Wednesday, June 4, 2014

For Romance Characters, It's Just a Job … Or Is It?

by Nancy Herkness)

You've taken those tests that tell you what your profession should be based on how you answer a series of questions. So your job says something about your personality and vice versa. Writers agree, choosing the occupations for their characters with care and thought … and sometimes just for fun. We asked several whose heroes or heroines have particularly interesting jobs what drove their choices.

Tracy Brogan, author of The Best Medicine

In my second Bell Harbor book, The Best Medicine, heroine Evelyn Rhoades is a plastic surgeon. I chose that profession for a couple of different reasons. First, I needed her to have a job that was time-intensive and required a lot of discipline and skill. Her having spent much of her life training as a physician was integral to the plot because it explains how she finds herself at 35 years old without having dated much. She's been focused on work.

At least, that's what she's always told herself, but as the story progresses, readers realize that in some ways, she has used her career as an excuse to avoid emotional entanglements. Both of her parents are cardiothoracic surgeons and have a historically contentious relationship, which also plays into Evelyn's views on marriage vs. career.

The other aspect of her chosen profession that is key to the plot is the fact that, as a science-minded individual, Evelyn thinks evidence should always trump emotion. Imagine Spock, but as a curvy, redheaded woman! So when she decides it's time to get married, she thinks a computerized dating site and a carefully crafted list of requirements will yield predictable, logical results. Needless to say, it doesn't.

So, when a seemingly reckless younger man crashes into her life and stirs up lots of lovely, lusty feelings, she can't process that data! As a physician, she's learned to set aside personal feelings in order to do her job well, but in matters of the heart, love wins.

The third component of having my heroine be a physician is that when she first meets the hero, she thinks he's unemployed. Turns out he's not, but even so, his job requires much less education and this becomes a source of discontent. The idea of "is he good enough for her" is felt by both of them and is ultimately the biggest hurdle they must overcome before finding their happily ever after. But, of course, they do!

Nancy Herkness, author of The Place I Belong

Executive chef Adam Bosch, the hero of The Place I Belong, wasn't meant to be a hero. He started out as just a name in the first Whisper Horse novel, Take Me Home, a way for Tim to impress Claire by getting reservations at a high-falutin' restaurant on short notice.

In the next book in the series, Country Roads, I needed an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor for my hero's brother. Since I've read that alcoholism can be an occupational hazard for chefs, I immediately thought of Adam and brought him to life in one crucial scene in that book. He was so dark, damaged, and fascinating to me that I simply had to write his story in The Place I Belong.

Which brings me to what being a chef says about Adam's character. First, he's a sensualist; he loves not just taste but texture and beauty (which makes him a hot lover). Second, he's a perfectionist with all the pressures that can bring to bear on an imperfect human being. He cannot settle for less than the best from himself. He is very aware of his inadequacies and finds it hard to forgive himself for them.

Finally, as an executive chef and world-class restaurateur, Adam has constant access and exposure to the finest wines and spirits. For a recovering alcoholic, it requires almost superhuman self-control to hold the line against touching a drop of liquor. His battle with that particular demon shows Adam at his most tortured and most heroic.

Eloisa James, author of Three Weeks with Lady X

HGTV is responsible for Lady X's profession as a house-decorator with three weeks to redo an entire country house. My daughter and I have an addiction to watching interior decorators compete against each other, which led me to wonder what it was like to decorate in the period. People often went bankrupt and lost their estates in Regency England — gambling was a common problem. Someone had to redo those houses for the new buyers! I had great fun figuring out what a Venetian mirror cost in the late 1700s, not to mention the cost of a pound of chocolate, silk stockings for footmen, and hand-painted wallpaper.

Alison Kent, author of Beneath the Patchwork Moon

My Hope Springs series has been centered around several of my favorite crafty things: cooking (especially brownies!), gardening (especially vegetables!), and sewing ... though it's been a lot of years since I've pulled out my machine. As I got to know Luna, the heroine of Beneath the Patchwork Moon, sewing morphed into weaving, which I've never done but have always been fascinated with.

I think the inspiration actually came from an article showing celebrities wearing scarves. I'd researched weaving in the past, and did gobs more, and fell in love with the idea of telling stories with textiles. It worked perfectly for Luna's situation because she had so very many stories to tell ... about the best friend she lost, the first love she lost, but also about flamenco dancers and music and gorgeous engagement rings and true romance.

Joan Kilby, author of Home to Hope Mountain

I was lucky enough to have my own horse growing up. For years my life revolved around these beautiful, intelligent, empathetic creatures. So any time I can work horses into a story, I jump at it.

In Home to Hope Mountain, my heroine, Hayley, is known as the "horse whisperer." She treats trauma victims with horse therapy in the aftermath of the bushfires that devastated her small Australian community.

