Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Sex and the Single Mother

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming best-selling author Julie Leto to Terry's Place. She's tackling the topic of surmounting non-sexy character situations and writing a sexy book.

My readers have certain expectations of my books, particularly when I’m writing for Harlequin Blaze. The line is super-sexy and focused, oftentimes, on how the sexual attraction between a man and a woman leads to a deeper, more emotional romantic connection.

In my own mind, I’ve equated those reader expectations with writing about heroines who are younger, somewhat unencumbered women on the brink of some new threshold of their lives. In that interest, I realized recently, I’d never written a single mother heroine. Having children around just isn’t that conducive to no-holds-barred, open-minded sexual exploration!

Well, that’s not entirely true. The heroine of my very first book, SEDUCING SULLIVAN (published in June of 1998) had a heroine who had custody of her best friend’s daughter, who I believe was eleven. In the unedited version of the book, that kid caused me more problems...every scene she was in, she stole it and destroyed the sexual tension between the hero and heroine, which was pretty powerful stuff otherwise. To fix this problem, I revised the book and sent her to camp. Score! The book sold. She still appears in a single scene in the book—but that was it.

Years later, I did another riff on this when I wrote WHAT’S YOUR PLEASURE? which featured a heroine, Devon Michaels, who was a writer, but who also had raised her niece, the daughter of her rock-star sister. This “child” was much easier to wrangle as she was a teenager and she wanted her aunt to get some action. She also didn’t appear in very many scenes. Two at most.

But these were both pseudo-mothers...neither had given birth to their offspring, though they loved and nurtured them all the same. And also, I’d made both children girls—which is an entirely different animal from raising boys. (I have a girl and several nephews, so I know the difference!)

But when I was offered the opportunity to write a 3-in-1 novella collection for Blaze, I had to create three different heroines so that each story stood out as unique.

For the first story, I chose a woman in her late twenties who’s had quite a few lovers, but has never gotten over her one true love. In a lot of ways, she’s the quintessential Blaze heroine. Not afraid of her sexuality, not embarrassed by her physical needs...but hiding from the depth of emotional commitment. Jessie has been engaged several times, but has never made it down the aisle.

For the third story, I did another riff on the Blaze heroine. Mallory is beautiful and successful and just coming off a very public, very bad break-up that has left her self-esteem in shambles. She decides to go after the hero because he’s a well-known playboy and he has a knack for making the women he’s with feel entirely beautiful and desirable. Of course, Ajay ends up turning the tables on Mallory—wanting more than just a weekend fling, but hey, that’s what romance novels are all about, right?

It was the second story’s heroine, though, that really fueled my imagination because she’s like a Blaze heroine...ten years later. Before she married and had two sons, she was a jet-setting, highly sought after photojournalist who took lovers and could travel to the four corners of the world with a small backpack and half-hour notice. But when the story starts, she is a divorced mom who is spending her first weekend away from her children. To ramp up that conflict, I paired her with a much younger man who has been waiting for her to be available for a very long time. He knows he only has this one weekend to convince her that they can make a relationship work—he’s not wasting any time!

Writing Annie was a lot of fun. First, as a mom, it was easy for me to connect with her concerns and her inability to under pack. Also, she’s older. Thirty-eight, if memory serves, which is a lot closer to my age. unlike Jessie and Mallory, she had other people to consider when making decisions about her love life. What she does in the privacy of her bedroom is one thing—but who she sees has repercussions on not only her children, but on the people who have helped support her (her parents, for instance) since her divorce.

Gotta admit—writing this character gave me a deeper appreciation of all the single moms out there who are trying to do the best for their children, but who still want to find someone to love. And they deserve it! Having children shouldn’t preclude someone from finding a soul mate, but it sure makes it harder on about a thousand different levels. And I think single mothers get judged a lot more harshly than single girl heroines. It’s a harder sell to readers, in a lot of ways—especially in a Blaze where the focus of the story is on how the heroine’s sexuality leads to a happily-ever-after.

I’m very interested in finding out how readers react to Annie and her story. Not only do I have the whole younger man-older woman thing going on, but also the single parent aspect as well. All in a novella! I think I pulled it off, but I suppose time will tell.

So, how do you feel about single moms as romance heroines? Does it deepen the conflicts of the book or add too much baggage to the storyline? Read any great single mom stories lately? (I have...Robyn Carr’s FORBIDDEN FALLS where the heroine, Ellie, is not only a single mom, she’s also a stripper who has lost custody of her children and is trying VERY hard to get them back. God, I loved her!!! Her victory at the end was especially sweet!)

