Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Unusual Heroes: Why We Love Them by Jennifer Ashley
It’s probably no secret that I like an usual hero. The hero in the recent release of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, features a hero with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is considered to be high-functioning autism. (I never state this in the book, but the syndrome wasn’t given a name until the mid-20th century, and the story is set in 1881).
Traits include the inability to make eye contact, trouble with nonverbal cues and subtext, obsession with detail (but missing the “big picture”), and others. Not everyone who has AS exhibits the same traits, and the syndrome tends to present differently in men than women.
Why did I decide to write Ian the way I did? The number one reason was: I thought he’d be interesting. I like to write about interesting people, places, times, problems. I’m not supposed to; I’m supposed to write romance to the “rules,” but I’ve never been one to follow the rules.
The book is a romance, of course, with a HEA ending, and it’s about Beth teaching Ian that he really can love (and already does), despite his problems relating to other people.
Ian Mackenzie isn’t the only unusual hero I’ve written. If you’re an Allyson James fan (me in disguise), you might have read the Tales of the Shareem books I wrote for EC. Futuristics about men created in a genetics factory, bred for one purpose and one purpose only—to pleasure women. Now they’re outlawed, the factory shut down, and women come to them in secret for sensuality that is forbidden in their society.
When I started writing the series, I thought, “What am I doing? No one will want to read about these guys because they’re not powerful, rich, in-charge men. They’re little better than slaves with no rights and no money.” But the characters had grabbed me, and I wanted to write about them. Result: The Shareem is my most popular EC series, and copies have continually sold since early 2005. (Fans: I’m just submitted TOTS: Calder.)
I’m also working on a new paranormal called Pride Mates. It’s a shape shifter romance, but I decided to forgo the ultra-rich, ultra-powerful males story. Instead, my Shifters are outcasts, shunted by human society into enclaves, forced to wear collars that suppress their violent tendencies. The hero is Liam, who is the liaison between the humans and the Shifters, and Kim Fraser, a defense attorney put into the position of defending a Shifter accused of murder. When worlds collide… That’s coming up in Feb. 2010.
Over to you blog readers: Who are some of your favorite unusual romance heroes? Not necessarily disabled heroes—just different from the norm. Or whoever? What about heroines? Any standouts? Or—why don’t you like them?
Jennifer will give away winner's choice of a book from her backlist (under any name: Jennifer Ashley; Allyson James; Ashley Gardner). Answer Jennifer's question and don't forget your email addy to be entered.
“I find that a Ming bowl is like a woman’s breast,” Sir Lyndon Mather said to Ian Mackenzie, who held the bowl in question between his fingertips. “The swelling curve, the creamy pallor. Don’t you agree?”
Ian couldn’t think of a woman who would be flattered to have her breast compared to a bowl, so he didn’t bother to nod.
The delicate vessel was from the early Ming period, the porcelain barely flushed with green, the sides so thin Ian could see light through them. Three gray-green dragons chased one another across the outside, and four chrysanthemums seemed to float across the bottom.
The little vessel might just cup a small rounded breast, but that was as far as Ian was willing to go.
“One thousand guineas,” he said.
Mather’s smile turned sickly. “Now, my lord, I thought we were friends.”
Ian wondered where Mather had got that idea. “The bowl is worth one thousand guineas.” He fingered the slightly chipped rim, the base worn from centuries of handling.
Mather looked taken aback, blue eyes glittering in his overly handsome face.
“I paid fifteen hundred for it. Explain yourself.”
There was nothing to explain. Ian’s rapidly calculating mind had taken in every asset and flaw in ten seconds flat. If Mather couldn’t tell the value of his pieces, he had no business collecting porcelain. There were at least five fakes in the glass case on the other side of Mather’s collection room, and Ian wagered Mather had no idea.
Ian put his nose to the glaze, liking the clean scent that had survived the heavy cigar smoke of Mather’s house. The bowl was genuine, it was beautiful, and he wanted it.
“At least give me what I paid for it,” Mather said in a panicked voice. “The man told me I had it at a bargain.”
“One thousand guineas,” Ian repeated.
“Damn it, man, I’m getting married.”
Ian recalled the announcement in the Times——verbatim, because he recalled everything verbatim: Sir Lyndon Mather of St. Aubrey’s, Suffolk, announces his betrothal to Mrs. Thomas Ackerley, a widow. The wedding to be held on the twenty-seventh of June of this year in St. Aubrey’s at ten o’clock in the morning.
“My felicitations,” Ian said.
“I wish to buy my beloved a gift with what I get for the bowl.”
Ian kept his gaze on the vessel. “Why not give her the bowl itself?”
Mather’s hearty laugh filled the room. “My dear fellow, women don’t know the first thing about porcelain. She’ll want a carriage and a matched team and a string of servants to carry all the fripperies she buys. I’ll give her that. She’s a fine-looking woman, daughter of some froggie aristo, for all she’s long in the tooth and a widow.”
Ian didn’t answer. He touched the tip of his tongue to the bowl, reflecting that it was far better than ten carriages with matched teams. Any woman who didn’t see the poetry in it was a fool.
