Category Archives: Hero

Fast Five: What I look for in a Hero

Hero 1It’s a holiday weekend, I need to get a post up by the end of the month, and I’m dry as a bone for inspiration. So in my desperation, here is a list of qualities I love to see in a hero. I’d love to get feedback from others about works for you in a hero.

 

Qualities in a hero that make me melt:

1. Kindness: However secretively and grudgingly it’s offered, even the most cynical, badass hero has to be able to scrounge up sympathy for at least one living creature besides the heroine.

2. Fidelity: To family, friends, platoon, mentor, his own moral code — I don’t care which. If a guy can’t show heartfelt loyalty to anyone or anything else, I’m going to have a hard time believing he’s going to stand by the heroine in the long run.

3. Sense of humor: Because there is nothing in this world better than a soulmate who gets your jokes.

4. Master of the Game: The ability to think ahead and to think fast shows smarts. Brawn is great for the heroine to run her hands over, but I love a man who formulates a plan to solve his problems. And then formulates Plan B. And Plan C. And . . . well, you get the drift. There’s a reason I have a soft spot for Batman.

5. Man Brain: If the character is meant to be a straight cis male, please don’t give me a chick in a cravat. I will make serious side eye at a straight hero who analyzes his innermost feelings to his  fellow male BFF. Actual, breathing men have assured me that while they do have All The Feels, they would undergo torture rather than discuss them with another man, no matter how trusted. Men also tend not to notice details like the difference between sea green and sage green unless they’re something like a painter, where knowledge of colors is necessary. Ditto for familiarity with women’s clothing, unless he’s a clothes horse himself or has a lot of female relatives. He’ll register impressions like ‘pretty’ or ‘sexy’, for example, but probably won’t know who designed the outfit.

So that’s my list — what turns you on in a hero? Comments welcome!

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Just let me WIP out my Main Characters

Like many writers, the question “How’s the book going?” from kindly friends and family summons up a number of emotions in me, very few of them positive.

What I want to do in response is curl up in the fetal position and moan. “The book is a nightmare! I can’t write anything but garbage! Thank you for bringing up such a painful subject!”

What I actually do is develop a short-term facial twitch and tell them the book is fine. Then I change the subject to the fantastic meal I had last time I ate out. Even that was at McDonalds.

All of which brings me to the topic of this post. For everyone who wants to ask me about my work-in-progress (and even those who don’t), here’s a little bit about what I’m working on:

1. Name: A MOST IMPROPER CONNECTION

2. Setting: Victorian England, 1840

3. Hero: Morgan Tregarth
Once the disgraced second son of titled father, Morgan has returned to London because his family finally has a use for him. Now the guardian of a four-year-old viscount, Morgan has everything he needs to conquer London society: good looks, charm, and a large fortune. The only thing he lacks is a child — his child. The one he’s tried to find for 10 years, thanks to the cold-hearted nursemaid who tricked him into believing she loved him, even went through a marriage ceremony with him, and then disappeared without a word.

4. Heroine: Alix Ellsworth
Disguised as a widow, Alix has fought to raise her daughter for 10 years. Once the pampered daughter of an army officer, she chose a servant’s life over that of a prostitute. Unfortunately, she fell under the spell of the son of her employers, and ended up pregnant. The cad even convinced her to go through with a ‘marriage’ ceremony before abandoning her. Now he’s back, and Alix, threatened with debtor’s prison, is determined to get some help from the man who helped put her in this position: Morgan Tregarth.

A MOST IMPROPER CONNECTION is a second chance at love story, as two people learn to trust each other — and their own instincts — again. All while trying to cope with an adventurous four-year-old and their own daughter, who on a good day can cause a kitchen fire and a cat fight at the same time. Oh, and let’s not forget about the society miss who wants to marry Morgan, and the blackmailing uncle who threatens Alix.

Want to know more? Leave a comment below!

Till next time,

Ann

 

Really Useful Super Powers

I haven’t seen ‘The Avengers‘ yet, although I hope to remedy that in the near future. While not at the level of comic book geekdom (her phrase) that my youngest is, I have thoroughly enjoyed the other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, I have to ask: why can’t the writers come up with superheroes that have really useful skills?

