When I wrote the wedding planner trilogy of my Tales Behind the Veils series, there was one secondary character who stood out to me and piqued my curiosity. This character, Maggie, was one I enjoyed writing, and as details emerged about her life and her history, I wanted to explore the character further and find out more about her past and her future by giving her a book of her own. As I started discussing the new project with other authors, I was greeted with dire warnings that Maggie was too old to be a romance heroine. How old is she? She's 49...the same age I'll be later this year. I don't consider myself too old to be a heroine, and I certainly would be interested in reading about someone my age, whose life experiences and relationship issues might be something I could relate to. So in hopes of proving my well-meaning fellow writers wrong, I set out to research the issue. What I found was disturbing.
The Publishing Industry says No!The romance publishing industry frowns quite sternly on any heroine over the age of 30. It's a rarity to find a best-selling romance with a leading lady that has already left her twenties behind. It seems that if the storyline focuses on love and passion over "a certain age", it pushes the book into the women's fiction genre and out of the romance genre. Over and over again, I found the same message in my research---according to the powers that be in publishing, no one wants to read about people over the age of 30 having romance and sex. Yet...as people over the age of 30 would readily confirm, it happens! Despite how far-fetched (or disgusting) it may seem to those still seeped in youth. I met my now-husband when I was 36, and I can assure you, romance and passion were (and are) alive and well in our relationship. The candid conversations I often have with friends in my age range indicate that I'm not alone in that. People "my age" are still having sex. And good sex! So if women still experience romance and passion past thirty, why is it a taboo subject? I was curious to know if this was a case of the publishing industry deciding for readers what they want to read. Was there a market for heroines over 30? Several factors would indicate there is.
Readers say Yes!Baby boomers and Generation X are two large segments of the population in that higher age range, and they are both groups that buy and read romance. Demographics for reader subscription services such as BookBub reveal that women over age 40 are a significant portion of the market for romance purchases, and my own statistics from my website and my marketing efforts show that the majority of my readers are over 35. So if it's reflective of real life, and there's a market of people who could relate to it, why is it taboo?
It Goes Deeper than PublishingI think part of the problem is rooted in our society's overall view of women aging. We glorify youth, and while we allow our men to age with dignity and retain their sex appeal, we tend to bench females who are considered "past their prime" as having lost their sensuality. As I combed the internet in my research, older men were referred to as silver foxes. But the few articles I came across regarding older heroines often called it "matron literature" or "hen lit", (older chick lit). Somehow matron and hen don't sound as enticing as silver fox to me. Even "cougar" has a bad connotation associated with it. Where are the positive terms? Of course, part of the problem stems from the prevalence of youthful gatekeepers within the industry who cannot fathom old people having sex. I get it. I do. I remember being a teenager when one of my aunts turned fifty. I was horrified on her behalf. She was ancient! Life was basically over for her in my mind. But I have found as each birthday has rolled around, that despite the increasing number of candles on the cake, I don't feel old. I'm still just me on the inside. My bones may creak more, and I may forget why the hell I walked in a room, but I'm still me. And I still have a full range of emotions -- love, passion, hurt, anger, disappointment, elation, and yes, ecstasy. But as an "older woman", my perspective is quite different than it was in my twenties. It is colored by my life experiences and the wisdom of hindsight. Older heroines are more likely to have survived heartbreak and hardships. They may have children, even adult children, who change the dynamics of starting a new relationship. They may have financial independence and career security that a younger heroine hasn't achieved yet. They are likely to have gone through a divorce or losing a spouse, or many other life upheavals that change us and shape our ability to trust and be open to love. Nothing in my research led me to believe that older women do not want to read stories about older heroines. In fact, it's quite the opposite. More and more, older readers are demanding that writers give them heroines they can relate to. People whose lives look more like theirs.
