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A School For Heroes

Now, what is a writer of popular fiction doing here? When I told my husband I was doing an introduction to this book he practically choked. I am not, I assure you, a technical sort of person, and in his mind I'm a gothic heroine (see below) when it comes to the Internet.

We popular fiction authors know all about danger, seduction, and deception. They're the basis of all good stories. However, we also know about courage, intelligence, and resourcefulness. They form the heroes that make good stories popular. Popular fiction is all about winning at life, even when life is perilous—especially when life is perilous–—and that's what this book is about, too.

A few decades ago, gothic romances were popular. They were usually set in Victorian times in which a heroine made vulnerable by isolation and poverty would find herself in the power of a mysterious, threatening man. Jane Eyre is the classical origin of the gothic romance.

Such books fell out of fashion because too often the heroine was TSTL (too stupid to live). She was the one who, when she heard screams from the attic at midnight, grasped her candlestick and went up alone to investigate (usually in her flimsy nightgown).

Romance novels today usually give the heroine better survival skills, especially knowledge and awareness of her dangers. In a recent novel of mine, The Devil's Heiress, the heroine is, I think, a lot like a modern Internet user.

Due to a freakish circumstance, Clarissa Greystone is about to inherit a lot of wealth. She is, therefore, unprepared for this, as many of us are or have been unprepared for the riches of the Internet. However, like us, she recognizes that riches can give her the interesting, fulfilling, rewarding life she wants. The consequences are sometimes overwhelming, but she's not stupid enough to wish to be poor and helpless again. How many Internet users truly wish to do without it?

However, Clarissa also knows that her wealth thrusts her into danger, which is a step many Internet users miss. The most significant danger Clarissa faces is the men who want to capture her to own her wealth. They are fortune hunters. In Regency England a husband had total control over a wife's property unless she was protected by clever legal arrangements, and even then he would have the use of most of it. I'm sure you all know that the Internet is full of people who want to capture our wealth.

Clarissa has friends and allies, but she knows that most people are driven by self-interest, so she is wary. In time she learns, as expected, that some people are not what they seem.

As always, however, it is what you don't know and what you don't watch out for that gets you. Clarissa suspects that Major George Hawkinville is a fortune hunter and she progresses in that belief to the point where she decides that the benefits of marrying him are greater than the loss of her independence. She does not suspect—how could she?—that he is not after her hand in marriage, but wants to prove her to be a murderer and a thief so that his father can claim the money. Very often on the Internet, as did Clarissa, you think you are taking all due precautions, but in fact are still stepping into danger.

So, when it comes to the Internet, are you a male or female gothic protagonist wandering cluelessly into danger? Or are you a modern protagonist, aware, informed, and armed? And if the latter, do you realize that there are and always will be dangers that you haven't seen yet?

If romance analogies don't work for you, let's look at the second most popular form of popular fiction, mystery.

In a mystery you usually have the most heinous sin, murder, and a cast of suspects. The sleuth, with intelligence, courage, and resourcefulness must decide which are the honest people, and which are the snakes. Sometimes the sleuth must do this before the snake strikes again and often the murderer turns out to be the least likely suspect, the one who seems incapable of taking life.

You have to be your own sleuths, and you have to be especially wary of the people and sites that seem most innocuous.

In a fantasy novel, on the other hand, the evil is generally clear and the main problem is that the protagonist seems unlikely to be able to win a fight against it. Often the protagonist is an ordinary person without the background and skills necessary for the battle, such as King Arthur, the child who shocked everyone by pulling the sword Excalibur from the stone. Or Frodo, the ordinary hobbit. Or Harry Potter, the youth who didn't even know about the world of magic until summoned to Hogwarts School or that he was the foe that the evil Voldemort most feared.

So, welcome to hero training school. Here you learn the way the magical world of the Internet works, and how to recognize the dangers, even in disguise. You learn how to assess benefit and risk, how to tell heroes from villains, and what to do about them once you know. You are taught the skills, given a sword anda book of secrets. You will have, in other words, all you need to enjoy your good fortune, and your own heroically happy ending.

—Jo Beverley

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