Friday, August 16, 2013

Mid Adult Romance?

recent post by S. L. Scott on the Huff Post Books blog, discussing the rising popularity of the "Mid Adult" book—genre books with "characters that range from the ages of 35 to late 40s"—surprised me, because I'd been considering writing my own blog post about how few genre romances feature protagonists of a certain age. The Old Skool romance paradigm, matching a-30ish hero with a late teen heroine has given way in recent years to protagonists of more comparable ages, but still, the majority of romance lovers could hardly be said to be middle aged. The three books that Scott cites as examples of this new trend—Gillian Flynn's Girl Gone, Daisy Prescott's Geoducks are for Lovers, and Helen Fielding's Mad About the Boy—can all be categorized as romances, although Girl Gone's primary genre affiliation is suspense/thriller, and Mad's (if it is anything like the earlier Bridget Jones books) is chick-lit. But do three books make a trend?

Despite the fact that, being myself a gal of a certain age, I'd appreciate seeing more middle aged protagonists in my romances, I can see quite a few reasons why the genre is less than welcoming to such older lovers. First, as my spouse pointed out when I was bemoaning the prevalence of the youthful in romance, we've all been young once. Older folks can remember, and thus presumably relate to, love at a younger age, but the opposite is not true for younger readers. In a genre focused so much on "relateability" (oh, how I dislike this coinage!), on assuming that a reader must closely identify with its protagonists, the market for older heroes and heroines will necessarily be smaller than that for younger lovers. Perhaps the splintering of the market in the wake of romance's current self-publishing tsunami will make books with smaller audiences more economically feasible, but in the past, few traditional publishers could justify printing a genre romance with an in-built limited readership.

Not the image I was looking for when
I did a Google search for
"middle age romance"
Older lovers also fly in the face of the "one true love" paradigm that most genre romance still holds close to its heart. If you've made it to 35 or older and still haven't found that one true love, that's a pretty sad statement about the state of the world, a sadness that romance isn't likely to want to acknowledge. Or if you have, but then lost it (except through death—widows and widowers still make for good romance protags), you're flying in the face of the central hope that romance offers—that finding true love = living, and loving, happily ever after. In the world of romance, if a breakup or divorce, rather than death, ended a romance, then you must not really have found true love, putting us back at problem 1 (the bummer of not finding true love before age 35).

Are there other reasons you can think of why "Mid Adult" romance is unlikely to flourish? Or, if you're of a more hopeful turn of mind, reasons why we really might be on the cusp of a flowering of forty-something lovers in our romance reading?

Do you have any favorite romances that feature not just one, but two older protagonists?




Photo credits:
Medieval romance: GGGA English




28 comments:

  1. Well, the first one I could think of is 'Black Rose' by Nora Roberts. It features a widow with grown children and a divorced dad with a college age son. It's the middle book of her Garden trilogy. She is also a successful business woman and he is a college prof. It is just lovely.
    Full confession time--I am way older than the characters.....

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  2. I think there could also be some cultural attitudes at play here. Obviously publicly discussing elderly sex is kind of taboo in America, but I do think there's even some resistance to just middle aged sex, especially when it comes to women and women's bodies.

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    1. Yes, Jen, I agree. Why is the subject so frowned upon? Older folks have sex, too!

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  3. Okay, I'm recommending yet another Jennifer Crusie book (actually two). FAST WOMEN has two middle aged, divorced people with college age children. I give it bonus points for the main character saying that her first marriage was not a mistake.

    ANYONE BUT YOU is about a middle aged woman falling in love with a younger man.

    @Jen: I have read one book with a description of elderly people having sex, and it was not by an American author. It was THE LAW OF LOVE by Laura Esquivel

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  4. I don't know if you want to dive into the Kristen Ashley experience, but she writes lots of upper 30s- lower 40s aged couples. "Sweet Dreams" and "Motorcycle Man" are two of her most popular titles and they fit the bill. Her entire "Berg" series ("For You", "At Peace", "Golden Trail" and "Games of the Heart") also revolves around second chance at love stories with couples in that age-group.
    I like to read about characters with more mileage on them, but then I'm in my 40s and can relate. I don't know if I would have appreciated them when I was younger.

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  5. One factor no one has mentioned yet involves children. The overwhelming majority of romance novels strongly imply/outright state that children are an integral aspect of the "Happily Ever After." Apparently it's not true love unless you combine your DNA into a new little human. Older protagonists (usually) take this option off the table and that is incompatible with the traditional HEA.

    In fact I only know of one author, Kristen Cashore (Graceling, Fire), to write about female protagonists who do not ever want children and take permanent steps to ensure they never will. As someone who doesn't want children herself, I was thrilled to read about these heroines. Perhaps if this trend continues and it becomes more acceptable to have a happily ever after sans children, we'll see more older protagonists.

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    1. Yes, Anonymous, I think you're right that the HEA = have children is a common assumption in much romance fiction. And I did appreciate that part of BET ME, that the couple does not want to have children.

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  6. Three books is a trend only because older characters are so genuinely rare. Like if you have more than one black actor on a show, suddenly it's a black show. :-\

    Anonymous, Bet Me by Crusie is another with characters who don't want children. And there's an older couple with no mention of children in Sarah Mayberry's The Other Side of Us

    There is definitely negative reaction to older people having sex. Discussions of menopause and librications issues in Robyn Carr's books squicked a lot of readers out.

