The Unsung Hero
Back in May, 2000, I held my first “Countdown” to the first book in my brand new Troubleshooters series, thirteen days before THE UNSUNG HERO’s June 6th release.
I was figuring out the ins and outs of promoting a book, and my early efforts were… well, let’s just say I had plenty of room to grow!
I’m not going to copy all of the daily posts from that early countdown — only bits and pieces. Most of my “Countdown to TUH” consisted of a Q&A, from questions asked by readers who were regulars on my pre-Facebook internet message board.
And it looked liked this:
The reviews of THE UNSUNG HERO keep coming in! The Romance Journal has given TUH Desert Isle Keeper Status!
Laura Novak from TRJ writes: “Not many authors can handle juggling so many balls in one story but Ms. Brockmann pulls it off with consummate skill and inimitable style…The Unsung Hero is definitely one of the best reads of 2000. Between scenes that had me laughing out loud and a very emotionally powerful, two-hanky scene, this is the best book that Ms. Brockmann has written to date.”
Question number one comes from Claudia Terrones who asks: “Who are your heroes as far as writers go? Not necessarily similar style or inspiration (although that’d be nice to know, too), but do you have an “auto-buy” author list?”
My two biggest writer heroes are William Goldman and David Kelley. Goldman wrote BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, as well as a slew of incredible novels including MARATHON MAN and THE PRINCESS BRIDE. His ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE is a terrific book about writing that I highly recommend. If there’s any one author whose style I try to learn from, it’s William Goldman. He’s got a unique, sitting right there next to you kind of writing voice, and his skill at keeping the reader engaged and turning pages is something I really admire!
As for David Kelley — he’s the writer behind both THE PRACTICE and ALLY McBEAL. He’s proof that a writer can be both prolific and award-winning! I find his talent inspiring! (Note from 2013-Suz: In 2000, I had yet to discover Joss Whedon!)
Robert B. Parker is another favorite author of mine.
As far as romance authors go, Carla Kelly and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are both on my “auto-buy” list. I’m also a fan of Julia Quinn. Susan Carroll’s St. Leger series (THE BRIDE FINDER, THE NIGHT DRIFTER) has me completely hooked!
Claudia also wants to know “And oh yeah, do you watch JAG?”
Actually, I don’t. I did right when the series started, because my friend Eric’s cousin was involved with the production. But then I kind of fell out of watching it. (Maybe it’s a case of my being Navied out at the end of the day! <g>)
My current favorite must-watch TV show is THE WEST WING! Zounds, is that a great show! I’ve always been a Martin Sheen fan, and I’m telling you, that first episode when he makes his first entrance as President Bartlett…! Man, was that great writing! The writing on this show is as strong as the wonderfully talented cast of actors! I’m gushing, I know, but I’m completely in awe! If you haven’t seen this show, check it out. (Note from 2013-Suz: I’ve glommed/rewatched the boxed set twice, in addition to my original TV viewing. It holds up. And I now follow Josh, Donna, Toby and President Bartlett on Twitter.)
Who can guess my favorite character (besides the Pres) on THE WEST WING?
Hey, has everyone seen the article on Ivy Books in the June issue of Romantic Times? I’ve got an author profile in there this month, as well. And of course there’s also the review of THE UNSUNG HERO — RT gave the book a four and 1/2 star Gold Medal and made it a Top Pick!
“Suzanne Brockmann has been a consistently excellent storyteller since she first arrived on the fiction scene. However, in THE UNSUNG HERO she takes a quantum leap forward with a novel that is richly textured, tenderly touching and utterly exciting. This is one book you will be unable to put down or forget!” — Jill M. Smith, Romantic Times
Okay we’re gonna start with the answer to yesterday’s cliffhanger question, which was: After President Bartlett, who’s my favorite character on THE WEST WING?
And my answer is…Toby!
And you all thought I was going to say Josh, didn’t you? Okay, I admit I like Josh, too. And Sam and Leo and Charlie and CJ and Danny. And I really like Josh’s assistant Donna. But when it comes to favorites, it’s got to be Toby. He completely cracks me up!
And who was my favorite Monkee? Peter! (As a seven year old. The mature, grown up me thinks Mike’s the only Monkee worth drooling over!)
Colleen writes: Is there a character in any of your books who is most like you? Or to put it another way, if you could be any character in any of your books, which one would you most like to be?
Actually, Colleen, those are two very different questions!
The character who’s most like me (Note from 2013-Suz: as of 2000. In 2013, my answer would be Meg from THE DEFIANT HERO!) would probably have to be Nell in IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR. I’m a big scaredy-cat about so many things! Sometimes I need a kick in the pants just to leave the safety of my office!
