You could call me a quasi-romance writer, but my books tend to focus on the complications of life experiences of older characters. The romance part swoops in as an end-game reward that must be earned. And boy do my protagonists work hard for it. I love plopping characters into a dung storm of their own creation. These seasoned players come into a relationship with enough baggage to rack up a fortune in luggage fees at the airport.
Romance with more mature characters is fun to write. I can create conflict on top of conflict in emotional layers. All can be going along swimmingly, then BAM! Geological layers of hurt get nicked from a word, a gesture, or a tone of voice, and the dig triggers a reaction. Old wounds of backstory percolate in the background like an App on a smartphone, always running and sucking battery life.
Creating a backstory of complicated emotions, such as aging, divorce, death, family drama, health issues, and super-bad old habits adds to the sweet and savory richness of a story. It's what makes characters real. Many of mine are rooted in people I've known in my life. Some personalities can't be made up because the truth is just too darned good to ignore. Of course, the details are changed to protect the innocent . . . or not-so-innocent.
Ah . . . and there's that element of surprise, the unexpected circumstance of opportunity that changes the course of the story. A turning point can be a chance meeting that flips the heart, and then makes a character do irrational things—good and bad. In the second book of my latest trilogy about the Dushane sisters, Indigo Lake, the main character marches into an attorney's office ready for a fight about a lawsuit. Instead, she's knocked to her knees at how attracted she is to this man. And the feeling's mutual, but not without a cat-and-mouse game of wits between them.
One other technique I use is to infuse a serious situation with humor. My character's response to a dire circumstance can be to say or do something ridiculous to ease the tension. For instance, when my character can't remove her old wedding ring after getting engaged, she ends up in the emergency room to have it cut off, but not before giving a dramatic lecture to the young intern about love, spontaneity, and romance. She spews out everything she, herself, has fantasized about having in a relationship. All of her wishes and dreams are told to a stranger who holds a saw and smells like antiseptic. Oh , . . and she does all this while donating her blood to save her fiance in surgery. The moment the ring falls away and clangs to the metal tray, the whole book takes a major turn. The antagonist of an old wedding band is conquered and my character goes into hero mode.
In my new book in progress, Big Sky Talk, it takes a bit of magical realism to nudge my characters—some oomph—toward a goal of happiness. Older players need spark. Set in Montana, a powerful combination of resources is needed to break through to the chewy centers of the tough-as-nails sheriff and a lonely, clairvoyant retiree . . . including some help from a gun and a grizzly bear. This will be a different kind of romance story to write, but all my same antics will be in play. The fun part will be to incorporate the wisdom of Montana's Native American folklore that will build a frame of authenticity toward a healthy relationship.
As in real life, older characters have a different sense of urgency in matters of the romance. Younger ones can turn their backs on a failed relationship and move on, but time is running out for tired hearts. Falling in love is like a gasp of fresh air to refuel our fantasies of youth, and we take bigger chances to make a relationship work. We fall deeper and harder because not doing so is riskier. Who the heck wants to die alone wrapped in baggage, with no arms of a lover to make it all okay? I could never let that happen to my characters. Unacceptable.
The drama in life gives meaning to a relationship, especially in fiction. It takes two perspectives to work it out and conquer those demons. Then they turn out the lights to hide those bodies and crawl inside each other for emotional solace—and, yes, that's their beautiful reward.
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Book 3 of the
The Dushane Sisters Trilogy concludes with Indigo Legacy, available now. There's love in the air for Olivia and Woody, but will family intrigue get in the way? Ride along for the wild trip that starts in a New York auction house and peaks in a mansion on Boston's Beacon Hill.
The Dushane sisters finally get to the truth about their mother.