Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bits and Bobs: A Miscellany

Bits and Bobs:
– idiom for small, remnant articles and things, same as ‘odds and ends’;
– a store in Edinburgh that makes unwanted arts and crafts supplies available with the hope that they can be reused and given a new lease on life;
– also English slang for a collection of small items too numerous or varied to name individually, originating from carpenters’ tool kits that contain parts for a drill, with bits for making holes, while bobs are routing or screwdriving drill attachments

– a miscellaneous collection of various or somewhat unrelated items
[Definitions from various sources, results of Google search]

I must give Donna Alward credit for the first part of today’s title. Occasionally on her blog she uses the expression to describe her activities for the day. I always imagine it means she will be doing a little bit of this, and, more or less, an equal amount of that.

And the relevance to writing, you ask? I’m wondering that myself. However, bear with me.

Lately I have been bouncing around in blogland, where I’ve encountered some interesting topics. I have accumulated a stack of fragmentary thoughts that have landed on my mental "desk" and they are just waiting for me to share them with you.

Have you ever seen a newspaper column where the columnist writes something like the following? "Today I want to get rid of some miscellaneous items that on their own would not make up a whole column." Mind you, I sometimes suspect the writer has searched for a meaty topic and come up empty. Now that surely would not apply to me! Here then are a couple of topics that are on my mind.

Fragment #1: Older Heroines

The other day I began thinking about the age of one of my characters. My story has two heroines, a mother in her forties and her daughter who is 23, each with her own separate love story. Circumstances of the plot cause their stories to intersect in a way that involves the two heroes.

The point to ponder is whether readers are interested in a heroine who is older. Readers of romance, nowadays at least, like heroines who are in their twenties, maybe early thirties, though I think that’s pushing it. Consider the fate of Harlequin’s Next line which featured "second time love with ‘older’ heroine, over 35."

From comments I’ve read, young women don’t want to read about heroines older than themselves, and fair enough, they don’t relate to an age they haven’t yet experienced. And, of course older women like heroines who are younger than themselves – they don’t want to be reminded of their age, they don’t feel older, and they want to escape back to an earlier time in their life. That’s also understandable.

I didn’t find much on the topic. One website had comments associated with reviews of a few category romance titles. Go to http://dearauthor.com/wordpress/tag/older-heroine-and-hero/.

You may also remember the discussion on heroines right here on Prairie Chicks earlier this year. I went back to look at the eight heroine archetypes which formed part of Janet’s post. In the article she cited, there is a link to a response which makes a passing mention of age as it relates to heroines. To refresh your memory, check out http://www.likesbooks.com/78.html

Fragment #2: Women’s Fiction vs Romance

There is somewhat of a connection between this topic and the previous. If Laura, the mother in my story, is too "old"... (I shudder as I type this – oh, to be 45 again! But I don’t actually mean that. Really.)

Okay, let’s start again. Different tack. When I started writing my novel, and I won’t tell you how long ago it was, I thought I was going to write a category romance. SuperRomances were longer then and their plots were more complex. Since then the Next line, already mentioned, has come and gone, and SR’s have been cut back. Now I wonder if I should be aiming for a romance line at all. I’ve been thinking of this for a while, and perhaps the idea was planted during previous heroine discussions (it’s not a bad thing to brainstorm in the comments section, Janet!)

I’m thinking there may be a place for my story about a woman and her daughter in women’s fiction. I have finally decided to just write the story, and worry about where to seek publication later. I believe that is generally a good approach, anyway. (Unless, of course, you have already found your niche and are writing to a rhythm you have mastered. Especially if you have a publisher and an audience waiting for your next marvellous story. That isn’t my situation ... yet.) For an excellent discussion on this, read Lisa Craig’s article, "Women’s Fiction vs Romance: A Tale of Two Genres" at http://www.writing-world.com/romance/craig.shtml.

Would you be interested in reading romantic fiction that features an older heroine? Do you have a favourite older heroine from a novel or a movie? Do you prefer category romance over women’s (romantic) fiction? Will your heroine follow her heart, regardless of her age?


ban said...

personally i don't have a problem with age - new love is exciting no matter how old you are !

Helena said...

Glad to hear it, ban. That's a very affirming thing for you to say.

I sometimes think I get too hung up on things that don't matter in the end, esp. given my feeling that I should just write my story as I conceived it, and let the chips fall where they may.

Thanks for dropping by!

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Hi Helena, these are both great little bits to explore. I'll give you my thoughts with the caveat that I don't read much romance (or women's fiction) so ignore any claims that aren't accurate, they're just my impression.

Romance feels very much to me about the escape, where heroines should be young, heroes should be attractive (in any of the various senses of the word) and no one's underpants are full of holes. Yes, laundry may still have to be done, and dusting, but it only occurs for plot reasons (who would care, if it didn't tie into plot?) and may likely be interrupted with a steamy intimate scene. I'd love for dishes to be waylaid by romance. (I know I'm ignoring large chunks of what romance is about in saying this, don't eat me :)

Women's fiction doesn't have to promise the romantic union the same way, so it becomes more about the person. Without the same emphasis on the journey of a couple, and placing it instead in the individual, I think the age matters less. It's about what that woman, or those women go through, which may also include love.

