The other day I heard two travel professionals debating the desirability of a certain group of tourists.
I forget who they were discussing or what criteria they used to determine the likelihood of a hotel guest blowing snot rockets on the shower curtain, but it reminded me of one of 1,000 jobs that helped pay my college tuition.
I cleaned rooms at a mediocre hotel, which is precisely as glamorous as it sounds. I got to handle people’s soiled bed sheets and wonder about the crusty things clinging to damp towels.
In mid-summer, we got word that a big motorcycle rally was passing through town. The hotel staff braced for the worst, picturing leather-clad bikers smashing televisions and punching holes in the walls.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
They made their own beds and picked up their towels. They left generous tips and arranged their leathers neatly in the closets. One biker even left a rose and a heartfelt note thanking me for my service.
I felt guilty for equating Harleys with bad behavior and gratefully pocketed the cash.
Two weeks later, a well-known symphony group booked a block of rooms. I prepared for more tips, perhaps an entire bouquet of roses from the well-heeled musicians.
They trashed the place.
Puke glued to the side of the toilet, unmentionables stuck to the sheets, furniture destroyed, and not a single tip for any of the maids.
In a way, it was a better lesson for me than the bikers had been. The cultured symphony folks were just as capable of bad behavior as I’d assumed the bikers would be, and the bikers were as tidy and thoughtful as I’d naively thought the musicians were. Bottom line, you can’t judge a book by its cover, a biker by his chaps, or a pianist by the fact that is job title sounds delightfully like penis.
It’s been 15 years, but I still cling to my mental picture of the tattooed biker in his leather jacket writing a poignant thank you note to the maid, or the violinist standing atop the television to urinate on the carpet.
That may be one reason my books always end up with characters who bend stereotypes. MAKING WAVES includes a former NFL tight end turned cross-dressing gourmet chef, along with a ruthless pirate who happens to be a literary theologian. The romantic hero in BELIEVE IT OR NOT owns a male strip club – something that made my editor nervous when she first read the manuscript.
I had fun mulling people’s preconceived ideas about those characters and then turning those stereotypes on their heads. Toying with the unexpected is what romance writing is all about for me.
Do you play with stereotypes in your own stories? Do you like reading books where people aren’t what they seem? Please share.
And please tell me you never touch the comforter in a hotel room. Not unless you’re wearing rubber gloves and a HazMat suit.