Think characters over 40 can’t have a happy-ever-after? Think again. Escape Artist, and PhD candidate Sandra Antonelli tells it like it is.
In the last week, I have been asked why I decided to write A Basic Renovation, my romance novel featuring mature aged protagonists. It’s not so much I decided to write a heroine of a certain age as much as it was I wrote the novel I wanted to read. As much as I love the genre, the one thing that always stuck in my craw about romance fiction was the fact that the female leads were always so young—and this was even back when I was thirteen and swooning over Edward Fairfax Rochester. I preferred, even back as a pimple-faced teen, to read about characters who were older and had a trunk-load of life experience. Eighteen year-old Jane Eyre sure as hell had experience, and since she was eighteen to my thirteen, she was older as well. I like older things. I like maturity and the experience that often comes with age. I like that, despite the experience, for many there is still a drive to try to get life—and love—right.
On top of this love of ‘older,’ was my love for romance fiction, particularly contemporary romance fiction. As an over-35, pimple-faced adult, it became more and more of a challenge to find older romance heroines. I kept looking for romance and wondering, ‘where are the fortysomethings back on the dating scene after a divorce, or the woman who regrets putting her career before love and marriage? And what about the girl who’s made it to forty—or fifty—without finding Mr. Right?’ I kept looking and looking for older heroines. Sometimes I’d come across one, Like Nell In Jenny Crusie’s Fast Women, or Julie in Jeanne Ray’s Julie and Romeo, but mostly what I found wasn’t romance—it was Women’s Fiction.
As a romance reader I got annoyed I was being directed to Women’s Fiction or, more specifically to incarnations of “grown up” Chick Lit, which you may or may not know is sometimes called Hen Lit or (shudder) Matron Lit, or Granny Lit, or (even bigger shudder) Hag Lit. Yeah, you read that correctly. Hag Lit. Uh-Huh. Go ahead and say it. What. The. Hell.
Excuse me, but I did not want this Hen-Matron-Granny-Hag thing…. I wanted ROMANCE, romance with hot forty or fifty or yes, kids, even sixty-something heroines, not a Bildungsroman (think ‘coming of age story’) that charted the emotional and physical evolution of an older female and her relationship with her kids, or husband, or ex, or best friends. I wasn’t interested in reading a novel that intimated that my being over 35 meant I was somehow too experienced with life, which then suggested I was too old for sex or love, and therefore excluded me from the fantasy of romance, and, worse still, from a happily ever after. With all that I was up against, it seemed perfectly natural for me to write the book I could not find.
What wasn’t so natural was the academic part. I was never what you call a model student. I was a slacker of sorts, more interested in Pop Culture, in music, TV shows, and movies, movies, movies, which is probably blatantly obvious in the stories I write. However, when the opportunity arose for me to enter a Masters degree program where the focus of my research would be romance fiction—and writing a novel—I threw myself headfirst at the chance. Probably because I had a bee in my bonnet with a ready-made area I could study.
Yes, I was annoyed enough to do some research and write the book I wanted to read but could not find. The end result was A Basic Renovation, which contains a hot mature hero, a hot mature heroine, as in Holly Hunter hot, Sharon Stone hot, Maria Bello hot, Julianne Moore hot, Helen Mirren hot. Hot as in hot sex, a few laughs, and romance hot.
I did not stop my quest for hot older heroines with the Masters and A Basic Renovation. Oh, no-sireee-Bob. I went that extra step and bit off a PhD—the thing I’m about to complete (in 2 weeks time). For the Masters Degree I identified the age gap that lay between romance fiction and Women’s Fiction, and indicated there was an audience who felt like I did—they also asked, ‘hey, where are all the romance older heroines?’ For my PhD (did I mention I’m completing this PhD July 9?) ) I explore the possible reasons for why this drought of older romance heroines age gap exists. Oh, and I wrote another romance novel I wanted to read, and you betcha, it features a bit of pop culture, some music, movies and hot older romantic leads. For Your Eyes Only is due out from Escape in September.
Oh, and there’s not a Hen, a Matron, a Granny or Hag to be found.