What kind of happy ending?

I read Courtney Milan’s latest book last night and this morning. I really, really liked it. One of the things I like about it is the way it ends. I’m not going to spoil it for you but I am going to say what I did on twitter earlier. I think Free epitomises the ‘undiminished heroine’. That is, she ends the book with more opportunities and choices than she had at the start. She has her man, yes, of course. She has love, deep and fierce and real. She’s had to make choices and compromises. But when Edward says to his brother, “Haven’t you figured it out? I married her to unleash her on the world, not to keep her under wraps” we know that he means it, and that Free as Edward’s wife will be herself, only more so. He’s in a position to open doors for her at a practical level, but more importantly he doesn’t want her to change who she is, he wants to give her freedom to flourish. It’s not all about her, of course. He will be stronger and better with Free at his side than he would have been alone, and that is important too.

Something about the undiminished heroine trope speaks very strongly to me. It is the ultimate romantic fantasy for me. Not only that a woman should be loved so deeply and strongly, but also that being loved does not take away her choices. As Ridley put it on twitter, it’s a question of agency. The undiminished heroine does not lose agency by virtue of loving and being loved. She doesn’t always get to have it all, but she gets to make her own choices and compromises, and she will expect her man to do the same. Where there are compromises to be made, it won’t be assumed that she will be the one making them. Both parties will be stronger together and will work to give each other their dreams, whatever they happen to be. It’s not always about her getting the career or the external validation, but it is about self-realisation. She gets to decide who she will be. I want that. I want the fantasy that says I can be loved without giving up any of my dreams.

But there are other fantasies too and sometimes I want those. Miss Bates mentioned Betty Neels and it’s true, her heroines do not really fit into the undiminished mould. Whatever their aspirations are at the start of the book, however competent they are to achieve them, by the end they are given over wholly to the hero. A Betty Neels heroine always ends up as a wife, whose role is to run the house and have children. She’ll have gifts lavished upon her and all sorts of luxuries. She’ll be taken care of and provided for. She’ll be rescued.

When I’m tired. When life is hard. When I’m lonely or sad. When I’m not sure how I’m going to pay next month’s bills. That’s when I want a Betty Neels book. That’s when I want this sort of ending. To lie back and trust someone else to look after me. It sounds blissful, for about five minutes. And then I remember the sort of person that I am and realise that actually, I don’t want that life at all. I don’t want someone who’ll make all my decisions for me, on the assumption that he knows me better than myself. I don’t want everything that I am to be subsumed into my love for another person. I still want to be me.

How about a more realistic ending? One that does involve sacrifice. One that means making hard choices and giving up things that are important, because the relationship is more important. I like those books, too. I like heroes and heroines who have to talk about stuff like grown ups and can’t find an easy way to solve all the problems. I like that they have to commit to each other and forge a relationship based on compromise. I think those endings can be very satisfying, but for me, they aren’t quite the fantasy. They’re hopeful, because they paint a picture of what life might really be like, but they do leave me yearning for a better world.

That’s something that Free says, too. She isn’t turning the world upside down. It’s already upside down and she’s trying to set it straight. I think romance novels can do that, a little bit. At least they can show us what the world could be like, rather than what it is like.

By nature, I’m a hopeless idealist. I can’t get my head round politics because I just want to throw it all out and start from scratch. I’m not very good at working out the best way to deal with how things are, and I much prefer to think about how they ought to be. So I guess that’s why I like best the endings which offer me the fullest promise. I want to believe, at least for the time that it takes me to read a book, that the world can be re-made in order to make two lovers happy.

Unintended books

I seem to have written a feminist romance. Which is interesting because I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with the label of feminist. I think now I am in a place where I feel able to claim it, but I still have a lot of opinions that are not really mainstream feminist. On abortion, for instance. I do truly believe that life begins with conception and, therefore, it is as wrong to kill an unborn child as it is to kill a baby after it has been born. Hattie, however, the heroine of Flirting With The Camera, thinks differently from me on this issue. She had an abortion in her early twenties and she is okay with that. It was a hard decision in difficult circumstances, but it has not ruined her life.

Abortion is a rare occurence in romance novels. Accidental pregnancy is EXTREMELY common, but almost every heroine I’ve ever read dismisses the notion of abortion instantly. Partly this is for plot reasons – a baby is an ongoing potential source of conflict. But I think even more than that it’s because there is an idealised notion of a romance heroine: limited sexual experience and preferably a virgin, not bitchy, often lacking self-esteem and having low body-confidence. And she must be a maternal woman who would never dream of having an abortion. Hattie is, um, not exactly like that. She’s confident in herself and her body, she enjoys sex, she can be a little bit bitchy at times, and she not only contemplates having an abortion, she does it.

I love her.

I really, really love her.

Usually, I’m very sanguine about criticism of my books. I don’t think they are heartbreaking works of staggering genius. I don’t expect everyone to love them. It’s fine.

I don’t think I can be dispassionate about criticism of Hattie. I don’t think Flirting With The Camera is a perfect book and I can see why not everyone will fall for Tom. But I think that if – when – people start criticising Hattie, I will have to go and hide in the corner and have a little cry.

Anyway, you can see what Jackie of Romance Novels for Feminists thinks about her – and the whole subject of abortion in romance – here.

And Flirting With The Camera is finally on sale at Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

Heroine week!

It’s Heroine Week all week over at Romance around the Corner, and Brie has got some great guest posts lined up. My rant about Fanny Price is coming later this week, but today she’s got posts from Sarah Mayberry and Stephanie Doyle on everyday heroines and the heroine’s point of view.

HW - Medium Res 1

I love the idea of a week celebrating romance heroines. So often discussion focuses on heroes – how tall, dark and handsome they really have to be, how tortured, scarred or emotionally closed off they can be, and how much readers do or don’t fancy them. Which is all well and good. I like a great hero as much as the next person, but I LOVE a great heroine.

For me that means a woman I can respect and like, but most importantly, a woman I am rooting for. The romances I love most are the ones where the heroines triumph. They get the awesome guy they deserve. They get the respect they’ve earned. They get their dreams come true. I don’t love a story with a ‘diminished heroine’. I don’t want her to have to abandon her dreams or settle for less than the best. I want her to grasp hold of her life and be the best person she can be. I want her hero to challenge her, admire her, adore her and take on the world for her. But I also want her to rise to the challenge and take on the world for him. I want her life to be better in every respect for loving and being loved.

I’m Ros, and I’m addicted to heroines.
But I’m okay with that.

Career progression

Not mine, my heroines’. Prompted by a review on one of my earliest books by someone who was horrified at the heroine’s lack of ambition. I don’t think I would write that character now. Here’s how my heroines have progressed:

(In order of writing, not publication)

© Bobby Flowers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Bobby Flowers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Waitress (Tycoon’s Convenient Wife)
Temp (Reckless Runaway)
Oil tycoon (The Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh)
Model (Lying for the Camera)
Accountant (All I Want for Christmas)
Food critic (Table for One)
Lawyer (An Unsuitable Husband)
Lawyer (Twelve Days. Oops. Didn’t mean to write two in a row.)
CEO (Unnamed WIP)

In some of these stories, the career is not central to the story (Twelve Days, All I Want for Christmas). In others, it’s the source of the external conflict (Table for One, The Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh). I’ve flirted around the traditional boss/secretary trope – Reckless Runaway is sort of that, but it’s not a standard sort of office. The unnamed WIP at the end of the list fits much better, although it’s the hero who is the PA, not the heroine.

So where next? Royalty? Hmm. Maybe not.