Intersection Column | Writing Characters Who Are Smarter Than Me
by Mary Connealy
Am I smart enough to write about geniuses? That was a question that almost stumped me many times while writing The Lumber Baron’s Daughters series.
I have a brother-in-law who, in part, inspired this series. He’s a math guy. Not an engineer like in my series, but a deeply intelligent man who works with math calculations for a living.
And he acts a little funny sometimes. I’ll ask some off-hand, no-big-deal question and he sort of stares at me. I used to get the feeling my question was stupid or he thought I was stupid. There’d be this awkward stretch of silence. Then he’d answer the question and in no way act like it was a dumb question.
He did this to everyone. I decided it was his math brain. A lot of the time, MOST of the time, he can just talk along like everyone else. But sometimes he has to stop and think. Once I got used to it, I could almost see the math calculations going on in his head as he formulated a logical response.
Eventually, it didn’t bother me. In fact, I thought it was pretty interesting—and a little funny.
I used that in my heroines. They are women who are highly educated in a time and place where women didn’t go to any school for long and very rarely went to college.
My heroine’s father realized he wasn’t going to have any sons, and he also realized his daughters were all brilliant. He owned a self-made dynasty based in lumber during the California Gold Rush and he wanted to leave it to his girls. Thus, he wanted them to grasp what they’d need to know to run it themselves.
They are naturally brilliant and that’s enhanced by their education supplied mostly from professors on sabbatical and hired tutors. After their father’s death, they have to run and hide to survive—and it’s hard to hide all those smarts.
I had a fun idea. Now, all I had to do was write it.
So, can a person of normal intelligence write about someone so smart? I worried about that.
I have a brain that’s geared toward words. Reading and writing, sure, those are my strengths. But arithmetic? I wasn’t so sure. However, I didn’t think of that until after I had pitched the series and gotten the green light to write it.
I tried to twist my brain around to make my heroines use bigger words than what usually appear in my cowboy romances. But I didn’t want them to seem stuffy and arrogant. They’re nice women and, in some ways, their intelligence is to their own detriment because they can somewhat lack in common sense.
The ladies, raised in wealth, consider themselves equal to any occasion. But they realize they didn’t know how to do much in the way of caring for themselves or others. They’re on the run, in hiding, passing themselves off as servants. But they don’t know how to be servants. It never occurred to them, smart though they are, that they would need to know how to cook, sew, wash clothes and do dishes.
So, their cover story gets very thin right away, and it’s humbling for them, which is probably good.
As the author, I could give the ladies that staring habit my brother-in-law does as they consider all aspects of their decisions. And I tossed in a few math words when they seemed appropriate.
Did algebra exist back then . . . Calculus . . . Engineering? I spent a lot of time researching.
And if those educational disciplines did exist, would it have used current terms and language? I had a lot of fun researching cutting edge inventions because my characters are using all the latest tools, chemicals and machinery—and even making their own, if necessary. The 1870s were a fascinating time for inventions.
The women were smart and yet ignorant of household chores. Smart about some things. Not so smart about others. It was fun to create characters like that. I just hope I pulled it off.
I’d hate for my brilliant heroines to sound dumb.
About the Author
Mary Connealy writes "romantic comedies with cowboys" and is celebrated for her fun, zany, action-packed style. She has sold more than half a million books. She is the author of the popular series Brothers in Arms, Brides of Hope Mountain, High Sierra Sweethearts, Kincaid Brides, Trouble in Texas, Lassoed in Texas, Sophie's Daughters and many other books. Mary lives on a ranch in eastern Nebraska with her very own romantic cowboy hero. Learn more at www.MaryConnealy.com
About the Book
With their sharp engineering minds, Laura Stiles and her two sisters have been able to deal with their mother's unfortunate choice in husband until they discovered his plans to marry each of them off to his lecherous friends. Now they must run away to find better matches to legally claim their portion of their father's lumber dynasty.