In ‘The Avengers’ we have a guy who swells up and turns green when he gets mad, a Norse guy with a magic hammer, an American guy with a boomerang shield, a really good archer, an assassin chick ,  and a rich genius who likes to tinker in his upscale garage. They are led by a guy on anti-aging serum who at least has good organizational skills. I say this with love in my heart…but…really? These are supposed to be cool powers?

The best of the lot seem to be leader Nick Fury (never sneer at the ability to prioritize), Black Widow (but then every female should know how to kill people) and Captain America, with his potential Dice-o-Matic shield. Tony Stark could have used his resources to figure out how to make Cap’s shield small enough for kitchen use, or invented a self-vacuuming house or something. But noooo, he puts his mini-reactor into a flying suit armed with lasers that create huge, billowing clouds of dust and messy rubble. Pah.

The villain of ‘The Avengers’ at least has potential. In ‘Thor‘ we see that Loki has the ability to instantly clone himself!! But we know he is a Bad Guy Who Will Lose, because all he uses his power for is to taunt his adoptive brother. Slacker. If I could create instant multiples of myself, my house would be spotless 24/7, my freezer would always be full of home-cooked meals, and with one of myselves at the computer night and day, I’d pump out a new book (or at least a rough draft) every three months.

So (drumroll please) here are some super hero suggestions that Marvel might find useful:

Laundry Man: Never mind creepy stalker X-ray vision. This guy would have the ability to sort, clean and fold a pile of dirty laundry with one look. Toy — Super Stain Remover Ray Gun that works on all stains, on all materials. Seriously, this guy would have more chicks following him around than Tony Stark and the three Hemsworth brothers combined.

The Navigator: A human GPS, male or female, who can maneuver around any traffic snarl, red light or backup. Toy — the EMS Vehicle, whose horn sends out a small electro-magnetic pulse that stalls all cars in the immediate vicinity and allows the hero to get passengers to their destinations on time. Am undecided whether the EMSV is a green compact car or something more along the lines of a Sherman tank, however.

The Rash: The result of a freak accident with radioactive pollen while an infant suffering from diaper rash, this superhero has the ability to swell up and turn red on command. In this state, his or her touch on bare skin causes an allergic reaction, including uncontrollable itching and sneezing. With this particular skill set, the Rash could be an irritable loner with great potential to go rogue, upping the dramatic stakes in his or her stories. Toy — Super Antihistamine Spray to protect allies.

Bull Detector Woman: This would be quite a useful super power indeed, if more on cerebral side. BDW would appear to use feminine intuition (actually scientifically enhanced powers of observation combined with serum-enhanced neuron transmitters) to detect falsehood. Invaluable in singles bars, all forms of negotiations, watching infomercials and major election years. Toy — with super powers like this, you wouldn’t need toys.

If you could have any super power you wanted, what would it be?

What’s Your Favorite Fairy Tale?

Actually, I’m talking about what kind of romantic plots people enjoy most. One of my favorite writing books is Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s Story Structure Architect. In it, she goes over the traditional elements of Western fiction, then looks at the variations within different genres. It’s a helpful resource for novelists, playwrights and screenwriters alike. For romance, she divides stories into three general types of structure, based on fairy tales. (Cause like romance, fairy tales are universal. 🙂 ) She also goes more detailed plot structure under each category — as I said, the book is a valuable resource.

In the Cinderella structure, the heroine falls in love with the hero first. This emotional response makes her vulnerable to him, even if she’s strong and independent in all other areas of her life. Schmidt notes that one of the hallmarks of this particular plot is that much of the focus is on the hero’s emotions. To get an idea of this plot, read Nicole Jordan’s excellent and steamy To Tame a Dangerous Lord.

Schmidt lists the Beauty and the Beast structure next. It mirrors the previous type plot in that the hero falls in love first, which makes him the more vulnerable of the couple. The focus here is on the heroine’s growing emotional bond to him. There is a bit less rescuing by the hero in these stories and a bit more self-awareness (eventually, anyway) on the part of the heroine. Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas is a classic example.

