THE POWER TO CURL YOUR TOES
What is it about heroes in books, on television or in the movies that appeal to our sensibilities? Is it physical prowess, such as portrayed by Chris Hemsworth in the movie, Thor? Or are we tickled by Johnny Galecki’s take on theoretical physicist Leonard Hofstadter in The Big Bang Theory?
If you consider actor Kurt Russell in the 1987 film, Overboard, you’ll find the character that he embodies in Dean Proffitt to be a sort of greasy and boorish man, the stereotyped epitome of White Trash. In his diabolical way, Dean convinces Goldie Hawn’s character, Joanna Stayton, remade as “Annie,” that she’s his amnesiac wife who loves to swim in the ocean at night. At one point, deeply smitten, Annie tells the uncouth Dean—after she’s somehow accepted the convoluted tale he’s woven—“You can be quite charming when you want to be.”
When I write a love story, I strive to capture the essence of what I believe makes the perfect male protagonist, none of whom are infallible. This is probably the best part of writing, creating a sexy character with flaws. I’m not saying that deficiencies in a man are sexy, but it’s how the character rises to any given situation that shapes who they are, and how we feel about them, even though they’re purely fictional.
In Road Apples, Wyatt McLain is gorgeous and funny, though at age fifty-two, highly suspect as a potential dud when it comes to a long-term relationship, much less marriageable material. He’s not a jerk to women. On the contrary, Wyatt, though not a player, is definitely a lover, and treats all the women in his world, from his aunt and younger sister, to his love interest, Madeline Benités, with grave respect. For Wyatt, this deference toward women is partly cultural. A man of Quinault Indian ancestry, orphaned at age four, and raised by his mother’s sister on the rez, Wyatt is the incarnation of a warrior in the traditional Native sense. But he’s also strong-willed. As one character states without hesitation, Wyatt is a “force to be reckoned with.”
Victor White Owl follows this theme in Big Lies in Small Town, as a lover of women. One of his closest female friends, Kate Sumner (who is coincidentally Wyatt McLain’s sister), shares parenting duties for their college-aged daughter, Sara. Victor is neither possessive nor jealous, and when Kate subsequently marries Paul Sumner—and builds a family by having four more children with Paul—Victor’s friendship with Paul echoes the same sentiment and timeless quality as his relationship with Kate.
Probably the least understood of my characters is Lukas Chadd in The Curious Number. I’ll put it bluntly—Lukas is an incurable slut, though not to be mistaken for thoughtless or insensitive. Lukas’s greatest gift to the world is his ability to pleasure a woman, and knowing this skill, making beautiful women climax has evolved into his life’s work. When he meets Rose McKillop, who has never experienced orgasm despite seventeen years of marriage (because Rose’s husband is an inconsiderate jerk), he takes on Rose as his greatest challenge, and then falls in love for the first time in his life.
My all-time favorite character to write about has to be Freddie Snake (Death By Bitter Waters, Big Lies in Small Town and Small Town, Add Vice). A former Lassen County Sheriff’s deputy, Freddie’s life is complicated by alcoholism. He’s tough; he worked undercover, busting perps in the meth trade, before retiring after being wounded in a shootout during a drug bust. He’s an uncommon hero—connecting an ex-lover to her birth mother; encouraging another woman, a former DEA agent, who later becomes Freddie’s wife, to join the ranks of the FBI. In the end, he takes a bullet-graze wound to the skull, and faces his own mortality, before coming full circle, and returning to his roots with a new sense of purpose and humility.
Not that I would recommend anyone engaging in a relationship with a man like Freddie Snake. It’s the earthy part of the character I admire, someone who lost his perspective until his life was nearly snatched away, never realizing how precious that single breath can be, until it’s knocked out of him. I wanted to express this in Freddie, a man at rock-bottom, waking up drunk in the middle of the night in the woods, and not remembering how he arrived at that place in his life, only knowing that a thread of desire to live still exists, so he hangs onto it with everything he is.
One of the strangest heroes I’ve written is Jake Weatherby, in Big Lies in Small Town. He’s a journalist, and a lady’s man, honest and decent, but conversely slick and almost too good to be true. At age thirty-one, Jake, a stringer for the Susanville weekly, Great Basin Register, is given the responsibility of supervising the sixteen year-old Kristina Sumner, who has been taken under the Register’s wing in their high-school apprenticeship program. Jake fumes about having to keep an eye on the girl, whom he considers to be cold-hearted, and downright odd. Inject some humanity, and Jake discovers that the brilliant Kristina is actually vulnerable, tempestuous, and aspires to become a journalist like the infamous Kate Webb. And so, Jake falls in love with an underaged girl. But in the end, their feelings aren’t expressed in a forbidden relationship, never actualized as in Lolita. I suppose that sense of decency, despite great passion, makes Jake into the hero I always sensed he was capable of becoming.
A hero who is realistic enough to curl your toes can also be flawed, prone to leaving his dirty socks on the floor, as long as he isn’t cruel or sadistic. He’s the one who understands the principle that the way to a woman’s heart is through her pleasure. Small imperfections are virtually invisible, if his humanity is straight ahead, and his responses are framed with a lack of vanity, or ego.
As Dean Proffitt replies modestly to Annie’s praise about his charm: “Ah. You just caught me on a bad day.”
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