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On writing | VRChristensen

On writing

My Writing Process

Writing2Many thanks to the lovely and uber-talented Libi Astaire for inviting me to join her on this blog tour. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, please visit her website and take a peek at her wonderful Regency Era mysteries. They are utterly delightful!

My assignment for this blog tour is to answer the four questions below, and then to choose two or three other authors with whom I am proud to be acquainted. There’s a reward for your participation, too! All you have to do is comment on my blog post and one other of the authors I’ve selected and your name will be entered to win a signed copy of my short story collection, Sixteen Seasons. Ready?

 

Gods Kindle

Look for it autumn 2014!

1) What am I working on now?

My third full length novel is entitled Gods and Monsters. The culture and social atmosphere of bygone eras often inspires me to examine our own. I’m constantly amazed by how little—despite technology and ever evolving fashions—things have changed. And yet there are some things which have changed entirely. Thank heaven!

Take the disparagement in practical education between the sexes in the Victorian era. A woman was raised to be naive and innocent, knowing little if anything about the seedier sides of life, while men were encouraged to display their virility and masculine power. Thus they often had experiences which far outdid those of their fairer counterparts. Such was all well and good as long he was discreet and no inconvenient consequences resulted.

But what of those consequences? Certainly there would be consequences of one type or another. What might happen were a “gentleman” of considerable worldly experience to find that his past has inextricably entangled him with a woman he might love—who might inspire him to a better and greater purpose—had he not a past to answer to that must prevent her from trusting or even respecting him? And how does he explain such a past to satisfaction? If he means to do it honestly, such might prove his destruction. But sometimes our destruction is also our salvation.

2) How dokissinges my work differ from others of its genre?

My chiefest complaint with modern Historical Fiction is that it isn’t historical enough. Things seem to be getting better as readers demand more attention to research and historical detail, but for a long time historical novels—even bestselling ones—were really modern stories set against a backdrop of lavish costume and stilted manners (and sometimes dialog). My aim is  not only to paint a story that is painstakingly accurate in historical detail, but to give it life and atmosphere and flavor as well. I want my readers’ experience to be that of walking into history, rich with the sites and sounds and smells of it all.

I’ve also found that there is a lot of misunderstanding about how these people really lived. We have our hackneyed and cliched ideas of what etiquette did and did not allow for. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been surprised to find that their lives were not quite as tightly laced as one might think. Naughty parlor games, cyphered want adds for marriage and dating and help when one has found themselves in the family way, herbal and natural remedies, and the bearing of various body parts without the threat of impending matrimony are all addressed in Gods and Monsters with what some might find dubious accuracy. But it’s all true, I assure you! *snickers wickedly*

 

3) Why do I write what I do?hand written

To be honest I don’t like to answer this question. I guess I fear people are less likely to read my work if they know I have an agenda. But then, for each of my books the answer is slightly different.

In my first novel, Of Moths and Butterflies, I felt a need to explore some of my own past experiences, and to come to terms with them if I could. My hope was that my journey would help others. But I also wanted to show what the long-lasting effects of abuse are, and how, despite our desire to overcome, or our impatience with loved ones whom we feel ought to just “get over it” sometimes healing takes a very, very long time. It will and can happen, however. And in Moths, I wished to show what happiness can come by leaving the past behind and having the courage to love and trust again.

In Cry of the Peacock—which was actually the first book I wrote—my purpose was somewhat different. I really only wanted to see if I could actually write a book. I wanted to attempt to recreate a classic, if I could. I’m not sure I quite accomplished that, and while it does deal with honesty and secrets and lies and pride…it is not meant to have a strong didactic theme to it.

Gods is different. As I’ve found some considerable success in my writing, I’ve felt compelled to use my talent to try, if I could, to better the world. I want to use Gods not only to show how much things have changed—for both good and bad—but also to point out the chaos we create in society and in our relationships when we do not treat those relationships—sexual relationships in particular—with the sanctity they deserve. It is meant to show the consequences of unwise actions. But it’s also meant to show that wrongs can be righted, that hearts can be changed, that forgiveness can be found and honor recovered. My purpose is never to lecture, only to inspire and uplift—and to give hope, as those writing and performing with similar purpose have done for me.

732px-Gustave_Courbet_auto-retrato-1-560x4584) How does my writing process work?

I try to write every day, but it doesn’t always happen. We’re remodeling a Victorian house at the moment, and it’s lately been taking all the spare time I have. Ordinarily I devote four hours a day to my writing. I typically start a work with a theme I want to address and a few key characters, then I outline. Then I research. And then I write. I may not outline the entire thing before I begin, but I’ll have a general idea of where I need to start and end, and what it’s going to take to fill in the dots to get me there. Each day I read what I wrote the day before, and so long as everything continues to gel, then that usually primes me to write on from there. If, however, things aren’t working, if I can’t come up with the words, then I know I have to go back and figure out what I’ve done wrong. And that can sometimes take weeks! Which I really hate. I do have an amazing editor who helps me through it all. From beginning to end she ‘s there to support me and help me and guide me. I think she’s really more of a personal writing trainer than just an editor. I’m pretty sure you couldn’t hire the kind of service and support she provides for me.

And that’s me explained in a nutshell! Or my writing life, at least. Now it’s time to pass the baton over to three wonderful and amazing authors whose work I would love for you to become more familiar with. Remember, comment on my post and on one of the other two, and I’ll enter you to win a copy of my recently published short story collection, Sixteen Seasons! It’s a perfect sampling of what I do and where my writing might yet take me. (hint, hint, and wink) Don’t like short stories? Well, then. Think of them as sixteen tiny novels. (They really are very good.)

Please meet:

-Jenny Baxter was born and raised in a small town in western Washington, where she now resides with her husband and four kids. She is a substitute teacher at her local high school, and somehow manages to write around all the work, children, and laundry. She is the author of the Chronicles of Nequam series and a wonderful blog on the art and craft of writing.

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meMarch252014Gev Sweeney lives with her guinea pig, Auden Baby-Boar, in a tiny cottage in an old Methodist Camp Meeting town at the Jersey Shore. She holds an M.A. in communication from Monmouth University and an M.A. in the history and theory of music from Rutgers University. Once upon a time, she traded her master’s thesis about the Berlioz opera les Troyens for tickets to a sold-out performance of Candide at New York City Opera. Her first book, a historical (The Scattered Proud), was followed by a contemporary (Mount Can’t) followed by a Regency (Acquaintance) followed by a paranormal (Salutaris). Not one to stick to any particular genre, Gev writes about schemers and denialists, the loved lost and the detested found–characters shaped by fear, freed by obsession, and carved by the quest to understand people and worlds that defy analysis. She also maintains a blog, where she highlights her work as well as the work of other authors.

