Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Help Wanted

Maybe it was reading the fourth or fifth novel where the hero was a former Navy SEAL trying to conquer his tragic past that made me start thinking about the limited career paths we seem to offer a lot of romance heroes these days. The military is, of course, a big employer, but only certain parts of the military. SEALs, Marines, and Army Rangers are given preference (I don’t know what romance writers have against the Air Force exactly). If not military, there’s always law enforcement: police officers (preferably detectives), sheriffs and deputies, FBI agents, spies (current and former), DEA agents. But once you get beyond these two groups, the career possibilities get a lot thinner.

Now the reasons for this lack of variety probably lie with the sort of shorthand baggage that each of these career choices supplies. If a guy is a former SEAL, you can pretty much assume he’s burly, brave, and above average in his ability to protect the heroine, not to mention really, really hot. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that the most prominent real-life former Navy SEAL is Jesse “The Body” Ventura—who’s not exactly my dream of a romance hero (sorry, Jesse)—there’s a certain laziness here. You don’t have to do as much in the way of characterization because your audience can fill in the blanks: brave, fit, hunky, etc., etc., etc. And that’s also true of all the other “kneejerk” professions you find in lots of romances. If a guy is a big city homicide detective, generations of movies and TV shows tell us what to expect from him.

But wouldn’t it be interesting to have some heroes whose characters weren’t pre-set, whose professions didn’t predict what kind of heroism they’d be capable of?

Take academics, for example. Now mystery novels have a long tradition of college settings, with the professor hero/detective. Why can’t professors be romance heroes too? Having worked around them for years, I can tell you they’re not all shy and retiring. How about science? I have a personal interest here since I’m married to a chemist, but several of the scientists I’ve known over the years were both smart and hot. Granted, a writer would have to go against the popular “nerd” cliché (yeah, I’m talkin’ to you Big Bang Theory), but it might be worth it to have a more unusual hero to work with.

How about doctors or dentists? I had a veterinarian hero and he worked out fine, and my fellow Naughty Niner Erin Nicholas has done very well with doctors and paramedics. How about musicians? How about chefs—some of the TV chefs are notably hot. Hell, why not an insurance agent? Or an accountant—oh wait, I did that already.

The real irony here is that romance heroines have much wider career possibilities than heroes: artists, chefs, decorators, business women, winemakers, hoteliers, and yes, cops, spies, and military personnel among a huge number of other professions. In romance, women can do it all. Men, on the other hand, have very real limits.

My point is that it might be a good idea to start thinking outside the box now and then. Why limit our heroes to obviously “heroic” jobs? One of my favorite books, Jennifer Crusie’s hilarious Faking It, has a hero and heroine who are both con artists. It’s a great book, and I never for a moment worried that the hero wasn’t macho enough. Maybe it’s time to expand our horizons a little bit.

And maybe it would be good for all of us to acknowledge every once in a while that guys in ordinary occupations can be both heroic and hot.

So what about you? Are you willing to read books where the heroes aren’t exactly the standard issue stalwarts? Or are you hooked on the military/law enforcement complex?


Pauline Allan said...

Oh my gosh! What a wonderful blog topic. My friend and I were discussing just this very thing last week. In my first novel my heroes are a photographer and a doctor. Third book, hero is an oil tycoon and fourth book, well he's Dionysus. He's a famous wine maker, as you well know. :-) All the men were built for sex and ready to make any woman (or man) crawl on their knees. I'm bored with vamps and cops. I want an everyday guy I'd meet on the street who is a closet sexy romantic. I love those stories. So, I agree. Branch out, become more creative. It can make for a much more exciting read.

Willa Edwards said...

I wholeheartily agree. And in this arena I think the epubs have been much better with variety than the big NY pubs. I know many of the Samhain books I've read have untraditional hero professions, my friend Joely Sue Burkhart wrote one about a smoking hot professor (which you mentioned wanting to see). I've also read lawyers and computer programmers, not to mention your books Meg.

In my upcoming release my hero is a social worker (I love a guy with a cause), I also have a principle and a high school shop teacher in the same series.

I'm not really interested in the shot-'em-up cop or army ranger stories, so as soon as I read that in a blurb my attention wanes. I'm sure many of them a very good books, but I want to read something more realistic. To me that's more engaging than any Army Ranger could be.

Cara Bristol said...

What a timely topic! I'm wrestling with what profession to give my hero in a WIP. I had made him a real estate broker, but mentioned it to my husband, who was appalled (he's had some bad experience with real estate agents and doesn't think much of them).

I typically give my heroes white collar jobs because those are the ones I'm familiar with -- "write what you know" and all that. I've had a veterinarian, a corporate executive, an entreprenuer, an investment banker. It's the traits that make a man alpha, macho, sexy...not the job--although alpha males are drawn to certain professions.

I like macho men as heros, so the whole Navy Seal thing works. I often think of the Bonnie Tyler song, "Holding Out for a Hero":

I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong
And he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight

There IS something sexy about that.
However, it is overdone. There are more Navy Seals/rugged cops in romance novels than exist in the world, I think.

Which still leaves me wondering...what am going to do with my current hero?


Debra St. John said...

Oh I definitely like a variety of heroes.

And this is going to sound so unpatriotic - and I really don't mean it to be - but I don't usually read books with military heroes. I like the ones where "ordinary" guys become the hero (either physically or emotionally) for the heroine. Military guys already have that hero quality built it. I like to see the hero develop over the course of the book.

I love the idea of a professor as the hero.

PG Forte said...

If it weren't for my critique partners, I don't think I'd ever read a military-themed romance. And although I have sworn off saying "I'll never do that!" about anything, I really can't see myself writing them either. There's just too much about millieu that I don't understand--and I hate getting details wrong.

Writing cop heroes for the Oberon series was hard enough. I'm sure I broke a lot of rules there. Hopefully, the fact that it's a small town, and that my guys (yeah, even the cops) tend to be rule-breakers anyway, means I can get away with it.

Have you checked out Charlie Cochrane's "Cambride Fellows" series? Both heroes teach at Cambridge.


Yes, I will read about an ordinary joe as the hero. A man do not have to be rich, handsome, have a dangerous to have a woman fall in love with him.


Meg Benjamin said...

Thanks y'all--this was really interesting!