The final structure is based on Sleeping Beauty. The hero and heroine fall in love at the same time, which gives them equal footing emotionally, although their feelings may see-saw a bit as they deal with the conflicts standing in the way of their Happy Ever After. The couple in these books recognize their feelings all right, but their mutual love faces a series struggles, internal and/or external, before they can get together. Many ‘second chance’ love stories are found in this category, or stories of already-married couples, as in Victoria Alexander’s My Wicked Little Lies.

So what kind of romances do you like best? She falls first, he falls first, or they both fall and have to work it out together? Which fairy tail describes your favorite romance ?

I’ve attempted a first with this post and added a poll! And now you can rate all my posts, too.

Stages of Character Love

I am shamelessly fickle. My relationships with my main characters go through several stages. The first is infatuation, when this fabulous new person presents him- or herself in my mind, and I’m thinking about all the neat things that he or she could do and be. It’s a rush of excitement and, well, not exactly lust, since we are speaking of fictional entities here — but desire and hope. As in I want to write about these characters and I hope I can sustain their development through an entire book.

The second part of the Infatuation Stage is when I pull out my character worksheet to write down concrete details.  This is one of my favorite parts of writing! Does he have blue eyes to die for or big brown bedroom eyes? Is she tall and lanky or short and curvy? I tend to develop my hero and heroine at the same time, but that’s just me. As long as the writer gets to know the characters intimately, how she does it doesn’t matter.  There are a lot of questions to answer: Who is his best friend or closest confidant? Does she get along with her family? And what do they want more than anything else in the entire universe? Why can’t they get that thing/situation/person? What choices are they willing to make to get their Heart’s Desire?

Of course, this process can lead to dimmed enthusiasm about the characters as I go off into tangents about how their traits are going to affect the choices the characters make.  Must he have his large smelly dog with him all the time? What if she’s allergic? Did they even have allergies in the Victorian era? How did they treat them? And her hobby is needlework? Really? That’s not nearly as exciting as say, sword-fighting. But where would a well-bred female learn to fence? For that matter, where would a not-s0-well bred female learn to fence?

In case you haven’t noticed, I am the kind of person who makes mountains out of molehills.  Fortunately, in the fictional world, there are these nifty things called ‘erasers’. Give me a few minutes and I can come up with a better hobby for her (probably not needlework or sword-fighting), and she won’t be allergic to his dog, either. (Although she may not particularly enjoy the dog’s trail of hair and mud.)

Suppose I get out of the Infatuation Stage and I’m still willing to make a commitment to these characters? Then I have to sit down and really think about what they’re going to do over the course of the manuscript. This is the long haul. I’m going spend hours at a time, for months, with this couple. I will lay awake nights because a scene isn’t quite right, or because their story needs more conflict, or I’ve lost sight of their goals. But I’m in the Commitment Stage, by golly! I will stick it out through multiple drafts!

Sadly, this leads to the Break-Up Stage. By the time I finish writing a book, I am fed up with both the hero and heroine. All I’ve done for weeks is deal with their problems.  (Okay, I invented their problems, but that’s beside the point!) I feel suffocated because their needs are taking up so much of my time and energy. I secretly want to see other characters. For a writer this is the dangerous time of rushed endings. I’ve learned the hard way that the characters must be allowed to finish their own stories out.

At last, at last, the final sentence is written and I can put this couple out of my thoughts for awhile. I can move on, to the next couple that has caught my mind’s eye. And the cycle begins again…

Beyond Kilts and Claymores

The archetype of a Scottish romance hero is a Highland warrior wielding a sword in defense of his lady and his clan in the centuries before the Battle of Culloden in 1745.  Those are some of my favorite heroes ever! Take a look at Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) from the first Highlander movie.  Sooo masculine and yummy!

But what about Scotsmen from other times, or from the Lowlands? I have the blessing (or misfortune) of characters that arise in my mind with their era and nationality firmly intact.  This realization hit me while working on the book now entitled Her Scottish Groom.  Although I originally intended him to be English, the book’s hero would not stop speaking with a Scotsman’s burr.  (Obviously HSG wasn’t the working title of the book, lol!) Another challenge was that the characters for this book were creatures of the Gilded Age.

