CREATING MEMORABLE HEROINES
By Kathleen Duhamel
A few years ago, when I began writing what became my first novel, Deep Blue, I had no idea it would ever be published, much less met with positive reviews. I also worried that my characters were too old to be relatable. Until recently, conventional romance and women’s fiction seldom featured characters past their thirties. When Deep Blue begins, Claire Martin is a 58-year-old “barely not starving” artist and her love interest is 62-year-old musician, Robert Silver. Would readers be turned off by the idea of these two enjoying a healthy love/sex life?
Deep Blue is also not a conventional “romance” in the sense that not every problem in the relationship gets resolved before the last page. Life tends to get a lot more complicated when you’re attempting to balance the demands of children, grandchildren, health issues, career pressures, and aging parents, and I wanted to touch on these issues in the book. Surprisingly, the age issue I worried about turned out to be a bonus for some readers, who found the senior love story “refreshing.”
What began as one book has morphed into three, with Deep End, the third book in the trilogy, published in December 2017. As in the first and second books, what drives the plot is Claire’s emotional journey. While love is certainly part of that journey, she also is forced to deal with several unresolved issues in her life as a new wife and unexpected stepmother.
Here are my tips on how to create a strong female character that readers will remember.
Give her a spine.
At 58, Claire is certainly older (and presumably wiser) than younger heroines, having been through a few failed relationships, an acrimonious divorce, and financial struggles. She’s also a cancer survivor, which makes her identifiable with millions of others. Although she hasn’t given up on love, she’s somewhat wary of it, especially when a famous and charming man enters the picture and wants to sweep her into his overblown lifestyle.
She insists on solving her own problems without having to be “rescued” by her man.
However, she’s also a bit of a risk taker, and after being advised by her BFF to “go for it,” she begins an improbable, long-distance relationship with Rob. The same risk-taking behavior emerges in Book 2, Deeper, when she’s forced to acknowledge her husband’s eight-year-old love child and must decide if she’s willing to continue her marriage under vastly different circumstances.
Drawing on the same inner strength that got her through cancer treatment, she is ultimately able to express her disappointment and anger to Rob, while re-affirming her commitment to him and her new step-son.
The greatest test of her inner resolve occurs in Deep End, when a disaster forces her to confront the possibility of life without her beloved husband.
Give her a guiding principle.
Claire’s favorite quote, which also becomes her mantra, is from Goethe: “Nothing is worth more than this day.” It is the perfect summation of who she is and how she approaches her post-cancer life. Not even a life-threatening illness could take away her fun-loving spirit and her determination to live fully, the very qualities that initially attracted Rob to her.
Allow her to have flaws.
She’s far from perfect. Claire worries about her scarred abdomen, disfigured from cancer surgeries. She continues to obsess over Rob’s first wife, a brilliant screenwriter killed in a car accident. Doubts about her relationship and endless taunts by Baby Mama land her in legal trouble and cause her to lose a promising new client. Her loathing of the news media manages to gain her more publicity, instead of less.
Like so many of us, she tends to suppress her negative feelings until they erupt in a damaging way. Although she struggles at times, the fact that she is able to move past her inner turmoil and re-focus on what is most important in her life makes her a well-rounded and likeable heroine, scars and all.
by Kathleen Duhamel
GENRE: Contemporary Women's Fiction
After years of struggle and harsh criticism, happily married rock star wife Claire Martin has finally achieved the career success of her dreams. As the featured artist in an international traveling exhibit, she looks forward to her best year ever, while her husband, singer Robert Silver of the legendary band Deep Blue, contemplates a return to touring.
Things are also looking up for Claire’s best friend, Denise Hrivnak, who’s planning her wedding to Robert’s musical partner, Art Hoffman. However, what should have been most joyful day of Denise’s life turns to tragedy when an unexpected event forces both woman to contemplate the terrifying possibility of life without the men they love.
Besieged by the paparazzi and sick with worry, Claire waits for answers in a Las Vegas hotel room, thinking over her improbable relationship with Rob and praying that love alone is strong enough to bring her beloved husband back from the brink.
Before Claire can say a word, I glance across the room to see the older man rise from his chair and begin ambling toward us. When he gets near our table he announces in an apologetic tone, “I don’t mean to disturb your meal, but there’s something I’d like to tell you, Robert, and I’ll never have this chance again.”
Let me guess. He has a friend/relative/colleague who wants to be a singer/songwriter/musician and would I mind listening to his demo? I produce a cursory nod and he continues.
“My wife was a big fan of yours.” His shoulder sag. “She died a few days ago.”
Claire gives him a sympathetic gaze.
“When she went into hospice care, she asked for her little CD player and all her Deep Blue CDs. I wanted you to know your music gave her some happiness and comfort during her final days. Your voice was the last one she heard before she slipped away.”
An enormous lump rises in my throat, rendering me incapable of speech. Claire blinks back tears.
“Do you mind if I give you a hug?” she asks.
Without waiting for an answer, my wife rises and wraps her arms around the grief-stricken stranger for a few seconds. She takes both his hands in hers and says, “Your wife was fortunate to have had someone like you in her life.”
“We were married for 37 years.” His quivering mouth attempts a smile. “I always thought I was the lucky one.”
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Kathleen Duhamel is a contemporary women’s fiction writer and the author of the Deep Blue Trilogy (Deep Blue, Deeper, and Deep End) as well as the novella At Home With Andre. She wrote and illustrated her first short story at the age of eight, and has been a writer for most of her life. Her love of the written word continued throughout her varied career as a newspaper journalist and editor, public relations executive, freelance travel writer, and owner/operator of two small businesses. A native of Texas, she has spent most of her adult life in Colorado. She lives in the Denver area with her husband, a geriatric standard poodle, and a spoiled cat. She is a lifelong devotee of rock and soul music, contemporary art, and popular culture.
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