I’m a big fan of romance characters with well-rounded lives. I like my heroes and heroines to have friends, hobbies, and careers. Sure, once in a while a “couple on the run” or “cabin romance” will work for me, but such romances are not my preference. As a result, I was excited when readers asked that we open the Unusual Occupations Special Titles List for submissions, as it’s one of my favorites.
But what is it, exactly, that makes an occupation “unusual” enough to qualify for the list? The description of the list is one of the shortest of any of the Special Title Lists: “These romances feature heroes and heroines with professions that are outside the ordinary.” My take on the description is that we place on this list professions that we normally do not see in romance novels, not professions that we don’t encounter in our daily lives. I’ve never met a Navy Seal, a professional football player, a small town sheriff, or a cowboy or rancher, but have read countless romances featuring heroes with these occupations, and would not consider them to be unusual occupations. Similarly, I don’t count among my real life friends any mystery or romance authors, but have read many romances with heroines in these professions.
In contrast, I’ve both encountered in real life, and read about in romances, heroes and heroines who are medical professionals of one kind or another. But I can still envision a romance featuring a character in an unusual medical profession that might qualify for the list. For example, already on the list is Maddy Timms, an asylum nurse in Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm.
In addition to being unusual for romance heroes and heroines, I want the occupation to be featured in the novel. It isn’t enough to tell me that the heroine is a nanotechnology engineer; I want to see her occupation come into play at some point in the novel. While it would be boring to see the heroine at work for page after page, let her have some conversations with colleagues, read a professional journal, or perhaps discuss some of her latest work with the hero.
In one of my favorite contemporary romances, Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Match Me if You Can, Annabel Granger’s occupation as a matchmaker is the reason she meets the hero. Annabel has failed at many careers, but when she inherits her grandmother’s matchmaking business, decides she can be a success, if she finds one high profile male client. For her, the client to get is Heath Champion, the owner of a sports management company. We watch Annabel and Heath go through many sessions with potential wives for Heath. We also see Heath’s job as a sports agent come into play as he works with some of his clients and tries to represent the cagey Dean Robillard.
In Dancing Shoes and Honky-tonk Blues by LuAnn McLane, the hero’s occupation as a dance instructor is front and center as his partner on a TV reality show, Dancing with the Rednecks, is also his heroine. The dancing sparkles in the book. As Lisa wrote in her DIK review,
“Yes, friends, the dancing is what hooked me in. For an activity that is mainly visual, Ms. McLane wrote the dance scenes so perfectly that I could see every move as if I was watching it live. From the Cha-Cha to the Quickstep, you don’t need to know your way
around basic ballroom and Latin dances to understand. You will learn right along with Abby.”
In another favorite of mine, Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Kiss an Angel, the hero’s profession (or at least the profession we see him at during the book) structures much of the novel. Alex Romanov, the hero, is a circus manager and performer. The book takes place over a series of months as Alex – and his unwilling bride Daisy – travel throughout the rural south with a small circus. We see both Alex and Daisy in the ring, meet the various performers with the circus, and experience what this life is like. Whether you like the book or hate it, the circus shines through.
While waiting for new submissions to start rolling in for this list, I began looking at the books that are already on the list. I was surprised to discover that there are many I’ve never heard of, and far too many that I haven’t made time to read. There’s also an incredible variety of professions represented, from magicians to horse whisperers to toy makers to graphic novelists.
We were hoping to get a lot of new submissions for the Unusual Occupations list, as many of the titles listed were published before 2000. But so far, we’ve had almost no new submissions for that one. In fact, while we’ve been bombarded by recommendations for the new list(thank you!) – Met as Children – we’ve had virtually no new submissions for the remaining lists that are open until March 24. So, if you have any recommendations – particularly from newer books – for Unusual Occupations, Opposites Attract, and (Not Your Usual) Conflict, please send them to us over the next week by using the submission form here.
– LinnieGayl Kimmel