The Dollars and Sense of Heroes and Heroines

money A report was just released that revealed that in Washington, DC, the childhood poverty rate is higher than that of Mexico. In Washington, DC, my former home and our nation’s capital, more than 30% of children are growing up in impoverished families. Thirty percent.

This is not meant to be a political blog (though how sad is it that just stating childhood poverty rates can become a political debate?). Rather, I present this information as a reality that many of us don’t want to face: some Americans are poor. But reading romance novels – particularly contemporary ones — won’t let you in on that fact.

I’m not talking just the richest of the rich that are far too common in romance novels — the Roarkes, the movie stars, the billionaire bosses — but also the extremely healthy upper-middle-class that it seems almost everyone in romance novels belongs to. No one is living paycheck to paycheck. No one is working two jobs to make ends meet. No one has eschewed vacations in favor of paying school loans.

By “no one,” of course I do not mean absolutely no one; I mean that it is far less common to find in romance novels than it is in real life. When it does, on the rare occasion, happen, it’s more of a damsel-in-distress situation where a wealthy hero sweeps in and takes care of her, something that raises my feminist hackles. And let’s be honest about why it’s not prevalent — it’s not very fun to read about financial struggles, particularly in a time where so many of us are fighting harder than we had to a few years ago. We want to escape when we read. But if we want our characters’ lives to have some reflection of our own, then it seems authors should start presenting some more real-life challenges to the equation. It may not be much fun, but it is realistic.

This is not to say I’m advocating for a new trend of unemployed heroes and heroines on food stamps, though those are the type of people I see on a regular basis through my work. As a reader, I want a balance of realism and escapism. But one thing I cannot abide by are characters who, while not overtly wealthy, do not ever think about money. This was my chief complaint with Nora Roberts’ recent trilogy: her characters never seemed to think about finances. They were small business owners who never consulted a spreadsheet, never made cost/benefit analyses, never thought, “Can we afford this?” There are very, very few people in life don’t have to think about these things.

A few things in my life have made me more acutely aware of finances. One, I graduated from college. Two, I joined a volunteer program and pledged to live simply and in solidarity with the poor. My spending money is very limited; Starbucks is an extravagance, and my roommates and I have to seriously consider whether or not we can afford to go out to dinner. It’s a change from my college lifestyle, where I worked and was paid and went out to eat whenever I wanted, and now my friends wonder how I do it on my meager stipend. However, I am extremely lucky to have health insurance, my rent paid every month without question, and a full refrigerator. My clients, meanwhile, survive on food stamps while they try to find work, and when they do, it is still a struggle to make it.

After a day of working with unemployed ex-offenders, I am glad to have romance novels as a way to escape from the stress of my job. But pure escape isn’t what I’m looking for in a novel; I want escape in a relatable way, in a realistic way. I want characters to face the same struggles that I do on a daily basis, and to come out on top. It may be fun to read about the extremely wealthy sometimes, but not as often as I find myself doing simply because that is what is on the market. I love Julie James, Rachel Gibson, Lisa Kleypas, and Victoria Dahl, and so many other contemporary writers, but after reading Practice Makes Perfect this weekend, and reflecting on the different contemporaries I’ve read lately, I can’t think of one in which money was a scarce resource and not something to be tossed around. Yes, it’s much more romantic when a hero can get an ocean-view hotel suite for his rendezvous with the heroine, but that makes me anxious about the fiscal responsibility of such an act. Whatever the story, something’s not working when I am worrying about the characters’ bank accounts and exorbitant spending instead of focusing on the romance.

Maybe this is just me; after all, I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who gets angry reading decorating magazines because of the excessiveness of a $40 throw pillow. But whether you’re thinking about money or not, I still believe that romance land needs a bit of a reality check to become more in tune with modern society.

– Jane Granville

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40 Responses to “The Dollars and Sense of Heroes and Heroines”

  1. AAR Lynn says:

    It does seem like most folks in romanceland live pretty comfortably, doesn’t it? The heroines who wouldn’t dream of asking for child support have always stood out to me as an example of unrealistic financial decisions. Even if the heroine has a job, trying to raise a child with no support would be a huge struggle.

