I’m A Little Concerned About Romance . . .

NOTE: I didn’t mean to publish this. I was looking for an old post and republishing posts that had gone down in the hack and I thought this was one of them. It’s probably a year old and never got posted at the time. Now that it’s up, it can stay up (I still have hundreds of posts to re-publish, but I’m on it, I swear).

Romance fiction, that is.  This is probably just the cranky part of my brain talking (the nice side of my brain rarely speaks), but the blurbs on Bookbub are making me surly.  

For a while it was the “Can he protect her?” stuff that was making me crazy, the Navy SEAL who’s protecting the little blonde from her abusive ex, the tough cop shielding the single mother of an adorable moppet from the mob, the any-guy-with-abs flinging himself bodily in front of whatever woman appears to be threatened.  I kept thinking, “What happened to women protecting themselves?  Why are we all of a sudden an endangered species?”  I know it’s a big fantasy, having somebody to stand between us and the ten thousand jerks and creeps who haven’t gotten the #MeToo message, but why all the wimpy heroines?  It’s annoying that on some days every damn romance novel in the e-mail has abs on the cover and a cowering woman in the pages.

And then lately I’ve been scowling at all the her-high-tech-career-tanked-so-she-went-home-to-do-more-womanly-things plots.  These heroines all move back home (it’ll be a cold day in hell when I even drive by my hometown’s exit again) and then open B&Bs where they can feed people and snap sheets, or they redecorate neglected houses, or they open bakeries so they feed people bread and sugar, anything that’s based in Good Womanly Virtues instead of those nasty high-achieving goals they failed at.   Look, I love to cook and bake, but I wouldn’t give up my writing career to do it, or my teaching career when I had one.  And I love rehabbing old houses, which is why I’ve never made a profit on any real estate transaction in my life, but again, not as a career (obviously, see lack of profit above).  I have no problem with people changing careers, I just want to know why so many damn BookBub romance heroines are failing and returning home to fifties virtues.  

Here’s the thing that bugs me: I think that romance tropes answer to the prevailing social and political trends.  In the seventies, there were all those rape romances that told women that they could recover and even triumph over rape because the seventies were a really bad time when rape victims were put on trial as much as their rapists, and when date rape was still “you shouldn’t have had too much to drink.”  In the nineties when marriage in America really started to implode, suddenly we were inundated with baby romances, assuring women that they could find true love, even if they were toting diaper bags.  So now here we are in the tens and romances are assuring us that a guy will be there to protect us and we can go home again, especially if we’re leaving a business suit to wear an apron?  

Yes, I know, I’m overreacting.   It’s a specialty of mine.  But this is ANNOYING.  

92 thoughts on “I’m A Little Concerned About Romance . . .

    1. It’s actually terrifying. And I’m not sure I think that romance fiction always reflects what’s going on, the type of fantasy that appeals most to readers at any given time. I think it might reflect what publishers think is going on in society/culture and that’s what they publish at the time, but I really really really have never ever ever wanted someone to completely dominate my whole life, but that’s pretty much what all the “hot, kinky!” (aka Dom/sub) romance fiction offers anymore. Makes me feel violent.

      1. Me, too! And I really pray that these tropes are what a few misguided people think will sell and not what the majority of women want. Please, please let this be a vocal minority.

      2. I think this trend is shifting. At least the bdsm, my partner has an unhealthy fixation part. Monster romance is gathering steam and so far, behind the flashy theme of “he’s not human” they have tended to be relationship/character development heavy stories about learning to accept your partner and live with the cultural and physical differences. It makes me hopeful.

    2. Hah! This is the one that came my way last weekend! Plots and polemics don’t mix well and I figured this one was a dud.

    3. Horrifying, but right in step with what’s going on politically. I just hope I live through this. At least the Idiot Redhead is gone!

      1. I hope you’re right but his latest scheme to get back in office could actually work.

  1. It’s sort of the same with Hallmarklandia movies where the career woman leaves NYC to go home for (family crisis/Christmas/Harvest) and meets the farmer for whom you were the one that got away. And all of a sudden she’s giving up a six figure income to open a bakery with hardly any customers but plenty of time to experiment with cookie recipes, still have the cutest house or apartment ever!, a baby and the hunky farmer who’s been waiting for 18 years – all at age 39 and bio clock ticking away loudly!! I guess we still want our reverse Calgon moment. Pretty soon the book trends will go to happily married with twins and thursday date nights where they play dom/sub roles. You know, to keep things simmerin. It’s all fun and games until someone gets murdered…

    1. Hallmark movies are fantasies about moving to a small town and starting your own business. You’d think with all the businesses-in-trouble in those movies, people would learn….

