Thu
Mar 7 2013 4:30pm

Do-Good Heroes in Romance Novels are Thin on the Ground

About the Baby by Tracy WolffWhen I started writing romances, I was told avoid the do-gooder hero. Military men and billionaires? Thumbs up. The billionaires can always be philanthropic and send their bucks to an orphan asylum. Naturally the military guys will protect the orphans by blasting the bad guys who threaten them. But to go into the asylum and take care of the kids every day, full-time? Not going to fly with romance readers.

I figured the romance world had changed. Not every hero has to be an alpha or dangerous, and they don’t have to all make big bucks. Doctors are okay, of course. But a really quick look on the internet showed that the docs tend to be heads of hospitals or surgeons who might do some charity reconstruction work on the side…but as a life calling? Not so much.

Yo, how about some male nurses?

Hadn’t I just read a book about an epidemiologist that traveled the world, seeking sources of diseases? Whoops, in this case it is the heroine in About the Baby by Tracy Wolff. Kara is so devoted to tracking down the sources of horrible diseases, she’s almost killing herself at her job, literally. Lucas, the hero in the story, is a doctor at a low-cost inner city clinic so he certainly qualifies for the title of Do-Gooder Guy.

Sex and the Single Fireman by Jennifer BernardOkay, well, if you need a heroic hero fix, there are always cop and firefighter stories, such as Jennifer Bernard’s Sex and the Single Fireman. A book with that title has to have the standard elements of beefcake, and it delivers, yet it also spends a fair chunk of time exploring the profession. The firefighters feel like working men and women and you get a sense of what their job entails.

Catherine Mann is known for her SEAL series but she also has a four-book series based on the military pararescuers, military types who go for extreme rescue situations.

Still, I had trouble finding the humanitarian heroes. How about a crusading activist? There are political undertones to activists that are big no-nos in romances, editors have warned. Yet I know I’ve read a few books featuring heroines who set out to defeat the encroaching environmental disaster (Usually perpetrated by the hero who has to learn his lesson).

When I looked through my overloaded bookshelves and Kindle, I couldn’t find the professional good Samaritans. There are social worker heroines and heroines who work in refugee camps. Why can’t I find the guys who do it too? Okay, there are some guys in those camps (see Suzanne Brockmann’s Breaking Point), but they’re not the heroes.

I put out the call on a couple of RWA loops and people directed me to a few helping heroes who aren’t cops or firefighters.

When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa JamesWhen I looked more thoroughly—and forced my friends to look too—I found some doctors in it to help mankind, and not just Lucas in About the Baby. Eloisa James’s historical When Beauty Tamed the Beast stands out because the hero, Piers, doesn’t charge his patients and trains other doctors. (I love that book, and not just because the grouchy Piers is so obviously based on Dr. Gregory House.) If we’re talking historical doctors who aren’t in it for the money, there’s also the military surgeon, Philomen Brittle, in Carla Kelly’s The Surgeon’s Lady.

How about some other helping professions out there? My friends came through with ideas.

Someone pointed out that JoAnn Ross’s Sea Glass Winter has Dillon, the ex-military now physics teacher who also coaches basketball.

One friend suggested Dance with Me by Heidi Cullinan. Her hero Ed is a former semi-pro football player who volunteers with inner city youth at a rec center. The other hero, Laurie, dances with the kids too.

Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical Thief of Shadows has a fabulous hero, Winter Makepeace (Hoyt does go for the unusual names!). He is a masked hero who champions orphans and fights for the poor.

A Road Not Taken by Jennifer ThorneI think that the winner of the most activist do-gooder has to be Jascha, in Jennifer Thorne's male/male The Road Not Taken. Jascha is an eco-warrior who rebuilds houses in third world countries after devastating natural disasters.

I’d be grateful if someone would point out more heroes who spend their professional lives helping the beleaguered, the hungry, and the orphans. Your hero gains bonus points if he conjures images of Jimmy Stewart in a Capra movie.

 


Kate Rothwell set out to write a natural-born do-gooder in her historical Somebody Wonderful. She writes romance using her own name and the pseudonym Summer Devon. Kate lives in Connecticut with four men (three of whom are her sons). You can out more about her at KateRothwell.com and SummerDevon.com.

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6 comments
Sabrina Garie
1. Sabrina Garie
Great post. I feel your pain, but I think you identified a potentially real market with the right lever. I just finished a novella, Next Move, accepted by a small press, where the hero is a high school soccer coach specializing in working with special needs kids, whose first wife divorced him for lack of ambition. Heroine has a special needs kid. He's still an alpha (former boxer, street kid) take no prisoner kind of guy--but responds to his heart. I'll be cheering for the other do-gooders out there in whatever form they take.
Sabrina Garie
2. Angelia Sparrow
I tend to specialize in sociopaths.

But I have Chuck Hummingbird in Glad Hands, a trucker who donates and works regularly with the local QUILTBAG youth shelter, and rescues runaway/throwaway kids on the side. At one point, his folks are talking about an underground railroad to get QUILTBAG identified people out of Heartland and the CS (two countries of the DisUnited States). He looks at his latest rescue and says "You've fallen into the hands of radical do-gooders."

Teague Albright of "Long Term" is a university president who regularly helps people thrown out of bad relationships get back on their feet. His latest project is Ian.

Mike in "Master Bear" is a hospice nurse, there to comfort the family of the dying and ease their passage.

Robin Hood count? I have a novel, Heart of a Forest, and a steampunk short story in Like a Corset Undone.
Heather Massey
3. HeatherMassey
Great post. I'm a fan of do-gooder heroes and one that stands out for me is the hero of C.J. Barry's futuristic UNMASKED. He's a space pirate with a heart of gold--his lifelong mission is to rescue slaves and he has a real soft spot for kids/orphans.

The trick with good guy heroes is to make them compelling and avoid them being overshadowed by their "perfect" natures (which is basically true of any character in this category). It might take more work than using the "dangerous Alpha" shortcut but it can be done, and done well.

I personally think they make great foils for anti-heroines. Good guy heroes also can have high "emotional IQs" and I love to see them in action when paired with emotionally damaged heroines.
Kareni
4. Kareni
Does a vicar count? I'm thinking of Adam Sylvaine in A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long.

I haven't read it, but there's also When Bruce Met Cyn by Lori Foster. (I read the companion book, The Secret Life Of Bryan, in which Bryan
takes the place of his identical twin brother who is in charge of a homeless shelter.)

Which reminds me -- Lori Foster's heroes in the Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor series are all fighting against human trafficking.
Sabrina Garie
5. Jennifer Thorne
Thanks for thinking of my book, Kate. I wasn't sure how Jascha would go over, not being very 'alpha'. In fact, both he and Peter were so different I wasn't sure at ALL! But, I'm glad you liked it, and especially liked the premise. We need more heroes who are in it for more than themselves and their own gratification... in general.
Kathryn Hall
6. kahall2
Can't forget about Ash from the Dark-Hunter series. Even though he spends most of his nights kicking butt to keep the world (and the rest of the Dark-Hunters) safe, he also spends time in childrens' hospitals and working with Habitat for Humanity to help rebuild New Orleans. Plus there is the weeky xBox game session where a bunch of the surliest characters from that series let a little boy in a wheel chair beat them all at the game they play.
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