Even nonromance readers could probably define the term “alpha male.” The much-debated, much-loved character archetype is precisely what it sounds like it is—a man among men, in control and in charge. But in the charming new romance Puppy Love, author Lucy Gilmore deconstructs the archetype almost immediately, starting when her intimidating, taciturn firefighter Harrison Parks is given his new diabetic service dog: a tiny, adorable Pomeranian named Bubbles. Gilmore explains how she found the gooey center of her supposedly tough-guy hero.
In romance novels, the alpha male is king. Literally.
Granted, there aren’t too many novels out there that deal directly with the royal succession, but alpha heroes have always been and always will be the leaders of their particular fields. They’re top lawyers and powerful CEOs. They run motorcycle gangs and head up mafias. They’re the warriors who win the most battles and the shapeshifters who lead the pack.
There’s a lot to be said in favor of this type of hero. A man who takes command—in his profession, in his personal life and, yes, in the bedroom—appeals to the modern reader on many levels. Others have delved into the study of this far better and more thoroughly than I can, but suffice it to say that there’s a reason why we turn, time and time again, to the Lothaires and lotharios of the world.
In Puppy Love, Harrison Parks fits almost all the characteristics of the alpha male hero. He’s excellent at his job as a wildland firefighter, where he leads teams of people and puts himself at extreme risk to save lives. He’s uncompromising when it comes to his personal life, particularly regarding who he allows to be a part of it. And in the opening scene, he’s standing in the middle of a dog kennel, determined to go home with the biggest, baddest Great Dane puppy he can find.
That’s where all resemblances to the traditional alpha male end. One of my favorite things as an author is to take a beloved romance stereotype and give it a twist. It would have been very easy for Harrison to do all those things that the setup warrants: to demonstrate his intelligence and bravery in the field, to participate in a social life where he’s in control and to adopt a 150-pound canine companion. However, none of this happens in the book. In fact, he’s faced with the exact opposite. He’s forced to take a sabbatical from work until he gets a diabetic service dog. He’s overwhelmingly out of his depth when it comes to both romantic and familial relationships. And instead of the Great Dane of his dreams, he’s given a tiny, skittish Pomeranian puppy named Bubbles. (Who, by the way, he’s terrified of accidentally squishing.)
This is the kind of book I love to write. I took a traditional alpha hero and stripped him of all the things that make him top dog. The result is a soft, gooey mess of a man who has no idea what he’s doing—but whose innate drive and strength of character make him determined to figure it out.
To be fair, Harrison didn’t start out like this. The writing process for this series has very much been a collaborative one with my editors at Sourcebooks. (In fact, they chose the puppy for this book long before I started writing it.) I’ve been really fortunate in working with a team who understands what I’m trying to do with this series.
In the case of Puppy Love, the goal was simple: to create a hero who looks like an alpha and talks like an alpha—but who, deep down, is just a tiny and skittish puppy in need of a good home.