And if I could be any of the characters in my books…hmm…I think my answer would have to be Kate from HEART THROB. Not only does she get to end up with Jed Beaumont (the sexiest man alive) but she’s a movie producer and screenwriter, involved in making one of her stories come to life on the big screen!
Runner up is a tie between Zoe from THE ADMIRAL’S BRIDE and Kelly Ashton in THE UNSUNG HERO. My reasons are a little more simple: Admiral Jake Robinson and Lt. Tom Paoletti! Say no more!
Pat Williams from Jamestown, NY asks: “Are there any unsold stories stuck away in a drawer that you might re-do and get out to us hungry readers who are waiting for the next book?”
As a matter of fact, yes! Well, yes to the fact that I have stories in a drawer (or actually on a shelf). As far as getting them out to you… that’s a little trickier!
But let’s start at the beginning: I sold pretty quickly after I first started writing romance. I started writing in June 1992, and sold the fourth book I wrote in December of that same year. I actually wrote ten books that first year, and there are still some that never sold. (There’s at least one that should and will never sell! It’s a kind of “over my dead body” situation, if you know what I mean!)
Here’s the complete roster of unpublished Suzanne Brockmann books:
The very first romance novel I ever wrote, called LOOKING FOR PERFECTION, has yet to be officially sold. It’s about 70,000 words and features a hero who’s a famous, guitar-playing rock star (Okay, right. Rock star hero. Everyone who knows the rules of writing series romance roll their eyes right now. Ready? Go.) who loses the use of his left hand when he’s slashed by a knife in a mugging. See, I used to work at a music management agency that represented Joe Perry (of Aerosmith — at the time I worked for him, he was doing “The Joe Perry Project”) and I was struck by the idea of a man-child who became famous when he was a teenager, and had never had the chance to grow up. I still like this story. Maybe someday it’ll see the light of day! (Note from 2013-Suz: Nope. Not yet…)
There’s also LOVE SCENES, which was due out as a Meteor Kismet in October 1993, but never was released. (The company stopped publishing books in August 1993!) This book features a hero who’s waiting to find out if his cancer is in remission. Yes, it’s a romantic comedy. I’m not kidding. (Note from 2013-Suz: This book was rewritten and published as SCENES OF PASSION. It was recently reissued in a 2-in-1 by Mira.)
LETTERS TO KELLY is another series romance that Meteor had bought, but never released. (This one’s still my mom’s favorites of everything I’ve written. Well, maybe that’s changed now with THE UNSUNG HERO… What do you say, Mom?) In this book the hero is a famous historical romance author whose sister fronts for him! (Note from 2013-Suz: LTK sold to Silhouette Intimate Moments, and became Silhouettes bestselling category romance of the year — in Japan!)
A few years back, I wrote a 400 page “mainstream” paranormal (one of the major secondary characters is the ghost of the main character’s great-grandfather!) called GALLAGHER’S CLAIM that no one ever knew quite what to do with! One of the subplots takes place in the 1890s. Is it contemporary? Is it historical? What the heck is it? It’s languishing on my shelf! (Note from 2013-Suz: Not anymore! I rewrote it recently, and it was published by Ballantine Books as INFAMOUS!)
PERFECT HARMONY is a short contemporary that has SOOO much wrong with it — I’ll never let it see the light of day! Really! Hero and heroine are both country singers. Pure self-indulgence. Kill me now! (Note from 2013-Suz: Yup. For a few years I used chapter one from this book as a “Don’t Do This. Ever” example in a writing workshop that I taught.)
I wrote a few STAR TREK (classic!) novels, one of which was called UNEASY ALLIANCE. It’s a first person story — told from the point of view of a Han Solo-like intergalactic smuggler who takes a real shine to Lt. Uhura. It’s fun, but I wrote it before STNG came out with all kinds of rules and regs about Klingons. I figured Klingons were kind of reptilian, and therefore should come from a really icky swampy kind of planet. The story deals with what happens when Kirk and the Federation are forced to form an (uneasy) alliance with the Klingons to defeat a common foe. (Note from 2013-Suz: I still adore Lt. Uhura, and think she makes a great romance novel heroine!)
Oh, hey, I also wrote a YA romance about four or five years ago called SOME THINGS CHANGE. It’s written from the first person POV of the heroine, Emma, a girl transitioning from 8th grade to high school. The hero (so to speak) is the violin-playing, dog biscuit-eating boy down the street named Stuart. It’s actually quite a fun little book. (And maybe that’s the real answer to Colleen’s first question — the character I’m most like is Emma from SOME THINGS CHANGE!)
Also on my “never seen the light of day” shelf are a bunch of TV scripts I wrote for both STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and QUANTUM LEAP.
