Sunday, January 8, 2012

Contemporary Pirates with Jo Robertson

Hi, Terri O. and the rest of the Revengers!  Thanks for hosting me today. 

It's a delight to be here because I wanted to go postal on pirates.  And I've been thinking a lot about pirates lately, and uh, not the Jack Sparrow kind (although I do love Jack), but the tall, dark, and dangerous ones.  The pirates of the romance genre. 

I don't know why pirates are a source of romantic fascination and fantasy, but from the early Vikings to the Caribbean pirates, from the Japanese pirate raids to the Barbary coast raids off North Africa, we've been fascinated by the daring deeds of these ferocious men. 

Names like Bluebeard and Captain Kidd, Jack Calico and Jean Lafitte, fill our cultural imaginations with mystique and mystery. 

But why? 

Likely these men, criminals and outcasts, were sour, smelly and sullen.  With broken teeth and without education.  With craftiness and wiles, but no finesse.

Still, there's something wickedly delicious about them – in their sanitized versions, of course.  We've whitewashed their stories because ... well, why else would they be interesting, appealing and downright fun?

While editing my latest book ("The Traitor," the final book in the Bigler County Romantic Thrillers), I revisited this description of my hero Rafe:

All the while, she'd escaped in the swirling emeralds of his eyes slashed through with tiny black flecks like angry cuts. Sharp and probing, the eyes were a strange contrast to his coppery skin and short thick lashes. A wide scar bisected his left eyebrow and gave him the roguish look of a pirate. A rush of pheromones flooded her as his gaze wandered to her mouth and lingered there, then dipped to the cleavage that spilled from the juncture of her breasts.

Although "The Traitor" is a contemporary story, I subconsciously wrote that passage likening Rafe to a romance pirate.  Metaphorically, that is.  In the "real life" of the story, Rafe Hashemi is a DEA agent trying to bring down a drug cartel operating out of northern California. 

He's in conflict with the heroine, Isabella Torres, who wants to prosecute the same villain, Diego Vargas, for human trafficking.  You can see this Vargas fellow is a nasty piece of work, intentionally irredeemable. 

However, his bodyguard and attorney of record – Gabriel Santos – is a much more complex character.  Take a look at this excerpt:

Gabriel Santos was not a man to cross.

His name among the Mexicans was El Diablo and although his given name reminded José of a holy angel, the street runners had forewarned him. Indeed, the persistent rumors of the man's ferocity and the myth that he had made a pact with Satan seemed true. 

You see, I can get behind a man who may have made a pact with the devil (pirates, Vikings, and privateers).  There's a dark appeal to such a character even if he is one of the villains in the story.  The implication is that he's wicked and dangerous because life's circumstances have given him no choice.  We're almost ready to forgive this person, hero or villain.

The pirate "hero" or "villain" reminds us of the savage part of man, the part that lies beneath the surface, ready to erupt in passion or anger or punishment.  We don't know which will spew out, but it's sure to be exciting.

Here's another excerpt of hero Rafe:

She opened her mouth to form a half-hearted protest.

"But," he interrupted with a steely gaze, pointing a finger at her like a pistol, "you do have to be honest with me. I won't put up with any bullshit tricks if I'm going to let you work this case with me."

She began sputtering. "Wh – what, you're letting me work the case? Diego Vargas has committed crimes in Bigler County. He's been under our scrutiny there, in my county, for over a year. You have no more right than I to nab him for the depraved and accumulated atrocities – "

"Shut up, Torres," he said pleasantly, which effectively took the wind out of her sails.

She stared at him with her mouth a round oh of surprise while their server returned and Rafe gave the woman both their orders.

"The federal government has jurisdiction over anything interstate," he reminded her after the server left. "You know that and I know that. Vargas' atrocities include intra-state and international drug trafficking which comes under federal drug enforcement."

He continued in a neutral, even-tenored voice as if his logic were reasonable and indisputable. "Now, in exchange for your personal files, I'll continue to allow you to work the case rather than call your boss and have you jerked off it and sent back to Hicksville.

