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Posts Tagged ‘Watch me make this about romance’

A week ago today, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga pitched a perfect game.  For the non-baseball fans among us, a perfect game is when the pitcher not only doesn’t give up any hits, but doesn’t walk or bean anybody either.  It’s exceedingly difficult, and, as you may imagine, exceedingly rare.  Only 20 have been recorded in all of Major League baseball history.

Galarraga’s would have been number 21.  But he lost his perfect game on the very last batter, due to a wrong call by umpire Jim Joyce.  Joyce called the runner safe at first, when replays show beyond any doubt that the throw beat him there.  (Scroll a bit down this page if you want to see for yourself.)

Joyce has admitted he blew it, feels terrible, etc., but nothing can be done because baseball does not use instant replay to overturn umpires’ calls.  This one mistake, by this otherwise competent professional, has cost this other professional his place in the record books and the full measure of glory he would otherwise have enjoyed.

And it occurs to me that one of the things I find so compelling about sports is the potential for witnessing great big jaw-dropping mistakes, and the consequences that can ripple out from them.

We’ve gotten so imprecise lately in our use of the word mistake.  “I made a mistake by taking that bribe.”  “It was a mistake for me to say that really rude thing on tv about my colleague.”  And I wish we had another word, a word that specifically labeled an ethically/morally wrong choice that you knowingly made and now sincerely regret.

Because a mistake, to me, is something different, and something that crops up with such clarity in sports.  Steve Bartman reaching for that foul ball.  Chris Webber calling a timeout when there were no timeouts to be had.  An outfielder tossing the ball into the stands because he thought it was the third out when it was only the second.

And Jim Joyce, no doubt swearing he would not be swayed by the pressure to swing a close call in the pitcher’s favor, and stumbling in the other direction instead. It’s a well-intentioned person trying to succeed at something, and, through either a mental lapse or a general lack of competence, coming up short.

Now here’s where it gets to be about romance (and hang on; I’m kinda taking this corner on two wheels).  Historical romance heroes, by and large, do not make that kind of mistake.  They may make mistakes in their emotional lives (wrong assumptions about the heroine, irrational unforgiveness of a parent, etc.), but in general the historical romance hero is thoroughly, not to say relentlessly, competent in his “profession,” whatever that profession may be.  If he’s a spy, he’s a master spy (perhaps even a Spymaster).  If he’s a merchant, he’s the shrewdest wheeler-dealer on two continents.  If he’s an idle rake, the ladies all want him and other men all want to be him.

And I wish I’d see more heroes who screwed up sometimes, I mean not just said something that they later had to apologize for, but really truly screwed up and had to maybe experience a moment of humiliation – or worse – and then deal with the aftermath.

I know a lot of readers approach romance looking for a fantasy, and that’s an entirely valid approach.  But does fantasy necessarily rule out a man who’s not already self-actualized in the professional sphere?  Or a man who, while mostly capable, is also capable of failure?

And are there other readers out there who would like to see more fallibility in their heroes?  I have to hope so.  I’ve written one hero who struggles, and undergoes some humiliation, in the course of assuming his “professional” responsibilities, and I’m working on another who’s carrying around the consequences of having made a disastrous mistake.  (Like Jim Joyce, only not broadcast on national tv and rehashed on Sportscenter.)

I have some vague unformed thoughts on the reader/hero relationship, and how maybe the degree to which you’re willing to identify with the hero drives your tolerance for hero fallibility.  (Think of Luke Skywalker, who screws up a lot early on but that’s okay because we’re taking that journey with him; i.e. identifying with him; i.e. he’s not The Other.)  But I need to let those thoughts simmer a bit longer.

In the meantime, because I’ve read that you’re supposed to put pictures on your blog to make it snazzier, here’s Jim Joyce, fallible-hero inspiration:

Umpire Jim Joyce with a Shih Tzu

Doesn’t he look like a decent guy?  Holding a Shih Tzu and everything.  You can’t really stay mad at him, can you?

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