U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq, with the one thing he credits with keeping him alive – a photograph he found of a woman he doesn’t even know. Discovering her name is Beth (Taylor Schilling) and where she lives, he shows up at her door, and ends up taking a job at her family-run local kennel. Despite her initial mistrust and the complications in her life, a romance develops between them, giving Logan hope that Beth could be much more than his good luck charm.
There is a strong tradition for wonderful romantic movies to be made based on Nicholas Sparks’ bestselling novels – think The Notebook, Dear John, A Message in a Bottle and A Walk to Remember. So when I heard they were making a film of The Lucky One, I knew at once it would be a poignant movie that would sweep me away – and how right I was!
This film is romance incarnate. It made me smile, it made me cry, and it gave me that wonderful ‘ah, love!’ feeling over and over again. The story is simple but powerful, but for me two things make the film jump out as being exceptional:
- The hero: He makes the movie, evoking smouldering, intense on-screen chemistry. Gone is the boyish Zac Efron, replaced with a centred and mesmerising man who knows just how to make his female audience melt. A Marine, he’s a little more reserved and quiet than I’d usually prefer in a hero, but this only adds to the intensity of the film, and for me every word of his dialogue is spot on; for example, ‘You should be kissed every day, every hour, every minute.’ A perfect modern-day romance hero, and actually, come the end of the film, he really lives up to that ‘hero’ title.
- The setting: Utterly stunning. Most of the filming took place in Louisiana, and if nothing else the film stands as a wonderful advertisement for its tourism board! The cinematography is beautifully executed, and my lasting impression after watching the film was of light and colours – vivid and moving, and the perfect backdrop for romance. I love that the setting is enough for the characters; that they don’t need the bustle and lights of the city, but will happily spend their days with animals and family amid breathtaking nature – a far cry from the opening scenes in Iraq.
It seems that critically the film was not well received. Don’t let that deter you! This is pure, beautiful romance – the kind that high-brow film critics rarely praise but we who love the romance genre thoroughly enjoy.
You can watch the trailer here:
I confess I love romance novels in which there is a tortured hero, because I think any love story needs conflict, some struggle that must be overcome, and inner conflict is, for me, the most compelling. I love human characters, real characters, who are imperfect and wrestle with themselves, because these are people with whom I can relate. Heroines are always conflicted, but when the hero is truly tortured, you cannot help but feel a pull to him. You yearn to soothe him and fix him, and you’re awash with empathy for his plight – such powerful feelings which make you keen to read on.
For me, the attraction with tortured heroes began back in my teenage years with two characters created by two very famous literary sisters:
Mr Rochester, Jane Eyre: Such a mysterious man, and surely the original silent-and-brooding type. As a reader, you cannot help but feel a little wary of him on your first reading, and yet you are unable to stop yourself willing Jane and he to find a way to be together.
“No – no – Jane; you must not go. No – I have touched you, heard you, felt the comfort of your presence – the sweetness of your consolation: I cannot give up these joys. I have little left in myself – I must have you. The world may laugh – may call me absurd, selfish – but it does not signify. My very soul demands you: it will be satisfied: or it will take deadly vengeance on its frame.”
Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights: A tragic hero if ever there was one. Charlotte Brontë’s writing allows us to get right into his mind and see at first hand the torment he endures as a result of cruel circumstance and his love/hate relationship with Cathy.
“Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”
When the story for my novel Burning Embers first started taking shape in my mind, I knew at once that Rafe, the hero, would be a tortured soul. He is an honourable man, a loving man, but he is entirely impeded. First, by his reputation as a womaniser and heartless exploiter of Coral’s father. Second, and far worse, by a dark secret he locks away in his heart – a secret that so pains and shames him, he feels himself undeserving of love.
A hand pinched Rafe’s heart, and his eyes clouded. Could the idealistic, platonic love he had nurtured for her portraits turn into something deep and even more wonderful: the salvation to his jaded life? But how could a man with years of baggage behind him aspire to be with such innocence and purity? And how could Coral ever be interested in Rafe when general society condemned him for, among other things, disloyalty to a man who was adored and respected by everyone and who had lent him a helping hand? Her own father, no less. Coral had everything going for her: beauty, a promising career, money, and, by the looks of it, courage and character. Surely her heart was already engaged, and she wouldn’t spare him a thought? Anyhow, as she’d said, his reputation had preceded him. And if he should try to defend himself to her…to what end? She would never believe him, and in any case, he had too much of a past for her to take on. No, it would be wrong to attempt to see her again or to entertain thoughts about things that could never be.
Poor Rafe; my heart ached for him as I wrote. Could I write a book with a hero who had no emotional baggage; who was perfectly at ease with himself and had no lessons to learn, no difficult obstacles to find the courage to tackle? No, I don’t think so.
