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Poll: Are older heroines under-represented in the romance genre?

At the Popular Romance Studies: International Conference, organised by  the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance  (IASPR), there was a brief discussion to explore this question: Are  older under-represented in the romance genre? If so,  why? Good questions.

The average age of heroine in U.S. romance novels is between 24-26 (and possibly younger in historical romance). And yet according to the Romance Writers of America RWA), the biggest slice of romance reader demographics is “women aged 31-49 who are currently in a romantic relationship.”   (http://www.rwanational.org/cs/readership_stats#Readers**).

Could it be the same reason why the majority of readers prefer their heroines to be virgins or virginal: reclaim the innocence?

**The Age of Romance Readers

The mean and median age of romance novel readers is very close to that of the general population.

  • Mean: 44.6 years
  • Median: 44.9 years

Those aged 31 to 49 are more likely to read romance and comprise 44 percent of the readership.

56 Comments

  1. Anonymousie
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 12:05:55

    I must say that I do worry a bit about the age of heroines. I mean, seriously, I didn’t meet the man I married until I was 36. We got married 3 years later, when I was 39 and he was 42. First marriages for both of us. I don’t think people need to wait as long as we did, but I am a bit sick of reading about 24-year-olds who a) have their whole lives planned and are on track for it, and b) meet the man of their dreams who they then end up with HEA. I know we’re talking fantasy here, but that seems a bit ridiculous. And the “older heroines” seem to be women who find their HEAs with younger men.

    I wouldn’t mind bumping up the age of the average heroine–especially in romantic suspense, which is my preferred subgenre–a good 8-10 years. Give her a little more life experience.

  2. ms bookjunkie
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 12:19:51

    I agree with what Anonymousie said. I loved La Nora’s BLACK ROSE with the older (in her 40s) heroine. Isn’t it sad that that’s the only title that comes to mind? Although I must say that older couples are not totally ignored, it’s just that they’re usually the secondary storyline.

    Also, have to mention, the title is a bit queer.

  3. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 12:37:49

    At least half my heroines are older than 35. One’s 36. One’s 40. One’s 45. I don’t plan it that way. That’s just who they are and where they are in life.

  4. joanne
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 12:42:00

    As someone above and beyond both the average age of the average heroine and the median age of the average romance reader I’m still voting No.

    I do know for a fact that women of a ‘certain’ age (and older) can and do have great romances & great sex. ‘Nuff said on that.

    Still, I don’t want to read about them. That may have more to do with real life interfering when I think about how long their HEA is going to last rather than not seeing them as romantic figures. I enjoy the older hottie females in paranormals but then their life-span is generally much, much longer and reality has been suspended for the story.

    Also, older is relative. 30? 35? 40? 50? Today’s woman is still young at that age, in past eras, specifically Historical Romances, not so much.

  5. Karen Templeton
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 12:50:39

    I wonder if those younger heroines are mostly in historicals?

    In any case, I can’t remember the last heroine I wrote in that age range. Not sure I ever did. Most of mine are late-twenties to mid-thirties, with more in their thirties than not. Some even graze the old 4-0.

    But then, I like writing, and reading, about gals with solid life-experience under their belts. By thirty a woman pretty much knows what she does and doesn’t want. Makes for much richer conflicts, IMO.

    Not that younger women aren’t ready to commit — I know plenty of women who married young and are still quite happy with their choices. ;-) I just relate better to older heroines than young.

  6. RStewie
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 12:56:36

    I’m with joanne on this one…it’s hard to put it in PC terms, so I won’t try, but I’d rather a younger heroine. I’m 32, and a heroine around 24-26 is ideal to me…enough life experience to be legitimately knowledgeable about life, but young enough that their whole life is ahead of them.

    Except in paranormals. There–I LOVE older heroines, because the physicality of “growing old” is not relevant and I am genuinely in lurrrve with the Stronger Female trope.

    I think it’s because I generally think of myself as that age…this has not changed since I was that old. I’m always shocked–shocked!–when I realize I’m nearly a decade older than some of my co-workers. Which is stupid, I admit, because it’s not like I’m hanging out them or that their interests are even slightly my own, generally.