And my husband Ed and I wrote a screenplay for STAR TREK FIVE that (IMO!) was much better than the script actually used! I’d heard Bill Shatner was having problems finding a script, so we wrote one for him. He didn’t particularly pay much attention to us, unfortunately! The story we came up with was, naturally, a romance — between Captain Kirk and the new, youngest hotshot Captain in Star Fleet, a very young woman named Alexandra. (Shades of THE ADMIRAL’S BRIDE?) In my story, Kirk (for the first time) totally and completely falls in love. He’s finally ready to settle down but at the end of the movie, she’s the one itching to boldly go — the one who leaves him behind. (Ah, the irony!)
The next review comes from Suzanne Coleburn, of The Belles and Beaux of Romance. She writes: “From the moment I started reading THE UNSUNG HERO I realized I had a very special book in my hands. Not only is Ms. Brockmann going mainstream with her famous Navy SEALs, I think it is her best novel to date… I was into the adventure, the living, breathing, three-dimensional characters, the knock-your-socks-off sex, the danger of letting all your emotions hang out. By the end of the book I was crying my little heart out, so be sure to get out the hankie box. THE UNSUNG HERO is a classic solid gold keeper that should have a flashing “Must Read” on the outside cover. And hang on to your hats folks, the sequel will be out sometime in 2001. I hope I last that long!”
Today’s first question comes from an avid reader (and on-line friend!). Sharon Hope asks: “Will there be any ties between THE UNSUNG HERO and the TDD series, even tentatively?”
Unfortunately, Sharon, I’m 99 percent certain there won’t be. (Still, I’ll leave that one percent open, following my “never say never” philosophy!)
Although, if I ever have any of the Troubleshooters mention that they were talking to “Joe,” well, you’ll all know who I mean!
Another question comes from Liz M. who writes: “You’ve written many books with many different types of heroes. Do you have a favorite hero “prototype”? And if so, which one?”
I don’t think of my heroes in terms of prototypes necessarily. I think of them as men (complex and confused and completely fleshed out and real!), and then discover which bits of the prototypes they have in them.
With that in mind, I have to admit that I’ve always loved the reluctant hero — the guy who’ll save the day, but bitch about it the entire time. Han Solo is my classic example of this kind of hero. And in Drew Barrymore’s Cinderella movie, EVER AFTER, we’re introduced to the Prince in a scene in which he reluctantly does the right thing and sacrifices his own plan to escape from the castle guards in order to save an artist’s precious painting. But he doesn’t do it very graciously! <g> Needless to say, I fell in love with him immediately!
In the same way, I also like bad boy heroes. I think the fantasy of not so much taming him as doing whatever it takes so that he’ll give you his complete and undivided attention for the rest of his life is a pretty compelling one! But I’m also fascinated by labels (such as “bad boy”), and well aware that things are rarely as they seem!
In fact, this is a major theme of THE UNSUNG HERO. Every single one of the subplots in this book deals with this in some way. Our perceptions of others are rarely accurate until we take the time to dig beneath the surface layers, and beneath our own preconceived beliefs about those people, too!
In THE UNSUNG HERO, my hero, Tom Paoletti had a reputation in town as being a real troublemaker when he was in high school. And the heroine, Kelly, was a grade A student — the sweet girl next door. When they meet again, nearly sixteen years later, they both still see each other filtered through these labels and perceptions — and that really gets them into trouble!
Another hero type I’ve found I really like is “Fantasy Man.” (I think an explanation is in order!) Both FOREVER BLUE and THE ADMIRAL’S BRIDE have heroes who have elements of “fantasy man” in them. And actually THE UNSUNG HERO does, too! In all three of these books, the heroine has either known or known of the hero for years, and has elevated him in her head to this special, super, heroic fantasy man.
In THE ADMIRAL’S BRIDE, Jake Robinson is something of a celebrity to the heroine, Zoe. She read a book about his exploits in Vietnam when she was 12 or 13, and he’s been one of her personal heroes for years. In the book, they meet face to face for the first time when Jake taps Zoe to be part of a special team set up to recover stolen chemical weapons. Throughout the course of the book, Zoe gets to know Jake Robinson, the man. And she finds out that the man is even more wonderful than Jake Robinson, the hero.
Very similar to Lucy’s revelation about Blue in FOREVER BLUE, right? Right. Yes, this is definitely a hero type that appeals to me. A man who is larger than life, and still so wonderfully, marvelously human — if you take the time to look!
NEXT QUESTION: Jo-Ann Walmsley asks: “I’ve read that you have a “visual” for your heroes (e.g. Bill Pullman was Harry in BODYGUARD). Do you do the same for your heroines? If so, can you give examples?”
First of all, I like using pictures when I write because I see all of my books as movies that play in my head! And I do try to find pictures to pin up around my computer that have the same attitude as my hero or heroine. (And yes, I use pictures for my heroines, too!) I think more in terms of “types” with my pictures.
