I read—and loved—two books this past week. That’s more than I ever get read anymore unless it’s RITA-judging time, and the fact that I loved them both makes it even more of a rarity. In case you’re wondering—you are wondering, aren’t you?—the books were The Soldier’s Wife by Cheryl Reavis and The Lovesick Cure by Pamela Morsi.
One of the books was historical, the other contemporary; one was category, the other single-title; one was inspirational, the other not. Both were classified as romances and both were, no mistake about it, good romances.
However, what made them keeper-shelf books for me wasn’t the romance at all. It wasn’t that I heard Women’s Fiction voices within the stories, though I most certainly did hear them. It wasn’t even the heroes and heroines, all of whom I loved. What made both these books over-the-top special to me was the secondary characters.
In The Soldier’s Wife, Rorie and the magnificent Blue Ridge helped me see the whole story in vibrant HD. In The Lovesick Cure, it was Aunt Will and Tree and Cammy and the Ozarks.
In the early years of my writing, when very little of what I did was right, one of the things experienced people told me was to be wary of letting my secondary characters be too strong. In that time, they were probably right, but I believe and I’m grateful that romantic fiction has evolved. While we do still adhere to the much maligned “formula” of genre fiction, we’ve been able to soften its edges, make 90-degree corners into curves and add the aforementioned HD to what was already Technicolor. We can now, as Pam Morsi said in a long-ago article in RWR, color outside the lines.
In truth, I’d like to see a little more latitude in romantic fiction. I’m here to tell you love, sex, and everything that goes with them stay pretty cool at least into your sixties even though gravity and other insidious manifestations play havoc with your skin, your hair, and your ability to wear great shoes while standing up. I’d love to see some protagonists I can identify with.
I have faith that—and other growth—will happen. Until it does, I’m glad for how far we've come. The strengthening of secondary characters is one of my favorite changes that has happened in romantic fiction. What are yours? And, for that matter, what changes don’t you like?