    I’m babbling today…please excuse me.

  7. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 13:25:29

    When I started writing romance, all of my heroines were a few years older than I was. Now I’m 33 and most of my heroines are younger. Ack! I surpassed my own arbitrary “ideal age” in a blink.

    Still, it depends on the character and their life situation. I would write an older heroine again, and enjoy reading them.

  8. Sandy James
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 13:28:46

    When I wrote Turning Thirty-Twelve, I wrote it simply to please myself. I didn’t think anyone else would appreciate a sarcastic 42-year-old heroine. But it was the first book I sold, and it’s still my best-selling story. So there’s definitely a market out there for older heroines.

  9. Gemma
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 13:38:28

    I’m in my late 20s and I’m already noticing that an awful lot of heroines are younger than me. (I read mostly historicals.)

    This could really begin to grate on me in a few years time I suspect.

    I like variety in what I read, so I would be happy to read some medievals in which the heroine is younger than the modern age of consent…….. or historicals where genuinely on-the-shelf spinsters, or widows, get a little bit of action.

    [When I wrote the above, I found my brain much more willing to contemplate an older widow getting remarried (say at 40) than a 40 year old spinster getting married for the first time………. Which makes me want to read about some on-the-shelf spinsters getting married, to challenge my pre-conceived notions if nothing else.]

  10. Kathryn Smith
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 13:46:56

    I don’t usually think too much about the heroine’s age unless she’s really young. In historicals I usually keep my heroines between 25-30. I wanted to write an older heroine, but then my editor and I got to discussing life expectancy in the Victorian era and I made her a few years younger.

    For the sake of accuracy heroines have to be younger in historicals. Heroes too, for that matter. It is strange trying to relate to an eighteen year-old, but they were considered women back then and much more mature than their 21st century counterparts.

  11. kimber an
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 13:56:09

    I think it depends on the subgenre. Older heroines are pretty well represented in Science Fiction Romance, I think.

  12. Ciar Cullen
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 14:03:30

    I’m 52 and so I’m not likely to find my generation represented in romance. On the one hand, it’s a shame, and on the other–not unexpected.

    What bothers me more is a different kind of ageism in romance (and perhaps other genres). That is, the elderly are ignored totally. Romance heroes and heroines often live in a vacuum, without any generation older than them, unless it’s a meddling mother or some such. And the meddling mother is likely to be a 50-something society type. I think it reflects our cultural disdain for the elderly.

    I know these are fantasies and escapism, but I’d love to see an older person portrayed with a bit of reality and respect. Any examples?

  13. daisy
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 14:07:20

    I think there are a couple of factors involved here – one being that most romance readers begin reading when they are quite young, in the 12-15 age range. This makes the young age of the heroine more readable now that we are older because it is what we are accostomed too.

    Also, again for most people, the ages 24-30 are when you are getting married. There are those of us who married younger or older, but it seems reasonable to assume that most romance heroines would be the age of most real life brides.

    I appreciate reading romances with older heroines – those in their 30’s and older. They seem to have so much more substance to them, plus there is so much less angst and “big misunderstanding” with older heroines. They seem to know how to cut through the bs and get to the heart of the matter.

  14. Sam
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 14:11:11

    I would understand the life expectancy and longer HEA reason better if the heroes where young too. That’s rarely the case.

  15. Karen Templeton
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 14:11:31

    Ciar, since I’m really big on building community in my stories, I often include parents and grandparents, or other older figures, too. In fact, in my next book for SSE (still in the first draft stage) the mid-thirties heroine lives with her very active, 90-year-old grandmother-in-law. Since my mother is 97 and my MIL is 92 — both of whom still live on their own — there’s a wealth of material there I just couldn’t pass up. :)

  16. Kimber Chin
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 14:41:04

    Well, romance to me is a fantasy
    and when I fantasize,
    I like to be younger.

    Sure, my characters are mid 30’s
    (I’m 38)
    but I suspect they’ll stay that way.
    It is the sweet spot.
    They know what they’re doing with their careers
    yet they can still (naturally) have children.

