I admit it. My favorite part about writing romance novels is having control over the hero. Making him look the way I want him to look (Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth, and Alex O’Loughin are frequently consulted), giving him rugged swagger and the skills to back it up, and best of all, giving him an honorable core and a soft heart that only the heroine can uncover beneath his gruff exterior. What woman hasn’t wished she could make her husband say the romantic words she secretly longs to hear or have him be so emotionally connected to her that he senses her needs without her having to speak them?
I have that power!
Yet, as much as I love making these fictional studs dance to my tune, I am often reminded of the joy that comes from being surprised by the real-life men in my life. Like the husband who secretly planned a trip to take his wife hiking to eight different waterfalls in the forests of Georgia after she spent three mentally exhausting days at a writing conference in Nashville. Talk about a perfect way to decompress. He even took me zip-lining! I couldn’t have written a better scene. Of course, this is the same man who gave me a toilet seat for Christmas one year, but hey—all good heroes have their imperfections.
I am also blessed to have two teenage sons, and not long ago, they taught me a lesson about being a true romance hero. Now, I’ve already confessed to loving strong, alpha heroes in my books. That goes for books I read as well, and yes, I’ve been known to read the occasional book with a shirtless cowboy or highland warrior featured on the cover. My boys often tease me about such literary choices.
Well, one day, my youngest son, Peter, was having fun playing the Tackle-Mom-onto-the-Bed game that I’m not particularly fond of, seeing as how he’s stronger than I am, ensuring I always lose. I started fussing at him, trying to get him to let me up, when from the other room I hear a heroic call. “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll save you!” My then sixteen-year-old son, Wyatt, rushes to the rescue, leaping through the bedroom doorway. “And I’ll be even more heroic because I’m taking off my shirt!” Then with a grand flourish, he did just that.
Now, you have to understand. Wyatt has the height of a romance hero at just under six feet, but his physique is still in development. He’s so toothpick thin, you can actually see his ribs and collarbone without him sucking anything in. Add to that the fact that he inherited my incredibly pale complexion, and he’s about as different from the tan, heavily muscled romance cover models as you can get. But I couldn’t have asked for a better hero. I laughed until I cried. We all did. Nothing I could have written could compare to the perfection of that moment.
That moment lingers with me, not only because of the humor, but because of the reminder of how romance writers often relegate the funny, sweet, slender men to the role of sidekick or heroine’s best friend. Rarely do they get a chance to strut their stuff and win the heart of the fair maiden. So I decided it was time to change that. With my husband and boys as inspiration, I created a historical western hero for my latest book who prefers bicycles to horses, who utilizes brains over brawn, and whose trustworthy manner and sterling friendship prove that what is in the heart of a man is more important than the squareness of his jaw or the size of his biceps. His tale is still filled with plenty of action and manly vigor as he and the heroine work together to unravel the handsome villain’s manipulative plot, but it is his courage and character that win the day.
Perhaps it’s because of the way Amos Bledsoe, telegraph operator, mimics my own heroic techno-nerds at home, but I found myself cheering for Amos with a deeper level of enthusiasm than usual as I wrote his story.
So for you romance readers out there, let me encourage you to think outside the alpha. And remember even pale, skinny boys can be heroic when they take off their shirts.
- Who are some of the heroic men in your life? what makes them heroic in your mind?
Leave a comment for a change to win one of two autographed copies of Heart on the Line, along with a set of heart-shaped dishcloths/trivets one of my readers made for me to give away. These are handmade, handy, and beautiful!