We're Coming Together, Slowly But SurelyAt a recent book conference, I attended a workshop on "Seasoned Romance", one of the new terms coined for this market. Authors Morgan Malone and Karen Booth talked extensively about the challenges of marketing older heroines, but they also pointed out a few encouraging signs. More than one romance publisher has announced plans for a division dedicated to older heroines, with names such as August Romance or Love Like Fine Wine. So the powers that be are paying attention to the buying power of older women! As for me, I didn't let the taboo designation slow me down. I published Maggie's story, which includes parallel tales of her heartbreak at nineteen, and her resistance to risking her heart again at forty-nine. It delves into her reluctance to give up her independence, her adult children's reactions to her budding romance, and the baggage (and habits) she and the hero both bring into the relationship. Just like in my novels about heroines in their twenties, Maggie focuses on the relationships she has with her family and friends, her own doubts and insecurities, her career, and yes, her attraction to the opposite sex. Because these are all universal aspects of life, regardless of age. Thanks to the workshop I attended, I've joined the Seasoned Romance Facebook group, where I can interact with other authors who write about older heroines and meet readers like me who want to read about people more like them. That led to joining Romance In Her Prime, another Facebook group for fans and authors of older heroines and heroes. It has been refreshing to see so much love and acceptance for realistic characters who have found love later in life. The twenties were exciting and tumultuous for me, but the thirties and forties have held much in experiences, emotions, triumphs, and losses. The ups and downs of this thing called life. Looking back on it all, I think that time period from nineteen to twenty-nine was just the tip of the iceberg in all my life has encompassed. How sad it would be to limit our fictional counterparts to that one decade in the immense lifetime of being a woman and what that entails at every stage of life.
What's your take on it?So here's to love no matter what age we are! I'd love to hear from you.....what do you think? Would you read a love story about an older heroine? Do you believe in seasoned romance?
We decided to pull the ultimate trick on trick or treaters last night and use the money we would normally spend on candy to go out to eat and to a movie. While I missed seeing all the costumes and grinning faces, I enjoyed the date night with My Knight and I really enjoyed the movie. We saw The Accountant with Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick. I'd seen the trailers and was somewhat interested, but I hadn't put it on my "must-see" list. But then I read some reviews, and I was intrigued. The movie was getting good reviews on pretty much every platform or site I visited, and one post even called it "Rainman meets Jason Bourne." As crazy as that sounds...it's a pretty accurate description. I'm not a huge fan of Affleck. Now, let me clarify by saying I don't dislike Ben Affleck, but he's not someone I see in a preview and say, "Oh wow. I gotta go see this just because he's in it." That's the reaction I have for Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Tom Hanks, Tom Hardy, and Mark Wahlberg. Although I'll admit Hardy and Wahlberg may be for different reasons than the others. But Ben Affleck did that good in this role, we thought. Anna Kendrick was as delightful as always, and although I'll never forgive John Lithgow for that gut-wrenching season finale of Dexter, he is usually a joy to watch. The plot had enough twists and surprises to keep me guessing, and the action had me holding my breath in a couple of spots and grabbing onto My Knight's arm more than once in a tense moment. So if you're looking for a fun date night, check out The Accountant! I'd love to hear from you if you go see it, and I'd love any movie recommendations you have for me! Happy November everyone!
