Wednesday, May 11, 2016

An Author's Point of View of Her Character: Aimee Donovan

As an author, it is par for the course that I will receive negative reviews. I do not expect everyone to share the same opinions or tastes. Even the best authors in history cannot please everyone. We are supposed to take negative reviews with a grain of salt and remind ourselves that our skin is thicker than the average human (it isn’t, but that’s all part of putting our work on display for the public). Never, ever, should we authors respond to reviews. 
While negative reviews are sometimes (ok, always) unpleasant to swallow, they can also offer great learning opportunities for an author. After all, a few bad reviews early on when Heart Song was first published made me realize there was something wrong with the book, and I was able to go back and fix those errors, and I have those negative reviews to thank for it. 
I do wish sometimes that I could have the chance to talk to  reviewers to get more clarity on what they meant. Typically, bad book reviews, for whatever reason, are written in anger and made to sound as if the book's author intentionally wrote something to personally upset the reader. 

I have been genuinely surprised by some of the negative reviews for Yellowstone Heart Song, not that the book receives negative reviews, but specifically the criticism of my heroine, Aimee Donovan. I assumed people who read the book might understand about wilderness survival and backpacking, or if not, at least think about it a little and put themselves into her shoes under the conditions and situations in which she found herself. In my mind, she is an independent, strong-willed, and smart young woman. She survived in a time and in situations that most of us probably never could.

One thing I’ve learned in my four years of writing and publishing is that readers will take away from a story what comes from their personal experiences, and that they will perceive characters and plots based on their own lives and expectations, rather than putting themselves completely in the character’s world. (For instance, if someone has no experience with hiking or camping, or interacting with a different culture, relating to what these characters undergo may not be possible. I get that.). Part of the enjoyment of reading can be escaping to lands and adventures that we would otherwise never be able to experience. However, it can be overreaching for us to assume a character SHOULD act or behave in a certain way if we have not walked in their shoes.

My stories are completely fictional, however I try to base most of the interactions on reality. I do an enormous amount of research, and work very hard to try to allow my readers to immerse themselves in the setting. Obviously, time travel is not something any of us have experienced (if you have, please meet me last Tuesday at the coffee shop by my house…I want to interview you!), but the relationships that develop and the way people interact with each other and their surroundings is timeless.

The purpose of this blog post is to give my perspective of Aimee Donovan, as the creator of this character. If a reader does not like her, for whatever reason, that is, of course, their right. We all gravitate toward certain personalities, and clash with others. This blog entry is my attempt to better explain  Aimee Donovan as I see her, and how her character developed. 
She is based on someone I've always admired, fits that person's physical description (petite little blonde), and also her independent, determined, and can-do-it nature and attitude. 
As a character, Aimee is not an unrealistic, super-hero, ninja warrior princess. She is someone I (and hopefully many of you) would love to be. The man in her life doesn’t define who she is, but shows that, in a relationship, sometimes we all need a little help.


In several reviews, Aimee has been accused of being immature and even TSTL  - “Too Stupid To Live”…a bit over the top for a criticism, no matter the circumstance, don’t you think? Right away, this makes me think whomever wrote this review cannot be someone who is typical of my reading audience. From those reviews, I’m also understanding that the reader who feels this way about her probably has never been out in the wilderness, gone backpacking, had wildlife encounters or “roughed it” out there (And most definitely, none of them have ever lived in another time ;-) ).

While I can’t say that I’ve ever time traveled, I do know what it’s like living in another country and having to adjust to another culture, so that’s where I drew my experience and Aimee’s actions and behaviors after landing in another time. I moved to the US from Germany, knowing very little of the language, and certainly none of the American culture. It took me months, if not years, to adjust to different cultural norms. During that time, I didn’t instantly behave and talk as an American. It was a slow process to learn the differences. So, while I learned and assimilated, I made several cultural mistakes along the way.

