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Taking Alpha Back
These days, when you hear that a hero in a romance is "alpha," there are a number of things that spring to mind. He's rich. He's rude. He's dismissive of others' concerns. And he probably jumps to a lot of unwarranted conclusions, usually about the heroine.
I'm not sure why this is. The word "alpha" comes from the notion of dominant wolves. (These notions, by the way, were formed based on animals studied in captivity, and these studies have since been discredited--here is a great YouTube interview with one of the scientists who popularized the term, who now explains why it doesn't work.) But whatever we think of wolf pack hierarchies, certainly, we have all met people who are natural leaders. People we look up to. People we think of as in charge.
Make a list of the people around you who you count as natural leaders--those bosses that really command attention, who bring out the best work in those around them. People who can organize others. People who can get things done. Those people, to the extent that we call them anything, are "alpha." They are "dominant."
Now make a list of all the people in your life who are jerks--dismissive, rude, and unwilling to listen to what others have to say.
How many people do you see on both of those lists? There might be one person, perhaps two. But if your lists look anything like mine, the leaders on your list--the dominants you know--probably share a number of characteristics.
1. They make people feel more comfortable, not less.
2. They make people feel as if they are capable. When you're around them, your self-esteem goes up.
3. They get things done. They don't make a big deal out of everything they do, demanding that someone pay attention to them every hour of the day. They just figure out what needs to be done and they do it.
4. They give credit where credit is due. If you do something awesome, they reward you. They tell people. They pat your back.
5. When something goes wrong, they concentrate on fixing the problem, not pointing fingers. There may be a postmortem, but it's usually about troubleshooting, and not about finding a scapegoat.
I could go on and on. You could, too.
So when people tell me that Ned, the hero of TRIAL BY DESIRE, is not an alpha... well, I will agree that he's not a bully. But bullies aren't dominant--in fact, they're usually quite insecure. They're so insecure that they have to shove others around to hide how vulnerable they truly are.
If we were fighting a war, I would spot you any jerk-off of your choice. In return, I'll take Ned. Because I'd rather have the guy who doesn't anger everyone around him. I want the dude who's okay with leading quietly, letting everyone around him feel good about themselves, instead of claiming all the glory for himself. I'm going for the one who gets things done--he's in charge, and you don't need to kowtow to his unbearable ego to be sure that he won't let anything bad happen to you.
Want to see what I mean? I'm giving away a copy of TRIAL BY DESIRE to one commenter, picked at random. And to get the comments going, tell me this: name your favorite book with an unconventional alpha, and tell me what made this person work as an alpha.
Learn more about Courtney and her books by visiting her Website, her Blog, her facebook page and following her at Twitter.
Trial by Desire
by Courtney Milan
Publisher: HQN Books
Release date: September 28, 2010
She cannot forget the fire he ignited...
In the three years since her husband left her, Lady Kathleen Carhart has managed to forge a fulfilling life for herself. But when Ned Carhart unexpectedly returns, she finds her tranquility uprooted--and her deepest secrets threatened. Though she has no intention of falling for Ned's charms, Kate can no longer deny the desire that still burns in her heart.
Or the promise of his love...
Ned is determined to regain his wife's trust by using unbridled seduction. But just as Kate surrenders to Ned's passion, her carefully guarded past threatens to destroy her. Now Kate must place her faith in the only man she's ever loved, and the only one who has ever betrayed her...
I'm not a fan of the 'big, bad alpha' that is so often loved these days especially in category contempories. They are rude almost to the point of dislike but as long as they have some redeemable qualities, they can be labelled a hero. Not in my book! I personally think it's about time we stopped labelling our heros with alpha, beta or anything else. My heroes are strong, independant, protective to their last breath but also capable of being blind, pig headed and just plain stubborn if the story calls for it.
I racked my brain trying to come up with a book I've read recently that displays a true alpha but I came up blank. Perhaps my TBR needs an overhaul...
Can't wait for the new book!
I love the sound of this book Courtney can't wait to read it. I too am racking my brains trying to think of an alpha hero you have described and I think that most of Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series had me feeling that way about them, they were lovable had a sense of humour and were well liked by all the characters in the stories.ReplyDelete
Congrats on the release Courtney
Like Bronwyn I don't care for the rude type hero, I want manners at the very least.ReplyDelete
Mr Bridgerton was my fav. I am still asleep so there aren't a lot of brain cells functioning so that is the best I can do at the moment.LOL
Off to work and hope everything is awake by the time I get there.