      1. It can be. It depends on the small town. I live in a small town (well, outside of one by miles, but I work in one) and it is actually lovely. Then again, I would be miserable in a big city, so I guess it depends on what you like.

  2. According to many sources, 50 Shades of Grey is much more popular with women than with men. I wondered about that. I read an article that seemed to explain the fascination.

    MAGA Romance is just porn.

    1. “De gustibus non disputandum est.” That’s Latin for, “Don’t bother arguing; you have no taste.” It applies to most who enjoy that category.

      1. It came to me last night. I was trying to remember something about those books, and it was that MZB used to describe those plots as “A Mouthful of Message.” Not a story!

  3. How often does the “career man” leave *his* high-powered job in The City to return home and his One True Love and become, hmmm, a bartender? I mean, if he (or she) really hated the high-powered liftstyle but was trying to prove something. Maybe?

    1. Ooh! Ooh! That’s The Chocolate Cat Caper, the first of the chocoholic mysteries by JoAnna Carl! He was a big lawyer divorced from a bigger lawyer, but came home to lovely bucolic Warner Pier, MI, to restore boats.

      1. All my books are still packed up but my recollection is that in Manhunting Jenny was equal-opportunity intolerant of men who wasted good brains and good education. Kate called Jake on it and rebuffed him until he woke up. The trope where the princess slaps the sleeping prince instead of kissing him maybe?

        I wouldn’t call it the plot but a major development in their arc for sure.

        1. It’s easier to think of men who retired after being successful than who retired after failing—women in romance seem to do it after failure. Very disturbing trend. I also find the BDSM troubling.

          One of the lovely things about Bet Me is that I think all the romantic partners in there are successful in what they do and are not looking for romance to fill a work hole in their lives. In that sense they come in as equals.

  4. I think this is why I keep reading samples and not going for the books. It’s why I keep rereading and waiting for writers I trust to come out with new books.

  5. I suppose, if our jaded, burnt out heroine got the cooking-feeding-caring urge, she could open a soup kitchen or become ED of a food bank. Competence/caring porn?

    Just a thought.

  6. I have to wonder whether the popularity of stories about women leaving careers is a response to toxic work culture and precarious employment. In 2020, I suffered from burnout after 6 months of overtime (my hours met the criteria to be considered “arduous” in my state). I can now relate to the part of the fantasy about quitting the career or even being fired from the dream job. The hometown and the man? Definitely not. For one thing, I’m already married. But leaving my career and doing something more domestic like being a companion for an elderly relative? Yes. Fortunately, none of my elderly relatives actually live in my hometown; otherwise, I’d be quite conflicted!

    1. You are certainly right about the burnout. But these books are not about burnout they are about failure in the workplace. I would happily read about someone who quits because they were competent but burned out.

    2. Yeah I think it’s probably related to this and the idea that you could leave the corporate grind to open, say, a bakery is appealing to anyone tired of killing themselves at a job. My husband and I both work in jobs that require a LOT of emotional labor and we regularly fantasize about quitting our jobs and opening an ice cream parlor together. 😅

  7. I’m also concerned about what it says culturally about the rise in criminal hero romance, bully hero romance, the women being sent back to the kitchens from their careers, slut shaming, the “I’m not like other girls” heroine, there’s a whole lot of not great stuff going on. Not All Romance Novels, of course, but definitely concerning trends.

  8. I just checked on my library’s website for what I have on hold. Two empty nesters, one that includes being dumped by cheating husband, one house renovation to be filmed, one reunion of four friends confronting the past, and last but not least a breakup leads to a GM position at an inn and a possible ghost from the 1920s. Color me guilty.