Her Scottish Groom takes place in 1875, when Kieran, Lord Rossburn is forced into marriage with the quiet daughter of an American shipping magnate.  Culloden is over 100 years in the past.  Aristocratic families all over Scotland sent their sons to school at Eton or Harrow. Throughout the Victorian era, Scotsmen served the British Empire in roles from soldier and sailor to Prime Minister.  (William Gladstone, who led Her Majesty’s government four times, was born in Liverpool but both his parents were Scots — a fact he pointed out with pride.)  Robert Burns‘ poetry and Sir Walter Scott‘s novels still preserved Scottish pride in its culture and history decades after their deaths, while in science and technology, Victorian Scots blazed many trails. At the University of Edinburgh’s medical school, Joseph Lister developed antiseptic methods of surgery and argued for the acceptance of the germ theory of disease.  James Clerk Maxwell formulated the electromagnetic theory of physics and predicted the discovery of radio waves.  Future founder of the Labour Party Kier Hardie was a 20-year-old miner in 1875, and Patrick Geddes, a pioneer of town planning and the study of ecology, was 22.

The steelworks and shipyards of Glasgow and the banking and mercantile business of Edinburgh provided most of Scotland’s employment opportunities in the late 19rh century, making life harder in north and west of Scotland.  After a brief period of prosperity during the Napoleonic Wars, when kelp burning, weaving and fishing provided jobs, the potato blight that ravaged Ireland entered Scotland in 1846.  This drastically affected the Highland crofters who depended on them for food and income.  Clearances, the forced emigration of tenants by Scottish estate owners, also continued in the 19th century, while other tenants left the area for jobs in the south.  While the fictional Rossburn estate of Duncarie is just east of the Highland line, it also suffers from the effects of famine and low employment.  It is his family’s only estate, giving the hero a close bond to its crofters.

Like any good Highlander, Kieran Rossburn knows he must honor his obligations to his people, even at the cost of his own happiness.  He just has to use a business plan instead of a blade.  And like any smart lassie, Diantha knows a true hero when she sees one.  Especially when he fills out a kilt as well as Kieran does. (Oh come on! You didn’t think I’d pass up a chance to put my gorgeous Scottish hero in a kilt at least once, did you?)

Thanks for stopping by to read about a different Scotland than we see in most romance novels. What unusual time period or place would you like to read about in a romance?

A Month in the Country

The London Season might have been the pinnacle of the social year, but a family’s showplace and the source of much its prestige (and income) was the country house (and the estate it sat on).  Even in America, Astors, Vanderbilts, DuPonts and Belmonts aped the British aristocracy by building lavish homes on Long Island and in Newport, Rhode Island.  Diantha, the American heroine of my March 2011 release, Her Scottish Groom, belongs to a family who aims to belong to this social elite.  Her husband, the aristocratic Lord Kieran Rossburn, already does.  Much of the action takes place during a country house visit hosted by Diantha and Kieran at his home, an estate near Scotland’s Grampian Mountains.

As my story takes place in 1875, the Scotland portrayed in it differs sharply from the many excellent portrayals of Highland life before and immediately after the Battle of Culloden over a hundred years earlier.  The social rituals involved are decidedly Victorian.  Having sent out invitations to their guests, both the host and hostess then have to think of ways to amuse them for weeks on end.

Travel in that era involved arranging transportation not only for the invitees, but for their maid and/or valet and their wardrobe.  Even after train routes developed, carriages often had to be hired at the station for further travel.  In the early 1800s, and for isolated locations later in the century, it didn’t make sense to travel only for a week’s stay. Nevertheless, invitations to a country estate were prized for the social cachet they bestowed.

Polite guests arrived in the late afternoon so their clothing could be unpacked and that evening’s dinner ensemble pressed and laid out.  Dinner was the grand event of each day of a country house visit unless a ball was planned.  Men and women dressed as formally as they would in London at the height of the season, including jewels and accessories.  No lady wanted to appear in the same evening ensemble more once unless necessity forced her to it.

The day began with breakfast, served for the female guests around 10 a.m.  The men might or might not breakfast earlier, depending on their activities.  For shooting parties and on hunt days, they left house early in the morning.  The opposite of dinner, everyone served him- or herself and sat where they wished.