Bella felt the hot sting of outrage creep up her neck to stain her cheeks. Not only had he steamrolled her case, but he had the affront to order her lunch for her! She blinked furiously while trying to formulate a sharp enough response for both insults.

Rafe reached for a chip and dipped it in the thick salsa. "Actually, it's a pretty good deal. You ought to take it."

And another description of Santos:

With his long black hair tied at the neck, his lean hard form, and his dark scowl, Santos looked like un angel caído, a fallen angel.

But José knew the man was no angel.

I hope my readers will find Santos as compelling as Rafe because it's the complex characters that stay with us long after we've put the book aside.  As a reader I'm attracted as much to the darkness as to the light, for in these gray shades lie the interesting and complicated facets of a person.

What about you?  Do you like your heroes squeaky clean or a little on the wild side, perhaps even a little damaged?  Want your villains to be clearly wicked or do you like the ones who are morally complex, ones you can understand, maybe even sympathize with?

I'm giving away a free download of "The Traitor" to one lucky commenter, so be sure to leave a comment.


Di R said...

This book sounds fascinaiting!
As for heroes, I like them to have an edge. If they're too squeaky clean they run the risk of being boring.
Some of my favorite stories are about pirates. *sigh* I think it might be time for rereading. After I read The Traitor.


Bosun said...

I have no idea how I missed how much Romance is in these books. And what intriquing characters. Both good guys AND bad guys. Nice.

I'm one of those weird Romance readers who likes the squeaky clean ones. The charmer who makes me laugh and keeps himself detached just enough to hide his deeply buried scars. But he has scars. Don't let him fool you. I like those ones.

Hellion said...

And by vulnerable, I mean: NOT A WEEPER. I cannot stand the weeper kind of males. Not even Jude Law in The Holiday--I can't even find that cute. I hate weepers.

Hellion said...

I'm predictable. I prefer the damaged ones. I want to be the Florence Nightingale to his wounded warrior. *grins*

Granted, I'm with Bo'sun, I do prefer a man who can make me laugh--but someone who is a little of everything so I never know what to quite expect, that's what I like.

I like them all, so long as they're vulnerable. :)

Bosun said...

I don't want a weeper (divorced one of those) but I love Jude Law's character in The Holiday. LOL!

Marnee Bailey said...

Welcome back, Jo!

This sounds great. I admit, I like damaged characters. Both hero and heroine. Not irredeemable, but bruised a bit around the edges. I am a firm believer that people can't make it to adulthood without some sort of dysfunction.

Not a weeper works for me too, though. :)

Janga said...

My standard response to being asked to make choices like this is that I'm a both/and reader, not an either/or. I share with Terri a great affection for beta heroes, but some of my favorite heroes are dark and damaged or aggressive and alpha. One of the joys of being a romance reader is that we can have them all. LOL

Jo's heroes are great, but her books scare me--a measure of her skill as a writer.

And will I be cast off the ship if I admit that I preferred Jack Black's character in The Holiday (definitely not a conventional romance hero) to Jude Law's. I preferred the Black/Winslett romance too.

Scapegoat said...

Welcome Jo!

I'm that crazy reader and writer that likes both. Really, it's all about how well the character fits with the heroine in the story for me.

Janga - I won't be throwing you off the ship. I thought the Black/Winslett romance was much better written and acted. Hated the Diaz/Law scenes and could have done without their story completely. :)

Bosun said...

I liked Jack Black's character too! Miles was a sweet, funny guy. For me, Kate can do no wrong, so I liked her storyline much better. I'm not a Diaz fan. But I was a sucker for Law's vulnerable, smart, and charming single dad character.

Hellion said...

Janga, I can't stand Jack Black, but his romance with Kate is so winning, I can't help but fall a little in love with him, which says a lot about that screenplay and his acting. Such as it is. *LOL* Their romance was so refreshing, even if I do think Jude Law is more attractive...and I did enjoy his romance, even if he's a dreadful weeper.