  9. Having read M/M to F/M at a ratio of about 20:1 for the past three years, I’ll note that a lot of these heavily-promoted sub-genres read very differently when both MCs are men. 🙂

    Romantic suspense rarely works for me in F/M because it’s usually (as noted above) a threatened woman being protected by muscly man, and – WAY too often – she displays ‘strength’ by being reckless or bitchy. Maybe this is popular because women don’t feel like their men really stand up for them? I’m fortunate to have a husband who thinks keeping me safe is important, but in our case what that amounts to is he does all the shopping so I don’t have to go out into Covidland. <3 Anyway, the few M/M romantic-suspense books I've read and liked featured law-enforcement or military colleagues, so both MCs are active in the Solving Problems area. I know this also exists in F/M but I nope out on terrorism or stalking or serial killer storylines, which seem to predominate.

    Personally, I don't like career-criminal love interests no matter who my MCs are. So no mob romances, no motorcycle-gang romances, none o' that. There's a place for the grifter with a heart of gold, but I've seen that done well very very seldom.

    The return-to-small-town, on the other hand, works much better for me in a M/M pairing. Being a F who fled a small town and then a big city in favor of one of the biggest cities in the US, and still seeing only one reason to return to a small town (to be close to family in retirement, on the horizon now), a twenty- or thirty-something female MC who makes that nostalgia-driven choice almost always annoys me. In the M/M books in this subgenre that I've read, there are typically different drivers to the return. It's not always 'I failed at my career,' it's 'someone back home really needs me,' or there's a legacy, or something like that. One exception is the Otter Bay books by Sean Ashcroft. Career-in-crisis may prompt the return, but career change is presented in a way that still celebrates ambition. It's just a different ambition. Also, burnout is presented as a legitimate reason to make a big life change. It's not presented as a character flaw.

    One of the big things I dislike about contemporary F/M: female ambition is not celebrated, it's, again, a character flaw. Even someone written as competent and high-achieving is often then described as making some really stupid mistake that causes a Black Moment in the romance as well as in her career. She's often forced to choose between career and a domestic-goddess form of romance. (I'm sure these books also exist in the M/M world but I haven't tripped over them yet.)

    I hardly ever get a romance off a BookBub promotion. Occasionally one of the mystery authors I used to collect will show up and I can replace a long-departed dead tree book. Generally, the historicals look ridiculous and the contemporaries look annoying.

    Probably I'm not a representative romance reader. Married late, never wanted kids, chose big-city anonymity over small-town fishbowl, and am the primary breadwinner. Those may also be reasons why I relate more to the M protagonist!

    1. I am with you 100 percent. Hesitant to marry, definitely no kids and still waiting to escape the small town (family issues that need resolved). My partner and I bought a fixer upper with the plan to rehab it and then sell or rent it for income when we move Somewhere Else. It’s a long term plan, but it helps me not get too bogged down in the present.

      I only stay signed up for bookbub so that I get notifications when authors I follow go on sale. But then, I am probably not a good representative of modern readership either. I am so damn picky anymore.

    2. Me too. Married late, no kids, big city, primary breadwinner. Maybe there is no such thing as a typical romance reader?

  10. But why are authors turning to m/m instead of writing what they want to see in f/m?

      1. I really enjoy m/m. It’s just different. The plots, the conflict, the way the conflict is resolved… Maybe because it doesn’t have a lot of the baggage of m/f romance? I have tried f/f romance as well, and it just doesn’t suit me. Too much drama? I am not sure

        There has been a lot of good discussion about it here recently, both above in this post and on this week’s good book Thursday. If it’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine, but as a comfort genre I feel that it has a lot to recommend it.

        1. Same here.
          You can step out of the female role, don’t have to identify with the female lead.
          I don’t care too much about the sex scenes (neither in m/m nor f/m, life is just too exhausting), it’s gar away from my real life w/o being fantsay. It’s pure escapism.

      2. I find M/M are much more interesting because for the most part they are written without most of the role based stereotyping that M/F just can’t seem to help sliding into. Like seducer/seduced or dominant/submissive or whatever. It’s not like those roles don’t show up in M/M but they don’t show up based on whether the protagonists are male or female because they are both male. And it’s also not like those roles don’t get reversed in M/F but still then the whole point is that they are reversed which is just the mirror of the stereotyping.

    1. I am striving to understand this. So what I want to know is – take your favorite m/m romance written by a female author – would it not work if you just changed the name of one of the couple to a womans name? Changed the pronouns only and nothing else? (Ignoring the sex scenes, of course?)
      If not, why not?

