The Story Behind A True Gentleman
(NOTE: This may contain some spoilers so do not read it unless you've already finished the book)
When I started tackling a sequel to Flame and Ember, the only thing I knew I wanted to do was have a story focused around Mina's younger brother, Graham. Past that, I had no idea where I was going to go with the story. I didn't even know who the heroine was going to be.
As I was reading through a book (I can't remember which one, so don't ask me), the story revolved around the trope of the rake reforming to get the girl. I've read plenty of those books before and have enjoyed some of them, as with all such tropes, but mostly, they make me really sad because the truth of the matter is that such reformations rarely last. I've seen enough of them in real life to know that they don't. I've had friends who marry a guy who has changed for them, and without fail, the marriages end up miserable. The very few I've seen that are successful are due to the fact that the guy changed on his own -- independent of the girl. She may have inspired him, but he chose to do so because he wanted to be different, not because she is telling him he has to or she's going to break up with him.
So, it got me thinking about what it would be like to have a heroine who was one of those naive girls who thought life was going to be perfect because she poked and prodded a guy into being something he doesn't want to be. Who has tried to salvage her marriage, but is incapable of it because her husband has no interest in towing the line any longer. Thus Tabitha Russell was born. I had so much fun writing her. That sounds bad because she has such a miserable life, but she was an interesting character to write. A bit painful, really, because I have known plenty of girls who have been in her situation.
However, as I was playing around with the story, I wasn't thrilled with the timid widower afraid to love again. Don't get me wrong, I love that trope, but it wasn't working for the story. I'll likely tackle that one at some time, but I just wasn't feeling it for this story. As I was playing around with the outline (or rather, beating my head against my keyboard screaming, "What am I supposed to do?!"), I started thinking about one of my favorite classic novels, Jane Eyre.
First off, if you haven't read it or seen the Masterpiece Theatre production of it, go do it now! Now, I tell you!
I fell in love with that novel in high school and still adore it. Full discloser, I do think Mr. Rochester is a bit of a jerk and doesn't totally deserve Jane, but I love her so much and he makes her happy, so I root for them to get together every time. Jane is such an incredible character. Though some might think her a weak character, she's not passive. She's strong and determined. No, she doesn't go around being the kick-butt modern heroine, but she is a great mixture of softspoken humility and a spine of steel. When she has the choice (and she doesn't always), she stands up for herself. When she doesn't have the choice, she doesn't allow it to break her. To me, that is the epitome of a strong character.
The scene I love most in the book is when (spoilers, ahead if you haven't read it) it is revealed that Mr. Rochester is married. He begs for Jane to stay with him. That no one would know the truth, and they could be happy that way. It is heartbreaking as he begs this poor, unloved woman to stay with him. She wants to stay. She loves him so much and wants to be with him, but she knows she's can't do that. She knows that it would be wrong, and that she can't do it. Instead, she leaves him. Honestly, it is one of my favorite scenes ever because of the power of it. I bawl every time because Jane is aching to stay in the home she loves; the poor unwanted girl has finally found her place in the world, and she can't stay. It's just devastating to read it.
Contrast that to most literature that tells people it doesn't matter if you're married or not, that you need to follow your heart no matter where it leads you. It's rare to find a book (especially nowadays) that doesn't excuse infidelity. I remember watching the movie Something Borrowed (I refuse to link to that horrid thing!) that is all about the hero and heroine having an affair even though the hero is engaged to the heroine's best friend, and I was just dumbfounded. Even though they try to paint the best friend / fiance as a horrible, selfish person, the fact is that the hero is one, too. He was having an affair, for goodness sakes!
So, I decided to take a leap and keep Tabby's husband alive. I know it was a bit of a risk, but I wanted to do a story about a hero and heroine who have morals and ideals, and even though they have justifications for breaking Tabby's marriage vows, they choose to sacrifice what they want for what they know is right.
Of course, I still wanted for them to have a nice happily ever after, so fate (or rather Joshua Russell's own foolishness) stepped in and bludgeoned him to death in an alley. ;) As a bit of an spoiler, I will say that in the next book in the series, you will see Tabby and Graham's wedding! Yay!