Suzanne Adair

On revising and revisioning

I’ve neglected my blog lately. I’m neck deep in revisions for Cry of the Peacock and I tend to shut everything out when I’m in my own books. There’s just too much to mentally keep track of for me to handle much more, and blogging takes so much time. Not that I don’t love and appreciate my readers, but I really do see it as a supplement to the books and not a way to grow an audience.

It’s interesting, though, delving back into Peacock after a year and a half absence from it. I realise I’ve not been as good at taking criticism as I should be. It’s taken me years to learn how to separate useful criticism from the not so useful. And it’s hard to know your work isn’t as good as you think it is. But experience, and time, do offer clarity. I thought this book was ready two years ago when an agent very nearly signed it. I didn’t understand what the problems were. I revamped it, sent it out to friends and editors. Still there were problems. The same problems. And I was heartsick with frustration. I just couldn’t see it. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, either. It was for a lack of ability to see it clearly. Only time could give me that.

Going back into it this time, I see exactly what the problems are. I see that my desperate attempts to salvage scenes and dialogues I once thought were gems have weighed the book down. I read it this time with almost new eyes. “What on earth was I thinking?” I asked myself more than once. Some of the dialogues, written nearly ten years ago, were just plain immature. Others had ceased to work as the scenes around them had altered so much as to make them obsolete.

Looking at it with fresh eyes, I can see that there is a lot of rewriting that needs to be done. A lot of plot restructuring. A lot of relayering and filling in. A lot of development of character and motivation. I’m halfway through it now, and I’m so pleased by how it’s shaping up. I really have worried that I’d never be able to get this book right. It was my first book and there’s a great deal of attachment to it. But I have learned, through trial and error, how the revision process works and how to really see when the focus is right. Of course I still have to send it back out to my editors, and of course I know there will be issues remaining, but I’ll know how to treat them this time. And it will be for different reasons than before. Miscommunications, perhaps some filling in of descriptive detail (I’m always spare with those) or a lack of clarity. But the plot…I think I’m getting it.

A lot of this clarity came by way of just taking that break. But I know a great deal of it also came by way of the good and honest critics who helped me, and did not shy away when I cried and whined at the changes still ahead of me. (For that I’m very sorry.)

I’m so glad now for that experience on Authonomy. Not only did I make many wonderful friends and met so many wonderful authors, friends and not so friends, but I really learned how to listen to criticism. Some comments are only opinion. Some have to be considered in the context of the reader. I think I have one review of Moths from a reader who doesn’t read historical fiction or classic literature, and they didn’t get it. That’s fair enough. I can respect that and I’m grateful they tried something new, even if they turned out not to like it. I’ve had a few people say it’s too long. That’s fair, as well. I’m aware that for some, it will seem too long, and that, quite possibly, it is too long, but it was what I wanted of it at the time. And from that I know to be more careful of keeping my plots moving and watching my word count (boy do I struggle with word count!). For others it was boring. Fair enough. It won’t please everyone. Some feel the heroine should have resolved her issues sooner. I agree with that. At least I understand where those criticisms are coming from. I purposefully dragged it out to show how very difficult such struggles are to overcome. I admit I may have dragged it out too far. And so now I’m conscious of those things.

There are many, too, who loved it, too. And of course those comments are helpful. When you hear the same things over and over again, you know you’re doing something right (or wrong, as the case may be.) Moths is evocative of the era, well researched, convincing and relevant. I love that! (I also love it when people say it’s not too long, but that’s just me taking comfort in what it is rather than what it should be.)

It’s true a book reaches a certain state of finishedness, if you will. Peacock isn’t there yet. And perhaps in a few years’ time I’ll be able to look over Moths once more and see how I might have done it a great deal better. That’s called growing, and a writer must always be prepared to grow and improve. That’s the whole purpose of experience. I used to be afraid of that. Not of the growth in itself, but of being able to say the books I publish now are better than the books I’ve published before. To me it was like saying my work, when it was published then, wasn’t as good as it could have been. It’s a useless way to look at things, and I’ve learned to overcome it. Moths will not be my strongest piece. That’s a good thing. It was what I needed it to be, though. It told a story I needed to have told. And now I can move on. The next books won’t be so personal. I won’t be quite so attached to them. I’m enjoying the writing and revising of them more. And I’m meeting my deadlines! Which means there’s much less stress than there has been in the past.

I’m looking forward to having Peacock out to readers. I know many others are looking forward to it, too. If you’re one of them, you can expect to see Cry of the Peacock this October (2012), and of course I’ll keep the updates coming.

For now, though, it’s back to work for me.

 

V.R. Christensen on Flawed Heroines

Imogen Everard

from Of Moths & Butterflies

by V.R. Christensen

 

In the series on Flawed Heroines, I’ve chosen to go last. Not strategically, so I might benefit from the windfall of readers my wonderful writing buddies have brought to my website (Thank you!) but because I’ve really been avoiding it. I know it must be done, but Imogen’s flaws are very personal. I have received some criticism that her reactions to certain events in her story are overwrought and too drawn out. Before I defend her, let me tell you her story.

When Imogen’s mother died from cholera, she was sent to live with an uncle, despite the fact that her aunt was her godmother. Drake Everard was very wealthy. He had worked in finance, in banking and then investments. And then he began to dabble in personal loans. To be honest I borrowed him from Dickens’ Ralph Nickleby, prurient tendencies included. Like Mr. Nickleby, Everard’s beautiful niece served as some enticement to keep the young and fast set coming to borrow money from him. It was not his intention that he should offer her as merchandise, but there was an unspoken understanding that some favoured patron might win her particular attention. One young man took the challenge, and finding an opportunity one afternoon, when the moneylender had gone out, took advantage of a moment alone with her.

I suppose one must also understand a bit about the education of women of the time. A woman was meant to be pure and innocent, she knew little if anything about the ways of men and women. If she was fortunate enough to have grown up on a farm, then she might have witnessed for herself the reproductive ways of the common beast. Not that this would have served as any admirable example to her own mode of conduct when she found herself so circumstanced as to engage in such activities. Imogen was not raised on a farm, but in colonial India with an absent father, and then in London, with her uncle. She understood that if she made herself appealing, she might have a way out of her uncle’s house. He was not opposed to making his own impositions on her, though he never carried these out to their foulest ends. She knew, at least hoped, that by using some charm and a little feminine encouragement, she might win herself a husband. What she did not understand is how easily a gentleman, and a young one with few principles (he was given to borrow money, after all) might be persuaded to take a little more than encouragement and a little less than marriage. This very sudden awakening to the ways of men and the world is part of Imogen’s trouble.

Another contributing factor is the fact that, upon her uncle’s death (which she deems her fault, as it happened when she was trying to resist him) he bestowed her with the entirety of his fortune. This, she deems, is a way of remunerating her for services rendered. She may be spoiled, damaged goods, but she is not a prostitute and she still has some hope of earning a respectable life. If you’re wondering, yes, I did borrow from Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. In fact the story haunted me so I had to try my hand at rewriting her story.