And then I think there are cultural perceptions that get tied into these things. Happily Ever After implies marriage and children, all those things to perpetuate the species, so it's better for a younger couple to marry and have kids. HEA with an older couple means fewer or no kids. I don't think that has any affect on the fiction, just cultural things ingrained at a subconscious level, making young + in love, a better thing.

Erika said...

First of all, I am almost offended that Harlequin considers over 35 "older" seeing as how I just turned 36. I don't feel "older" and I don't have a problem with a heroine in a story I'm reading being "older". What a bunch of crap.

ANYWAY, my favorite "older" heroine from a movie is Meryl Strep in Bridges of Madison County. I don't know that I've ever read a book where I noticed what age the RFL was...I'll have to be more aware.

Karen said...

I gotta say, when it comes to the romance genre - younger heroines work better for me. (What is it Hayley said, don't eat me.) I'm all about the escape, that's what I'm looking for when I pick up a romance. And part of that is reading about heroines and heros who are younger, who overcome huge obstacles to be together and who have ... great stamina.

In women's fiction, it's probably the opposite because I like books that are about the journey. Experience and maturity lends something to those stories for me. I'm not looking for the same reading experience with women's fiction as I am when I read romance.

Thanks for the thought provoking post, Helena. I'm still rumbling it around in my brain.

Helena said...

Hayley, you made some great points. I totally agree that romance novels provide an escape, so they are a bit like a reality show -- staged for the HEA. I don't read as many as I used to, but then I seem to have less time for reading overall.

I agree that women's fiction often has the elements that you have mentioned, the individual journey, which may or may not include love, may end happpily, or bitter sweet. However, it also includes romantic novels which do have the happy ending, but are not written to formula, as romance novels are. No wonder bookstores have trouble deciding how to display them!

Thanks, Hayley, for stepping out of your genre to comment -- always thoughtful, perceptive. Don't worry, I won't eat you for picking and choosing what to comment on.

Helena said...

Sorry about 35, Erika. And thank you for being interested in novels about love and romance, regardless of the age of the characters. It sort of reinforces my feeling about the so-called "older" heroine, which is not to say that I don't also enjoy the young heroines, too.

Good choice -- Meryl Streep in Bridges ... That's one of my favourite romantic stories of all time.

Thank you for your comments. It's great to get opinions from a younger person!

Silver James said...

Hey. Old and wise is a good thing! (So says the old broad - lol)

I stopped reading romance novels because all the heroines were young and stupid. Eventually, I came back to the genre, both to read and to write. The RFL had some maturity if not age, and TSTL characters had mostly fallen by the wayside. My heroines tend to be older than the norm (in their 30s), though I do have one hanging out there on the drawing board who is in the 40/50 range. Even though I'm closer to 60 than 50 now, I still consider myself vital and...well, I won't go into TMI territory.

And Hayley, yes. Worry about genre or subgenre AFTER you've finished the story. So many authors get wrapped around the axle and worry about the details long before there are actually details.

I'm not sure where I fit either. I certainly haven't chosen my subgenre - I love romantic suspense. And paranormal. And Urban fantasy. So I write the story my heart is feeling at the moment. Everything else is just details.

Helena said...

Hey, Karen. Good to hear from you. And now I've got a bunch of good comments rumbling around in *my* head.

I agree that we read romance novels and women's fiction with romantic elements for different reasons and with different expectations.

There is such a fine line sometimes. After all, HQ puts out single titles, too, which are not category romances. The article I cited by Craig listed a Nora Roberts in her examples of women's fiction. Mary Balog is another I can think of. I don't think you get to the NY Times bestseller list with a category romance.

But in these rough economic times, I keep reading about the amazing strength of Harlequin. They keep making the profits, while other publishers are in decline. So keep writing, everyone.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Great post, Helena. Only thing is, I clicked on your link this morning and went over to check out the site and then started clicking here and there and got caught up in email and blogs and just realized now that I never commented. sheesh

A couple months ago, I read a wonderful Love Inspired book A Dry Creek Courtship by Janet Tronstad where the main characters are somewhere 'up there' although she doesn't exactly say how old. I had the feeling they're 60ish. My hubby doesn't like stories where the H/h are over 40 (?) but I thought Janet's book was excellent and rated it as such. I didn't find any difference between this and Janet's 'younger' books.

However, I was never interested in eharl's Next books.

As for what I prefer, hands down it's category romance. It was my first love and although I've gone through the gamut from Danielle Steele to Joseph Wambaugh to Nicholas Sparks, I've always come back to Harlequins.

As for the book you write, you can't go wrong following your heart. Especially on the print side of the house where it'll be a couple yrs before your book gets on the shelves. People's opinions change.