    • Leigh says:

      AAR Lynn: It does seem like most folks in romanceland live pretty comfortably, doesn’t it?The heroines who wouldn’t dream of asking for child support have always stood out to me as an example of unrealistic financial decisions.Even if the heroine has a job, trying to raise a child with no support would be a huge struggle.

      I disliked the last book in the Dream Trilogy by Nora Roberts because of this reason. Not only did the heroine’s ex-husband steal the majority of money from their bank accounts, he got into the children’s trust or college fund (I don’t remember which one). The heroine works two jobs, but she won’t go after him for the money. Let him have it – I am not going to fight him – it is bad for the kids. What is bad for the kids is seeing their mother roll over and not stand up for them.

      Women’s fiction is sometimes a little more realistic in terms of the social status of the heroine. I just read a Barbara O’Neal and the heroine is struggling with debt.

      Robyn Carr touches on proverty and lack of medical care and shelter in her books.

      • farmwifetwo says:

        I have trouble in books and real life with those women who have nothing at the end of a marriage. Are you truly that…. ok, I won’t use the word but geez people…. They can’t take stuff that is only in your name.

        Ironically, I have been getting tired of romances where she’s on the run with nothing. Hqn does that a lot. I like well educated hero’s and heroines with decent employment and skills.

        Maybe it’s b/c I am tired of the constant whining in the news from the unions, the “occupiers” that majored in liberal arts and now can’t get work, and the general attitude of “I’m owed and those that work hard and may good money owe me everything they made” attitude we live in these last few years.

        • Lynn M says:

          I don’t think those 99 percenters are upset with people who work hard and earn their money fair and square. The issue is with those who’ve earned their billions via sketchy financial methods and use their money and power to influence the government into making laws that benefit them to the detriment of everyone else. There is something obscene and immoral about CEOs and corporate bigwigs making millions in salaries, benefits, and retirement packages while at the same time they are laying off workers, closing factories and stores, moving jobs overseas, denying people basic cost of living raises, and taking taxpayer money with an outstretched hand.

          Sorry – off topic! Romance novels remind me a lot of soap operas when I used to watch them. I always wondered how the characters managed to do so much during the work day, always wore fancy clothes and never seemed worried about getting to work or paying the rent. I guess in general, escapism seems to mean a complete break with reality for a lot of people.

          • farmwifetwo says:

            How quick we believe everything we read…. but as a news junky and someone that reads a lot of financial news….

            People forget one very big thing…. corporations don’t owe you a nickel nor a job. Corporations are not there for the worker, they are there for the shareholders. Yes, it would be nice if everyone could make $100/hr but when an uneducated worker at GM can get $75 or so per hour including benefits and pension yet, with my engineering degree I couldn’t even start at that wage… something is wrong.

            Now, in the US these corporations have started into dual wage rates etc but in Canada…. even as more and more people role their eyes at it… http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/story/2012/09/10/wdr-caw-leaflets.html http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/09/02/unions-labour-canada-decline.html http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2012/08/27/mercer-salary-survey.html we wait and see if GM etc simply says “have a nice holiday” while the US and Mexico keep working.

            If you don’t like the CEO’s and their wages… then it’s time to start up your own business and find out how much fun it really isn’t to deal with staff – we had to have one of those “if you don’t like it you can go on the first flight home” talk with ours last week and my Dh was out working men 20yrs younger than him doing the same job – and gov’t legislation. Many of those CEO’s lay off staff to keep the business afloat. Yes, I know the employees will tell you all about their productivity etc http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/09/03/labour-in-canada/ but the truth is most US and Cdn’s can’t even manage their own bank accounts let alone basic economics.

            Personally, if you can get it…. go for it. You don’t owe anyone, nor need to appologize for it. CEO’s don’t work 9 to 5, they work constantly. Yes, they get to go to fancy dinners and golfing but politicking and business is done in those settings… that is keeping you working. Very little, to none at all, of business is done in a boardroom. And… don’t blame the banks for the crash. The 99% happily took those subsidized mortages and knew exactly what they were getting into… well, had they read the paperwork.

            Most business is Mom and Pop shops. Their line between making a buck and failing is thin. Ironically, most of those high paid union workers won’t back those “expensive” and other union stores. They’ll tell you how you and I should…. but they’ll go to Walmart just as fast as everyone else. I know that, from my own family.

