Alaina Drake discovered her love of writing in the fourth grade when she won her first young author writing contest. After attaining a bachelor’s and master’s degree in English Literature, she set out to write novels that combine her two loves: erotic romance and classical literature. She has taught literature and writing at both the high school and college levels, and when she’s not writing, you’ll find her watching sports, baking cookies, and, of course, reading way past midnight. She is an avid rock climber and former ballerina, and she finds a lot of connection between the two activities despite their obvious differences. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and daughter. She loves to interact with her fans on Twitter, Facebook, and on her website where she blogs about writing, reading, and the everyday joys of motherhood.
No More Mr. Nice Guy?
Have you ever found yourself up late reading a book that simply everyone has been talking about? You’ve seen it on Twitter. You’ve seen dozes of posts about it on your favorite blog. So, you pick it up thinking that you will absolutely adore it.
And then you don’t. In fact, you want to throw it across the room. At one a.m., you go onto Goodreads and Amazon, flabbergasted at all of the five star reviews. You then begin to wonder if it’s just you. Everybody else loves it. Why don’t I?
A year ago, before I wrote my first novel, I had a string of such books, and I tried to figure out why. When I lined up the books I was frustrated by, I realized that they all had one thing in common: the heroes were jerks.
Any reader will tell you that one of the most popular trends right now are the super possessive, ultra-dominant, uber-controlling, stubborn heroes who are so crass that my eyebrows are permanently furrowed.
They make me gape in awe as they are able to woo what are supposedly strong, modern women by their caveman behavior. They are sometimes so rude to everyone that a quarter of the way through the book I’m cheering for them not to get their happily-ever-after, which (of course) they always do.
Which troubles me even more.
I understand the detractors’ argument here. They’ll say, “Yeah, but look how much he grows by the end of the novel. Nobody is perfect. He has to start out a jerk so we can see him grow.” I understand the point here. Really I do. But, I have two problems with that.
First, it is usually the love of a virginal, virtuous woman who often saves him from his immoral or reckless behaviors. This trope is very tiresome to me.
Second, what makes me shake my head is that I wonder why the woman allows him to treat her like that. What is most troubling is that because he’s handsome, because he’s rich, because she lusts after him with every cell of her being, she grants him multiple passes often against her best judgment.
This thematic trope and characterization is not new, of course. My master’s degree is in Nineteenth-Century Literature, so I am well acquainted with the Byronic hero. Remember Mr. Rochester from Bronte’s Jane Eyre? Remember Heathcliff from Bronte’s Wuthering Heights? The list could go on and on. These heroes are considered Byronic because of their qualities: proud to the point of arrogance, moody, rebellious to the point of being anti-social, vengeful, judgmental, keepers of dark secrets and scars…
But they are also maddingly and darkly erotic. We’re pulled to them like a moth to a flame (I think we’ve all read this metaphor at least a dozen times). We’re consumed by them and their ability to have strong affections for the women they finally let in. And when we read such heroes, we get to imagine that we are one of those lucky women who get to fix them.
Sound familiar? Christian Grey? Gideon Cross? I could name dozens of heroes off the top of my head.
So now that we know that the current trend is not separated from a larger movement that crosses centuries and genres, now what? Do we continue to pen erotic romances in 2015 that fall in line? Do we need and want another Byronic hero? Do we need and want the erotic romance “alpha-holes”?
Most importantly, I asked myself, could someone write an erotic romance that was steamy, hot, volcanic (choose your adjective) without such a hero? Was it even possible? Could the nice guy also rip your panties and make the sheets pop off the corners of the mattress?
That was when the idea for my first novel was born: I set out to write the anti-byronic hero. I wanted my character, Beckett Stanton, to be the healer, the man committed to his morals, the approachable man who was easy to laugh and able to poke fun at himself. I wanted him to be honest with his emotions. Soon, Beckett was talking to me as I washed dishes or folded clothes. He told me he was a doctor who healed cancer patients. (I know, I know—surprise! The nice guy cures kids no less!) He was intensely emotional and sensitive. He had no deep scars that made him moody or judgmental. He had no skeletons in his closet (or a crazy woman in his upstairs apartment like Mr. Rochester). He didn’t need saving from a virginal, virtuous woman.
Thus, my heroine Hannah was born, and I fell in love with her. Because Beckett was a whole person who had strong convictions and a working moral compass, Hannah didn’t have to be it for him. She was allowed to grow too. She was given license to be a real woman that I could identify with. In fact, I’d love to sit and drink a bottle of wine with her and her three roommates.
What happens when two confident, assertive people who don’t have dozens of secrets in their past meet? How do they fall in love when their convictions are so strongly rooted in their personalities, not in their scars? These are the questions I wanted to answer, questions the Byronic heroes of today, or yesterday, don’t allow their authors to ask.
Did I succeed? Maybe. Readers will be the judge of that. But, I enjoyed the experiment whose hypothesis was that nice guys sometimes do get the girl.
I’d love to hear your thoughts as well! What type of hero are you most attracted to? What frustrates you about some heroes? What trends do you see in heroes?
An excerpt from her latest novel Forbidden Touch..
An hour later, we landed, retrieved our suitcases, and claimed our rental car. We drove to a suburb where the houses got progressively bigger and the landscaping more elaborate. During our drive, Beckett’s glances drifted from the road to the passenger seat. “I want you to know I told my parents that we’re friends. While I don’t mind that my parents know we are … physical, I thought maybe this would be easier. We’ll definitely get fewer questions this way. And when I was trying to convince you to come with me, I made you that promise. I intend to keep it.”
“Thanks. I think it’ll make the weekend more enjoyable.” Trusting him was crucial to our arrangement and our friendship. Being able to do so took a weight off my shoulders I hadn’t realized I was carrying.
Beckett soon turned into a gated subdivision. As I looked out through the window, the passing scenes struck me. Gone were the lush green grasses and weeds. Gone were the trees with actual leaves. Those Boulder staples were replaced by rocks, sand, and stone. Gone was the feeling that nature was plush and abundant and warm. Despite the fact that Phoenix’s air was much hotter, it was colder here, harsher. As I stepped out of the car in front of a mansion of terracotta and landscaping boulders, I was sure that I’d never been on more unfamiliar ground.