From Mary Jo:
In 1986, Newsweek magazine wrote a cover story called “The Marriage Crunch” which famously said that a white, educated single woman of 40 had a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than getting married. That remark didn’t seem quite as tasteless before 9/11, but it was outrageous enough to be picked up and widely quoted. (I once read a women’s fiction novel based on the idea of four single women offended by the idea who pledged to go out and find themselves husbands in the next year. Their results were mixed.)
You have to give Newsweek credit—in their June 5th issue, they revisited the story and cheerfully admitted they’d been wrong. They tracked the fourteen single women referenced in the original story and located eleven. Eight of the eleven had eventually married, several had children, and interestingly, none of them had divorced. The three women who hadn’t married were living full, rewarding lives.
The original prediction about the dreadful odds against educated women marrying if they waited too long (at age 40, the figure was pegged at 2.6%) was flawed because the times, they were a’changing. Being a demographer is like forecasting weather—working with statistics describing the past can be useful, but they don’t always predict the future.
In the ‘80s, women were expanding their skills and goals. They were delaying marriage because they had wanted more education and had wider options. There was less of a panicky need to go to college to get a “Mrs. Degree,” and more freedom to make choices. Nonetheless, most of the women in the earlier article did get married and most people do yearn to find the right mate.
I found all of this quite intriguing since romance and marriage are my business. Society has changed a lot in the last twenty years, and those changes are reflected in popular fiction. Since we Wenches write popular fiction—who would want to write UNpopular fiction?—one way or another, we’re affected by what’s happening out there even though we write historical novels.
In contemporary romances, the secretary heroine of twenty years ago may have morphed into a CEO or a hot shot consultant today. There are whole categories for kickass heroines a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The romance world has become a whole lot more diverse.
In historical romances, the changes are more subtle, but today’s heroine is more likely to be a woman with a well developed mind rather than a teenager with little to commend her beyond a nubile body and her stunning beauty.
My heroines have always been fairly independent, though in ways consistent with the historical record. There have always been women who have had to support themselves, like my Welsh schoolteacher. (Thunder and Roses) There have even been British women who have been warlords in the Middle East, like the heroine of my book Silk and Secrets. (Check out Lady Hester Stanhope if you’d like to know more about such a woman in real life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Hester_Stanhope )
Writing paranormal romances adds a whole new dimension to strong heroines. In my two alternative history series, magic is a great equalizer. In my Guardian world (A Kiss of Fate, Stolen Magic, and the book I’m working on now), women have magical power that can equal or surpass that of male Guardians. In the Regency world of the Stone Saints (The Marriage Spell, my new book), aristocratic men are actively discouraged from having anything to do with magic. Which means they have a lot to learn from the women in their lives. <g>
Not that I want to create domineering heroines: my ideal in both real life and my books is an egalitarian relationship. I don’t mean that both parties must split all responsibilities down the middle: there is a reason why most households have had a division of labor through the centuries. But there should be mutual respect. A willingness to listen to each other’s views and make compromises. A desire to go more than halfway to keep the relationship happy and healthy.
Maintaining a relationship of equals is harder than when one person is in charge all the time. There are times when one partner is running low on strength and the other has to pick up the slack. Times when both partners have deeply felt and incompatible needs. Such circumstances aren’t always easy to work through, bBut the rewards can be great. It’s nice not to have to carry all the responsibility, all of the time. Or not to be told what to do all the time. I rather like taking turns. <g>
The egalitarian relationship has become much more popular in recent years, but there have always been couples who have achieved it. John and Abigail Adams were role models right at the beginning of the republic. Marie and Pierre Curie shared their lives, their laboratories, and their scientific fame. I’m sure you can think of other couples through the ages who shared the good and the bad in an egalitarian way. (And they didn’t have to be famous—my maternal grandparents had a good partnership from what I know of them.)
To bring this back to writing, a powerful romance shows how these two characters fit together–what each sees in the other. How they enrich each other’s lives. What is special in their relationship. In my current release, the heroine, Abigail, isn’t attracted to the hero because he’s the best looking man around—she points out to him that most of his friends are better-looking. <g> But he seems funny and good-natured, and that rings her chimes. For his part, he likes that she’s down to earth and practical and intelligent, not a terrifyingly perfect London socialite. Even though she’s a wizard (ugh! hiss!), he can’t resist her kindness and sensuality.
If I had to define the essence of a good romance, I’d say that a writer needs to show what these two particular people love about each other. Plus, the characters should deserve each other—no pairing a great person with a cranky twit. Make them fit well together.
Yep—that’s all there is to it: the secret of writing romance, revealed here today!
Mary Jo, sure a few other secrets will be revealed in the comments. <G>