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Heroes in Disguise: a guest post by Kelle Z. Riley

Heroes in Disguise

Let me start with a confession: I love a hero-in-disguise theme.

If the array of fiction characters through the ages is any indication, so do a lot of other people. Consider this: Superman made his debut in 1938 (Action Comics). He spawned countless comic book versions, at least 5 TV franchises, and at last count 15 feature length films. Not to mention all the spin-offs and special appearances he makes in other fictional universes. And in each, no one realizes Superman is Clark Kent and vice versa.

The concept of disguises dates back much further than our Man-of-Steel. Nearly every culture has elements of disguise in their rituals and religious expressions, as well as in their forms of entertainment. From morality plays to masquerade balls, Samhain to Shakespeare, disguised figures exist in both culture and entertainment.

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

Disguise, apparently, has deep psychological things to say about us, too. As a certified geek, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a couple juicy tidbits with you. Here’s the short version.

  • We are divided, contradictory creatures with an uncanny capacity, not only to disguise ourselves from other people, but to masquerade our own wishes and desires from ourselves. (Psychology Today, The Pleasures of Being in Disguise)
  • There is our conscious self that we present to everyone during our everyday life, but then there is a hidden side to our personality that may be the exact opposite. (Rider University Psychology Professor John Suler quoted in Psychology of Disguise)

Beyond the obvious masquerades and dress-up parties, I believe we all wear masks. Every day. And it is this mask wearing that drives the perpetual interest in Heroes in Disguise. Who remembers the antidepressant commercials where people hide their faces behind smiling images? You don’t have to suffer clinical depression to disguise parts of yourself. Consider these “faces” you might wear:

  • At work, you present yourself as a consummate professional, dressed for success, often with full make up.
  • At the gym, you change into workout clothes, scrub your face and put on a mask of determination.
  • At home, you smile and praise your children’s artwork, your husband’s efforts to fix the clogged drains, and any number of other things.
  • Every dinner date, event, gathering with friends, or family requires a different mask or “game face.”

Each of the faces we wear in these situations may represent a facet of our lives, but few of them represent our vulnerabilities and fears. Vulnerabilities and fears we even hide from ourselves at times.

Here’s a personal example. When I meet readers, I put on my “author persona.” I work to entertain, and to present myself as successful. I love doing it. But the mask comes into play this way: deep down, I fear that you will think my books are silly, my fantasy characters foolish, my skill at bringing them to life not good enough. In short, I fear you’ll think I’m not good enough. You will judge me and find me wanting. I don’t want to share these fears. Yet I long for you to see me and love me for what I am.

This, in my opinion, is the root of why we love heroes in disguise. Unless I miss my guess, most of you understand the fears I expressed in my confession above. Most will feel the same in some or several aspects of your life. And each of you longs for that special someone to see these fears and love you anyway. The essence of romance is being loved and desired for who you are, not the mask you wear for the world to see. Here’s a quote from the hero of Read My Lips that encapsulates the idea:

Strange, how easily he thought of himself in the third person. Clayton Arthur McClaine was a fraud. An image manufactured for success. With Claire, he shed the image like a snake slithering out of an old skin. For a few hours, he was free. But in the end, he was still a snake. Claire deserved better. She deserved the truth, but to confess the truth was to risk losing her. He couldn’t face losing her before he even had her. Not even when he knew he’d give her up eventually.

Clayton longs to be loved yet fears the repercussions if he shows his true self.

Clark Kent wants to be loved as a man…not the Superman the world sees. Kent, stripped of his superpowers, is the one who attracts real love.

Every billionaire hero who dons the guise of a working man wants to find the woman he knows loves him, not his portfolio.

Each prince garbed as a pauper wants to be sure his would-be princess isn’t in it for the tiara.

And the readers… The readers see themselves in the trope as well. Each of us identifies with that disguised hero searching for true love, because under the images we present to the world, we want to find that all-consuming, true love for the scared, vulnerable parts of ourselves. It is falling in love for pure reasons that leads to the happily-ever-after. And when the hero is finally revealed (or should I say when the hero shares his mask of success), well, the billions and tiaras are just icing on a thick cake of love, commitment, and shared goals.

It’s no surprise that disguised heroes make their way into so many of my books. Most, if not all, of your favorite authors write the same types of themes over and over, because in our fiction, we work out our own issues, whether longing for adventure, healing past wounds, or searching for love. I’ve spent much of my life trying to fit in with the people around me. I’m a chameleon with a wide range of interests. I enjoy working with my science colleagues, my artistic writer friends and actors, my home-remodeling family members, and my sports-loving husband. In each milieu, I’m half-masked, sharing a part of myself, but not the whole. The hero in disguise resonates with me because I am that hero. I understand what drives him. Also, I have that hero in my life—the mild-mannered husband who is so much more than he pretends to be.

So, if you, too, love heroes in disguise, sizzle, humor, and larger-than-life settings, you’ll find them aplenty in literature—including in my Riches & Royals series. And you might just fall in love with my wounded heroes. I certainly did.

Now it’s time for you to tell me about your favorite hero…

Nice! Such a great article for romance readers!

Thank you, Kelle, for this useful article. ♥♥♥

Guest Blogger Bio

Writer, speaker, global traveler, Ph.D. chemist, and safety/martial arts expert, Kelle Z. Riley has been featured in public forums that range from local newspapers to national television.

Her other publications include a romantic suspense (Dangerous Affairs); the Undercover Cat Series books: The Cupcake Caper, Shaken, Not Purred, The Tiger’s Tale, and Studying Scarlett the Grey, which feature a cupcake baking scientist-turned-sleuth; and the Riches and Royals Series: Read My Lips, Royally Scandalized, Reluctantly Royal, and Counterfeit Commoner, in which modern working women discover loving a prince is harder than it looks.

A former Golden Heart Finalist, Kelle resides in Chattanooga, TN. She is a member of the Chattanooga Writer’s Guild, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers’ of America and various local chapters.

When not writing, she can be found pursuing passions such as being a self-defense instructor, a Master Gardener, and a full-time chemist specializing in water treatment and safety with numerous professional publications and U.S. patents. Kelle can be reached at



Facebook: @KelleZRiley

Twitter: @KelleZRiley

Instagram: @Kelle.Riley

Thanks again! We hope to see you back on ILRB sometime. 

As always, happy reading, everyone! Have a great rest of your week!

2 thoughts on “Heroes in Disguise: a guest post by Kelle Z. Riley”

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