    Although the hubby and I weren’t blessed with them,
    I do love giving my characters babies.
    (grinning)

  17. Becca
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 14:49:54

    @12 – have you read The Villa by Nora Roberts? 3 generations of romance, including one grandmother, one late-40s, and one in her late 20s or so I’d guess… it’s been awhile since I read the book, so I can’t recall exact ages.

  18. Cathy
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 15:02:27

    I’d like it if heroines were just a bit older (late 20’s/early 30’s). A lot of the contemps I’ve read lately have had heroines who are almost unbelievably accomplished for their age. I realize it’s fantasy, but there’s fantasy and then there’s just plain unbelievable. It also seems like the hero is often in his early/mid 30’s, and I’m a little tired of the accomplished older man with the malleable younger woman.

    I’d also enjoy seeing more stories with older, more mid-life, characters. My mom remarried at 39, a co-worker is involved in a whirlwind romance at 48… surely these aren’t outliers.

  19. Janine
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 15:11:28

    @Kathryn Smith:

    I wanted to write an older heroine, but then my editor and I got to discussing life expectancy in the Victorian era and I made her a few years younger.

    My understanding was that life expectency was only lower on average, largely due to infant mortality rates, and that most people who survived to adulthood lived as long as most adults do today. Did I have that wrong?

  20. Lynz
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 15:27:44

    I’m a lot younger than the average romance reader – heck, I’m a couple of years younger than most of the contemporary heroines out there – but I’d still love to see some older heroines. I do enjoy reading about the younger ones, because it’s interesting to read about people in my age and it’s easier for me to relate to them, but that ability to relate is also what causes problems for me. I really have a hard time buying a story about a 22 year-old finding the love of her life at that age. Maybe if the hero was around the same age and they were in college together, or entering the work force… but most of the time, young heroines end up with older men, men who are already settled in their lives. I just don’t find that realistic. A woman that young would be spreading her wings, experiencing things for herself for the first time, and wouldn’t be settling down the way these heroines always seem to.

    One thing authors seem to do to counteract the youth of these heroines is that they artificially mature them. They’ve had really hard lives, they’ve struggled, they’ve had bad things happen to them… there are all sorts of things authors put young heroines through, and most of the time it seems like they’re only putting in these pasts to make the heroine mature enough to match the hero. If the heroine’s young enough that it wouldn’t be realistic for her to settle down, throw in a difficult past and she’s suddenly mature enough that the age thing isn’t a problem anymore. A difficult past is a good thing if it works with the story, but if it’s just there to make the heroine emotionally old enough for the hero, it feels contrived.

    Also, as Cathy said, the young heroines seem too accomplished. I have friends their ages, friends who are truly wonderful and accomplished women, but they’ve got nothing on these heroines! I know that fiction, by nature, isn’t about real people and is a chance to explore beyond the boundaries of real life, but this complete and utter lack of realism about young heroine’s accomplishments really grates.

  21. Marianne McA
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 15:42:29

    I voted yes because, in the books I read, there are fewer older heroines, though, reading this thread, I’m not sure there’s a consensus about how old ‘older’ is.

    However, I don’t mind reading younger heroines – I read YA perfectly happily. I do want a degree of escapism in a story. It’s probably the reason I avoid woman’s fiction – which does seem to do the older woman – divorced, children are leaving home, parents are getting elderly, has slightly given up but is granted a new lease of life by the events in the book.

    Now, that may be an unfair perception, because I don’t read much woman’s fic – but basically, I don’t want to read about someone who is worried about their children’s exam results when that’s what I’m doing this week myself. I’d rather read about someone worrying just how they’ll get their ship through the asteroid belt now that the shields have been banjaxed by a confused tribe of time-travelling (and rather good-looking) Regency ice-hockey players.

  22. josie
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 16:02:38

    I’m a 45 year old married woman who wears a size 14. I can see the arguement for “older” heroines. It’s just not my taste. I prefer the younger *prettier* heroes and heroines. I guess I’ve never been one to project myself in to characters. I read romances for the escapism.