Congratulations on your new book! Using your definition I would say that one of my favorite heroes, Fletcher Rand from Mrs. Drew Plays her Hand by Carla Kelly, fits the definition of the unlikely alpha. He is a leader but with a quiet strength.
Hey Courtney :) I really enjoyed your first book and am really looking forward to Ned's story.ReplyDelete
And speaking of Ned, he sounds like my kinda guy. You don't need to be dominating and rude and overly aggressive to get things done. Earn people's respect. Lead by example. Don't worry about the glory. Those are the characteristics I see as being a true hero.
Ian in The Madness of Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley,
Reggie, an alcoholic in Mary Jo Putney's The Rake.
To Beguile a Beast Elizabeth Hoyt and the other 3 scarred (emotionally & physically) heroes in her Four Horsemen series.
Diana Palmer and Elizabeth Lowell have heroes that are unconventional loners, woman haters, scarred war mercenaries...
I can't think of any unconventional alphas at the moment because my coffee hasn't kicked in, but I'm very excited about the new book!!ReplyDelete
I think Harry Pye from Elizabeth Hoyt's, The Leopard Prince is an unconventional alpha. He's a land steward with great respect and love for the land & people under his care. He's a commoner but he's definitely NOT a common male. He never let his lower status emasculate him and he handled it with class. Oh, I *heart* Harry!ReplyDelete
I personally think it's about time we stopped labelling our heros with alpha, beta or anything else. My heroes are strong, independant, protective to their last breath but also capable of being blind, pig headed and just plain stubborn if the story calls for it.ReplyDelete
Bronwyn, I agree! Many of my favorite heroes have all of those qualities. I just finished reading TRIAL BY DESIRE this morning. Ned is not your stereotypical alpha hero but I loved him all the more because of that.
Helen, I agree with you on the Bridgertons, especially Colin.ReplyDelete
Morning, Dianna! Hope you have a good day at work. I adore Colin. He and Simon are my favorite heroesReplyDelete
from the Bridgerton books.
Great post- I was just thinking yesterday that I needed to change up a hero that sounds very similar to the one you have in this book. I was thinking I needed to make him more stereotypical rmance hero "alpha"- didn't like the idea at all as it is not "him"- So, reading your post made me see he is one of the "new" Aplhas. Thanks! I needed that.ReplyDelete
Great cover, too. Sounds like a great book.
Maureen, I haven't read that book but I've heard good things about it. Looks like I'll be adding another one to my tbr mountain range! :)ReplyDelete
Stacy, if you enjoyed Courtney's first book I think you'll love this one! It's going straight to my keeper shelf...though I don't think it will stay there long. I can already tell that this is a book that's going to be a frequent re-read.ReplyDelete
Laurie, you've named some of my favorite heroes! It's been years since I read The Rake but I haven't forgotten Reggie. The four tortured/scarred soldiers from Hoyt's series are all unconventional heroes and all wonderful. I adore them!ReplyDelete
Selestiele, hope you're enjoying a good caffeine rush by now. ;-) Hope you enjoy Courtney's new book too. It's terrific!ReplyDelete
Scorpio said; I think Harry Pye from Elizabeth Hoyt's, The Leopard Prince is an unconventional alpha.ReplyDelete
Harry's a wonderful example!
Sherry, good luck with your hero! I'm glad you're keeping him true to himself.ReplyDelete
I hope you'll give TRIAL BY DESIRE a try. It's wonderful! Kept me reading way too late last night. *g*
Courtney: Congratulations on the release of your latest book. It sounds really good and I have it on my BTB list.ReplyDelete
I love all the Bridgerton men but I also loved the guys in Stephanie Laurens' original 6 Cynster books too! They might be a bit manipulative and controlling but they are also caring and protective of the people in their lives. True alphas IMHO!
Hi guys! Thanks so much for having me here. I'm about to dive into comments.ReplyDelete
Bronwyn, I think everyone can be blind or stubborn or hurtful--even very good people. That's kinda what it means to be human, right?
