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2011 Golden Heart Finalist Arlene Hittle

Today, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters welcome guest blogger Arlene Hittle, 2011 Golden Heart® finalist.  Her manuscript,”Beauty and the Ballplayer,” is a contender in the Contemporary Series Romance category.  Her heart-warming and funny stories feature down-to-earth heroes, or average Joes.


Power of the Average Joe

A certain type of man populates the pages of our favorite romances. You know the guy I’m talking about; The rich, powerful CEO. The dashing nobleman. The stunningly handsome enforcer (cop, FBI agent, Navy SEAL). The charming doctor. The studly cowboy.

All these heroes are thrilling to read — and fantasize — about. But they leave me wondering one little thing: Where are the average Joes? Surely not every hero needs to have muscles of steel, a fat wallet, an ego the size of Alaska, and an insistence on getting his own way.

Okay, maybe he does need to be used to getting his own way. That way he can butt heads with an equally stubborn heroine — even when he’d rather be making other forms of full-body contact.

I still maintain that he can — perhaps even should — be at least a little ordinary.

Maybe that’s just me. I write about heroes — and heroines — with whom I can imagine sitting down to drinks and dinner. They’re journalists, teachers, artists, counselors and ballplayers. I admit that last one’s a cut above the ordinary, but even then they don’t pull in multimillion-dollar salaries with a big league club. They play ball for the fictional minor-league Arizona Condors.

Of course, just because characters are average doesn’t mean they’re average-looking. My witty, affable heroes still manage to possess abs you could bounce quarters off. Some of them — Mike James, I’m looking at you — would even be able to hold their own in the WWE ring, against the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton. (Mike’s a sportswriter who moonlights as a male stripper.)

Strippers and wrestling superstars provide a bit of eye candy, but when it comes to heroes, it’s not big muscles I’m attracted to — much, anyway. Well-oiled pecs and six-pack abs help, sure — but what really makes me fall for a hero is what goes on in his brain.

And, since it’s fitting to borrow from Shakespeare on the day Wills and Kate tie the knot, there’s the rub: How do we create characters that readers can fall in love with?

How do we make sure they’ll cheer when our hero and heroine kiss for the first time — or when she tells off her creep of a boss? How do we get them to understand why he accepts that job halfway across the country — or at least ask “what the hell are you thinking?”

I’m sure there are as many tips for character development as there are writers creating characters. I’ve listened to talks about categorizing characters by personality type. I’ve filled out worksheets listing everything from the type of car they drive and favorite foods to their hospital stays and political beliefs.

Whoever gave me that questionnaire must subscribe to the Noah Lukeman school of thought. In “The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life,” he writes, “ To even begin to accurately bring a character to life on the page … you must quiz yourself fastidiously about every last detail of your character’s inner and outer life.” To that end, his book begins with 50 pages of questions covering every aspect imaginable.

Along that same vein, after reading a post here on the Ruby blog by Autumn Jordon, in which she writes about a visit from her villain, I was inspired to sit down at Starbucks and have a chat with a couple of my characters, the hero and heroine from the WIP I’d intended to finish sometime this year — before I got the GH call. It was great fun and I learned, among other things, that they both were pretty mouthy. (That always makes things more interesting, if you ask me.) If you’re interested, you can find an excerpt from that interview here.

I’m not completely convinced that knowing the name of your hero’s kindergarten teacher contributes anything to a MS — besides creating the potential for a giant, unwanted info dump. However, details like the fact that he crossed the street to save a puppy from some bullies at age 6 — and got his butt kicked in the process — might come in handy at some point. Of course, that’s something I didn’t quiz myself to find out; it emerged while I was writing.

Guess that means I’m still trying to find the best way to breathe life into my characters. Even Average Joes need to leap off the page and into readers’ hearts.

What makes your favorite hero so lovable? How do you make sure readers will remember him long after they finish reading the story?

69 responses to “2011 Golden Heart Finalist Arlene Hittle”

  1. I love heroes who have a sense of humor, even if it’s a highly sarcastic one. 🙂 And heroes that have a soft heart (like your example of the one who saves a puppy, risking his own peril). So sweet.