Captain Hook said...

Helena, I have no problem with older heroes/heroines.I may not have reached 45 yet, but as a 36 year old divorced woman, reading about older people finding love gives me hope that my romantic life is not over. Despite my kids telling me I'm too old to date.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
I sincerely hope there is a readership for heroines over 35 because in one of my books my heroine is about 36 and in the one I'm currently writing, she's pushing 40. The heroines had to be that age for the story I wanted to tell.

Having said that, probably the most popular heroines and heroes are in their twenties. We want to read about beautiful young people. Heck, we want to be beautiful young people! No wonder Harlequin continues to sell! They haven't been around this long or made this much money by not understanding their readers.

But I do hope there is a market out there for older, more mature characters as well. Heroes and heroines with more life experience can bring an extra something to a book.


Janet C. said...

Ah, the joy of coincidence! Take a look at this http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/05/womens-fiction.html
(Sorry, you'll have to cut and paste)

Great post, Helena. Older heroines - I have no issue as long as the story is well crafted and holds my interest. I've read some lately that have the younger heroine and had to abandon them - no story, no excitement, too contrived or predictable. And since I'm getting up there myself, I say bring on the older heroine - we have some life left in us, some romance, some adventure. Don't we?

Women's Fiction - I don't know much about it, but I do know I enjoy it when I read it. Your story sounds exactly what I think of when I think WF - a journey! A journey of two women no less. Of course, it will take some research - I'm not sure on the POV issues in WF.

Helena said...

Just got back from reading the blog at the link you cited, Janet -(http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.
com gets you there pretty quick since it's today's post.)

Now I know for sure I have a lot to learn. So glad I labelled my little notes on the topic as fragments! Kinda eery to write on the same topic on the same day as a professional in the industry, don't you think? At least I got my teeth into a topic of current interest. Thank you for pointing out such relevant info.

I hadn't thought about the POV issue until you mentioned it. I'm certain I have a lot of research ahead of me before I get this story out of my hair. But I am beginning to really care about these characters, so I'm not about to let age, genre/sub-genre, now POV deter me.

Thanks for your valuable input.

Helena said...

Well, Silver, it takes one to know one, and I hear ya.

Thanks for adding to the discussion. I've had my ups and downs with reading romance, too. When I was really young, I read Harlequin Presents which were pretty tame -- strict rules and the heroines were young and virginal, the heroes were older, mysterious, successful professionals or businessmen. Lost interest for quite a while.

When I discovered SuperRomances I got back into romance big time, and that's when I thought I'd try to write one. I take your point that I shouldn't worry about where it belongs, just get it written.

I do read some WF and when I'm ready to submit, I will take the advice of the agent blogging today over at bookends lit agency who says read what is being published to see what genre is most like your book. She also said it keeps changing.

Good to have you here today.

Helena said...

Hi, Anita. Better late than never. And thank you for your comments and reassurance.

I used to read mostly SuperR but I have more recently branched out into other categories - Love Inspired, Tender R and the occasional suspense and historical. I was really hopeful that Next would deliver on the more mature heroine, and some titles were okay, but a lot were simply chick lit with an "older" flighty heroine. (Oh,oh, according to the blog Janet referred me to, the term 'chick lit' is out)

I read a lot of other fiction, too, some WF, also literary, love to keep up with Canadian authors. Enjoy mysteries and crime novels, so I am really all over the map as a reader.

Thanks for coming back. I really appreciate you taking the time, I know you are so busy.

Helena said...

Captain, I know someone who divorced her husband when she was in her early sixties (because he was fooling around). She has since put her life back together and has met a man her age (who happens to look a lot like Sean Connery). Altho they live on opposite sides of the country, they manage to spend a fair amount of time together. She is now 70.

In our stories, we make sure our heroine follows her own heart; I think it's important we do the same.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Janet, thanks for the link.

Helena, this is so eerie. I've still been using the term chick-lit but just yesterday as I drove the kids to a youth function, I was listening to an ACFW workshop I hadn't known about. It had 3 agents looking at one-sheets for the first time and discussing whether they'd ask for a manuscript. And the funny part was whenever something that looked like chick-lit came up, Chip MacGregor would say it's now taboo. This conference was back in Sep and I'd never heard anything about Chick-Lit being passe and yet no one seems to know why.

Helena said...

Jana, thanks for dropping in today. I'm glad to hear you are also writing about "older" heroines. (Can't say as I can think of the term in the same breath as age 35, as Erika said, or even 45, but so be it.)

The small sample of opinion today shows that there is a segment of the readership of romance/romantic novels who either seek stories with more mature heroines, and heroes, (we're not talking cougars here) or have no opinion. So we should keep on writing stories that deal with real emotion in the lives of our characters whatever age they might be.

Of course, we like to read the stories peopled by beautiful young heroines and heroes. Why not? We live vicariously through the lives of the characters in books and movies.