posted on June 19, 2013 by Paula Graves

Bad Boy Good Guys

thesmokymountainmistI’m a sucker for a good redemption story, especially one where someone who seems completely irredeemable gets a second chance to get it right.  That kind of story poses an interesting question:  What does a hero have to do to be a hero?  Regardless of background and history, what does it take to be heroic?

In my July book, The Smoky Mountain Mist, the hero, Seth Hammond, was at one time a very bad boy indeed.  He came by it naturally, born in poverty to a mean, meth-cooking father and a sad, defeated mother who drank more and more to forget her pain. When he was barely fifteen, his father blew up their home in a meth lab explosion, killing himself and nearly killing Seth and his mother.

He found his calling, he thought, when a childhood friend’s father, Cleve Calhoun, took him under his wing and taught Seth everything he knew about running cons. And Seth became very, very good at it, managing to toe the line between unethical and illegal more often than not.  But after a while, Seth realized there was no satisfaction to be found in lying to people for a living.  Nor pride and honor, those distant but persistent concepts he’d believed in, once, as a child.

Now Seth’s turning his life around, with the help of an FBI agent who gives him the occasional chance to pull cons for the good guys and pay for his sins.  And Seth has rediscovered his childhood fascination with making things work by taking a job as a fleet mechanic at a trucking company.

But when Seth’s pretty new boss at the trucking company becomes the target of a ruthless killer, it may take all of Seth’s old con artist skills to keep her alive.

I’ve often thought of con artists as serial killers of the soul.  They can be just as sociopathic in their desire to trick people into handing over loot, even if they don’t kill anybody in a legal sense.  So, can a con artist be redeemed?

I’m not sure about in real life.  But in fiction, why not?  One of my favorite fictional characters from the last few years was James “Sawyer” Ford  on the TV show Lost.  At first an unrepentant con man, slowly, over time and with much suffering in the meantime, James found his way to a measure of redemption.  He was still an anti-hero type, rather than a full-blown hero, but he was rootable enough to be one of the main protagonists over the last few seasons of the show.

What made his redemption story work was that he never really changed his essential self—he was still clever, determined and at times ruthless in pursuit of what he wanted.  But his motives changed.  He cared about other people in a way he hadn’t before.  He took into account the feelings and needs of others.  He even put himself on the line to help others, something he didn’t do in the early, unrootable days of the show.  He was always proactive, but by the end, he was displaying honor as well.

But as much as I loved Sawyer, he wasn’t my main inspiration for the character of Seth Hammond.  No, the man who inspired Seth was another, unredeemed character from another great TV show, Justified.  Boyd Crowder flirted with redemption for a brief period early in the show’s run, and I found myself wishing so hard that he could find it.  Of course, he was doomed to follow his own wicked path, pushed there in part by the low expectations of others but more profoundly by his low expectations of himself.  I kept wondering, though, what might have happened if Boyd had it within him to say, “That’s it. I’m done with crime”?  If he’d stood there and taken the slings and arrows of judgment from the people who didn’t believe in him and fought, not for their approval but for his own self-dignity?  What kind of man might he have become?

That’s the “what if” I played with in The Smoky Mountain Mist.  I hope y’all enjoy Seth Hammond and his rocky road to redemption!  And now, I’d like to hear from y’all.  Do you have a favorite bad boy character who found redemption or is trying real hard to find it?  ‘Fess up!  Let’s all embrace our love for the bad boy heroes.

Paula Graves

Paula Graves

Down here in the American South, we don’t hide our crazy people. We showcase them. I’ve always thought it was because eccentric people make for the best stories, and we Southerners love our stories. Faulkner, McCullers, O’Connor, Porter—these are our chroniclers, writers steeped in the slow, steady pulse of the South’s pride, suffering, honor, madness, venality and redemption. I grew up in Alabama, the heart of the South, and live here still. The need to tell stories has been a driving force in my life from a very young age.

As a child, my favorite books were Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries and Harlequin Romances. When I realized there were books that featured both romance and mystery, I knew I’d found my calling. Now I write for Harlequin Intrigue, where I get to play both matchmaker and murderer and get paid for it.

In addition, I work a full-time day job at a Birmingham ad agency, where I’m a copywriter and graphic designer, a background that comes in handy when it’s time to redesign my website and create promotional materials for my books. I’m also known among certain circles as the Cat Whisperer, but that’s a whole other story. I love to hear from readers, so please click the contact button on my website and tell me what you think about my books.

