With kind permission of MANIFOLD PRESS: here's a copy of the Author Guest post I wrote which has recently appeared on their blog and LJ.
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At first, it seemed to me that I might have difficulty deciding on a subject for my guest blog, since my fellow authors have already staked out the territory so ably. I feel much the same way as F.M. Parkinson about proof-reading and editing, for example, and take just as much delight in research as Morgan Cheshire; from that point of view, they've already said more or less everything I might have wanted to say myself on either subject. (Although I do envy Morgan that workhouse trip, despite all the travelling involved!) However I was lucky enough to have one of those great 'light-bulb' moments when inspiration strikes out of a clear blue (well, grey, actually) sky, and it came to me all of a sudden that one subject I have particularly strong feelings about is the heroes themselves.
To me, the very definition of a hero is that he is flawed. Although I grew up on a diet of superhero comics, physical perfection – or any other kind of perfection - in a hero is not particularly interesting to me. After all, if a man has great physical powers and a massive intellect, as well as … let's say … shining azure eyes and a tousled mop of blond curls, he's actually likely to get on people's nerves rather a lot. I suspect that's why as a general rule we expect our actors and sports people to have feet of clay - and why we're never really surprised when we hear that they've been caught out in a sex scandal or cheating on their taxes – because we know that perfection is impossible and we instinctively distrust anything that seems too good.
That's why I prefer heroes who are world-weary, or who have been beaten-up by life to a greater or lesser extent. I like them to have achieved a certain amount of self-knowledge, to have sorted out their priorities, and to be able to recognise the potential for a satisfying long-term relationship when it comes their way – no matter in what unprepossessing guise. You see - and I say this with great respect to those authors who see things differently – I just don't believe looks matter a row of beans; it's what's beneath the surface that counts most.
That's why you'll find very few – if any – gorgeous 27-year-old hunks in my books. (And even fewer who are younger than that!) I won't pretend that at 27 a man isn't capable of being heroic or of making life-changing decisions – of course they are, because men of that age are serving in the armed forces and getting married every day of the week and in every country in the world. They're also, however, wildly over-represented in romantic fiction - to the extent that I'm aware of some people who think romance, heroism and even sex are either indecent or frankly impossible for anybody over the age of 30 or who isn't drop-dead gorgeous. (Or indeed both!) Not only that, but there is a distinct subset of opinion that ugly or geeky or clumsy or unhappy people don't deserve to be loved by anybody, and that's so flagrantly unjust as well as unkind that I'm determined to do anything I possibly can to showcase more unconventional heroes and hopefully redress the balance a bit.
The storylines that appeal to me are the ones in which ordinary men – the sort you might see at the bus stop, or queueing in the Post Office – are presented with situations and choices that they're not fully prepared to meet. I like to challenge them, to shake them up a bit, to move the goal-posts in what might previously have been a generally uninteresting life. Take Chad in DEAR MISTER PRESIDENT, for example; he's minding his own business one day when Fate unexpectedly gives him the opportunity of saving the President's life. If Chad hadn't been at work that day, or if he hadn't intervened, the history of the world would have been very different – and yet Chad's no conventional hero, he's an image analyst with a back-room job and no great claim to personal beauty; he's simply the right guy in the right place at the right time. Those are the people I care about, the ones who make life pleasanter – or even possible - for others in a thousand tiny ways simply by existing, and by doing what they do.
There's a film called 'Something For a Lonely Man', in which the romantic hero is played by Dan Blocker – yes, 'Hoss' from 'Bonanza' of all people - but that doesn't make it any better or worse than your traditional love story, just different. There's also 'Clerks II', which features among other things a love story between ordinary-looking Brian O'Hallorhan as Dante and the stunning Rosario Dawson as Becky; it's believable because we're shown why a beautiful woman might well be interested in a man who doesn't look like a Hollywood star – she can see through the humble exterior and learns to value the person he is inside. These are a couple of examples from the heterosexual world, but the same holds true across the board - whether it's men loving men, women loving women, or a mixture. "We do not love people because they are beautiful," says the proverb, "they are beautiful because we love them." Or, to paraphrase Howard Keel in 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers', "If looks were all that mattered, there'd be a power of lonely [people] in the world." Also, if looks were all that mattered, there would be far fewer interesting storylines in the world – and far fewer fascinating characters for authors like me to write about - which is one of the many reasons why I'm profoundly grateful that it isn't so!