After reading the 5-heart review of So Wide the Sky, our own Laurie Likes Books contacted romance writer Elizabeth Grayson to talk some more about her writing, the genre, and the importance of strong lead characters. Elizabeth wanted to pursue these discussions and has prepared an insightful Write Byte for us on strong heroines. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do:
Cinderella, Nancy Drew, Portia. Jo Marsh, Ginny Morgan, Charlotte the Spider. Anne of Green Gables, Elizabeth Bennett, Beauty. Hester Prynne, Meggie Cleary, Scarlett O’Hara. Scout Fitch and Princess Leia.What do all these fictional women have in common? Over the years each of them has touched me, inspired me, and won a place in my heart.
It took extraordinary women to do that. Not feisty girls. Not spitfires, termagants, or vixens — though many of these ladies had their moments. Through their ingenuity, determination, and courage these heroines took control and had adventures that kept me reading under the covers until well past midnight. And when the stories were done, I found that these heroines were women I wanted to emulate.
Certainly they were the kinds of heroines I wanted to write about.
When anyone takes pen to paper for the first time, the book that results is a combination of what they’ve read and what they’d like to read. Coming up with the story, transforming it into the written word, and actually sticking with it long enough to type “the end” is an exercise in imagination, imitation, and determination.
My first novel was a “kitchen sink” book. (As in — “She threw in everything but the kitchen sink.”) The heroine, Charlotte Beckwith, was (of course) a strong woman. She endures kidnapping, near rape, pregnancy and miscarriage, betrayal, blackmail, seduction by the villain, Indian captivity, near execution, and escape from a forced marriage — almost without ruffling her hair. And of course she finds love with the hero who has finally proved himself deserving of her favors.
The hitch is that after a first book, most writers want to write a second. It’s then you have to stop and consider what it is you want to say. And believe me, figuring that out is a business fraught with peril.
Because of the fictional women I admired, I felt committed to writing strong heroines — women who were never passive. Women who took action and participated in the resolution of their problems. Women who didn’t stand around waiting to be rescued. They rescue themselves and sometimes — if he was lucky — they rescued the hero, too.
In order to write them I began to design situations in my books where the heroine was forced to be strong. I chose to write about a nurse in the Civil War, a pregnant pioneer woman widowed en route to Kentucky, and a voyager’s daughter who must learn that even in a romance novel love isn’t always enough to insure a happy ending. My most recent work, So Wide the Sky, deals with an Indian captive marked with a facial tattoo. When she is traded back to the whites after nine years of captivity, she must not only rebuild her life but fight the poison of prejudice.
I haven’t made things easy for the women I write, and I’d like to think that for the most part my heroines I have lived up to the challenge.
I think writing and reading about strong heroines is important because most people read genre fiction for affirmation. As we read stories with strong, self-sufficient heroines, they reinforce the things we want to believe about ourselves. We identify with these characters, not only cheering them on while they fight the bad guys, but letting them cheer us on when we take our courage in out hands to address the school board, or speak up to a mechanic who means to rip us off. Strong heroines nurture us and are our role models. In romance books strong heroines win, and even when our own victories are elusive, these women keep us believing in ourselves. They keep us believing that we can triumph, too.