            • lj says:

              “The 99% happily took those subsidized mortages and knew exactly what they were getting into… ”

              Uh no. Not everyone. There are people who don’t have mortgages. Who don’t have credit cards OR people who have stable mortgages and have never been late. Do they deserve the current economy?

              Wow is your logic ever screwed.

        • lj says:

          Not everyone who is out of work majored in liberal arts. You’re just full of generalizations, aren’t you? I live in the Seattle area and when I was first laid off (from a software company) I attended a couple workshops. The MAJORITY of people who were in the workshops with me had BS (bachelors of science) and worked in aerospace or IT. The remainder worked in accounting or business. There wasn’t one liberal arts major.

          That probably just blows your mind, doesn’t it?

  2. farmwifetwo says:

    I just want to put poverty in perspective.

    1. What is poverty?? We need food, clothing and shelter…. anything beyond that is “gravy” YET in today’s world if we don’t have 3 tv’s and 4 iPads and 2 cellphones per person we live in poverty. These non-essentials get added into the “poverty” calculation and people spend their money on these things instead of what is necessary.

    2. What benefits do you receive from the gov’t based on income? How much does this increase your “worth”? Again, this information is not calculated in when people discuss “poverty”.

    Here they talk about poverty and I can tell you from my POV according to the news we should be living in poverty and we’re anything but…. But, we don’t have “stuff”… Oh we have “stuff” just not piles of “stuff”. Therefore we live at a much higher standard of living compared to our income level. This ironically bothers people when they wonder how we afford the stuff we do buy. Easy, I don’t spend on “stuff”. Sit down, write out everything you buy in a month… it’s frightening the junk you buy for no reason. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/story/2012/09/05/ottawa-debt-mr-money-mustache.html

    So, I ignore the “Poverty” numbers. Those that truly live in poverty are unfortunately not honestly reflected in those numbers nor are their actual needs addressed. Those creating the numbers need to change their criteria to reach those that need actual help. Someone living in DC will add in “stuff” that people in Mexico will not. DC will add in consumable goods, whereas someone in Mexico will think that being able to have the necessities, lots of family and friends around is “a good life”.

    • Joane says:

      I’m not sure ignoring Poverty numbers is a good thing.

      Mahatma Gandhi said that poverty is when you have more hunger than food and you are rich if you have more food than hunger.
      Are there people in the USA -or in Washington DC- that have no way to get food, simple and healthy by themselves? Then there’s poverty.

      USA is a very rich country, but the gap between poor and rich is greater than in many other developed countries. You would be surprised to find that the Gini-coefficient of national income distribution is the same in the States and in Mexico, and much greater than Sweden, Germany or Australia, countries that have their richness better distributed among their citizens.

      Living in a rich country doesn’t mean that the majority of its inhabitants are rich. Only that the few rich could be very very rich. Some coefficients like childhood poverty, or maternal deaths, or level of education or access to basic health care could be surprisingly low & expensive in certain parts or for some groups of that country.

    • lj says:

      Hate to tell you, that’s not how they measure poverty in the US and those types of things aren’t taken into account for the poverty statistics but you go ahead and tell yourself that if it helps you sleep better at night.

      In the meantime, there are children going without meals in a country that is “supposed” to be one of the wealthiest in the world.

  3. Lilly says:

    “I still believe that romance land needs a bit of a reality check to become more in tune with modern society.”

    I pondered this same question on a thread here at AAR in context of the growing trend of young American women being better educated and having more financial resources than young men (The Richer Sex). Most – but certainly not all – of the respondents on that thread indicated they wanted traditional fantasy, not modern reality, from romance.

    Best,
    Lilly

  4. Virginia DeMarce says:

    A fair proportion of the Silhouette Intimate and American romance lines usually did show people, including heroines, who worked “ordinary” jobs (hairdressers, secretary in an insurance office). I suspect that a fair number of people eschew them because they were usually also set in small towns, which a fair number of people who post on the boards here absolutely loathe :) Maybe it’s in the category of “you can please some of the people some of the time . . .”