      1. Nope. See my comment above. It is a much more equal/similar viewpoint to sex, romance and love. Most of them, and I have done the mental exercise you are suggesting many times, simply don’t work when you turn one into a woman. And the rare times that it does, it feels poorly written.

      2. I agree with Tammy. It just doesn’t work. The conflict is not the same. The expectations for the characters are not the same.

        I think part of it, for me, is that I am fatigued with how female characters are written a lot of the time. There is such a focus on body insecurity or body positivity and most of it is not done well. Also there is the constant push and pull of work/life/kids/biological clock that isn’t present with two male characters. They just aren’t conflicted about it, or not in the same way, and it is refreshing.

        If you haven’t tried it, may I recommend Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall? If I remember correctly, there aren’t any sex scenes in the book and two good people just struggling with life. The emotional vulnerability just feels so genuine in a way that we rarely get in traditional m/f romance anymore.

        1. If I’m honest I don’t want to like them. For me it feels like giving up on women. I could say more but it feels inappropriate here.

          1. Then you go with whatever works best for you. No harm, no foul. All of us are here because Jenny writes about both men and women we like and respect in a way that is not too often found. I am a little sad that you feel this way. For me, it’s not one or the other. I still read m/f romance and really just see m/m as another subgenre to enjoy. Best wishes for happy reading.

          2. Until about two years ago, I had stopped reading romances because I’d only read M/F. I had a few favourites and I stuck to those because I was too frustrated with most of the choices out there. I started reading M/M. Then I found my way to this site because Jenny is one of the few authors writing M/F that I admire. And now I’m mostly reading M/M until I can find other Sure Thinga like her to read.

      3. I tried that once in a story I was writing, gender flipping the male love interest to female because the heroine had declared she was a lesbian. On re-reading what I already had, I instantly thought nope, no woman would say that to another woman because they would know it was stupid/ offensive. And they wouldn’t try doing that either.

        I think the beauty of m/m romance is that you don’t have to negotiate the power dynamics you get in f/m relationships. There are fewer social assumptions about relationship roles and responsibilities to break down, and the characters mostly start on an equal footing. It’s exhausting proving our equal worth in a patriarchal society in our day to day lives, so being able to not do that in fiction is a respite. Not to say that there aren’t other social power dynamics in these stories, but it’s one fewer.

      4. Is it that the reader brings different expectations for behavior to M/M romance? The exact same behavior in a female MC in a M/F romance as a male MC in a M/M romance would have different societal meaning. A male aggressively pursuing another male is not seen the same way as a female aggressively pursuing a male.

        1. Or the same as a male aggressively pursuing a female character, which can end up as creepy. Although, in my experience this hardly ever happens in m/m. They are usually very gentle stories. At least the authors that I read?

    2. Can only speak for myself: more of the stories coming to me recently have fit a M/M pairing than F/M, or I wanted to deal with subject matter that would’ve been too triggery and baggage-laden in F/M (e.g. my February title is about recovery from sexual assault).

      I know several long-committed (or married) gay couples and more gay singles. The ways men deal with careers, family, health, money, the world, etc are *as a generalization* a few degrees different from the ways women do; the ways they negotiate their relationships are different; and the M/M approach holds my attention here in my 6th decade.

      I’ve written plenty of F/M and love all my F characters. It’s not so much that I decided ‘oh I will write gay romance now;’ it’s that in my contemporary story universe, I kind of got to the end of F characters who sparked a story idea. I have, in effect, already written what I wanted to see in F/M contemporary, though I still have a few works-in-progress. I just wrote a historical with F/F, F/M, and M/M pairings. The time period let me deal with the F characters in a way that felt fresh.

      Also, I like men and find a broad range of them sexy. If I were a man, I’d probably be gay. 🙂 To me, a M/M love scene is more fun than F/M because there’s twice as much of what I like. (A lot of F/M love scenes, I’m all ‘ew, do people actually *like* that?) My personal sex life is basically over and reading/writing F/M scenes is, unfortunately, a reminder of what I don’t have anymore.

      Plus there’s the subtextual ‘how much of this is based on your relationship’ when a woman writes F/M. There are things I’ve written that I thought, after the fact, eek, let’s revise. I have to write from a place of emotional truth, but it takes hard work to depersonalize those emotions. When I’m writing male characters, my imagination is less tethered.

