Risky Business

“She’s a virgin, gentlemen. And she’ll be sold to the highest bidder.”

Alasdair raised his head from the worn wooden table, struggling to open his eyelids. He lifted his hand from where it had been dangling by his side and pried his left lid open, propping his head up on his right hand. The words had registered only vaguely, but they were enough to pull him from his miasma. The man who’d spoken was standing on the largest of the tables in the pub, his loud checked-waistcoat and over-oiled hair proclaiming his well-intentioned gentlemanly aspirations. The man bowed, spreading his hands wide and smiling.

This is the first paragraph of my finished manuscript, Road To Passion, which I am sending out to agents for potential representation. Agents are considering me at this very moment, but a few have already passed, commenting that they are concerned about an opium-addicted hero (because that’s what Alasdair’s “miasma” is) being too hard for a reader to fall in love with.

Too risky?

Now, reading, particularly romance, is escapism, and addiction isn’t very sexy. And perhaps I haven’t done a good enough job convincing the reader that Alasdair has changed. I am not blaming the responses all on external forces, and not my own writing.

But I wonder if my own mindset–coming from a long line of addicted, sometimes mentally disturbed folks–has made me accept what most people would find too jarring. I like tortured heroes. I like pulling someone up from the bottom (which is where Alasdair is at the beginning of the book) to a place where he can be happy.

Am I too risky?

A lot has been made of certain risks in books–sympathetic homosexual secondary characters, men and women in unsavory situations, adultery, etc.–and I guess I have to throw my book into that pot.

So my questions to you are–what risks will you absolutely not stand for? Would you sympathize with someone like my Alasdair, or find him repugnant? Which authors are your favorite risk-takers?


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sandy l
14 years ago

I thought that “risky romances” are what both readers and publishers are looking for in their books. I’m thinking about Mary Balogh’s regency romances. Hers, I think, were rather risky at the time they were published, ie, The Precious Jewel.

One of my favorite characters is Will Hewitt from the P.B. Ryan historical mysteries. He is an opium addict who eventually recovers. But in that first book, when he is introduced, I was a little blown away. By the end of that book, he was not recovered. It made the story that much more interesting. I couldn’t wait for the next book, then the next book…

Personally, I’m not into threesomes (and probably in the minority), but I am open to risks in my reading. I do enjoy erotica, but it won’t work for me unless the plot and characters are good.

Good luck with your seminar this weekend. I wish I was there!

Amanda McCabe
14 years ago

“One of my favorite characters is Will Hewitt from the P.B. Ryan historical mysteries. He is an opium addict who eventually recovers.”

I thought of those books, too, Sandy! Will is certainly a multifaceted and interesting character (though maybe a bit more mainstream since he’s “gone clean”, LOL). Certainly I like the “risky” characters and plotlines, especially characters who overcome a real challenge or flaw.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

Megan, you had me hooked from the moment the hero “raised his head from the worn wooden table…” Any agent or editor who rejects this book is nuts.

(you’ll all get sick of me saying so, but) The Mysterious Miss M was rejected for similar reasons..”readers will never accept your heroine.” Now after a rash of courtesan heroines, she’d be considered tame.

I wish editors and agents would give the reader more credit, but I do understand that, in their minds, money is at stake and they can’t afford too many risks.

Sandy l, ironically when an editor told me that Miss M “would never sell,” I offered A Precious Jewel as a defense. She said that Balogh book had not sold as well as the others. Of course, now it is the one of Mary’s Regencies that people mention the most.

It always amuses me that the books that do take risks become “fresh and innovative” and spark new trends.

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Megan, I so want this book to sell, not just because we’re friends but because I want to read it! I expect I’d be into Alasdair because I’m sure you would make his character work.

Probably my favorite risk-taking authors are Judith Ivory (hey, she’s written a hero who was both an artist and an ether addict) and Laura Kinsale (think Alegreto from Shadowheart).

What risks would I absolutely not stand for? Since I doubt anyone’s going to try to write a hero who’s a child molester or something like that, I don’t know if there are any. I do want characters to have some innate nobility, even if they are not living up to it at the start of the book.

14 years ago

This doesn’t answer your question, but have these publishers not seen how many good romances have already been published with this theme? There’s something in the region of 70 on All About Romance’s special title listing for addiction.

14 years ago

I agree with the other commenters–I’m intrigued by your hero and don’t mind ones with obvious “sins,” so to speak. I would have a hard time with anyone who knowingly harms people for sport, but in general, a darker beginning allows for a brighter redemption.

Cara King
14 years ago

Wow. I mean, addiction’s been done. In category, for over a decade. In traditional Regencies, for over two decades. And, okay, maybe not *often*, but it’s been done.

