A few years ago, I started reading romance. Before you click away, let me say that the old trope of the helpless maiden waiting to be rescued is dead. The genre has changed.
Women in modern romance novels are portrayed as strong, if flawed. They have good self-made lives, they have backbone, they’re well-rounded, and they aren’t desperate for love. If anything, they have this one little flaw that will probably mean they’ll be alone for the rest of their lives. And that’s sad, but if it has to be, fine. They’re fully realized human beings. They’re self-sufficient. The same with the men.
I have only one problem with this. Romance novels are almost always about young people.
In the romance I’m reading right now, published a few months ago, the woman is 26 and the guy is 30. Of course, they’re both heart-attack-gorgeous. The chick is a virgin.
These are the cliches that kill the story, for me. (I’m skimming ahead to the sex parts.)
Although the Romance genre is now divided into every subcategory from “sweet” (up to and including chase kisses, but no more) to extremely erotic (all about the chase and the catch), there’s one thing you won’t find on the Romance aisle: older people.
Oh, yeah, there’s a category called “Seasoned” Romance, which to me sounds a little past the sell-by date. And the “older” characters are still under 40, for the most part.
I don’t want to read about under-30s finding The One (unless it’s well-written with a unique setting & situation, like Beverly Jenkins’ African-American romances, esp. the series set in gold rush-era California.) I want to read about people about my age, or at least over fifty. The wide-eyed newby isn’t as compelling to me as the woman or man who has been kicked around a bit. Who has suffered, learned, and grown.
Your Brain Craves Fiction. Here’s Why.
Lisa Cron says the magic of fiction is that the human brain evolved to crave stories. If Grok keeled over dead after eating the red berries, after which the rest of the cave-dwellers sat around the fire talking about it in dramatic terms, NOBODY else was going to make the same mistake.
We learn, and this helps us survive.
So when I read about people who are older, I want to learn about my time of life. When we read about characters overcome suffering and thriving again, we learn to do the same.
And I want them to find love. People don’t stop loving–physically and emotionally–after a certain age. I know people in their 80s who would love to fall in love again. Or maybe just get happy over a good friendship.
Did you see the movie, “Our Souls at Night,” with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda? That’s what I mean.
By the end of the movie, they hadn’t fallen in love but they fell in like, and their lives were enriched by their relationship.
Here’s What Older-Age Romance Could Look Like
One of the characters taking shape in my head is a 55-year-old woman who was in a bad marriage. She got divorced, and she has young adult kids, but her life isn’t easy. She makes sacrifices and is lonely, but she’s also strong and determined. One day, when her bathroom faucet breaks, she goes to the hardware store and the guy who helps her, well, he’s about her age. He’s fit and gregarious and funny. Looks her in the eye. He has charisma, even if he ISN’T 6’4″ with the mane of a lion and the air of a panther on the prowl.
Let’s say he asks to see the part of the faucet she brought in, so she digs it out of her purse and hands it to him, and when they touch, they get a spark. Not a magical one; a believable static-electricity spark. But it’s really strong, and she says “Ow!” and he instinctively reaches out and takes her hand and holds it between his two, maybe gently kneads it like you would if it hurt.
His hands are strong and warm; they’re capable hands.
Hands that have built things, maybe provided for a family. Hands that have cradled a newborn, or pulled that child out of a wrecked car on her 18th birthday. A heart that’s known insurmountable grief, and yet, has built strength over his 60-some years, and now the thing she notices about him is the fact that his eyes smile when he does, and right now, looking at her, his face seems lit from within.
She’s been cold for so long, and he exudes warmth, and she imagines him wrapping her up in a big, warm hug right then and there…and then she realizes he has asked her a question and she didn’t hear him because they’re still holding hands. She is embarrassed and pulls away, and he smiles, kind of a gentle smirk, like he knows. She can feel it. He can see right through her…
You don’t have to be 26 and a virgin to be new at something, to feel the flutter of the heart at the prospect of romance. And how much better if it’s when you’re NOT all wide-eyed and virginal? In my opinion, anyway. Somehow it’s way more poignant.
My first silver romance will be called Starting Over in Sedona. Because who doesn’t love Sedona? Also, I’ll be starting over, writing in the Romance genre rather than “Contemporary Women.” All of my main characters will be over fifty.
Oh, the publishing industry is gonna hate that! Wish me luck.
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