Another thing that must be considered is the fate of a young woman with money. And money, particularly, that others might get at, and feel they have a right to. Her ability to trust has been shattered. She might not ever gain it back. What hope has she of finding someone who would love her for herself and not for a sheer desire to get at the money that would come with her? And if they did, could she tell them about her past? She might keep the secret, but she knows that others know it. It might be revealed at any time, at which point she’d be ruined. But, like Tess, she is a woman of fatal honesty. She will not misrepresent herself.

So Imogen runs away, and, like Tess, tries to work her way to penance, to carve away a little place in life where she can live quietly and respectably, below the notice of others. But of course, being pretty, and having been raised in something of a genteel fashion, her condescension to the station of a housemaid is somewhat apparent. At least she becomes a curiosity and her employer, and his young nephew, take notice.

All of these things conspire against her when her marriage is arranged, yes, for a fortune. What would you do under such circumstances? The guy may be drop dead delicious, that doesn’t mean you would automatically place your heart in his hands ten minutes after he had bought it. Does it?

I probably needn’t say that my marriage wasn’t arranged. I probably needn’t say I did not inherit an immense fortune, or ran from it or hired myself out as a servant in a large country house. But I did go into marriage with some of Imogen’s issues. And I know from experience how difficult it was to trust, even though I knew my husband to be a good man (which is why I married him). I still had to deal with those issues. And there were rage issues too I had not expected. One minute I would be just fine and the next I thought I would explode. Imogen didn’t have the benefit of counseling or therapy. She didn’t have modern mores to say that a woman going into marriage unblemished was the norm rather than the exception. She had guilt, she had self loathing, she had anger. And a lot of it.

So, despite the injuries imposed upon her, despite her nearly fatalistic need for independence, Imogen’s greatest flaw is the hatred and loathing she bears for herself. How does one overcome it? It can’t be done through another. Her husband may adore her, but that means nothing considering how their union has come about, the deceptions he necessarily engaged in, or that others did in his behalf, in order to bring the marriage about. Not when he has bought her. Not when he has a right at any time to demand of her what Lionel Osborne did, and in any fashion he may like, for she is as surely property to him as the money that came with her. Only that isn’t quite right, because there is another complication in the mix in the way of his uncle, upon whom he is dependent, and toward whom he is indebted. And so, quite understandably (at least to my mind) it takes her a long time to learn that her happiness is in her own hands and no one else has that responsibility. That, despite whatever obstacles might have been placed before her, happiness is ultimately a choice she alone must make for herself. Perhaps it takes her longer than it should. But that is the very point I wished to make.

Perhaps I’m alone in my reaction to my own circumstances. I don’t believe so. And if Imogen gives one other person in this world a reason to hope, there is nothing more I could ask for. It will have been enough.

V.R. Christensen attended Brigham Young University, Idaho, where she earned a degree in Interior Design, while, at the same time studying English Literature, Art History and Sociology. When she is not writing, she is designing impractical clothing, redecorating her historical homes, or making impossible demands of her husband of seventeen years. She travels a great deal and considers herself a citizen of the world.

Currently, V.R. makes her home in Appalachian Virginia, where she lives with her three children, seven cats and a dog named Jasper.

V.R. is a member of Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative, Past Times Books, Authors Anon and Literary Underground, all of which are aimed at ensuring that the publishing revolution now upon us produces some of the finest work available to the reading public–and makes it available.

Of Moths & Butterflies is available in hardcover and paperback at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. A Kindle edition is also available, and will be offered free for three days March 1-3.

 

 

Gev Sweeney on Flawed Heroines

Janet Watters

from The Scattered Proud

by Gev Sweeney

We like to joke about obsession and blame obsessive-compulsive disorder for everything as destructive as drinking too much to the less damaging, if mildly annoying, twisting of a lock of hair around a finger (my trademark stress reliever). But while obsession is a flaw, it can also be a catalyst for hope, if not outright salvation. Janet Watters, the young heroine of The Scattered Proud, is as messy as a character can get without being addicted to alcohol or any other misuse-able medicinal in vogue in America at the end of the 18th century. Though her obsession can’t be seen and is something she hides from others, it governs her life and the lives of those around her.

Janet has been born into a time when people live close to the notion and reality of death and regard it as a necessary, if disquieting, fact of life that compels them to think about their purpose on earth and what will become of them after they die. Their solace – and, often, the foundation of their life’s purpose – is religion, in this case the Episcopal Church. Janet’s widowed father, a successful and respected lawyer, is on the vestry of St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia, and has cultivated a circle of influential friends that include the church’s rector and his family. Though Janet is 13 when the story opens, she’s still a very much a little girl, subject to the dictates of her parent and the adults around her. But she has no child’s sense of fun or desire to explore the world. She magnifies what should be a child’s ordinary lot in life into a continuous exercise in dread. She can’t do anything or go anywhere without thinking something dreadful is going to happen to her. And, in an age when girls are raised to become wives and mothers, she disparages herself as unwanted, and foresees a future as a lonely spinster.

Instead of turning to religion for solace or security, she gleans comfort from the presence of Kit DeWaere, the rector’s kindly, understated son who is sometimes the victim of his father’s self-importance. Kit believes that doing little or nothing to help people would be an abuse of God’s trust in humanity. Incited by a sense of servicehood that wavers between humility and hubris, he surrounds himself with people who, like Janet, are flawed: the beautiful but self-absorbed escapee from the French Revolution who becomes his wife; the mentally handicapped toddlers of the orphanage that houses the secret Episcopal mission he leads in late Revolutionary Paris; the victimized wife and son of a former political prisoner, whose attempts to survive have an unlikely connection to Bonaparte’s coup d’etat of November 1799.

Kit himself is flawed. He doesn’t know his own limits. He acts expecting the best because he’s doing his best, as he thinks God intended, but his good intentions go awry. As the vicar of the church’s mission in Paris, he tells Janet, who’s been brought against her will to work at the mission: “We all have only one destination, just as we all have only one journey. Everything that befalls us on the road is another blow from the Great Sculptor’s metaphysical mallet. It’s not a matter of how the blow shapes us, but how we choose to interpret and withstand the blow. Do we allow ourselves to be shattered in pieces, like the proverbial earthen vessel, or do we embrace our circumstances, taking heart from knowing their true source?”

