A Salute to the Working Heroes and Heroines

austinbook Roku finally has Mad Men and I have been racing through seasons one and two at the clip of several episodes per day. My husband, who finds the show extremely boring, can’t understand my attraction. In many ways, I can’t understand my attraction. One thing I know does appeal to me is the fast paced, formal dress office atmosphere. The sheer glamour of the show – with the elegant restaurants, tailored suits and endless smoking and drinking (something that would have gotten you quickly terminated in any of my working environs) – lures me in.

Which reminded me; I can still remember the first time I seriously thought about romance characters and what they did for a living. It was in 2004 when Robin Uncapher mentioned why she loved the book Do-Over by Dorien Kelly. Up to that point I had never paid any attention to how an actual work environment looked compared to a romance work environment. Which led to another thought. While we see many professional careers or self-made business people in romance, how often do we see the typical working stiff? Where are the waitresses, the shop workers, the baristas?

There are some of course and I wasn’t surprised to find that many of them star in my favorite books. While I love Mad Men for its over the top glam, I read romance for the HEA. The HEA can be in unbelievable circumstances – other planets, with a werewolf or vampire, – so long as it has an ever after I can really believe in and love story I buy completely. And often, when writing the working class HEA’s authors seem to take their eyes off the trappings and apply themselves heart and soul to the emotion and love story, making it much easier for me to buy the rosy future romances are all about.

Case in point : Robyn Carr has a fantastic hero in Preach from Shelter Mountain, a man who is essentially a short order cook. There is a lot more to him than that, of course, but that is his day to day job. Kind, gentle, loving and loyal-I don’t think you could find many people that are better human beings than this terrific man. There may be nothing glamorous about how he spends his day but the love he shares with Paige is sweet and tender. Moreover, they supply exactly what is missing in the other’s life – Paige gives Preach security and tenderness. Preach gives Paige a hero and champion, caregiver and friend. After reading their love story you know they won’t need much “stuff” in order to be happy. Here are two people who know what is most important in life and how to nurture it.

Another great working class Carr hero is Walt Arnerson from A Summer in Sonoma. Heroine Cassie can’t get over Walt’s rough looks and less than ideal profession of motorcycle mechanic. It takes more than a little while for her to set aside her preconceived notions of the ideal man with the great job and realize that she has finally found a genuinely great human being to spend time with. Walt shows Cassie there is more to a lover than looks or paycheck, and that the things that matter can be found pretty inexpensively. He teaches her some life lessons she really needed to know and she provides balance and order to his life. Their dates are simple – a long bike ride into the country with a picnic, a cookout with friends – but they are drawn so beautifully you can see exactly how perfect these two are for each other.

Linda Howard often goes for the cop hero but one exception was Cal from Cover of Night. A handyman for a living, Cal has been too shy to tell the widowed Cate Nightingale, owner of a small B&B, just how wild he is about her. Cal is just the hero Cate needs though; does a great job of keeping Cate’s business going by doing all her home repairs and keeping her safe when the bad guy comes calling. Cate struggled with the change in her life -from high powered to washing dishes – but she comes to appreciate the decency and kindness of her hard working neighbors. She is also surprised and impressed at what lies beneath their surface in a crisis. Cal, especially, shows her there are many advantages to having a man around who is good with his hands.

Some of the most unique heroines I have encountered have been strongly working class. Ginny, Jean and Rosa from A Woman’s Place are laborers during WWII. They confronted great prejudice from both men and women who felt that a woman’s place remained in the home, even with the country facing a tremendous need for workers to build the ships and planes the fighting men were using. The book does a great job of combining romance, friendship and the argument that women belong everywhere they want to be. All three women receive pressure from their men to quit, with arguments ranging from the danger inherent in being electricians to the fact that they were neglecting their duties at home. Jean, with two suitors, must carefully decide who will be most supportive of the future she wants for herself, complete with career. It is sometimes easy to forget that the right for us to have even simple careers had to be fought for.

