Friday, January 23, 2009

Heroes: masterful but no bullying, please!

I write historical romances, and like my heroes to be strong-minded and powerful. Alpha, yes, but not a bully. For that reason, I give my heroes doubts and 'issues'.

A man who does not listen, who never pities, who treats those around him like dirt, who always orders without explanation, who never allows the heroine an opinion or input - these traits are not attractive to me. In my romances, even in a master-slave relationship, there must be trust and respect. There are good historical reasons to show this: it was rare, but masters and mistresses did sometimes free their slaves and marry them as equals.

I try to show this by humour and tenderness. Lovers or soon-to-be lovers are indulgent to each other and they listen. In this scene from Flavia's Secret, Marcus owns Flavia. He has his own reasons for being uneasy with slavery and although he is masterful, he is never a bully. I love writing bright, caring, passionate women and my little Flavia is a particular favourite of mine. Here she is with Marcus, arguing about what she thinks is right:

Flavia ignored the rest of Dexter's sales patter and focused on the
headstone. The inscription was full of conventional platitudes about
so-and-so being a perfect mother, but with no true sense of the real
woman beyond the centurion's wife. Above the lettering was a carved
figure of a woman seated on a couch, dressed in a fine gown and
jewels and holding a fan.

`Yes, I like the size and the clarity,' Marcus was saying. `The fan's
impressive, too: the way all the folds are shown.'

`Naturally, we would produce the same standard for Lady Valeria's
memorial,' Dexter said, rubbing his hands together as if he was
already scenting a sale.

`Then we are agreed,' Marcus said, nodding approval. `And the price?'

Let it go, Flavia thought, as Marcus squared up to the bearded
sculptor to begin haggling, but she could not. `My lady never used a
fan,' she said.

At her low distinct voice, the two men stopped in mid-bargaining and
stared at her.

`What was that?' Marcus demanded, his eyes narrowing.

Flavia did not know if he was irritated at being interrupted or angry
at being reminded of Lady Valeria's true character, but she
persisted. She loved Marcus, but she had loved her mistress, too, and
to have a memorial that captured so little of that lady—

`You cannot have a headstone showing her with a fan.'

`They are very fashionable,' said Dexter, smoothing a smear of chalk-
dust from his beard.

`Only women of substance are shown with fans.' Marcus took a step
towards her, his jaw clenching ominously. `Would you have your lady
shown as less?'

`I would have her shown as she was,' said Flavia. `She considered
such things—' and here she waved a hand at the carved figure—`as
total frippery. If you must show her with anything, show her with a

`We can do that,' said Dexter rapidly, glancing from Flavia to Marcus.
Marcus was shaking his head. `By Mithras, you're a stubborn wench,'
he growled.

Flavia swallowed but did not budge, or flinch as Marcus stooped
beside her, shading his eyes as he glared at the headstone from her
eye-level. `What fuss,' he muttered.

`Would you be shown with a fan?' Flavia retorted.

The instant she spoke, she bit her lip, not daring to smile, but
Marcus' shoulders shook at her suggestion. `All right!' he exclaimed,
laughing, throwing up his arms. `Let the Lady Valeria be carved
holding a book!'

`And the inscription?' asked Dexter.

`Ask Flavia.' said Marcus laconically, but he was smiling. He
scratched his stubble along the length of his jaw and chin. `You
mentioned wine?'

In this scene, Marcus acknowledges Flavia's reason. He respects it. He changes his mind as a result. That kind of generosity of spirit is what makes a male Alpha to me.

Writing historical romances means that the roles between men and women are often more starkly defined. In a society where men were often armed to the teeth and there were no police, a lone woman could be vulnerable. I explore the romantic and sensual possibilities of this disparate 'power' relationship in my novels, but always in the end it is the lovers themselves who 'win' and who go off in a committed relationship of loving partnership. Sometimes the man 'tales charge' for a space, sometimes the woman. (If you want to see a role reversal involving a warrior woman and a sword, you may be interested in my forthcoming Bronze Lightning.)

I leave you with a scene from my forthcoming medieval historical romance, A Knight's Captive, where the hero Marc acts as a hero should and rescues the heroine, Sunniva:

"Rot in hell and back!" Marc bawled, bringing his sword round in a close, lethal arc that raised sparks on the bastard's belt buckle and rent a bloody welt across his chest. "No sanctuary here - you are dead!"

He stamped on the jerking creature and raised his sword, aiming for the heart, when a low moan beside him had him tumbling to his knees to guard her. At the same instant, her two attackers crawled away, stumbling through the door and out.

Marc let them go. Dropping his sword, he gathered Sunniva into his arms, whispering over and over in Breton, "You are alive. Safe. Safe, my angel. Safe."

He had been so afraid she was harmed that having her trembling but whole beneath his hands was overwhelming. Tears stormed into his eyes, swiftly followed by rage.

Where was her father? Her brothers? Where were the useless escorts, meant to protect?

"Hush, hush," he crooned, rocking her back and forth as he struggled to keep his own grief and anger in check.

