In Search of a Heroine

  I’m just now finishing the first of a three book western series for Blaze and am in search of a heroine for the second one. The connecting thread is three young girls left orphaned on the Oregon Trail and parceled out to different families.
My first heroine was adopted by a miner and his wife, but first the adoptive father dies, then several years later the mother. Sam (Samantha) is then taken under the wing of three “Godfathers,” all of whom were in love with her mother. One is an outlaw, one a gambler and the third a mule skinner.

I had lots of fun with this one. Sam can shoot, cheat at poker and drive a mule team, but she was raised in what has become a ghost mining town and she knows little about men and romance. So she doesn’t really know how to act when a marshal comes to Gideon’s Hope to arrest, and hopefully see hanged, one of her beloved godfathers. He, on the other hand, became a marshal after the violent death of his gentle wife by outlaws.

You can see all the conflicts here (especially after she shoots him), and I love conflicts, especially conflicts of loyalties. .

But now I have to look ahead to the second book, and I’m in search for another unique heroine.

Off to all my research books. And in “Life and Manners in the Frontier Army,” I might have found her.

How many of you have read a book involving an army laundress as a heroine.

Laundresses became a fixture in the Army when Congress authorized four per company in 1802, allowing them to be carried on company rosters and authorizing quarters and rations for them. They would often live in shanties or log houses some distance from the main part of the post.

They were paid by the officers and enlisted men and, according to “Life and Manners,” one of the unwritten laws of the rank and file . . . was to square with the laundress if you didn’t square with anyone else.”

Sometimes they were wives of enlisted men but more often they were single ladies, and according to the book, they were pretty “damned independent.” Army regulations specified that they were ‘to do the washing for the company officers and their families: as well as enlisted men (at a fixed price of seventy cents per month for soldiers and one dollar per dozen for officers.)” But she could refuse, as well, and one laundress at Camp Heliac refused to wash for officers’ wives, causing gently reared girls to redden their knuckles at a scrub board.

Granted I have a problem with reddened arms and hands. But I like the idea of a fiercely, independent red-headed laundress who stirs up endless trouble at the fort.

But what would bring her to such dire straits?

This is where the fun of writing comes. I can think of several scenarios, but which would work the best?

She could have been stolen by Indians as a child (this really happened to one child orphaned on the Oregon Trail – she was adopted by missionaries who were later killed by UTES). Maybe she had an Indian child and was scorned by most men because she had given birth rather than commit suicide.. Or maybe she married a trooper at a very young age. He’d been an abuser and when he was killed, she had no wish to marry again, especially an Army man but desperately needed a job. Or maybe she’s the daughter of an enlisted man who was killed.

Lots and lots of possibilities here. And the hero?

Well, that’s a matter for another blog unless someone here wants to take a shot at it.

Who would bring the most conflict to the story? A half-breed scout? An English lord traveling west? An army officer?

I love the “what ifs’ that always go into the creation of a new novel. All the possibilities that filter down into one – hopefully – strong tale.

The process is just beginning. I can’t wait to see the final characters. They are shadows now, but they will slowly take form, become individuals I’ll live with for several months. Then off they go to the mental waste paper basket, replaced by new friends.

Often I feel a little schizophrenic, what with characters going in and out of my head with such regularity. I would like to hear from other writers how they manage all the comings and goings.



+ posts

21 thoughts on “In Search of a Heroine”

  1. Thanks for this peek into your creative process, Pat. Your new book sounds like a great read.
    As to your question…my characters just sort of evolve, and often hang around for another book. I just finished the third book in a trilogy that started with BORROWED BRIDE. The heroine, Clara, is a baby in the first book, a child in the second and a young woman in the third. And of course the rest of the Seavers family pops in and out. Actually thinking of a fourth book. Can’t seem to get rid of these people!

  2. P.S. Loved the laundress idea. Something I didn’t know. I always assumed the men did their laundry–sort of like doing KP. Those women would have to be physically and mentally tough!!

  3. Hi Pat, I love the idea of using a laundress for a heroine. I like this woman already. From your list of heroes, my first choice was the English Lord. They seemed the most opposite, but I’ve got to add, my first choices are rarely the ones I go with.

    Books for me are like clouds forming in the sky. I start with a wisp of an idea, add heat and light, moisture from the ground, and the next thing I know I’ve got two people in the midst of a storm of some kind.

