Monday, October 03, 2011


Alison Henderson
Our guest post today is by Alison Henderson. Alison grew up in Kansas City on the edge of the prairie. One of her favorite memories is of the fringed turquoise cowgirl outfit she received for her fifth Christmas. She went off to New York to study art history at Vassar College but never lost her admiration for the fortitude of the pioneers who settled the American West. She began writing when her daughter entered pre-school and was quickly captivated by the creative process.
Although she has traveled the world from Japan to Tunisia, Alison has never strayed far from her Midwestern roots. She and her husband are empty-nesters living in Minnesota, and their daughter is a graduate student in Chicago. And now, here's Alison's post:

Discovering Your Theme

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the issue of theme. Writing-related articles and blogs on the subject seem to pop up wherever I look. Isn’t that always the way when you’ve got a topic simmering in your brain? 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 her 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.

Print and e-book from
The Wild Rose Press
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.

Print and e-book from
The Wild Rose Press
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 could 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 a 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.

To learn more about me and my books, I invite you to visit me at The buy link for my books is

Consider your favorite books. Can you pick out common themes that resonate with you?


Nightingale said...

Alison, you've started me thinking about the themes in my work. I have just contracted a fantasy, finished a romantic suspense and I write erotica. Your book covers are beautiful.

Alison Henderson said...

Thanks so much! I love the covers, too. They're both so colorful - very eye-catching.

Jannine Gallant said...

Very interesting, Alison, as I hadn't really thought about theme in my writing. Like you, I write across genres. Also like you, family is the central element in all my stories. Hmmm, maybe the fact that we have so much in common is why I like your books! LOL

Alison Henderson said...

Jannine, the feeling is mutual! LOL