Friday, May 18, 2012

Heroism and the author's challenge

James Baldwin has said that "a real writer is always shifting an changing and searching."  Like James Baldwin, I believe a writer should grow continually.  Some people ask me why I write in so many different genres, and the reason is simply that I like the challenge.  Historical fiction challenges me as a researcher.  In grad school, I was one of the people from Mars who loved the challenge of research.  On the other hand, writing a mystery is like solving a puzzle.  The pieces have to be in place in order to solve the mystery and reveal the criminal. Contemporary romances reaffirm the principles of true love and sacrifice.  

After my mother died, writing became more than a hobby. The need to write was embedded in my very being--an escape and refuge in a sea of grief.  It also became a way to channel energy after a year that was academically stifling.  I reveled in the journey into another time, losing myself in people who faced challenges but who rose to the challenge. 

Christopher Reeve has said, "a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles."  Nuala, the protagonist in LOVE AT WAR (, evolves from a rather sheltered girl into a covert operative, skilled in the art of weaponry and deception.  She doesn't think--at the beginning of the story--that she ever will be called upon to perform any acts of heroism, but within the course of the novel, Nuala grows in ways she never would have imagined.  At the start of the story, Nuala is a rather innocent girl living a sheltered life with her working class New Orleans family.  Love transforms her in ways she could never foresee, and when her husband is supposedly killed in action, Nuala joins covert operations, intent upon seeking revenge while she destroys the enemy.  Nuala, her husband Keith, and her brothers were heroes--not because they were extraordinary people--but because they faced a challenge, accepted it, and fought the good fight (to paraphrase St. Paul).

After LOVE AT WAR, I sought yet another challenge.  My fascination with Ireland has grown since I started to research my family's past.  My ancestry is largely German and Irish; the history of Ireland is tragic, turbulent, but always thrilling.  My first experience in the Emerald Isle was with Galway, the gorgeous West of Ireland. I'd never seen a land so beautiful or experienced people so warm.  The land held history, mystery, and breath-taking lyricism.  I was with a group of Irish musicians, and the native music stirred my soul.  

I've always wanted to celebrate Ireland in my writing, and when I came across the legend of Grace O'Malley, I knew she was the type of heroine to come alive within the pages I would create.  Like Nuala, she is an unlikely heroine.  Born the daughter of a successful chieftain, she defies convention, heading to sea against her father's wishes.  Grace is not only the equal of the men she encounters but their superior.  She ably represented the maritime interests of two husbands while simultaneously protecting her clan's interests against British incursion.  Grace (or Grainne) was the ultimate PIRATE WOMAN, ( 

I've always loved heroines who could defy convention, hold their own, and thwart their adversaries.  Nuala and Grace do just that.