Scars are a central theme in my books—physical, mental, emotional.
Broken bodies and minds.
Few of my characters escape them, and all of my primary characters carry them onto Page One. Even those given happy endings almost always find peace not in spite of, but because of, the pain that has come before. While I recognize this says as much about me as my creations, there is no denying, people torn apart by circumstance, who then put themselves back together, are the only kind I invite into the intimate spaces of my life. And there is no space more intimate to me than the pages of my books.
Whether I am engaging on the page with an aging newspaper reporter or a young, up-and-coming gangster or an Indian courtesan, a character without scars holds no interest for me—so how, then, can they be of any interest to my readers? This is not to say that I wish anyone pain or suffering, nor do I hope to cause or experience it myself, but such people invariably have the most intriguing stories to tell.
In my mainstream historical books, written as Mari Anne Christie, my characters always carry heavy loads, and sometimes can’t tell for themselves who is protagonist or antagonist. Killers with kind hearts meet up with sweet, gentle ladies steeped to the hairline in evil; men of conscience can destroy the lives of their families, and the least “ethically sound” will give everything but their shirts to people they love. As they pursue their goals, explore their moral codes, discover and live their ideals, my characters will not always make the “right” choice, nor the “good” one, nor even the “smart” one. Instead, they make the best choices they can, reaching unsteady hands out from under the weight of their histories. As such, just deserts and hard-won rewards are slippery and never assured—much like real life.
In my historical romance titles, by Mariana Gabrielle, the heroes and heroines always carry baggage, and I am a sucker for a dastardly villain. For the “good guys and girls” to overcome the sort of adversity I will heap upon them, they have to exhibit the strength and fortitude that can only come from surviving their lives before they met. And in order to perform at the highest levels of conscienceless fictional evil, villains’ backgrounds must be filled with equally grisly trauma of all types—and they must be willing to inflict the same without compunction. Because they suffer from birth to amuse my readers, it is only right that—in the end—the hero and heroine get their Happy Ever After. But not so fast. I believe in “grown-up” HEAs. Romance is about the day-to-day—who oversees the laundry maids and approves the castle menus and keeps track of the domestic accounts—much more than dancing and ball gowns and moonlight. Lovers must not only be seduced, but also sustained.
So, in all of my books, whether or not a happy ending is the final destination, the ends (and means to get there) may be bittersweet, the reward might be long delayed, and the implications for the characters will be farther-reaching than anyone deserves. That said, before you turn the last page, once the sentences are handed down, you can be sure the hard-won results of the suffering they have overcome will carry them, sometimes kicking and screaming, through the last of the scars on their souls.