Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Friend - Erin O'Quinn

Please welcome today's Friday Friend, Erin O’Quinn.

Erin began to write only about 14 months ago, when her muse began to batter on her heart and soul and she began to type more than a million words onto a new iMac keyboard.

She credits her husband, a Fantasy follower and a student of military history/martial arts/small arms. He one day wondered aloud why St. Patrick had not appeared in any of the Fantasy literature he was reading. That thought began an idea that has grown into an inferno. Erin has had six Romance novels contracted by SirenBookStrand, and two of the Dawn of Ireland trilogy are now published. Four others will follow from June through early September. All these books are set in the Ireland of St. Patrick in a two-year time span, roughly 432-433 AD.

She earned a BA (English) and an MA (Comparative Lit.) from the University of Southern California. The reader will find a reflection of her literary interests--ancient/medieval language, literature, mythology and folklore--in all her books.

The Trap of the Too-beautiful Character

We all want to create a main character who is memorable. And yet even the best of writers seem to fall into the trap of creating an inflatable doll, one whom we pop into various books with only a change of hair color or other outer characteristics. When we do, we run the risk of being boring.

In my own experience, the best way to be a Pygmalion is to start with the crude stone, as he did, and begin to carve out a form, a mind, an attitude, that belongs to that character alone.

For this discussion, I’ll talk about the female character. Let’s start with the outer form. Is she (sigh) beautiful? Or is she rather too tall? Too short? Is her complexion a bit flawed? Does she fret about breasts that will never form a cleavage except in wire bras? Yes, all those characteristics sound more compelling than “beautiful.” I don’t want my heroine to be beautiful. Or if she is, I don’t want her to know it!

Now let’s carve some of the unusual traits. Is she quirky? Anti-social? Bellicose? Spoiled? Too often, we want to have a lovable person, and so we automatically smooth out any wrinkles that may set that character off as odd or “eccentric.” But what’s wrong with that?

After the rest of the figure is blocked out, we’re faced with her mind, her attitude, her philosophy of life. Maybe she’s an altruist, one who sees good in everyone and a person who believes that “you betcha, life will turn out great no matter what.” Or perhaps she’s distrustful and slow to make friends. Or she has never had many close friends and therefore surrounds herself with dozens of people.

As a made-up-on-the-spot example, I’ll pick up my stone chisel and begin to carve the figure of Polly. Polly is rather shorter than average. Mmmm--that’s a sore spot with her and a trait that makes her cranky when she sees willowy women sail by on the sidewalk. Her hair, while not mousy, is nevertheless a kind of “dirty blonde” that needs to be augmented by means of a color creme. And Polly is just a teensy bit nearsighted, so she needs to wear glasses in situations--like romantic encounters--when glasses are decidedly a turn-off.

Polly was not blessed with a great name. Polly sounds like a parrot--or worse, a Raggedy-Ann kind of children’s character. Even though her real name is Pauline, and she tries to implant that name in the mind of her family and friends, she let too many years go by without being adamant about being Pauline. Now nothing short of a legal name change will make her into a person with a cool name.

So our character enters the book as a little bit squinty, more than a little insecure about her height, her figure, her very persona. She is not really comfortable at parties. It’s a beginning. And in my mind, it’s a lot more interesting than “Pauline strolled into the room, enjoying the envious glances of the cocktail crowd, knowing her tan was glowing in the tea-lights.”

What I’m trying to do here, I think, is to create an anti-heroine--a character for whom I can imagine a complex backstory and make sure parts of the story show through, like knees and elbows on an adolescent in too-small clothes. That’s the kind of character I like, and one I think I’ll have a chance to keep carving more and more finely until, like Pygmalion, I fall in love even with a flawed character.

I cannot help thinking here of my own character Caylith. That young lady has a long history. She has a real aversion to schools and to learning. In fact, she thinks of scholars as “squinty people.” She measures everyone in terms of how much taller they are than she. She is so self-absorbed as to totally shut out people who do not further her immediate ends. Caylith has long red hair--but it is a tangle of impossible locks, a mop that approaches dreadlocks, hair that needs to be severely braided so that people can see that she has rather a nice heart-shaped face.

Caylith decidedly thinks of herself as not-beautiful. Many of her actions can be seen in that light, and it is an important part of her psyche. Her short stature, too, explains much about her drive to excel at stick and bata fighting, her willingness to undergo harsh training under a pitiless armsman.

Her low self esteem leads eventually to her opening herself to two men who are not her husband. It is not a sexual surrender--but it might as well be, for the damage that she causes.

