I am currently writing my 71st book – part of a series of stories involving the old Outlaw Trail, which runs north and south along the Rocky Mountains. After writing so many books, it can sometimes become a struggle to come up with a story line that is different from anything used in all my other stories. Just using different historical events and locations helps form new situations, but creating brand new ideas can still be difficult when you write from one to three books a year for nearly forty years. Still, it’s not always coming up with a new story idea that is the problem. Sometimes it is the characters who are the problem, most notably the kind of characters you, as a writer, prefer creating (and the kind your readers expect you to write). Narrowing it down even more, do you prefer writing the hero, or the heroine? I began to realize that was my problem when I started this new book, which will be called THE LAWLESS BREED.

        I don’t use outlines. Ever. They bore me, and I never follow them anyway. I just start a book based on one tiny idea, time period and location – then I study some of the things that were going on in this country at the time to see how I can weave that in – and off I go, or, I should say, off my characters go. However, I truly struggled at the starting gate when I sat down to write THE LAWLESS BREED. I wrote the whole first chapter – didn’t like it – tossed it out. I re-wrote the first chapter – didn’t like it – tossed it out. I re-wrote it again – felt I was onto something but still wasn’t entirely happy with it. I didn’t toss out the third version, but once I knew what I really needed to do, I re-wrote it yet again, brought in the hero then and there, and now I’m happy with where this story is going and am on Chapter Five.

        As I re-wrote the third draft, I realized that I was concentrating on just the heroine and her plight. She comes home from picking blackberries in a distant field to find her mother lying dead inside the house. She has been murdered. I didn’t know who murdered her or why, and I still don’t! (That’s how I write. I’ll figure it out as the story unfolds.)

        Deciding on the murderer and his motive was not my problem. My problem was the HERO, or lack thereof. I didn’t have one yet! It struck me then that I have never once had a problem fleshing out a story as long as I had a hero I really, really liked and knew his background and why he was important to the story. I almost always base my stories on the HERO, not the heroine. Even though I might not have any kind of outline and I let the story just “happen” for me, I can’t write that story until the HERO and his part in the story is completely clear to me.

        In all the books I have written, and after all these years of writing, I realized that for a book to come together for me, I have to be in love with the hero, and I need to know his story. For some reason I can’t identify with the heroine until the hero is completely in place. Once that happens, then I can more easily flesh out the heroine and her feelings and where she is coming from as it relates to the hero. If I start a book based solely on the heroine, it’s hard for me to even like her or to care about her.

        When I look back at all those other books I have written, I realize that I almost always bring the hero into the story within the first to third chapter, and sometimes I start the book with the man instead of the woman. It all boils down to … I LOVE WRITING MEN! And I only love writing the women in their lives if those women are strong and brave enough to love and put up with the men. In my Outlaw Hearts series, hero Jake Harkner is the ultimate bad man with a good heart. No man is brave enough to challenge Jake, but his wife Miranda can bring him right to his knees. As he puts it in one of the books, “She’s the air I breathe.” Now that’s the kind of heroine I enjoy writing. Her actions, emotions and decisions are nearly always based on her love for the hero.

        In this current book, I couldn’t bring myself to care about the heroine because in that first chapter, the hero was not mentioned or even thought of. So, I decided to bring him into the story right away. At the very end of the first chapter, in the midst of the heroine’s terrible plight, the hero shows up – very unexpectedly! The heroine is alone at her country house - has found her mother murdered - is scared and confused. She doesn’t know if the killer might still be around and she might be in danger herself. She is devastated over her mother’s violent death and can’t imagine who could have done such a thing. She runs outside to saddle a horse to ride into town and report the murder – and - low and behold - she sees someone riding up the path to her house.

        The heroine freezes in place, realizing she doesn’t have any kind of weapon with her. Is the man riding toward her the murderer? When he gets closer, she realizes, in near shock, that the rider is a man she hasn’t seen for five years – a man she once loved but who rode out of her life after a terrible tragedy that tore them apart. She’s heard that after taking part in the Civil War, this man turned to an outlaw life. He might even be wanted. She thought she would never see him again, yet here he is, riding right back into her life at this devastating, confusing moment.

        Last line of the first chapter reads: Ashley’s already-confused emotions took a dive, stabbing right through her heart like a sword.

