O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Okay, okay. So Shakespeare’s play ends in tragedy, but that hasn’t stopped generations of women hunting for their personal “Romeo.” And one place an amazing hero can always be found in between the covers of a romance novel.
But the young, forbidden hero of Shakespeare’s time has recently made way for all different types of love interests. From historical highlander hunks to fanged, fearsome vamps, no character is off limits in the imagination of a romance author.
However, many readers forgo the fantasy of paranormal and mystery of the past in order to stay in modern times to read all about a contemporary hottie. And at this year's RT Booklovers Convention we couldn’t leave out the realistic heroes that make us swoon, so today romance authors Victoria Dahl, Shannon Stacey, Erin McCarthy, Beth Ciotta, along with moderator Louisa Edwards and editor Sarah Frantz, sat down to discuss how they go about “Reinventing The Modern-Day Romeo.”
THE APPEAL OF THE CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE HERO
“A man doesn’t have to perform a supernatural act to win a woman’s interest,” says Beth Ciotta. “Sometimes all it takes is holding open a door. Or intervening on her behalf in tense or dicey situation. Ordinary gestures can be the most memorable and meaningful ... because they could happen in everyday life.”
This idea of a reader being able to imagine themselves in the book was a common theme throughout the panel. Shannon Stacey says that crafting a moving fantasy for readers with a realistic story is all about making the reader believe that guys like the hero actually exist. “Unlike shifters or vampires, a woman could bump into a guy like my Kowalskis at the gas station.”
(We don’t know what gas station Shannon frequents, but consider us there!)
Louisa Edwards agrees that a down-to-earth romance with characters we recognize can make for an extra special story. She says that she loves writing about “protective brothers, devoted husbands, and loving fathers I see all around me in real life.”
Another reason to love a contemporary read is that you aren’t distracted by supernatural hoopla, the story is all about the romance. This laser focus on the couple is exactly the way Erin McCarthy likes best. She says, “I tend to write heroes who know what they want and that is the heroine, and who doesn't like a hot guy in heavy pursuit?”
GETTING TO KNOW ROMEO
Each of the members of the panel writes (or edits) contemporary heroes, however, no modern day man is alike, and this is especially true for this group of authors.
On the panel, Victoria Dahl represented the contemp that is a bit spicier than normal fare. This was evidenced when asked the favorite hero she has ever written and she picked Chase from Lead Me On. “He wants to take care of you ... even if that means being exactly the kind of rough guy you like in bed.” Oh the things your heroes get up to Ms. Dahl! But even though her stories sizzle, there is still an underlying friendship achieved by the H/h. Victoria proves that a writer doesn’t have to choose between writing a sweet romance or an erotic romance. An inherent playfulness along with explicit sex can succeed when done just right.
Shannon admits that for her, romances are all about family, which is not surprising since the author has become synonymous with her bestselling Kowalski family series. A hero that faithfully represents the family is Josh from All He Ever Dreamed. Shannon says, “Josh really broke my heart trying to balance his dreams with the needs of his family, and realizing he had a thing for his best friend didn't help.” Best friends, family members and other secondary characters are always present in Shannon's work because in order to really get to know a hero, you have to know how they were raised, how they treat others and what kind of company they keep.
Beth is another author that digs deeply into her characters’ past to reveal their true selves. Her goal when writing a contemp hero is to show that they have “lots of layers.” For a great example of this, Beth suggests checking out her newest hero Jayce Bello from The Trouble With Love. “I love that he's a tough guy — confident and able, a warrior and protector. But I'm also attracted to his sensitive side — his efforts to champion the underdog — bullied children, neglected animals.” Beth’s stories often prove that the fastest way into a reader’s heart is by creating a champion.
A true hero can also be found in Louisa Edwards next contemp novel, which she is writing under the pen name Lily Everett. Grady Wilkes from Sanctuary Island may be hiding from a horrible incident, but even as his own life crumbles, Grady takes on the responsibility of protecting horses. And in true Louisa form, there is a lot more than meets the eye in Grady. The author just laughs, “What can I say? I'm a sucker for a gentle giant, especially one who loves animals!”
While many of the panel’s authors write small town romances, there is one who goes for more intensity — Erin McCarthy. Her addictive Fast Track series gets readers attention because of the larger-than-life athlete heroes. (And boy, does it get steamy in those race cars!)
Each of these authors craft heroes that you will want to get to know more, but editor Sarah Frantz is quick to point out that a hero doesn’t have to be perfect in order to climb to the top of a reader’s swoon-worthy list. One example Sarah gives of an imperfect protag is Ash Winters from Alexis Hall’s m/m Glitterland. Sarah freely admits that Ash, who is a bipolar depressive writer, starts out the story a “pretty awful person.” But with deft characterization and long emotional journey, Ash comes to terms with his faults and knows he must change in order to deserve Darian’s love.
WHAT MAKES A MODERN DAY HERO?
At the hands of expert writers and insightful editors, more and more contemporary “Romeos” are finding their way onto our bookshelves and e-readers, but what is it that these experts believe makes us crave more? Victoria Dahl says, “I find it incredibly sexy when men respect and appreciate women. Which isn't to say they're not damaged or even distrustful, but at their core, all of my heroes are kind of in awe of women. Who can resist that kind of aphrodisiac?”
We know we can’t! We also can’t get enough of a hero who has the ability to laugh at himself and bring us in on the joke. Shannon Stacey reveals, “I think it's safe to say any of my heroes will (probably) always have a sense of humor that helps him through the good times and the bad.”
(And speaking of humor, Erin interjects that a hero who keeps his apartment or house clean is always appreciated!)
Cleanliness, humor and respect are always welcome in our books, but is there a formula, a tried-and-true recipe for crafting the “perfect” hero? Editor Sarah Frantz says no, however, she does believe that by the end of the book the hero should want to be a better person because of his partner, both feel unworthy of and yet fight to deserve the love of his partner.
And that’s what we call true romance!
Do you have a favorite modern day romance hero? Let us know in the comments below. And to learn more about the panels and events at this year's RT Booklovers Convention, follow this week's RT Daily blog feed!