But when Kit’s pregnant wife leaves him, he shows none of the strength his words imply and becomes warped by unspoken despondency. It’s not his counsel that resonates with Janet. What resounds is her disappointment in him, and her eventual guilt at that disappointment:

I conceded to myself that I was glad to leave Kit behind [in Paris]. He had exposed himself as one of those people who spout great thoughts and noble acts when all is well, yet crumble under difficulties that demand them to exemplify their own teaching. I conceded but could not believe. I was equally certain that Kit’s decline was no mere deficiency of character. It was the creeping decay of self that comes from knowing one has not merely made a mistake, but has lived for a long time thinking all was well. I remembered how, so many years before, he had spoken to me about man’s responsibility to use his intellect. Somehow, since then, his own intellect had failed to discern anything about his wife to foretell a withered marriage. He did not know how to live with either himself or the consequences of his error. I should have taken him aside and reminded him what he had said about the Great Sculptor’s metaphysical mallet. (…) But I said nothing. And because I said nothing, I fall asleep at night wondering how different everything could be.

Kit’s decline is a turning point for Janet. Though she says, “I could do no more than await the further lessening of Kit DeWaere, a collapse I never could have imagined, not even in a fevered dream,” she does indeed do more. She continues to dwell upon him. His name and image pervade her interactions with the family who, on Kit’s behest, took her in after her father died, and with George Frederick Cunliffe, the haughty, handsome priest sent to Paris as Kit’s assistant. From obsession comes strength. When Janet and Kit become trapped in political machinations that never should have been their concern, Kit’s fate gives Janet a fresh reason for being. The once-scared, self-castigating child becomes something she never could have imagined of herself: a woman in love with life and the world.

 

Gev Sweeney has been telling tales since sixth grade, when she was caught daydreaming about a failed jungle expedition. She grew up to become a journalist who did everything from getting caught in a riot to shooting a Brown Bess (not during the riot). She advocates historic authenticity in fiction, but forgives Shakespeare for all those horrid anachronisms in Julius Caesar. She lives at the Jersey Shore with her guinea pigs, Auden and Philip Baby-Boar.

The Scattered Proud is published by PfoxChase Publishing. To find out more about Gev Sweeey, please visit her website.

M. Louisa Locke on Flawed Heroines

Annie Fuller

from Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits

by M. Louisa Locke

 

When I was asked to write about flawed heroines, I immediately thought of Annie Fuller, the main protagonist in my two cozy Victorian mysteries, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits. Annie is a young widow who lives in 1879 San Francisco and supplements her income as a boarding house owner by giving advice as the clairvoyant Madam Sibyl. As befitting cozy mysteries, my characters and plots don’t tend to be too dark, and even my hero (Annie’s romantic interest, lawyer Nate Dawson) isn’t a typical tortured bad boy in need of reform. But Annie does have her weaknesses, and her extreme independence (or perhaps her fear of being dependent) is the most obvious character flaw because it gets her into the greatest difficulties in both books and leads to a kind of recklessness in her behavior.

But as soon as I had that thought, I felt that I had wronged my own creation. How could I call Mrs. Fuller’s fiercely independent spirit a flaw? Wasn’t I just buying into the prevalent nineteenth century view, called by historians the “Cult of True Womanhood,” that said a middle class woman like Mrs. Fuller should be pious, pure, domestic and submissive? Was Annie Fuller truly flawed because she refused to confine herself to the narrow definitions of womanly behavior in that period-particularly the submissive part?

I had consciously made her independent, modeling her on many of the real heroines of the nineteenth century, women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Jane Addams who had challenged the idea that women needed to be dependent and subordinate to men. I purposely gave her a childhood, mirroring the childhood of many of these historic women, that had fostered her sense of competence and equality. Annie Fuller’s mother died when she was young and, as a result, she became very close to her father, who treated her like a son and trained her to develop an extraordinary understanding of business and stock speculation. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, for example, had become a surrogate son to her lawyer father when his last remaining male heir died.

And, for Annie, like many of the women’s rights leaders of the nineteenth century, entry into adulthood became a rude awakening and threatened her of sense of confidence and independence. In Annie’s case her crisis came with her marriage to a man who belittled and abused her and eventually destroyed her fortune and left her destitute upon his death. What followed was five humiliating years living off the reluctant charity of her in-laws, a not uncommon fate for widowed women of that time. No wonder economic independence would become so important to her. She worked to achieve that independence when she turned an old San Francisco house she inherited into a boarding house. Then, when that income was insufficient, she created the role of Madam Sibyl and developed a lucrative practice as a clairvoyant, using the expertise she had gotten under her father’s tutelage to dispense business advice.

Not surprisingly, when her economic independence is threatened at the opening of Maids of Misfortune, Annie Fuller is willing to do almost anything to counter that threat, including investigating the death of one of Madam Sibyl’s clients, whose assets, including a bequest to Annie, has gone missing.  However, her fierce independence, taken too far, also becomes a weakness. In her single-minded determination to remain economically independent, she acts rashly, not thinking of the consequences of those actions. As a result, in the course of her investigations, people’s freedom, in some cases their very lives, are jeopardized. Yet she refuses to listen to counsel, particularly when given by Nate Dawson, because she sees his actions in the light of the other men in her life who tried to make her submit to their will. She has confused being dependent with being open to help from someone else.

While some readers have grumbled that these struggles between the hero and heroine in my books make Annie too modern, as a professional historian of nineteenth century women, I can assure readers that Annie’s fear of dependence was very common. Some women, Like Susan B. Anthony and Sarah Grimke, refused offers of marriage for that very reason. Others, like Lucy Stone, tried to carve out marriages of equality, changing the marriage vows, keeping their own names. Other women challenged public opinion by winning a divorce, as did Laura de Force Gordon, a minor but real historical character in my second book, Uneasy Spirits.

While Annie Fuller’s independent nature is understandable, it leads to a fear of dependence in Uneasy Spirits that almost proves her undoing. In this, the second book in the series, she not only pushes Nate away because of her fear that she would lose her independence if she married him, but she pushes away all her friends when she feels they might question her decisions. What she achieves is not independence but a growing isolation, which will ultimately result in threats to her own life.

While I have Annie realize some of the ways her behavior has hurt her and others at the end of Uneasy Spirits, I don’t think that the problems she face will go away, particularly regarding her relationship with Nate. Nate Dawson, as a man of his time, thinks of his offer of marriage as gift-giving Annie economic security, protection, respectability, a home and family. By in large her friends, including her female friends, agree with him. Annie, on the other hand, fears that marriage will cause her to lose things, her name, her freedom of action, her work, and, most frightening of all, her independence. Whether these different views of marriage can be reconciled will have to be answered in subsequent books in the series, but you can believe me, as Annie’s creator, I am not going to squash her reckless and independent spirit, because where would be the fun in that!