Julie Leto has written nearly forty books for several publishers. Her latest book, 3 SEDUCTIONS AND A WEDDING, is available in stores now! And there is new, fun content up at her group blog, http://www.plotmonkeys.com, every single day. For more information, visit her website: http://www.julieleto.com.


Gillian Layne said...

Forbidden Falls was the first book that popped into my head, too! I think you've got a massive audience out there who are single Moms and want to believe that romance is still possible. It's much like married couples with kiddos around...you've got to get creative. ;)

Kristen Painter said...

If the story is good, the heroine can be anything. I'm not a massive fan of kids in books, but again, great storytelling trumps all.

Silver James said...

Now see, I'd read that middle story first, Julie! I like older heroines and the life choices a mother makes can create great conflict. Plus, there's that whole "raising another man's child" thing some men have. And a younger at that? Oh, yeah! This is going on the BUY list!

Unfortunately, most of the books with single mothers that come to mind are humorous paranormals--Michelle Bardsley's Broken Heart, OK series and Maureen Child's Fiend series.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Julie, for being my guest today.

I had a single mom in one of my books; dealing with the kid was a major turning point for the hero, but they do steal scenes.

And the MS I'm working on now has two single parents. I'm glad it's not supposed to be a super-hot romance, or I'd be going nuts.

Andrea I said...

I don't mind children in books or single moms. I enjoy all types of heroines.

Cher Gorman said...

Hi Julie! I love single mom stories and especially single dad stories. Love them! I think it adds a dimension to the hero and heroine's relationship that really makes it sing.

Have a great day blogging,


Jami G. said...

Hi Julie,

I'm with Silver James - I'd read that story first! :) I'll definitely put that on my list to get.

I think you're right about how and why the motherhood issue is so difficult to address. And I'll be honest, when I see some plot reason why the kid isn't in the picture (not trying to pick on your summer camp idea, as that was - as you pointed out - not a true birth-mother situation), it can feel like a cop-out if the underlying motherhood issues are ignored. As you said, the character has to consider more than just herself and her own desires before making decisions, so I'm looking forward to seeing your take. :)

Both my CP and I have written stories with mother heroines, so I know how difficult it can be to balance everything.

Maryann Miller said...

Enjoyed the article. Good points about how tough it is to be a single parent and have a life.

BTW, Julie, I would love to read a story centered on that young girl in Seducing Sullivan. The way you described her taking over the story, I figured she needs her own book. What fun that could be.

Carly Phillips said...

I don't mind single mom heroines ... and I read Annie's story and LOVED IT! ;)

Terry Stonecrop said...

I guess I'm the odd one out here. Send those kids to camp! ;)

Seriously though, I think there is a vast audience of single mothers who would love to read lots of stories about romance for them.

Debra St. John said...

Great post. My current WIP has a hero with kids...it does make writing the sexy stuff "interesting" since part of his character is him being a really devoted dad. Hard to have him having mind-blowing sex with the heroine if the kiddies are around...there have been definite "issues" to work through with giving him kids.

asrai said...

My "first" novel Second Chance Romance is about a single mom and her first love, who is not the father of her child. I think it's awesome conflict. There's a lot of baggage, but that adds to the plot and character.
It's hard to date when your a single mom so I had my heroine using toys to keep her desires at bay until she found the right guy.

JulieLeto said...

Gillian, so true about being creative! It's sometimes a wonder to me that couples have more than one child, LOL!

Kristen, like you, I'm not a big fan of little kids in books. More often than not, they don't act like the little kids I know (and as an aunt of over ten nieces and nephews and the owner of the go-to house in the neighborhood, I know a lot of kids!) I didn't actually put any kids in my story for that reason. However, I don't mind so much with teenagers. I've always liked teenagers, even in real life. I think that's why I was a high school teacher. (Of course, remind me that I said that when mine is a teen!!!)

JulieLeto said...

Silver, as a forty-something woman, the younger man thing was very attractive to me, too. I have to be honest, even if I wasn't the writer, I'd probably read that one first! It was my editor's favorite of the three.

Terry, good luck on the book with two single parents! I guess the sex becomes more significant in a book like that because it takes so much wrangling to make it work!

JulieLeto said...

Andrea, it's great to know that so many writers can be open-minded!

Thanks, Cher. I've been out all day (having a very long lunch with my Jazzercise ladies!) but I'm just hopping on to check out comments and I'm so glad to see so many people here!

Single dad books are really great reads. I've never attempted one, though. Hmmmm....

JulieLeto said...