While men engaged in fishing, hunting or shooting, the women seldom had any vigorous activity to look forward to.  Their day consisted of walks in the garden, letter writing, gossip, or for the really ambitious, reading or needlework.  At five o’clock, everyone gathered in the drawing room for tea.

In Her Scottish Groom, I took the liberty of allowing Diantha to arrange such genteel events as sketching parties and lawn tennis for the ladies, as well as a picnic by the seaside for everyone.  And with a Scottish setting I could even include a golf game.  (Naturally instigated by Kieran.)

Once the gentlemen had enjoyed their port and cigars, everyone mingled over tea and coffee for light conversation, or cards.  A lady was expected to have some musical accomplishment and might that time to demonstrate her skills (or her lack thereof) on the piano.  Victorians amused themselves by singing, so she might end up providing accompaniment to others.  Games like charades or twenty questions were not unusual.

House parties often revolved around events like a shooting party or fox-hunting.  In populous neighborhoods a hostess might plan a hunt ball for her guests and nearby friends, or a smaller dance for an evening’s amusement.  For political figures, a house party could function as a strategic planning conference.

Best of all for me as a writer, house parties are rife with possibilities for meetings, flirtations, making or missing assignations, mistaken bedrooms and countless opportunities for romantic mayhem.  What kind of activity do you would have enjoyed while visiting a country house?

TBR: Life, Libertines and the Pursuit of Hotness!

It’s July, and I just celebrated the 4th.  In the spirit of independent heroines and the bad boys they love, here are some books that I hope will heat up some of my summer days. (And nights.)  Yup, time for another entirely subjective, unscientific list of recent and upcoming releases in my TBR pile:

My Reckless Surrender, by Anna Campbell: The premise of this book involves the maiden running headlong into the arms of a practiced seducer instead of away from him.  (And really, in our imaginations, wouldn’t we all rather do that?) This sounds like the hero and heroine both get caught in their own webs, a device that can make for some great reading. June 2010, Avon

Song of Seduction, by Carrie Lofty: Lofty thinks outside the box in her choice of times and places to set her historical romances.  Centered around a composer hero and a violinist heroine and placed in 1804 Vienna, I have high hopes for this one!  Her angst-filled heroes and heroines absorb me completely. June 2010, Carina

Knight of Passion, by Margaret Mallory:  The family of William and Catherine FitzAlan continues.  This time the hero is Jamie Rayburn, introduced as a small boy in the first book of her ‘All the King’s Men’ series.  If her past novels are indication, very adult sparks are going to fly when he meets his childhood sweetheart, Linnet.  Mallory’s deft use of historical events and detail hooked from the first.  June 2010, Grand Central

The Wicked Wyckerly, by Patricia Rice:  A second son with no sense of entitlement who comes into an impoverished title, his hellion of daughter and a heroine blessed with compassion and common sense — all sound like a charming trio to read about on summer’s day.  Abigail, the heroine, sounds like an especially delightful foil for a rake beset by debts, a sordid past and sudden fatherhood.  July 2010, Signet

Highland Warrior, by Hannah Howell: Howell releases another of her Highlands romances, this one featuring the laird of a rogue clan.  He faces the quandary of ransoming the heroine off to her family for the good of his people or keeping for the good of his heart.  Howell writes so many times and places well, her books are always a treat.  July 2010, Kensington Zebra

So this is my list.  What books do you look forward to reading?

Lilacs, Sawdust and Love

I am writing this in view of the back yard so that I can refresh myself with frequent glances our lilac bush.  Every spring, it produces thick cones of blossoms that range in color from violet buds to the lavender of spent blooms.  Some people don’t care for lilacs because they bloom so briefly, only a matter of weeks compared with the spring-to-summer performance of roses, for example.  And the contrast of shaded purples against the plant’s vibrant green leaves might strike some as garish, but I love it.

However striking their appearance is, the reason lilacs are my favorite flower is invisible, but impossible to ignore: its scent.