 

M. Louisa Locke is a retired professor of U.S. and Women’s History, who has embarked on a second career as an historical fiction writer. The first two published books in her series of historical mysteries set in Victorian San Francisco, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits, are bestsellers in the historical mystery category on Kindle. These books feature Annie Fuller, a boardinghouse owner and clairvoyant, and Nate Dawson, a San Francisco lawyer, who together investigate murders and other crimes, while her short stories, beginning with Dandy Detects, give secondary characters from this series a chance to get involved in their own minor mysteries. Dr. Locke is currently living in San Diego with her husband and assorted animals, where, in addition to these short stories, she is working on Bloody Lessons, the next full-length installment of her Annie Fuller/Nate Dawson series.

For more about M. Louisa Locke and her work, see http://mlouisalocke.com/. And for other great historical fiction ebooks, check out http://historicalfictionauthors.com/

N. Gemini Sasson on Flawed Heroines

Isabella of France

from Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer

and the soon to be released sequel, The King Must Die

by N. Gemini Sasson

In 1308, Isabella of France married King Edward II of England. She was not yet thirteen. He was twenty-three, a king newly come to his throne. For much of history, Isabella was known as the ‘She-Wolf of France’, an epithet which far from conjures up an admirable picture of her. But it’s not hard to see how she earned the title. She did, after all, go to France in 1325 with the task of negotiating a peace treaty between France and England, take a lover (Roger Mortimer) while there who was a known rebel and traitor to her husband, return to England with him at the head of an invasion force, force the abdication of her husband and then put their son on the throne in his place. Phew! Hmm, and now I’m going to tell you she had redeeming qualities? Flawed? Yes! Heroine? Let me try to convince you.

When I first began writing about Isabella, it was from Edward’s perspective in one of The Bruce Trilogy books, Worth Dying For. I had to learn not just what Edward might have thought about her, but what she was truly like. That led me on a detour and the more I learned about her, the more sympathetic I felt towards her. Their marriage was an arranged one, meant to forge a political alliance between England and France. Four years later, she was pregnant with their first child. They had three more over the next nine years. Eventually, however, Edward’s favoritism towards two men, Piers Gaveston and later Hugh Despenser, strained their marriage irreparably.

For many years, Isabella tried to maintain a harmonious relationship with her husband. But when Hugh Despenser began to assert himself to the point of influencing Edward to give him titles and land, sometimes at Isabella’s expense, things became strained. It reached a breaking point after Roger Mortimer escaped imprisonment in the Tower of London and Isabella, under suspicion, had many restrictions placed on her. For a period of time, she wasn’t permitted to travel, nor could she see her children and her income was reduced to a fraction of its former level. A dutiful wife and diplomat for many years, her back was now up to a wall. Can you imagine being in a position like that? Women back then were expected to do as told and not speak up. Divorce was not an option, either.

So, Isabella took matters into her own hands. She convinced Edward to let her go to France to help with the peace treaty, but once there, she fell deeply in love with Mortimer. He had been married for over 20 years and had twelve children with his wife Joan. But he fell in love with Isabella, too, and couldn’t resist the opportunity to have his own revenge on Edward. All these events unfold in my book Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer. The sequel, The King Must Die, which is due out this April, follows events after Edward II’s abdication. At this stage, she became more avaricious and even a little manipulative, probably in an attempt to maintain her hold on power. But her greatest flaw, her love for Roger Mortimer, eventually proved to be her downfall.

Isabella was a woman ahead of her time. She stood up for herself in an age when women were not supposed to be outspoken and she did what she thought was for the better, however unpopular it may have later proven. Did she do it in the best manner possible? That’s a matter of conjecture. I can’t imagine being in her position, trying to make things work and yet feeling utterly powerless. Without a doubt though, she was a woman of determination and great passion.

N. Gemini Sasson is the author of The Crown in the Heather (The Bruce Trilogy: Book I), Worth Dying For (The Bruce Trilogy: Book II), The Honor Due a King (The Bruce Trilogy: Book III) and Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer (2011 IPPY Silver Medalist for Historical Fiction). She holds a M.S. in Biology from Wright State University where she ran cross country on athletic scholarship. She has worked as an aquatic toxicologist, an environmental engineer, a teacher and a track and cross country coach. A longtime breeder of Australian Shepherds, her articles on bobtail genetics have been translated into seven languages.

Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer is available in paperback and eBook formats. The sequel, The King Must Die, is set for release in April 2012. Gemini is a member of  Historical Fiction eBook and Past Times Books, both excellent sources for Historical Fiction of the highest quality. Check them out! You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Flawed heroes – part five

William Hewitt

from Still Life With Murder

(and the others in the Nell Sweeney Mysteries)

by P.B. Ryan

No character that I’ve ever written has generated as much fascination among my readers as the highly flawed, deadly handsome, dangerously charming Will Hewitt. Will is my governess-sleuth’s partner in detection—and love interest, although they dare not speak of it—in the Nell Sweeney historical mysteries, set in post-Civil War Boston.

The black sheep son of Nell’s wealthy employer, Dr. William Hewitt was regarded as the finest battle surgeon in the Union Army before his capture and incarceration at the notorious Andersonville prison camp, where he was reported to have succumbed to dysentery. Four years later, his family is stunned when he turns up alive and accused of a vicious murder he won’t deny having committed. Plagued by survivor guilt and the pain of an old bullet wound in his leg, Will roams the world frequenting high-stakes poker games and back-room opium dens, where he seeks blessed oblivion in the arms of Morphia.

When we meet him in book #1 of the series, Still Life With Murder, Will is deeply damaged inside and out, an addict who walks with a limp and doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. Bloodied from a police interrogation and in the grips of opium withdrawal, he frightens and disgusts Nell—yet she can’t help but be intrigued by his touching protectiveness toward women and his occasional courtesies, which “hint at the gentleman beneath the wretch.”

Despite Will’s shortcomings, I found him totally captivating, but I thought, well, maybe that’s just me. Maybe there’s something twisted in my psyche that makes flawed men appealing to me. So imagine my surprise when, following  Still Life’s publication by Berkley Prime Crime in 2003, I was inundated with mail from readers who were just as in love with him as I was. What, I wondered, would make such a seemingly hopeless piece of work attractive to normal, well-adjusted women?

Will’s flaws are both physical and psychological. Let’s start off with the physical: the injured leg. Wounded heroes are nothing new in literature, and I recently discussed their appeal with the noted literary historian Susan Koppelman (who, I’m pleased to report, will be delivering a presentation about the Nell Sweeney mysteries at the upcoming national conference of the Popular Culture Association). If the male is historically considered the dominant partner in a heterosexual relationship—as was certainly the case in pre-20th century settings—then an injury would serve to diminish his physical supremacy, putting him on a more equal standing with the heroine.