    And I love that you said your characters got “mouthy” during their interviews. Mine do that when I’m not writing their scenes correctly. *Snort.*

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    • That’s when they’re the mouthiest — when I’m not doing what THEY want me to. Why do they think they’re in charge? *We’re* the writers.

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      • Kimberly Kincaid says:

        Oh, my heroes in particular get mouthy with me all the time! Sometimes I reign them in, but letting them have their way is fun, too 🙂

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  2. Diana Layne says:

    Hi, Arlene! Thanks for blogging with the Rubies today and mega-congrats on your final!

    As for the character worksheets to fill out–never could do them. I tried, for years! (I’m a little stubborn myself) But finally realized I simply can’t fill this stuff out until I write the story. Then I discovered the character interview–what a brilliant concept! Usually I’ll write the first few chapters, then sit down and interview the characters. Or later if I have a troubling scene, I’ll interview them again. Works so much better for me.

    Personally I love heroes who have a soft-center under a hard exterior. They might act all tough, but they’re really squishy when it comes to their family and their love.

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    • I’m with you, Diana, on the interview worksheets. Tried them, but they didn’t work for me. I enjoyed “discovering” them as I wrote the first couple chapters. Once I understood what their growth arc was going to be, the rest seemed to fall into place.

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    • That reminds me of my one of my college professors. Before my first semester of college, our adviser held a getting-to-know-you, allay-your-fears kind of session. She told us what to expect from our various classes.

      About the poli sci prof, she said something to the effect of, “He may act all rough and tough, but underneath he’s a big old teddy bear.” She was right: He blustered a lot, but as long as I remembered what she’d said, he didn’t scare me. He was one of my favorite profs. I even met him for lunch once after graduation! (We met in the basement of the Union, in what was known in my time on campus as the Wooden Indian — or Indian for short. As un-PC as that was, they changed the name to “Union Station.”)

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    • Being a total pantser, my process is a lot like Diana’s. I start cold with the characters and they begin to define who they are in those first pages. It’s only then–after a few chapters–that I know them well enough to do a character interview.

      But I have what’s probably an unique approach to that–a fictional bartender, Fax, who chats with “customers” who wander into Spacefreighters Lounge from various WIPs. You know how it is. People tell their bartenders everything. My characters are no exception. Hey, it works for me. 🙂

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  3. Nancy Northcott says:

    Arlene, great post!

    I don’t have a single favorite hero, so answering your question isn’t easy. One of my favorites is Lord Alverstoke from Georgette Heyer’s wonderful Frederica. He’s physically strong (probably has the sort of great abs you mentioned *g*), a commanding personality, but with a kind heart, a quick mind, and a sense of humor.

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  4. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

    Welcome, Arlene! I hope you’re enjoying the jump from Ruby Regular to Ruby Spotlight.

    Just answered this question at the Goddess Blogs. My current favorite hero is Adam Black from Karen Marie Moning’s Immortal Highlander. He’s anything but your average Joe.

    I admit, I like alpha heroes—flawed alpha heroes. They are not loveable at the beginning of the story. In fact, they’re jerks with a capital J. But they are jerks with potential, and once the heroine unearths that potential (usually after kicking him around like a hacky-sack for a while), he morphs into something quite yummy.

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  5. Kimberly Kincaid says:

    Loved this post, Arlene! It’s such a hard line to balance out that flawed persona with the glimmer of what lies beneath. We have to make sure that readers know that while our heroes (or heroines– one of mine is a doozy in the beginning!) may be acting jerky, they’re not *jerks*, per se. They’re worth reading on for! It’s all about character arc– how will those characters change and grow as the story progresses?

    I love to see real characters in books, and I’m with you, Gwynlyn. The more Alpha, the better 😉

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    • I’m beginning to understand what you mean. The aforementioned Mike James (reporter by day, stripper by night) is one of those jerks with a reason — a reason I didn’t even know about at first.

      Once I figured out why he freaked out when he found out his heroine had been a virgin (until that fateful night they got caught in a freak snowstorm and had to share a single hotel room), I was able to make him all the more lovable.

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  6. kelly fitzpatrick says:

    Very nice post, Arlene.

    My fav heros have a sense of humor. They are the guy you marry. The guy who tops off your tank (gas tank), rewires the house, and whips up beef stroganoff in the crock pot. My husband did two of those three things yesterday. He’s going to do the third today if he knows what’s good for him.