Researching the use of horse therapy to treat people with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder was fascinating. The moment when the patient learns to calm themselves enough to get the horse to trust them is very emotional.

Hayley's work weaves through the story on several levels. One of her patients is the hero's 14-year-old daughter who suffers anxiety over what happened to her the night of the fires. Hayley helps the teen control her anxiety through forming an emotional connection with her horse.

When Hayley falls in love with the hero, she faces a dilemma. As his daughter's therapist she can't reveal the girl's secret even though it's something her father has the right to know. Also, Hayley gradually realizes she has her own unresolved issues from the fires and uses horse therapy on herself.

I loved writing this book and I hope readers enjoy my humble tribute to our noble friends, horses.

Mary Jo Putney, author of Sometimes a Rogue

Some characters appear in a finger snap when a role needs to be filled in a story. That's how Rob Carmichael, hero of Sometimes a Rogue, was created: because the hero of the first book in my Lost Lords series needed some investigative work done. The series features men who were sent to a school for boys "of good birth and bad behavior," and all were more or less square pegs in round holes who had to learn how to create a place for themselves in their world.

Just for fun, I decided to make Rob another alum of the school. Since it turned out that all my heroes ended up needing investigators, bodyguards, or both, Rob kept turning up in each book and becoming more and more three-dimensional. Naturally I had to give him his own story.

So why did I make Rob a Bow Street Runner besides the fact that his skill set was useful? To emphasize the vast estrangement between him and his aristocratic family. Runners are low creatures who deal with criminals. Horrifying! But a penniless man needs to earn a living, and Rob had been thrown out on his own as soon as he left school. His talent for solving problems and finding lost people led him to a Regency form of law enforcement.

When the twin of a duchess is kidnapped in her sister's place, Rob is the logical man to send after her. And when unwelcome attraction flares between Rob and Sarah as they race across Ireland to safety, he is very aware of the vast social difference between an aristocratic young lady and a Bow Street Runner …

Hope Ramsay, author of Inn at Last Chance

In Inn at Last Chance, my hero, Gabe Raintree, is a bestselling horror novelist. I selected his profession for several reasons. First, I wanted a dark and brooding gothic hero, but I'm so tired of the millionaire trope. A guy who writes creepy stories seemed way more interesting to me.

In addition, I knew from the start that I was writing a book about a haunted house. It tickled my funny bone to think about a horror novelist moving into a haunted house and having to contend with a ghost who insists on editing his work. Rather brutally, I might add.

Finally, Inn at Last Chance is part of a series of stories that feature the local book club. So when the library in town is threatened with budget cuts, my book club members come up with a fundraising idea that involves my hero giving a book talk and reading. This fundraising event becomes an important turning point in the novel, where my hero has to confront not only the ghost in the house, but the ghosts that haunt his past. Not to mention that meddling book club ladies are always kind of fun.

Susannah Sandlin, author of Lovely, Dark, and Deep

Shane Burke, the hero of my romantic thriller Lovely, Dark, and Deep, is a deepwater salvage diver on the skids. His profession was sort of a fluke of timing. I wanted to set up a high-stakes search for a piece of the lost Knights Templar treasure, a ruby-encrusted cross. The bad guys want it, and they're leaning on the heroine to produce it. She needs to find someone with the right skill set to help her before her deadline is up.

Before I started writing the book, when I was still noodling around ideas, I read a biography of a ship salvage diver who worked off the eastern coast of Canada — known as the "death coast" for all the ships that have gone down there. I became fascinated with the idea that there are layers upon layers of ships dating back to Viking days resting on the sea floor undiscovered. From that came the idea of the Knights Templar cross being lost at sea, and then I needed someone who could find it: a deepwater technical diver. I now know more about drysuits, regulators, decompression sickness, and fins than anyone who doesn't dive should!

I actually had the personality for Shane before I had his occupation, taken from a song by Slaid Cleaves called One Good Year. It's about a man who's been knocked down so many times that he's losing hope. He thinks if he could get one good break — just one — he could turn his life around and undo some of the damage he's done. So I already knew that Shane was on the skids. He's drinking too much, barely hanging on to his tec diving certification, hiding from life down in Cedar Key, Florida.

The bank's about to repossess his boat — which is where he lives. And this woman walks in when he's all hung over and offers him redemption (although of course he doesn't recognize that at first). One crazy dive for a whole lot of money. Of course, it turns out to be more complicated than that, and he learns that his redemption comes not from money but from love and his own ability to forgive himself for his past mistakes. Sending him on a dangerous dive where he has a lot of people's lives riding on him brings up all his doubts and fears — and gives him that one chance he's needed.

Nancy Herkness is the award-winning author of the Whisper Horse romance novels set in Sanctuary, West Virginia. The second in the series, Country Roads, is nominated for a 2014 RITA award in contemporary romance. Her latest release is The Place I Belong. Find out more at


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