Contributer Jeaniene Frost is the author of the Night Huntress series.
Hero. If you played word association with the term, you’d probably follow it with “honor” and “courage.” In my novels, I usually follow it with “killer” and “vampire.” You see, before I knew a lot about the hero of my Night Huntress series, I knew that Bones was an undead hit man. I blame my childhood love of Dracula for not realizing there was anything risky about writing a hero who was honorable, courageous and a killer who also drank blood. Oh, and Bones was also a former gigolo, but after undead hit man, that last part barely registers, right?
Yet Bones was all these things and more, and I think his flaws were why readers were as drawn to him as I was. Sure, he was a hit man, but he only killed other killers, so why not cash a check if someone was offering one for a dead bad guy? And yes, he was a vampire, but he didn’t need to kill to feed, so he didn’t murder innocents. Former gigolo? The heroine of the Night Huntress series ended up really appreciating his skills from that job, so there’s a silver lining to every cloud.
Then there’s Vlad, the hero of my Night Prince series. Yes, that Vlad, in case you’re wondering. I based him on the historical accounts of Vlad the Impaler rather than Bram Stoker’s fictional Count, and the result was, well, a more ruthless character. My Vlad still impales people (old habits are hard to break, and his would be a six-hundred-year-old habit!) and he still rules his people with an iron first. But he’s also infallibly honest, ferociously loyal and very fair, in his own way. When Vlad falls in love, he brings a lot of baggage to the relationship (I did mention the impalement habit, right?) yet his devotion to the heroine exceeds even his ruthlessness, and that’s saying something. He’s also the person you’d want in your corner during a fight. Superman might be impossibly noble, but a badass, pyrokinetic vampire will take the villain down, and he won’t cry about it afterward.
Then there’s Ian, who started off as a villain and yet now is the character that my readers most want to see star in his own novel, or preferably series. When I introduced Ian in the second novel of my Night Huntress series, I fully intended my hero – or heroine - to kill him by the end. Yet my hero, Bones, didn’t want to kill his vampire sire. It actually took me a couple more books before I could see why, and then a couple more before I eventually agreed with Bones. Don’t get me wrong, Ian hasn’t changed much over the course of the Night Huntress series. His moral compass is still off-kilter at best, he gives “promiscuous” a whole new meaning, and as a centuries-old vampire, he’s had a lot of time to perfect misbehaving. Worse, he’s gleeful about his shortcomings instead of showing any remorse over them. Yet Ian is surprisingly devoted to the few people he cares about, and this devotion leads to acts of incredible bravery. Plus, the more I write about Ian, the more I realize his unrepentant hedonism masks a deep loneliness. Ian will literally do anything rather than face the person staring back at him in the mirror, and as a writer, this makes me want to peel back the camouflage of his dastardly deeds to see what he’s hiding. Is he a bad man who does the occasional good deed? Or is Ian a deeply flawed, good man who’s hidden his nobler side from himself and the people around him because of past wrongs done to him? I don’t know, but one day, I think I’m going to need to find out.
In fiction, heroes are usually the ones who dash into the fray and bad guys are the ones who cause the fray. In my books, the heroes happen to be both.