Susan tells me this is considered a metaphorical “gelding” of the hero, and that the symbolism is especially pointed when it’s the leg—thought to represent the phallus—that has suffered the injury. Gee, maybe I really am twisted, I thought, since there are three other male protagonists besides Will who’ve limped their way through my books. Maybe I’m subconsciously castrating my heroes. Or maybe a cigar is just a cigar. After all, not all of my wounded heroes had leg injuries. Or so I reassured myself until Susan laughingly reminded me of my medieval romance The Sun and the Moon, in which the hero is a mercenary knight who had a thumb chopped off, after which he couldn’t wield his sword.

Thumb. Sword. Oh, dear.

On the other hand… is a little bit of gelding necessarily such a bad thing? Bear with me here. There’s been speculation among those who study such things that the irritability, hostility, and mood swings that women sometimes experience during PMS are what men experience pretty much all the time. Which, if true, would make women the more emotionally stable and, dare I say it, civilized sex. By chipping away at the hero’s most prominent masculine characteristic—his physical dominance—could it be that we’re not symbolically lowering him to the heroine’s level, but elevating him to it?

The classic hero is strong of mind as well as of body, and more often than not somewhat self-contained.  We’ve been brought up to feel that real men don’t bare their souls. But if the heroine can’t penetrate the armor the hero wears around his soul, how can she really know him, much less love him? The answer: create a flaw in the armor, an opening your heroine—and reader—can see into. As Susan Koppelman puts it, “If you think of the hero as a closed container, the only way to know what’s inside it is to wound it.”

Which brings us to William Hewitt’s drug addiction. Judging by hundreds of letters from smitten readers, Will’s dependence on opiates does nothing to diminish his appeal; in fact, it may amp it up. I think this is because a psychological flaw, like a physical flaw, can serve in some cases to level the playing field of the relationship. The hero may pretend to be emotionally invulnerable, but we know better.

With a hero whose problems are mental rather than physical, I think it’s important to at least hint that he’s not completely irredeemable; there’s a reason he is the way he is, and there’s also the potential for recovery. In Will’s case, he started smoking opium to numb the physical pain of his bullet wound, but he persisted in it to deaden memories he couldn’t escape any other way—memories in which his courage and valor failed to prevent his brother’s tragic death. Will’s emotional vulnerability, which he conceals beneath a droll and world-weary façade, tugs at the heart, arousing an instinctive urge to take away the pain that haunts him.

And that brings us to the bottom line: The flawed hero is almost always a fixer-upper. During the course of the story, the heroine often manages to vanquish whatever demons were tormenting him, or even heal his physical wounds, thus restoring the trappings of full manhood—and making him capable of a real relationship. In real life, men who need fixing tend to be Bad News; there are few pursuits as futile as trying to change or improve a loved one. But that’s exactly why such a transformation is so thrilling when a fictional female manages to pull it off. By making the hero a better man, physically and/or emotionally, our heroine triumphs—and the reader closes the book with a smile on her face.

About P.B. Ryan

P.B. Ryan(the artist formerly known as Patricia Ryan) is the award-winning author of 27 novels and novellas, which have been published in over 20 countries, including Serbia. That’s right, Serbia.

Pat tapped into her fascination with 19th century urban America to create the Nell Sweeney mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. Set in post-Civil War Boston, the series stars Nell, a young Irish-born governess with a disreputable past that must be kept hidden at all costs. Nell is assisted in her sleuthing by her employer’s black sheep son, William Hewitt. A former Union Army battle surgeon, Will is now a professional gambler who smokes opium to dull the pain of his wounds, both inside and out. The reaction of the series’ fans to the complicated, slowly evolving relationship between Nell and Will (“the beating heart of the series” as one reader put it) delights Pat, who is deeply wrapped up in them herself. The series has been as popular with critics as with readers, and Murder in a Mill Town was chosen as a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award.

Upon getting the rights back to the six Nell Sweeney books (as well as to six novels of medieval romantic suspense written for NAL), Pat published them in digital format. The first book of the series, Still Life With Murder, has made it to the #1 spot on Amazon’s historical mystery bestseller list. In 2010, Pat and fellow author Doranna Durgin launched backlistebooks.com, a showcase of author-published out-of-print ebooks. Once upon a time, Pat worked in the publishing industry as a promotion manager and editor, but she quit her job when she was offered her first publishing contract in 1994, and she’s been spending her days making stuff up ever since.

Visit P.B. Ryan’s website to learn more about her and her work. Her work is available at Amazon and online wherever books are sold. I’m proud to have met Ms. Ryan through Historical Fiction eBooks, where Historical Fiction of the highest quality is brought together in one source. Check them out! You can also follow Ms. Ryan on Twitter and Facebook.

Flawed heroes – part four

Menoetius

from The Year-god’s Daughter

by Rebecca Lochlann

When the Greek youth Menoetius first comes to Crete, he is seventeen, with a young man’s smooth skin and lustrous dark hair that ten-year-old Aridela likens to a waterfall. His eyes are what really capture her imagination, however. Cobalt blue like the heavens at twilight, in this land where nearly everyone has eyes of brown or black, they have a glow about them, like the sun shining through deep water, or the star Iakchos, rising above Crete’s mountain summits in the fall.

The Goddess lives in his eyes; Aridela, who has communed with this deity from birth, senses it.

Seventeen-year-old Menoetius has an easy smile and affectionate nature. One of the paramount characteristics Aridela loves is his devotion to Potnia Athene, the Mistress of Labyrinthos. The first time this child comes into contact with Menoetius, she is alone, bleeding profusely and near death. He plucks her up from the labyrinth floor and carries her to the courtyard, where she is given over to physicians. If it weren’t for that act, Aridela would surely have died at the age of ten, and there would be no story to tell. As she slides between life and death, she peers up at him, half-conscious, and sees those eyes. She believes Goddess Athene is holding her. Fully trusting, she loses all fear of death in the arms of the Goddess.

Who knows what might have happened if Menoetius had remained on Crete, at Aridela’s side? His instincts tell him to. But, following his father’s orders, he returns to his homeland, and Aridela doesn’t see him again for six long years.

One month later, while hunting, Menoetius and his brother are attacked by a lioness. Menoetius survives, but he will never again mesmerize women with his beautiful face. The beast steals something else from him. She extinguishes the singular goddess-light that has always winked and glimmered in his eyes. She leaves little more than scarred flesh over bones. He loses his confidence and devotion. He blames and rejects the Goddess who allowed this to happen. Although he now has her most sacred symbol carved onto his face—the shape of the crescent moon—he believes he is cursed by the Immortal he once adored.

When Menoetius sails to Crete the second time, he is so changed Aridela doesn’t even recognize him. She unwittingly verifies every bad thing he has come to believe about himself. He retreats further, hiding his pain behind a morose exterior. When she is told who he is, she is nearly as traumatized as if she experienced the attack herself.

Why has Athene done this? Why has she taken a handsome, devout youth who willingly dedicated his life to her, and shoved him into the jaws of an enraged lioness? Why has she made him suffer this way, while leaving his brother, the cynical, arrogant, impious Chrysaleon, whole and unmarred? The reader will soon realize that Menoetius’s wounds go much deeper than any mauling. They wend down into his soul.