    • Leigh says:

      Virginia DeMarce: A fair proportion of the Silhouette Intimate and American romance lines usually did show people, including heroines, who worked “ordinary” jobs (hairdressers, secretary in an insurance office).I suspect that a fair number of people eschew them because they were usually also set in small towns, which a fair number of people who post on the boards here absolutely loathe Maybe it’s in the category of “you can please some of the people some of the time . . .”

      I do like both. I don’t want a steady diet of proverty illness,or death. But I do switch it up. It is nice to read about average people.

  5. mari says:

    LaVryle Spencer wrote a great book. The heroine was a widow and struggling to make ends meet, the hero was an itinerant wanderer, who ends up staying. They are both poor, working together they became better off. And no one wins the lottery or has a dead relative bequeath them an inheritence. I don’t remember the title of the book, but I think Spencer wrote alot of books like that, fulll of ordinary people, struggling to get by. Highly reccomend.

  6. ell says:

    Very good blog, and I couldn’t agree with you more.

    I can’t remember the last book I read where any of the characters had to think about money, or be careful with it. Most of the time I just skim past it, but every once in a while it really throws me off. And I never read The Billionaire’s Whatever, or The Sheik’s. And that was part of the problem I had with The Shades of Grey trilogy

    Also the whole poverty thing in this country is a confused mess. The poor in Africa are walking skeletons. The poor in this country are overweight. (seriously, how often have you seen pictures of people waiting in line to go into a food pantry and the majority were very heavy?)

    At the same time, the American Indian reservations are like little pockets of the third world. No running water, no electricity, roads that are not kept up, third rate medical care, third rate education and the life expectancy is almost half of what the rest of the country has. As far as I am concerned that makes me feel a little ashamed of us, we should surely be able to do better. Of course, they are overweight too, and like everybody else, I have no idea how to fix anything.

    Your comment about the $40 pillow made me laugh. Just this morning I got an ad from Neiman-Marcus about a sale they are having. They have reduced the cost of a white tank top from $265 to $65. $65 for a white tank top!!!!!! Even if I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t spend it on that!

    To get back to the main point – I don’t need to have every book I read be about struggling and scraping by, but I am tired of having virtually every character in every story be so blithe about, say, taking off for a vacation in the Carribean….or buying a $65 tank top.

    • Sue Stewart says:

      Keep in mind that a major reason so many lower income Americans are overweight is that all the cheapest food is very fattening — full of starch and sugars. It’s far more expensive to eat well — (unless you have the time and property to grow your food in a garden) — than poorly in this country. Really, it is.

  7. dick says:

    By its nature, fantasy leaves reality behind.

  8. JFTEE-Auburn says:

    Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer is a wonderful book about people that don’t have much “stuff” but lots of “true” character. They don’t whine about their situation, don’t expect others to bale them out, and live under incredible hardship. Doesn’t sound like much of a romance, does it, but you couldn’t be more wrong. It is strength of character and situation that drives this unusual story and beautiful writing. I read it about 3 years ago and the story has stuck with me, it is that powerful.

    http://likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=1431

    Thank you Farmwifetwo for your comments. Lyndon Johnson in 1964 introduced the government’s War on Poverty. Has poverty been eradicated or improved? No. If you believe the government’s own stats, it is a bigger problem today. Instead of lowering the number of people living in poverty, it has become institutionalized via government programs. And as we know, few if any government programs get repealed, they just continue. Sorry, I just couldn’t help my self.

  9. Eliza says:

    “No one is living paycheck to paycheck. No one is working two jobs to make ends meet. No one has eschewed vacations in favor of paying school loans.”

    “However, I am extremely lucky to have health insurance, my rent paid every month without question, and a full refrigerator. My clients, meanwhile, survive on food stamps while they try to find work, and when they do, it is still a struggle to make it.”

    “After a day of working with unemployed ex-offenders, I am glad to have romance novels as a way to escape from the stress of my job. But pure escape isn’t what I’m looking for in a novel; I want escape in a relatable way, in a realistic way. I want characters to face the same struggles that I do on a daily basis, and to come out on top. It may be fun to read about the extremely wealthy sometimes, but not as often as I find myself doing simply because that is what is on the market.”