Heady, intense, luxuriant, this time of year the perfume hits us as soon as we step out of the back door, even though the shrub sits at the edge of our yard.  I could bury my face in the heavy clusters and breathe their odor in for the next two weeks.  (Apologies to those who suffer from high pollen counts this time of year!)  Trying to analyze the scent with words like ‘sweet’, ‘earthy hints’ or ‘green’ doesn’t work.  One whiff hits my nostrils and all I think is Lilac!

Part of this is because our sense of smell is primitive.  It’s not processed in the cerebral cortex, so is more linked with memory and emotions than with rational thought processes.  I often participated in theater during college and the head of the scene shop never understood why I stuck my head through the doorway and inhaled deeply every time I passed.  He didn’t know the smell of sawdust rockets me back to age three or four, watching my carpenter grandfather in his workshop while I happily play on the floor.  Grandpa died over 30 years ago, but thanks to sawdust, I retain vivid memories of him.  The power of scent works both ways, though.  I couldn’t be in the same room with egg salad for years because of a highly distressing experience involving a sandwich, the back of a station wagon and the flu.

Science debates the importance of pheromones in human mating behavior, but each of us does have a unique scent that can only be disguised temporarily by deodorant or perfume.  Humans don’t have the acute noses of bloodhounds, but on the same subconscious level that triggers emotional memories of Grandpa, personal scents register in our brains.  As a romance writer, I try to keep that in mind as something that draws the hero and heroine together, or repels them from the villain or villainess.  I may not always include it, but I give some thought to what my characters smell like:  Leather? Pine? Soap and water?  Vanilla?  Maybe lemons make him remember burying his face in her hair because she used their juice to rinse it.  Or opening the cedar chest causes her heart to ache because the odor clung to his shirt.

Scent, feelings and memories — an intimate triad of the physical, emotional and mental aspects of our nature.

Capturing Moods: Music

I can’t sing, but because I’ve danced much of my life, and will until I can no longer hobble to the ballet barre, music is one of my essentials.  Where some people need to have the TV on for background noise when they’re home, I need music.  Several different kinds of music.

Anymore, I use radio programs like Pandora on my computer to pull up songs or I carry them around the house on my iPod.  (My family gave me a reconditioned one for my birthday, which suits me perfectly.  No bells and whistles I’ll never use, and enough for me to play with.)

When I’m getting started with the day, the DJ feature on iTunes works great.  That’s when I answer emails, get the laundry started, figure out if I forgot any errands for the day (sadly, a frequent occurance), that sort of thing.  My listening list ranges from Bach to parts of the Twilight soundtrack.  (The latter mysteriously appeared after one of my kids had the computer one day.)

For writing, I’ve discovered that lyrics are problematic.  They can capture the exact feeling my characters are going through, but the words themselves distract me.  At the moment I’m typing to Patsy Cline’s ‘I fall to Pieces’, but once it’s time to get into characters and places, instrumentals work better.  For writing from my hero’s point of view, Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings soundtrack or John Williams’ for Star Wars often work well.  Amazingly, the Transformers II soundtrack has some deep orchestral tracks that conjure up a strong hero either in action or expressing his tender side.

For my heroines, I often resort to romantic piano pieces, depending on what they’re doing in a particular scene.  Chopin’s faster pieces remind me of ballrooms and swirling skirts (probably because his music was used to create the ballet ‘Les Sylphides’, lol!), while his slower pieces let me focus on description or narrative.  I can listen to the lyrics of female country music stars when I’m stumped.  They help me find where the heroine is emotionally in the story and their sassy attitude helps my ladies find their backbones.

Franz Liszt’s passionate compositions  lend themselves to both arguments and love scenes, lol.  The turbulent melodies of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’ also work well for the latter.

Each of us has our own personal playlist: Songs that cheer us up (rock & 80’s pop), inspire us (Josh Grobin, LOTR soundtrack), make us get up and boogie around the living room (curtains closed of course!!) or sing out loud in the car (Kelly Clarkson, Duffy, Michael or Janet Jackson, Marvin Gaye), reflect a sunny day (Jason Mraz, Van Halen)  or a melancholy mood (Rachmaninoff, the Pet Shop Boys) or get us in THE mood (old R&B, baby!).  What do you listen to?  Why?