I’ve just discovered a Thunderclap is a really neat way to publicize a book launch or any kind of special event. Today I started a Thunderclap for Wagon Train Sisters, my new historical romance which will be released on July 19th. If you have an account on Facebook, Twitter or Tumbler, I’d much appreciate your support.
Sue Grafton writes female P.I. mysteries. Clive Cussler writes adventure thrillers. They, like most successful writers, have found their so-called niche in the writing world. Wisely, they stick to it.
After eight Regency romances and one wagon train saga, my niche was definitely historicals. Then the plot for Deadly Gamble
popped into my head and wouldn’t go away. A haunted casino in Las Vegas—skeptical heroine in very big trouble—deadly séance—gruesome death of a porn star—unguessable twist in the plot. How could I resist? I broke the unwritten rule and faced the perils of switching genres.
There were challenges. Fast forward 200 years from the elegant high society of Regency England, to the glitzy informality of a Las Vegas casino. Fashions—manners—morals—society itself—everything’s different. In 1813, find a husband topped every single young lady’s “things to do” list. If she didn’t, she’d end up a disgraced old spinster, dependent upon relatives for support. That’s not to say marriage isn’t important in 2015, but let’s face it, not so much. In Deadly Gamble, Kristi just got out of a bad marriage. She’s much more interested in climbing the corporate ladder than finding another man—at least for now—and has far more important problems to deal with.
One thing for sure, I had to be just as accurate with my contemporary story as with my historicals. Even though my imagination ran wild in Deadly Gamble with such things as ghostly voices, powerful spells, etc., there were some areas where I couldn’t just make it up. Before I wrote my first disaster scene, I had to determine if there was such a thing as a deadly escalator accident. Searching the Internet, I was amazed at how many accidents there have been, many of them fatal mishaps with causes ranging from “suddenly reversed direction” to “the victims fell into the gaping hole.” Old newspaper accounts told me exactly how and why the accident happened—very handy indeed for writing my descriptions.
The same with my fatal waterbed scene. First, I had to find out if anyone had actually been killed in a waterbed. Again, an Internet search told me yes, it has happened more than once, and from various causes, one of which I used in the book.
After Deadly Gamble, I switched back to another western saga and wrote Wagon Train Cinderella. There’s so much going on along the Overland Trail, I couldn’t resist.
Should I have stuck to my original genre, Regency romances? Looking back, I suppose for the sake of my career I should have stuck to writing Regencies. On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed writing about Indian raids–buffalo stampedes, dangerous river crossings and all the other excitement that goes with a wagon train traveling the overland Trail. On second thought, I wouldn’t change a thing.
One of the perks of being an author is we’ve got complete control over our characters and can make them anything we want. When I start a new book, creating my romantic heroine is a labor of love. She can be shy and quiet, brash and talkative, blonde, brunette, whatever. It’s up to me.
When I first started writing, all my heroines were drop dead gorgeous. Deep-set blue eyes with thick fringe of lashes—perky little nose—perfect, pearly white teeth—swan-like neck—cascade of blonde wavy hair flowing down her back…etc. Then I went to a writers’ conference where I learned readers don’t relate to a too-beautiful heroine. I should make her more average looking, maybe give her an unattractive feature or two, like a less-than-straight nose or a few extra pounds. I tried to take this advice but failed
miserably. Why create an ugly heroine when I can create a beautiful one? Okay, I’ve toned her down a bit. At the start of the
story, Callie Whitaker, my heroine in Wagon Train Cinderella, is an ugly duckling. Later on, she transforms into an attractive woman, but I don’t overdo it. Even so, I can’t bring myself to give her any flaws, like I refuse to put a bump in her perfectly straight little nose.
Do we authors model the physical appearance of our heroines after themselves? I’d like to think I don’t, but come to think of it, I’ve never had a short heroine. She’s always tall and slender. Gee, do you suppose the fact that I’m 5’8” have anything to do with it? As for the slender part, there was a time when I… Hmm, don’t think I’ll go there.
Every heroine should have a goal. She should want something badly. If she’s completely content with her life and doesn’t want a thing, then where’s the story? Authors of contemporary novels have an easy time defining their heroine’s goal. In this post- women’s liberation world, a woman can aspire to being anything from a nursery school teacher to brain surgeon, race driver, astronaut—anything she wants. In my contemporary mystery, Deadly Gamble, my heroine holds a mid-management job. Her big goal in life is to fight her way up the corporate ladder to get to the top.
If some kind of physical danger exists in an historical novel, the heroine’s goal is an easy one. In Wagon Train Cinderella, my heroine travels in a wagon train to California in 1851. Her built-in goal is to get there alive without being scalped by Indians, bit by a snake, trampled in a buffalo stampede, etc.
But lacking deadly threats and mishaps, historical novels present the biggest challenge. Women in Regency England, where my early novels took place, had limited choices, to say the least. Regardless of class, the only accepted goal for every woman was marriage and motherhood. If a woman of the aristocracy remained single, she became that most pitiful of creatures, an “ape leader,” doomed to live out her life as the useless dependent relative who couldn’t find a husband. A woman in the lower classes didn’t fare much better. She could be a governess, servant, or possibly run some kind of establishment. In Lady Semple’s Secret, Meg, my crippled heroine, worked as a lowly servant but had her dream. “Some day I shall keep apartments for gentlefolk some place by the sea, possibly Brighton. Then I shall read all I please—collect books—sketch—write poetry—travel to Paris, Venice, everywhere.”
Coupled with a goal, a heroine needs a special interest. Otherwise, she’s just plain boring. Contemporary heroines can bowl—ski—line-dance—take up gourmet cooking—the choices are endless. Not so back in Regency England where a lady was limited to playing the pianoforte, painting with water colors, embroidering, and that’s about it. Anything else was considered most unseemly. After writing several Regencies, by the time I wrote The London Belle, I was desperate to find a new, unique interest for aristocratic Jane, my heroine. I came up with something I feared would never fly. Jane’s passionate, secret interest was rescuing ancient manuscripts inscribed by Cistercian monks in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and translating them from their original Greek or Latin.
OMG! Who would believe such a thing? Did I stretch too far? It turned out okay. Never in reviews and comments from my readers, did anyone ever observe that no pretty young woman in her right mind would just love translating ancient Cistercian manuscripts. Which only goes to show, readers are ready and willing to suspend belief if the author makes the story believable, which in the case of Jane, apparently I did.
It doesn’t hurt to think outside the box a little when creating a new heroine. If she’s fascinating, chances are the book will be, too. That’s what I always aim for.
Here are some of my books. I invite you to take a look at:
Wagon Train Cinderella, Amazon
See all my books at my Amazon Author Page