Question: Why do you give your heroines so much trouble? Just how much can you reasonably expect one person to endure and still manage to do their job?
Answer: No more than anyone else. I know many who’ve managed to survive much worse. They may be a little battle damaged from life but they’re still in there swinging.
Apparently, some people are bothered by the number of issues that I heap upon some of my heroines. I’m a little bothered by it myself because, in some cases, I didn’t give them enough trouble to be realistic.
The idea that more than one or two problems at a time is too many suggests that you’ve been watching too many old Kung Fu movies. You know the ones. Twenty bad guys in black surround our hero dressed in white, and they attack one at a time or in pairs. The rest stand around like honorable and polite little thugs and await their turn at the hero.
Life isn’t like that. When bad things happen, there’s no referee to blow the whistle and signify the end of the play. The hits keep coming and all you can do is act like a good running back by keeping your legs churning as you try to drive forward to the goal line. In the real world, the goals are surviving and thriving.
Let’s look at a couple of my heroines and their problems:
Parker Cotton in Protecting Parker – A chain of events puts her in the wrong place at the wrong time, she’s wounded, two of her team die, and she returns home to a dangerous soon to be ex.
How many military members have wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time? Dozens of Army and Marine units have been on patrol in “reasonably secure” environments only to find themselves in pitched battles where team members were killed and wounded. Jessica Lynch’s supply unit took a wrong turn from the “reasonably secure” route near Nasiriyah, Iraq, and was almost wiped out in 2003. Air Force Security Forces in “reasonably secure” environments have repelled heavy attacks of their airfields and had team members killed and wounded.
How many of them came home to failed marriages? I once knew of a troop who returned from a six-month deployment to an empty house and a set of divorce papers on the kitchen counter. When he finally tracked his wife down and went to see his kids, her new boyfriend assaulted him and the troop wound up in the hospital for a week. While the numbers for divorce aren’t as high as some would have you believe, deployment issues are one of the leading factors in the divorce rate among military members.
Jenna Robinson in Vapor Point – Her fiancé died and she had to move back home, her buddy died on the deployment, she’s a trooper who holds it together by day but drinks when not working, and she’s got the mother from hell.
Maybe I could have let her be divorced instead of having the fiancé die, but hey, it happens. Your life goes to hell and you have to move back home. Take a look around. How many of your friends, or if you’re older, your friend’s kids, have had to move back home? Out of the seven houses surrounding me, three have adult children who are employed full-time but are at home due to divorce or money issues. How many military members whose units saw combat, lost a soldier? How many of those returning troops have some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that keeps them from functioning to their fullest potential?
And, if you don’t think a mother like Karen exists, then just go look at the narcissistic, spoiled, and obnoxious “it’s all about me” people on Facebook. I recently saw a post from a soccer mom that read, “We suffered through two hours of brutal heat just to watch XXXX score a goal. And now I have to figure out what to have for dinner.” And she was mild compared to many others.
Do the types of things I write about happen often? Of course not. But they’re a hell of a lot more plausible than a lot of the stories I’ve seen selling. Tell the truth now. When was the last time a spy washed up on the beach by your house? When was the last time you saw a bomb squad guy save a hot chick? When was the last time your neighbor in small town USA turned out to be an escapee from the Russian Mob? When was the last time you heard of a rich billionaire who actually wandered into a library, much less swept a librarian off her feet and took her to Monte Carlo? Oh, yeah. Those are plausible. Go ahead and wait for any of them to happen. Feel free to call me and gloat when it does.
Now forget my characters for a minute and look at your own life and the people you know. My characters aren’t burdened at all compared to the woman in your church who lost her mother last year to breast cancer, has a father with Alzheimer’s, and is raising her ADHD grandson because her drug-addicted daughter has been declared unfit and is serving time. Or perhaps you know the nice cop down the street who’s just back from his fifth deployment in thirteen years and has to go to work on midnight shift tonight, but he’s not going to get a lot of sleep today between the teething baby and the neighbor’s barking dog. And how was your day? Did you have to get up and figure out how to get the kids fed and out the door while hoping your old car would get you to work, only to have to deal with a micro-managing boss, over-sharing Susie, and Henry the perpetual sneezer and snorter who sounds like he’s hacking up a lung in the next cubicle? Did you come home to find out that the dog left you a present on the carpet, one kid has a note for head lice, and the other kid has a project worth half his grade due tomorrow and you forgot to stop at the store and buy whatever it was he needed to complete that project? Have you figured out how to pay for little Angela’s allergy shots, Sammy’s soccer equipment, and get the dentist to carry you for a month so you can take care of the crown you need?
How many people have you met who suffered multiple tragedies, or lost their jobs, or just couldn’t catch a damn break from the universe when they needed it? Didn’t it leave you wondering how they simply managed to go on?
If you’re reading a book where the character only has a single issue to resolve—you’re reading a fantasy. It’s as fake as those bad Kung Fu movies and the romance novels where the billionaire knows where the library is. I’m not faulting that type of escapism. I like a quick little flight of fantasy myself. But I don’t write that stuff. I’ve spent my life surrounded by the survivors and fighters and those are the people I write about. Real people, facing real issues and moving forward in their lives. If that’s not your thing, feel free to move along and read something else. No harm—no foul.