  23. ldb
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 16:07:32

    I honestly don’t expect the heroines I read in contemparary to be early 20s which I am, most I’ve seen are late 20s early thirties. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that many readers want the possibilty of a child for the couple, I do anyway and the number of baby epologues tells me the market is with me. I think 35 has been drilled into everyones head as the age where it becomes more dangerous to have a baby both for the mother and for the health of the baby. That’s really the only reason I care about the age of the heroine in a contemparay. If we’re talking historical then I expect early 20s unless she’s a widow or the point of the story is that she’s a spinster. It’s for all the obvious reasons, it’s unrealistic that a woman will go to 30 never married without being labeled otherwise.

  24. Jane O
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 16:18:26

    Older couples? I can see it now -‘ they meet cute when she loses her glasses and trips over his walker. He feels guilty, and visits her regularly in the hospital while she’s recuperating from her broken hip. They fall in love and move into the same retirement community which offers full nursing care should it become necessary.

    Mmmm. I think I’ll pass on that. It may be my age group, but I prefer my escapist romances to have much younger protagonists.

  25. Kat
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 16:27:06

    Um, I can’t see the poll.

    Didn’t Harlequin have a line for older heroines at one stage? Or was that women’s fiction and not romance? I think it was called NEXT. I can’t see it listed on the Harlequin site now.

    I have a friend who won’t read about heroines older than 30. I don’t particularly care, unless age is somehow a big thing and distracts me. I’m one of those readers who imagine the characaters as I imagine them, and not as they’re described in the story.

  26. Anon
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 16:35:27

    Personally, I’ll read about anyone – old, young or middle-aged. If the writing is good, the plot is engaging and the characters are well-written…then why not?

    The only problem I see with today’s market, though, in regards to age, is the lack of diversity. Not every romance story has to end with bouncing babies in the offing and with a 24 y/o heroine that has 50+ years of marriage ahead of her. There are hundreds of stories published with exactly that ending every year, if that’s what you want; I don’t see anything wrong with throwing in an older hero and heroine (30, 40s, 50s) into the mix, now and again, for an audience that might like that sort of thing.

  27. Aoife
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 16:41:00

    It depends on the definition of “older,” which I see from the responses already given seems to vary widely. For me, I have very minimal interest in reading about a heroine my own age, although I don’t doubt a really great author might make me eat my words. On the other hand, as others have noted, the age of the heroine as given in the book frequently doesn’t seem to match her physical, emotional, and psychological traits anyway, so I’m not sure it really matters much.

  28. Kristen Painter
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 16:46:38

    The book I have coming out with Quartet Press as part of the launch of their Qwench line features a 40-something heroine and a 30-something hero.

    And then there’s the heroine of my urban fantasy series coming out from Orbit. She’s 115. ;o)

  29. library addict
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 17:12:16

    I tend to associate the whole early 20s virgin heroine with the romances of the 80s and early 90s, though I know some of the category lines still cater to that type of plot.

    I think most of the contemporary romances I read now have heroines in their mid to late 20s and often early 30s. I don’t enjoy fresh out of high school stories anymore. I like my heroines to have at least some life experience as that makes them interesting.

    But as Josie said, I don’t project myself onto the heroine. And I don’t always notice the heroine’s age unless she’s either really young (in which case I probably won’t read the book) or TSTL (and then her age is really the least of my concerns :P ).

    I don’t mind younger heroines in historicals, but I also don’t read as many historicals as I did in the 90s. I also am probably more drawn to the “on-the-shelf” miss or bluestocking heroines (like in many Amanda Quick books for example).

    Oh, and add me to the list of folks not seeing a poll.

  30. DS
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 17:46:26

    Older couples? I can see it now -‘ they meet cute when she loses her glasses and trips over his walker. He feels guilty, and visits her regularly in the hospital while she's recuperating from her broken hip. They fall in love and move into the same retirement community which offers full nursing care should it become necessary.

    This is the type of stereotype of aging that I would like to see busted by a good romance author. While I wasn’t a fan of LaVyrle Spencer, my mother was and I remember her telling me that one of the things she particularly liked was the fact the heroines had some miles on them– ok, mom would never have put it like that, but it was what she meant.