Helen and Dianna, I think Julia Quinn is a great example. You never sit there thinking, for instance, that Anthony is a typical alpha (he's scared of bees, after all), but he really is in charge, and very protective of his family. I love that about him. And I *love* that scene with the thunderstorm.
Maureen, Carla Kelly's heroes give me a warm, toasty feeling. She's really a phenomenon.
Stacy, I hope you like TRIAL as much as you liked PROOF.ReplyDelete
And Laurie, Ian is one of my favorite heroes EVER.
Selestiele, coffee is a necessity. A truly great hero brings you coffee in the morning. Or, you know, tea, if that's your preference. (And is that a hint? Why, yes. Yes, I think it is.)
Scorpio, I love Harry too! In fact, I think Elizabeth Hoyt writes marvelous heroes, Harry high among them.ReplyDelete
PJ, thanks for the kind words about Ned. And thank you so much for having me here!
Sherry, I do think there is a time and a place for a traditional alpha. I love some Harlequin Presents sometime.
And Gareth, my hero in PROOF BY SEDUCTION, is more in the traditional mold. But I was always flabbergasted when people told me he was an alpha. Gareth wasn't an alpha, at least not in the "leading others" sense of the word. He was so socially incompetent he couldn't have lead rats into a cheese factory.
And I did love that about him--but I do like changing it up.
And Karen, yes, I think Stephanie Laurens does alpha really well--her men are ALWAYS protective (sometimes overly so). I think that's one of the reasons for her enduring popularity.ReplyDelete
Hi Courtney! We're all delighted to have you visit with us today!ReplyDelete
I'm reading a book with a wonderful hero who fits your unconventional alpha mold. It's Seduced by a Highlander by Paula Quinn. A charming rogue, Tristan MacGregor is from a clan of Highland warriors but he's a different breed. He believes in honor and chivalry and defusing difficult situations with wit and charm rather than a sword. Not that he won't get physical to protect those he loves. It's just that it's not his first course of action. I love him!
If you haven't already subscribed to Courtney's newsletter, I recommend visiting her website and doing so. The latest edition arrived in my inbasket today and includes an excerpt from Courtney's next book, Unveiled, which will be released in January, 2011. I can't wait! :)ReplyDelete
Also, while you're at her website, check out Mr. Milan's reviews, including his newest review of Trial by Desire. He's a riot!
Bought Trial by Desire this morning! Reading it is going to have to wait until after I finish Les Mis so I can give it my full concentration, though.ReplyDelete
I have to say I get rather opposing images from the words "dominant" and "leader," though. Dominant (in the non-BDSM kind of way) makes me think of somebody who imposes his desires on others and who doesn't hesitate to use force to do it. The guy who wants to control his wife's friendships and areas of her life that have nothing to do with him and no affect on the well being of the household as a whole. In short, the guy who sends up most of the red flags of a potential abuser. "Leader" makes me think of somebody who doesn't have to use force, because people want to follow him.
I have to admit that most of my favorite heroes in modern romances are more of the too socially incompetent to lead people out of a paper bag type. I like nerds. Reaching back, though, I'll go with Percy Blakeney, AKA The Scarlet Pimpernel, who is unconventional because he has so little time actually on the page for most of the series.
This is such a great post, I want to print it out and hang it on the wall next to my computer, to remind me why I write the kinds of heroes I love to read--rather than the ones who make me want to smack them in the mouth five pages into the story.ReplyDelete
THANK YOU, for articulating so well what I've always felt about "alpha" as a hero descriptor.
I've had coffee, but not enough. I'm also in the middle of numbers at work. I can't think of anyone at this time. This sounds like a book I would enjoy.ReplyDelete
Congrats Courtney!! I love your writing, and check your blog out on occasion!ReplyDelete
Can't think of particulars, but I like the awkward/geeky types. Clark Kent!!
Look forward to getting Trial on my nook!
Nice, nice, nice! Bullies are usually cowards, not leaders.ReplyDelete
Similarly, betas are not pushovers. They're negotiators, delegators, and consiglieres. Very strong men.
Your description of a "true alpha" immediately made me think of Miles Vorkosigan from Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. He's unconventionally alpha because he has severe birth defects and medical problems on a planet that has a deep-seated fear of mutation. But he's a real overachiever and has personality and charm in force. He knows how to choose and deploy personnel, and he inspires people to perform up to and possibly beyond their pre-conceived limits.ReplyDelete
I can't wait to read the new book!
