Quickie with Connie Flynn

(October 6, 1997)

Return to Issue #36 of Laurie's News & Views
Lisa Kleypas' Quickie on the Tormented Heroine

I recently put out a request for comments on the tormented heroine. Author Connie Flynn wrote in with some brief thoughts which I asked her to expand upon for this Quickie by thinking about tormented heroines she's loved in other books, and how to write an appropriate male lead for such heroines without either creating a wimp or a book of such darkness it's too depressing to read.

Here is what Connie, who writes for Topaz, Harlequin, and Silhouette, had to say:

When I think of a tormented heroine what comes to mind is a woman who's stepped outside the bounds of what is considered acceptable behavior for a female in our society. I think all women carry a burden of guilt that men don't share because of the higher moral standards they're held to. An unintentional slight to another, a moment of uncontrolled anger or mild dishonesty (remember all those pens in your purse that belong to your employer and how you keep telling yourself you'll return them?) and sexual indiscretions all weigh heavy on woman's mind, while most men never give them a single thought - or if they do, they find justifications.

So, in Shadow of the Moon, I created Lily, an alpha female werewolf who transformed the hero, Morgan Wilder, into a werewolf against his will. Lily stalks Morgan, seeking to claim him as her mate, something he disdains. As a heroine, I gave him Dana Gibbs, a wolf biologist who prefers canines to people, a developed the book along the lines of a traditional Beauty and the Beast tale. But while writing it I became fascinated with Lily. Strong-willed, self-possessed and proud of her werewolf heritage, she had a strong devotion to the strict code of ethics of her race, and I punished her by making her violate this code.

Redeeming her was a challenge I couldn't resist. So, in Shadow of the Wolf, which has not yet been released, Lily has lost her werewolf powers but not her werewolf arrogance. Here we learn she was a queen, who is now pursued by her former king for the crimes she committed against their culture. Her hero, Tony White Hawk, is a shaman of the people she once terrorized, and he's come for her to see her punished for her crimes.

All my books, including my Harlequin and Silhouette romances have strong heroines with a streak of selfishness. I think women need this to survive, and that men must earn the willingness to sacrifice that is inherent in most women. I have trouble reading about the selfless heroine who allows the hero to abuse her and eventually transforms him through the power of her unconditional love.

The problem is, however, that until recently publishers weren't too excited about seriously flawed heroines, and when they appeared they generally came to a bad end like Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire or even Scarlett O'Hara of Gone With the Wind. This attitude was even more strong in the romance genre. But these heroines are showing up of late; in the works of Suzanne Forster (Jessie Flood in Shameless), Nora Roberts (who can forget her jewel thief heroine in Hot Ice), and Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Francine in Fancy Pants, and Honey Moon in the book of the same title).

Just like the tormented hero, these heroines must earn redemption, and they do it at first with the opposition of the hero, who they later win over by the power of their good qualities, which the hardships they endure bring to the surface. Then, having won his love, they are redeemed.

Lily, however, goes beyond the pale. She's actually killed people. She's no victim, or so it doesn't seem at first, but she's every woman who's made a bad choice, and she deserves love like the rest of us - but she had to earn it, which is what I think gives these stories their power. So I gave her White Hawk, whose primary goal is to see her executed for the murders she committed.

White Hawk is tormented in his own way, but not so intensely as Lily, who comes to realize the damage she has done. It's their love that increases the torment, and this is how I keep the hero from appearing to be a wimp. He's strong in his own way, which differs from hers. And she's vulnerable in ways that differs from him. In writing tormented heroines, I find it best to give the hero more balance in his life. His internal conflict is between his belief in what is right and his growing attraction for the woman that violated it. The more strongly he adheres to his principles, the stronger he becomes and the more he challenges the heroine to reform. Unlike the typical tormented hero books, these are not about unconditional love, but about love that challenges the heroine to rise to the best that is within her.

Lily is my favorite heroine so far, but I also realize I took a risk in writing her; a risk I think was well worthwhile. I believe authors must constantly stretch the edges of their genre and challenge themselves and readers, and it's my hope that the tormented and flawed heroine is a character's whose time has come.

E-mail Connie
Lisa Kleypas' Quickie on Tormented Heroines
Read an AAR Review of Connie's The Dragon Hour
Read an AAR Review of Connie's The Fire Opal
Read an AAR Review of Connie's Shadow on the Moon
Read an AAR Review of Connie's Shadow of the Wolf