        The minute I wrote that last line, I was “into” the story and in love with the mysterious “Nick,” even though I still didn’t know anything about him. I even liked the heroine more. I could feel her emotions. And I know that the readers will immediately sense there is a strong, mysterious connection between Nick and the heroine. They will want to hurry into Chapter Two to see what this man is all about because even I want to know !! This relationship will be revealed slowly – teasingly – as the story unfolds, which will keep readers turning the pages.

        I can’t write a book unless I am so excited about it, and especially about the hero, that I can’t wait to get back to the computer and – literally – see what happens next, because I DON’T EVEN KNOW MYSELF until I start writing each “next” chapter. All I know is that I want to find out more about this guy who rode into the first chapter, and about his relationship to the heroine.

        Through all of this, and looking back on all my other books, I realize I have always loved writing the hero. I loved Louis L’Amour’s books. I devoured them when I was younger. Yet most of them were 90% about MEN and their exciting and dangerous lives. There was very little romance of any kind in his stories, yet they were romantic because the MEN were romantic just in their bravery and sureness. What woman wouldn’t love L’Amour’s men, no matter how difficult they might be to live with. In times of old, a woman needed a man who was strong and brave and able – yet in our stories that man must have a deep respect for a good woman. And when I write, I “become” that woman. I remember wishing L’Amour had more romance in his stories, and that’s how I ended up writing men similar to his, but I always bring a woman into the hero’s life. I have had many reviews that compare my writing to L’Amour’s. Some of my westerns have even been called “gritty.” That’s fine with me, because that means I am also writing very strong heroines, women who know how to love their men and how to survive the perils and dangers of the American West.

        I think I love writing men because I envy the power men usually have in decision-making, in body strength, in their protective nature. Of course, it’s not so much that way today. Women are far more equal in most ways today, but even though my books are written in a time when the woman was more submissive to the man, my heroines always find ways to slyly lead the heroes around by the nose without them even knowing it. That is so much more fun to write than the bossy, domineering, “I can live without a man” attitude of some modern-day women.

        Today’s women think the “me, too” movement is something new. I beg to differ. Women have been “in charge” in clever, subtle ways since the beginning of time. It is so much fun to write the brave and dangerous hero who “thinks” he is in control but who can be very submissive when it comes to pleasing the woman in his life. When I write that kind of woman, I totally love and identify with her.

        I have always fought with my own desire to write just men. I had to learn to write heroines who were as strong and important as the hero and with whom my readers could identify. I came to like writing the heroine only when she could match the hero in strength and bravery, and when she loved the hero so deeply (and visa-versa) that they literally lived off each other’s love. They share a bond strong enough to be able to face danger and adversity together and be able to forgive each other’s mistakes and weaknesses. They might disagree. They might even leave each other or be torn apart in some way. But they always come back together. Their love is their strength.

        If I was forced to make a choice of writing a story that is completely about a man – or completely about a woman – I would pick the man every time, even if it was a contemporary. Why? I guess it’s a mixture of having that kind of power, combined with the fact that most men don’t have a clue about what women really want. When we write our heroes, we can create the almost-perfect man – brave and strong and able, yet a man who totally respects the woman in his life.

        RESPECT FOR THE HEROINE. That is the NUMBER ONE key to writing a hero with whom our readers fall in love. He is the strong one, but it is her love that gives him that strength. He is the decision-maker, but those decisions are based on her advice and wishes. He does the grunt work, but she feeds him so he has the strength for it. He might want children, but only she can give him those children. He is able with guns and fists, but she is right behind him, maybe even ready with her own gun or whatever she can find to back him up. He teaches his son survival, but she teaches kindness and wisdom, as well as does the schooling. He thinks he is in charge in bed, but she is slyly letting him know what she likes and how she likes it. He is the angry one, but she knows how to calm him. He might think something from his past makes him worthless, but she teaches him his worth. He’s the macho man who practically worships his woman and darn well knows how to treat her … while all the time not even realizing SHE is the one in control. I love this type of relationship. I love the control a man THINKS he has, and I love controlling him.

        Now, I have to get back to writing THE LAWLESS BREED and find out what Nick is like and why he has ridden back into the heroine’s (Ashley’s) life. I also look forward to seeing how Ashley handles this man, who is now a wanted outlaw. These two will collide in more ways than one, but Ashley will find a way to tame him – and to make sure he never rides out of her life again. 



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