Hellion said...

And I have to say that Rufus Sewell is a great actor too because I cannot stand that bastard. He's always playing some jerkface--and he does it so well! I'm afraid if I ever met him in public, I'd just slap him for being an affront to all women.

Quantum said...

I read many of Daphne Du Maurier's books while a student.

Jo, if you won the 2007 Du Maurier award, then I think perhaps its time I tried one of your books.
If they scare Janga though, I might have to try a sample first ...... don't want to end up with nightmares! LOL

The grey shades can show the more subtle aspects of a character, illuminating perspectives which can be scary, romantic or whatever the author mixes with her writer's pallet. Definitely a place where men are separated from the boys.

I'm much more interested in heroines than heroes. You can keep your lusty pirates. Give me a feisty wench with wit and intelligence to make the blackguards earn their booty! LOL

2nd Chance said...

Ah, give me a hero who is unrepentantly devious. In fact, make him proud of the fact! And let him confince the heroine that this is an aspect to admire in him...

I'm twisty.

The books sound fascinating, I gots to look 'em up and get 'em on the old NOOK magic reading device.

(I'm preparing for a steampunk convention this weekend, so getting the jargon right...)

The Holiday...I though Jack was charming and the other guy was a bit But I felt the same way about the whole English side of the story. Eh.

Jo Robertson said...

Ahoy, mates! Thanks for having me here today, Terri. It's always a pleasure to visit you folks.

Jo Robertson said...

That's hilarious, Di, because the real-life pirates were pretty scrungy, amoral fellows, but of course, it's the fantasy that counts, right?

Jo Robertson said...

Ah, Bo'sun, I'd never have guessed you were a squeaky clean type! In real life, I've got my brave, mild-mannered fellow with no hidden issues, but in fantasy I like them like Roarke in the In Death series -- dark, with lots of past issues to overcome.

2nd Chance said...

I mispelled confince, didn't I? See what happens when one comments before coffee... Make that convince.

And of course romantic pirates are cleaner, don't have lice, have minty breath, shiny hair, no sweat skim on their skin, all their teeth are clean... Hollywood pirates, all the way!

Unless they're the villian, then they can be scurvy ridden scum.

Bosun said...

Wow. This just took an unappetizing turn. LOL!

I'm full of surprises, Jo! Though I can be made to love the rougher edged heroes from time to time. Kleypas' heroes always seem to get me. And those boys are pure alpha. LOL! Hardy Cates anyone??

I've never read the In Death series (I know I know!) but I've heard nothing but good things about Roarke. And the whole series for that matter.

Jo Robertson said...

Hellion, there's a wonderful essay written by one of Florence Nightingale's closest (male) friends (forgotten who at the moment). He talks about her "obsession" with fixing things, how she'd break her dolls so that she could play field dressing them to health. It's quite a marvelous essay.

Yeah, there's part of us women that thinks we can fix those damaged fellows.

Nancy Northcott said...

Jo, whoo-hoo! These are terrific excerpts. I read The Watcher over the holidays and thought it was superb. I'm looking forward to The Traitor, which I already have.

I prefer my heroes a little on the wild side, maybe a bit dark, but with a decent core. I can go with squeaky clean if the guy has some kind of baggage. Characters who've led charmed lives, as it were, don't engage me.

I need a villain who has some sense of purpose, something to make him "the hero of his own story," as the saying goes.

Jo Robertson said...

Sorry, folks, the evil dentist is calling my name, but I'll be back in about an hour!

Jo Robertson said...

Bo'sun! Are you saying you didn't realize my books were ROMANTIC thrillers LOL??!!

I like lots of darkness, puzzles to solve, bad guys to catch, but I always want some balance with the romance because it makes the stakes much, much higher.

Bosun said...

It's the word "Thriller", Jo. Sets my brain to running in the other direction!

Jeanne AKA The Duchesse said...

