Friday, March 21, 2008

Alpha heroes

There's a lot of talk about alpha heroes in romance novels.

They are often accused of being cruel, arrogant, haughty, and downright nasty -- until, of course, they understand how wrong they were about the heroine and then have a metanoia sort of conversion somewhere around page 186.

Far be it from me to deny they can exist. Though I wouldn't necessarily call all the men who behave like that "heroes."

But I suppose really, it depends on what your fantasy is. If you like those guys described above, that's what works for you.

It doesn't work for me.

My alpha hero doesn't do 'cruel.' And he doesn't do 'mean' or even 'downright nasty.' Arrogant, yes. Haughty, sometimes. Silently judgmental? He can.

Oh, yes, he can. (Ask Seb). He can even be judgmental out loud.

He can also be wrong. (No surprise there).

But when he is, he has to be honorably wrong.

If he's going to make judgments, he's got to have a believable reason for it. He's got to have a backstory that predisposes him toward such a belief. He's got to think he has evidence for it. And he's got to be believing it in service to a higher good.

He doesn't jump to conclusions just because he's the hero -- especially wrong ones -- just so he can repent in the end.

And if he's a McAllister hero, even if he believes the worst, he doesn't do anything that would make the heroine rightfully hate him. If he did that would simply prove he has no right to be her hero.

I'm spending a lot of time thinking about this because I am dealing with that issue in Seb's book.

I'm also thinking about it because I just re-read Jane Donnelly's story The Man Outside. Last Thursday on the Pink Heart Society blog, I wrote about Jane's books and, especially, her heroes.

To do so, I got a stack of JD's keepers off my shelf and began to re-read them. Several of them have heroes who believe the worst of the heroine. Not always -- not in my favorite, Behind a Closed Door, in which the heroine believes the worst of the hero.

But in The Man Outside, Piers Hargreaves gradually opens up to Polly's interest and then learns the truth -- but not the whole truth -- that she was dared to try to reach him. The implication is that her interest is a sham, that she is manipulative and doesn't care for him at all.

He could react cruelly. He could do his best to destroy her because he does have all the power and influence an alpha hero should have.

But he also has the honor that allows him to absorb the pain, and the intelligence to look for the root cause of it (that would be the jealous other man who has told him this 'truth'), and to recognize who is really telling the truth.

He doesn't displace his anger. He does something constructive with it -- because that's the kind of man he is. And over the course of the story he has learned from Polly how to reach out to other people, how to risk his emotions, and ultimately how to demonstrate his love.

So when circumstances might allow him to be cruel, he is anything but. He is remote, he is standoffish, he is quiet and self-contained. But he is honorable. And because he loves Polly, he has a long range plan that will turn the tide his way.

As the end approaches and Polly fears all is lost, we readers trust that it's not.

We know that she has loved him well, that she has seen the man inside Piers Hargreaves -- and that her love has helped him find the means of expressing who he really is.

He is strong and steadfast, intelligent and powerful, relentless and singleminded in his pursuit of her. But he will do it in a way that proves to Polly he's every bit the man she believed he was -- an honorable man, a determined man, a commanding man with an inner core of gentleness that will never allow him to hurt the woman he loves.

For me that's a real alpha hero. It's the man I want to find inside Sebastian.

If you haven't read Jane Donnelly, seek her out. Discover that the alpha hero often gets a bad rap. He isn't at all what his detractors make him out to be.

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Blogger Kate Walker said...

Absolutely! Great post

Hear hear! And Hear hear again!
But did yu have to make me want to go and find my Jane Donnelly books and reread them? I have an alpha of my own to to deal with.


22 March, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

I thought you'd agree, Kate. So glad you do. And maybe losing you for a few hours to a Jane D hero or two would shape Santos up. Here's hoping!

And happy birthday to your mother-in-law!

22 March, 2008  
Blogger lidia said...


Finally able to access your site and blog!

I totally agtee with your viewpoint regarding alpha heroes. I think that so many women have "issues" with the alpha male is because of the ones that are "nasty" and become "wonderful" on page 186 or so of a book that is less than 200 pages long.

As you and Kate are well aware, I have my hot points when it comes to the alphas. However, I still have not given up on HPs. I continue to read my favorite authors and avoid the others.

In many respects it saddens me because I am sure that some of the books that I avoid are great but I've been burned too many times and decided to take the conservative approach.

I love reunion stories. However, so many of the newer books include adultery that I just end up passing them up.

I recently read a book -- it would have been great/wonderful/fantastic, etc...except for the fact that the married couple was separated for 2 months (just 2 months) and in that time the H had numerous affairs. Now while I admit that he had cause to think the h had betrayed him, how could he have numerous affairs in such a short peiord of time? In the end, he didn't even apologize for that. What really upset me was that other than that it was a fabulous book. Full of emotion on both sides. It showed how difficult it is to come to terms with betrayal (even though the betrayal on the wife's part didn't happen but they didn't know it until the end) and learn to move on.

Anyway, I love your books Anne. I know that I've told you before but for some reason "Island Interlude" is still my favorite. Maybe because I read it so many years ago and can still vividly remember details of the story. Whatever the reason, it made a huge impact.


24 March, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Hi Lidia
Great to have you here. I hope you will be able to get here regularly.

Thanks for your comments on alpha males. I think that the behavior that some regard as "alpha" is not really a necessary part of being an "alpha" at all.

For me the biggest part of being an alpha hero is being honorable and trustworthy (and that would pretty much preclude adultery). I have not read the books you are referring to. I don't doubt they exist, but I, too, am pretty selective about what I read, and so I pick my way through the line-up.

I'm glad you aren't giving up on HPs because there are, truly, some great books in the line. I don't read any 'line' regularly. But I read books that I like in a lot of different lines. I often try new authors if they seem to be writing about something I'd be interested in. If I like their voice, I will go a lot further with them than if I don't. That's a deciding factor for me, really. It affects how I feel about the people. I will tolerate some 'misbehavior' on the part of a character if the author can convince me that this person would do this and I don't hate him for it. Depends on the book and the author, I think. But I tend to have the same reaction you do a lot of the time.

24 March, 2008  

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