A week or so ago I saw an interesting post on Facebook with an editor wondering why some writers seemed to equate bullying with an alpha hero. Is an alpha hero so big, bad and tough that he becomes a bully? Yes, he can be kind of pushy sometimes. Maybe a little demanding too but where does he cross the line into becoming a bully that you just want to smack in the nose? Maybe that line is very fine. We all have an idea of the attributes a true alpha hero might possess. Tough, yes. Strong, absolutely. Sexy? Without a doubt. But is he mean, domineering and just downright hateful? Nope. I don't think so.
Steve McQueen left us years ago but I still remember the way he thrilled me in his movies. I'm not much of a war movie fan but I'll never forget his featured role in The Great Escape. This wasn't a love story. Not a smidge of romance, sex, etc, in this one yet, in this film Steve McQueen epitomized, at least to me, a true alpha hero in a movie dominated by men.
This was a story about World War II soldiers (both British and American) who were held in a Nazi POW camp and their efforts to plan a great escape. Throughout the movie, Steve McQueen is the solitary man who has his own ideas about escaping from his prison. No tunnels for him. No planning sessions. He was a solitary man who did things his own way. Straightforward, courageous, and always 'out there'. Though he had very few lines in the movie, he dominated through his actions. Most of his on-screen time was spent in solitary confinement, his baseball a constant companion, as he bided his time and plotted his escape. He never SAID that's what he was doing but the audience KNEW he was thinking about it. Not a man of words, he was instead a man of action. He was a man who possessed a stubborn streak and never, ever stopped coming at the Nazis who held him captive. He knew, with each escape attempt, they might kill him but his determination marked every move he made. A true alpha male. Though this movie was dominated by men, no one compared in toughness, grit, and all out fight.
I think maybe some of the old movies and books from the past really got the alpha male right and we would be wise to study up on them when crafting our own alpha heroes. A real hero doesn't brag, he doesn't swagger, he doesn't bully. Yes, he can be wounded and have a little 'bite' to him but he would never mistreat one who might be considered weaker.
One of my favorite books is Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and I've watched the movie more times than I can say. Again, not a romance yet the book and the movie gives us a perfect example of an alpha hero in Atticus Finch. Though the theme of the book deals with racial prejudice in the deep south, it also beautifully illustrates strength and Attitus, the small town lawyer fighting injustice, is the epitome of a 'real man' who is strong and caring. Alpha all the way. Yes, he is a quiet, unassuming man. Rather bookish and intelligent. Through the eyes of his children, we see their love for him but also realize they are just beginning to peel away the layers of who their father really is and what he stands for as a man. He's not a man who swaggers. He fights for right though he knows his world is against him. When a rabid dog staggers down the dusty road and the town sheriff passes off the rifle to Atticus because he's the better shot, you know you have seen another layer peeled away, exposed. He hasn't bragged to his children that he is the best shot in the county and they are amazed by this new insight into their unassuming father.
I've always believed that a real alpha can be moved, touched. He isn't a rough piece of granite with no feelings although they might be deeply buried. Though he may come off to the world as hard and tough, he has a heart. He can be broken, afraid. It's up to the heroine to reach into that deep part of him and soothe all of that. That, to me, is what makes a great romance. Perhaps, when crafting our hero we shouldn't think of him as ALPHA but as HERO. Form a vision in your mind of what, to you, constitutes that ideal man who reaches in, grabs your heart and doesn't let go until you have fallen madly in love with him. If you love him, hopefully your readers will too.
In Ringo's Ride (Ellora's Cave, Book Three High Plains Shifters) I skated the edge with my hero, Ringo Ramone. In the prior book (Lone Star Lycan), I'd introduced Ringo as sullen, moody, a man with a big chip on his shoulder and I knew I had to tell his story. What secrets did he hold in his heart that made him distrustful of others? What forces drove his moodiness? What hurt had made him hide away? And was there a woman in the lycan town of Cloverfield, Texas who could heal him, love him, and ultimately change his life? I worried that he might seem, at least in the beginning, a bit too rough. Unloveable maybe. My plan was to redeem him through Rayne's love and I hope, in the end, I did justice to this wounded alpha hero.
