What inspires any author’s book is a mixture of the conscious and the unconscious, the imagined and the real, everything the author has read and written. For that reason, I know what precipitated the idea for The Heroines, but I cannot say that I completely understand or can name all the influences at work. I can, however, tell the story of how I came to write the book.
Ten months after my brother Eddie’s death, I arrived at Ragdale, a writer’s residency on a prairie in
At the time, I was reading, At-Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien. O’Brien brings back characters of Irish literature to interact with contemporary characters. So, I thought, let’s have Heroines appear at the
Visual images also inspired the book. Ragdale’s arts-and-crafts main house reminded me of the great manors that are the heroines’ rewards in 19th-century English novels. I wanted to twist this romantic and bourgeois notion by introducing magic into this setting. By attracting heroines from other novels, the
I also liked the image of a girl angrily marching through a beautiful prairie landscape, and the nightly expeditions I took in the prairie and woods behind Ragdale inspired the fairytale appearance of Conor, the King on Horseback. With Conor, I had discovered the plot “twist”: the arrival of a man to retrieve a heroine, and also several important themes: the conflict of what constitutes a hero; the power struggles between men and women; and the fallacy of the Knight in Shining Armor.
Differences in age, experience, and personality pull Penny and Anne-Marie apart. They respond to Conor in different ways, further widening the gap between mother and teenage daughter. How has being raised in a literature-driven household affected Penny? How has keeping secrets changed her? Does believing that fictitious characters are real make her a little crazy? Once these conceits were in place, the book took off of its own accord, leading me in directions I didn’t anticipate (the hospital) and toward a conclusion I didn’t foresee.