Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Fab Superromance review- and I have an epiphany (again…) December 29, 2010

A wonderful review over at Dear Author for Karina Bliss’s latest Harlequin Superromance. I love her stories, and I’m really looking forward to reading this one, though I do have to say stories that start with the hero or heroine trying to pick up someone else tend to squick me out a bit. It does seem to turn up a lot in these “best friends into lovers” stories. That’s possibly just me showing my personal preferences, or it could be my age. I read Blaze now, so I can handle the heat, but I was brought up on Sweet, no-sex romances. I definitely want one man-one woman stories, even a start showing the heroine with someone else just sets the tone all wrong for me. I’m old-fashioned.

I’m realising that a lot of what is wrong with my stories is exactly what the reviewer commented on- they read like they were written by someone’s Mum in 1983. Co-incidentally, about when I first tried writing a romance!

I had a small epiphany yesterday, when I realised the problem with my WiP and the real reason why the situation and the heroine’s backstory just weren’t gelling was her age. I started writing with her 28, a good age and one I usually like for heroines in stories I read.  But the way she was living and the things she was doing seemed too immature for someone of that age to still be doing- I felt impatient with her, wondered why she hadn’t grown up. I tried changing her age to 24.  Better, but still not right. Suddenly I realised- she’s forty!

Everything fell into place, beautifully. All the pieces of backstory that didn’t fit, the conflict with the hero that felt contrived, the motivation for her doing what she was doing. It works. Or at least, hopefully it will work. I still have to write the story, of course. It’s a good lesson in the importance of making sure I know my characters, really know my characters, before I start. The essence of the story, as I mapped it out using the Beat Sheet from Save the Cat, is identical. It just works so much better now!

Where I went wrong was not even thinking about it. The story was aimed for Harlequin, so the heroine had to be in her twenties.  Realising, no, she doesn’t, is a wonderful change, and is absolutely right for this heroine, even though I know it stops this story being a fit for any of the Harlequin lines.

That wasn’t the epiphany though. The epiphany was that this is the sort of story I want to keep on writing- sensual stories, set against a small town or community background, with grown up heroines.

There doesn’t seem to be much available for women of a certain age, who want to read about women their own age finding true love and happy endings, but who still want stories with good sex too. There’s women’s fiction, usually with an unhappy ending but a  life lesson learned; for a short time there was “hen lit”, which seems to have fizzled; there are a few sweeter romances with older heroines, with the bedroom door tight closed; or there are hot stories about women half my age, or over ten years younger at best. The only exception seems to be abominations like Sex and the City 2, which I totally detested for the shallow pathetic characters, caricatures rather than heroines anyone could identify with. At least what SATC shows though is women in their forties and fifties, still wanting love and sex. Where are the romances, for and about women in their forties, fifties, and beyond, with heroines who are falling in love and having the hottest sex of their lives? Few and far between, it seems, certainly from the major romance publishers. Which is understandable given the huge costs of paper book production and distribution.

So if I write the stories I want to write, I will never ever have any chance of being published by Harlequin, no matter how well I learn to write. Maybe there is no market, and the best I can hope for is to get my stories published by an obscure e-publisher and sell six copies, all to my friends, who make polite noises but never actually read the things. Or maybe there are actually a lot of women out there who know that love and sex don’t stop at thirty, and would love to read stories with older heroines, who are just not finding the books out there they would like to read.

I discovered yesterday that at least one of the romance e-pubs, Wild Rose Press, has a line featuring older heroines, called Last Rose of Summer. I intend to read a few, see if I like them. The wonderful thing about e-publishing is it lets publishers take risks on books that might sell poorly. When fabulous big publishers like Harlequin have tried series with older heroines, sales weren’t good enough, so the lines soon folded. E-pubs can afford to get away with lower sales, so can publish a more diverse range. I’ll still keep reading the Harlequins I love, but it’s time to be more adventurous and venture further afield too.

Much though I would love to see my name there on the supermarket and newsagent shelves on the cover of a Harlequin/ Mills & Boon, it’s not going to happen. I love those books, and there are so many brilliant writers of all ages writing wonderful stories, for HMB, but I won’t be one of them. My chance of getting published is going to come with one of the e-publishers. I honestly think it’s time for me to stop writing the weak, cliched stories I’ve been labouring with, stories that were never going to fly because I didn’t believe in them, and because they read like the stories I tried to write when I was the same age as the heroine I was writing about. My writing can only get better if I try writing honest stories from my heart.

Any suggestions for great romances with older heroines for me to read? What do you think- would you read a story with an older heroine?

Oh, completely unrelated- if anyone saw the post I did earlier about the free Harlequin comics on Amazon, I took it down when I found they weren’t offering complete stories as the freebies, just samples. Still worth a peek at them though, just for the sheer awesomeness of a story written in English that’s been translated into Japanese to be turned into a manga, then translated back into English again.


9 Responses to “Fab Superromance review- and I have an epiphany (again…)”

  1. I read that review, too and was blown away about how the reviewer nailed the issues with so many contemporaries.

    Sadly, I think now that my hero seems a smidge cliched. *bangs head repeatedly on desk*

    I’m going to have to really think.

