When I was a moody, disaffected teen who could have used a heavy dose of anti-depressants, my family vacationed in Vermont. We meandered around the state and happened upon The Haunted Mansion Bookshop. Housed in a spooky Victorian home across from a cemetery, the used bookstore was run by a man with only one arm. As I perused the dusty, packed aisles, the one-armed man approached me and used his remaining arm to hand me a book. “I think you’ll like this,” he said. The book was Emily Bronte’s classic tale of passion, Wuthering Heights, and boy, was he right. Emily Bronte’s Gothic romance blew me away. I fell madly in love with Heathcliff, the passionate, brooding breakout star of the novel. Could there be a hotter literary hottie? Not to fourteen-year-old me.
I recently re-read Wuthering Heights because I wanted to use my personal obsession with the book as back story for a character. But way-older-than-14-year-old-me had a completely different reaction to the original anti-hero. Heathcliff is a horrible human being! He’s physically and emotionally abusive, callous, cruel, and basically a stalker. I was forced to face the fact that Heathcliff and I had a dysfunctional relationship. It was time to break up.
I decided that I could no longer use him as a model for sexy male love interests in my books. It was sending the wrong message to my characters and readers. So Bo Durand, the eye candy in my debut novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, may look a little like Heathcliff with his jet-black hair and deep brown eyes, but he’s sensitive and kind. Women attracted to him had better be prepared to take a back seat to Bo’s autistic son, Xander, the light of the divorced detective’s life. In my yet-to-be published manuscript, You Can Never Be Too Thin or Too Dead, head hunk Brady Gibbs was a bad boy – emphasis on “was.” He’s reformed and, well, sensitive and kind.
Of course, when you’re together as long as Heathcliff and I were, you can’t just go cold turkey on each other. He’ll still color my characters. My men will always be a little mysterious. Occasionally, one or two may brood. I could never do a total 180 on the relationship because then the men in my books would become something that Heathcliff never was: boring.