Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Brenda Gayle Reflects on Seeing Ourselves in What We Read (and Write)

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.

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

** 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


lastnerve said...

Oh my my my that is one HOT cover and I LOVE that the heroine is older! I am 38 so right now when I read a lot of books, the heroines are older than they used to be. Now they are ranging from 28 to about 32. It's funny that you should mention age because I was reading a book last week and the heroine was 21. I kept thinking "Girl, you need to be in college, stop messing around with romance." lol I look so forward to reading your book, it looks very intriguing. And the way I see things. The 40 of yesterday is almost like the 25 of today. :)

Maggie Jagger said...

I do like to see older heroes and heroines. I wondered if some of the popularity of the Twilight series was because it showed families, including parents. Something to appeal to everyone. Or maybe I think that because I have a crush on Bella's father. Sorry, Edward. It is enjoyable to be able to relate to an older heroine, looking forward to reading your book.

Lynne Marshall said...

Dear Brenda,
I am so down with what you say about yearning to read stories about people closer to my own age. Unfortunately, the big publishers are as enthusiastic as we (the readers and writers of boomer characters) are. Thank goodness for The Last Rose of Summer!
I'm intrigued by your book and look forward to reading it.

Linda Poitevin said...

Excellent post, Brenda! Being of the had-kids-still-have-mortgage demographic myself, I absolutely relate better to a heroine with a little life experience under her belt...and it's nice to see more of them finding romance!

Judy said...

Just because there's snow on the roof, it doesn't mean the fire's gone out on the hearth...

Susan Macatee said...

What an intriguing story, Brenda! The cover is fantastic too! I'd like to see older heroes and heroines too. But I don't know how popular they are with publishers. I did read a book from TWRP years ago, called THE MODEL MAN. That had an older heroine, but the hero was a lot younger.

And this post brought to mind the actor who played Captain Christopher Pike in the new Star Trek movie. Now, he was a hottie! Too bad he didn't have a heroine his age around. Seemed the young kids had all the prime roles.

I'm definitely going to check out your book, Brenda. Good luck with it!

Brenda Gayle said...

Hi everyone. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I see more older heroines in women's fiction and less in romantic fiction, which is disappointing. The rise of e-publishing has allowed publishers to take more risks including publishing books where the hero and heroine aren't just starting out in the world. As with what happened with erotica, hopefully the larger publishers will recognize a potential market for older heroines.

LoRee Peery said...

Your story sounds like a great read. I love the idea of life experiences of older heroines as well, so I wrote a couple myself. Glad to know there are more of us.

Brenda Gayle said...

Thanks everyone for participating. I put all your names in a hat and had my son draw one out. The winner of SOLDIER FOR LOVE is... drumroll please...
lastnerv. Please contact me through my website so I can arrange for you to get a copy of my book.

Happy reading everyone.

lastnerve said...

Thanks so much for making me a winner! I emailed you and can't wait to read the book. :)