Monday Musings, Why I Love Romance

Historical RomanceYeah, the picture is in no way representative of the someday book cover for this book. I created it just for a photo for this blog post. Here are the few paragraphs of my currently untitled historical romance, which is a good year and a half away from being finished.

Cathy Clifford could shoot a gun.

She’d learned three years previously, shortly after her dead fiancé’s brother tried to kill her. It only seemed prudent.

Unfortunately, she thought as she turned from the target, most men found her masculine talents intimidating, if not repulsive. She need look no further for an example than to Rupert Marston, who, for the last four days, had vied with blond-haired Scott Douglass for her attention, employing too-flattering remarks about her red curls and green eyes. She’d encouraged his attentions, hoping jealousy would compel Scott to act. Now, as smoke rose from the end of her gun, he backed away from her, his face creased in disgust. Obviously that little flirtation was over. No real loss there. Her stomach dropped, however, when she shifted her gaze to Scott.  He stared at her in astonished dismay. Would he withdraw his suit as well?

An unseasonably warm ocean breeze ruffled Cathy’s hair as she swept her eyes over the remainder of the assembled company—two servants, four women and four men, the last of whom Cole Chandler had invited to the back of his Newport estate for this little game of target practice. The women stood behind the men, all expertly dressed and coiffed, with parasols spread wide against the sun: silk and satin lawn ornaments on the expanse of lush green grass. They’d joined the shooting party to cheer the men on and exclaim over their questionable expertise.  Cathy had happily been one of them until she’d made the mistake of advising Cole on his aim. The next thing she knew, she’d left six bull eyes in the target and cradled a smoking rifle in her arms, while the collective group stared at her with varying degrees of alarm and censure. All but raven-haired Gabriel Keller who’d arrived just that morning and watched her speculatively.

After a second, his mouth curved into a tiny smile of admiration and he gave her an all-but-imperceptible nod of approval.

 

I started reading a new series, recommended by a friend of mine, the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher. It’s interesting in that its premise is that the world uses magic. I know I’m going to like it, but I have one major problem–the main character, first person, is a man.

This is my epiphany–I’ve always read romance because the main character is a woman. I loved, loved, loved The Hunger Games for the same reason. It’s not a feminist thing (although I am a feminist). It’s that I identify stronger with a woman. Now mind you, most romances these days have both male and female points of view, but for all that the woman gets do “do stuff.” And I like that. When I read, I want to go on adventures. When I write, I want to go on adventures. And I want to do it, at least part of the time, as a woman. Most of the time, to do that, I choose historical romances.

I did not know I was doing this a a kid. I went from reading books about animals–Call of the Wild, The Black Stallion–to books about people when my mother handed me one. Victoria Holt, On The Night of the Seventh Moon, one of my all-time favorites. I loved it. I read it fast and later I read it slowly, just to sink into the story. I thought it was because of the romantic elements; I was all of 13 and entering the period of my life in which boys were all important and yet pretty foreign.

Now, decades later, I’m not so sure.

Definitely romance was a big thing in that book, and in all of Holt’s books and Mary Stewarts and Phyllis Whitney, which I went on to. But also a murder mystery. I came to believe that the mystery was also what I loved. When I started writing, it was with a mystery in every story. To this day, I cannot write a book without a dead body. I’ve tried, but I’m bored in 10 pages.

But that’s not the only reason I loved those books, either.

It’s the adventure. In On The Night Of the Seventh Moon, the heroine is almost seduced by the hero. I don’t remember it well now, but she ends up in the middle of castle intrigue in Bavaria. I think it’s Bavaria. What I remember now, many years later, is how exciting that was, to “be” the heroine in the middle of castle intrigue. Nothing I’d read had ever put women in that role.

I saw that very rarely as a child of the 60’s and 70’s. Consider that this was a time when having Lieutenant Uhura on the bridge in Star Trek was radical. Not just a woman, but a black woman, with a large, active role in a sci-fi story about exploring “strange new worlds.” But, in order to do that, she had to wear short skirts and be a communications’ officer. Heaven forbid we let a woman be science-y. The pilot of the show had a female doctor wearing pants like everybody else. To televise a series, that had to go.

So I read Holt’s books and got to be a woman adventurer. In the first Mary Stewart book I read–still one of my favorite all-time books–Nine Coaches Waiting, I got to save an awkward and lovable kid from his evil uncle. I did it (as the reader) with a great deal of courage and thought. Yes, in most of these books and in the books I wrote, the hero often “saved the day” but he never did it without the heroine being a big, big part of the adventure.

I read those books and went on to romances with sex which was even more fun. Wow, women could have sex in books and have adventures? Sign me up! Sweet Savage Love, the heroine travels through the Wild West and becomes part of Mexican War (and is also, I realized when I tried to read it a few years back, one of the most selfish heroines in the history of the genre). The Flame and The Flower, the heroine travels on ship and ends up on an early American plantation. Woodiwiss’s heroines aren’t always particularly active, but as a reader, I did get to go on adventures. In pretty much all of Laurie McBain’s books  the heroine engages in some pretty adventurous stuff. Highway men and stuff. Lots of fun!

And now, it’s many years later. The first “modern” kickass woman, Princess Leia, is now decades old. So is Agent Scully from the X-files. Kickass women in movies happens far more regularly. We have series with women detectives who shoot guns (Castle) and movies with women fighting back against men who abuse them. We have Rogue One, and a female heroine in the last three of The Star Wars series, and we have The Hunger Games and Divergent. I love it all. We are still a long way from equal in heroic roles, but women now have many different genres to enjoy strong, adventurous roles in. We’ve come a long way.

For me, I will finish with my Post Plague Series, and I’ll write historicals, because that’s where I’m comfortable. I love history. But for everybody who denigrates romance as keeping women in sterotypical roles–the history of the genre is the opposite. It gave women like me, and continues to give women a place to go where we can be heroes in fantasy world to prepare us to be heroes in the real world.

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