Also, sometimes I’ll have a specific actor in mind as I set out to write a book. For example, Bill Pullman as Harry in BODYGUARD. He’s a very handsome man, but he’s not traditionally so. There’s a softness to his features, and a general rumpledness to him that I find very appealing. And yet he’s always got this edge of insanity! He was Harry for me, right from the start.
I don’t like to give away my personal cast for books that are coming out, because I want readers to picture the characters themselves. But I’ve been pretty vocal about the fact that Paul Newman is Charles Ashton in THE UNSUNG HERO. Charles is the heroine’s 80-year-old father (older than Mr. Newman by five years, I know. My apologies) and a WWII veteran. A major part of his subplot takes place in flashbacks to Nazi occupied France. I was able to picture Paul Newman both as the young Charles and as the old Charles — those scenes were so much fun to write!
Other examples of books that were cast in my head before I sat down to write:
TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE (The time travel I wrote for Loveswept). Chuck was always played by Jeff Goldblum and Maggie was Sandra Bullock. Completely.
IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR. (TDD book #6) Nell was Jodie Foster. (See, I even named the character after a character Jodie played — Nell.)
In GET LUCKY, Syd was played by Janeanne Garafalo, right from the start.
Zoe from THE ADMIRAL’S BRIDE was Maria Bella, and Jake was Mel Gibson. (Jake was played by Mel Gibson for me from the moment he first appeared in IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR.) Also, interestingly enough, I picked Maria Bella as my Zoe long before the actress actually was teamed up with Mel Gibson in the movie, PAYBACK! (Note from 2013-Suz: Sorry, but Mel no longer plays ANY heroic characters in the movies in my head. Bradley Cooper. Jake is an older Bradley Cooper.)
In KISS AND TELL (my first Loveswept) I pictured Hugh Grant and Meg Ryan as Marsh and Leila.
Harvard from HARVARD’S EDUCATION looked kind of like Michael Jordan.
Frankie from THE KISSING GAME was played by Marisa Tomei.
Sometimes I’d start with an actor, and then the character would take on his or her own life, and end up looking a little different.
Sometimes I’d have such a clear vision of the character in my head, I wouldn’t need to put a picture up or even find an actor to play him or her. In any of those examples above, if I didn’t mention an actor for a hero, that means I didn’t have one in mind — that the character was already so clearly in my head! (Note from 2013-Suz: Example: Sam Starrett. No picture needed.)
Happy Memorial Day!
Memorial Day is one of my favorite holidays. I love to attend the town parade and watch the school bands march down Main Street. I love the feeling of community as I stop and say hello to people I know. I love the pride I feel when I see the flag standing out against the sky. And I love to attend the Memorial Day ceremony at the town cemetery, to listen to our local veterans speak, to take the time to think about and remember what it means to live in a country where “all men are created equal,” where we have the right to believe and say whatever we want, without fear of persecution.
Throughout the years, thousands upon thousands of American men (and women!) have sacrificed their lives so that we can have all those freedoms we so casually take for granted.
There’s a cemetery in France, in Normandy, right near Omaha Beach, where there are countless rows of white crosses and Stars of David — one for each of the American soldiers who died during the June 6th, 1944 D-Day invasion.
It stretches out impossibly far, marking thousands of graves.
I’ve never been there — I hope to visit someday, to pay my respects, and to remember. Each of those crosses and stars is there in memory of a life, a person, a man. Each of those men had mothers, families, girlfriends, wives. Each had a story, some simple, some complex — and all cut tragically short.
Today, I listened to a member of my community, Robert Anderson, himself a Vietnam Veteran, speak of his uncle who died in World War Two. His uncle’s name was Martin Mead, and he served, as a young man, in the Philippines. He was there when General MacArthur was forced to surrender in 1942.
He was one of thousands of American soldiers, starving and out of ammunition, who were taken prisoner by the Japanese. He was one of thousands who were lined up, four deep, and forced to walk 65 miles in what became known as the Bataan Death March. If soldiers became too ill, if men fell beside the trail unable to walk any further, they were shot and killed. Over 5,500 American soldiers died during that Death March, but Martin Mead survived. He was taken to a POW camp in Manchuria where he faced no food, freezing temperatures and abuse at the hands of his captors.
And it was there that he died, in 1944.
Mr. Anderson spoke of this uncle that he never had the chance to know, saying that nearly everyone who remembered him was now gone.
Today, I’m remembering Martin Mead, and I hope you’ll take a moment to remember him, too. Martin — and all of the other thousands upon thousands whose sacrifice touched so many lives all those years ago, and who still have the power to reach forward through time nearly 60 years, and touch our lives today.
Happy Memorial Day.