|Willa Holland as Ava|
If anyone’s ready to smash age stereotypes, it’s Ava Rose, and that’s not an attitude that’s going to change anytime in the future. I imagine Grandma Ava with a revolver tucked into the side of her wheelchair. Because when your mother is a debutant gone rogue, your father’s a soldier-turned-outlaw, and your husband’s favorite weapon is a sledgehammer, meek was never an option. It’s one thing to study the MC lifestyle, and quite another to be born into it. A modern spin on a Gothic heroine, Ava has no problem being underestimated. In fact, she’s counting on it.
The examination of outlaw bikers provides vivid snapshots of MC life. There’s no question that these men are dangerous, rough around the edges, and fiercely loyal to their own people and credos. It’s easy to stop surface-deep, and just see the leather and Harleys and the occasional headlines. It isn’t difficult to find tales of biker exploits. For me, the fascinating part was the softer side. The family side. I’m a girl who was raised in a non-biker home. What must it be like to grow up the daughter of an outlaw? For me, that was the jumping off point. To get inside that kind of life, to find it normal, and look at my own world through the eyes of an outsider, someone who would see my upbringing as foreign.
How strange and awful the social structure of high school and college must have seemed to someone like Ava. (It’s fairly awful anyway, but we’re talking about Ava, here.) How trivial slumber parties and text message feuds would have felt to someone who knew her father and brother might die at any moment – I liken it to a military family. There are bigger, scarier things to worry about.
For Ava, raised in an environment in which trustworthiness and loyalty meant everything, the idea of dating a man outside the MC circle would have seemed abhorrent. And it was…up until Mercy broke her heart. The thing about Ronnie is, Ava had no idea what to expect of non-club men. I wanted her to feel inexperienced and even naïve when it came to men outside the club, because she has no idea what passes for “normal” behavior outside the club. It always made sense to me that someone who’d been hurt so badly, and who’d endured so many heavy things in such a short time, would react by trying to fling herself in the opposite direction. She didn’t want to feel that way anymore; in her young eyes, a non-outlaw would never break her heart, because she’d never care that much, and Ronnie seemed like a safe option for her. Ronnie was a symptom of her continuing trauma. I’ve been told that Ava “got over it too quick” – it being the miscarriage – but she absolutely didn’t. When Fearless opens, she’s still struggling. Dating Ronnie didn’t mean she’d forgotten and moved on. Everyone handles trauma differently, and Ava is a proactive person, so she was trying to force herself to get over it. Which of course didn’t work.
Ava isn’t me. But I’ll admit that, in some ways, Ava is my pushback against an attitude that’s always been levered against me: that I was incapable and stupid because I was “young.” I was a highly anxious, extremely quiet, very bashful child. Socializing and “being a kid,” always came hard for me. I started working early, mucking stalls and offering to exercise horses at eleven and twelve. I liked feeling useful; I liked learning. When I was eighteen, I was handed the reins of the business and ran the big boarding barn where I’d more or less grown up. I taught lessons, administered basic veterinary care…Okay, I’ll stop. But suffice to say, I didn’t care about hanging at the mall and getting a tan; I wanted to work and be valuable.
A character like Ava, growing up amidst a club war, the threat of death hanging over her head, would grow up quickly. She had no hope of being silly and frivolous, and in that way I identify with her. At the start of our tale, she’s just young enough to live in the moment, and spiritually old enough to understand perfectly how damaged Mercy is. She knows the life. She knows ONLY the life, and where Mercy would horrify a nice polite dental hygienist, he is total perfection to Ava. Loyal, strong, protective. And they already have a bond of love. Their love grows and shifts, and of course Ghost has a problem with that, because he has Dad-goggles on…but he eventually comes around. And once he gets past the terrible guilt that his baby girl has been forced to do dark things, Ghost is a proud papa.
The Dark Side
It stands to reason that Ava, club daughter that she is, will shock those of us who don’t share her background. And I can promise that’s intentional. There are moments – the highway scene comes to mind – in which she eschews logical behavior in favor of club behavior. I find it hard to believe that your average, law-abiding woman would condone Mercy’s behavior, and in that sense Ava isn’t intended to be a character who the reader can imagine as herself, but a sympathetic one nonetheless. I’ve found – and this is kind of funny – that readers who can’t stand Ava are generally those who want the heroine of the book to be them. And that’s one thing I won’t promise to readers of this genre. My heroines are not self-insert characters. They are women hand-crafted for the men they’re paired with.
The beginning of any fictional journey is pivotal. It sets the tone and the stage, introduces all the players. Part of my deep affection for Ava can be attributed to the fact that she was the first heroine of this series. And I use heroine loosely – she isn’t intended to be a model for behavior. I actually “knew” her long before Mercy, was chilling her on ice for when the right man came along. And then he did, and the rest is history. I was more emotionally involved in this first book than in any of the rest, partly because it was the first. I wrote with passion, without restraint, without any thought of readership, and I don’t regret a single passage.