Monday, May 11, 2009

All ABout Alphas 20 - Questions & Answers

Today's question comes from Caroline -

Hi Kate - love the blog and concept!
Unlike Jill my dh is what I would call an Alpha - as a retired detective in the Met police I suppose he had to be! It seems to me that the Alphas I read about (in the Moderns) are always hot shot corporate types / multi billionaires etc. etc. Sometimes I get a bit bored (GASP!) reading about these types. So my question is - Do you think an Alpha male can exist in a Modern who isn't a multi-billionaire / corporate hot shot? Or have I just crossed the line here and it's an absolute no-no for Modern's?
Caroline x

Caroline – the Modern/Presents Romance is a special case in the romance writing world – and now I think that the Modern Heat books are largely coming up close behind. (Please note I said largely – as the editors are always saying It’s all in the execution’ and with any writing one should never say there are hard and fast rules that must never ever be broken).

When I stared writing, way back in 1984, the hero simply had to be successful. This was important because romance is after all a fantasy. The reader wants to be taken away from their real world where bills have to be paid, nappies washed, floors cleaned, houses repaired . . . and into a world where these things matter so much less. They want to feel at the end of a book that the heroine will live happily ever after and part of that ‘happily’ in most people’s dreams is to have enough money not to worry about the cost of anything or their financial security.

My first hero was a very successful photographer – no billions, not even millions in his bank account. Those have come into the romance world as society has changed and probably as we can see that even doctors, lawyers, even managing directors etc can struggle to keep their heads above water. And then there’s the success element – the reader of the Modern/Presents novel wants to see evidence of the hero’s alpha status – and to most people (again I’m not say to everyone) financial success and status is what they see as demonstrating worldly success. In fact it’s ended up that really ‘billionaire’ has simply become shorthand for ‘a very successful man in his own chosen field in the world.’ And that goes into the title as a ‘buzz word’ and perhaps the readers don’t spot any real differences between one billionaire and another.

For me the important thing is that the hero has made his own way in the world. I don’t write about someone who has simply inherited the fortune/company/estate/bank that his father and grandfather and great-grandfather built up, enjoying the success and not putting in the work. Similarly with someone whose family perhaps has an aristocratic history – and he inherits the lot. I need to see someone who is putting in and has put in his own effort, earned his own fortune. So, for example, he has ‘pulled himself up by his bootstraps’ from an inauspicious and impoverished beginning or, in the book I just submitted, the hero’s father lost everything, and he has had to build it all up again.

I have bucked the trend once or twice - The Hired Husband had a hero who entered into a marriage of convenience with the heroine because his company was temporarily in difficulties after his father had died and his stepmother wanted her half of the business. And other authors have done the same – Anne McAllister’s recent One Night Love-Child has the hero, Flynn, working to make his Irish estate pay after death duties etc. It can be done – but, like having a hero who is not ‘tall dark and handsome’ you can get yourself into a situation where your book is a ‘hard sell’ – where it doesn’t have the glamour and fantasy that the reader of this particular line is looking for. And that is part of the huge success of this line. And of course one of the vital elements of the Modern/Presents story is that the hero who has had everything go his way and proved his success suddenly comes up against a situation in which he can throw all the money in the world at the problem and it won’t change a thing. He has to find a very different ‘currency’, and very different way of going about things in order to solve the problem – resolve the conflict he’s caught up in.

The other thing is that money does raise the stakes. Where a heroine has a problem, the bigger the problem the more the emotional intensity , and a problem where, say she has to find a few thousand pounds could very possibly be solved by a visit to a bank – but a few million pounds. . .? Also, if the hero is wealthy there are the problems involved in the way that people react to him – are they attracted by the money/position - or by the real man?

So again it’s a sort of shorthand – it gets the success/position/fantasy part of the story out of the way so that the reader can concentrate on the emotional part of it. Which is what they want to read.

Again when I started out, film stars, singers, authors could all be heroes – I’ve used all of them – but today’s reader knows that sometimes those worlds can be so tawdry, or relationships rarely last that they don’t find them as satisfying at feeding that happy ever after part of the fantasy at the end of the story. I’ve also created heroes who, when the heroines meet them, don’t appear to be hot-shot corporate billionaires – in The Sicilian Brothers duo both Guido and Vito were taking a year out to do something they’d most wanted to do when they’d had to concentrate on building up the company – so Guido was working as a photographer and Vito was a sculptor. This was one of my ways of showing that these guys had more to them than just money-making skills.

So now I need to turn the question back on you – do you think that you can come up with a hero who isn’t “a multi-billionaire / corporate hot shot” and give him the success/status/glamour that the readers want? If you can then go for it – and I hope you succeed. Once again to go back over those often quoted but so important comments – there aren’t any rules and (all together now!) It’s all in the execution.
© Kate Walker 2009


Caroline said...

Thanks Kate - you answered my question and then some! Much appreciated. Like you say it's all in the execution. You mentioned Anne's books in your blog and funnily enough I've just read her latest here in the uk - Savas's Defiant Mistress - and that didn't have a multi-billionaire etc. He was successful and obviously had enough money to support his (very) extended family but at the end of the day he was an architect (all be it - a very successful one!) Many thanks once again for what has been an EXCELLENT insight into the Alpha Male psyche. Take care. Caroline x

Caroline said...

Forgot to mention that I'm *trying* to create an Alpha male for my latest wip - a historical. My hero is a successful wine merchant. Whether he's a millionaire (seserties - after all I will be setting it in Ancient Rome circa AD80!) I haven't decided yet - but he will be successful and he will be an Alpha! (He'd better be after all the info. you've just given!) Take care. Caroline x


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