Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Girl's Gotta Make a Living, Right?

Absolutely! Especially in contemporary romance, more often than not, the heroine has a successful, fulfilling career. Meaning that she doesn't need a man to support her financially. Support her in other ways, sure. But money is less a factor in her decision that he is Mr. Right.

Avalon Books has always insisted that their heroines be independent and have successful careers. Avalon even offers a line of Career Romances to highlight stories in which a heroine's career is a major plot element. If you take a look at the women portrayed in the line, you'll find a puppeteer, a bank loan officer, a policewoman, a ballerina, a librarian, a veterinarian, a kaleidoscope designer, a Navy lieutenant, an auto mechanic, an artist, and many more. There are no limits on what career a contemporary woman might pursue.

For a writer, then, choosing a career for the heroine is a big deal. The career places her in a setting, establishes people around her, says something about her personality, and can be a source of her goals, joys and frustrations. For a reader, a heroine's career offers a role model and perhaps insight into an unfamiliar job or industry. I just finished reading a romantic suspense in which the heroine was starting a dry cleaning business. Dry cleaning (as a business) has never been on my radar as a career choice, but there it was for a heroine I admired and her career choice was, in fact, integral to the plot (as all good character elements are!). I learned a lot about the business and was grateful for the author who stretched my imagination.

In Avalon's Career Romances, the heroine's career is not only her job, but also the main source of conflict between the hero and heroine. In my first Avalon book, A Private Proposal, the heroine is a librarian writing a proposal to establish an information center in a government department, and she falls for the hero, the company president. Not only is she a good friend of the president of a competing consulting firm, but the hero is also convinced that she has been sharing company secrets with that friend. I heard at a writing workshop that to bump up the tension in a romance, put the hero's job and the heroine's job in direct opposition--a restaurant owner and a city health inspector, a policeman and an Internal Affairs investigator, a pilot and the plane's mechanic. You get the idea.

Zelda asked us yesterday how we research our novels, and for careers, we all have our favorite sources and may use different ones for different careers. The librarian in A Private Proposal was built from my own experience as a contractor in the information business. I've headed to the library to scan the Government's Occupational Outlook Handbook and the career section for a job's background and language. If you look at the acknowledgments page of any writer's book, you'll often see a thank you to a professional, someone that the writer called, followed, listened to and watched to learn about a job or business. I find it handy to consider professionals in my own family.

As a reader, what are some of the most interesting careers you've come across in a romance? Writers, any tips for research or stories about how you gathered your information?

Well, a girl does have to make a living, and I'm off to do just that!

Have a great day!


Sandy Cody said...

You've touched on an interesting issue, Laverne. Ann LeValley, a friend of mine, has an Avalon Career Romance in which the heroine is a gardener. That career not only moved the plot along, it gave Ann a chance to write some beautiful outdoor scenes. I write a mystery series for Avalon and my sleuth's job has played a major part in each of the books. She's Activities Director in a retirement community, a job that lets me show people "of a certain age" as vital, interesting individuals.

Carol Hutchens said...

What an interesting post, Laverne. When I taught career explorations in middle school the OOH was our main resource tool. It's very interesting reading, even without researching a book.
Thanks...It may be available on line...

Debby Mayne said...

Great topic, Laverne! I love reading about women who have non-traditional careers.

I wrote about a female mechanic in my Avalon Romance, A New Understanding. I showed her being athletic, self-sufficient, and completely comfortable with who she was.

Sandy, I love seeing people of all ages in books--particularly when they continue to lead interesting lives!

Sierra Donovan said...


My first Avalon book, LOVE ON THE AIR, features a heroine in her first job as a disc jockey. It was a lazy woman's research assignment ... I'm the wife of a disc jockey and worked at the same radio station with him for seven years. Sometimes "write what you know" does come in handy!

I appreciated the fact that Avalon was open to a radio romance. The scuttlebutt is that most romance publishers aren't big on entertainment-related careers ... which is a shame because I like those stories! I've read and enjoyed romances featuring such characters as a retired rock star, a media publicist, an actress who provides the voice for a cartoon character, and a professional (respectable) showgirl. Lots of fun story material there ... and a good writer can make any character relatable!

Zelda Benjamin said...

I love heroines with every day careers. I've read Nancy Cohen's series about an amateur sleuth who is a hairdresser in S. FL. I like all the details the authors include that are related to the heroines job/profession.

LaVerne St. George said...

Sierra, were you thinking of the heroine who voices "Maggy Hoot", an animated character? She was part of Allie Pleiter's "My So-Called Love Life" and indeed, the heroine's job influenced her whole life. That was a great read!

You all have given me super ideas for my summer reading. Thanks!

Nancy Cohen said...

Thanks for mentioning my Bad Hair Day series, Zelda. Since I can't fix a hair on my own head, I learned about the beauty biz by following my hairstylist around, asking questions, getting a look at a cosmetology school, participating in a beauty trade show, and reading Modern Salon Magazine. I learned a lot about hair but I still need my heroine to use the curling iron.

Elisabeth Rose said...

I love that Avalon loves my books about musicians. My current release Stuck isn't but the hero is a wood turner/sculptor and the heroine is a business analyst.

My December release is about a pop singer which I've been told is a profession and life style readers can't relate to. Huh?? They can relate to billionaires and royalty stories?

Outback Hero is really is a fish out of water story. I love those whciever way round it goes. City girl/boy in the country--country boy/girl in the city.

LaVerne St. George said...

Many of you have mentioned that romance publishers often will not accept stories about celebrities or professional athletes. I think we're fortunate that Avalon Books can embrace those stories, giving our readers a broader canvas of life from which to choose. Variety is the spice of life!