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    • “He’s going to do the third today if he knows what’s good for him.”

      Oh, Kelly! That made me laugh. (And I realized last night as I was going through e-mails for my next newsletter that I owe you a reply.)

      And that description is perfect: They are the guy you marry. It’s fun to fantasize about Rafael Nadal (the hot Spanish tennis player), but I think Novack Djokovic would be a lot more fun to hang around with. He’s not drop-dead gorgeous, but he’s always smiling and seems to have a great sense of humor.

      Why didn’t I think of THAT comparison while I was writing? Of course, he is still one of the 5 top-ranked players in the world, so he’s not exactly an Average Joe.

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    • Let’s try this again — it says I just commented, but it doesn’t seem to be showing up:

      “He’s going to do the third today if he knows what’s good for him.”

      Oh, Kelly! That made me laugh. (And I realized last night as I was going through e-mails for my next newsletter that I owe you a reply.)

      And that description is perfect: They are the guy you marry. It’s fun to fantasize about Rafael Nadal (the hot Spanish tennis player), but I think Novack Djokovic would be a lot more fun to hang around with. He’s not drop-dead gorgeous, but he’s always smiling and seems to have a great sense of humor.

      Why didn’t I think of THAT comparison while I was writing? Of course, he is still one of the 5 top-ranked players in the world, so he’s not exactly an Average Joe.

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      • Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

        Sadly, he does not know what’s good for him because he’s playing poker online instead of #3. But he says he’s going to pressure wash the deck. I’ll believe it when I see it.

        Yes, I’d rather have an interesting man who challenges me and makes me laugh. If he’s latin, that would be a bonus though.

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    • Sounds like my hubby, Kelly. Wait – you don’t think we’re married to the same person, do you? Naw, mine likes to play on his iPad, not poker. 😉 He’s building the kids a treehouse, not washing the deck. Still, very similar. 😉

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      • kelly fitzpatrick says:

        I’m still waiting for the deck washing to begin. He says it’ll happen tomorrow. But I’m no better. I took a nap.

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  7. Elisa Beatty says:

    Welcome, Arlene!! So wonderful to have you here as a GOLDEN HEART FINALIST!!! (And your picture is wonderful!)

    Terrific post!

    I love historicals, especially Regencies, and my very, very favorite thing about a hero is a gift for fast, witty dialogue. Okay, and also a bone-deep protective instinct with regard to the heroine…even though half the time he’s crossing swords with her verbally.

    My favorite hero of all time, though, is more of an “average Joe”: Christy Morrell, the minister from Patricia Gaffney’s To Love and To Cherish. He’s not flashy or rich or arrogant or aggressive–his strength is in caring for others, and in self-sacrifice (though, okay, he has a totally hot bod and is an amazing horse-racer). The love between him and Anne was real and human and incorporated their many flaws. *Sigh.* Best damn romance novel ever.

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  8. Tamara Hogan says:

    Hi Arlene! You’ve been here at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood with us from the very beginning, and I swear, the Rubies are just as excited about your Golden Heart final as you are. Congratulations!!!

    Hmm, heroes. MEN. In my personal life, I definitely want a low-drama, multifaceted beta who has homemaking, maintenance and technology skills in equal measure – and happily, I have one. 😉 As a reader, I love most types of heroes, the notable exception being the arrogant, asshole bajillionare so prevalent in old-skool category romances. But as a writer, I seem drawn to writing alphas who are hard on the outside and soft on the inside – who reveal their marshmallow center only to family, loved ones, and finally to the heroine. In a previous post here at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, I called this type of hero a “Magic Shell alpha”, after the fudgy ice cream topping that forms a hard, protective shell when it touches the cold ice cream – but cracks when give it a good whack with your spoon to reveal the soft treat inside.

    Can’t wait to meet you in NYC, Arlene!

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    • Thanks! I was super-excited to hop online and tell you guys when I got the call.

      Now that you mention “The Magic Shell Alpha,” I remember the post. That’s a great analogy: Hard on the outside, but soft and squishy underneath.