Mather wrinkled his nose as Ian tasted the bowl, but Ian had learned to test the genuineness of the glaze that way. Mather wouldn’t be able to tell a genuine glaze if someone painted him with it.
“She’s got a bloody fortune of her own,” Mather went on, “inherited from that Barrington woman, a rich old lady who didn’t keep her opinions to herself. Mrs. Ackerley, her quiet companion, copped the lot.”
Then why is she marrying you? Ian turned the bowl over in his hands as he speculated, but if Mrs. Ackerley wanted to make her bed with Lyndon Mather, she could lie in it. Of course, she might find the bed a little crowded. Mather kept a secret house for his mistress and several other women to cater to his needs, which he loved to boast about to Ian’s brothers. I’m as decadent as you lot, he was trying to say. But in Ian’s opinion, Mather understood pleasures of the flesh about as well as he understood Ming porcelain.
“Bet you’re surprised a dedicated bachelor like myself is for the chop, eh?” Mather went on. “If you’re wondering whether I’m giving up my bit of the other, the answer is no. You are welcome to come ’round and join in anytime, you know. I’ve extended the invitation to you, and your brothers as well.”
Ian had met Mather’s ladies, vacant-eyed women willing to put up with Mather’s proclivities for the money he gave them.
Mather reached for a cigar. “I say, we’re at Covent Garden Opera tonight. Come meet my fiancée. I’d like your opinion. Everyone knows you have as exquisite taste in females as you do in porcelain.” He chuckled.
Ian didn’t answer. He had to rescue the bowl from this philistine. “One thousand guineas.”
“You’re a hard man, Mackenzie.”
“One thousand guineas, and I’ll see you at the opera.”
“Oh, very well, though you’re ruining me.”
He’d ruined himself. “Your widow has a fortune. You’ll recover.”
Mather laughed, his handsome face lighting. Ian had seen women of every age blush or flutter fans when Mather smiled. Mather was the master of the double life.
“True, and she’s lovely to boot. I’m a lucky man.”
Mather rang for his butler and Ian’s valet, Curry. Curry produced a wooden box lined with straw, into which Ian carefully placed the dragon bowl.
Ian hated to cover up such beauty. He touched it one last time, his gaze fixed on it until Curry broke his concentration by placing the lid on the box.
He looked up to find that Mather had ordered the butler to pour brandy. Ian accepted a glass and sat down in front of the bankbook Curry had placed on Mather’s desk for him.
Ian set aside the brandy and dipped his pen in the ink. He bent down to write and caught sight of the droplet of black ink hanging on the nib in a perfect, round sphere.
He stared at the droplet, something inside him singing at the perfection of the ball of ink, the glistening viscosity that held it suspended from the nib. The sphere was perfect, shining, a wonder.
He wished he could savor its perfection forever, but he knew that in a second it would fall from the pen and be lost. If his brother Mac could paint something this exquisite, this beautiful, Ian would treasure it.
He had no idea how long he’d sat there studying the droplet of ink until he heard Mather say, “Damnation, he really is mad, isn’t he?”
The droplet fell down, down, down to splash on the page, gone to its death in a splatter of black ink.
“I’ll write it out for you, then, m’lord?”
Ian looked into the homely face of his manservant, a young Cockney who’d spent his boyhood pickpocketing his way across London.
Ian nodded and relinquished the pen. Curry turned the bankbook toward him and wrote the draft in careful capitals. He dipped the pen again and handed it back to Ian, holding the nib down so Ian wouldn’t see the ink.
Ian signed his name painstakingly, feeling the weight of Mather’s stare.
“Does he do that often?” Mather asked as Ian rose, leaving Curry to blot the paper.
Curry’s cheekbones stained red. “No ’arm done, sir.”
Ian lifted his glass and swiftly drank down the brandy, then took up the box. “I will see you at the opera.”
He didn’t shake hands on his way out. Mather frowned, but gave Ian a nod. Lord Ian Mackenzie, brother to the Duke of Kilmorgan, socially outranked him, and Mather was acutely aware of social rank.
Once in his carriage, Ian set the box beside him. He could feel the bowl inside, round and perfect, filling a niche in himself.
“I know it ain’t me place to say,” Curry said from the opposite seat as the carriage jerked forward into the rainy streets. “But the man’s a right bastard. Not fit for you to wipe your boots on. Why even have truck with him?”
Ian caressed the box. “I wanted this piece.”
“You do have a way of getting what you want, no mistake, m’lord. Are we really meeting him at the opera?”
“I’ll sit in Hart’s box.” Ian flicked his gaze over Curry’s baby-innocent face and focused safely on the carriage’s velvet wall. “Find out everything you can about a Mrs. Ackerley, a widow now betrothed to Sir Lyndon Mather. Tell me about it tonight.”
“Oh, aye? Why are we so interested in the right bastard’s fiancée?”
Ian ran his fingertips lightly over the box again. “I want to know if she’s exquisite porcelain or a fake.”
Curry winked. “Right ye are, guv. I’ll see what I can dig up.”