    What a wonderful, thoughtful, kind column, Jane. I hope you don’t mind I quoted some of the passages that stood out for me.

  10. belize says:

    I just read a historical romance, A Gentleman Undone, by Cecilia Grant, and was struck by how modest the aspirations of the hero and heroine were. They each just wanted to win, by gambling, a few thousand pounds to provide secure but small incomes (in his case he wanted the income for a widow for whom he felt responsible. Their winnings were pretty modest too, since they seemed to win only a few hundred each time they went out gambling, in comparison to the huge sums I was used to reading about in historical romances. This book seemed very grounded in the realities of the times and in the narrow dividing line between poverty and security.

    • Cathy Moran says:

      lj: Hate to tell you, that’s not how they measure poverty in the US and those types of things aren’t taken into account for the poverty statistics but you go ahead and tell yourself that if it helps you sleep better at night.In the meantime, there are children going without meals in a country that is “supposed” to be one of the wealthiest in the world.

      Any Carla Kelly book, admittedly historicals, deal with people with limited means. Some richer, some destitute, but a very real world.

      I find it interesting that I can read a Regency about the filthy rich and enjoy it, but couldn’t stomach the same wealth in a contemporary setting.

      I think it’s all about escape. I’m a bankruptcy lawyer…

  11. Hannah E. says:

    Thank you so much for this blog post! You have captured one of my major complaints with romances. Everyone in most romances seem to work exciting jobs. So many of the heroines, in particular, are self-made women who run their own business and get to do what they love best every day. Good for them, and good for everyone who gets to live out that dream, but that isn’t how most of us live.

    I am very grateful to have a job that pays my bills, but I have to budget *very* carefully to stay out of debt. I totally feel you about Starbucks being a luxury! And I also sympathize with the $40 throw pillow issue. I used to subscribe to fashion magazines (before I could no longer afford the subscriptions) to drool over the beautiful clothing, but the $200 pairs of jeans did make me feel a bit ill at times. And yet, some romance authors make a point of dressing their heroines in designer clothing, without regard for their characters’ probable income levels.

    Like a lot of people my age (who realized belatedly that well-paying jobs aren’t handed out after college as graduation gifts), I live with the constant subconscious awareness that I am one major financial disaster away from moving back in with my longsuffering parents. I would like to read about more people who deal with those kinds of life realities. It seems like the only struggling heroines in books are single mothers, but you don’t have to have children to worry about finances.

  12. DJ says:

    Sorry. I lived that life of poverty as a child and it was horrible. I don’t want to read about it in my escapist fiction. And I don’t necessarily look for a heroine with anything in common with my life. Again… escapist fiction.

  13. Michelle Davis says:

    I don’t read the category romances anymore and I pretty much stick with Romantic Suspense these days, but I gotta say – at the end of the day, I read to escape and be entertained. I am a single mom who has struggled financially nearly every day of the past 17 years. I love my life, but it is stressful. When I read, it takes me away from the ordinary to someone interesting and exciting to read about. That’s the hook for me – I don’t confuse what I read with reality. To me, there is nothing worse than a depressing book about someone struggling financially. And I really hate a sad ending – life is hard enough. A little harmless escape into a good story is, to me, a good thing. Does everything have to be about issues or proving that we as women are strong enough? I am definitely a strong independent woman who spends most of her time pouring every ounce of energy into my family. I think I deserve a break now and then to step out of myself and my struggles and just enjoy a good story!

  14. JMM says:

    Oh, the “heroine in distress” bit bugs me. Of course, so does the “poor little rich girl” bit. If I had the money those heroines do, I’d get a nice home and enjoy myself (books) rather than whine about it.

    I would like to see more HEROINES having nice jobs, rather than the usual “divorced/abandoned heroine swept off her feet by rich hero” bit.

    And I’d love to see a heroine who takes her jerk ex for everything she can get. :)

    And another thing – how many heroines have a RIDICULOUS attitude towards money? “I don’t WANT child support! I don’t WANT my daddy’s company/millions! Oh, no! I can’t take money from a friend, even though I’m homeless! Oh, no! I’m not going to pick up that $100 bill off the ground, even though I’m broke – that would be DISHONEST!” Ick.

