Few romances would find an appreciative audience without a bigger-than-life hero. In all my years as a fan of romances, I can think of only two books, perhaps three, where the hero was not a bigger-than-life personality in one way or another. The first was Georgette Heyer’s The Foundling and the second was Pamela Morsi’s Simple Jess. I fell in love with both Gilly and Jessie Best in spite of their lack of stature and importance, or perhaps because they exhibited all the characteristics that I admire. (Both books well worth the reading so perhaps you should look them up. Both are still available in one form or another.)
But many authors choose bigger-than-life heroes who are wealthy way beyond anything the average reader can even begin to imagine. Some are wealthy and powerful, CEOs of big international companies, or high up on the political totem poles. Then there are the physically elite. Romances featuring Navy SEALS are popular these days, and close behind them are elite soldiers and Marines, and special ops agents both in and out of government. While I’m not knocking these guys – who wouldn’t want to be filthy rich, or powerful, or elite in any field? – but what about the other heroes in our midst?
Firemen have recently joined the elite mentioned above. In my book, they have been bigger-than-life all along, but perhaps 9/11 has suddenly made us more aware of the dangers these ordinary men (and women) among us face when they pull on their turnout gear and jump aboard a fire truck. Once upon a time doctors were standards on that list of well-off, smart, better than the ordinary heroes, but now we’ve begun to see men who are EMTs in civilian life. The medics who ignore their own safety to run through a hail of incoming fire to the aid of a fellow soldier has his own elite reputation already, but now we are beginning to see men who ride the ambulance in Everytown USA.
We can all see heroes in these kind of men. But what about the incredibly supportive, loving and understanding guy who’s there for the woman he loves no matter what, but is otherwise not remarkable at all? Or the father who’s patient, loving and involved with his kids or the guy who’s great with kids that aren’t even his? Maybe they don’t don an expensively tailored suit and work in a spacious office earning obscene salaries, but instead, wear jeans and steel-toed boots and lead a blue-collar lifestyle. Hard-hatted daredevils who work high above the ground might seem bigger-than-life, but what about the guy who wrestles heavy machinery for a living, or digs graves? What about the guy who drives a snowplow on treacherous roads for hours in icy darkness so you can get to work in the morning, or the fellow who crawls out of bed in the middle of the night to climb a telephone pole in wind and rain to restore your power and your heat? And as for the military – beyond those elite heroes we all love to read about, there are thousands of men who never make the heroic list except in their own homes, but without them the SEALS and Special Forces guys and fighter jocks could not do what they do. Men who pull kerchiefs over their faces and drive convoys over roads infested with IEDs, men who keep the engines running in our warships or wear the many designated colored shirts that keep an aircraft carrier’s flight deck running smoothly and safely. All these and so many more are all men we can admire and look to as heroes. But they seem to rarely make it into romance novels.
Years ago, The Jackie Gleason show featured a sewer worker and a bus driver. They were the heroes of the series, but it was a comedy and their ordinariness made them the butt of jokes. The big television heroes back in those days were Matt Dillon and Lucas McCain, two very different men, but both carried guns and were very much bigger-than-life. We’re still in love with cowboys, be they rodeo riders or ranchers and I have to admit there’s something endearing about a man who can ride any horse however mean one minute, then tip his hat and address a woman as ma’am the next, but there’s more to what makes a cowboy a hero, just as it takes more than money, prestige and power. And it is those other things that create the heroes I want to read about and write into my stories.
To me, a hero is a man who is strong and capable, yet kind and gentle. A man who loves with all his heart, even if he’s not so good with words. He may be hurt inside, but he does not take that hurt out on others either verbally or physically. He may be broken and afraid to reach out, but that very brokenness is often what makes him appealing. He’s kind, thoughtful, generous, caring, honest, and steadfast. Two of my favorite heroes from recent literature are Jamie Fraser from Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and T.J. Callahan from On the Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves. Jamie, I’ll admit, is bigger-than-life right from page one, but T.J. starts out as a 16 year old kid recovering from cancer and over the course of 4 very difficult years, becomes the kind of man any woman could fall in love with. They both have all of the virtues I just listed.
Jamie Fraser T.J. Callahan
So, who are your favorite heroes? And what characteristics most appeal to you? Who is the most unusual hero you’ve ever fallen in love with and why? I’d love to know and for the best answer I receive, I’ll send you a copy of my latest book, Loving Meg. You just need to leave an email address so I can find out where to send it.