The child he once befriended is now the woman he craves, but she is beyond his reach, wholly in love with his shallow, self-absorbed, yet still handsome brother. Menoetius was charged with protecting the sacred child; instead he abandoned Aridela to serve mortal obligations. Now, stripped of all that could have been his, he must watch, torn between loyalty and love as his brother sets out to deceive the princess and every other Cretan.

Aridela can almost see the inexorable bonds between these two brothers. The invisible rope that binds them is frayed, untwined; neither can sense it, or they have deliberately turned their backs on it. In the way an angry tide strikes at the cliffs, or the sun forces the moon from the sky, these two are uneasy halves of a single whole. She sees this, but doesn’t know how to forge peace between them. Not yet.

In V.R.’s commentary about her flawed hero, Archer Hamilton, (from her book Of Moths and Butterflies,) she says: “it is, nevertheless, a truism that those who must fight for what they want appreciate it most, while those by nature blessed rarely take full advantage of their opportunities.”

Goddess Athene, who has watched mortals live their lives since the beginning of time, understands this about her hand-chosen triad. She who sees into the future knows how hard they will have to fight. She sends her beloved heroes into the deepest suffering, to the very portal of death, and she leaves them there, to either expire or claw their way to triumph. It’s the only way.

As a woman and an author, I was strongly affected by the Phantom of the Opera story, most notably Susan Kay’s vision in her book, Phantom. The story of Erik, especially how he is born and what he endures as a baby, is unforgettable. Along with other influences, it swayed the way I wanted to tell my story, and Menoetius was the obvious choice to send into a life of struggle, of “what-ifs,” and remorse.

Eventually, Aridela has to get past her immature adoration of physical beauty. If she doesn’t, she will fail in the ultimate goal. She and her countrymen revere beauty in everything. Now here is this conundrum. Once, Menoetius was lively, charming, different from anything she has ever seen. She has never encountered or even imagined such an agony as this man suffered in her entire pampered life. It forces her to reexamine everything she has always taken for granted. Can she love something ugly? It’s even a bit worse for both of them, as Menoetius did enjoy seventeen years of unmarred beauty, so there is a thread of regret neither can completely ignore.

Aridela has always been told she is wise and far seeing, insightful and clever. She believes it because this is reflected back at her every day. Athene, who knows what comes, wants her child to understand that what she’s been told is not necessarily the truth. She wants more from all three of her chosen heroes.

I am often struck by how obsessed our own society is with beauty, to the point where women are spending great sums and suffering terrible pain to reconstruct and transform everything they can, often turning themselves into odd-looking almost alien beings in a desperate quest for perfect beauty. Menoetius’s wounds, and the growth Aridela experiences because of them, is a strong underlying theme in the Bronze Age segment of the series—and beyond.

Menoetius’s biggest flaw isn’t the scarring from the attack. It’s that he creates and magnifies his own misery. He assumes he knows what people feel about him, and he pushes everyone away without giving them a chance. Aridela is too young and inexperienced to understand this, so she takes it all very personally. Selene, the Phrygian warrior, is the only one who does understand. She slips through his barriers and begins the healing process—a necessary step to help him dig his way out of his second biggest flaw: the loss of his courage. Somehow, Menoetius’s courage must be reacquired, so that when it comes time, he will know what to do, and he will have the strength to do it.

Divine Athene is patient. She realizes it will take a long time to prepare them. Again and again, she sets these three upon widely diverging paths. She doesn’t guide them: she leaves it up to them to make their own choices. For an Immortal, thousands of years mean nothing.

The only way Menoetius can earn Athene’s forgiveness and put the world to rights is to face the lion. Can he do it? Or will he leave Aridela to whatever fate might come at his brother’s hands? Ah, that is the question, dear reader.

About Rebecca

Welcome. I’m the author of “The Child of the Erinyes” series, which follows a woman and her two lovers through time, beginning in the Bronze Age and finishing up in the near future. Historical fiction, fantasy and pre-Hellenic Greek myth, all rolled up together. (Oh and yes, romance.) To quote the YouTube trailer: “Smart young princess. Hunky macho warriors. Exotic island paradise. Politics, natural disasters, and forbidden love. An epic story. What more could a reader want?”

 

Visit Rebecca’s website to learn more. The Year-god’s Daughter is available in paperback and eBook formats. The sequel, The Thenara King, is set for release in spring 2012. (I’m very excited about this.) Ms. Lochlann is a member of  Historical Fiction eBook and Past Times Books, both excellent sources for Historical Fiction of the highest quality. Check them out! You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Flawed heroes – part two

Tristan Vazante

From Artemis Rising

by Cheri Lasota

***This post originally appeared on N. Gemini Sasson’s Blog***

When my dear friend Gemi asked me to post about my “imperfect hero” Tristan Vazante, I thought: What a brilliant idea! We adore our fictional heroes as we read them and write them and daydream about them. Yet, oftentimes, we gloss over their imperfections and impatiently await the story’s happy ending—something we wish for ourselves vicariously through our characters. So much of how stories affect us comes down to reader expectation. Most genre fiction “requires” a happy ending (even series books) despite the sufferings and betrayals we put our characters through. But if we only wrote perfect characters, where would the story be?

We all go through experiences of deep betrayal and hurt in our lives, usually at the hand of those we love most. And much of what draws us to fiction is the ability to see how others deal with the problems we have had. How do they survive pain, cruelty and abuse and come out stronger than ever? Just as our dreams let our subconscious work out problem-solving situations, I attest that fiction does the same thing in our waking hours, albeit with a little more sense!

Fiction may be fantasy, but it often explores the most raw and universal truths about the dark side of humanity. When we read, we work on these societal problems within the context and safety of a world that does not exist. This helps us to process situations we may not be able to face otherwise. Besides entertainment, fiction has had the power to move us to action within our own lives. It empowers, enlightens and reveals. The pen truly is mightier than the sword!

My young Azorean Islander Tristan Vazante is an amalgam of many different people: the Knight Tristan of Cornwall (Arthurian legend), the Greek God Alpheus (to add a bit more of a dark side), pieces of several different beloved characters from other novels and films, and even parts of men I’ve known throughout my life. Most importantly, I needed to make sure that his personality and beliefs matched the time period and location in which he lived (1880s Azores Islands): deeply religious, kind and welcoming, salt of the earth.