    SPOILERS!!!!!

    I liked “A Gentleman Undone”, until the end. I had to roll my eyes when the heroine gave a bunch of money to the hero’s friend; money SHE could have used to buy herself an annuity.
    I just can’t see how the heroine (Who was abandoned, impoverished, lost her child, her fertility and forced into being a mistress) would feel ANY pity for a woman who was, frankly, kind of a whiner in my eyes. That woman had a child, a home, and money. But she didn’t like her in-laws. Boo-frickin-hoo. I can’t see the heroine giving a damn about that. I didn’t feel much pity for the women.

  15. erika says:

    I was just ranting to mysyelf about this but I want to see more wealthy heroes. I love Cinderella heroines.
    Oh just remebered a Linda Howard book, After the Night? where the heroine was dirt poor.
    I really don’t want to see a hero or heroine struggle with poverty for all the book.

    Having seen poverty in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico I doubt studies which claim US poverty in DC is worse. Those poverty stricken people in Nuevo Laredo had children with no clothes, no electricity, little to no schooling no obese people and no modern toilets.

  16. Joane says:

    I loved this article! I also think there should be more normal heroes and heroines. Not necessarily someone poor. But I’d like to see people just talking about money, jobs, mortgages, schools, unpaid alimonies and so on, as everybody does.
    I remember classics as ‘One summer’ by K. Robards or ‘Unspeakable’ by S. Brown that I really liked and the characters were not rich at all.
    It’s easier to sell a story with a billionaire, sure. But I have been reading romances for 30 years and I’m sick of CEOs and Regency dukes.
    Nowadays, I prefer a good love story, including their HEA, with real people. Am I the only one?

    • PatW says:

      Joane: I loved this article! I also think there should be more normal heroes and heroines. Not necessarily someone poor. But I’d like to see people just talking about money, jobs, mortgages, schools, unpaid alimonies and so on, as everybody does.

      I read for escape and thus am not attracted to plots or environments that focus on the hardships of living day to day. However Joane’s comment quoted above resonates with me. I really would like to see more “awareness” of finances show up, especially in contemporaries.

      In historicals, it is my belief that many authors are either not aware of, or don’t want to cope with explaining to the reader, how small many incomes really were but still how great their buying power was.

  17. Margot says:

    I have to admit to liking billionaire heroes (and even mere millionaires). I am definitely not rich, and it’s nice to dream sometimes. And I really prefer if finances are not a major problem- I certainly want the characters to at least have a job, if they don’t already have money. That being said, the complete disregard for money some characters (heroines) seem to think is morally superior just seems idiotic.

    The thing that absolutely makes me cringe, though, is the wanton destruction of property some characters cause. Clothes ripped, vases thrown, priceless art destroyed… I know it’s fictional, but take better care of your possessions! And when running from villains, please try to remember your bags, and keep them with you at all times.

  18. LeeF says:

    This column made me think of Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter series. I have always liked how she dealt with the reality of finances and money matters for members of the military, especially for the enlisted men. I thought too of Liberty and Hardy in Lisa Kleypas’ Sugar Daddy and their struggles while growing up in a trailer park.

  19. jml says:

    I think we read to have our own needs satisfied and of course each of us has different emotional needs at different times in our lives.

    Right now you (Jane) are deeply involved with people who suffer from the ills that come with not having enough money for daily survival so you wish to see that lifestyle reflected in the books your read. There may be others who do the work you do who have no desire whatsoever to read about that ‘real life’ when they pick up a novel.

    I choose my reading material first by author and then by trope so in all likelihood I would pass over the books you want to see more of. The reality of people who can’t get enough food or are homeless is what I get when I pick up the newspaper or walk around my own hometown. I certainly empathize and sympathize with those who have nothing but it’s a grim reality and not something I want to read about for pleasure.

    A story with a heroine or hero who is broke is fine but if there is no hope of improvement in their story then I can not enjoy their romance. I’m sorry but as someone above said I’ve been poor and it sucks the romance right out of any relationship or at the very least puts it way down on the list of things to do.

    Is that an avoidance of reality? You bet — but then the reality is that those books we all love cost cash money — and I don’t want to spend it on being depressed.

