows that  everyone has their own ideas of what makes  this man 'hero material' - putting in ideas from their own personal preferences and beliefs.   But recently I’ve noticed that, sadly, the answers that come back are becoming more and more from people who are thinking of ‘what makes a Mills &  Boon/Harlequin hero?’ rather that what makes a hero.

So – going back to basics, I was wondering  just what makes a hero for you?  Is it his  nationality –  does the Latin Lover  always win out against the ‘home grown’  Brit or  Aussie? Is it vital for him to have a huge fortune  - and are the current set of financial  crises going to strip the Greek  billionaire of his role of leader of the pack ?   Do you find  artistic talents appealing or a turn off? What about sportsmen?  There was a recent continuity  featuring rugby players but would that have worked as well with soccer stars or  athletes?

What are you prepared to  accept  - and where are you just not prepared to compromise?  For me  it’s not what  a man does – how he makes a living -  that makes him a hero  but the man himself.  I’ve always said that a hero has to be a man of honour, a man I can respect.  He may make mistakes and act wrongly  as a result of those mistakes  but  those mistakes need to come out of the sense of honour that drives him. I can’t  see a cheat , someone who is deliberately cruel without  justification (even if wrong) as a hero. I can cope with a man who has a problem with the particular heroine I set him up against  -  a man who thinks, because of evidence that seems to show that’s what she is  - that she is nothing but a cheat and a gold-digger.  But a man who  thinks that all women are like that? Who is  actually   a misogynist at heart – but will make an exception for this one woman?  He’s never going to appeal to me.  And I love  competence – someone who is really good at what they do. Which brings me back to Brendan Cole again.   I could quite easily  build a hero on  him – that bad boy reputation  would be  great, the physique, the success . . . but would  I get away with actually having a dancer as a hero? What do you think?

OK  - I admit it – I’m trying to pick your brains here. As well as that Valentine’s Day workshop, I’m running the  Romance Writing Course for the  Fishguard Writing Weekend in a couple of weeks’ time too.  I’ll be talking there about what makes a great romantic hero - And I do feel that some of the ideas of just what makes a hero  are  in a state of flux and possible change right now. But are these superficial  changes  rather than  the real foundations of a real hero?  

I’d love to know what you think. What makes a hero for you ? What are you happy to see in a romantic hero – and what would  turn you right off?  Are there some things you can cope with , no matter how  bad, provided they are well  written and  the characters truly developed? Or are there some things that are absolute, total no-noes, something you  could never ever accept  in  any man  who is a hero for you?

Kate's latest hero is Carlos Diablo in the upcoming The Devil and Miss Jones which is out in Mills & Boon Modern in  the UK in March, and in  USA  in Presents Extra in April


  1. Oooh, you used my new cover!

    As you know I write mostly contemp westerns for M&B, which means an additional challenge. If my heroes are mostly cowboys and ranchers, how do I set them apart?????

    In The Last Real Cowboy (the cover you put up) Sam is trying to make the family ranch more green and environmentally friendly. His cousin/adopted brother wants to institute a special program at the ranch in the follow-up book. I've written a horse rescue ranch, too. What these all have in common though is that what makes them different stem from the man himself and the kind of person he is.

    Compassion, competence...those are two big qualities for me. I would love to see more "arts" type heroes. I've never understood the hard sell bit either. It's the man inside. But I suppose the question is, what prompts people to pick up the book in the first place?

  2. Great blog post. I love the character Manuel Mendoza (played by Brendan Coyle) in The Glass Virgin by Catherine Cookson. He lives in a caravan but has a good heart, caring and has a great sexy voice. Only one thing I don't like in a hero would be bad hygiene, a total turnoff. I would adore a soccer hero, plenty of gorgeous hunks on the pitch to choose for a hero.

  3. I loved you cover Donna so when I was looking for a cowboy cover . . . Plus, that title fitted with the theme of the post. I totally agree with you that 'It's the man inside' - and you've demonstrated that with your cowboys who have such definite things that make them individuals.