Jami, I hope you like the book! We're going to have a Book Club event over at Plotmonkeys.com on June 28th to discuss the book, so if you read it, make a note to come hang out with us that day. I'm looking forward to hearing what people think about all the stories, but particularly Annie's because it's the riskiest.

The parenting thing does add another dimension to the story. It raises the stakes.

On the summer camp thing (I know what you meant!) it actually worked out really well because I went back and added in that had her child not been safely away at camp, she NEVER would have been so bold as to contact the hero in the first place. So I tied it into her whole motivation. It made it more believable, IMO...at least for me!

JulieLeto said...

Maryann, what an interesting idea! That was so long ago...the book came out in 1998 and she was 10 at the time...so she'd technically be 22. Hmmm...still too young for a heroine in my books. Maybe in a couple of more years, LOL!

The one book my readers seemed to want was the teenager who appeared in WHAT'S YOUR PLEASURE? and later in BRAZEN & BURNING and eventually, her parents story in a novella I wrote called ONE WICKED WEEKEND. She's more than old enough for her own story now and she had a highly untraditional upbringing. Might be interesting to see how she turned out!

JulieLeto said...

Squee! Thanks, Carly! I love that you loved Annie's story! You gave me so much support while I was writing this book...you're the best!

Terry, I hear you...but you can still buy 3 SEDUCTIONS AND A WEDDING if you want...the kids are visiting their grandparents. :-) The considerations about them is still there, but in a novella, I couldn't take a chance that they'd steal my scenes!

JulieLeto said...

Debra, it's tough, isn't it? Gives me a whole new respect for every author who successfully pulls it off.

asrai, I'm amazed at how some women are able to balance kids and dating and everything else. In real life and in fiction!

Moonsanity said...

I love the idea of a single mom and a heroine that's not 20. *snicker* I've read quite a bit of Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy with a child in the picture. Patricia Briggs main character Adam, her heroine's mate, has a teenage daughter living with him. I love her! In Ilona Andrews series, the newest on is Magic Bleeds, she has an adopted daughter who's either 12 or 13. Kelly Gay's Charlie Madigan character in her series is a divorced single mom of a daughter. The funniest is Lori Handeland's Chaos Bites--Liz finds herself responsible for not only a teen shapeshifter but a baby as well. SO cool.

You probably didn't want that many examples did you. *snicker*

JulieLeto said...

Moonsanity, I had no limit! Lori Handeland is guest blogging at Plotmonkeys this weekend, so I look forward to her post! I can't imagine a teen shapeshifter and a baby...which is pretty much a shapeshifter in completely human form, LOL!

readinrobin said...

As a single mother with two teenage daughters, I am drawn to books where the heroine is also a single mother, and particularly if she is slightly older - 30 or more.

cories said...

I'm fine with reading single parent stories as well. One such story I can recall is "Full House" by Janet Evanovich. The main leads meet while her kids are with their dad. Then the kids come home early. The male lead has a teen boy cousin. Fun book.

I also enjoy stories in which the hero is a bit younger than the heroine. After all, since women live longer than men, if the man is younger, they'll have more time together in their HEA. :)

Sheila Deeth said...

I loved your article. Amusing to think of kids getting in the fictional way too. And nice that you have a heroine who's past that "certain age."

JulieLeto said...

readinrobin...hmmm...where did my first response to your comment go? I know I sent you a hug for raising two girls on your own! I hope you'll like the book.

cories, I haven't read Full House, but it sounds like fun. I remember discovering Evanovich back in her Loveswept days!

LOL, Sheila. You're right! And yes, it was awesome to write an "older" heroine...though it's a little hard to think of 38 as "older!"

Mason Canyon said...

Julie, great post. I think the single mom adds to the story. It keeps it realistic.

Thanks Terry for introducing me to another great 'new to me' author and some interesting books.

Thoughts in Progress

pat said...

Recently read 3 seductions and a Wedding and it was AWESOME. I loved the way is was written and stopped for a breather between stories to allow time for seperation. I loved and identified with Annies story. Great story Julie, Thanks.

JulieLeto said...

Mason, thank you for stopping by! I hope you enjoy the story.

pat!!! Thank you SO MUCH for saying so. I really appreciate everyone who has read or will read the book...but saying you love it online for the world to see? Priceless!

Terry, thanks so very, very much for having me. It's been an awesome day!

Dokemion said...

I enjoyed reading.. Thanks.. Keep posting some heroines.

tagged: grants for single mothers

Stephen Dave said...

I really enjoyed your post. Keep up the good work! Thank you for sharing.