I was a grown-up woman in a happy marriage, with kids and friends and a job history that had afforded me independence and had left me with the feeling that yes, I could do anything I wanted. And every time I picked up a book, especially a genre fiction book, I was reading about characters that were totally outside my realm of understanding.
I was not a virgin beauty, kidnapped by a falsely accused Duke who also happened to be incredibly hot and great in bed. Nor was I a Vikings daughter battling my way to reunite with my One True Love, even though we only shared one smoldering (of course) kiss.
I was not a twenty-something, scatterbrained, country bumpkin, lost at sea in the big city, desperate to please her man, her boss, and afford new shoes. I didn’t stumble over myself in new situations, turn to jelly in the presence of an attractive man, and didn’t take bullshit from my roommate, mother, or possible sister-in-law.
I was not a fragile fawn that had been beaten, raped, run away, overcame drug addiction, gave birth and finally learned self-worth, all before the age of sixteen. (I’m looking at you, Oprah Book Club.)
Where was the smart, savvy woman who took charge of her own life and unapologetically went after what she wanted? THAT was a character I could get behind.
Yes, she was around, usually in books categorized as ‘literary fiction’. But, quite frankly, those were not the kind of books I enjoyed. When I read, I wanted to be entertained. I wanted to escape. I wanted to read and smile at the same time.
That’s when I started writing.
And after two years, I got myself an agent.
And that’s when I started getting rejected by publishing houses, mainly because my characters were ‘too old’.
If you’ve read Better Off Without Him, you know that the main character is a forty-something romance writer who is trying to get a book published that is NOT your usual romance, and she gets a lot of pushback from her editor. Most of that pushback came in my rewrites, based on comments from editors in the real publishing world who couldn’t figure out how to sell a book with an older protagonist. The funniest but harshest comment I received? That my book wasn’t chick lit. It was “hen lit”, because the character was so old.
That’s when I decided to self-publish. Long story short, the book got picked up by Montlake, and is still ranking number one in its category on a pretty consistent basis, four years after it first broke out and made it to Amazon’s bestseller list.
As I’ve gotten older, so have my characters. Makes sense, right? How could I possibly write about a twenty-something woman, particularly a romance, when those poor girls don’t even know how to date? And why should I? Woman my age have wisdom and strength, and that’s much more interesting than perky boobs and a great wardrobe. Not that there’s anything wrong with those types of romance novels. Please, don’t get me wrong – the traditional tropes are the backbone of the romance industry, and for good reason. And romance writers are great at what they do. They understand the audience, they take the expectations and find new and original ways to present them, and, for the most part, are technically excellent writers.
Long Live Romance!
But, I do find it very interesting that, in the recent call for more diversity in publishing, no one is waving a hand and asking…what about those old ladies? The ones with grown kids, whose husbands left for a younger model? The ones navigating the brave, new world of dating? The ones who realized what’s really important and don’t get hysterical over the stupid stuff life always throws at you. You know, the ones over forty?
My new book, Stealing Jason Wilde, is about a group of friends who go to the Hamptons every year for a Girls Getaway, and, in the course of one special week find adventure and love. There’s a bit of drama, a great romantic story line, and lots of laughs. The women, by the way, are all in their forties and fifties. In shopping the book around, my agent was asked if I’d consider making the characters younger. Why on earth would I want to do that? At what age does friendship, laughter and sex come to a grinding halt?
Every week I receive at least one review or email thanking me for NOT writing about a younger woman. Thankfully, I’m not the only person out there who understands that life gets more interesting the further it goes along, and those stores are are just as entertaining and worthwhile as any other.
Long Live Romance – at every age!
Dee is giving away three signed copies of Stealing Jason Wilde to three lucky US readers. To be entered in this drawing, make a comment below.
Dee Ernst was born and raised in New Jersey, which explains a great deal about her attitude towards life. She loved reading at a very early age, and by the time she was ten she had decided to become a writer. It took a bit longer than she expected.
She went off to college, moved around a bit, had a job or two, a husband or two, and a daughter or two. It was the birth of her second daughter at the age of forty that got her thinking about what to do with the rest of her life. That was when she decided to give writing a real shot.
Dee loved chick-lit and romantic comedy, but hated the twenty-something heroines who couldn’t figure out how to go and get what they wanted. She began to write about women like herself — older, confident, and with a wealth of life experience to draw upon. She got an agent but no sales, and took the plunge into self-publishing in 2010.
In 2012, Better Off Without Him became an Amazon bestseller. She signed with Montlake Publishing, which went on to re-release Better Off Without Him and launch A Slight Change of Plan in 2013.
2016 will bring two ‘firsts’ for Dee — a series of cozy mystery novellas, and the release of her first full-length novel with Lake Union Publishing, Stealing Jason Wilde, in June.
She is still in New Jersey, where she writes full-time. She lives with husband #2, daughter #2, a few cats and a needy cocker spaniel. She loves sunsets, long walks on the beach, and a really cold martini.