  20. willaful says:

    I had so many issues with Robert’s two most recent series! The conspicuous consumption of the wedding one, promoting the idea that nothing is more important about a wedding than your every whim be satisfied… and then the outrageous luxury of the Inn. (Which is of course, advertising HER inn.) It made me feel she’s completely out of touch with what the average person’s life is like.

    It used to drive me crazy, when I watched t.v., how even characters who were supposedly working class/just getting by, always had money for plane flights on short notice. And anyone living in Manhattan had a bathroom the size of most actual Manhattan apartments.

    BTW, I saw a physical therapist this morning and she brought up 50SoG and said it took her 8 months to read but she really like parts about him being a gzaillionaire and showering her with gifts. That gibes what what a lot of people have been saying about the book.

  21. Yuri says:

    So this post got me thinking and while a couple of times things strike me as unrealistic (like parents who take the summer off work to settle a child into a new home), I actually thought there is an increasing amount of financial awareness in romances.

    Personally I don’t mind tales of the uber-rich or of those who are struggling and make it. My personal bugbear is people who act as though they are rich but have no visible means of support.

    So I went back in my reading log and found of the last 185 romances I read, I have noted two as being unrealistic on the financial front and twenty as dealing with it specifically. Of course in most cases I wasn’t looking for it so I didn’t note it.

    • Taming an Impossible Rogue – Suzanne Enoch (2012 – Regency) – the hero is living very simply and is offered a fortune that will allow him to fulfil his obligations so he does things he would never otherwise have done for the money.
    • Making Waves – Tawna Fenske (2011 – Contemporary) – the hero and his friends are trying to recover after losing their jobs and life savings
    • Skin Heat – Ava Gray (2011 – Paranormal) – the hero lives on a dirt poor subsistence farm who takes a menial job to keep the lights on. The heroine is a vet who struggles to keep her practice in the black.
    • Fate’s Edge – Illona Andrews (2011 – Paranormal) – the heroine is very careful about her money and gets dragged into her family’s cons
    • Just a Cowboy – Rachel Lee (2011 – Contemporary) – hero is a cowboy who can only get work some of the time and rehabs the house next door when he can’t.
    • A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes – Suzanne Enoch (2011 – Regency) – both hero and heroine take some fairly scandalous action out of financial desperation
    • Bone Deep – Janice Kay Johnson (2011 – Romantic Suspense) – a murder on the premises affects the financial security of the heroine’s business
    • Silk is for Seduction – Loretta Chase (2011 – Regency) – the heroine is trying to keep her luxury dress shop alive and a fire devastates the business
    • How to bake a perfect life – Barbara O’Neal (2011 – Women’s Fiction) – heroine is struggling to keep her bakery afloat
    • Cheri on Top – Susan Donovan (2011 – Contemporary) – heroine has lost everything in the real estate market crash
    • A Hellion in Her Bed – Sabrina Jefferies (2010 – Regency) – both hero and heroine are struggling with the outlook for the brewery business in a downturn
    • Like No Other Lover – Julie Anne Long (2008 – Regency) – The heroine is utterly desperate for a husband because she knows if she doesn’t find one in a matter of weeks she will be on the streets in Regency England and she had few illusions about what that would be like.
    • Double Vision – Fiona Brand (2008 – Romatic Suspense) – The heroine’s parents get mixed up with criminals because their business was in financial trouble.
    • Cutting loose – Susan Anderson (2008 – Contemporary) – the heroine and her friends are trying to juggle and inheritance and juggling financial decisions such as whether to get a new security system
    • After the kiss – Suzanne Enoch (2008 – Regency) – the hero is a horse trader and makes a lot of business decisions around who’s likely to buy his horses.
    • The Firebrand – Susan Wiggs (2001 – Historical) – the heroine is trying to find a loan to keep her bookshop from going under.
    • The Mistress – Susan Wiggs (2000 – Historical) – the heroine is a servant girl whose family comes from the slums and the hero is a con man who has been living hand-to-mouth. Each think they have it made when they think the other is rich.
    • Waiting For The Moon – Kirsten Hannah (1995 – Historical) – the heroine’s first husband joined a religious community in order to have a roof over their head
    • The Christmas Tart – Mary Jo Putney (1992 – Regency) – the heroine loses her savings and becomes the hero’s mistress
    • Web of Love – Mary Balogh (1990 – Regency) – The heroine’s husband talks to her about financial matters before he goes off to battle and the arrangements he has made for her and her daughter.

