Happy Friday everyone! Today I have a special guest on the blog: Karen McCullough. She’s talking about a fun subject—creating the oddball heroine. Without further ado:
I love creating characters who are strong, brave, intelligent, and sometimes have a slightly off-beat way of looking at things. I especially like to do that with my heroines. Heroines, especially in romances, but in all genres where the target audience is mostly female, are a challenge to write.
Readers want to relate to them, to slip into their skin, to be them for a while. They want to solve the mystery, bag the bad guy, and fall in love with the hero right along with the heroine.
As authors we feel pretty much the same way, which is often why we write those stories in the first place. A female mystery author, who happens to be a friend, once said that the heroine of her mystery series is a younger, braver, and slimmer version of herself. That’s probably true for most of us, since we tend to use what we know for characterization, and we know ourselves best.
The tricky thing, though, is that heroines who are too perfect tend to alienate readers just as much as really evil ones. Readers won’t believe in them so they can’t relate. So I try to make my heroines good, kind, brave, winsome, and sometimes a bit odd.
Probably my oddest, but most fun heroine is Catherine Bennett from A QUESTION OF FIRE. She’s a reporter who has a murder victim literally fall into her arms, and that creates all sorts of chaos in her life. It also leads her to the man she’ll eventually, somewhat reluctantly, fall in love with.
She’s both responsible and a bit of a free spirit and it was interesting creating her. One of the most fun things about writing her was setting my imagination so free that even I couldn’t predict what would come out of her mouth sometimes. I just let whatever thought jumped into my head emerge from her mouth.
A couple of scenes from the book will, I hope, illustrate her somewhat different approach to things:
Lowell was quiet while the waitress delivered their plates. “I suppose I owe you the assistance,” he said when the girl had left. “Since it’s my client we’re trying to get off the hook.” He picked up his sandwich, which seemed to consist mostly of lettuce and tomato, and took a bite. He noticed her staring at him. “What’s the matter?”
“What have you got on your sandwich?” she asked.
“Lettuce, tomato, Provolone cheese, mayonnaise, and cucumber. Why?”
“Cucumber?” Cathy had to repress a shiver. “Why aren’t you having a real sandwich? You’re not on a diet, are you?” Lowell was built pretty lean, but he might have to work to stay that way.
“This is a real sandwich,” he said.
“There’s no meat on it. This is a real sandwich.” Cathy held up her roast beef.
He looked at it with distaste. “That’s a pile of cholesterol between two pieces of limp styrofoam.”
“At least it’s edible. Human food.” She pointed at his lunch. “That’s a salad on two pieces of burnt toast.”
“This is good for you.”
“But this tastes good.”
“This argument is ridiculous,” Lowell said, setting his sandwich down. “Truce. Eat your lunch and enjoy it, and I’ll eat mine. And enjoy it, too. Cucumber and all. Fair enough?”
“You’ve got a deal, Counselor.” Cathy grinned and he returned the smile. He was in a good mood today.
Peter abruptly changed the subject again. “I took the bag you found to the police lab. There was only one set of fingerprints on it. Yours, presumably. It might interest you to know that bag has a street value of about two thousand dollars.”
She whistled. “An expensive plot. If I’d known, I would have limped even more when I was walking around on it.”
“Did I tell you I almost threw it out the window?” she asked.
“No. Before the police stopped you?”
“Right before. It was the sight of the strobes in the rearview mirror that kept me from doing it. But I can’t help thinking someone would have had an interesting surprise in the morning. Or maybe a dog or a squirrel would have gotten to it first. Can you picture the poor, strung-out squirrel who thought he’d found a really high-test acorn?”
Peter looked at her oddly. “You’ve got a weird sense of humor.”
“I know. It’s one of my more endearing traits.”
“Try this one then. Suppose the bag had landed in someone’s chicken coop?”
“Ooh… Loaded chickens?” Cathy asked.
“Think about the eggs they’d lay.”
“A new high in breakfast treats.”
“Ouch,” was all Peter said.
Blurb for A QUESTION OF FIRE:
When Catherine Bennett agrees to attend an important party as a favor for her boss, she knows she won’t enjoy it, but she doesn’t expect to end up holding a dying man in her arms and becoming the recipient of his last message. Bobby Stark has evidence that will prove his younger brother has been framed for arson and murder. He wants that evidence to get to his brother’s lawyer, and he tries to tell Cathy where he’s hidden it. Unfortunately, he can only manage to give her a cryptic piece of the location before he dies. The man who killed Bobby saw him talking to her and assumes she knows where the evidence is hidden. He wants it back and he’ll do whatever it takes to get it, including following her and trying to kidnap her. Cathy enlists the aid of attorney Peter Lowell and Danny Stark, Bobby’s prickly, difficult younger brother, as well as a handsome private detective to help her find the evidence before the killers do.
Karen McCullough has written and published nine novels in the romantic suspense, mystery, and fantasy genres and won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres.
Her most recent publication was a Christmas paranormal novella, VAMPIRE’S CHRISTMAS CAROL, publised by Cerridwen Press in the anthology BENEATH A CHRISTMAS MOON. Forthcoming releases include a Gothic novella from Red Rose Publishing, which will be part of the SHADOWED HEARTS anthology, and a mystery novel, AGIFT FOR MURDER, from Five Star/Gale Group, with hardcover release scheduled for January 2011.
A member of Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and the Writers’ Group of the Triad, she is a former president of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.