Saturday, 22 August 2009

Generational Heroines

Grandma was among the first women in America to earn a Master’s degree. Teaching for many years before then, beginning in a one room school house, marrying and moving to a three story school house teaching fifth grade, then again to the next town where she made an incredible mark as first grade teacher, she also raised four children, studying at night after their needs were met. She graduated with her Master’s in Education the same year her oldest child graduated with his Bachelor’s degree.

A strong woman, yes. Not many dared cross her. Yet she had the gentle fun artsy silly side that made her such a wonderful teacher. There is now a memorial tree and marker planted in her honor at her final school, also my grade school.

She has a son and three daughters. I grew surrounded by all of them and their spouses and children. It was a delightful time of noise, wide discussions, gift exchanges, birthday cakes, and little ones running around everywhere. Family was penultimate in my childhood. It was also highly inspirational.

I’m a people watcher. I always have been. I think it could be because there was just so MUCH variety to watch in one house where we all gathered each birthday and holiday. Think of an artist’s colony except with all ages, and you’ll have a feel for it.

The women in my family were always particularly fascinating and each was a heroine in her own right. The styles were different but whatever the style, things seemed to revolve around them individually, more so than with the men. No offense meant to the men but I come from a very long history of strong independent women. Kudos to the heroes who could deal with them long-term. ;-) We have gutsy women who will say whatever they think and those who will hardly admit any feelings; in charge types and followers; women who love to be out and about and on the go and those more like hermits; some have reached what they went after, others are still trying for it or content with what they did accomplish; some went to school to study and some to socialize. Whichever type(s) they are, they have one common characteristic: they  are strong women. Their strength may not be obvious to the casual observer. Sometimes you have to look deep and try to see it the way they do. And they’re family, part of a chain, intertwined.

My heroines always come with family connections, and the way their families affect them comes out in their individual choices and outlooks. They are always strong, but their strength is often quiet and supportive more than feisty and independent. They tend to have highly independent female friends or relatives they admire, and they grow throughout the book, learning to assert their own independence with age and experience.

My heroines stem from reality. We all know that older women are much more likely to appear stronger and more together and less worried about appearances and the shallow things of life. We do grow. So far, all of my heroines begin as young women at that age of emergence, so to speak. Their stories begin at the point they’re truly beginning to come into their own and the reader always sees how they do, what encourages it.

I go a step farther with the concept of growth and family and intertwining in my Rehearsal series. Beginning when Susie is barely twenty, it extends over four books to after she has fully grown and found herself and become comfortable with her place in the chain. It covers more than ten years. Her family is involved throughout, as is her hero’s family and her best friend’s family. Even the minor characters have familial involvement enough to see where they came from and where they’re heading. The sequel to the series susie-trpis firmly in my head and checks in on the next generation, connecting the effects of Susie’s generation on her daughter’s. Susie is not a highly independent, outgoing type.  Her daughter, however, is fully both. Their stories will mesh, and continue. While Susie’s mother’s story is only touched on in the series, it will likely become its own.

Whether or not the heroine is the strongest and most vivacious character, she is always the center of my stories, even if she has no POV scenes. We don’t need to direct the stage to be pivotal or the main draw, after all. Sometimes it’s simply what we are that steals the show, and what we are is always affected not only by our parents but by the generations of our families.

Do you have a truly inspirational woman in your family who could be a heroine? I’d love to hear about her!

LK Hunsaker


Lindsay Townsend said...

A fascinating blog, LK. The women of your family sound truly amazing and I'm not surprised they have provided inspiration for your work.

Your stories sound like UK sagas to me - multi-generational and concerned with many family relationships. You may find a market there, or at Kensington Books, if Kensington are looking for more saga-type novels. (I don't know more than that, I'm afraid.)

Good post!

Linda Swift said...

Loraine, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog and I envy you this large family. I am the only child of an only child (my father). My mother was one of eight but her family was not close so I have missed this connection. From observation I know that each one of these people have a story. Thank you for reminding me to focus on that when developing my characters. Linda
PS. I have left a comment to your last comment on my blog also.

LK Hunsaker said...

Lindsay, thank you. I thought the same after reading your entry about sagas. I may have to look into that since the company that has my series is US distribution only.

LK Hunsaker said...

Linda, the other half of my family is small and disconnected - a shame since there's heritage there I would like to know. Luckily it was the large half that was so connected.

I have a cousin who is an only child and although our house (also 4 of us kids!) got too crowded at times, her story affected me. I'm not sure that's why I made Susie an only child, but I imagine it did have some bearing. Family hierarchies are fascinating.

Bekki Lynn said...

LK -- your family sounds absolutely wonderful. And definitely inspirational in so many ways.

I love stories where family is central to the heroine/hero's life. Nothing shows a persons true nature than seeing the family interaction.

LK Hunsaker said...

Thanks Bekki, and I agree. People will tend to treat others with more respect than they do their own family. It's sad but I've seen it a lot. When looking for a mate, young people should keep that in mind. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Your family sounds so much like mine. And I love your weaving of the family ties around your heroine. I just started working out a timeline for my book--of the generation before AND my heroine's own timeline. Amazingly interesting stuff comes out of the process.

LK Hunsaker said...

Becky, I'll be interested in hearing how your timeline works out. Is this something you always do? Yes, it is a great exercise, even if you don't end up putting much of it in the book physically.