      1. Jenny please delete this if you feel it’s not appropriate but
        I definitely don’t understand how a female writes gay male romance “from a place of emotional truth”.

        1. Judy, I think it’s possible for someone of any sexual orientation to write about others of any sexual orientation. It’s like women writing about men or blacks about whites or theists about atheists.

          Of course, a writer has to know who she wants to write about and be comfortable in bringing each character to life. I think she can come “from a place of emotional truth.”

  11. I have recently started following authors and book reviewers on Instagram. It’s interesting, and for me, hopeful. Mostly the reviewers are young women in their 30s and I find their reviews thoughtful and insightful. Of course, these are readers like us who have sorted through all kinds of stories, but they seem to be done with the bdsm/emotionally manipulative trope as well. There is plenty of darker romance and smut, but they talk about the problematic parts and seem to be in the market for well written, emotionally mature protagonists.

  12. BDSM just makes me wince these days. I think like a lot of people here seem to do, I now mainly flick through the sex scenes.
    I am trying to think what now works for me in romance novels.
    Well realised second characters who are not just there to be the recipients of the heroine’s yearnings towards the hero.
    A slow (but not too slow) realistic burn.
    A conflict that is external rather than internal.
    Proper communication between the protagonists. Misunderstandings while they are feeling their way toward each other are ok (and can even sometimes be good) but once they have connected, they are definitely a no no.

    1. BDSM never worked for me. I don’t have anything against it but it just turns me off. The only series that I liked was Kristen Ashley and her women are the dominant partners, which was interesting.

      Oh, I lied. I can handle it in m/m stories. Maybe because I am just tired of women assumed to take the submissive role? I am sure it can be done well, but the genre has been flooded.

    2. LN, I agree about the external conflict. The internal conflicts have been done over and over, and are so often just annoying. Or pointless. But a good external conflict that drives the protagonists together makes a huge difference to how much I enjoy a book.

  13. As a 30 something female who looked at the males her age in highschool and college and thought, no thanks, I believe that this trend towards male protectors comes from living with a generation of young men who are unreliable.

    I am so lucky. My partner (10 years older than me, thanks) is truly a partner in life. He vacuums. He loads the dishwasher. He unloads the dishwasher. I do the laundry but he will hang it or put it away when I am not looking. He helps me bring in the groceries. He doesn’t spend hours playing video games. He is responsible with money. He doesn’t drink or smoke. He keeps a steady job.

    I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s more than I thought I would find, which is why I decided to be alone. Poor guy worked hard to change my mind on that, bless him. But my peers are all pretty unhappy with their partners. Toxic masculinity hurts everyone, especially our boys who aren’t taught to function and then don’t want to as adults.

    So, while I don’t agree with a possessive billionaire who doesn’t let your precious little feets touch the ground, I think that it is a reaction to feeling very alone in a relationship and just wanting SOMEONE ELSE to wipe down the kitchen counter for once.

    1. Lol! This reminds me of a conversation I had early on when I was dating my now husband, and after hearing several of his stories of ex girlfriends who were either chronically depressed or suffering from eating disorders or both….. I looked at him and asked: “ Do you need to rescue people? Because I don’t need to be rescued. I’ve had lots of baggage in my life and most of that is now stacked up neatly in a closet now. Every once in a while, it tumbles out but overall I’m good thank you very much. So if you need someone to rescue, it’s not going to be me.” And he looked at me and said: “Nah, I realized he wants to be with me doesn’t mean I have to be with them.” It wasn’t the only moment when I realized he was a keeper, but it was a moment.”

      He throws all his stuff all over the floor, plays way too many video games and leaves me to manage the bills and stuff. But he fixes all of my technology issues, is as loyal a person as you’ve ever want to meet, and he’s queer (non practising; we are monogamous) which makes him more of a feminist I think.

      1. Yay! I am glad you have this. To be clear, I have nothing against video games in general. Mine plays them too. But he has never emptied our checking account on them or stood me up for one. Both things have happened to people I know 😛

        Good partners feel like little islands of sanity in the madness don’t they? Romance aside, I love the steadiness.

