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Reluctant Heroes

When I write — whether for kids or adults — I seem to be drawn to characters who are going about their normal, everyday lives, when BLAMMO, something weird happens and forces them into a different trajectory.

In my kids’ funny adventure series (no, don’t look for them, but I hope to update and publish them someday), they find themselves zapped back in time BLAMMO and have to figure out how to get back. They’re like Peabody and Sherman meet Quantum Leap. I’ve written one where they go back and meet Billy Shakespeare, one where they learn the how and why of the Easter Island statues, one where they meet a female Civil War spy, and one where they meet Mona Lisa.

In a YA historical mystery I would LOVE to find a home for (because it’s based on my grandmother’s life), a young girl sets out to find the truth about her mother who has disappeared after a Kansas tornado, but nobody else seems concerned. BLAMMO.

Banana Bamboozle coverMarshmallow Mayhem cover

In my Dunne Diehl Mysteries, BANANA BAMBOOZLE and MARSHMALLOW MAYHEM, Cassidy Dunne and Dan Diehl are middle-aged best friends from college. She’s straight, he’s gay. She’s short, he’s tall. She’s a secret eater, he tries to ignore it. She’s rash, he’s pragmatic. She hasn’t been on a date since the Reagan administration, he’s got a new boyfriend. But their lives are thrown into chaos when Cassidy is convinced she sees her teenage niece at a party. Problem is, that niece died in a house fire as an infant. Did she imbibe in too many Banana Bamboozles at the party like Dan thinks? BLAMMO. (Yes, the recipe is in the book!)

Foul Play on Words cover copy 2Fiction Can Be MurderIn my Mystery Writer’s Mysteries, mystery writer Charlee Russo only wants to write mysteries, she doesn’t want to solve them. Too bad for her that her literary agent gets murdered in FICTION CAN BE MURDER, and her friend’s daughter gets kidnapped in FOUL PLAY ON WORDS. BLAMMO times two.

In the first of my new crossword puzzle mysteries, Quinn Carr is back home, nursing her psychic wounds, trying to manage her OCD, and pull herself out of a deep depression. She can barely drag herself out of bed most days, but takes a job at a local diner in an attempt at a normal life. She’s going through the motions of putting her life back together, but is nowhere near done, when her boss at the diner is arrested for murder. BLAMMO.

Can you see a theme here? Nobody wants to do any of this, solve any of these mysteries, leave their comfy cocoon. But they’re forced.

All through my education, elementary school through college, and even now, when I’d hear about women throughout history, I’d try to put myself in their place. Could I travel the Oregon Trail? Could I help Jews in Poland during the Nazi era? Could I be a Civil War spy? Could I be a destitute tenant farmwife in 1920s Kansas? Could I solve a real-life crime?

I think writing these types of stories makes me feel like I could. But, really, could I?? I hope I never have to find out!

Who are your favorite reluctant heroes? I’m thinking about suggesting a panel at Left Coast Crime or Malice Domestic about reluctant heroes. Would you be interested in that topic? Does it bug you when the protagonist is reluctant? Do you think you’d have been able to travel the Oregon Trail and make a new life for yourself? Or would you fall out of the wagon and just sit there bawling like Lucy Ricardo when Ricky wouldn’t let her perform with his band? Could you solve a real-life crime?

41 thoughts on “Reluctant Heroes

  1. I think your panel topic sounds great! I am definitely in awe of all the heroes in history who did what they had to do even though I’m sure it was outside of their comfort zone. I would like to think I could too, but I don’t know. I guess sometimes you have to be tested before you really know what you’re capable of.

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  2. Yes, I think I could have been one of those women in those eras as a reluctant hero. I really never help out people to get attention; I help them because that is what I do! I never name myself as a hero; I am just ordinary Jane who happens to be a the right place at the right time!

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  3. I used the reluctant hero premise inthe creation of my protagonist, Natalie McMasters. As the series opens, she’s a college student who is moonlighting for her PI uncle, watching peole who’ve filed workers’ comp claims, to make sure they’re hurt as badly as they say they are. Then she sees something she’s not supposed to see. It’s a great premise because the hero usually has lots of flaws, most because she doesn’t really know how to be a hero yet. That makes for some great plot ideas.

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      • My reluctant heroine is a kickass protagonist – she just makes some questionable choices due to youth and inexperience. On such things are great plots built. But Nattie has some sterling qualities, among them, honor, loyalty, tenacity and love of family. Just cringe when you hear her say, “I know what I have to do!”

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  4. I love the reluctant hero (my Maggie O’Malley fits the bill) and I think it’s a fantastic panel topic! (And DANG, Becky, I had no idea you’d written so many series! Yet another way you’re amazing!!)