Thanks for coming by!

Kathleen O said...

The woman in our family always seem to be the strong ones. from my great-grandmother down to nieces. We are all strong in our own fashion. Though my mother would to some seem on the weakerside, she has a stong stubborn streak that makes her strong. I think I am the least stong of all the woman in the family, but some would argue with me. I guess it is because I have been the only one in the family never to marry that make me seem strong, and have always been independent.
Our stenghts come in many shapes and forms and the way in which we handle it makes us maybe seem stronger than we are.
Does this make sense?

LK Hunsaker said...

By the way, a small correction:

Penultimate should be ultimate (no pen attached) *blush* One of the amazing women in my family pointed that out.

LK Hunsaker said...

Kathleen, it makes perfect sense. And I think it's common for others to see as as stronger than we see ourselves. I've often scratched my head at someone talking about how strong I am, often when I'm at "want to scream" point. ;-) But yes, sometimes just getting through today and trying again shows incredible strength.

Savanna Kougar said...

LK, incredible blog. Your grandmother is similar to my own in that Grandma Mary graduated from college after raising six children and became a teacher who was definitely ahead of her time. Once when I was visiting she took me to her first grade class. I think I was a year or so younger than the other kids. She was absolutely phenomenal with them and she always emphasized art and expressing yourself that way. I'll never forget that day and how she was with the other kids.
The women are strong in my family in similar and different ways. Unfortunately, these days, we've all grown apart for various reasons.
Family is always important to my heroine whatever her circumstance is.

Cheryl said...

GREAT BLOG, LORAINE! My sister would laugh to hear me say this, but she is my "hero-ine" after all she's been through in her life and is still going through. She had an accident at Christmas while she was with her younger daughter in NY, and it led to her having a major stroke. While she was recovering, her older daughter passed away in Oregon of breast cancer at the age of only 39. My sister had not recovered her speech enough to even say "I love you" on the telephone, so she never got to have a "conversation" with her daughter before she passed--not one that SHE could say what she wanted to say in, at least. She has been in NY since December, and is desperately wanting to come back to Oklahoma, which we are all working on and trying to accomplish. Still, every time I talk to her she tries to be upbeat and happy, even though she can't say but just a few words. I just call her and tell her about my life and ask her "yes" or "no" questions. She is definitely the strongest person I have ever known.

LK Hunsaker said...

Savanna, how fun that your grandma was so similar! Some of us aren't as close as we used to be but some are. Life does tend to interfere at times and change us in different ways. Having it to start out is fortunate, though. At least we can hold onto that.

LK Hunsaker said...

Cheryl, your sister is definitely a heroine to be honored. I do hope things improve for her.

Linda Banche said...

What a fascinating look at your family history.

Jane Richardson, writer said...

LK, you know why I'm late with my comments for you? Because I wanted to think and think about your post, I enjoyed it so very much. I have a small family, as did my dad, and my mum's family were scattered all over the world, apart from a few. We never had those big family gatherings, really. Some of the women in the family were incredibly strong, though, especially one woman who was something of a 'first' in many aspects of her career, nursing. She ended up at national admin level and was quite well-known, as well as hugely loved and admired. But there were other strong women too, in smaller, quieter ways, when i think about the lives they led. I've loved hearing about everyone else's views, too.
One thing it has all left me with, in my own family, we are very close, me, the dh and the kids. I hope it always stays that way. :)
Thanks so much for this wonderful post, and here's a cheers to all those women! :)

Jane x

LK Hunsaker said...

Linda, thanks for stopping in!

Jane, well thank you. :-) I think taking the time to really look at these things can only help us in building characters and relationships. Those women who did push the boundaries, such as your nurse relative and my grandma (and her mom who also went to college at a time very few women did), helped pave the way for the rest of us.

Although it's subtle, I'm hoping my Susie character comes across as one of them eventually, since she's a young woman in the 70s making her way up in the music world management scene. It shows the struggle to get there, to become her own person instead of following her hero and nothing more, how she doesn't necessarily feel very strong, but looking in at her, we see it's not at all true. I want young women to realize they are stronger than they think they are. It's a major theme in my novels.

Thanks to Lindsay for providing this forum for discussion about heroines of all sorts!

Keena Kincaid said...

LK, I like how you describe your heroine as being at the time of emergence. That's such a good way to describe that time of life. Great blog.

LK Hunsaker said...

Thanks Keena!

Chelle Cordero said...

My mom and my maternal grandma were also very strong ladies and certainly role models for me.

My grandma was widowed young with 3 children(ages 13-23); she dug her heels in, became a successful business woman, married again (4x!), always loved learning new things and was the epitome of "matriarch" for the family.

My mom was physically disabled after a freak accident in the house, but she was definitely a "career woman" - her family was her career and physically limited or not, it seemed like she was capable of anything. She was one of the most compassionate people ever and ALWAYS had time for her husband, 2 daughters and friends. And she always made my dad feel like a Superman and yet never seemed diminished by him.

Your own family and the heroines you write about are definitely women to be admired.

LK Hunsaker said...


"And she always made my dad feel like a Superman and yet never seemed diminished by him."

Now that's a heroine for sure. I think that is a big key to a successful relationship. You should each be able to make your partner feel strong and capable and needed and still maintain that in yourself. That balance matters.