      I hear you on the low-drama beta. I wish mine (who always claims to be alpha even though he’s not) had a penchant for housework. He tends to leave dishes in the sink for me to wash even when I haven’t been around to eat with him. 😛

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  9. Jeannie Lin says:

    Your post reminded me of my friend A.J. Brower who ran for president of the Kiss of Death chapter on the platform of getting special ops guys out of romance. (She ran uncontested, btw, as most chapter presidents do!) Her point being if you just want a guy to run around and shoot people, anyone in the armed forces can do that. There’s plenty of heroes to be had in the rank and file military. 🙂

    I’ve never been big on character interviews, but everyone has their superstitions about their characters and I shy away from the “characters talking to me” school of thought. Jodi Henley does a series of workshops though and she mentioned something about significant points in the character’s past. I forgot her terminology, but I really liked how she focused on these past turning points versus where they went to school. I think running across the street to save a puppy would qualify as one of those defining moments!

    Lovely post and congrats on the GH final.

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    • Jeannie Lin says:

      Oh, and I just realized I didn’t answer the question. My mind starts wandering on tangents when I read things. LOL.

      Memorable heroes for me — I think it hinges on having “that” scene. That melty scene that can’t be duplicated by any other hero, any other author. For some reason, Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm is coming to me in the scene where the hero finds a litter of kittens and he’s putting them on the heroine. Okay, sounds totally weird right? But I’ll never forget that scene. I also like cats so maybe that scene had an unfair advantage. 🙂

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      • *That* scene, huh? I’m trying to think if I have anything that would qualify in any of my stories. Maybe the one in BLIND DATE BRIDE where the hero’s trying to practice yoga so he doesn’t make a fool of himself at the couples yoga class he’s going to with the heroine. His dog barrels past him to get to the door right when he’s attempting a tree pose — and he tumbles to the floor. When he opens his eyes, it is — of course — the heroine standing over him. He grins and says, “So much for the mighty oak.”

        One of my favorites!

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  10. Great post, Arlene, and thank you for being here today! And super congrats on your final!!! Woot!

    I love ALL kinds of heroes. My CP writes the best heroes and I would love to write one like hers. Hers are fun and humorous and downright sexy. Mine always have this dark, mysterious side to them. You the kind, the tortured hero with a chip on his shoulder the size of Jupiter. I just can’t seem to pull off anything else. The one time I tried, I got the lowest scores in the Golden Heart that I’ve ever gotten. Could’ve been a sign. lol

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  11. Lynda Bailey says:

    Great post, Arlene, and congrats on your final! You best hang on – it’s gonna be a helluva ride for the next couple of months.
    One of my all-time fave “average Joe” heros is Houston Leigh from Lorraine Heath’s “Texas Destiny.” Here’s a guy who thought himself a coward all his life only to discover he never knew the true meaning of bravery – until he met the heroine, that is.
    Best of luck in New York City!

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    • Oh, another one for the TBR pile. Sounds fantastic!

      I’m hanging on tight and wondering when someone will put on the brakes. No, that’s not exactly right — I don’t want this experience to end. Well, a little more sleep would be welcome, but overall, I’m having the best time of my life.

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  12. Shoshana Brown says:

    Hi Arlene!

    Great post.

    I have two different categories of favorite hero:
    1. The bad boy. In real life, I know he’s not likely to fall in love and settle down, but in a romance novel, that possibility actually exists. I guess that’s why he’s so much fun–because in the world of fiction, falling in love with him is safe.

    2. The guy I’d actually go for in real life. He’s funny and smart to the point where it verges on geeky, but he’s confident enough to pull it off. I think this one is a lot harder to write well than the bad boy…or maybe writers just prefer

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  13. Rita Henuber says:

    Arlene,
    I have to say when I saw you name pop up on the GH lists I gave quit the proper squeal. So happy all your hard work paid off.
    I am one of those people who knows their characters enough to carry on a conversation. I want a hero who evolves. Doesn’t change who he is so much as he understands why he is who he is. I have a hero who has everything figured out, his life planned, he’s convinced there is no other way for him. Doing bad things for a good reason. He loves the heroine too much to drag her into that kind of life. Well, things don’t work out that way. He starts out thinking he has to protect her from everything. It ends with him understanding she is the one protecting him. He doesn’t change what he does or how he does it he understands how her support has allowed him to be who he wants to be.
    Congrats again.