I just finished a romance where the hero came in and took over and didn't respect the heroine as a person in her own right. In my mind, this didn't change enough at the end , and it really bothered me. Funny thing was, I was mostly annoyed at the heroine for letting him continue.
I agree about all the diplomatic qualities you listed that make a great hero. Whatever the label.
Happy release day. I can't wait for my copy to arrive!
I like Samuel Hartley from Elizabeth Hoyt's To Taste Temptation, he's unconverntional and in charge.
And also James Trevor from Lauren Royal's Tempting Juliana. He didn't take no for an answer and made sure she noticed him. I guess that's taking control, leading in a way.
I'm not sure if these guys really fit in the unconventional Alpha box but I'm not much for placing people or characters into boxes. But to me they stood out as heroes.
Congratulations on the new release! I can't wait to find out how Ned turns out. He tried so hard to overcome his melancholy in Proof, yet he didn't get his HEA. Hopefully, he will in Trial. BTW, will we find out who Jenny's parents are in Trial or is it totally Ned's story?ReplyDelete
As for an unconventional alpha, I would choose the hero from His At Night by Sherry Thomas. Lord Vere was definitely a leader, but not many people realized it. He was forced to live behind the mask of a dunce for so long that it became part of him.
Love your comments about what makes a true alpha. I know one of these in real life. A leader that others *ask* to lead because everyone respects him, his opinions, and his leadership style. And you're right. These types aren't the jerks. Arrogant, maybe. But never to a point of pissing others off. It's a justified kind of arrogance. :)ReplyDelete
I think Tessa Dare's Julian from Three Nights with a Scoundrel fits this mold. He's the fashion "leader" of London and has all the men imitating him, but he's not the stereotypical a-hole jerk.
Congrats and aloha, Courtney!!!ReplyDelete
One of the most memorable heroes for me is Sir Alistair Munroe, the scarred and emotionally wounded hero in Elizabeth Hoyt's To Beguile a Beast. Saving the heroine makes him a top alpha for me.
I'll go WAY back and say THE QUIET GENTLEMAN by Georgette Heyer. Gervase Frant was unassuming, put up with a lot of stuff and was wasn't "alpha" in the flashy way at all.ReplyDelete
One of my favorite comfort reads over the years.
It's a brief break for lunch, which leaves me with not enough time for this fabulous discussion.
PJ, I haven't read Paula Quinn yet but you are not the first to suggest her to me. I'm putting her on the list. Definitely.
Kristen, I love Les Mis, and so I definitely understand if you have to wait to finish. :) But speaking of true alphas, I think Jean Valjean is such an incredible alpha hero--protective, helpful, and not afraid to do whatever is right, even at immense personal cost. Honestly, if I could write an alpha hero that amazing...the only difficulty would be trying to find out why the heroine didn't immediately fall into his arms. :)
Louisa, I definitely think you and I are on the same wavelength, especially in writing. For those of you who haven't read Louisa's latest book, JUST ONE TASTE, I think her hero there is a true alpha: one who can be in charge, and who has a number of con-artist skills that he picked up as a child, but someone who chooses instead to protect the ones he loves (including his dog), and not to put himself first.
He's such a peach. Love him.
Andrea: get coffee. Crunch numbers.ReplyDelete
Jessica, and Jeannie: I completely agree.
And for those who haven't read Jeannie Lin's BUTTERFLY SWORDS yet, her hero Ryam is fabulous. He's starving himself, and in a completely desperate situation, but when he realizes that her heroine Ai Li is in trouble, he risks his life to save hers. And that's, like, just the first ten pages.
I loved that book and I'll be talking about it more.
Joy, Miles is one of my favorite heroes of all time.ReplyDelete
Truth-telling time: The last name "Milan" isn't mine (it's a pseudonym). Originally, I told people to pronounce it My-lan (not Mill-an). Reason? Because I wanted a derivative of "Miles" in my name.
These days I go with Mill-an because it seems pedantic to correct people's pronunciation of my made-up name, but there ya go.
Leigh, I am totally on board with you. Sometimes the jerk-alpha thing can really work for me--IF you see him change his ways enough. Sometimes though if it isn't enough, you just have to shrug and walk on.
