Who do you think of when someone asks you who your hero is? Is it a real person or a fictional character? Is he tall, handsome, smart, rich? Or are there other qualities that are more important?
I was doing my usual end of the year de-cluttering—which basically involves moving piles of junk into new piles—when I came across a judging sheet from a contest I entered when I first joined RWA. Now, I’ve only entered 3, maybe 4, contests so I don’t know if this judge was typical or not, but her response to my entry is something that I’ll never forget.
See, my hero wasn’t six feet tall. A fact that actually endeared him to the heroine but that caused this judge to deduct multiple points and to write in several areas of the score sheet comments along the lines that I was “obviously a novice and knew nothing about the conventions of the romance genre”, that my novel “although well-written will never make it past a first reader at any publishing house unless you change your hero”, and “no New York editor will ever buy a book featuring a hero less than six feet tall.” There was more of the like, but you get the drift—she loved the story, liked the characters, but in her mind the entire work failed because of one physical characteristic.
At first I laughed. Especially as these results came on the heels of my Golden Heart final, winning the Golden Gateway and receiving my first book contract—not for the novel she judged, that was a work-in-progress. But then I realized that I was very much indebted to this judge and her comments.
Why? Because she made me think. She made me take a good hard look at my characters and consciously decide what I wanted readers to see, feel and think about them.
To do that, I examined my own personal heroes. I have three men that I truly admire—two of whom that I’ve actually been fortunate enough to meet.
The first is Joe Paterno. If you don’t follow college football, you probably don’t know Joe Pa. He’s 79 and the long time coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions. This year he brought my Lions back from several heart-breaking losing seasons to a fantastic season that was only one second shy of perfect. But Coach Paterno’s mastery of the art of football isn’t why he’s my hero.
Joe Pa is my hero because in all his years, winning or losing, he’s never lost sight of the fact that football really is only a game. He’s always focused on the people playing the game, these young boys entrusted to his care and tutelage and who, for the most part, leave the program as men of principal and honor. His teams have had some of the highest graduation rates, highest GPA’s, and highest rates of post-graduate degrees of any in the nation. Joe (and his wife Sue) tutor “their kids”, have donated heavily to build a new library at Penn State, and have always opened their arms and their home to any player in need. Joe Pa is a gentleman in the true sense of the word.
My second hero is Gene Krantz. Yeah, you remember him from Ed Harris’ portrayal in Apollo 13. He’s the guy who coined the phrase “failure is not an option” and who literally saved lives by thinking outside the box. In this case, by configuring a square box, a carbon dioxide scrubber, to fit into a round hole. He’s also known for wearing vests that his wife made him during each Apollo mission he worked on. Cool under fire, knowing when to follow the rules and when to scrap the rule book, a guy you could depend on without hesitation.
My final hero is my Uncle Vinny. No laughing, that really is his name. On a school teacher’s salary, he and his wife raised five wonderful kids (I’ll never live it down if any of my cousins are reading this!) and created a home that was always filled with music, laughter, warm comfort, hot food and endless hugs. He taught me that any dream worth having is worth sacrificing for, that people come before money or reputation, that some principals you must defend or risk losing part of yourself by compromising them, and that when you look at the big picture, there just really isn’t a whole lot in this life worth getting too upset about. If you have your health, your family and a job you love, then you’ve got it all—so go, enjoy it already!
So those are my heroes. None of them are tall, dark or Hollywood handsome—I’m sure my judge would have given them all low scores. But I strive to include part of them into all of my fictional heroes. The best compliment any reader could give me is not when they tell me, “Ohhh, that Drake is soooo hunky and handsome, he made me melt!” Rather, it’s when someone says that they’ll never forget Drake (or any of my heros), that he inspired them or made them wish they could meet a man like him in real life.
When that happens, I thank Joe Pa, Gene and Uncle Vinny. I couldn’t have done it without you guys!
So, who are your heroes? What makes them stand out, become unforgettable, inspiring?
I’d love to know!
Cathryn J Lyons
No one is immune to danger….
BLINK OF AN EYE, “a perfect blend of romance and suspense.” --Sandra Brown