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?