Thursday, April 10, 2014

Strong is Sexy Heroine of the Week: Elsa Schluss

Book: Blue Damask
Author: Annmarie Banks
Heroine: Elsa Schluss

The best heroines are the strong ones.  Scarlet O’Hara uses everything she has to overcome the disruption of her pampered life and bring order and comfort back to her beloved plantation.  Jane Eyre is a lively prepubescent girl who pushes back against her bullying cousin, John, and years later pushes back against a bullying employer to win his love.  Sexy?  Rhett Butler and Edward Rochester think so.

A weak heroine is a boring heroine, so while my characters have flaws to overcome, none of them could be considered weak.  We readers want to see some action and adventure, and there is no action from a wilting wallflower, no adventure from a sniveling waif.  Bring on the feisty fist-fighters and willful manipulators!

In my latest novel, Blue Damask, I tell the story of an Austrian woman who finds the strength and power to overcome uncontrollable events by using her wits, and sometimes her wiles, but always she outsmarts her adversaries by using their own weaknesses against them.

Elsa Schluss is beautiful, but her beauty is a curse, for she cannot break through the barrier of sexism in her chosen profession.  Her colleagues smile and nod at her, then turn away as though she were a silly child. 

Yet Elsa spent the war years, 1914-1918, in a field hospital as a surgical nurse, sewing together the mangled bodies of soldiers.  She sat at their bedsides with a pencil and paper in hand to write their last words to their mothers and then held their hands and watched them die.   She worked thirty-six hour shifts, covered in mud and blood, and yet doctors considered her a menial worker, not a professional woman with valuable skills.

After the war, Elsa enters the University of Vienna to study psychology.  She intends to become a therapist in this new field despite the obstacles set before her by the old men who rule the halls of academia.  She is determined to continue to help the wounded, for she has learned that many wounded soldiers fell apart when the stitches were removed.  Their minds needed to be tended even after their wounds had healed.

An opportunity presents itself in her advisor’s office as an Englishman in a straightjacket is dumped to the floor of the clinic. There is not much time, and the British government is so eager to have this man lucid and functioning that they have sent Field Agent Marshall to get it done any way he can.  Elsa must bring the patient back from the brink of insanity while traveling by train and ship and car and horse from Vienna to Damascus.

Marshall hires Elsa to take on this challenge, and what at first seems like an excellent case study for her thesis, turns into a wild adventure in the wastelands of Syria during the violent Arab Revolt of 1921.  More is at stake than a student’s paper, a man’s sanity, and a field agent’s career.  Elsa finds that working in a field hospital in the Great War is a walk in the park compared to what she must face now in the wastelands of Mesopotamia.

I like how one of my reviewers described her: “the reader is treated to watching Elsa's transformation from a prim, exquisite psychologist to a ready-for-anything heroine covered with dirt and blood and packing a semi-automatic pistol and willing to use it.”

Blue DamaskA madman and his therapist traverse the wilds of Syria during the Arab Revolt of 1921.

Three years after the end of a bloody world war, an Englishman in a straightjacket is dumped on the clinic floor of an Austrian psychologist, whose protégé, Elsa Schluss, is reluctantly engaged to treat the traumatized war veteran en route to Damascus where he is to perform one last service for his country. Elsa plans to use him as a case study, but the mysterious mission becomes deadly when they are attacked on the Orient Express. Elsa finds her Jungian training is needed not only to treat her patient, but to outwit the powerful men who threaten their lives and endanger the mind of the man for whom she is responsible. She discovers there is more at stake with this mission than one man’s sanity and a young woman’s doctoral thesis.

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