Seeing Ourselves In What We Read (and Write)
by Brenda Gayle
When I turned 40 I decided it was time to “get in shape” so I joined a gym and sought out a personal trainer. There were a lot of wonderful women to choose from--most of them young and at the peak of their physical prowess. But I know myself too well. If I’m sweating it out, convinced I’m about to die, how seriously can I take the encouragement of some twenty-something trainer telling me “you can do it; just ten more”?
Far from inspiring me, I’d be more likely to snap, “Lady, let me hear you say that when you’ve reached my age, have given birth—twice, have a mortgage to pay, and are juggling the demands of family, a full-time job, and a writing career.” Needless to say, the trainer I eventually picked is a fantastically motivating woman over 40, with kids and mortgage of her own.
I sometimes feel he same way about the books I read. Don’t get me wrong. I love stories about “first love” and the emotional thrill that goes with it. But more often than not, I can’t relate to a young, innocent heroine. She has barely lived so how can she possibly know that the hero is the man for her? Instead, I find myself turning to books where the heroine is older with some personal baggage, either physical or emotional. This woman is more interesting to me and, I suspect, to a growing number of romance readers.
In my contemporary romance, SOLDIER FOR LOVE, the heroine, Major Julie Collins, has just been promoted and given her first overseas command. She projects an image of strength and confidence, but privately questions whether she’s really up for the job. I struggled with pinpointing her age while I was writing it. I was under the impression, from much of what I was reading, that she needed to be fairly young in order to appeal to the romance market. But a young Major Collins didn’t ring true for the character, and I edged her age up as much as I dared.
When I pitched the book to The Wild Rose Press I deliberately made no mention of Julie’s age, hoping to skate by my dilemma without notice. The response of Senior Editor Kathy Cottrell floored me. “Can you make her older?” she asked. “I’d love to have this book for our Last Rose of Summer line.”
According to the Romance Writers of America, the typical romance reader is 45, female, and in a committed relationship. As the baby boom bubble works its way up, the average age will increase. And as they’ve done with just about every other aspect of society, the boomers’ attitudes, tastes, and purchasing power will influence fiction.
A young, naive heroine may be fun to escape with once in a while, but I believe we read to see ourselves. And let’s face it; older women are simply more interesting. How does a middle-aged woman with years of emotional baggage find love and happiness? What compromises is she willing to make for it? Is there a hero out there who can accept her for who she really is? And what compromises will he make for her? These are some of the issues I explored in SOLDIER FOR LOVE, and the challenges I love to see addressed in other books.
What do you think? Have you found your taste in books has changed as you’ve gotten older? Is there a particular heroine that you’ve really identified with? Who is she and why has she touched you? One of today’s commenters will receive a copy of SOLDIER FOR LOVE.
SOLDIER FOR LOVE
She’s his Commanding Officer. So why does he seem to be in charge?
Major Julie Collins should be on top of the world. Her long-sought promotion has finally come through and she has just been given her first overseas command. But when one of her troops turns out to be the handsome Native American who has just left her bed, everything starts to unravel. And then she’s kidnapped by a deranged voodoo priest.
Although fictional, the setting for SOLDIER FOR LOVE was inspired by the geography, history, and culture of Haiti. I am donating 25% of book and eBook royalties to Haitian relief and reconstruction as a way to give back to the men and woman who allowed me to share their world during the researching and writing of the book. For more about me and my work-in-progress, visit my website at www.BrendaGayle.com.
** A special thanks to my extraordinary LROS editor Maggie Johnson, whose keen eye and gentle hand were instrumental in guiding SOLDIER FOR LOVE to publication.
Tomorrow: Kat Henry Doran
Tomorrow: Kat Henry Doran