My two-year-old graduated from high school last month. Okay, I know. In the eyes of the world and according to his birth certificate, he’s seventeen. But I only have to close my eyes for a second and he’s two. In fact, it seems I’ve only blinked a couple of times and somehow two became seventeen. It’s a bittersweet journey, this parenting thing. I’ve always seen it as my job to raise him to be independent. Self-sufficient. Capable of spreading his wings to fly when the time comes. Which means that I’m basically been training him all along not to need me around anymore. By the time a baby takes his first precious steps, I think every mom feels a mixture of relief and sadness. For those first few months, you are attached practically 24/7 to this creature who demands more of you than you ever thought possible to give. Walking gives them a measure of independence that means you are no longer obliged to carry them everywhere they go. Which can be quite freeing, but also a little scary. It’s the beginning of a series of ribbon-cuttings. The first day of school. The first time they get embarrassed if you hug them in public. The first day of middle school. The first time they don’t want you to tag along for an activity. The first time they don’t need your help with a school assignment. The first time you discover you’re no longer cool. The first day of high school. The first time they get behind the wheel. The first time they drive away in the car alone. The first time they go out with their friends alone. Each of these milestones pricks the heart, swollen as it is with pride. It’s a natural progression. You want them to succeed. You want them to grow. You want them to experience the world and all it has to offer. But the flip side of that journey is that each step along the way takes them farther away from you. I’m beyond proud of Dr. Smooth. I am in awe of his accomplishments thus far. I actually enjoy his company, which is a blessing based on some other horror stories of moms I know with teenage sons. I see so much potential in him, and I marvel at his sense of humor, his unique personality, his drive to succeed, and his ability to see the world around him through lenses that are both inclusive and realistic. He is kind. He is funny. He is compassionate. He is smart. He is motivated. He is industrious. He is socially conscious. He is just. He is honest. Direct. Straightforward. Intuitive. Communicative. He is a young man on the threshold of a future that is bright with broad horizons. And yet, he is still the baby I nestled in my womb, the toddler I cradled and soothed, the young boy I nurtured and encouraged, the teenager I supervised and annoyed, the very essence of my heart. I’m in a maelstrom of emotions as we turn the page for this next chapter. I couldn’t be more excited for him, but at the same time, my heart aches for just a few more hours…days…years. I mean, it’s not like my job is over. I’m still his mom. Always will be. I’ll still be here to guide him. Listen to him. Counsel him. Rejoice with him and cry with him. Whatever is needed, he’ll always have. But my role is changing. Already. He’s handling the college paperwork on his own now. Managing the deadlines and filling out what’s necessary. Corresponding via email with them when he has a question. He’s working almost full-time hours. Getting himself up for work while I sleep. Making his own lunch. Managing his own bank accounts. His own investments. His schedule is his own. He’s home less often for dinner. A sign of things to come in the fall when he’ll be gone far more often than he’s here. He’s doing well in these new ventures into independence. But I still feel a faint sense of panic in my mama heart. Have I taught everything I should have? Have I given him all the tools he needs? Have I equipped him to make the difficult decisions life will throw in his path? Have I instilled in him all the values I was supposed to impart? Have I been the mother I strived to be? After all, since I somehow missed teaching him not to spit his gum on the ground, what other crucial nuggets of wisdom have I failed to convey? I asked him, as I was preparing to write this blog. You know, just to get a sense of how I’d done. If I’ve screwed up royally and need to request an extension to cram in more knowledge before he goes off to college, or if I’ve done okay and can sleep at night knowing he’s on his own. Me: “What are the three most important life lessons you think I’ve taught you?” Dr. Smooth: “I don’ t know.” Me: “C’mon. Think about it. When you look back on your life so far, what are the most important lessons you think I’ve taught you?” He thinks for a moment, and I wait anxiously in hope that he can come up with at least one. Dr. Smooth: “To always think about how my actions will affect other people.” My heart smiles. That’s a good one, right? That one was intentional on my part. It was one of my biggies on the goal list as a mom. He’s silent. In thought. I’m nervous that it’s taking him so long to come up with a second one. Dr. Smooth: “To always push the button on the trip odometer when my gas light comes on so I’ll know how many miles I have until empty.” Okay. Well, that wasn’t one I had ranked high on my goal list, but that’s still important, right? He made to leave the room and I stopped him. Me: “That’s only two. Can’t you think of one more? C’mon. Didn’t I teach you anything else??” He thinks for a moment and grins. Dr. Smooth: “Oh yeah. You taught me to wipe from front to back, not back to front. Oh, wait. I think my dad taught me that.” He walks away with a laugh. He’s humored me, and now he’s off to his room to pursue his own interests for the day. I guess I just have to trust in the job I’ve done. And move forward to the next chapter. A college mom. No longer a toddler mom. Or soccer mom. Or baseball mom. Or tennis mom. Or a transportation to and from everywhere mom. Or a high school mom. But still a mom. Dr. Smooth’s mom. My favorite role I’ve ever played. So here we go. Turn the page.