  31. ASable
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 18:13:45

    I didn’t notice anyone’s age when I was in my twenties. It was the folly of youth that made me think well of course they’re around my age. Everyone who is cool is around my age! Now I notice it more, but only if it’s a problem. Like when the h/h is only twenty-five and has a list of accomplishments that would make a child prodigy weep. My personal peeves: the twenty-something lawyer who’s already up for partner at their law firm because he/she is so fabulous. Seriously? It takes, like, a decade to make partner at a law firm, not a year! Ditto with the fabulous twenty-something doctor who’s already a legend in some speciality or other–not even close to credible. Most doctors in their twenties are slaving away at their residencies. Escapism is one thing–making me roll my eyes is quite another.

    @Kristen Painter: Yay! Love the older woman/younger guy scenario. Especially when it presents a real-enough conflict between them. (As opposed to the author who wants to convince me that a romance between a twenty-nine year old woman and a twenty-five year old is fraught with age-related issues. Not gonna happen.)

  32. Miki
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 18:21:24

    @Kat: I thought Harlequin’s NEXT line was “women’s fiction”. Not (guaranteed) to be a romance, often more about her life in general – friends, kids, growing older, etc.

  33. Courtney Milan
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 18:26:48

    @Janine:

    My understanding was that life expectency was only lower on average, largely due to infant mortality rates, and that most people who survived to adulthood lived as long as most adults do today. Did I have that wrong?

    Janine, this is totally right. If you could make it through the shaky area of childhood, adult mortality was not anywhere near as bad as it sounds from the “average” statistic. Once you hit adulthood, you could expect to live as full and complete a life as we do nowadays.

    This is especially true for the upper/middle class folk who were less likely to have nutritional problems.

    The heroine of my debut historical romance is 30. I don’t think of that as particularly “old,” and neither does she. :)

  34. Keira Soleore
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 18:59:35

    My reading tells me that average historical heroine ages have been inching up steadily. The 90s were all about girls from 17-19. This decade sees more and more women in their mid and even upper 20s, whether for first marriages or widowed and remarrying.

  35. Bonnie
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 19:06:06

    I don’t really care how old the heroine is, however this is one of the reasons I don’t care for historicals. Much. All or most of the heroines are under 25. They don’t know anything, they don’t know how to do anything…. what’s appealing about this? They sit around in their layers of clothing and pinned up hair waiting… for something. Not interesting.

    But, having said that, it’s not really age of the heroine, but that they have some depth, something you can sink your teeth into.

  36. J L Wilson
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 19:24:12

    I couldn’t find heroines I could relate to; that’s why I started writing & am so happy I’m with publishers that allow me to have heroines in their 40s and 50s. All of my books feature ‘older ladies’ and their men, and all of them feature happy sex lives and sometimes (and often not) a marriage. My tag line is “Mystery with a touch of romance; romance with a touch of gray” and that pretty much sums it up!

  37. Janet W
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 19:35:40

    I’m linking to an All About Romance review of Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s Nobody’s Baby But Mine:
    http://www.likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=5800

    There’s a lovely secondary romance — the hero’s mom and dad actually. It does certainly seem like romance is a young heroine’s game — I can think of a few great older heroines: Abigail (late 20s) in Black Sheep by Heyer — Helena, in Christmas Bride by Balogh (36 AND pregnant!) but they’re few and far between.

    Sadly! Great question.

  38. dotty
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 19:54:30

    I’m beginning to think I might be a little weird, because I just don’t notice details like age or nationality for that matter.

    Unless I’m hit over the head with it like in some of the traditional historicals where the heroine is very young and inexperienced.

    I couldn’t tell you how old Eve Dallas is, and yet I read them all repeatedly. I figure she is about 30 something because that’s where mentally I have placed her based on her actions and life experiences.

    I figure TSTL heroines can be all ages, age my 20 yo daughter can amaze me with her maturity and independence.

    So I guess my ideal heroine is capable, smart, self sufficient, and absolutely not under any circumstances TSTL. Those criteria can apply to any age.

  39. Janine
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 20:03:09

    @Courtney Milan:

    Thanks; I was starting to worry! The heroine in my WIP (set in 1892) is 32.