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  14. liz talley says:

    Welcome, Arlene! Glad you are our first 2011 GH finalist guest. I’ve loved having you on the blog over the past year and a half, so it just feels right to have a long-time commenter as the first of our 2011 guest.

    For me, I like the hero who surprises me. He can even borderline on being a buffoon (Like Sherri Thomas’ His at Night) or infinite charmer like Colin Bridgerton. I love a guy who underneath is shrewd and sexy, but won’t let everyone know his true character. I love a book that starts with a character such as above and then chapter after chapter unwraps the man like a kinky striptease. Oh, sure, throw in the gorgeous body, by all means, but don’t fail to show me the man beneath the veneer. Love me some of that.

    Actually, I wrote my hero in my upcoming May release a little like that…all good lookin’ fluffiness on the outside, but sensative and smart artist on the inside. I really loved peeling off the layers on ol’ Brent.

    Great topic….like we wouldn’t want to talk about all the men in our lives? Isn’t it kinda cool we all have so many? LOL

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    • liz talley says:

      Oh, and I meant to say that I like the grumpy alphas too. Not necessarily the asshat ones, just the prickly ones. There’s something fun in doing the opposite of what I commented on above. Finding the sweet, sappy, tender part underneath the bluster and brawn. My husband fits this category. I swear the man looks mad at the world sometimes, with people scurrying out of his way, but he can be buttercream soft inside. Love the different facets that come with creating a hero 🙂

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    • Colin Bridgerton is one of my favorites. I just reread that book not too long ago. Your Brent sounds like fun … and my TBR pile just grew again! 😉

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    • Oooh, peeling layers. I like that analogy (or double entendre!) 😉

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  15. Thanks, everyone, for the warm welcome — and all the congrats. I’m thrilled to be a GH finalist and to have my first guest post on the Ruby blog, where the comments fly. (I’m lucky to get two or three per post over at Love & Laughter.)

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  16. Amanda Brice says:

    Great post, Arlene! Thanks so much for joining us today AS A GOLDEN HEART FINALIST!!!!

    I love smart heroes, too. Smart guys in general, actually. Sure, I’m a sucker for a hot bod and a cute face, but ultimately it’s a brains I’m attracted to.

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  17. Sara Kincaid says:

    Good point to ponder, Arlene. I know I will buy a romance novel if the hero is a man I’d find attractive in real life, like a gardener or scientist, and I like if either of the lead characters do something for a living I myself have fantasized about or live some place I love.

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  18. Vivi Andrews says:

    I think self-awareness and a wry sense of humor are hugely attractive – so those things always sneak into my heroes. And I think the best way to make your reader care about your hero is to make your hero care about something or someone very strongly. The vulnerability behind that strength of emotion gives us a way into his mushy center – no matter how tough and bristly his exterior may be. You know what I mean?

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    • Well said, Vivi. I never thought about self-awareness as an attractive trait, but it’s true… I think my goals for my characters are to become more self-aware during the course of the book. (Why does that sound like a scary Terminator movie or something?) But people who are willing to grow and learn about themselves are always attractive to me.

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  19. Good post, Arlene! It’s great to have the new finalists stopping by.

    I fall in love with all kinds of heroes, especially if they have some sort of vulnerability–doesn’t matter what or why but it sure makes my little heart pound.

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  20. Spot on, Arlene! (And congratulations! We’re so happy to host you today!)

    I tend to get excited by the reluctant hero, or the hidden hero. I like to watch a man who believes he’s ordinary or cowardly or otherwise unheroic (even if he’s a prince) rise to an occasion and become a hero in his heroine’s eyes, even if no one else’s.

    I also believe there’s plenty of heroism occurring in everyday life, like helping your kid with his homework or holding your wife while she cries. Too, I think that most people are lovable, and that most people can be beautiful, if looked at by the right person.

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    • “I think that most people are lovable, and that most people can be beautiful, if looked at by the right person.”

      What a beautiful outlook! And so true. Not everyone can be conventionally gorgeous (even if they do have six-pack abs), but in the eyes of that special someone, they’re perfect.

