As the type of woman that my mother always tactfully described as “zoftic”, I understand this poignant plea. I have often felt blessed that my husband (of nearly 35-years) has always made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world even though fashion designers and modeling agents would surely scoff.
Our heads are filled with stereotypes, women and men who are “fit and trim” with appealing curves and strong biceps. Years ago when I first contemplated writing in the romance genre I received a list of guidelines from one of the “more respected” romance publishers of the time. Some of the suggestions included: he should be self sufficient and usually financially set; she should be attractive and usually innocent; he should have more experience than her; he should be strong; she can be a leader in business with an innate desire to be domestic…
I rebelled. When I wrote the original manuscript for my romantic suspense Courage of the Heart in the late 90’s, I created a hero that was damaged and insecure. Adam Sherman was wrongfully sent to prison as a teen and suffered abuses that left him filled with doubt and shame. Along came Davie (Davida) Prescott, an innocent girl who Adam was finally able to open up to and who accepted him for “who he was”. Because of their love, he was able to face and stare down many of his demons.
I sent the manuscript to one of the two leading romance houses – and it was turned down. The editor gave me the courtesy of an actual response. She complimented me on my writing and said that the story was definitely intriguing and well-plotted. However Adam was not the “typical hero” because of his past - so my story, even though well-written, was not considered sale-able.
The world is not made up of “beautiful, perfect people” as oft described in society pages. There have been a few stories I’ve read where heroines and heroes have “imperfections”, but especially a decade ago, those were truly rare. As my friend Charmaine wrote, “What about the greater population who make up our world; people in wheelchairs, ones who need walkers or braces on legs or arms?”
The world is not made up of stereotypes.
Excerpt from Courage of the Heart:
Adam had never before had difficulty concentrating on his work. The company had just finished investing a lot of time and money into a new Integrated Services Digital Network and it was his responsibility to make sure everything worked. Great, he thought to himself, one screw-up and all of their customers could kiss their email and web-sites goodbye.
He thought of how one very pretty young lady in Customer Service would respond to customer complaints…"Oh, I'm sorry, is this your FIRST Internet connection? Well, our department manager has a problem with that…"
Damn! She's twenty years old… and beautiful. He never once thought she was so inexperienced, he just couldn't believe that someone that appealing hadn't already been sweet-talked all the way by a guy or two. In this day and age, he thought cynically, he would never have expected some college girl to be saving herself.
The problem was he still wanted her and that scared the hell out of him! There had never been another woman that had monopolized his thoughts the way Davie did. He certainly wasn't desperate, if he just wanted to spend an evening out or have sex he had any number of willing partners. But when he thought of Davie, he wanted more than sex, he wanted her body and soul. He wanted a relationship, not just a one or two night fling. It flabbergasted him that the beautiful Davie Prescott had wanted him enough to give up her virginity. It frustrated him that he could never let her know why he couldn't do that to her.
There had been several times when he had started to call her over the weekend, but then he remembered how quiet she had been when he drove her home and tried to apologize. She had actually started to walk home, he followed her with his car for about half a mile before she finally gave in and got in. Adam felt terrible; he knew how badly he had hurt her with his rejection. If only he could make her understand how much he still wanted her, but he didn't know how. If only he could make himself understand why he wanted her so much…
Adam had never felt so frustrated about a relationship before, at least not since he got out of that little Pennsylvania town he grew up in. His teen-age years were filled with memories he wished he didn't have; so long as he could remember that time, though, he'd never be any good for someone as pure as Davie. He had been with a lot of women and he never made any secret of his appetite or his lack of emotional commitment. Adam had told himself that his unusual interest in Davie as a person and not just a sex partner was only a sign of his "growing up", at twenty-five it was bound to happen…eventually. He shook his head, because it was Davie and not his age that was playing havoc with his libido.
Adam stared at the clock on the wall and decided that he had to get close to Davie somehow. He had no idea how to get beyond his dilemma, but he knew he had to try to mend fences with her. Red roses were Davie's favorite, he had learned that during one of their relaxing conversations. He had enjoyed listening to her talk about just about any subject, he was always interested in everything that made her smile, or pause. A quick phone call to the florist gave him a touch of hope.
Forty-five minutes later he felt a little cocky as he walked down the hall to Customer Service.
The door was ajar and Adam peeked in. Only one of the desks was occupied.
"Oh, hi Mr. Sherman. Are you looking for Davie?" Agnes, one of the other girls in Customer Service, was holding down the fort by herself. Since he had not made any secret of his interest in Davie, it was a natural assumption why he was there. "She's already gone for the day."
Checking his watch, he frowned. "Isn't it a little bit early?"
"To be honest, I don’t think she was feeling too well." Agnes shrugged. "And then she got some flowers delivered and it must've really started her allergies or something…'cause her eyes got all red and she had to get out of here."
"Flowers were delivered?" Good, then she got his note.
"Yeah. They were really pretty. She took them with her."
"She did?" Maybe there was a reason to feel optimistic after all.
Adam thanked Agnes and left the office. It was only when he passed the garbage chute that he lost his new found hope. On the floor was a rose; a piece of green fern was sticking out from the side of the bin where it had gotten stuck when the bouquet was thrown out.
Thanks for stopping by!
Oops, never a good sign when a man's flowers are tossed...
Chelle, lovely excerpt.
Great excerpt Chelle. An interesting topic too.
Super excerpt, Chelle!
I agree with you re the very prescriptive requirements of some romance publishers - life really isn't like that, thank goodness!
Thanks for stopping by Savanna, Kaye & Lindsay,
It's true, real life is NOT filled with airbrushed models, stereotyped tycoons, swooning maidens and more. For me, it is always more enjoyable to read about folks I can relate to.
Life isn't perfect and nor are the people who live it -- I'm with you, the market needs to be open to what readers really want.
Put them out there and give'em a chance. I think that's what e-publishing does.
Terrific topic and excerpt, Chelle! As a publisher, I can't tell you how many 'perfect' characters we see in queries and submissions that, with just a touch of reality, could be relatable. Fortunately, I have you and a 'stable' of other spectacular authors who 'get it' and the ability to take chances on the not-so-perfect perfectly relatable characters and stories you all send us.
Hi Bekki Lynn & Kimberlee,
Yes, Bekki Lynn, readers do want stories they can connect with. Fortunately with the increase in small press pubs and ebook publishers, there are more chances for choice and more opportunities for real life portrayal.
And Kimberlee, you are one of the reasons more stories are getting out there. You encourage your authors to be more receptive to their readers' needs. Thank you.
Thank you both for dropping by.
CHELLE--it's annoying, isn't it, that our heroines must fit a pattern or a mold? Sad. I always said I got the perfect man even though I wore glasses, had crooked bottom teeth (now fixed), and was a total nerd.And my goodness, we've had X number of years together--I will not say-- of marriage, mostly good, with a little bump here and there.Thanks for such a good post--Celia
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