I love nothing more than a hard-won happily-ever-after. Maybe that’s why I gravitate toward redemption stories. At some point, we’ve all done something we regret, created some challenge or obstacle we struggle to overcome.

In This Heart of Mine, the latest addition to my Whiskey Creek series, Phoenix Fuller has been through quite a bit. She’s even served time. Now she’s out of prison and finally has a chance to make good, and she’s determined to do it. She’s different and admirable, but no one can see the admirable part at first, which is what makes the discovery of her true character so much fun—and what made her such an interesting personality to create.

When I went to the RWA national conference a few years ago (I believe it was in Washington, DC), I attended a workshop in which Susan Elizabeth Phillips, one of my favorite writers, gave some sage advice. She said that every writer has a “core story” and encouraged all of us to find ours.

Before that, I’d never really thought in terms of having a core story, but I’ve considered her advice many times since. What is it I’m really trying to say in my stories? What matters most to me and how can finding it make my stories deeper and more meaningful?

Brenda NovakAt that time, I decided my core story was a simple one: Love Conquers All. I still believe that’s essentially what I’m trying to convey, but I often use redemption themes in order to do it. Flawed characters, those who are challenged by more than just forces beyond their control, feel more real to me. I don’t know anyone who has lived a perfect life; regret is something we all have to cope with, which is why characters who are pitted against themselves are often the most complex and interesting.

What about you? What themes are you most attracted to? And which books best exemplify those themes? Post your comments below.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Brenda Novak is the author of 50 books. A four-time Rita® Award nominee, she has won many awards, including the National Readers’ Choice Award, the Booksellers’ Best Award, the Book Buyers Best Award, the Daphne Award and the Holt Medallion. She also runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity to raise money for diabetes research (her youngest son has the disease). To date, she’s raised $2.4 million. For more about Brenda, please visit www.brendanovak.com. [giveaway giveaway_id=2012 side=”right”]