All these facets of Caylith do not show up in the first book. Rather, they are revealed as the series goes on. But each facet of her personality has been set years ago, and she is true to her own flawed nature. Yet she does grow and mature.

Caylith is my kind of heroine. Neither beautiful nor superbly intelligent, she is nevertheless wonderfully human.

I invite you to cast a critical eye on your own heroine (or hero). Is she perhaps a mite too pretty, too smart? Or does she have a few unusual characteristics that lift her above the conventional? If your perfect character is too perfect, maybe there’s still time to mess up her hair a little. What do you think? Does any of this apply to your own writing . . . and, if not, would you be willing to change for the sake of creating an unforgettable character?

Read about the Ireland of St. Patrick, the druids, high kings, cattle rustlers, free-booting slavers and much more . . .
. . .and watch for the trilogy-ending Captive Heart on June 12.

You can find Erin at
OQ blog:
on Facebook:
on SirenBookStrand:  (buy link)  (buy link)

Thank you so much for being our Friday Friend today, Erin. We wish you lots of success with your books and your writing career.


  1. Do I want a "perky" and "sympathetic" heroine? Not on your life! You've eliminated one possibility of conflict right from the get-go. So you just keep writing your un-fluffy heroines, Erin. They're SO much more interesting!

  2. Hah! You hit it right on the head, Miriam! Those kinds of ladies sort of grate on the nerves, and I doubt that I'll ever create a main character who is universally loved--either by her fellow characters or by the readers.

    As the song says, "Let's give 'em something to talk about."

    It's not that Caylith is a totally flawed woman. It's that she's young, self-absorbed, a bit selfish and completely unaware of how others see her. And yet, she's a formidable warrior when called upon to vaquish an enemy.

    Thanks, Miriam. I love that you stopped by today.


  3. Holy cats, Erin, you are one prolific woman! Congrats on the new series and thanks so much for joining us today at Heroines with Hearts.

  4. Hello, Debra,

    Even as you write, I'm polishing up a short story for submission to a publisher's Christmas story call. Now there's a flawed heroine! Overweight, not quite pretty, she's about to sell her soul to the devil for a bit of action.

    Yes, I get a kick out of writing about flawed heroines.

    I'm really pleased to be here, writing about something more than my books. I hope people will lend their own comments about why the not-too-pristine heroine is a draw for them, too.

    Thanks for welcoming me,

    Slán, Erin

  5. What a great post, Erin - and thank you for this reminder about creating REAL characters! I really admire your creativity and beginning to get all those books out to readers.

  6. Dear Rosemary,

    What a compliment, coming from an author whose endearing heroine of SUMMER OF THE EAGLES is a study in teenage contradictions!

    I sure appreciate your stopping by. And, in case readers aren't aware, I am visiting your own blog site through the weekend with an article on the standing stones of Ireland. I know this is not clickable, but the blogsite is 

    Thanks for all your support and your kind words,


  7. Hi Erin, welcome to Heroines with Hearts and congratulations on all of your books! I love the way you create a character like a sculpture from stone. And your imperfect heroines are definitely more interesting. Thanks for visiting today!

  8. Dear Jennifer,

    It has been great being on this lovely site. How great it is that you allow a new author such a wonderful platform, well presented and geared to help us reach the readers.

    Thanks for having me,

    Slán, Erin

  9. Sorry I am late, Erin. I love a flawed heroine. Mine has to go back to her past life to realize the present is balancing out the past, as isn't as bad as she thinks.

  10. Hi, Ana,

    That sounds like a compelling hook for a novel! Caylith comes to realize some of her shortcomings, but slowly. She is loved by a lot of people, but she truly is self-absorbed. At last, in the third of the trilogy (Captive Heart), she begins to understand the suffering and the love of her own mother,on the eve of becoming a mother herself.

    I too would choose a flawed heroine every time. Thank you so much for visiting us on the blog! Slán, Erin

  11. I find impossibly handsome heros and ditto beautiful heroines unsympathetic. And if they've got no flaws ... then add boring. I'm just not interested in reading about them or writing about them.

    Gilli x

  12. Well, Gilli, we're preaching to the choir here, aren't we? I've done it myself--make my heroes tall, muscular, sexy, etc. etc. I'm more likely to make my women flawed than the men! But I've been able to take a seeming villain and make him sympathetic, and a grouchy leather-hearted man and make him fall in love. So those flawed guys get some TLC, kind of a reverse bad-to-good treatment from me.

    Yes, let's keep our MCs a bit on the bad-hair side and have some fun creating and developing them!

    Thanks for your insights. I really appreciate your pausing to leave comments. :) Erin