  2. I had a similar “epiphany” with one of my ideas where I realised that in order for the protagonist to have all this wisdom and baggage and experience and be as interesting as she was then she had to be a certain age. You simply can’t have a 28 year old who’s been married for almost forty years (even someone with my appalling mathematics skills knows that boat won’t float). So my protagonist is in her late fifties and I’m not aiming for a line (it will be a single title) and I’m not worrying about genre either. I’m just focusing on the story.

    There’s no rule to say you can’t write category AND single title. Maybe this story of yours is a single title? Just a thought.

  3. Romy Sommer Says:

    I am so glad that you had an epiphany about what you should be writing. I’ve just written a blog post for the Minxes (scheduled for early Feb) on finding your own unique voice and just how hard that is to do. I only wish I could have the same epiphany!

    I’d definitely read your story. While I enjoy romances with younger heroines, it does feel like there’s something missing for those of us with a little more life experience behind us. I’m not ready for ‘hen lit’ but I’d love to read more heroines my age. I especially like the idea of reminding readers that women over 35 can still be attractive and desirable, and can still have fun!

    I’m published with Wild Rose Press and highly recommend them. They’re a very supportive and author friendly publisher, and they do print copies of full length novels too. There are other eBook publishers with good exposure and sales, like Samhain and Carina Press. I’m a firm believer that eBooks are the future, so giving up on the Harlequin dream, sad as it might feel now, could be the start of something truly amazing for you!

    Best wishes,

  4. Nina Says:

    Hi there
    As a Harlequin Romance Line author I do not think that the age of the heroine is a complete barrier to being accepted by the line- Fiona Harper wrote a great story about a 40yr old in ‘Blind Date Baby’ – so please don’t give up. What truly matters is your individual voice.
    Very best for 2011 – love Nina Harrington

  5. Hi,

    I haven’t written about a woman in her 40s, yet, but almost all of my heroines have been in the 33-35 year old range. I don’t know if I mention their ages specifically because it hasn’t mattered to my story lines, but that’s how old they are. One of the reasons I’ve been writing in this age range is that I like to write about parents with teenagers which isn’t really possible with 20-year-old women. 😉

    I know you’re thinking of older heroines than mine, but I wonder if you ask around on the Super board if you’ll find people are writing women who are in their mid-thirties or older. I’d be interested to find out. I hope my heroines aren’t the elderly ladies of Superromance. 😉


  6. Janet Says:

    Blind Date Baby is a brillaint story. I’ve just finished reading it and it’s one of the best Harlequin Romance line stories I’ve read. You should definitely read it before you decide Harlequin isn’t for you 🙂

  7. waitingforthecall Says:

    Oh wow, what fabulous replies!

    It’s been a difficult day today- our elderly cat died, and we have a very ill younger patient at work who may not see in the New Year.

    Julia, I wonder if your hero is really cliched? I know from experience in my own writing it’s not so much the characters that are cliched but their motivation. It’s too easy to grab at the first reason that comes to mind for the characters to want what they want and do what they do, and that’s where they can seem cliche. I did an online workshop earlier this year with Shirley Jump, and one of the many things she said that stuck with me was to look for at least six reasons why the characters is behaving like they are, that way we could just come up with something surprising and so appropriate it makes us grin!

    Elissa, I’ll be interested to read your story when it’s published! Yes, this one will be either single title, or just possibly could go back to being a Superromance, the most ST-ish category romance, if an older hertoine will fly there (that and the little matter of writing well enough). They are going back to longer again in 2011, too, up to 75,000 words I think. Which is just delicious!

    Romy, this is such an important thing, I think. I’ll be interested to read your blog post. That intangible thing “voice”, that we recognise when we see it, is possibly as much what we write as how we write. I realised I hadn’t really considered what I wanted to write, I tried to write what I like to read, and what I’d tried to write when I first wanted to write for Mills and Boon back in the 80’s. WRP is definitely on my radar, both for reading and for subbing!

    Nina, thanks for visiting! I’ve read a couple of Sweet Romances with older heroines, and loved them. If only I wrote as well as Fiona- I love her stories! I am sure Romance is not for me- I just can’t keep the bedroom door shut, but it’s more than that, there’s a whole difference in tone to Sweets that I just don’t think I have. Also, although the main focus is totally on the central relationship, I have lots of secondary characters and subplots, that have no place in a 50,000 word story.

    Ooh, Ellen, nice to see one of my favorite Super-writers here! I don’t think your 33-35 year old heroines will turn out to be elderly! I’m sure I’ve read Supers with later 30’s heroines. And even my heroines (I hope!) won’t be quite ready for a Zimmer frame yet, though they made be a smidgen too old for Supers. I asked, so I’ll be interested to see what response I get.

  8. anna Says:

    wow, love all the insight. I’m a wonnabe writer. Wonderful love story in the works. Older couple, find love. Perhaps, just maybe I’ll buckel down and finish this project.

  9. waitingforthecall Says:

    Go for it, Anna!
    The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it I don’t do it, I’ll always be a wannabe. Like the sound of your story!

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