I’m going to end this post with the couple that to me epitomizes perfection in working class romance – Ethan and Grace from Nora Roberts’ fantastic Rising Tides. Ethan works as a crabber on the Chesapeake Bay. Grace cleans homes and waits tables at the local bar. Every date, every encounter in this book reveals just how perfect they are for each other. I loved how they completed each other, their acceptance of each other made up for the faults others had found with them. They are truly simple people – for a compliment Ethan actually mentions how “rested” Grace looks – but their simplicity has a wholesomeness to it that is a sharp contrast to what their pasts held. Home, family, true love, and the occasional meal out are the most they are looking for because there was a time when even that simple a dream seemed beyond them.

All of these stories serve as a reminder to me that every day life can be romantic. I don’t need to be a wildly successful self-made millionaire to enjoy the benefits of having love in my life (good thing since it probably won’t happen for my husband and I). How about you? Do you only like romances with glamour and wealth? Or do the simpler tales appeal as well?

– Maggie Boyd

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16 Responses to A Salute to the Working Heroes and Heroines

  1. Leigh says:

    Maggie, I love your blog. What a perfect subject for Labor Day! In my younger days, I picked books about affluent lifestyles, (there weren’t too many non- wealthy heroes) but now I enjoy both. Sometimes I need pure fantasy, and other times I want stories about people who know how to budget. Rising Tides is a great book, and typical of today’s workforce. So many people need to work two jobs to make ends meet. And I am of course a big fan of the Virgin Rivers series. We both share of a love for Kathleen Giles Seidel. Her hero and heroines varied in economic status, but for the most part they were working class individuals.

  2. LinnieGayl says:

    What a perfect blog for Labor Day! I’m going to have to check out A Woman’s Place; that’s a period of women’s labor history I’m very interested in.

    I also concur with the mention of Ethan and Grace; what wonderful, everyday characters. They work at routine jobs, but are truly memorable.

    I would add Sam Frazier from Karen Templeton’s Swept Away. He’s a farmer struggling to make a success of a relatively small farm, and also periodically serves as a substitute teacher at the local high school to help his family get by.

  3. Susan says:

    Oh I loved Rising Tides! I need to get that series on Kindle.

    One book that springs to mind, one of my favorites, is Catch of the Day by Kristan Higgins. Malone is a fisherman, and she owns a small breakfast restaurant.

    I love every day books, in all the genres. Some of my favorite historicals are when they get out of the ballroom and set in less lofty settings such as Marrying the Captain by Carla Kelley. I was so enchanted with that book I Google Earthed Plymouth and explored the town!

  4. maggie b. says:

    I am so glad to know I am not alone in my love of Ethan and Grace. Those two really are amazing!

    Leigh, I felt I could have written a lot more and Seidel was one author I definitely looked at adding! Wish she would write a new one – talent like that shouldn’t just disappear.

    LinnieGayle – I am getting a copy of Templeton’s Swept Away. I have heard so many good things about that book that it has now become a must read for me.

    Susan – I almost did Catch of the Day. But Ethan is my favorite fishermen so I stuck with him. I also had wanted to include historicals by Kelly and Pamela Morsi. They both do great real people romance.

    maggie b.

  5. bungluna says:

    Thanks for a lovely post. I enjoy current contemporaries presicelly because they contain more believable working people. Ok, so lawyers, cops and small business owners abound, there are still some lovely ‘common’ workers too. I’ve enjoyed all the examples you brought up.

    I also like Jennifer Crusie’s old stand-alones for this reason. “Tell Me Lies” has an accountant and a teacher; “Crazy for You” has a teacher and a mechanic.

    Getting away from the sheriffs and the SEALs once in a while is good for me! ;-D

  6. dick says:

    I don’t know, but romance fiction without the millionaires, dukes, etc., loses something in my estimation. I’m skating on thin ice because I’ve read none of the books mentiioned in the post, but I think such stories as described are more like love stories or women’ lit than romances. The whole point of romance is to take one out of the mundane and daily rather than immerse one in it.