An Excerpt from Ringo's Ride (Ellora's Cave Publishing)
They’d barely touched tonight at the barbecue at the Wolf Creek Ranch. Big Joe McKinnon, the pack’s new alpha had taken Quinn, his newly consummated mate by the hand. Joy propelled Rayne to her feet as she took a step through the crowd and toward the bandstand where the couple had gone to make an announcement. Suddenly, she brushed against six foot four inches of steely-hard muscle. She smelled the familiar scent of clean, masculine cologne and stared into the black eyes that featured prominently in most of her dreams.
“Ringo,” she gasped as his hands reached out to steady her.
“Steady there, darlin’.”
He sucked in a breath and so did she. Their eyes connected and held.
Around her the world narrowed dramatically as a low buzz of energy zipped through her system. Instantly her panties were drenched and a ball of lust tightened low in her belly. Her first thought was to press her thighs together to soothe the harsh ache in her pussy. “Wha—”
“Fuck. No. This can’t be happening,” Ringo murmured huskily. He released her as if burned and shoved his fingers through his thick, black hair. His nostrils flared. His breath whipped in and out of his lungs as if he he’d run a race.
Rayne could do nothing but stare. Ringo’s eyes narrowed on her seconds before he grabbed her arm and ushered her toward the kitchen door of the house. His grip was strong but she didn’t mind. Even a simple touch from him set her on fire. In the distance she heard shouts of “Happy consummation” from the lycan population of Cloverfield, Texas. But then she heard nothing because Ringo led her through the door, pressed her against the wall and took her mouth with a hunger she’d never experienced before. Those lips, that to others might seem cruel, softened over hers and then he nipped her bottom lip. “This can’t be happening. It can’t be you.”
He regretted her. He didn’t want her.
Ringo Ramone couldn’t be plainer about his feelings but it didn’t keep her from wanting him. He inhaled as if breathing her in then plunged his tongue deep. Energy swirled around them, through them and hung heavily in the air as he tasted her, drew on her tongue and sipped every breath she exhaled. The low moan he sent into her mouth made her hot. Her body was on fire and helplessly she arched against him. With a low growl, Ringo took her hands and stretched them high over her head to press against the wall. He moved his lower body against her until she felt the thickness of his erection against her pussy. He was huge and hard. Gasping out, she met him stroke for stroke. Someone could walk in at any moment but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but sensations that dipped and dived in her body. She wanted nothing more than to crawl up all that lean, rangy body and impale herself on his cock. Rayne brought her leg up to rest high against his hip, opening herself to him. When her vaginal walls contracted and expanded, she wanted to scream her frustration that he wasn’t buried deep inside to ease the ache. Her flesh rippled with sensation as the she-beast deep inside her clawed for attention. She wanted out.
Ringo’s dark Latino features, beautiful and sharp, seemed even harder to her when cast in shadow. White teeth flashed as he gritted them. He dragged his cock across her pussy, stroking her clit with each pass and he thrust wildly as if he couldn’t get enough. “I. Don’t. Want. This. Not now. Not ever.”
All at once everything seized up inside her and Rayne drew breath to scream as intense pleasure made her fly apart in his arms. Ringo’s mouth crashed down on her to swallow the sound as she convulsed. Instantly he let go and stepped back to stare at her as if she were a stranger instead of a woman he’d known his entire life. The predatory stillness about him scared her but made her crave him too.
“You don’t want me, Ringo?” Rayne wanted to bite her tongue the second the words left her mouth. Could she sound more pitiful? She hated her vulnerability and the realization that he didn’t care for her.
Something softened in his face. He reached out and fisted a hand in her long curly hair. Tugging, drawing her head back he looked down at her with a surprisingly gentle gaze. “It’s not you, Rayne. It’s me.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she whispered. An ache of longing and pain caused her heart to tighten. “What a lame thing to say.”
He released her and stepped back, that sly all-knowing smile tilting his lips. “You’ll do better without me, darlin’. I don’t need a mate.”