He·ro-- hi(ə)rō (noun)
My blog guest today is Regency author Vanessa Kelly. She gravitated toward this popular setting thanks to her early love affair with the works of Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen and Fanny Burney. I know you’re going to love her hero in My Favorite Countess, so without further ado, I’m turning my blog over to this very talented writer.
Hi Mia! Thanks so much for having me on the blog today. I thought I’d talk about one of the things I like best about being a romance writer, and that’s how much fun it is to create heroes. There are, of course, many wonderful things about writing—and reading—romance, but let’s face it: nothing turns our crank faster than a sexy, fascinating hero!
For my latest Regency-set historical romance, My Favorite Countess, I wanted to create a hero who was a bit different from the average aristocratic. Not that I have ANY objection to a hot marquess or earl, as my earlier books will illustrate. But I really wanted to come up with someone outside the ordinary this time around. After all, my heroine’s a bit of a tough nut. She’s a sharp-tongued, fiercely intelligent countess who is occasionally quite bad-tempered. Bathsheba has had a difficult life and, consequently, she doesn’t have a very rosy view of the world. I needed to give her a man who was not only strong, handsome, and sexy, but one who was also decent and kind and who could show her that good people do exist, and that happiness is possible to achieve.
Who better to accomplish that difficult task than a doctor, especially one who makes it his life’s mission to care for the impoverished women of the slums?
And so Dr. John Blackmore, my hero, was born. He’s an accoucheur, which is the Regency version of an obstetrician. As you can imagine, giving birth was a difficult and often dangerous proposition during the period. If a woman survived the actual birthing process, there was still a fairly good chance that she could die from childbed fever or any number of complications. It was even worse for poor women, who suffered from malnutrition, terrible housing conditions, and a lack of clean water. I decided to have John dedicate his life to saving these women and their babies, even going into the most dangerous slums of London to do so.
Now, I ask you: what heroine could resist a guy like that? Strong, principled, and dedicated to helping the most vulnerable and needy members of society. By my standards, that’s a true hero. Of course, John has his own trials and tribulations to face, as the reader will soon find out. Here’s a snippet from the beginning of the book, where we find John having a very dark day, indeed:
John had failed and another woman was dead. Soon the rumors would begin again, whispered through the sooty laneways and alleys of St. Giles, spreading fear and ignorance like a foul contagion.
The Angel of Death.
That was the name some of the locals called him. He could hardly blame them, although cold logic told him they were wrong. Still, Death trailed in his footsteps. No matter how fiercely he struggled to best it, in these dark places he rarely emerged victorious.
John dropped his scalpel into the tray lying on the floor next to the rough hewn bed. A battered wooden table, a few mismatched and broken chairs, and an old trunk made up the rest of the tenant’s furniture. In the fitful light cast by one old lamp and a few smoking candles, the room testified to the hardscrabble life eked out by the wretched souls in the London stews.
Roger Simmons, his assistant and medical student, carefully drew a tattered, grime-encrusted blanket over the body of their patient. Patients, rather, since John had been unable to save Mrs. O’Neill’s baby, either. The stillborn infant lay in his mother’s arms, joined with her for eternity, which John hoped was a more forgiving place than this dreary pest-hole.
“There wasn’t another thing you could do to save her, Dr. Blackmore, and you know it.” Roger’s rough voice, still bearing the faint traces of his upbringing in Spitalfields, broke the unearthly quiet of a room that had vibrated with a woman’s screams just a short while ago.
“So you say.”
The words scraped raw in John’s throat as he rubbed the blood from his fingers with a scrap of cloth. Once it had become clear Mrs. O’Neill was breathing her last, he’d cut her open in a futile attempt to save the babe. But, as usual, he was too late. The poor of St. Giles rarely sent for a doctor or surgeon to deliver an infant—not that most doctors would even set foot in the place—and put their trust instead in neighbors or relatives to assist in the birth. If they were fortunate, they could perhaps afford a midwife, but in this benighted part of London even that was an unusual occurrence. So by the time someone became desperate enough to run to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital to fetch him, the unfortunate woman was often beyond help.
“Sir, you know her pelvis was too small, too disfigured.” Roger carried on doggedly, wiping medical instruments clean before stowing them back in John’s bag. “Her life was slipping away by the time we got here. A caesarean was the only chance we had to save the infant. You know how many of these women have rickets. Christ, we’ve seen it often enough these past months—especially among the Irish.”
The certainty of that knowledge offered John little comfort.
He bit back a frustrated oath and threw the bloody cloth into the tray. It would take more than a few bits of cotton to scrub the gore from his hands and arms. And God only knew what it would take to wipe clean the stains that marked his soul.
He turned away from the bed, rubbing his neck, searching for the knots that felt like pieces of lead shot under his fingertips. Exhaustion leached through his veins, and he suddenly craved the solitude of his study. And a brandy. A very large brandy.
Fortunately, John decides to escape his troubles by going on short trip, where he meets Bathsheba. Helping each other, they will both find the redemption and love they seek. And, after all, isn’t that what a good romance is all about?
Vanessa Kelly writes Regency-set historical romance for Kensington Zebra. She also writes contemporary romance with her husband under the pen name of VK Sykes. You can reach her on the web at: http://www.vanessakellyauthor.com
Thanks for joining us today, Vanessa.
My guest is offering to give a copy of My Favorite Countess to a lucky commenter, so be sure to leave a comment or an answer to this question: What character trait do you look for most in a hero?