    Compassion - yes - vital. Competence - we agree. And like you I'd love to see more 'arts' heroes. But then there is that quesion - 'what prompts people to pick up the book in the first place'? Perhaps that's a topic for another post.

  4. Thanks Sian - I don't know the charactre you mention but if he's played by Brendan Coyle that would be a point in his favour for me! He's not a 'classic' hero but has such appeal.

    Bad hygiene - now that would be difficult! I have a suspicion that it's part of the 'team game' thing that makes a soccer player less of an individual as a hero - but off the pitch they are all individuals, aren't they?

  5. As you so rightly pointed out Kate, a hero doesn't have to be good looking, wealthy or hugely successful - the press is forever reporting about billionaires who are less than heroic - but he does have to have compassion, heart and be an honourable man I can respect. More importantly, a hero has to deserve the heroine. There is nothing worse than reading a romance where you begin to doubt whether the hero and heroine will truly live happily ever after.

    Turn-offs - I agree with Sian, bad hygiene is a no-no. I also think "heroes" who are physically abusive, miserly or who are cruel to animals don't belong in a romance novel.

    As a reader, I've always been fond of the cool, debonair and sophisticated British hero. I just wish that there was more variety in Harlequin Presents, in particular, and there were more British heroes in the line.

  6. I rushed over to see Hugh in the towel & stayed for the visit. The MAN makes a great hero, whatever his profession or life style. Intelligent, witty & looks great in nothing but a towel.

  7. It is a puzzle all right. Why have we got less variety in heroes? It reminds me of the time I got engaged to my husband. He is a scientist, although in teaching nowadays instead of research. Back then, before we married, I actually read an article entitled 'Who'd Marry A Scientist?' I went on to read - to my complete astonishment - that scientists were the most boring of bridegrooms, marginally less boring than dentists. Perhaps it is time to push the boat out a little and write about heroes who are somewhat different from the usually. Maybe a dancer or an artist, but even a dentist or a scientist. Who knows?

  8. Hello Julie - thanks for commenting. I like - and agree with - your comments on what makes a hero. He does jhave to deserve the heroine ( and vice versa). I love the inclusion of miserly in your list of turn off - I think that can be applied to all sorts of things, not just money. A man who is mean with his affection, with his words, with his time is just as 'miserly' as someone who holds on tight to his money - and those forms of miserliness are perhaps even less appealing.

    And yes, I'd love to see more British heroes - after all, I've been married to one for years!

  9. Hi Mary - I thought Hugh might bring some visitors over! And yes, it's the MAN who makes the hero - the job he does, the money he has, the car he drives etc- they are all just trappings.It's the man at the heart of things that matters.

  10. Thanks for commenting Maria . I think your personal story illustrates this so well - obviously your lovely scientist husband is not at all the most boring of bridegrooms. Making such sweeping generalities is so stupid. Every person is an individual. I'd love to 'push the envelope' here a bit - I'll have to think on that. A dentist, hmm? Well one things for sure here in the UK dentists are much in demand. I wrote a book where the hero was an artist - No Gentleman - back in 1993. I wonder how that would be received now.

  11. Hi Kate, Isn't it funny that I was just over on one of your other blogs responding to Paula Martin about the very issue of lack of hero variety. Some of my favourite long time authors wrote about such a variety of heroes from all walks of life. Rebecca Stratton had a few artists that were very, very virile. And yes the best ones were compassionate and competant. If they weren't quite as loving to start with they learned to be as the story progressed. Turn offs. Yeah hygiene. But the thing that is really making me hesitate to pick up some of the more recent romances is sleaze. A guy turns up to meet his promised virgin bride with his mistress waiting in the car? Puhlease. A man can be hot and studly without cruising through dozens of bitchy blondes. A real man can go a night with a woman in his bed without curling up and dying.