    • Britta B. says:

      @ Yuri: Thanx for this thorough reading list.

      @ Jane: Above all, I look for a well-written book and logical plot (even in a paranormal, putting aside that aspect of it, everything within that setting needs to make sense to me.) If it’s got gazillionairesses, good for them! If it has a poor second son who is out to make something of himself, good for him, too. I don’t like to be hit over the head over and over with how rich a character is, or how much on the brink of debtor’s prison. It ought to be part of the story, but not in the forefront. In a romance novel, the romance part is the bit that I buy that particular book for :-)

      BTW, to add to the TBR list: I think Cecelia Grant dealt nicely with the general poverty of the rural folk in her first book – A Lady Awakened.

  22. Tracy says:

    I appreciated reading this article, because I’m a working class person & I’d prefer to see more working class heroes/heroines in romance. I can’t read most historicals anymore, because I’m tired of reading about the nobility, especially Dukes. I can’t stand most chick lit because the heroines always work a trendy job & care about matters that I find frivolous.

    Aside from the pointed jab against the liberal arts & the working class in this comment log, I found all the conversation to be very enjoyable. I can understand why someone would want less realism, but as an avid reader of many genres & nonfiction, I would like to see reality reflected in romance a bit more often than it currently is. Even in other genres, such as literary fiction (which is a genre despite popular opinion), it’s usually written about comfortable middle or upper class white males.
    Movies are usually made about the well off, or when it’s about working class people, it’s usually crime related.

  23. Karen says:

    Greetings! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to
    give a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading through your articles.

    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same subjects?
    Thanks!

  24. pwnn says:

    There was a post recently on another Romance forum where someone was looking for suggestions on a particular theme. A book was suggested but dismissed by the requester because the hero was blue collar. She said she didn’t want to read about “loser” heroes. This character was fully employed, worked hard, paid his bills and was a nice guy – but in the world of tycoon billionaire heroes and Dukes he was a “loser”.

    Meanwhile there are tons of little match girl heroines running around who either don’t have a job or want one that’s beneath them, have one but are teetering on the edge of poverty, or worse have one that pays well but can’t balance a check book ($400 shoes but they can’t pay the rent in their two bedroom apt they live in alone). But they’re not losers. No they’re just hidden gems and undiscovered princesses just waiting for a billionaire or Duke to swoop in and recognize their true worth and shower them with vacations, jewels and houses.

    It’s the ever popular Cinderella theme and readers just eat it up or it wouldn’t be so very popular. I’m bored to death by it. A book has to really be recommended as something special to me now if I’m to stomach another billionaire or Duke. How ludicrous that even Earls and Viscounts aren’t good enough for governesses, prostitutes or seamstresses any more – let alone a mere barrister, shopkeeper, merchant or bailiff. And heaven for fend that a heroine actually “marry down” in class or economic scale, even if she has a huge dowry because even ladies and heiresses need a “prince”.

    More than wanting to see more impoverished heroines I want ones that can support themselves and not waiting for a man who represents winning the lottery’s cash jackpot. Or a book like Morning Glory where they work together to make a better life. Or even more like the aforementioned Practice Makes Perfect

    Yes having characters portrayed realistically in terms of their career and place in life is important. I didn’t mind in Practice Makes Perfect when he splurges on a hotel room because he’s a corporate lawyer about to make partner – it’s extravagant but he can afford it as can she and it’s not out of the realm of reality. It was also refreshing that they were career equals. But if he was a lawyer who’s a public defender or ADA who’s not making much and had a tons of student debt it would be ludicrous.

  25. Tracy says:

    Pwwn,

    You definitely hit the nail on the head for me. I’m not at all interested in billionaires or dukes, it takes a lot for me to read one with that theme. I’d rather see a more varied set of people, & certainly more of the ‘loser’ heroes who are blue collar.

    Did anybody confront the poster about calling blue collar workers ‘losers’?