Today, Heather Snow joins us to discuss the impetus behind writing a hero or heroine who might be crazy—and why readers like them so much. In her forthcoming Sweet Madness, Heather has written a hero who's in the throes of mental anguish, and it's up to the heroine to figure out how to help him. Thanks for being here, Heather!
(After you read the post, be sure to visit Heather's website to learn more about her March Sweet Madness sweepstakes.)
Some readers say that the best, most memorable romance novels are the ones that have complex, flawed characters whose stories are so fraught with conflict that the reader agonizes the entire book over whether the lovers could ever possibly find their happily ever after.
I can think of few situations more difficult to overcome in a love story than the specter of madness hanging over the hero or heroine. It’s not a pretty subject, certainly not a light and happy topic, and it definitely doesn’t bring to mind the hearts and roses usually associated with romance. And yet some brave historical romance authors have taken that challenge and crafted stories with vulnerable, endearing characters that steal readers’ hearts.
I say brave because I know from experience that when I sat down to write my upcoming release, Sweet Madness, I was terrified. I was certain that to tackle such a story in a romance would be the end of my barely begun career. Why, oh why, was I writing a story that starts in a sanatorium for the insane? I write Regency romance, for goodness sake. Shouldn’t I put my characters in a ballroom and let them be witty? I like witty. Witty is good. And yet, from the moment this story idea gripped me, it wouldn’t let me go.
And so I wrote it. As I did, I wondered if other historical romance authors who took on similar tales had the same fears and, frankly, compulsion to write their stories as I did. So I decided to ask them, and here’s what I learned…
When asked what inspired her to write The Madness of Sir Ian Mackenzie, author Jennifer Ashley had this to say, “Ian inspired it. He walked into my head (dragging his brothers with him). I couldn’t stop thinking about Ian and his family. They haunted me.”
Maire Claremont, whose debut, The Dark Lady, was released last month, had a very similar answer. She says, “Really, the story came to me out of nowhere. Eva just showed up in my head in a very vivid scene and I had to get up and start writing straight away! For me, I am fascinated by what constitutes mental illness, especially in regards to women and in the Victorian period, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to explore this story.”
Laura Kinsale’s cherished Flowers from the Storm had a more personal inspiration. “Flowers from the Storm isn’t about mental illness, precisely—the hero, Christian, suffers from aphasia. When I was very young, my great aunt had a stroke. She couldn’t speak, and acted very strangely and aggressively from a child’s point of view. I was afraid of her…many decades later, it just came to me one day, out of the blue, that she wasn’t crazy—she couldn’t speak and she was frustrated. The only way she could reach out was physically.” Those of you who’ve read Christian and Maddy’s story know how brilliantly Ms. Kinsale portrayed a man locked inside his own traitorous body and mind.
So, it seemed these authors were as compelled as I to tell their tales. But did they have the same fears I did? “Yes,” Maire Claremont says. “I was afraid it would never see the light of day because of the subject matter.” Jennifer Ashley says, “When I told my editor I wanted to do this, she was intrigued, but did give me the ‘are you sure?’ look.” Laura Kinsale also wondered what her editor would think, but she says, “I felt like I had to prove I could do it first, and then sent it in.”
Jennifer Ashley had another fear that also echoed one of mine. “I hoped I would be able to portray Ian as I saw him, and not make him weak. I wrote and rewrote his scenes many times.” I, too, finessed my hero’s scenes, trying to write Gabriel so that readers would see beyond his current struggles with battle fatigue and mania to the man I saw him to be.
It was a great relief to know I had not been alone in my concerns. What I really wanted to ask these authors next was despite their initial fears, how had their books been received? What had surprised them the most about fan reaction to their stories and characters? Maire Claremont says, “My biggest shock so far was a few readers who wished I’d gone farther into the darkness and left out a significant part of the HEA…but ultimately, I write romance and I’m happy to walk that delicate balance of dark and light.”
Both Jennifer Ashley and Laura Kinsale expressed their surprise at how beloved their characters have become to readers. Laura Kinsale says, “It’s always a bit strange to find that a character takes on a life of their own to readers, and becomes so real to them that readers can argue about what happened to that character in the ‘future’. I know many people say they worry Christian will have another stroke. So I just say, no, I promise, he never did! But I don’t think they believe me for sure. ;)” Jennifer Ashley agrees. “I was surprised that so many people loved Ian as I did. I got many e-mails from people with sons, nephews, friends, brothers, daughters, sisters who had Asperger's, and told me I had portrayed Ian exactly right. I hope so. But I never thought Ian would be as beloved as he is.”
So, as the day approaches that my own story hits the shelves, that will be my hope as well—that readers will find the journey to happily ever after all the sweeter because of what my characters had to overcome to achieve it, and that, like the beautifully written books above, it will be a story to remember.
What makes a romance the most memorable for you?
Heather Snow is a historical romance author with a degree in Chemistry who discovered she preferred creating chemistry on the page rather than in the lab. The final book in her Veiled Seduction series, Sweet Madness, hits shelves April 2, 2013. RT Book Reviews Magazine gives it 4 ½ stars, saying “In this emotional, compassionate romance...the powerful love story will sweep readers away." Night Owl Reviews gave it a Top Pick, saying “Fresh and unique…sweet and heart-wrenching…characters so complex, flawed, and emotionally scarred that they feel flesh and blood real.” Find out more at www.HeatherSnowBooks.com or connect with Heather at www.facebook.com/AuthorHeatherSnow and www.twitter.com/HeatherSnowRW