        1. Totally. I had lots of charming guys loaded with drama in my youth. Now I just want a steady, loyal guy with bad clothing sense. *:)

  14. Could the fantasy of having a man “save you” come from the idea that today’s woman is tired from “doing it all” and wants help?

    Consider this: We work; we make policies, we’re supermom; we take care of the house, the yard, the vehicles, and the pets; we volunteer, we fix what needs fixing, we find time to exercise, we remember to get the birthday/ holiday gifts, and visit family and friends, we bring groceries to those who couldn’t go out during COVID, we fight injustice, we get things done. Perhaps some women feel overwhelmed and don’t have the help they need. (I know a lot of partners are helpful–my husband included–so I’m just considering a possibility as to why the “saved by a man” trend is occurring).

    Could the fantasy of having someone “save you” come from the exhaustion of having to do everything ourselves? And the expectation that, as women, we shouldn’t rely on a man to do it? That’s a lot of pressure.

    Perhaps it’s not that she CAN’T save herself, it’s that she’s been doing it for so long, she’s damn tired and wants a little help. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an attractive fantasy.

    For me, sometimes I don’t want to expend the emotional energy to decide where we’re going for dinner tonight. You choose. Just take me someplace nice. 😉 LOL

    I don’t know if this is the case–I could be WAY off the mark–but it’s food for thought.

    1. That’s what I think too. Why he has to be an asshole in the trope, I don’t know. Maybe because otherwise he would be too perfect and the female character needs to save him emotionally to balance it out?

        1. At my age, that is very often the case. It is exacerbated by the fact that the greatest demonstration of a willingness to commit to another person is the fact that they have done so. That can make it hard to judge in the unattached.

      1. The ‘saving a damaged man’ trope is very appealing. Frighteningly so. Many years ago I taught creative writing at Hobart’s maximum security prison. It was a pretty freaky place full of manipulative/sociopathic/violent men and I chucked it in after a term – but so many women, if I mentioned it, went into intense focus and said, ‘How FASCINATING!’

        There are quite a few true stories about social workers/prison guards/creative writing teachers who fall in love with a prisoner and do stupid things as a result. The worst thing I ever did was take them all a cake to celebrate end of term.

    2. And I think moving back to the small town is about our loss of community. The small towns in the books are dreadfully unrealistic – but they must seem very appealing to someone who is lonely in or outside a marriage, or doesn’t have good friends, or just wants something more. That need for community can be very strong. Church used to provide it, but that has gone for most people.

      1. I had a friend who did just that and was terribly disappointed. Not only was the town socially unwelcoming, but employment opportunities for her husband were nonexistent (he had been a recording engineer.) She had based her social expectations on the town where she grew up, but didn’t realize the differences between a town where her family had been for generations and was near a large metropolitan area and being a stranger in a much more isolated small town.

        1. And there it is. I would gladly live in Stars Hollow if I could find it. Instead I live in central Pa where our small shops can’t survive, the wealthy (relatively) community is incredibly insular and controls mostly everything and my neighbors egg my car because my partner is Asian.

          I understand the nostalgia, but the reality has been crushing these last few years.

          1. Neighbours egg your car because your partner is Asian?? That is horrible. And I don’t even get that.

          2. Thanks Tammy. It was during the whole “Asian Flu” period. We have security cameras bon the front and the back of the house, so that was fun.

      2. A bit of community is exactly why I expect to move to a small town once I no longer have to work full time. (My husband and I tiptoe around this discussion, but I am closer to my sibling than he is to his, and his entire family is in San Francisco which … no.)

        An old person generally does better when there are people (related or not) who pay attention, and small towns are all about everybody knowing your business. When I’m old, I want to live in a place where someone will notice if I don’t leave the house for a week.

        Till retirement, though, it’s simply not an option. Moving to a small town now would mean instant and permanent poverty.

        1. Just last week my neighbor noticed that I hadn’t left the house in a week. I live in a lovely,
          artsy town of 26,000 people (on the water) fifty minutes outside San Francisco. It’s called Benicia. If your husband yearns to be near his family, you might check it out. Lots of history and nice architecture. It was the first capitol of Calofornia.

        2. Chachal, I live in a place that is more of an outlying suburb than a small town. But my street is a dead end and there are only 12 houses in it, so we all know each other and help each other out. I have also put quite a bit of effort over the years into building community in this street, giving my neighbours apples when my tree is fruiting, handing out excess basil and silver beet etc. So it’s now a really nice place to live, and people would notice if I didn’t leave my house for a week.