    I’m pretty sure I don’t have what it takes to be a hero, BUT I did have a minor BLAMMO moment where I veered out of my comfort zone and (sort of) helped solve a crime.

    Years ago, my best friend’s car was stolen. A few weeks later, I spotted her car’s very distinctive hatchback on another car, which aroused my suspicion. I followed the car, using the tailing skills I’d picked up watching The Rockford Files, to an apartment, then spied on the driver, becoming more and more convinced that something fishy was going on. Long story short: after casing the joint, I called the police, they came, and it turned out the guy HAD stolen my bestie’s car, stripped it, and sold the parts (except the one he’d kept himself). Her beloved car was totaled, but she did have some closure in the fact that the guy had been caught.

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  5. I absolutely LOVE the idea for your panel, Becky! Yes! (And can I be on it too?) I think most amateur sleuth mysteries would actually be better termed “reluctant hero” mysteries, unless it’s someone like Lord Peter Wimsey who is in fact an amateur sleuth by choice. And that’s the trick–to ensure there’s a (somewhat) realistic reason your sleuth does get involved.

    And like Kathy, I’m amazed at all the books you’ve written, girl. Yowza! So impressed!

    Liked by 6 people

    • Well, thank you kindly, Ms Karst (and Ms Valenti). That “realistic reason” just about KILLS me when I’m writing. It has to happen, but lordy, does it sometimes feel like it’s dangling on the precipice of believability!

      Liked by 4 people

  6. I think the reluctant hero is more relatable to introverted readers—and authors—than someone who hangs out a sign advertising themselves as a great sleuth, and then goes around officiously butting into everyone’s business.

    And Yes, Becky, I would fall off the wagon (maybe figuratively, as well) and sit there bawling like Lucy Ricardo! Which is why I can relate to a description like Julia Dorning’s BLAMMO moment in Becky Monson’s <strong>32 Going on Spinster<strong> : "Sadly, I'm not a 'fix-it' person. If we were going down in a boat, and we all knew we were going down, I would not be one of those people who'd be trying to bail us out until the last second. I'd lie down and let it happen. It's much easier that way. But maybe I need to try this time. I need to get a bucket and bail myself out of my life, one bucket at a time, if I have to."

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    • OMG, I feel that, F4A! It’s exactly what I think when I watch those post-apocalypse movies. “No, no! Who wants to survive in a world like that!” I’d be the first to walk into the radiation blast. Twice, if possible.

      Liked by 5 people

  7. The first reluctant hero that comes to my mind, Becky, is Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings. One of the things I really like about reluctant hero stories is that so often, they are surrounded by good-hearted souls who want to help them. I love the idea that we can lift each other up.

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    • Excellent example, JC! Those little hobbits only wanted to hang out in the shire and enjoy their Second Breakfast and Elevenses, but BLAMMO! Go deal with that Ring once and for all. Thank goodness for all the tall people. Especially Sean Bean. He’s so dreamy.

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      • Oh man, Sean Bean, he took more arrows than Oliver Queen owns trying to redeem himself! Another reluctant hero who just came to mind is Veronica Mars at the beginning of the 2014 movie. She had it all in New York. And then Logan had to call.

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  8. A lot of cozy main characters are reluctant heroes. Honestly, it’s one thing I love about the genre because I can relate to them. I certainly wouldn’t go looking for something like Murder to get involved in.

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  9. I am still trying to think of reluctant heroes. My mind is a total blank right now, and I know there are tons of them out there. My heroines tend to have very strong senses of justice–and usually they’re embroiled in some huge, gnarly mess of a way, so they don’t have much time to consider.

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  10. Great post, B! Love these descriptions of all your wonderful books!

    Hmm. Now I’m trying to think of a story that doesn’t have some sort of inciting incident aka BLAMMO to get things rolling and I’m coming up short. Think it’s because conflict is the driver of fiction, so there has to be something going on. BUT the **reluctance** of the main character to take on the adventure is definitely a variant…and those are my favorite kinds of stories. *makes heart eyes*

    (Then again, I do also love Veronica Mars, who is so very not reluctant.)

    Liked by 4 people

  11. What a great post, Becky! And I’d love to read those time travel books, so get on that in your SPARE time, lol!
    I think of my protagonist, Liv, as an initially reluctant sleuth, but once she gets drawn into a murder investigation she’s in all the way! Di is pretty much up for any adventure Liv proposes.

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  12. I SO want to read your historical novel!! And that’s a fantastic idea for a panel. So many cozy sleuths are reluctant because it’s not their intention to go into law enforcement and then, like you said, blammo! Life pushes them in that direction. I’m not a fan of protagonists who are so reluctant they spent part of a book whining about having to do it. Commit to the bit, people. But now I want to write a sleuth who’s actually excited about the opportunity! *Runs to revise new series proposal.*

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