Thursday, January 15, 2009

I Love a Swashbuckler

Captain Jack in my bedroom! Oh my! Oh, my fainting heart!

I know, get off it. This is an excellent example of the difference between reality and fantasy that so many scoffers of romance think women confuse. I know perfectly well this is Johnny Depp in Captain Jack costume. No, to be really real, this is a cardboard image of Johnny Depp in costume, and this is not even my bedroom. It's my office/guest room, which is ridiculously over-crowded with insignificant things such as six-foot tall cardboard renditions of my favorite Swashbuckler. And no, I didn't steal him from the theater. Jack was given to me by a friend who stole him from a theater, although she will not admit that to this day. Unfortunately for Jack, she grew tired of a six-foot tall piece of cardboard taking up space in her office, and discovered her imaginary heroes did more for her than a real, physical chunk of cardboard. (Bow your head in shame, Diana.) This is also why Jack is propped against the closet door of the least-used room in my house. (Most of my work is actually done in my bedroom, but Jack is not actually welcome there, since another somewhat more live male also inhabits that room.)

I've always had this thing for the Swashbucklers. Errol Flynn in all his movies. Harrison Ford in Star Wars. Robin Hood, who was a bit of a crossover, but still fully SB. Maybe it's the swords and arrows. They are pretty phallic, you know. Sure, you can have a modern Swashbuckler, because it's all really a matter of mentality, but I gravitate toward those of the previous centuries. The Earl of Uxbridge (Marquess of Anglesey after Waterloo) was clearly a Swashbuckler. He was also much handsomer than this, but he shows his SB nature more clearly here. Uxbridge had other strong SB characteristics, which became evident when he eloped with Wellington's sister-in-law, which got him banned from his favorite SB sport, the Peninsular War. But it was his sweetheart who was ruined. He eventually got back in the game, and was a major hero at Waterloo. He led a famous charge, but later while simply sitting astride his horse next to Wellington, had his leg blown off. In typical SB style, he said, "By God, I believe I've lost my leg." Wellington, equally the adventurer, responded, "By God, sir, I believe you have."

The Earl of Uxbridge by Hamilton Smith

The pure SB, as Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders tell us in their book, The Complete Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes, lives for adventure. He's fearless, exciting and capable. But he's also unreliable- too busy swashbuckling to remember to pick up the kids at day care, fool-hardy and selfish. The very idea that his heroine might want him to bring home a paycheck from a desk job is offensive. He'll promise all the emeralds from the next booty, but when you inform him emeralds don't usually come with booty these days, he'll just tell you it's all the emeralds or nothing. You'll just have to wait until the emeralds come along. And you can be pretty sure he means it. What our pure SB needs to be a really worthy hero is a very large dose of reality and empathy. But then he'd be a different kind of hero.

The straight SB can get boring in a hurry. No problem for him, of course, because he's almost always ready to move on before his heroine is. In real life, I get tired of these guys very quickly. They're as cardboard as Captain in the corner of the least-used room. Psychiatric diagnosis is probably Severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Add an addiction to danger and excitement and inability to form healthy relationships. Sorry, not my hero. Cardboard is flat and collapses in the middle.

Hedwig and Ivo by Dopler

But in fiction as well as real life, most of our best SB heroes are crossovers with other types. They may be off to the New World to tackle pirates or sink the French like Lord Nelson, but their relationships mean something to them. They'll make it back to Kiddieland before closing time, maybe even trade their beloved chronograph for groceries if the ship sank and starvation of their family is imminent. These are the men who very literally give their lives for others, especially those they love. He doesn't have to be a pirate or lead the charge at Waterloo. He can find his great adventure in exploring Africa or beneath the lens of a microscope. He is a seeker. But the ones we love most also seek love and relationships. Their hearts call for humanity.

And then-- what happens when the time comes and our great Swashbuckling Hero must reach for his sword? And what if he knows doing so will cost him the True Love he's always desired and needed? What if he loses his life, and leaves her alone? That's the essence of his conflict. And because he is who he is, we know his decision could go either way. Or because he is so daring, his solution could be something beyond our wildest imagination.

Maybe that's why I love a Swashbuckler so much. Anything could happen.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I Need a Hero- Why?

The Vigil, ca. 1884, by Scottish artist John Pettie

I discovered hero worship very early in life. I can't say exactly when, but I do know I was actually walking by the time I realized I had a hero. He was tall, blond, with big, round brown eyes. He was strong. He could pull me in his wagon, or when I got stuck trying to get down from the couch and my little legs dangled precipitously far from the floor, he could lift me down to safety. He was smart. He taught me things. He could count, and he knew all the letters, and he even taught me the first letters of my own name. And nobody could color like he could.

