I just finished reading two romances by two different authors, and each of them had protagonists who were dealing with some serious crap. In Nora Roberts’s Whiskey Beach, the female protagonist had moved to Whiskey Beach after barely surviving a stalker boyfriend who nearly killed her. The love interest–Eli–whom I seriously loved–had been accused of his wife’s murder since they were in the middle of a nasty divorce and had publicly argued the same day she was killed. Heavy stuff. The guy moved to Whiskey Beach, too, and someone followed him, so a good, solid mystery was thrown into the mix.
After Nora Roberts, I bought Stacy Finz’s romance, Finding Hope. I should admit here that I did this partly for selfish reasons. Stacy Finz is selling lots of books on Lyrical Press–my publisher. And she’s one of the few authors I’ve seen who had 73 five-star reviews, period. Nothing lower than five stars. I mean, that’s almost like a miracle, in my opinion. So I wanted to see what she did. And what she did is damn good. She gave both of her characters BIG baggage. The female protagonist was happily married to a wonderful man, whom I’m happy to say STAYED a wonderful man, so that Finz defied the stereotypes, but their six-year-old daughter was snatched from their backyard, and four years later, no one has ever found her, dead or alive. Every mother’s nightmare. (Father’s, too, but I’m talking about the lead character here). She stays in her house, hoping her daughter will find her way home sometime, but after four years, the stress and memories destroy their marriage and get to her, so she leaves to move to Nugget, California, where she meets Clay, whose wife was cheating on him, drank too much, and wrapped her car around a tree. He’s left to raise two boys who miss their mom and partially blame him for her death. More heavy stuff. And I loved it. The town, the people, the characters all came to life in this book.
But now . . . now I’m ready to read something lighter. I’m not one of those readers who consume more and more of the same kind of book. I love urban fantasy when I want good vs. evil and big battles, life or death duels. I read mysteries when I want my little grey cells to strain harder than usual. And once in a while, I want some lightweight fluff. Now I’m not talking 30 minute sitcom light here. No canned laughter at the end of each scene. But sometimes I just want interesting characters who think they’ve got their lives flowing pretty well until they bump into each other and realize they might want more.
I’m writing my sixth Mill Pond romance right now and read the first chapter at Scribes, my writing group that I can’t praise enough. I got good feedback, but two members asked me, “What’s the love interest’s flaw?” Because he comes off as too good, too nice in that chapter. (And the female has enough flaws, possibly, for both of them). And I had to stop to really think about that. Because I never define my characters by their flaws. I never define anyone that way. I tend to look at people and see their potential, the things that I like, until I’m forced to confront the things that might annoy me.
I, personally, think every person on this earth has goals and dreams and things that keep us from reaching them, and that’s how I define my characters. What does he/she want? What gets in his/her way? And how does he/she deal with it? Flaws? Oh, hell, we all have plenty of them, but that doesn’t help me wrap my head around a character unless he’s a minor character, where I just list the obvious. Like Axel, in book six, who’s a mean, old coot who lives to annoy people. And baggage? If we’re older than two, we probably have enough of that, too. But it doesn’t always have to be so heavy, we can hardly carry it. Some of my favorite characters are just good people who want something and can’t figure out how to get it. Their books are just fun reads, but I need fun reads once in a while. I crave something that makes me feel warm and happy, and that’s why I write Mill Pond romances.