  40. Sherry Thomas
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 21:18:13

    My historicals heroines are 29, 33, and 32 for my first three books.

    The secondary heroine in PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS is 48 or 49, I can’t quite remember.

    Judith Ivory has some older heroines. Laura Kinsale has a couple over 30 also.

    There was a time in my life when my heroines were always exactly my age. And I was worrying that I wouldn’t be able to write younger women as I grew older. Now I’m writing someone ten years younger than me and not having any problems at all. :-)

  41. Ros
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 01:09:08

    @Courtney and @Janine: Not quite right on the life expectancy. The biggest change is in infant mortality, but life expectancy for those who reached the age of 10 or more has also increased very significantly. This table shows that in 1850 the life expectancy of white males who reached the age of 10 was 58, whereas in 2004 it was 76. For women the change is even greater, from 57 to 81, presumably largely due to the decreased risk of death in childbirth. And if you were to go back another 100 years, you could extrapolate the figures even lower.

    So yes, there were fewer people who reached what we would think of as old age. And certainly the signs of aging appeared much, much earlier than they do today. In the early nineteenth century, it would not be unreasonable to write a working-class woman of forty as an ‘old’ woman. Those in the upper classes, who weren’t subject to the perils of a working life, could hold onto their looks a bit longer, but not much.

  42. medumb
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 01:14:06

    I can’t see the poll either..

    A pet peeve:

    by Cathy August 17th, 2009 at 3:02 pm
    It also seems like the hero is often in his early/mid 30's, and I'm a little tired of the accomplished older man with the malleable younger woman.

    I would like to see heroes being around the same age, they always seem to be a fair chunk older, what is with that?

    I wouldn’t mind reading some older heroines especially in paranormals, when they are often paired with MUCH older paranormal dudes.. I sometimes struggle to envisage their partnership holding up, I mean seriously, what would a 300 year old person/demon/vamp/etc speak with a 20 year old about??
    But not reading historicals, it is not too big of a problem as I am finding a larger number of other genres the average age seems to have crept up to between 25-35.
    And it would also be good to see more romances without the focus on the getting of kidlets, which maybe we would get with older heroines? That would make me a happy reader.. even though I’m still in my twenties.

  43. Ros
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 01:18:55

    Sorry, still on the life expectancy thing. Here are some figures for mediaeval England:

    1346-75: average life expectancy: 17; for those who reach 20: 43; for those who reach 40: 58; for those who reach 60: 65.

    The same source suggests that there were no significant changes in life expectancy from this time until the industrial revolution (19th century), though of course there were periodic fluctuations at times of plague, war, famine etc.

  44. Kalen Hughes
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 09:00:46

    But then, I like writing, and reading, about gals with solid life-experience under their belts. By thirty a woman pretty much knows what she does and doesn't want. Makes for much richer conflicts, IMO.

    Me too! I thought long and hard about the age range of the characters in my books. I don't want to write virginal ingénues, so no debutantes for me. My heroines so far have been experienced women in their mid-to-late 20s, which in my head makes them more like a modern woman in her early 30s (feel free to tell me I'm nuts, LOL!).

    I've actually been seeing a trend lately towards more mature heroines in historicals lately (all those widows and courtesans and spinsters).

    I know these are fantasies and escapism, but I'd love to see an older person portrayed with a bit of reality and respect. Any examples?

    You know what, I have a whole cast of older secondary characters in my books that are quite busy with their own intrigues, but I didn't spotlight their romances, as they had no bearing on the plot. Mostly you just get bits of them maneuvering in the background (Eddie Izzard has ruined the word “maneuver” for me forever *sigh*). I'll try and keep this more in mind while I'm working on my WIP.

    I sometimes struggle to envisage their partnership holding up, I mean seriously, what would a 300 year old person/demon/vamp/etc speak with a 20 year old about??

    This is so often my question about paranormals (like Twilight; I'm sorry, why on earth would Edward want to hang out in High School?).

    Sorry, still on the life expectancy thing. Here are some figures for mediaeval England: 1346-75: average life expectancy: 17; for those who reach 20: 43; for those who reach 40: 58; for those who reach 60: 65.

