Eileen Favorite teaches at the School of the Art Institute of
Chicago, where she received her MFA in writing in 1999. She was nominated
for a Pushcart Prize for her short story "Gangway: The Space Between Two
Houses." Her poetry and prose have appeared in literary magazines and her
essays and poems have aired on Chicago Public Radio. She lives in Chicago
with her husband and daughter.
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.