Award-winning author Karen McCullough is the author of more than a dozen mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy novels. Her short science fiction, fantasy, and romance fiction has also appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications. Learn more about Karen and her books at her website and blog.
My Favorite Fictional Heroines
I’m a female reader and author with broad taste in fiction. I grew up reading mysteries because that was what my Dad read, so we had plenty of them around. I cut my teeth on Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Rex Stout. In my early teens I discovered fantasy and science fiction when a friend lent me a stack of books by Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Arthur C. Clarke, Andre Norton, and James Tiptree. I tore through them, bowled over by all the new worlds opening up to me on those pages. (And just as an aside, it wasn’t until years later that I discovered the last two were both female authors writing under male names.)
In my later teens I began reading gothic romances and enjoyed the combination of interesting relationships and eerie suspense. Somewhere in there I picked up a couple of books by Mary Stewart and landed in the thrilling territory of romantic suspense. By my twenties I was dipping into a lot of genres but beginning to get more discriminating in my taste.
One of the things I found I wanted, even craved, in my stories was a strong, capable heroine. In too many of the mysteries or gothic romances I read, the heroine was a wilting flower, wimpy and far too dependent on the hero to rescue her from all her troubles. Those books always annoyed me. I wanted smart, capable, strong heroines who might share danger with a man but didn’t depend on him. I liked heroines who could make their own decisions, didn’t do stupid things, and didn’t rely on others to get them out of trouble.
Heroines that could be strong, smart, competent, capable, and still likeable aren’t as common as I would like, although the trend is going my way in this. With that in mind, I picked out a few of my favorite fictional heroines to talk about. Most are from ongoing series, just because I’ve had more exposure to them as a result. They’re very different characters but all fit my criteria and I always enjoy reading about them.
Kinsey Milhone – The private detective lead in Sue Grafton’s Alphabet mystery series that started with A is for Alibi. She’s smart and tough in many ways and has faced some of the deepest darkness in people, but she hasn’t let it destroy her humanity. Her independence is hard-won but the struggle has given her tremendous insight. There are other female detectives who also fit the profile but Kinsey is the one I relate to most closely. I loved her from the moment she mentioned that she cut her own hair with nail scissors.
Sookie Stackhouse – The heroine of Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries. Some people are more familiar with the stories in their television incarnation as “True Blood,” but I like the books better. Sookie has fae blood but her human side dominates for the most part. Growing up with the ability to hear other peoples’ thoughts has caused her to be a bit withdrawn and nervous, but she is drawn into the world of vampires and shapeshifters when she discovers she can’t hear them, making them easier for her to deal with. Though the supernatural politics are rough and tumble, her abilities make her a very capable detective, able to maneuver in both worlds.
Kate Daniels – The protagonist of Ilona Andrews’ Magic series, Kate is a mercenary with a bad-ass attitude and some super-human powers. Independent, strong, and mouthy, she is willing to work with her lover Curran and his pack of shifters, but she still goes her own way and makes her own decisions, particularly when it comes to her complicated family entanglements.
Eowyn – One of the few female characters in The Lord of the Rings, Eowyn is one of the strongest and most honorable in its cast. The niece of the king has been frustrated watching her uncle waste away, unable to do anything about it. And when the troops muster for battle, she’s there, even though she has to disguise herself in armor to go along. Not really a spoiler: she acquits herself well in battle, winning an important victory.
Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) – So maybe this one is too easy because she is a goddess and superhero, and my choice is certainly influenced by the recent, wonderful movie. She’s almost the archetype of the strong, capable heroine. If you haven’t seen the movie, give yourself a treat and go. The scene where Diana walks across a no-man’s land (love the very deliberate irony of that!), deflecting bullets, is absolutely stunning.
Heather McNeill – You’ve probably never heard of her, but I hope you will eventually. Heather is the heroine/amateur detective in my ongoing series of Market Center Mysteries. She’s the assistant to the director of the market center and the person who handles complaints from and disagreements among the exhibitors and attendees at the events held there. I introduced her in A Gift for Murder, which was first published by Five Star/Cengage before they cut their mystery line, picked up by Harlequin’s Worldwide Mystery line for mass market paperback, and finally also released as an ebook. Her adventures continued in Wired for Murder, which I initially self-published, but which will also be published in paperback by Harlequin. And I’m now in the midst of writing the third book.
Most of the time, Heather McNeil loves her job as assistant to the director of the Washington DC Market Show Center. Because she’s a good listener and even better at solving problems, her boss assigns her to handle a lot of the day to day issues that arise during the shows, exhibits, and conferences being held there. When Heather becomes an unwilling audience to murder during the Business Technology Expo and later finds the body, she’s willing to let the police take care of it. But she soon learns more than she wanted to know about the victim and all the people who really didn’t like him very much.