“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?