To celebrate its third anniversary, my publisher Omnific is holding a great Kindle giveaway, and to tie in each author is writing a post from their hero to their heroine on Valentine’s Day. As a break from the norm, I’ve decided to have fun creating a pictorial love note from Rafe of Burning Embers to Coral. Enjoy!
This Valentine’s Day I want to show you how much I…
… you. So I’m taking you on a date. We’ll drink…
And walk hand in hand, by the light of the…
I’m flying you to one of the most magical cities in the world. Where? You have to guess.
We’ll visit an art museum…
And take in a show at the opera house…
Then we’ll climb the top of the tallest tower and take in the city from the heavens…
Finally, we’ll take a dinner cruise along the river, and drink in the glorious sunset…
And as night falls, I’ll hold you close, and when the very symbol of the city of love passes by…
I’ll kiss you until you see…
When developing the idea for a novel, one of the areas I must consider carefully is the job of the hero and the heroine. Sounds superficial and unimportant, perhaps… after all, we are not our jobs; we are much more besides. But the job of a character is important for two reasons
First, the career helps convey the identity of the character. For example, Coral in Burning Embers is a freelance photographer, and this tells us much about her character. That she takes photos for a living tells us that she is creative and interested in the world around and in different perspectives – and possibly also that she feels comfortable being a spectator rather than feeling the need to be an actor, in the centre of a drama. That she is photographing animals tells us that she cares about wildlife and respects the creatures that are native to Kenya. And that she is freelance, rather than employed, says much about her independence and her courage in following her own course.
Rafe, the hero, is also self-employed – running a successful sisal plantation and a nightclub. The nightclub element shows us that he has a sensual side with which he is very much in tune. And of course his independence and success in business make him attractive as a love match.
The second important element of career choice comes down to compatibility. Interestingly, a recent survey has found that you are most compatible with someone from a different career to your own (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2195922/Women-teachers-likely-firemen-How-career-affects-date.html). According to the survey, the following couples are most compatible: banker and teacher or doctor, and teacher and fireman. That may be so, but I believe there needs to be some common ground – some similar values when it comes to career.
Do a freelance photographer and a self-employed businessman as in Burning Embers have enough in common? Will each understand the other’s career, support it, respect it, value it? Do their careers allow for mutual balance; equilibrium, so one is not carrying the other? Yes, I think so. Each gives the other a chance to see them at work, and each finds their love deepened by getting to know this facet of the other. And as Sigmund Freud put it, ‘Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.’
The phenomenal success of Fifty Shades of Grey has brought romance (of the erotic variety) into the public eye. The book series has sparked all sorts of discussions over feminism/anti-feminism in terms EL James’s plot and characterisation.
It got me to thinking about romance stories, and about the balance of power in them. Is there still room today for a damsel in distress in a romance novel? Is it accepted? Is it an integral part of romance, or a castback to a bygone era?
I think women have always been drawn to strong female characters. As an author, I know that the characters I write have to engage a reader – the reader must connect to them, and empathise with them – and this simply would not happen were I to create feeble, pathetic characters. Plus, I’ve no desire to create heroes and heroines that I do not admire and like myself!
But how far, as a romance author, do you take characterising your heroine? Must she be an ardent feminist, and demand equality with the hero in all respects to the point of never letting him shelter her, protect her, help her, save her? Can she ever melt into his arms; enjoy the fact that he is larger, stronger; wobble in the face of danger and be held up in his embrace?
I think there are areas in which, as author, I must ensure my heroine is strong, courageous, independent and free. So Coral in Burning Embers, for example, is a freelance photographer with a great career; is brave enough to start a new life in Africa; is unafraid to be mistress, alone, of a plantation; and gives as good as she gets when it comes to sparring with Rafe and looking after herself.
But when we read a romance novel, is not part of the appeal the romance – the yearning for a strong male who can challenge a female on her own terms, but also be virile and protective and yes, rescue her when she is in distress? When I read a romance novel, I love a fiery, headstrong, independent heroine, but I also love the moments when she is vulnerable and will allow the man to be her mate in the most primitive sense and look after her. But – and this is the most important part – in return, so too will the hero allow the heroine to ‘rescue’ him when required; he too will show vulnerability. So, for example, in Burning Embers Coral has a car accident, and it is Rafe who finds her and cares for her. But later in the book, Rafe is desperately ill with malaria, and then it is Coral’s turn to save him.
Every lasting relationship is based on balance, and this, I think, is the key to the modern romance novel. We need a touch of vulnerability, and a backbone of strength; a world of opportunity, and a desire to stay rooted; an abundance of freedom, and a tie to another; an ability to stand alone and fend for oneself, but also the humility to accept help when it is needed. Women do not need to be saved, and neither do they need to be dominated; but sometimes, just sometimes, the greatest love can bloom out of allowing another to be the stronger one.