Update: Congratulations to commenter Lisa Wolff, winner of Rose’s giveaway! Hope you enjoy the book!
GUEST POST + GIVEAWAY!
Rose Lerner is my great author-stalking success story. After reading her debut, In for a Penny, I sent her a gushing fan email, to which she graciously replied. I left comments on her blog, she left comments on mine, we discovered other interests in common (Gossip Girl! Shakespeare’s sonnet #130!), and she magically transformed from Admired Author to Admired Author and Friend.
Rose’s new release, A Lily Among Thorns, is that rarity among Regency romances: a story in which the hero and heroine both work for a living. When dye-brewing chemist Solomon Hathaway and innkeeper-with-a-past Serena Ravenshaw team up in search of a missing pair of earrings – and discover a web of treason and espionage reaching into the highest levels of society – their budding relationship is not just a romance, but a delicate balancing act of personal sentiment and hard-won professional identity.
I asked Rose to talk a bit about this aspect of the book, and what working protagonists bring to the dynamic of a romance. Take it away, Rose!
First, I want to make a disclaimer upfront: I also love books with independently wealthy protagonists! Love reading them, love writing them. I also love books about stay-at-home moms! This is in NO WAY intended to reflect badly on protagonists who don’t work, or don’t work outside the home.
That said, here is a list of things I really enjoyed about writing a romance with two working protagonists:
1. It’s an immediate connection with a lot of readers. Here’s how another genre writer put it: in the back of his Elektra & Wolverine: the Redeemer, Greg Rucka says, “[Wolverine is] a short little guy who now is apparently over 100 years old, who has claws that pop out of his body, which he can control and retract, and he smokes cigars, and he may have been a Canadian secret agent, and he’s a samurai, and has a mutant healing factor…If you look at that from a realistic abstract sense, you go ‘Oh my god, what a load of garbage!’ but everybody believes that he’s been cold. Cold is something we’ve all felt. Everybody’s been cold. Everybody’s been lonely. Everybody’s been lost. Almost everybody has felt love[...]So you take a character like Wolverine and you give him that.”
None of my readers have lived in 1815 or fought spies (I’m assuming?). But I’m guessing most of them either have a job or have had one at some point. Almost everybody knows what it’s like to work for a living, and to have to support yourself financially.
I know this works on me because I watched Disney’s The Princess and the Frog last week, and I have never identified with a Disney heroine the way I identified with Tiana. Why? Because she’s a food service worker, like me, and I really bought her as a character who had been shaped by the experience of working for a living and worrying about money. And I wanted her to get her restaurant really, really badly. Which leads me to:
2. It’s an immediate and concrete stake, both practical and emotional. My heroine, Serena, owns an inn. Making this inn successful and a safe place to work and a community for people who aren’t welcome elsewhere, has been the focus of her entire life for five years. And the antagonist wants to take it away.
Think about Lois Lane being blackballed from mainstream news outlets. It kind of hurts just to think about, doesn’t it? When a hero or heroine is set up with a job like that, and then stands to lose it, it immediately invests the reader in what’s going on. We all know what it’s like to work hard for something and lose it.
3. It’s a characterization in, something to help build the character around. Anything that you do regularly for a long period of time will start to shape the way you think, so a job is a real help in creating the illusion of a complete consciousness for your narrators. I recently read A Lot Like Love by Julie James. The heroine owns an upscale wineshop, and she loves wine. I mean, she’s so passionate about it that watching her drink wine is a sexual experience for the hero. I really bought her as both a wine nerd and a business owner and that made me buy her as a character.
My hero Solomon makes dyes for his uncle’s tailoring shop, so he’s very aware of colors. When he meets someone, he notices what they’re wearing first. And he divides the world into “people who are/might be customers” and “people who are not customers.” I knew that about him before I knew almost anything else, and it helped me construct his POV.
4. It makes the fantasy feel more possible. Indiana Jones isn’t just an action-archaeologist, he’s a professor. And the Doctor’s companions in Dr. Who are always ordinary humans. Right now they’re a nurse and a kiss-o-gram. It makes it easier for me to take that fantasy and make it not just awesome, but mine. It gives me an angle to insert myself into that world or imagine something similar happening to me. “What if I was in that guy’s class?” “What if the TARDIS showed up in my backyard?”
5. It gives the story balance. Do any of you watch Rizzoli & Isles? I haven’t been keeping up, but what I really liked about the early episodes was that it balanced the professional, cop stuff with personal stuff. We saw both of the protagonists outside work, saw them dealing with family, etc. It made them feel like complete people, not just problem-solving mechanisms.