That’s quite a patchwork quilt of a character, eh? This was all quite purposeful, because I knew my tendency was to protect him from harm, as he was my favorite character in the book. When I create any character, there are a few specific characteristics I give all of them before I can really get a sense of who they are. Here were Tristan’s:

• Greatest strength: self-sacrifice
• Greatest need/desire: the heroine, Arethusa, of course! =)
• Childhood trauma: loss of mother
• Deepest secret: his origins
• Fatal flaw: lack of loyalty

Tristan’s traits needed to both compliment and contrast with my heroine’s characteristics, so the characters could attract and repel each other at different points in the story. Early on in drafting Artemis Rising, Tristan’s main flaw was that he had no flaw. So I worked hard at creating a more complex background and personality for him.

In the end, his fatal flaw—lack of loyalty—tested the characters’ love right down to its foundations. The scene in which it is most forcefully illustrated appears to touch my readers deeply. Could this be perhaps because they recognize and remember such pain in their own lives? Certainly that scene fulfills that purpose for me. I remember, too, how difficult that scene was to write. It brought me to tears that day and it still does when I re-read it. And for some readers it does the same. There is a catharsis in seeing our own experiences laid bare in the life of another, fictional or otherwise. It helps us make sense of the madness and frailty of human nature and accept it for what it is.

Later on Tristan’s loyalty is tested once again. And this brings me to an important point. Writers seem to know inherently that if a character fails his first test, he’ll need to be tested again. The second time, a hero has to learn from his previous mistake. Or if he doesn’t, he becomes more of an anti-hero.

The beauty in Tristan for me is that he is always a hero, despite his imperfections. He has a moment of weakness—and it’s big one—but it doesn’t destroy his honor permanently. For me, he represents the epitome of hope: despite our flaws we can still be redeemed. This is such an important message for me personally. He reminds me of this every time I think about him. And isn’t that a mark of a good character? You remember him long after the book ends. Here’s hoping he nestles in your heart as much as he did mine. *sigh*

About Cheri

Over the course of her sixteen-​​year career, Cheri Lasota has edited fic­tion, non­fic­tion, screen­plays, and short sto­ries for pub­li­ca­tion. Clients include McGraw-​​Hill Publishing Company as well as indi­vid­ual fic­tion writ­ers and screen­writ­ers, some of which have been published.

Cheri also has over twenty-​​four years of expe­ri­ence writ­ing poetry and fic­tion. She has recently signed on with SpireHouse Books, which has pub­lished her debut novel, ARTEMIS RISING. The YA his­tor­i­cal fan­tasy is set in the Azores Islands, Portugal, and is based on two dif­fer­ent mythologies. Currently, Cheri is writ­ing and research­ing her sec­ond novel, a YA set on the Oregon Coast.

She began her edit­ing career in news and non­fic­tion. In high school, she edited books, jour­nals, and newslet­ters for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a non­profit eco­nom­ics group. While earn­ing her B.A. in Communications/​Film and minor in English, she worked as editor-​​in-​​chief of the University of South Alabama’s weekly stu­dent news­pa­per The Vanguard. Other recent work includes edit­ing doc­u­ments and draw­ings for engi­neer­ing firms Bechtel National, Inc. and WorleyParsons.

You can learn more about Cheri, and her book Artemis Rising, on her website. Artemis Rising is available in all eBook formats and is shortly to be released in paperback. Cheri is a member of  Historical Fiction eBook an excellent source for Historical Fiction of the highest quality. Check them out! You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Flawed heroes – part one

Archer Hamilton

from

Of Moths & Butterflies

V.R. Christensen

 

Perfect people are boring. I cannot understand them (because I don’t know any, myself) and I cannot sympathise with them. I do, however, have a deep appreciation for those who strive to be good, despite their weaknesses, despite their downfalls. A hero who is too good is unbelievable, and yet…one that is too flawed…well, they are difficult to root for. It’s hard to find that balance.

I acquired, several years ago, a very battered collection of George Meredith’s works, and I’ve been trying to read my way through them. He writes such amazing women, strong and good, if sometimes rebellious, which I like. That was quite a flaw in the Victorian era, female independence, you know. And his heroes? They are equally flawed. Perhaps more so. Richard Feverel (The Ordeal of Richard Feverel) for example is too obedient and it becomes a tragic flaw. And yet you follow him with rapt fascination toward and into that tragedy. Evan Harrinton, on the other hand, is what they call a ‘managed man’. His elder sister tells him what to do and where to go and whom to love and what to make of his life. And for the most part he does it. And when he doesn’t want to do it, he wallows around feeling sorry for himself and wondering why he cannot get up the gumption to stand up to her. I found him difficult to sympathise with. Perhaps because I’m a woman with a fiercely independent spirit. But it is, nevertheless, a truism that those who must fight for what they want appreciate it most, while those by nature blessed rarely take full advantage of their opportunities. At any rate, Evan was a difficult book to engage in.

And so I knew, when it came time for me to write of my own ‘managed man’ that I had to walk a fine line.

Archer Hamilton is young and he has much of youthful ambition and willfulness about him. And yet he doesn’t always use these to the best effect. He is controlled, manipulated by his uncle who has raised him, and who has raised him to believe he will inherit…if he observes his duty. And chiefest of his duties is to marry a fortune. This is all well enough until he meets the unfortunate Miss Shaw, who he later learns is a servant in his uncle’s house. He cannot marry her, and yet he is irresistibly drawn to her. He considers, and very seriously, breaking with his uncle over the matter, but then…he has no money of his own. He is powerless.

Miss Shaw, as it turns out, is not the penniless misfortunate she would like people to believe her, and when it is discovered she’s actually the unwilling beneficiary of a sizable fortune, Archer’s uncle arranges their marriage. Archer does not object, though he knows, for her sake, he should. He gives in to temptation and agrees to go along with it, but the blessing of having the woman he wants comes with an enormous price. He is now his uncle’s puppet. Sir Edmund has seized the money and taken control of everything, and Archer is helpless now to do anything for himself. Neither has he the respect of his wife. And without this, perhaps the most important thing of all, he has nothing.

Archer is not entirely without strengths, however. From his mother he learned the value of earning the love and respect of others, which has been his primary motivation in remaining loyal to his uncle. Sir Edmund might, should Archer manage to please him, be the father he never had. More than anything, though, he must grow up, something he has so far not bee required to do, with everything he’s ever needed handed to him on a plate. He learns, and quickly, the value of worthwhile loyalty, and that family pride, money, tradition, the opinion of the masses, these mean nothing when you have not the love and respect of those most important to you. For these he learns to fight, whatever the cost.

I am a champion of the underdog, of the honestly flawed. To have weaknesses and to be honest about them speaks of a person who is trying to do and be better, rather than pretending to be something he is not. I cannot help but respect that. It’s true we have too few heroes in this world, but I’ll take a flawed hero over a perfect one any day.

Of Moths & Butterflies is now available in paperback, as well as hardcover and Kindle formats. Other eBook formats coming soon. Visit the home page of this site for links. Read an excerpt here.  See the book trailer here.

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Regarding Annie
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