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  21. Arlene, I’m so sorry to be so late to join your party. And, I’m so thrilled for you. I grinned from ear to ear seeing your name pop on the lists of Golden Hearts. So let me say right here, right now, WOOHOO! CONGRATS girl. I can’t wait to meet you in NY. (((HUGS))) AJ

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  22. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Great blog, Arlene. I prefer a more average hero, although they need to be larger than life in some aspect–something that makes them unique and someone I can root for. I absolutely love the title of your GH finalist.

    I’m conducting an experiment this year, in which I’m trying to predict the RITA an GH finalists purely by the appeal of the titles. I’m choosing two from each category because some categories have so many great titles to choose from. Yours was a stand-out favorite of mine.

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  23. Shea Berkley says:

    I’m so thrilled you could come over and play with us today, Arlene!! Of course, you’re here almost every day and we love that about you. You did a great job on your post.

    Men. Ugh!! I love them and hate them. Mostly love them, but man, they can be irritating.

    I like men who are confident and fun to be around and know who they are and aren’t afraid to just be themselves.

    I can’t stand bad boys. I don’t have the time nor the interest to wade through their drama. (which is usually completely ridiculous and narcissistic)

    Here’s what boggles me. Has anyone else come across that really great guy who allows someone they’re with to dictate how they act in public? I find it fascinating and frankly strange, but it happens more times than not, especially with younger guys, but not always. I know some really amazing guys who have this problem, and it’s so sad.

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    • Shea, I’m not sure if I’m thinking of the same thing, but I’ve known wonderful beta-type guys who didn’t realize how special they were. They let whatever woman they were with run the show. One I know has a strong mother (and his father was the type to let her run the show, too), so I’m guessing it could be a learned trait.

      Of course, sometimes it’s just the path of least resistance to let a woman have her way… which is very smart, too. LOL

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  24. Anne Barton says:

    Hi Arlene! Thanks for the wonderful post & BIG congrats on your final. Looking forward to meeting you in person.

    I like a hero who’s a little rough around the edges. Not completely uncivilized, but a guy who doesn’t bow to convention. 😉

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  25. Welcome, Arlene! I’m sorry about arriving so late. I had royal wedding fever and then an actual fever.

    Congratulations on your Golden Heart final! I hope you’re enjoying the ride so far. I love heroes who make me laugh. He doesn’t have to crack jokes every five minutes, but be someone with a good sense of humour.

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  26. Liz Selvig says:

    Hi Arlene,
    I apologize, too, for being late to the party, but I had to chime in with another vote for the average Joe. I have one don’t-write-rock-stars-as-heroes rock star as a hero :-), but my others have definitely been average. My real-life hero is about as average as they come so, perhaps, that’s why normal is one of my biggest turn-ons. Thanks for pointing out that you don’t have to be anything but heroic to the heroine in order to be attractive and story-worthy.

    Congrats on your final and thanks again for a fun blog.

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  27. Hi Arlene,

    And I’m an even later arrival. But better late than never, right?

    Loved your take on the Average Joe. I like to think most of my heroes are just Average Joes in extraordinary circumstances.

    Your fictional Arizona Condors sound a lot like our non-fictional Albuquerque Isotopes (yup, named after the team in The Simpsons). I think a character on a far-from-lucrative farm team would make a fascinating hero. They’re in it for the love of the game and not because they are–or may ever be–rich and famous. Much like us writers, yes?

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    • Haha – I know the Isotopes! My mother-in-law lives in Santa Fe. She gets offers for discount tix through her electric company. 🙂 Glad you stopped by, Laurie. (Better late than never, I always say. *grin*)

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  28. Mallory Snow says:

    Great post, Arlene! I think my guys are pretty average…but the heroine doesn’t have to think so. 😉 Sort of the same way love changes how we look at real life men.

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  29. Congrats on the post, Arlene! I’m with you. I love an average hero! So far, the ones I have been pounding out are a doctor, a solicitor, and someone with a little problem… ahem… getting it up. All in Victorian London. Which, of course, makes it a bit hard to pique an editor’s interest when they think all readers want are earls and dukes of uncommon charm and wealth.

    I write about what I want to read, and I know we are not alone in wanting more average heroes. We all need to start a revolution!

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