The same is true for Aimee when she ended up in the 19th century wilderness. Although she was an experienced backpacker and could adjust to her surroundings fairly quickly, she had absolutely no experience with Native American encounters or people of the nineteenth century, so those were not things she would really consider. She couldn’t simply go from her twenty-first century mindset to that of a nineteenth century woman. She’s never lived in that time. The adjustment had to take place over weeks and months, not instantly. I’d also like to mention that one of the things that drew the hero, Daniel, to her – even if it made him angry at times initially because he was still trying to figure her out – was her different behavior that set her apart from other women.

When Aimee arrived in the nineteenth century, she did not know that she would be time traveling. She had been told that she would be, but she didn’t believe the man who told her he could send her to a different time. (If she had, I think I would be getting comments that her believing a complete stranger who said he could send her to the past would be utterly unrealistic). She went along with an old man’s ramblings, and was completely taken off guard and by surprise when she, in fact, did end up in the past.
Stranded in the wilderness.
I, for one, would have freaked out!
Aimee kept her wits about her, and immediately formulated a plan on what to do. I believe this shows strength of character, not immaturity. Survival experts say there are many things that challenge a person in the wilderness, and being stranded alone can crush the spirit of even the most seasoned adventurers.
For the next three days, she managed to navigate through the wilderness and build fire and shelter and keep herself alive. My guess is that most of us would not have managed that, or kept a level head.

Anyone who has gone hiking in bear country knows how easy it is to stumble across a bear without even realizing it. I’ve encountered bears on three separate occasions, twice without knowing initially that they were there and how absolutely lucky I was that nothing happened. The encounters were extremely close.
I’ve also walked up on animal carcasses during hikes, and not realized it until I was close enough to see those carcasses. Luckily for me, again, there were no bears guarding them!
Aimee smelled the carcass before she saw it, and she instantly realized what it meant and the danger she was in. She did not knowingly enrage a bear. When the bear came charging out of the woods, she did exactly what she was supposed to do. She did not go over the cliff on purpose. There was nowhere else for her to go, and ultimately, it saved her life. Had she tried to run, the bear would have killed her.

When Aimee was swimming in the Madison/Firehole River, some have complained about her needing to be “rescued” by Daniel. I have had the fortune of being able to have gone swimming in that same river, in that same location, and I am still alive to tell about it. :-D
 Daniel assumed (because of the time he lived in and his mindset about women) she needed to be rescued, when in fact, she was having fun in the water. That was the humor of that scene.

The next time Aimee needed to be rescued was when she went off exploring on her own. As the author, I was trying to portray her as a confident and independent young woman who had no problem hiking on her own and navigating her way to a location she wanted to see. Was it the smartest thing to do? Probably not. Had she done it before in her own time, giving her the confidence to do it? Probably so. 
She saw the Indians before they saw her. We will never know what would have happened if Daniel hadn’t arrived just then, but there is no indication in the text that the Indians saw her. The instant she saw them, she took measures to hide. Nothing probably would have happened, and the Indians would have gone about their merry way without noticing her. Daniel went after her again because of his assumption and mindset about women based on the time he lived in, that women were helpless and needed protecting. 
You see, even though Aimee was from the 21st century and had the values and understanding of that time, it would be foolish to assume that Daniel would change his behaviors and treat her the same way a 21st century man would.
Aimee realized her mistake, she conceded that she wouldn’t do it again, and she learned a lesson that day.

When Aimee disobeyed Daniel telling her to stay away from Elk Runner, who was injured from an arrow – her nursing instincts had kicked in and she was trying to help someone. If she had obeyed Daniel and stayed away, Elk Runner would have died. She knew that her medical knowledge from the future was the only hope he had. Should she have stood idly by, and listened to Daniel and done nothing?

A side note here about Aimee being criticized for never listening to Daniel: Aimee just ended a relationship with her fiancé because he was overbearing and controlling. It was a realistic reaction for her to be a bit reluctant to start taking orders from men again, and she mentioned this several times throughout the book.

