From Quirky to Kick-Butt with Beth Ciotta's Into The Wild

Author Beth Ciotta is known for her signature quirky characters. Now the author shares what inspired her to pit a “meek, neurotic” heroine against the Amazonian jungle in Into the Wild, which received a 4 1/2 stars Top Pick rating from RT.

I don’t know about you, but I have a thing for Indiana Jones. And Jack T. Colton (of Romancing the Stone) and Rick O’Connell (of The Mummy). Clearly I’m attracted to hunky treasure hunters with nerves of steel and razor sharp wit. I’ve watched theses movies again and again, always imagining myself in the heroine’s shoes. Living out any one of these romantic adventures would be the thrill of a lifetime. 

In my dreams. 

In real life, I’d never venture into the wild in search of a lost (almost always cursed) treasure. First of all, I have too many phobias, including an intense fear of heights, tight places, and spiders. This could prove a problem while navigating remote terrain. Just my luck, I’d have to squeeze through a dark tunnel and brave a gazillion creepy crawlers to save my man from an ancient booby trap. Second, I’m not the most ‘athletic’ person in the world. Hacking my way through tangled vines with a machete? Climbing thousands of feet over jagged rock and thorny bushes? Trudging through muddy bogs or paddling down a raging river? 

Shoot me now. 

Then again… If the stakes were high enough, I have no doubt somehow, some way, I’d manage my fears and endure the elements. This was uppermost in my mind when I plotted my very own romantic jungle adventure—Into The Wild. Instead of featuring a confident kick-ass heroine (the popular choice), I decided on a meek, neurotic heroine.

Quirky heroines are fun. When the heroine’s quirky, flawed and vulnerable, she’s a challenge. You need to engage the reader in a way that will have her rooting for your gal and not cursing her too-stupid-to-live. River Kane, small town wedding photographer and daughter of an eccentric archaeologist, is the most obsessive, neurotic woman I’ve ever written. She’s afraid of exotic locales, getting sick, getting lost, and expressing her emotions. Did I mention she’s a control freak? Yet for all her idiosyncrasies, I empathized. She’s a real woman with honest issues. Issues rooted in childhood and intensified by family. I can relate. And who doesn’t have a phobia or three? 

So how do you inspire the reader to root for a supremely flawed character? How do you put the hero in heroine? 

You present her with an extreme dilemma, making the stakes so high she has to face her greatest fears. You plunk that meek, neurotic germ-a-phobe in the Amazon and Andes—braving tropical diseases, hacking her way through tangled vines, climbing thousands of feet over jagged rock and thorny bushes, and trudging through muddy bogs. And because it’s a romantic adventure (and my fantasy), you team her up with a hunky celebrity treasure hunter and revel as she puts him through his paces. Conquering your fears takes grit. New motto: Quirky girls kick-ass too!

- Beth Ciotta

You can pick up your own copy of Into The Wild in stores now!