an article on the Southern heroine in romance

Mississippi Writers Page

Mississippi Historical Society

Mississippi Department of Archives and History

The Heroine of the Southern Gothic Love Story
She’s normally a Southern girl, but not always. Still, the circumstances that land my Southern Gothic heroine in the middle of a dark, suspense-filled drama are Southern in their origin. Her story is also uniquely Southern in its setting, a wonderful blend of dark passions, violence, loyalty, honor, lost causes and undying love that define the South and continue to fortify the stubborn region in the face of unreasonable jealousy, fanatical hatred, and ruthless aggression.
Historically, she’s a feisty creature, devoted to her home and family and the man who heads both. First her father, then the man whose bed she ultimately shares and whose children she will one day bare. If she’s lucky, she gets herself a good man—and being the heroine of a romance novel, of course, that is a foregone conclusion. But like that now proverbial “box of chocolates” you never know what you’re gonna get. And therein lies the story—figuring out what the hell this gal has got. The added filling to the Gothic tale is the dark threat to her honor, her virtue, her life, and maybe even her soul. And that threat, at least on the surface of a carefully crafted tale, comes from her, oft-times, tortured hero.
I’ve developed a real love for the historical—writing it, I mean. Obviously my timing stinks, but I’m beyond worrying about that now. For a number of different reasons—not just my sub-genre of choice—I’ve given up writing to market and am determined to develop a readership of my own, no matter how small it may ultimately prove. The South, and in my particular case Mississippi, is simply too rich in history for me to search for settings I’ve never set foot in—the time period I can’t get to, that’s true, but the history of Mississippi surrounds me; it’s at my fingertips. What’s even better, the history is something I understand—it molded me—and it is a heritage I am exceedingly proud of. And what a wealth of intrigue, mystery, and yes, conflict. The South onto itself and within the borders of this Nation oozes conflict.
For the most part, I’ve set my Southern Gothic heroine in the historical past. I specify a Southern Gothic heroine vice a Gothic Southern heroine for two reasons. First, my books are, by my definition, Southern Gothics, and at least one of my heroines (there will be others) is a Yankee who finds herself at the mercy of a defeated Confederate. I strive to place my heroine in her historical world. She’s not kick-ass, she’s not twenty-first century, and she’s not politically correct to meet today’s market. She is smart. She lives by the rules of her day and if she must circumvent them, she does so discreetly—I maintain an intelligent woman always has. As the Brits say, discretion is sometimes the better part of valor. My Gothic heroine is prudent. However, she’s not prudent enough to keep herself out of the situations she manages to get herself in. Shoot, I wouldn’t have a story if I let her do that. But thinking back over my completed Historicals, in every case the heroine ends up between a rock and a hard place (meaning the hero and whatever haunts him, (by the way, no pun intended, though it did work out nicely, didn’t it?)) in an effort to help or protect someone she cares for.
She’s also young (appropriate for the time period) and innocent—though not ignorant. She may not have a thorough grasp on the facts of life, but she does know they exist. It is the dark hero, who by hook or by crook or just dumb luck has managed to become responsible for her, who takes that innocence. But a Southern Gothic heroine surrenders more than her innocence. With it she yields this man her honor and her loyalty. He is her man now, but is he worthy?
Well, she doesn’t know. He won’t open up to her. That or he can’t. Worst of all, something is threatening her, and she doesn’t know what it is. But every frightening and potentially life-threatening incident that happens to her points to that handsome man she’s falling in love with as the culprit—or the key to the culprit. And he still won’t talk. He either doesn’t believe her fears are grounded, he resents her mistrust, or he’s as confused as she is. You see—he has dark secrets he either doesn’t want to confront and/or doesn’t want her to know about. Worst of all, his secrets shroud a mystery, and once that mystery is uncovered, his secrets are exposed. But in the end my Southern Gothic heroine follows her heart and casts her doubts aside. She is now at the mercy of this secretive man whom she loves fully. He has gained her coveted trust, but now realizes she has made herself vulnerable to the very forces haunting him. In order to save her, he must confront his worst fears. And in my Southern Gothics, the hero proves himself the hero and saves his heroine. And they live happily ever after. In Mississippi.

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