Ah, well. It’s a weird business. 🙂

In any case, I certainly don’t think that’s a too-risky risk. I mean, sure, for some readers, or some editors, it might not be what they’re looking for right now. (But they might be avoiding books with lots of dogs, too.) But it’s been done, often enough, and for quite a long time.

What sort of risks would I not want to read? Well, for me, it’s more certain subjects I might not want to read about. Or things. I don’t think I could read a story with lots of bugs in it…. 🙂


14 years ago

I have to agree with the majority here, Megan. I think this is going to be a great book. From the moment that oily character made that announcement and the hero raised his head I was hooked. I want to know who they are selling and why. I want to know why our hero is in such dire straits. For me, there’s nothing better than a tortured hero. Nothing.

Mary Balogh is a maverick on so many fronts in the Regency world. Diane Gaston’s ‘Mysterious Miss M’ also comes to mind. It had a wonderfully delicious dark beginning. So, I think you are more than on the right track with this one. I can’t wait for an agent and editor to pick this up so I can read more of it.

14 years ago

Several of my favorite romances have a prostitute, alcoholic, or drug addict as hero or heroine (it may be more appropriate in this situation to leave off that final “e”), including Ms. Gaston’s own “Mysterious Miss M”. I’m more nonplussed by how loud waiscoats and overly oiled hair proclaim one’s aspirations to being seen as a gentleman — not to mention it doesn’t seem very gentlemanly to auction off one’s womenfolk.

14 years ago

You got me.

Redemption is one of the main themes of my own writing. Probably because I was a punk rock junkie and became a well-adjusted, contributing person who loves herself. I don’t mind proclaiming it publicly in a blog because my experiences have made me who I am, I’m proud of who I am, and the whole business gave me a depth of compassion that I would not otherwise possess.

It IS possible to overcome addiction.

Plus, I find characters who would turn their pain inward and hurt themselves rather than outward to hurt others as having more potential for redemption. In heroes, I also find that vulnerability very sexy.

One caveat though, they do eventually have to get their act together. Wallowers or people who must suffer for their art bore me. 🙂

The story sounds fab. I reacted to the over-oiled creep as someone who has no clue what it is to be a gentleman but aspires anyway.

14 years ago

Hey, my buddy Anna Campbell nabbed TWO Rita nominations for books with risky premises. Especially Claiming the Courtesan! And in my humble opinion one of the best examples ever written of a Risky Regency is the Divine One’s Mysterious Miss M.

I think the main thing to consider is IF the story is well written, no matter what risk it takes, it deserves to be read. The more risk, the more darkness, the more anguished the story, the more glorious the HEA, as long as it is well done.

I’ve already been warned that the sequel to LOST IN LOVE that I have outlined may be too risky to sell. In it my hero was molested by his uncle as a child over a period of years. As a result he is something of a recluse. Several people have said that a hero who suffered that sort of torture would not play. I fully intend to write it and see what happens.

In LOST IN LOVE you meet Jeffries, the valet/gay lover of my hero’s brother. He will make appearances in the rest of the series as something of a “love doctor” to my heroes. I did not know how he would be received, but so far the only secondary character more popular than Jeffries is Percival, the shoe stealing rabbit!

I am not up for literal threesomes involving the hero and heroine, but that’s just me. I am a big believer in fidelity and soul mates. Have to be. I had one!

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

janegeorge, I just KNEW you had an interesting life. It just shows.

Thanks, Santa, Susan DC (practically a neighbor!), and O Doggie One for mentioning The Mysterious Miss M as a risky book that worked.

I just got a copy of Miss M in Dutch!!

14 years ago

Always a pleasure, Diane! And doglady, well, you already know how I feel about tortured heroes!

Tracy Grant
14 years ago

What a wonderful excerpt! The book sounds fabulous, Megan! I love books and characters that take risks and push against boundaries. To the list of interesting protagonists who struggle with addiction, I’d add Dorothy Dunnett’s Francis Crawford of Lymond, who becomes an opium addict. Not to mention Sherlock Holmes (Laurie King does interesting things taking off from this in her Mary Russell series).

14 years ago

I think that it sounds great. Some of my favorite regencies involve characters who are a far cry from Jane Austen. I love Caroline by Jane Morgan. Caroline is a kept woman. Jane Morgan also wrote Lord Courtney’s Lady in which the hero is a rake who is forced to marry the respectable girl that he seduced. In one of my all time favorite regencies, Lyonnese Abbey, the hero wins the heroine in a game of cards, fooled by her father to think that he was winning the older,prettier sister.

Megan Frampton
14 years ago

Thanks for weighing in, everyone. You have so stroked my ego!

I was in New England at their Conference, which is why I couldn’t comment earlier.

Thanks for visiting, I do hope you all get to read the rest eventually.

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