Hey Revengers! You have Pirate Jo on! WOOOHOOO! Sorry you had the evil dentist today, Jo, since the Revenge is good for the sweet tooth - esp when it comes to the drinkies! Heehee. *hic*

I'm dashing in to comment - or is that just being dashing all 'round? - but must go back to the WIP. However, I'll leave this note by saying that I ADORED the Watcher and it was chilling and thrilling and romantic in all the right ways. I've downloaded The Avenger on my new Kindle, and whoo! It's good too! Can't wait to read the Traitor, Jo!

2nd Chance said...

Hi, Duchesse! Wow, even seeing your name makes me think of where you set that last book and how cold it was!

Jo Robertson said...

Noted: No weepers!

P. Kirby said...

I married squeaky clean. But I gravitate toward heroes that are anything but. But...they have to have good sense of humor, even if it's dry or wickedly acerbic. Must be funny.

Jo Robertson said...

Marnee, I agree with you. Damaged or lost souls have had some buffeting about by life. It seems to be that if you live in a pristine white castle, you don't know what the world's really about.

Of course, having a heroine who's lived in said castle be suddenly thrust into the real-world is an interesting story line.

Jo Robertson said...

LOL, Janga! Doesn't everyone enjoy Jack Black? He's so darling and funny and insightful (as a character, have no idea what he's like in real life) and I always enjoy his movies.

This and that is a good thing. Life would be boring if it were filled with all beta heroes and chaotic if filled with alphas. I know by experience, currently living with THREE grown alpha males! Some days I just hide out in my office LOL.

Jo Robertson said...

Hi, Scapegoat, thanks for the welcome.

I also wanted to say, for those of you who are scared to death of my villains, that "The Traitor" has the most traditional villain of the three books. Diego Vargas is a big, fat meanie with a violent temper.

But Santos, see, he's a tricky character. He has layers and layers of gray areas. He's clearly a bad guy, and you want to hate him, but he's smart and clever and demonstrates a sliver of humanity at the most unexpected times.

Jo Robertson said...

Oh, yummy Rufus Sewell, has he ever played a good guy, Hellion?

Oh, wait, I remember he was in a new television show that didn't get renewed. Anyone remember? Oh, and didn't he play that Italian detective on a PBS series?

Yuck, my mind is a sieve today!

Jo Robertson said...

Quantum, yes, definitely try "The Watcher" if you're more interested in heroines than heroes. I think Kate is my strongest female character, and Slater is a very strong, but low-keyed kind of guy. My CP says he's my husband (ha, ha) -- strong opinions, but reasonable and easy-going.

If you prefer the male characters try either "The Avenger," (Jack is a tormented hero with lots of baggage to overcome) or "The Traitor," which has Santos. So many of my readers have said they've fallen in love with Santos. I say, "You can't! He's the bad guy!"

But they don't listen to me.

Jo Robertson said...

LOL at your twistiness, 2nd Chance. Who knew?

Where's the steampunk convention? I'm very interested in this genre.

Jo Robertson said...

Twenty lashes for you Bo'sun!

I confess however (shhhh and in the pirate ship only) I'm not a big Nora Roberts fan, but J.D. Robb??? Oh, man that girl is brilliant. I can actually dissect her "In Death" books and anaylze them like the school teacher I used to be LOL.

Jo Robertson said...

Thanks, Nancy, glad you enjoyed "The Watcher."

I like the way you put it -- characters with charmed lives. I have a son like that. Someone said when he was little that he could fall in mud and come up smelling like roses. Everything always went his way it seemed.

I think the gods called that hubris. LOL.

Jo Robertson said...

Ah, Bo'sun, I get it. I wanted to straddle that mainstream thriller-suspense and romance line. My CP said I'd confuse my readers, but I hope not!

2nd Chance said...

Ah, the steampunk con is in Long Beach, aboard the Queen Mary. You can read up on it here...

