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.