Author Christina Dodd Mystery Tribune

Christina Dodd: “Women Love An Ass-kicking Heroine”

New York Times bestseller Christina Dodd writes “Edge-of-the-seat suspense” (Iris Johansen) and her books have been called “Scary, sexy, and smartly written” by critics. Much to her mother’s delight, Dodd was once a clue in the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle. She has more than 15 million copies of her books in print.

What follows is the author’s reflections on her latest novel What Doesn’t Kill Her.


Women love an ass-kicking heroine. Our heroine in What Doesn’t Kill Her faces off with vicious villains, brings justice to the oppressed and, on the side, deals with difficult situations like prepubescent daughters and overflowing toilets. She’s us…on a good day.

But what is it that separates an ass-kicking heroine from, say, us? What makes her willing to face starvation and torture, handle the horrors of battle and possibly die doing the right thing, all while figuring out how to thaw the turkey in time for the family’s holiday dinner?

Traditionally ass-kicking heroines didn’t really kick ass. The traditional role of the heroine was tied to a woman’s support…from the confines of her womanly role. Jo March of Little Women has a tough life of poverty and the Civil War tears her family apart—she reacts by wanting to be a boy, to go to war, “to help Father.” Ultimately the lesson she learns is to become an admirable wife and mother, and her reward is to run a boys’ school. Even as a writer, she’s expected to write, not adventures, but moral stories.

In L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, little Dorothy is swept away to a strange land where she faces all challenges that come her way with good Kansas sense and is eventually rewarded with her return home. (The movie resulted in the best review ever: “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.” Even as a kid reading the book and watching the movie, I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t instead transport her aunt and uncle to Oz rather than return to black-and-white Kansas. But in twentieth-century literature and movies, the place for females was in the home, and heaven help the women who thought otherwise.

I’m here to kick ass and take names…and I forgot my pencil.
—Motto of all ass-kicking heroines

War creates ass-kicking heroines. The first warrior-heroine I read was Éowyn of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I’ll never forget the thrill I felt when she faced the Nazgûl and said…well, you know. I did not that see that coming.

In a more contemporary story, Kristin Hannah created Isabelle and Vianne for mega-bestseller The Nightingale, a brilliant novel chronicling the World War II French resistance and two sisters who do what they must and more to defeat the Nazis and end the war.

Mercy of the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs is the epitome of a woman whose circumstances of birth isolate her from the rest of humanity. Born of a liaison between her mother and a shapeshifter from the Blackfeet Nation, Mercy shifts between human and coyote and, after her father’s death, is the last “walker” in the world. When the series opens, she’s tough, funny, angry and smart—she’s a woman with a past and she’s a car mechanic who owns her own garage. Mercy finds herself (or places herself) in the middle of trouble, and is pivotal in dispensing justice in a world that’s discovering magical beings inhabit their planet. Confession: this is my favorite ongoing series.

A problematic childhood arguably creates more ass-kickers than any other form of adversity. In J.D. Robb’s dark and enduring In Death series, Eve Dallas rose from a childhood forever destroyed by a sexually abusive father. She rescues herself in a way that marks her forever and makes her determined to help the unfortunate and pursue criminals without a thought for the toll it takes.

Christina Dodd Women Love An Ass-kicking Heroine

Many years ago I went to a writers’ meeting and the speakers were two public defense lawyers who worked with abused women. The stories they told haunted me and made me understand how abusive spouses can mentally destroy their partners, rendering them incapable of removing themselves from the horrors of their situation. Abuse is brainwashing at its most insidious, for its victims consider themselves deserving of punishment.

Ever since that meeting, I’ve wanted to write the story of a woman who escapes her abusive husband and, though still pursued by the specters of her past, becomes a woman of strength and courage. The Cape Charade series, (Dead Girl Running, What Doesn’t Killer Her and the upcoming Strangers She Knows) was the result. Kellen Adams arrives on the page with three confessions:

1. I’ve got the scar of a gunshot on my forehead.

2. I don’t remember an entire year of my life.

3. My name is Kellen Adams…and that’s half a lie.

Kellen is an abused woman who survived her husband’s murder/suicide intentions, saw her cousin killed in her place, endured homelessness and a gunshot to the head and finally became a warrior in the U.S. military. As the series unfolds, we discover some of Kellan’s secrets—but with a year of her life missing from her mind, what will she find out?

Why are kick-ass heroines so enduring?

They are the lesson teachers. However her bravery is earned, this heroine has walked through hell, and if the time comes when she falls down in despair, she will stand up again and keep walking.

We all have difficulties, and when we hear stories about a person who experiences abuse, deprivation and prejudice, endures and lives to fight and conquer the challenges presented, we feel inspired. Too many injustices go unpunished, and we like to think that when the next crime looms on the horizon, we’ll stand up, emulate our favorite kick-ass heroine and do the right thing.

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