Rufus Sewall played a hero in a movie with William Hurt, a bit of scifi with a world controlled by aliens, but no one realized it...called Dark City.

And yeah, he played Aurelio Zen, the Italian detective.

Jo Robertson said...

Thanks, Jeanne! Glad you enjoyed the book.

Now, hie thee back to the Cave before one of the Revengers gets a whip after you! Run, girl!

Jo Robertson said...

Hi, P. Kirby! Wish there was a gene that carried the ascerbic wit! My girls all said their first choice for mates was "he HAS to make me laugh."

I'm not sure I could write romantic comedy, but I sure do like a smart-a** comment once in a while!

Jo Robertson said...

Thanks for the link, 2nd Chance. Ooooh, LA's not far away. Hmmmm.

William Hurt is another of my faves; however, he's getting a bit old. Don't remember that movie though.

Jo Robertson said...

Yes, Aurelio Zen! That's the name! Thanks for the reminder. What I like about Rufus (cause, you know, we're on a first-name basis) is he has such an air of distraction about him that you often don't see the steel trap of a mind). Especially in this detective series.

Jo Robertson said...

Gonna dose myself with tylenol now, but will return before the sun sets. Bawaaahhhhahah!

Could be that the dentist gave me too much happy juice.

2nd Chance said...

It was a pretty obscure movie, pretty interesting from what I remember. A bit pre-Matrix on the theme. I think it came out the year before the Matrix...makes me wonder...but then again, release date has nothing to do with filmed date.

And oh yeah, he has to make me laugh!

2nd Chance said...

One can never have too much happy juice!

Bosun said...

Sorry! I stopped to get the puppy on the way home then kiddo needed the laptop for homework so I'm just now getting online. I think I've seen Rufus Sewell as a good guy, but I can't think of it now. I do remember the commercials for that detective show. I don't care what he plays, there's just something about that man.

I used to read a ton of Romantic Suspense so I could probably handle these. And don't worry about confusing us with genre blending. Chance has us all used to that by now. LOL!

Hellion said...

Rufus Sewell played a good guy in AMAZING GRACE.

Tawny Weber said...

Hi Jo :-)

This book sounds so incredible. I can't wait to read it.

I'm in the conflicted bad boy with a heart of gold camp :-D I love watching a hero work through his issues and admit to himself that he's really a good person inside, even if he's done his best to hide it for most of his life.

As for villains, while I'm totally okay with them being completely wicked, I think even wicked has a story - how did they get there? What shades of gray (love the term) lured them to the dark? Knowing their choices makes their evilness much more interesting. But that said, morally complex is always one of my favorites to read :-D

Jo Robertson said...

LOL, I agree, Bo'sun. Ever since I had my heart attack during a bridge procedure my dentist gives me lots of anti-anxiety drugs. He doesn't want to have that happen again! I used to be an excellent dental patient, nothing bothered me. Then, BAM! No more. Give me the good stuff unless you want me to turn into a freaking maniac LOL.

Jo Robertson said...

Oops, sorry, that last message was meant for 2nd Chance!

Hi, Tawny, glad you could swing by amidst all your computer woes!

Loved that comment, "Even wicked has a story." It's one of the great things George Lucas did when he revealed Darth Vader's backstory.

Jo Robertson said...

Hmm, Hellion, is that the AMAZING GRACE story about the slave trader and how the song came to be written? I've never seen that one!

Jo Robertson said...

Bo'sun said, "I don’t care what he plays, there’s just something about that man."

It's the eyes, Bo'sun. It's all in the eyes. Oh, and maybe the little smirk-smile that seems to carry hidden messages.

Jo Robertson said...

Thanks to all the revengers for having me today. Ya'll are a lively bunch and it's such a treat to be a guest!

Enid Wilson said...

Jo, your heros look very manly, with the beard, sweat, injury and wet hair. They sound very human as well. I like a hero with some faults. If he's too perfect, he'll not be reachable for normal gals like me. Thumbs up to you for creating such heros.

The Spinster’s Vow