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    1. Oh, which Carr books are you thinking of? A good, honest conversation about perimenopause and/or lubrication would be very welcome to many of us...

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    2. They all start to blur together and I think it was over the course of than one book... somewhere in the middle of the "Virgin River" series. Which doesn't help much, since it's about 300 books. :-)

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  7. Harlequin had a short-lived a line called NeXt, that was basically "second time around" romances. I really liked them and gobbled them up-- it's the only time I've really bought books based on imprint. Rexanne Becnel had a couple of titles as did StefAnn Holm. I was sorry to see it cancelled.

    I don't really want to read about lubrication problems either, to tell the truth. The main thing, IMO, about contemporary older heroines is that life is more complex in your 40s. There's more going on with family, with your career, with your health. You can't really afford to throw yourself into an emotional roller coaster like you can in your 20s.

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    1. Truthfully, neither do I. But considering that Carr's books are full of all kinds of gynecological issues and information, the complaints come across as pretty ageist.

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    2. Thanks, Nicola, for mentioning the NeXt books. I'll have to check them out! And yes, Willaful, definitely sounds like ageism was at squick-y play (not that all of us can't use some lubrication, at any age, at certain times...)

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  8. Charlotte Lamb has a category romance where the hero and heroine are in their fifties. It's called HOT BLOOD & I think you would find it interesting, not sure I'd call it feminist, though.

    HBO ran a series called TELL ME YOU LOVE ME a while ago about three couples, all experiencing relationship problems, who consult the same therapist. The therapist, played by Jane Alexander, has problems of her own with her husband. However, for the first time in my experience, the show ran a scene where Jane and her husband make love and they are both in their sixties? Maybe seventies? It was raw, honest, definitely r-rated and fabulous. As was the show, which was cancelled after two years.

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    1. Me, too! Thanks, everyone, for the recs.

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  10. Dear Jackie, congratulations on the first anniversary of RNFF. This is the first blog I read when I open my mail, and I have saved nearly every issue.

    As a fifty-something romance reader, and writer I'd like to put in a word for the women and men who would like to see themselves portrayed as romantic and sexual beings from middle-age right through to the end of our lifetimes.

    I have made academic studies of older adults and can recommend one text that's particularly useful: "Ourselves Growing Older" by the Boston Women's Health Collective. Romance readers and writers would do well to expand our interests and demand literature that reflects us as vital rather than 'dried up' and ready to roll down the slippery slope towards a (celibate) end of life.

    I have been told by several agents that they are interested in books with older women heroines - I think they actually mean middle-age heroines - rather than, what Margaret Mead referred to as 'post-menopausal women with zest'.

    Again, thank you for an excellent blog - finally a spot for me to feel at home.

    Jane Lesley

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  11. Thanks, Jane. I agree that romance writers are wonderfully positioned to explore an aspect of life -- middle age sexuality-- that popular culture has left woefully unrepresented. Kudos to you and to other authors who are taking up the challenge!

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  12. Excellent post, Jackie. This is what I am examining in my PhD research and I write romance with older leads. I'll be sure to add this post to my research.

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    1. Cool! Are you at the writing stage, yet? Would you be interested in doing a guest post for RNFF?

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    2. I am the the about to submit to examiners stage.

      I'd love to do a guest post. If you'd like to have a look at what I'm on about, I've done a post on the subject for Read In A Single Sitting (http://www.readinasinglesitting.com/interview-sandra-antonelli-on-advocating-for-older-protagonists-in-romance-fiction/). I also have a post on the Popular Romance Project that's slated to come out sometime soon.

      Please let me know if you're still interested.

      Sandra

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  13. Check out: http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/m/blog/gs-vs-sta-romance-over-40

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    1. Thanks for the cross-reference, Anonymous.

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  15. You can get lots of free romance books at emmaroseromance.com just join the newsletter

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  16. Hey! The hero and heroine of my upcoming contemporary romance are both over sixty. I'm lucky enough to have found an interested publisher: The Wild Rose Press.
    Here's the blurb for the book, Felcity's Power:

    San Francisco, 1971: hippies in the streets, music and revolution in the air. The evening Marek Sumner opened his door to the wild-looking Felicity Powers, he knew nothing would ever be the same again. But even love and passion couldn’t keep them together.

    Forty-three years later, having lived in the world’s most dangerous places as a foreign aid worker, Felicity is back, still offering him love, passion, and adventure. But why would Marek risk having his heart broken a second time? Now a well-known author, he loves his calm, solitary life in an isolated farmhouse. He and Felicity are just too different; their relationship could never work.

    But Felicity is just as fascinating and joyful as ever, and that wonderful sexy magic is still there too. As for love, perhaps it’s even deeper and more delightful the second time around.

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  17. I write novels featuring the older hero and heroine. There aren't enough out there in my opinion. My name is Amanda Ward and I'm on Amazon. My heroines are usually English ladies with a strange kooky sense of humour. www.amandajward.weebly.com

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    1. Thanks, Manda, for stopping by, and letting us know about your books!

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