Kirsten, Penfield, and Jami--you're listing three of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Hoyt, Sherry Thomas, and Tessa Dare, and for exactly the same reasons I like all three of them. They both do extraordinary heroes (and heroines) who do not fit a cliche mold. Love that about their work.ReplyDelete
Sarah Reyes, I completely agree. Georgette Heyer has some of the best quietly competent gentleman out there.ReplyDelete
And mrsshukra, aloha to you too, and great choice! Samuel Hartley is a fantastic hero. AND he has a dog. Can it get any better than that?
I'll be back by again later this afternoon to answer questions.
Congrats on the new book!
I would have to agree with Laurie and choose Ian from The Madness of Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley. He is one of my favorite heroes, unconventional or not.
Hey there, Courtney! We're thrilled that you're dishing with us today. Congrats on the new release! My local B&N did not have any new releases on the shelves, so I'll be going back tomorrow or Thursday. Can't wait to read TBD! :)ReplyDelete
Oh, Scorpio, I *heart* Harry Pye, too!!! Love him!ReplyDelete
And Laurie, ITA that Ian Mackenzie is a terrific example of an unconventional hero!!
Congrats on your new release! I loved "Proof by Seduction" so I'm looking forward to "Trial by Desire".ReplyDelete
Great discussion about alphas. As for unconventional alphas, I thought of Tessa Dare's books as well.
Hey Courtney! Welcome to The Romance Dish! So glad you are with us today.ReplyDelete
I just LOVE that cover!! Talk about yummy!!! :-)
Like everyone else, I'm really looking forward to reading this book. Can't wait to have some free time to dive in and soak it up.
Hey, Courtney! I'm looking forward to reading TRIAL BY DESIRE. I love that Ned is not a "typical" alpha hero---makes him more intriguing IMHO.ReplyDelete
I have to chime in with the rest of the Bridgerton hero lovers. Colin was always my favorite.
I like the way you define “alpha.” Using those traits, I’d say Del Brown from Savor the Moment (Nora Roberts’ brides series) is a good alpha example. He’s a natural leader who makes others comfortable. He takes care of things and isn’t a bully.ReplyDelete
I have to admit that in Trial by Seduction I wouldn’t have viewed Ned in alpha terms. So I’m really interested in reading his story.
I do love big bad alphas, but am warming up to betas who seemingly have an inner Alpha, a nice mixture of the two!ReplyDelete
Sebastian in Miranda Neville's The Dangerous Viscount is all that.
All the best for your release!
LSU Reader said; I have to admit that in Trial by Seduction I wouldn’t have viewed Ned in alpha terms. So I’m really interested in reading his story.ReplyDelete
I thought the same but Ned does a lot of growing up during the three years between the end of Trial by Seduction and the beginning of Trial by Desire and grows even more during his story. Courtney has turned him into a wonderful hero.
Karyn said; Sebastian in Miranda Neville's The Dangerous Viscount is all that.ReplyDelete
Oh yes! I agree! :)
Hi guys--sorry about disappearing off the face of the earth yesterday afternoon.ReplyDelete
Trisha, Andrea, and Sheree: Tessa Dare and Jennifer Ashley are definitely at the top of my list. And THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE was one of my favorite books of the year--so incredibly powerful, and that was BECAUSE the hero was different, not in spite of it.
Buffie, isn't that cover something else? It's been a real love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing. I've seen everything from "this is the worst cover ever" to "OMG so hot!" I'm always interested to see how people respond.ReplyDelete
Gannon, Colin Bridgerton is a great choice. I think he's so true-to-life: his worries are what I think many people think about.
LSUReader: Oh, man. I loved Del Brown! SAVOR THE MOMENT has been my favorite of the Bride Trilogy so far.ReplyDelete
Nora so rarely writes the super-mean aggressive heroes--in fact I only say "rarely" because the answer may be "never" but having not read all of her almost 200 books I can't be sure.
Finally, Karyn, I think everyone has an inner alpha. The challenge is to find a story that makes them rise to the occasion and accept it.
Miranda Neville is one of the new historical authors that I really enjoy, and can't wait to see more from.
Thanks so much for having me, everyone! And PJ, thanks so much for being a wonderful host.ReplyDelete