romance

Romance for the Post-Menopausal Protagonist

When I began drafting Alienable Rights, first novel of the Other Worldly series, writing romance was the farthest thing from my mind. My over-fifty protagonist Rowan Layne was in a relationship with a younger man, but it wasn’t a good one. She herself didn’t fully realize how wrong it was at the time, and not due to their age difference.

As the story evolves, Rowan tentatively approaches romantic possibilities, with an alien. Perhaps it seemed less daunting than taking on another human male in her post-menopausal years, but eventually Rowan does just that. Pursuing multiple love interests, as men of varying ages and DNA pursue her, on Earth and beyond.

Does it complicate her life? Of course. Novels require conflict. Is this an alternative lifestyle deemed extreme for most romance novels? Absolutely.

To begin with, Rowan is older than protagonists in traditional romance, which gears toward women of childbearing age. Couple that with her reluctance to settle for or choose one man, several of them alien, and you have the stuff that once would have been banned as obscene.

As if getting married and having children is the only reason a woman might choose to seek a sexual partner. Because, let’s face it, sex is a part of romance, even for those deemed grandmas. And at Rowan’s age, she doesn’t have to be concerned about pregnancy out of wedlock, or otherwise.

When I was a newlywed in my twenties living in Hawaii, I dreamed of becoming a romance novelist, having devoured many tomes beginning in my teens. Plus, I had a journalism degree and a passion for writing, already scribing for a military wives publication and the Navy Relief Society newsletter.

When it came to romance novels, like many in the seventies, I started out reading Kathleen Woodiwiss, pioneer of the historical romance genre. But I also read everything from insipidly innocent novels of Barbara Cartland to the steamy works of Rosemary Rogers, in which I hung on every salacious word.

My ultimate favorites in the eighties and early nineties were Jayne Ann Krentz, Judith McNaught, Julie Garwood, Jude Devereaux, especially Highland Velvet and Knight in Shining Armor—no wonder upcoming Being Alien is set in England and Scotland—and Johanna Lindsey.

Lindsey lived not far from me on Oahu when I sent an idea for a romance novel to Silhouette Books, formed in 1980 under Simon & Schuster. Back then, you could do that. Mail a letter to a publishing professional in New York City—and actually receive a personal, written response that found its way to me in military housing.

Alas, my letter was ultimately a rejection, but looking back, it was one hell of a compliment. Because I was told my idea was simply too “cerebral and issue-oriented” for romance of the mid-eighties.

I don’t recall details of my pitch, but you can bet it didn’t follow a formula. I think certain authors who successfully did so were the ones who forged new paths to evolve the romance genre, and the female protagonist. Authors like Catherine Coulter, and one of the best to break from the mold, Nora Roberts.

At the time of that letter, I looked up the definition of “cerebral” and learned it meant intellectual in nature. Four years later, I began law school. Where, incidentally, I was lauded for writing ability, though it would be years before I turned my heart and mind to drafting creative works.

First, I published a nonfiction book, Raising Questions. About as issue-oriented as they come, comparing the Bill of Rights to the Ten Commandments in application to critical social and political issues.

As I prepare to publish Being Alien, fourth book in the Other Worldly series, I continue to mix romance, aliens and political intrigue with hot-button issues including gender bias, racial bigotry, religious hypocrisy of sexual mores (and gun mongering), planetary environmental degradation, lust for power and greed, illiteracy, worshipping of false gods, and much more.

I espouse on myriad rights under the First Amendment, the limited rights of the Second, and that marvelous penumbra providing privacy rights, the Ninth. Because, as it turns out, my idea of romance remains cerebral and issue-oriented.

In many ways, I feel like I’m just getting started. On writing romance, and free expression of ideas about how a woman over fifty should live her life.

Rowan Layne is on a roll, too. Pursuing not only the truth, but her truths.

It may take flying into outer space in Aliens Abound for Rowan to begin loving herself and her abilities, but it’s a romance every woman should aspire to, whether in her twenties, fifties or beyond.

 

 

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