Saturday, November 5, 2011

What's Most Important to You? by Alison Henderson

As the holidays approach, we’re often drawn to reflect on what we value most. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how this applies to both my life and my writing. In writing, an author’s values are expressed through theme. These days theme is a hot topic; writing-related articles and blogs on the subject seem to pop up wherever you look. Because I write in multiple genres, I’ve been wondering how my stories connect—why I write what I write.

A writer’s theme is different from her subject matter or author brand. Theme is not whether you write about highlanders or cowboys, dukes or detectives. My first two published books are western historical romances set in Missouri just after the end of the Civil War. That tells you something about the setting and subject matter but nothing about the theme. It also might brand me as an author if I let it (although brand encompasses an author’s style and voice as well). Because my newest manuscript and current WIP are both snappy contemporaries I wanted to figure out what they have in common with my historicals.

My first book, Harvest of Dreams, tells the story of a young widow who has just given birth to her first child. She has a close relationship with her mother, but her son quickly becomes the center of her world and the focus of her future. The hero is a lawman who’s been on his own since the age of twelve and never expected to be a part of any family.

My second book, A Man Like That, follows two of the secondary characters from Harvest of Dreams: the fiery schoolteacher who’s the only child of the town judge and an ex-outlaw whose family has suffered from decades of poverty as well as the privations of war. The heroine does everything in her power to convince the hero and his family they’re worthy of love.

My first contemporary, Unwritten Rules, involves an ex-FBI agent who owns her own all-female bodyguard agency and signs on to protect a former CIA agent-turned-bestselling-author on a book tour. In addition to challenges created by the hero and the villain, she is dealing with unresolved issues related to the recent deaths of her parents in a terrorist attack (sounds like heavy stuff, but actually this is the lightest and funniest book of the three).

So what do these stories have in common? What made me write them the way I did? It didn’t take long to figure out that I write about the importance of family—cherishing the family you have or creating a new one if necessary. My books always include the main characters’ family members as prominent secondary characters. In Harvest of Dreams, it’s the heroine’s mother. As the mother of a grown daughter, I loved writing that character. A Man Like That was all about the hero’s family, their trials and tribulations and a longstanding feud. In Unwritten Rules, I had a fabulous time writing the hero’s feisty grandmother.

For me, the theme of family is much more than a coincidence or plot device. It is the universal, overriding influence in my writing. It represents my most important core value and, therefore, will be present in every story I write whether I think about it or not. That’s rather comforting. There are so many aspects to consider and decisions to make when you’re writing it’s a relief not to have to actively think about your theme.

Think about your favorite books. What common themes resonate with you?

I’m offering a pdf of Harvest of Dreams to one lucky commenter, so be sure to include your email address in your comment if you’d like to be entered in the contest. I won’t be around today because I’m out of town visiting my own daughter, but rest assured I’ll read every comment and select a winner as soon as I get home tomorrow.

Thanks for stopping by today! To learn more about me and my books, I invite you to visit me at


Colleen Connally said...

Family is so important. Thanks for sharing what inspires you. Enjoy your visit with your daughter.

Barbara Edwards said...

Interesting insight into your incentives to write what you do. I'm looking forward to reading the newest release since family is also important to me.

Jannine Gallant said...

I never really thought much about theme in my writing, but you've inspired me to look at what my multiple genres have in common. Great post, Alison!

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Allison. Nice blog. Ishould check my themes too, but except for one contemporary I only write historicals. War and loss seem to run through many of my books.



Calisa Rhose said...

Nice post, Alison. Something I need to think about in my own writing I think. You have me thinking. I know family is important to me, but there isn't always family in my stories. Hmm.

Liz Flaherty said...

I enjoyed this post. I have themes, too, but I always worry that I will become too predictable because of them. Hmmm...

Jody Vitek said...

Great blog Alison! I've never looked at what my theme may be. I'm all wrapped up in making sure all the other components are in the story. Hope your trip to visit your daughter was fun and we'll see you this weekend.

Alison Henderson said...

And the winner is...Calisa Rhose!
Congratulations, Calisa.