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20 thoughts on “Bad Boy Good Guys”

  1. Debra Glass says:

    I love when bad boys are redeemed to become heroes. Some of my faves – Damon Salvatore, Eric Northman, and …. Megamind. 🙂

    Seth’s backstory gives the reader a reason to forgive him. Sounds great, Paula!

  2. Paula Graves says:

    Megamind! I don’t even know who that is, but I like him already! As for the others, you do like your vampires, huh?

    I used to be more prone to liking the true blue good guys back when I was younger. I guess age has made me a little more forgiving. 🙂

  3. I agree. Bad boys have nothing to lose by staying bad so when an author can give them a reason or better yet, a person to change their wicked ways for, as a reader I fall in love with them, too. You’re really vulnerable when you’re in love and a bad boy that’s vulnerable=irresistible.

    1. Paula Graves says:

      One thing I tried to show with Seth’s story is that people who knew him best were the least likely to give him benefit of the doubt, because he’d hurt them the worst. He had to pay a little for his sins with them. But for Rachel, who had seen only his kind side, forgiveness was easier, until she started falling for him and the stakes got a lot higher.

      I don’t write a lot of bad boy heroes, but when I do, I want to make sure people don’t gloss over what they’ve done.

  4. Seth sounds awesome, Paula! I think my all-time bad-boy who finds redemption is Zsadist in JR Ward’s Lover Awakened. He’s surly and antisocial and turns out to have a gut-wrenching backstory that (of course) finding love helps him overcome–or at least come to terms with.

  5. Paula Graves says:

    I haven’t read any JR Ward books, but I do like the sound of surly and antisocial! 😉

  6. Ahh. Zerek in Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dance With The Devil. In the series leading up to his story, you got just enough of a glimpse of his good qualities to know he was going to be remarkably redeemable. Looking forward to Seth’s story, Paula.

  7. Naima says:

    Hi, Paula!
    I love redeemed bad boys! Among my favorites are Zerek and Zsadist–Oh wow, I love both of them. Sigh. And I never thought they could be trumped. But right now I’m reading Nalini Singh’s Heart of Obsidian and her hero, Kaleb, is the ultimate bad boy. And though part of me knows he must be redeemed, right now I still don’t know. I think that’s what I love most about them. The law couldn’t do redeem them, sometimes family couldn’t, but love does. And most of them seem to have this core of values even they won’t cross–like Simon Baker’s character in The Mentalist. Love him!

    Great post, and I will be checking out The Smoky Mountain Mist!

  8. Paula Graves says:

    I haven’t read any of Sherrilyn’s books, since I’m not a big reader of paranormals. But I would imagine she is really good with the bad boy heroes, yes?

  9. Paula Graves says:

    While I like the idea of love redeeming a character, I also like the idea of a character, who decides to become a better man because it’s right, finally being worthy of finding love because of it, too. I think that’s the case for Seth. He was already changing his life when he meets Rachel. She just gives him the strength to keep going when life throws obstacles in his way.

  10. My favorite all time bad boy (besides in my books – had to say it, they get jealous otherwise) is Anne Stuart’s Reno in FIRE AND ICE. Yum. What makes bad boys just good heroes is that the goodness is unexpected. Love changes them. That’s romance.

    1. Ali Hubbard says:

      You said it!!!!

  11. Paula Graves says:

    Anne Stuart write some very very bad boys! I agree – unexpected goodness makes characters very interesting. Hooks us right in. (One of the things I loved most about the character of Sawyer in Lost – when he was bad, he was very very bad, but when he was good he was hawwwt).

  12. Ali Hubbard says:

    You guys are naming the greats. Ahhh, Zhadist and Sawyer and Eric Northman. I also like Spike and Angel from Buffy. Travis from Beautiful Disaster and Kellen from Thoughtless. There have bad some cop-types over the years that I really liked too.
    Bad boys in real life? Not so much.
    Bad boys in books? But of course!!!!! I’ll take a bad boy buffet, please!

    1. Paula Graves says:

      Totally agree that bad boys are much more appealing in books than in real life!

  13. Chris Bailey says:

    What about Jack Sparrow? In real life, I’ve met a couple of bad boys I’d like to see get nailed. I mean, redeemed. 😉

    1. Paula Graves says:

      Jack Sparrow works for me! In fact, Johnny Depp is the inspiration for the hero of my next book, the swashbuckling former radical turned CIA spy turned hunted man named Sinclair Solano.

      1. Chris Bailey says:

        That sounds awesome! What a backstory!

        1. Paula Graves says:

          Should probably also add that most of the world believe he’s been dead for a few years.

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