Stacy's Place on Earth
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Thursday, February 28, 2008:
Can you relate?

Are we compatible???

I'm reading a very good story by Nicole Jordan, "Touch Me With Fire", which was released in 1993, and the heroine, Blaise, is all of 18 years of age. Now I know, back in the day, in this case, 1813, it was very typical for ladies of even a younger age to be married with children, and I've read many a romantic historical with similarly aged heroines, but this time around, I keep focusing on her because of it. Blaise's actions are in line with that of an 18-year-old who's been somewhat spoiled by her father and yet also lead a bit of a sheltered life after he passed away. She doesn't care for Englishmen at all, but of course, that is exactly who she ends up attracting: an Englishman, one who's been to war, and has been both physically and emotionally scarred. He's at least 10 years older than her, and has plenty 'o baggage to deal with as it is, much less having to put up with the complication of a troublesome hellion who sets his blood on fire.

Now let's forget historical accuracy for a moment. Picture that young woman as the heroine. Imagine her catching the eye of the hero, and reacting to the circumstances she finds herself in. Maybe she runs off. Or she battles with the hero. She throws a tantrum and rather than deals with the reality she's facing, she rebels. Totally understandable for a woman of her age and situation, and rather easily accepted in a historical romance. I don't much blink an eye because it sounds fitting to that time period. Rather immature, but I can deal.

Now this age thing gets me thinking of some of the contemporary stories I've read in the last year, where we have a 22-year-old heroine and a 30-year-old hero. Maybe she's an artist, or an admin assistant. A cop. A waitress. A taxi driver. She catches the eye of the hero, the epitome of the kind of man we all fantasize about. (Gasp! This sweet young thing has stolen our man!)

Anyway, 15 years ago I had no problem reading about this kind of heroine, because she was my age, and it was rather sexy and exciting to have an older hero, especially if you consider how girls mature faster than boys. If the hero was 22, well, back then it might not have bothered me too much, but now, oh yeah, it definitely would. I'd feel like I was reading a teen drama, and that just doesn't appeal to me in an adult story.

And while I'm at it, here's another issue: the level of sexual experience a heroine has. Nowadays, a 22-year-old has had their fair share of relationships, and not all of them were chaste and pure. And a 35-year-old woman surely can have, and should have, a satisfying sex life before hooking up with our lusty, hot hero. Why should the guys have all the fun? Women should definitely be allowed to experiment and enjoy themselves, so reading about a heroine who doesn't have orgasms with a man until she meets Mr. Wonderful is rather far-fetched and honestly, annoying. (I will say that I am still hung up on historical heroines being a little more pristine than her contemporary peers. My little hang-up that I'm trying to get past, as more and more historicals showcase experienced ladies).

So tell me what you think: how do you feel about stories that feature really young heroines? Does it pull you from the story, or can you accept a 22-year-old in that role? Does it make a difference if it's a historical or contemporary, or can you suspend belief as long as the story is believable? Do you feel her sexual experience should reflect her age, or doesn't it matter to you?

I have to wonder if these are the reasons some readers go through slumps, or feel they cannot relate to the heroine - because she's just not written to reflect the modern sensibilities of women today. A lot of our attention is focused on the hero, but I feel an equal amount should be about the heroine as well. I remember liking Whitney and Skye O'Malley and Sara Fielding just as much as I did Clayton and Niall (or Adam or...), and Derek Craven. Of course I read them all years and years ago, but the point is, the heroine stood out just as much as the hero because there was something significant about her, maybe she's someone I could relate to in the smallest way, and it was a connection that made sense to me. A factor that made her memorable not just to me, but to many other readers as well.

What do you think?

(Disclaimer: Believe it or not, I had a point to this post, but somehow it got lost in the rambling. Feel free to post any thoughts you have on heroines).

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  1. I agree with you on a couple of points you've made. I think that a lot of the reasons that I go through reading slumps is because I am not relating to anything that's out there.

    I'm 31, and to be honest I've only slept with two men, and I was married to one of them. Yet, in my spot, I always find younger men more attractive. A lot of the books we read are about older men, who are quite the catch, but what about the younger man? I don't mind really young heroines, but from personal experience, I have a hard time believing that under the age of 25 or so that anyone can ever have enough life experience to be able to get their happily ever after. I know it happens, but I think those are rare cases.

    As far as sexual experience of a heroine, I prefer the not so innocent girl. Virgins get boring to read about after a while.

    Meh. Maybe I'm just reading the wrong books.

    Great Post.

  2. Great post Stacy. For me it changes with genre. I can take a young heroine for historicals (maybe b/c life expectancy was generally shorter? not sure I've never analyzed it), But I like heroines in contemporaries to be a little older. The one I'm editing right now has a heroine who is 26 and that feels like as young as I could write. You're right, any younger and it seems like a teen novel, or a side plot (like some of Suz's secondary characters being very young and falling in love?). Have you read books from other countries where brides are still younger? I haven't but I wonder how that would relate?

  3. Great, great post, Stace! I love this.

    So, I just finished reading a paranormal where I *hated* the heroine. I mean really, really disliked her. Why? She was 23 and had been thrust into "the life" but man, she had all these incredibly immature, infantile reactions to everything. She was absolutely TSTL IMO. I had other issues with the book, but I just wanted to jerk the heroine up on her toes and stick my face into hers and be like, "Hey dumbass, this is a man who loves you! Stop acting like a brat!" Ehem. Unfortunately, all I can do is not buy anymore of this author's books.

    But as far as sexual experience goes in heroines, I honestly have no feelings about it, if the heroine is well written. Experience, no experience, whatever. I love a good virgin widow story. I love a slut gone good story. They all work for me, but it has much more to do with whether I like the heroine and believe her motivations.

    I remember reading a Gaelen Foley book that I hated, and it was because the heroine was a courtesan and the hero was a Duke. He married her. And of course, society just totally accepted it. Sorry. Not buying it. Whatsoever.

    To me, it's about whether or not the author can write the story in a way that will make me buy into it and just as importantly, like the h/h enough to buy the HEA. Believe it or not, I consider myself to be a pretty forgiving reader. I'll buy most any storyline if it's presented convincingly.

  4. I don't mind as long as the heroine is believable. IMO, you can write a young heroine without making her TSTL. Case in point, Karen Marie Moning's Fever series. The heroine is young, drifting aimlessly through community college and bartending. She hasn't "grown up" yet - but she's not a moron. She just wants to enjoy life and have a good time. She's not really thinking about her "future" until circumstances force her hand.

    I think that's where a lot of authors stumble with younger heroines. Somehow they think immature = annoyingly braindead and we all know that isn't the case.

    So yeah, I'll take just about any kind of heroine as long as the author makes me believe in her.

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