Later, Aimee selflessly jumped into a river to save a child from drowning. There was no one else nearby who could have helped her or the child, and she knew he would die if she didn’t do something and act. She chose to take the chance and try and save the child, putting her own life at risk. She wasn’t expecting Daniel to come along and then save her. She simply did what was in her nature as a medical caregiver. A woman from the 19th century most likely would not have done this. I think even many people (men or women) today would hesitate. She actually did try and communicate to the other children who were present to run back to the cabin to get help, but she knew it would be too late, so she acted.

I believe another incident that negative reviews have referred to is when she was kidnapped by the French trappers. Because she was angry and frustrated with Daniel, she decided to go for a swim. Let’s be honest, ladies, have you ever done something or wanted to do something out of anger or frustration? We have never acted in an immature manner when angry or upset at our men, right?   I think we can all say that we’ve done that. We don’t have to be proud of it, but this is a realistic characteristic to expect. Even from our romance novel heroine.
However, going to the river with the intent to go swimming certainly didn’t cause her to be kidnapped by the trappers. They would have come after her even if she’d sat in front of the cabin, drawing figures in the dirt. Was it her fault that they came to kidnap her? Again, she remained composed during the entire ordeal, even with the threat of being raped, and tried to formulate an escape plan. And when Daniel came to “rescue” her (I would certainly hope ANYONE would attempt to rescue me in that situation!), she had a quick mind and was able to help Daniel in her rescue.

When the Crow warrior cornered her in her own cabin, Daniel had to barter with him. I would hardly think that encounter was Aimee’s fault or of her own doing. I realize that the people who find Aimee weak in these scenes probably prefer that the heroines in all stories are always able to get themselves out of dangerous or precarious situations, without the help of a man; but to me, that isn’t very realistic. I’m not saying women can’t be independent and self-sufficient, because they most certainly can. But this is a romance novel. It’s ok to have your hero be a hero! 

When Daniel tells Aimee to stay put in the cabin because he knows the trappers are going to show up, some readers may have balked at her response. Agreed, she was reluctant about it because she couldn’t understand why Daniel would lock her away when company arrived. After all, he hadn’t locked her away before, and, he didn’t explain why he wanted her to stay inside the cabin, so she didn’t know what was going on. The scene was written from Daniel’s point of view, and while the reader has knowledge of why he wanted to hide Aimee away, she certainly didn’t know the reason.

I hope I have given some clarity to why I disagree with those who find Aimee immature or TSTL (what an awful thing to say about someone…even a fictional someone!) Thankfully, I’ve had more positive responses to her than negative, and most of my readers have told me how much they love her and her strength. I would never change her personality, or the way she responded to the events she encountered, because that would be a completely different story, indeed!
Thanks to all who have read, and enjoyed my stories.


  1. High Stakes sounds like a great read. I wish you luck with your writing career.

    1. Hi TJ...I'm moving your comment to the other post ;-) (Guest author Chad Strong)

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Aimee Donovan is awesome! This book, imho, is your very finest. I found it in depth and entertaining. We read to BE entertained which is why I read fiction. It was obvious that there was a lot of research and forethought in the prep for this book. Your own experiences in hiking and visiting Yellowstone was obvious also.
    As far as the reference of TSTL it would seem that could refer to someone who reads fiction (especially time travel) and then wants to criticize the "reality" of it. Get a grip!

  4. I loved Heart Song!!! One of my all time favorite books! I enjoyed the interactions and love story between Daniel and Aimee. I wonder if some critics would like their characters being ripped as some readers of Heart Song have done. It's fiction... let's keep it all in perspective. You don't have to read Ms. HENDERSON's books. I certainly will, as I find them a pleasant escape from reality, and I love the books with the time travel aspect. I have EVERY single book, and am eagerly awaiting the next one!

  5. Having read all 7 books in this series, which I absolutely loved, I think Heart Song is still my favorite. I am glad I read that one first, and followed your sequencing suggestions. I have no criticism of any of the stories. In fact, now that I just finished number 7, I think I will read my favorite again!

    I also enjoyed your three other time travel romances, and several of the western romance stories. I really like your writing style and look forward to more of your great books.