    But you’re still talking about “averages”. The overall potential life expectancy of the human animal hasn't changed (assuming no unnatural cause). Historicall, people still lived well into their 80s and 90s (and beyond), just as they do now. Specially, wealthy well-fed ones (which also tend to be the class we write about) had a far greater chance of doing so.

  45. Allison Brennan
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 09:40:17

    Most of my heroines are in their mid-to-late 30s. Since I write romantic suspense and most of my heroines are in law enforcement, it wouldn’t be realistic to have an 25-year-old detective or a cop with the experience I want. It’s a big pet peeve of mine in romantic suspense. My youngest so far has been 29, but it fit the story and she wasn’t a cop. In my upcoming series, my heroine is 29 as well, again because it fits the story. In another series I’m launching, my heroine is 23 and a recruit at Quantico. But I’ll be writing several books about her and she’ll age in real time.

    I distinctly remember one reader letter about a heroine who was a couple months shy of her 40th birthday. The reader said something like, “I’m in my late 40s and I don’t want to read about 40 year old women having sex.”

    You can’t please everyone.

  46. Kalen Hughes
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 10:34:21

    You can't please everyone.

    As usual, Allison sums it all up nicely.

  47. SonomaLass
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 11:31:34

    I love to read romances with older heroines. I’m a little tired of innocents, and trying to give some life experience to a heroine in her early 20s often means giving her a really shitty life. I like strong, confident women as heroines sometimes, too.

    Of course age is relative to culture (life expectancy aside) — a heroine “on the shelf” in the Regency could be just getting started professionally in contemporary times. The really unusual heroines would be those who are actually beyond child-bearing. I would love to read more of those.

    Have to quote this, as it was the line that came to me when I first read Jane’s post, but I had to go look it up to get it right before commenting. It’s from the last chapter of Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase, where Alistair thinks that the lack of blood on the sheets meant that Mirabel wasn’t a virgin, and he’s trying to tell her that it’s okay. Her response is priceless:

    “My love, I am one and thirty,” she said. “Did it not occur to you that my hymen might have shriveled up and died — of despair, most likely?”

  48. Ros
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 12:51:15

    @Kalen You’re right that five hundred years ago a handful of people made it into their eighties and nineties (though not, I think to the 110’s that we see today). But the averages are what make up society. The averages are what determine what passes for youth, middle age, and old age, not the extremes. People of 80 today are considered old, even though a few people of 80 may live for another 40 years.

    So, I still say that when you’re writing a pre-1850 historical romance (and to a lesser extent a post-1950 historical romance) you have to think about ages differently. Eighteen was a normal age for marriage (and in some places and at certain times, you could go a lot lower than that). At twenty five you were firmly on the shelf. Thirty was a spinster aunt with extremely limited prospects. Forty was absolutely past it. So yes, write an older heroine if you want to, but don’t make her seem normal in her society. Use society’s expectations to heighten the romance, if you like. But don’t write her as a Bridget Jones thirty-something just starting to realise that her biological clock is ticking.

  49. Kalen Hughes
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 14:46:39

    So, I still say that when you're writing a pre-1850 historical romance (and to a lesser extent a post-1950 historical romance) you have to think about ages differently.

    I totally agree (I think I said as much above when I commented that my mid-to-late 20s Georgian heroines are equivalent in my head to contemporary women in their 30s).

    It's just that I see a lot of misunderstanding out there (not that you misunderstand, but that a lot of other people seem to) about what those life expectancy averages meant in terms of real people, and most especially in terms of real people of the upper class. People would not have marveled at a man of 75 anymore then than we do today (esp if said man was an earl).

  50. Katie
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 16:02:43

    As Jennifer Crusie once said, I prefer my heroines bitter and experienced. I read contemporaries primarily, and my preference is for heroines over age 27, preferably in their 30s. I’m 30 now, but I’ve preferred thirty-something heroines for a few years now. Maybe it’s because so many of the under-27-year-olds I know IRL are quite immature and don’t have their act together.