          When I had a hip replacement a couple of years ago, two of my neighbours took turns setting and lighting my fire mid afternoon, so the house was warm at night. What I’m saying is, it doesn’t have to be a small town – it can be a small part of a larger place.

        3. Chachal, from what I have been reading about this, a certain level of neighborhood “walkability” and a lack of large volumes of fast (dangerous and noisy!) vehicles using your street appear to be better indicators of neighborliness and friendly interaction than the size of the town you’re living in or near.

          If people walk (or bike) to a local park or shop or school (or pub or high street or community garden or whatever), they meet and greet their neighbors and can stop for a chat.

          If people have to go everywhere, for each little errand, in your own sealed bubble of a car; and if you can hardly cross the street because of traffic, and have to raise your voice to be heard over the traffic noise, these spontaneous interactions occur much less often, and you’ll have less chance to become acquainted with people or make friends in your area.

          The channel NotJustBikes on YouTube has a video about “Suburbs that don’t suck” ( https://youtu.be/MWsGBRdK2N0 ) that might give you some food for thought, when you think about where you want to spend your retirement years.
          (The videos on “stroads” and strong towns are interesting too).

  15. And then we have the requirement that the woman is turning her back on a “high-powered” business career to care for a loved one. IRL the care giving falls to whoever is available and due to other responsibilities, that is usually the person who is the least employed. But we don’t find that heroic or romantic, so we don’t write about them.

    My siblings and I tag-teamed care for my parents during the last 5 years of their lives, but the only reason we could do that is that my parents could afford to live in a place that provided basic services. And even split among five of us, it wasn’t enough towards the end. I can guarantee that none of us felt like looking for “the one who got away” at the end of the day.

  16. I’m interested in this entire discussion. At the moment I think K M Fawcett’s well thought out position might be the opposite of mine.

    Back to the heroine who — in the next to last scene of the story — can’t kill the bad guy to save her life (literally). Miraculously, the hero appears and does the dirty work. The last scene has the hero and heroine headed for happy ever after.

    I think that situation has lots to do with the idea of the female embodying the religion, tradition, and soul of the couple (future family). The hero is the guy with the big fist/rock/knife/gun.

    I’m not saying this is situation is true, useful, or healthy. In fact, K W Fawcett’s heroine might say, “What the heck, I have to bring up the kids, keep the house in order, do my own work, and host the in-laws at every major holiday — and now I have to kill the bad guy, too?”

    What I’m trying to say is that some stories, especially post-Freudian action ones, push situations to the limit where everything good is going to be lost and the definition of that final limit is the destruction of the heroine. Why?

    Because ultimately it is the hero’s story. He saves the woman/day/world.

    Jenny pushes her stories to the limit where everything good is going to be lost, and the definition of that final limit is the destruction of the heroine. But, by another definition clearly presented in the story, only the heroine can save herself.

    Because ultimately it is the heroine’s story.

    1. This is an interesting perspective. I will have to think about whose story I think a book is about. It dovetails with my recent reading of Katee Robert’s Electric Idol. The hero Eros, is determined to kill someone to save Psyche’s life. She maneuvers him out of in the last minute. Maybe that is part of the reason I like her so much? Both characters are pretty equal and active right to the end of the story. No lazy endings for her.

  17. I agree that the small town thing is probably a desire for community, and baking/B&B is probably comfort—like, why did people suddenly start baking in March 2020? To escape. And billionaires, yep, who wouldn’t want access to a small country’s GNP when school costs so much and the job market sucks? I’m okay with it because it’s all fantasy.

    Sarina Bowen does Vermont well. You can’t help rooting for the famers and the artisan bakers.

    As someone who writes with romantic elements, I wonder if it helps to have a bigger plot going on so the focus isn’t always on the couple alone. Jenny does this all the time. Hit men and all.

    I live in a small town. The only time I’ve set a book here was Wolf Ice, when Montreal werewolves needed a place to roam outside the city. Oh, wait, and Mr. Chef and Ms. Librarian was half set here (food! Books!). For the most part, I like city arts and hustle, but I asked my son once, and he says he loves the quiet here.

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