Characters need flaws. It's what makes them interesting, and makes them seem more like real people. I particularly like exploring the emotional landscape of wounded characters, not only because some issue in their past created who they are today, but also because in the course of the book, they must come to terms with whatever they did.
I like when a character who made a terrible mistake seeks out redemption, and eventually finds a way to reconcile their past with their present. It's a theme I explore because of my own regrets, and certainly my own bad decisions. Characters may find peace, but sometimes, we real humans never do. Whatever our mistakes may be, whatever sins we've committed, they motivate us ... either toward self-destruction or self-realization.
I also like the idea of finding forgiveness. Sometimes, there's no taking back something awful I said or did. There's no changing it, and there's no fixing it. Every try to forgive yourself? Especially for something really terrible? Especially when the person who was hurt can't, or won't, give you absolution? I've been on either side of that equation. We all have. And in fiction, I can explore the nooks and crannies of a situation that has affected characters so deeply, it drives everything they do.
In NEVER AGAIN (March 1, 2011 ... see the subtle hint about my upcoming release?), my hero and my heroine are haunted by their respective pasts. Lucinda is tormented because of the mistakes she's made, mistakes that have cost her everything, and Gray is still wounded by the betrayal that sent him to hell--and nearly ended his life. As soul-weary as these two are, they still find in one another redemption, forgiveness, and hope. It's a long journey, a difficult one, that requires sacrifices, the defeat of personal demons, and the final, terrifying leap into trust ... and love.
We cannot escape our pasts. Some demons, we learn to live with. And some regrets, well, they'll be part of our personal make-up till our dying days. That's life. What we must do is find more joy than sorrow, more love than hate, and maybe ... hopefully ... that one person who understands us best of all, and accepts all that we are (and doesn't give a good goddamn about all we are not). We are worthy of forgiveness, especially from ourselves. We are worthy of good things and good people. And we do not have to look into the abyss of the past, not when there is so much beauty and bounty unfolding before us right now.