  7. Susan says:

    Pamela Morisi does everyday historicals? I will go check her out! Thanks for the recommendation.

  8. mary says:

    Thank you for this article. I have read a wide range of romances over many years. Recently, I am finding ‘cozy’ mysteries and everyday romances more appealing. I love historicals but there are too many repetitious plots and unbelievable characters. And too many contemporaries seem to depend on ‘super’ heroes and heroines with no there there. And I have no interest in fantasy or sci-fi. I have had more dnf’s this year than ever. What’s the point of romances if you can’t connect with the characters and their stories? Romances with everyday people are usually focused on the development of the characters and the relationship. Also, I enjoy the humor and the interaction of the secondary characters.

  9. maggie b. says:


    If you don’t read anything else try Rising Tides by Roberts. That really is a classic and most people like it.

    Also, try “Something Shady” by Pamela Morsi if you haven’t already. Wonderful Americana about ordinary people.

    You said: I think such stories as described are more like love stories or women’ lit than romances. The whole point of romance is to take one out of the mundane and daily rather than immerse one in it.

    I disagree. Romance to me is what RWA describes it as – a book that focuses on the relationship and ends with an HEA. To me many a millionaire story has ended with an HRN (happy right now). More than once I have put down a European historical thinking “He’ll have a mistress in a year. Two tops.”

    maggie b.

  10. Rising Tides is my favorite Nora Roberts. Love Ethan and Grace! I actually prefer working class characters because that world is more familiar to me and has positive connotations. I tend to associate billionaires (unfairly, perhaps) with corporate greed and excess.

    Some of the best romances are about ordinary, hard-working, goodhearted people.

  11. SON says:

    Ah, but Walt in A Summer in Sonoma turns out to be a millionaire, doesn’t he!

    It depends what kind of romance you read too. I despise Presents and find historical romance bland, boring and painfully unrealistic, so I almost never read about billionaires or dukes.
    I’d say there were plenty of romances where the characters are normal everyday people – in fact I’ve seen people complain that there are too many of them because authors tend to write about jobs they’ve had in the past. But then, that’s usually the heroine with the low-paying job.

  12. Nice post. There are lots of people who work on Labor Day ( time and a half helps lol). First line rescuers -firefighters, police, ER staff- always make good heroes or heroines. Add an everyday hard working character struggling with whatever their problem and it works for me. As long as the characters are strong and believable, it can be a romance or mainstream women’s fiction,

  13. Dante4043 says:

    Thank you for the great post!

    Romance has really evolved into finding a great romance book that keeps the focus on someone “real” instead of the old romances of the heroine/wonder woman fashion model undercover CIA spy super ninja character. The characters written by Nora Roberts, Robyn Carr, and Kristin Higgins are beloved by many for this reason these authors have made the bestsellers lists again and again.

    Yes, some days one might wish to waltz across the ballrooms of England, but other days wish to read about life of someone they can relate.

  14. TerryS says:

    I loved this post. These are the kind of romances that tend to populate my DIK list.

    You summed it up beautifully when you wrote, “All of these stories serve as a reminder to me that every day life can be romantic. I don’t need to be a wildly successful self-made millionaire to enjoy the benefits of having love in my life ”

    I’ve been married for over two decades, and every once in awhile I will look up from reading or watching television, and catch my husband watching me. With a soft smile, he will shake his head and say, “You are just so damn, cute.”

    Now trust me when I say that the adjective someone should be using to describe a a fifty something, chubby, over the hill grandmother is not cute. But this wonderful guy I married means it every time he says it. How romantic is that!

  15. maggie b. says:

    Terry S -

    OK, one of our writers needs to use that scenario you described in the epilogue of a novel. That perfectly describes to me what love and romare are about – sharing a quiet evening, still feeling that warm heart feeling says “That person next to me is the best thing ever.”

    maggie b.

  16. ninjas says:

    Thank you for every other fantastic article. The place else could anyone get that type of info in such an ideal approach of writing? I have a presentation subsequent week, and I am on the look for such information.

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