In a romance, the whole story is about one relationship, plus maybe some family/friends stuff. So adding in work helps keeps the story from feeling claustrophobic.
6. It’s something for the relationship to be about other than attraction. I talked in my review of Captain America about how in TV and movies, often the most satisfying relationships are between friends (or enemies!), because there’s a lot going on in those relationships. They really mean something to the people in them, while the love interest is just about smoldering glances and sexual jealousy.
Romance gives me the whole package by bringing everything into the relationship. A romance isn’t just about “I met this guy, I liked him, now we’re dating.” It’s about a perfect connection. Love is an experience that completes and changes the h/h as people. If the hero really gets why the heroine cares about her work, or vice versa, that’s huge. I swooned in Loretta Chase’s Silk is for Scandal when the modiste heroine catches the hero reading fashion magazines…and taking notes. ♥
7. If the hero and heroine work together, it’s a good way to show how great they could be together. I love a romance that teases, that ratchets up the tension, that makes me desperately want the hero and heroine to kiss long before they actually do.
The most extreme version of this using jobs, of course, is “partners,” usually cops/detectives/soldiers/superheroes/whatever. Think about Beckett and Castle or Kirk and Spock or Mulder and Scully. They can practically read each other’s thoughts; they rely on each other absolutely in life-and-death situations on a daily basis. They are in many ways the most important person in each other’s lives. And people are dying for them to hook up. I mean, you know instinctively that it would be good, right? If they work this well together fighting crime, just imagine what they’d be like in bed!
But it doesn’t have to be so life-or-death. I want all the people on Ace of Cakes to date each other too (especially Ben and Katherine! Sorry Ben and Katherine if you are just friends and/or seeing other people). Seeing people spend so much time together working on something they both care about…it’s sexy.
8. In every job, there are people who do the job, and people who are the audience or target market for the job. I remember at my first job, my boss told me, “You never really know a person until you’ve stood on the other side of the counter from them.” People get divided into two groups: those on this side of the counter (or desk, or phone line, or that little gate in the courtroom between the seats and the lawyers’ benches, or the trenches, or the tunnel to the Batcave, or whatever it is) and those on the other. And there’s a certain solidarity/camaraderie between the people behind the counter.
People love behind-the-scenes stuff. I know I do. Backstage tours, gag reels, unpublished first drafts. It feels like being special, like being allowed to see something not everybody gets to, the way someone in their underwear is so sexy even though it’s no more skin than you’d see with a bathing suit.
I think that’s part of the appeal of all those profession-based reality shows like Ace of Cakes, Storage Wars, Deadliest Catch, etc. A bunch of contemporary romances are already taking advantage of that, but I’d love to see more historicals do it. There’s a real intimacy when the hero lifts up the panel in the counter and says to the heroine, “Come on, I’ll show you the back room.”
9. It gives the hero and heroine a place to get along that doesn’t compromise the inner conflict. In a romance, there’s always something keeping the hero and heroine apart through the book. But they can’t spend the whole book fighting and being sad, either! Or well, they can, but it will be frustrating for the audience. There has to be variation in the tone of your scenes, and even if you’re doing the antagonistic flirting thing, there has to be a level on which the hero and heroine do get along in order for it to work.
Anyone seen Hard Core Logo? It’s a movie about a punk band’s reunion tour. The band split due to irreconcilable differences between the singer and the lead guitarist. The two characters bicker endlessly, and the resentment between them is palpable despite their equally obvious affection. But when they get up on stage and make music together, all that melts away and they mesh perfectly. Suddenly you believe they could be beautiful together, if they could just get past all the crap.
10. One last frivolous thing: uniforms! Obviously not every job has them, but many do–a suit counts! I took every possible opportunity, in Lily, to get Solomon into the Ravenshaw Arms livery.
Your turn, readers! How much of the working world do you like to see in your romance? And who are some of your favorite couples – romance, other books, movies, tv, real life? – for whom work adds an extra sizzle to the relationship? Rose will be giving away a copy of A Lily Among Thorns to one commenter!
It was him. Serena couldn’t breathe. She’d been looking for him for years—the man who’d lifted her out of the dregs of London’s underworld. She remembered that he’d looked like an angel. But either she’d embellished or he’d grown up. Because he didn’t look like an angel now. He looked like a man, solid and broad, and taller than she’d thought. And now he needed her help.
Solomon recognized her as soon as they were alone in the dark. He’d not forgotten that night five years ago either. But Serena had changed. She was stronger, fiercely independent and, though it hardly seemed possible, even more beautiful. She was also neck-deep in trouble. Yet he’d help cook a feast for the Prince Regent, take on a ring of spies, love her well into the night—anything to convince her that this time he was here to stay.
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