    I know what you mean about feeling schizophrenic. The hardest time for me is the transition from one story to another. I wish I could wash the old story out of my mind. For a while, I’m all in a muddle. Slowly, though, the new book takes root. Goodness! Clouds … roots. I’m full of metaphors today!

    Thanks for sharing your creative process. I love hearing about how other writers work.

  4. I really love it when a character pops up in a book and is so strong that you end up building a second book around him or her. I had one secondary character in a Scottish book but he started to dominate it, and I had to promise him his own book to stop his bullying ahead.

  5. I’ to come up with a heroine who suits me just write for my next book and I love the process, trying to make her real, three dimentional, trying to not repeat myself. With all these people on the planet, all really different, you’d think it’s be easy to come up with a new person. It’s always a challenge.

  6. Pat, your new heroine sounds like she’ll be lots of fun to write. I can’t wait to find out who her hero is.

    I have voices in my head, too. And my characters really seem to take a seat in my office and “tell” me their story. I get to know them while I’m writing. The method causes rewrites, but it’s the price I pay.

  7. I’m not an author but I enjoy reading about all the processes that go into the books that I love to read. I have learned so much while reading these blogs about many topics.

  8. Tracy. . .I hear you. I do the same, both in finding out about the characters and rewrites. Sigh. Sometimes I truly wish I was a plotter rather than a by the seats of my pants writer.

  9. What a wonderful sneak peek into your new story! It sounds exciting. I’d say you have this plotting thing down to a fine art. And your writing shows this. I’m itching to get my hands on it. Wish it was already in bookstores. I’ve never read a book before that featured an army laundress. What a neat twist!

    Wishing you lots and lots of inspiration. 🙂

  10. Hi Pat! I hear you on the “Pantser / Plotter” wish. I’m in the middle of a drastic rewrite because I ended up in a tangle. The story is coming together, but it’s been crazy.

    With each new book I say, “I’m going to do more planning. I’m going to write an outline and follow it like Mapquest.” LOL! It hasn’t happened yet : ) Have a great day!

  11. I pick an English lord also 🙂 The laundress idea is great. I can’t imagine a time without tons of lotions.

    Thanks for sharing your creative process. I learn so much from everybody here.

  12. Wow… Each scenerio has grabbed my attention… oh the possibilities… whichever you choose, I know will turn into a great read! Happy writing! 😀

  13. LOL, Pat! I thought I WAS schizophrenic–took me thirty year to figure out I was actually a writer. Not sure there’s a huge difference *g* but it sure is nice to get those voices on paper 😉

    Very interesting about the army laundress. The book sounds wonderful–thanks for sharing!!!

  14. Hi Pat – Congrats on your three westerns for Blaze. I’m not a plotter, so I find it all so tedious until I Take HOld of A Character. That’s when the fun begins for me. I ususally have to write a few chapters before I really “see” the characters develop and make adjustments to suit the story.
    BTW- I’m partial to half-breed scouts! Think they’re sexy…

  15. Hi Pat – I LOVE the idea of an army laundress as a heroine, very unique and filled with all sorts of fun possibilities. Can’t wait to see which way you decided to go with this

  16. ah. . . the schedule now is three months in a row starting September ’10.
    I’m really delighted to know so many other writers have my same afflictions.

  17. I love the laundress idea. for the hero, I like the idea of a military man because she doesn’t like them much.

    As for my ow writing, I’m a seat-of-my-pants type too. I’d love to be more ordered and methodical, but so far it ain’t happening. As for my characters, I’ve only published one book but the hero and heroine have taken root in my imagination and sent out tendrils like a creeping weed. Their friends and relatives have sprouted and started demanding stories of their own. One at a time, folks, one at a time!

  18. Depending on the background of your laundress, each of those hero types would work. Abused military widow or daughter/army officer. Former indian captive with or without child/half-breed scout. Rejected fiance of wealthy man or aristocrat who ruined her family/and the English lord. All offer possibilities. Actually, why don’t you use all three. I’d like to see each story make it to print.
    Good luck with books two and three. I look forward to reading the first book in the series.

  19. Just read something recently which had a major,
    secondary female character who was a laundress
    for English soldiers. The story took place in
    Portugal and I believe the troops served under

    Pat Cochran

Comments are closed.