The parts I don't remember, my mom told me, so I know this is the truth. One day, my older brother took crayons and coloring books and we got down on the floor to color. With great swooping strokes across the page, he made magnificent pictures from those bland black lines on white paper, and in awe, I tried to emulate him. Crayon in my pudgy little right hand, I swooped green stripes over the page. But they were so clumsy-- so-- wrong.

Carefully, I studied my hero to try to discern his secret. Somehow, I could see, his streaks were going in a different direction. Where his crossed the page at one angle, mine were the other way. How did he do that?

Then I saw it. Of course. How dumb of me. In my naive child's logic, I realized my hero was using his left hand, and I was using the wrong hand. Then, very deliberately, my mom said, I moved the crayon from right hand to left, and continued coloring, with my green streaks crossing the page just like my hero's. And mom always said that was why both my older brother and I are left-handed, to this day.

My first hero is still my hero, and my younger brother John eventually also received hero status (although he had to first grow up before his fine qualities could be recognized since he was, after all, YOUNGER. More about him and his amazing abilities another time.) But I learned heroes can come in many forms.

Eventually heroes often became romantic heroes, but the basis for all my heroes is the same. They have to be someone I can admire. In some way. Someone who has some way of making life better. More exciting. That's the tricky thing when it comes to romance, because like most readers/writers, I love a dark hero maybe even more than the shining knight.

It was a sad point in my life when I began to realize heroes all have flaws. But that was something I also quickly learned to accept as I realized this is the one tie they have to all humanity. The Lone Ranger was an early fantasy hero for me. Then I began to realize I didn't exactly like the way he treated Tonto. But he was who he was in his time, and like many a man before him (and he really was a man behind that mask, even I knew that) he hadn't reached the point of realization about prejudice yet. You can't realize what you don't know. Sad to say, the great Bringer of Justice For All missed his own point. But his point was still valid. The quest for justice and fairness is sometimes elusive, but something worth seeking even if the hero didn't quite get there.

You might have noticed, the photo of my brother and me is taken aboard a 19th century ship. It's the Surprise, from "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World." Surprise is a replica, not a restored ship, purpose-built for the movies, and it now sits in San Diego Harbor as a museum piece. My brother, despite his desperate need to finish some unexpected work the weekend I visited, knew how badly I wanted to see the ship. Hard though it was, we managed to squeeze in an extra hour right before my plane departed. Wow, three heroes in one! Make that four, even more! In addition to Dave, there was Russell Crowe, all the heroes of the Aubrey-Maturin heroes of Patrick O'Brian's novels, and then Admiral Nelson and his great battle against Napoleon's fleet at Trafalgar. If there had been no Nelson, no Trafalgar, there would have been no basis for O'Brian's novels, for that battle was a huge turning point in world history. The testosterone was overflowing the decks.

Imagine me leaning over the glass of this battle replica, seeing in my mind the battle at exactly this point, explaining to my brother Nelson's great audacity in sailing directly at the French lines to break them, knowing the placement of the French guns is both their greatest strength and greatest weakness, and at exactly this point (my finger dares to actually touch the protecting glass) his flagship is in great danger...

He was impressed. He wasn't all that familiar with the history of this moment and how it changed the world, or that ropes aren't ropes but lines, that they would have been tarred to protect them from weathering, or that sailors were called tars because tar was what covered everything, and sailing ships aren't actually romantic at all, despite the obvious fact that they are. But I saw something different.

I was realizing exactly at this moment why I need heroes. At this very moment, all my heroes had converged into one. They were a grand abstract, a being above and beyond all of them, all one and indivisible, yet all unique and separately outstanding.

For all their flaws and humanness, heroes lead us forward. They reach into the darkness for a light they cannot see. For me, even the darkest hero must rise above the crowd in some way that makes me see more, want more, reach higher. In this way, they all are Alpha, no matter what else they might be. They change the world, or they change one person. They make something, somewhere, better.

So I need heroes. I might prefer mine wearing a Coldstream Guards uniform and fighting with desperate fury at Hougoumont at Waterloo, and you might want yours in a wetsuit, but they're all the same in one special way. Fictional or real, they give off sparks as they reach toward the unknown. They make life shine.

About Me

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I write write write. Sometimes I travel. Then I write some more. And I have a great family who understand that I write write write.