Back in the day, romance novels were riddled with strong, unflinching, impenetrable heroes. When Alec and Nathan think their father is bullet proof in the beginning of Inevitably a Duchess, it’s easy to realize they have a childish, fanciful notion of their father. But in old school romance novels, this was not always the case. Back then, the hero really was bullet proof. And bullet proof gets kind of boring.
When I first started writing, I would lose interest in a piece rather quickly when I tried to stick to what was then the formula for romance novels. The heroine was a damsel in distress. The hero was a mighty warrior (or duke) there to rescue her. Well, what if the heroine didn’t need his bloody help?
And what if the hero couldn’t save her? In the original version of Son of a Duke, Nathan faints at the sight of blood. I loved it. I thought that was defying all formulas ever set out for heroes. But in the case of Nathan, it made him a little too weak, and Nora needed better than that, so I cut it out. But it doesn’t mean I won’t use that again down the line. Heroes don’t need to be bullet proof to save the world, get the girl, and look good doing it.
That was the question I wanted answered when I started writing my stories. The relationship between hero and heroine needed a lot more give and take. If it was all give on one side of the relationship, there wasn’t much story there for me. I wanted a true, brutal, realistic tug of war between hero and heroine. That’s where you begin to see the honest characterization of people. That’s when the hero and heroine come off the page and dance a jig for you. That’s when you know as a reader that this story could really happen. So the heroine would not be helpless, and the hero would not be afraid to do the laundry if the need arose.
I didn’t know I would face resistance with this stance on heroes and heroines. As a writer, you like to push the limits. See how far you can go. See what worlds you can create. So as a young, naive writer, I did just that. I created these awesome heroes who stubbed their toes and said the wrong thing. I created heroines with a stubborn streak the size of Texas and brains as wide and deep as Canada.
And nobody wanted to buy that.
This came as a real surprise to me because I thought writing was all about pushing the envelope, diving into the unknown, trying something different. After all, isn’t that why the backspace key was invented? So when I first started querying to the big publishers in New York and London, I thought (again, naively) that I had this in the bag. My heroes and heroines were different, and everyone wants different, so they’re going to buy this!
Well, they didn’t.
In fact, I’ve never gotten such amazing, wonderful, detailed praise for my writing as I did from all of the editors I submitted to during those years. I had regular correspondence with an editor for Mills & Boon in London in which she kept pushing me on to write to the formula. And I tried for two whole novels until I realized this was crap, and I hated it. What the big publishers told me was that I could write, but they couldn’t buy what I was writing.
I had pushed the formula too far, and it made the stories I wrote unsaleable in the eyes of the big guys. But thanks to a technological revolution, I didn’t need those big guys to get my stories to the people who really mattered to me: readers. They told me I could write, and I knew readers wanted stories. So I took my stories to the readers, and as it turns out, readers don’t want the formula either. They want a hero who will do the laundry when needed.