He dared not look at her too closely while he had tears in his eyes and looked so unmanned, but the warrior's sense in him told him she was not fatally hurt in the flesh. He could smell no blood or sickness on her and though she shook, she did not grimace or writhe in pain.

The injury to herself, however: her integrity, trust, humor, spirit - Marc furiously blinked away the moisture in his eyes as he prayed that Sunniva would soon recover and forget.

"King Christ, ruler of heaven, let her not be afflicted by night terrors, as my poor Isabella is. Let her know peace."

He should be raising the alarm, since none of the other fools of the pilgrim party seemed to have realized yet that anything was amiss. He should be returning to his own three. In a breath, his memory went back to the fire that had carried off his elder brother Roland and his wife: on that dreadful night he had cradled his niece Alde in his arms, even as he was now clutching Sunniva; he remembered how his and Alde's tears had mingled as they clung to each other.

Sunniva did not cling. She was still too stunned to do anything save take great gasping breaths and shiver. There was a dark, welling bruise on the left side of her cheek and her eye was puckering, threatening to close altogether. Tears had streamed down her face; he saw them glistening near her nose and quivering lips. Such a red, soft mouth -

"Do you hurt anywhere else?" he asked softly, relieved when she shook her head. Longing to wipe away her tears, he held her close.

Best wishes, Lindsay.


Linda Banche said...

Lindsay, great excerpts.

You and I are in complete agreement. My heroes have to be decent men. I've read recent books where the so-called "hero" is a total slimeball. Just because after pages and pages of abusing the heroine, he somehow makes a magical transformation into a good guy by the end, it's suppposed to be OK.

Well, it's not OK. I refuse to waste my time and money on such "heroes". I want to read about a decent man. Nice guys can be strong and wildly attractive. My preferred hero is a decent man who's been kicked around a bit, and it's made him an even better man. Now there's a hero.

Lindsay Townsend said...

I agree totally, Linda! A hero who can be redeemed or changed is ok by me - I like Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books. But a guy who is a dirt-bag throughout until the last couple of pages: that doesn't work for me.

Martha Eskuchen said...

Hi Ladies! I agree too. A strong and dominant male still should have feelings about others - even if he fights those feelings!
And lovely excerpts! Thanks Lindsay! (Also, thanks for identifying the painting from the other day!!) I had to retype this as it didn't post properly.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks, Martha! (Fighting feelings is always interesting in a hero!) And it was a pleasure to mention that glorious picture. Savanna always gives us beautiful writing and pictures.

Savanna Kougar said...

Lindsay, beautifully spoken and explained. Like Linda I can't stand slimeball heroes.
I love my heroes strong and commanding, but never abusive or brutal.
A real man, IMHO, acts as your heroes do in your wonderful excerpts. Thanks for sharing them.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thank you, Savanna! I agree. And I really admire the way you make your heroes so compelling and powerful without ever being mean. Your Volcano... sigh

Francesca Prescott said...

I love the "no bullying, please", Lindsay, because it speaks volumes. A creep is a creep, and can never suddenly morph into a kind, caring, supportive prince charming. However, creeps are often quite good at hiding their true colours under all kinds of facades. The heroine's job is to expose creeps for what they are. She then has to make it on her own, or find a supportive man to encourage her to make it. A combination of the two seems to work best for me. But bullies will definitely be prosecuted!

Lindsay Townsend said...

Absolutely, Francesca! I love the way your Gemma discovers who is the creep and who is the prince in Mucho Caliente!

Sara Humphreys said...

I couldn't agree with you more about a hero being Alpha but NOT a bully. I adored your excerpts too! We want a strong sensitive man...not a caveman.

LK Hunsaker said...

Agreeing here, also. A bully isn't a hero - he's a villain. A man who shows no weakness and no faults is only eye-rolling comical.

I enjoyed your excerpts, Lindsay!

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thank you, Sara! I agree- cavemen are not "In". (Unless they too have complex motives and a caring side.)My history side is squeaking to come out with facts here but I'm gonna squash it.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks, LK! Even a 'baddie' isn't bad in his own eyes. I agree about the eye rolling bit. I'm so thrilled everyone has enjoyed my excerpts and this post.

Savanna Kougar said...

Lindsay, Volcano is blowing you a special sparkly kiss...

Btw ~ you should do a bloggie about your 'squashed' historical info.

Francesca ~ "But bullies will definitely be prosecuted!" ~ hey, what if we had Happily Ever After T-shirts made up with that printed on the back... I luv it!

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Lindsay,
Lovely excerpts. I agree entirely. A man can be masterful without being a bully. Although in an historical, your hero can get away with more than in a contemporary.

Lindsay Townsend said...

That is fun, isn't it, Margaret? (Using history to add a little spice.)Than you for the feedback.

Savanna, I'm with you on the teeshirts! I'd love one with that super pic of the knight and lady and a slogan on the back.

Francesca Prescott said...

Savanna, I love the tee-shirt idea! We could do one with a mosaic of all our covers! How fun would that be?!

Savanna Kougar said...

Lindsay and Francesca, I love both those t-shirt ideas...

Of course, I don't dare walk around the grocery store with the cover pic of Red Lioness Tamed... on second thought...hmmm...