I like heroines who have full lives — they work, they have hobbies, hopefully they read, and they have friends or families with whom they talk to and visit. I’m talking specifically about contemporary romance heroines. In European Historical romances, particularly those set in Regency England, it’s only the odd heroine who works (such as the governess or the secret writer or secret spy). The job of the properly bred, upper class, historical heroine is to marry. As such, most seem to have been trained to sing, play an instrument, draw or paint, and do needlework.
There’s a whole genre of cozy mysteries often referred to as “crafting mysteries.” According to rumors I’ve heard, many of these are started by a publisher saying something like “Knitting is hot, I need a series of knitting mysteries.” The word “knitting” can easily be substituted with “scrapbooking,” “organizing,” or whatever the latest hot hobby happens to be. I’ve heard that most of these “crafting mysteries” are just a three book series in which an author is hired to write them. In most of these books, the “hobby” is actually the full-time work of the main character in the mystery. That’s not what I have in mind by hobbies.
Lately it seems as if most of the contemporary romance heroines I encounter lead very narrowly focused lives. If they work, that’s pretty much it. And if they have a passion for something like glass-blowing, knitting, photography, or cooking, it’s their full-time job, not a hobby in addition to another job. I don’t need a heroine’s hobbies to take up a lot of space in the book. I just like learning more about a heroine than that she’s madly in love with the hero and works 24-7.
One heroine with hobbies who instantly comes to mind is Brianna from Nora Roberts’ Born in Ice. Brianna runs a B & B. She’s a wonderful cook, but that doesn’t count as a hobby as it’s part of her job as inn keeper. But in addition to taking wonderful care of the inn and her guests, Brianna also has a number of hobbies. During the novel she knits a sweater for Grayson, the man she falls in love with. Brianna also loves to garden. Her hobbies are woven perfectly into the book and add a great deal to her character. Grayson also appreciates them. At one point he says to Brianna, “Yes, I like your cooking.” He didn’t smile back. “And your weaving, your knitting, your flowers. The way you make the air smell, the way you tuck the corners of the sheets in when you make the bed.”
Autumn Adams, the heroine of Susan Donovan’s Knock Me Off My Feet is completely different from Brianna both in her personality and her hobbies. Autumn is an advice columnist for a Chicago newspaper. But she also has a number of hobbies, all centered on sports. She plays soccer in one of the Chicago Parks Department’s recreational leagues for women. Within minutes of meeting the hero, Autumn has him drive her to a soccer game while she changes in the back seat of the car from work attire into soccer clothes. The scene is funny, tells us a lot about both Autumn and Stacey (the hero), but also lets us know about one of Autumn’s hobbies. Later, we learn that she’s also a big fan of the Chicago Cubs, one of the city’s two Major League Baseball teams, and likes to sail in the family boat on Lake Michigan.
Anna Spinelli, the heroine of Nora Roberts’ Sea Swept is a full-time social worker. She also loves to cook. She’s particularly proud of her red sauce, and instead of going out to dinner with Cam – the hero of the novel – on a first date, surprises him with linguini and red sauce. We see her love of cooking continue in subsequent books in the series but she also develops a passion for gardening.
Gardening isn’t a hobby for Dru, the heroine of Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Blue; she’s the owner of a floral shop. But we learn in several brief mentions that she takes yoga classes. We never see her in class, don’t read about her struggling to do the Tree Pose, It just adds to who she is, and also gives Seth – the hero – something to fantasize about. At one point Seth asks her to have dinner with him. Dru responds, “All right, but we’ll have to eat after eight. I have a yoga class tomorrow.” Nothing major, but it adds to Dru as a character.
A number of Jayne Ann Krentz’s heroines are readers. When Hatch, the hero of Sweet Fortune looks around the apartment of our heroine (Jessie) he sees a wall of books. “The titles ranged from works on magic and myth to self-help volumes on how to find a creative, fulfilling career. There were none of the trendy books one often saw in a woman’s apartment about how to find and keep a man, Hatch noticed. The collection of fiction covered nearly every genre from romance and suspense to horror and science fiction.” In these few sentences we learn that Jessie likes to read a bit of everything. We don’t have to watch her read, or even see her go into a bookstore (which might be fun).
Don’t get me wrong; I realize the main focus of a romance novel must be on the relationship between the hero and heroine. I just enjoy reading about heroines who have more in their lives than a job and the hero and hope you have some good suggestions. Think of some of the hobbies either you or your friends have: knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking, photography, singing in a choir, playing a musical instrument, and of course, reading. Can you think of any heroines in contemporary romances who also have that hobby, or any hobby? Which books did they appear in? Were you satisfied with how the author treated the hobby?