I once received a note from an editor who was working on a short piece I contributed to LOVE IS MURDER. I’m going from memory, so I’m paraphrasing, but it said something like, “Only you could take a damaged individual like Rex and turn him into such a great hero.”
I had to smile at that, probably because I love stories where all is not as it seems. I also love to redeem characters that have made mistakes (thanks to the way they were raised or other setbacks) but have good hearts when it comes right down to it. In WHEN SUMMER COMES, I have a hero who is a vet with PTSD, and he is basically homeless at the beginning of the story. I redeemed the town “mean girl” when I gave Sophia DeBussi a happily-ever-after in TAKE ME HOME FOR CHRISTMAS (this received a starred review in Library Journal and was named one of the Ten Best Romances of 2013). I wrote about a recovering drug addict heroine who has finally grown up and is fighting to build a better life in COME HOME TO ME. So…I guess you could say that while some authors are busy writing stories about characters who are rich, beautiful and perfect, I’m empowering characters who are a lot more like the people I’ve met in my own life. Seeing such “every day” folk overcome tremendous challenges and find happiness is so hopeful to me, because it shows that anyone can turn their life around.
So, with some of my books, I have paupers who are really princes at heart—most often in the contemporary books. And in others, like my new historical romantic suspense, A MATTER OF GRAVE CONCERN, I have princes (actually a duke) who, at first, seems like pauper. Maximillian Wilder is posing as a resurrection man (they were also called body-snatchers), which was pretty much considered the worst occupation in 1830s London (and there were some pretty bad ones). When Abby, my heroine, first meets Max, she is definitely not impressed. She just wants to buy the corpse he’s selling for her father’s medical college; it can’t continue without subjects. She considers Max and the gang he’s with a necessary evil. But she is a little frightened, especially when Max terrorizes her on purpose to make sure she stays well away from him and what he’s trying to accomplish. His neglected half-sister (the bastard child of his father) has gone missing, and she was last seen in the company of Jack Hurtsill, who runs the gang. Max is determined to find Madeline and doesn’t want to risk associating with anyone who could blow his cover.
Abby has her own agenda, however—one that throws her right back in his path.
When I first wrote this story, I was worried that readers might be too put off by the creepiness of my hero joining a gang that digs up dead bodies and sells them to medical colleges. But I found the research so intriguing I just couldn’t resist. It’s hard for those of us in modern times to imagine having to sit out in a cemetery in order to guard the body of a loved one, but that was exactly what was taking place less than 200 years ago. History had simply handed me the ideal set up for a historical suspense novel.
Are there other difficult occupations that I might have my heroes or heroines do? Absolutely! In my spring Whiskey Creek release, THIS HEART OF MINE, I feature a heroine who’s just getting out of prison after serving a number of years for murder. She didn’t really commit that murder, but everyone in Whiskey Creek believes she did. Anyone in her shoes would go anywhere else. But her son lives in Whiskey Creek with his father, and she’s determined to be part of his life at last. This is probably the most poignant book I’ve ever written. So I don’t think any occupation or background is off limits. I think it all depends on how real the characters seem and whether or not their motivations and actions are believable and sympathetic.
What about you? Are there some occupations/backgrounds you believe heroes or heroines in romance fiction should not have? Are you put off by the fact that my hero, Max in A MATTER OF GRAVE CONCERN, is posing as a resurrection man?