  51. Carin
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 16:38:28

    Janet W. mentioned Nobody’s Baby But Mine. I also like Natural Born Charmer’s (also by SEP) 2ndy romance the parents of the hero.

    And I’ve read a couple books where the heroine is significantly older than the hero and really enjoyed them. Erin McCarthy’s Flat Out Sexy pairs a widowed single mom of 2 elementary school kids with a rookie year Nascar driver.

    The other one I CANNOT remember the title of… but it was a woman who’d finally finished getting divorced and adopted a big old depressed hound and taught him to go down the fire escape out her apartment window. Her hero is a doctor much younger than her. There is also a secondary character in her 70s (? I think) who carries on a hot and heavy relationship with a man several years her junior… GREAT book, just can’t remember the title.

    Overall, I really enjoy an older heroine, for many of the reasons already mentioned. I hate it when a heroine is artificially aged either by early life tragedy or superheroic achievements. and I don’t think there are enough of them out there.

  52. lola knudson
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 09:56:48

    First let me say I’m 45 and the mother of six. One of my daughters is 21. I find it very hard to relate to a 20 something heroine. I also have a large disposible income and a lot more time and inclination to read than I did when I wasa 20 something chasing after kids in diapers.
    I really love the books I have read with 30+ heroines with kids and life going on around them. I love a heroine who has travelled, knows some current events and is old enough to spit nails when she has to. There are definantly too few books with older heroines with an attittude.
    The true fantasy in that scenerio is to figure out what kind of man would go for that kind of single mom career woman. But there are a lot of women out there in that bracket.
    I’ve read 100’s of books in the last six months (my antidote to a midlife crisis) some real gems with older heroines that stick out are
    Mave Binchy- Evening Class – travel life after long term relationships end
    Marianne Shaffer- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
    Lois Battle- The Florabama Ladies’ Auxiliary & Sewing Circle
    Rachel Gibson’s- Not Another Bad Date, Sex, Lies and Online Dating, I’m in no Mood for Love and Daisy’s Back in Town- four older author girl freinds comedy/ romance/ mystery very funny
    Sherryl Woods- Chesapeake series older Virginia Coastal family
    Jayne Ann Krentz- older paranormal PI retirees very edgy and suspensful
    Of course Nora Roberts- Blue Dahlia,Black Rose, and Red Lilly romance career and freindship
    Beth Ciotta- All About Evie, Everybody Loves Evie, and Evie Ever After- absolutely hysterical retired Atlantic City character actress turned investigator w/ hotty!!!
    Perfect Together- by Lisa Plumley is a younger book with kids but had me laughing till 3 am
    Deidre Martin is another favorite author of mine although I’m not sure how old her heroines are they have definitly been around the block and she is again a hysterical writer.
    Dixie Cash’s books are wet yourself funny with a bit of mystery and cosmetology what can I say
    I need more books to read with comedy/ romance/ travel/ mystery/ kids/ all oreferably in the same book and are all key words for me,

    I hope some publisher is aware of this older heroine market!!!!

  53. Katie
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 13:28:02

    Carin – The book you’re thinking of is Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie. Great book.

  54. Carin
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 15:46:05

    Yes! Anyone But You! Thank you!

  55. Alexandria
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 16:51:38

    Well hey y’all,
    I write paranormal ( my book: Teaching between midnight and dawn) and I make it a point to range my characters from 30 to 36. My age bracket is closer to 37-41. But I just figured if I loveeee them, there has to be other women in that, as well as my age bracket that will too. Actually, I don’t like writing under 30. I have a historical fiction coming out in Aug 2012, and I made that character 23, and gripped to myself through the entire process, (but that cud be because I have a 23 yr daughter, and it was crossing my parental blinders to think what my character did, my daughter could do! Brain burn here, lol) But I like seeing the over 30 woman kickin the shinto out of people too, because it says that we are not some old hag to be put on the shelf…:)

  56. A Lifetime of of Lust and Longing | Lady Smut
    Apr 02, 2013 @ 00:50:52

    […] a part of our lives as we age. According to  a blog post on Heros and Heartbreakers, which cites DearAuthor.com, the average age of heroines in romance fiction written in the U.S. ranges from 24-26. The average […]

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