I’m going to make a confession right now. Writing a lovable heroine didn’t always come easy for me. I have been taken to task time and time again by my editors and occasionally by my readers because my heroines have not been the nicest people in the world. Oh, they weren’t cruel or vicious or evil. They didn’t deliberately set out to steal or cause trouble or hurt others in the story. But somehow they weren’t all that likeable either, at least not in the first draft. Unlike my heroes, who the readers and I fall in love with right along with the heroine, my heroines could sometimes seem cold and aloof and uncaring. And I had to change that, because along with falling in love with the hero, my readers also have to care about the heroine. They have to like her and root for her and really, really want her to have her happily ever after. Otherwise, why read her story?
So I had to sit down and think. Why were my heroines coming off less than wonderful? Why was I writing them so cold? A part of it was because I wanted my heroines to be very, very strong women. I grew up reading a generation of romance novels in which the women were seldom portrayed as strong. They were young, pretty, and just marking time until a rich, handsome older man came along (or rode up on his steed) and swept her off her feet. Or they let themselves be a doormat, both for the hero and for just about anyone else who cared to use them in that manner. I had a lot of fun reading those books but I would also get aggravated. No way, I would think. Where is her spine? Where is her gumption? Where is her career? Where is the strong woman I want to read about? Where is the strong woman I want to be? My heroines would be different!
And so at first I over-compensated. My heroines were strong and independent all right, but at the same time cold and brilliant and emotionless-or they were until my editor at Candlelight Ecstasy sat down with me and together we looked at my ladies. She took me page by page through the first few novels I wrote for her, patiently pointing out the places where my heroines were cold and needed to be ‘warmed up’. “Don’t make her so perfect,” she said to me. “Put her in a ratty robe and let her have laundry on the sofa. Make her human.” And that went for my heroine’s relationship with the hero. She could be strong, but she has to be loving as well. She has to care about him and it has to show.
I like to think I paid close attention and learned. But I struggle still. In the first read-through of ‘Solomon’s Choice’, my first book in the Texas Hill Country series, Caroline Stern was very cold, frozen in grief over her dead husband, bitter about the time lost with her child and totally uncompromising in her attitude toward Jack Briscoe, under the circumstances perfectly natural reactions-but not very attractive ones. So, taking the advice of a trusted reader I warmed her up and gave her compassion for Jack, a fellow victim of a cruel plot and the father of her child. I was more careful with my next heroine. Captain Holly Riley, the heroine of ‘Daughter of Valor’, is a wounded warrior who is understandably unhappy with the turn her life has taken, but she has channeled her frustration into helping her wounded warrior friends who are worse off than she, and in spite of her amusing tendency to pop out orders her soldiers and the four year old daughter of the hero adore her. Christi of ‘Welcome Home’ helps paraplegic Tommy Joe adjust to his new life in a wheelchair and Emily Riley of the upcoming novella ‘Unexpected Assets’ is able to look past her hero’s horrible scarring to see the wonderful man within. And what can I say about Angie Baxter, my heroine of the next full-length book in the Texas Hill Country series ‘Never and Always’? This woman stayed with an abusive husband because of her love for her beloved stepson. I made sure that her love for the boy shone from every page of the book.
So what qualities did I finally learn to create in my heroines? These days, they are strong, yes, but I’m also careful to make them caring of the hero and others around them. Caroline shells the pecans in her yard to make Jack pecan pies. Holly buys special pots and pans for one of her warriors so he can get a job as a chef. Angie bakes special cakes for her son. They are less than perfect-I let them get tired and frazzled and frightened and down, but they never let life defeat them. They accept or learn to accept the heroes for who they are, or better yet, help the heroes become better men than they were. And they too grow in the story. They are better women on the last page of the book than they were on the first. And we love them for it.