Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How Old Is Too Old?

by CiCi Barnes

“You’re heroine is too old.”

I received that statement on a critique from a contest I entered a year ago. My heroine was 38, college graduate, a lawyer, single.

When did life end at 30? She was tall, slim beautiful, full of life, strong, independent, not looking for love, but certainly wouldn’t be adverse to love finding her. And it did.

My children are in their mid-thirties as are their friends. They would make great heroes and heroines in a romance novel: deputies, fire-fighters, pharmaceutical reps, teachers, motorcycle mamas, hip and intelligent. But, according to one judge out there ------ too old.

I’m from the generation that said, “Never trust anyone over thirty.” I might like to reassess my thinking and change that to “Never trust anyone under thirty.” I’m ready to don my rebel-with-a-cause togs, go out and have a sit-in demanding that older heroines get their due.

I don’t even mind if the older heroine has a younger guy in her life. Of course, it can happen in real life and does. I know many women who have married younger men. Okay, probably not twenty years younger -- except for Demi -- but it could happen.

Logically, a possible, if not probable, problem is with common interests if the gap is too wide, but stranger things have happened. I don’t choose my friends by the year of their birth; I expect a woman might not do that with a love interest. Love comes in all sizes, colors and ages. Love stories abound for the old as well as the young.

If I want my heroine to be thirty-eight or even forty-eight, I’m sure there are readers out there who would enjoy her journey of finding love with the right man.

So come on mature ladies. Burn your bras, protest, sit in, MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR ON THE MATURE HEROINE. Let those twenty-somethings know that they do not have a monopoly on finding love.

Let’s here from the over-thirty crowd. Would you write an older heroine? Would you read about an older heroine?


Sandy Elzie said...


Let's hear it for the mature women!! Yes, I'm also from the 'burn your bra' age (there might even be young women alive who don't know what that means!) but I agree that the industry is missing out on some great stories. I was told in one rejection letter that if I made my heroine younger by 20-25 years...are you kidding me? I would have had to rewrite the whole thing (her problems would have all been different) and besides, the point of the story was to show that life didn't end at 40.

If the publishers were right, a good portion of the PF&HT would be sitting on the front porch, rocking and knitting, NOT starting another career at 51 (writing for me) and being active in the community, etc.

We're the Baby Boom generation and there are a TON of us. Why can't we make NY listen? It would be nice to see great stories about women my own age. For those u/40, we love, laugh, lose mates, find new loves and life goes on...we have a lot to teach others about life.

Can you tell that this is one of my soap boxes? (g)


Marilyn Baron said...

Thank you CiCi. I also believe that there is life after 30, 40, even 50!

I agree with Sandy that the Baby Boom generation is coming of age and wonder why we can't join the party.

With the population shift, I feel certain that eventually readers will demand more heroines their own age. As an avid reader, I know I would like to read about the more mature heroine. And, for the record, I don't feel OLD!

Most of the heroines in my books are older but again, I'm bucking the trend. I write and would like to read stories with older heroines. But then I like to read good, interesting stories about women of all ages.

Let's hope someone is listening!

Great post!
Marilyn Baron

Debbie Kaufman said...

Now, Cici, the problem with being the older woman here is that you can no longer afford to burn your bra in support of this issue. After all, tripping over the boobs all day would be really inconvenient!

Well, seriously, isn't that how the older heroine is pictured? The only older "heroine" I know that can get work is Maxine and she has to look the stereotype and do comedy about old age :)

Frankly, I'm sick of the 28yr.olds and could use a great story with someone at least 38 or more.

Linsey Lanier said...

Excellent post, CiCi. Hmmm. Now I'm wondering what the "right" age is for a heroine in an editor's eyes. For Harlequin, it's definitely 20 something. But I don't think 36 is too old for a single title heroine (I'm thinking Eve Dallas). That's probably the cutoff.

In my opinion, as in life and as has been expressed above, age is in the beholder. So if you can write a heroine with some depth, but the editor doesn't like her age, just change the number. Instead of 38, make her 34. Or even 32. This is fiction after all, LOL. Opinions?


CiCi Barnes said...

Yea for baby boomers sounding off! Let's all crowd Sandy's soapbox.

And I agree, Marilyn, I don't feel old either. Our 60 is not our mothers' 60.

Oh, Debbie. You read my mind. I almost mentioned the worst thing about getting older, but kept quiet. I would definitely have to 'burn my bra' metaphorically. My braless days are a thing of the past.

Linsey, I would love to make my heroines change age, after all, it really is just a number, but younger heroine wouldn't have the life experiences of the mature heroine, even if you just lower the age by 5 years. Those young whippersnappers haven't learned all the tricks yet.

Peace and love to all of you, young and old-er. Continue to voice your opinions the rest of the day. I have a protest to attend and won't be back until the evening. I'll catch up with you then.


Maxine Davis said...


Yea!!! for you!!! Make room for me on that soapbox. Of course if I exhale, the others will fall off...

I really did not know that the book companies did not go for older heroines until lately. I thought people just hadn't thought to write about them. One reason my next was/IS scheduled to be about an older woman who, what else, finds love! It does happen and I think (more mature) people would read it. I know I would!!

Thanks CiCi.

J Perry Stone said...

I'm totally in with the older heroines. In fact, I have reverse age-discrimination. All my friends are older heroines because those are the women I find most interesting.

The only thing interesting about youth is ...

Wait a minute. It'll come to me.

So a resounding YES. I'd write one; I'd read one.

Dianna Love said...

CiCi -
I think you got someone who might not be up to speed on the publishing industry. There is a market for older heroines and I really don't see 38 as being yet in that category so, again, I think your judge was off base. I would never have said that in a critique for a contest or otherwise. Her job as a judge was to tell you what worked or did not work in your story, not the age that was acceptable for a protagonist. This is when I get annoyed at some judges.

If your protagonist was "acting" old or unwilling to show any backbone or moping around about her age - then the judge should be specific about how the character was hard to engage with or point out places to improve that character. But to make a blanket statement that your heroine is too old is wrong - IMO. I would venture to say you'll find books with older heroines released this year. I can't say where or from which house because I don't know all the lines each house puts out or what types of heroines each editor accepts AND neither does that judge.

Toss that contest feedback in the corner and focus on making your story shine then research until you find the agents and houses where your book will fit.

Just for the record, I have a story about a woman in her late forties (it's a stand alone, not part of a series) I want to write that I would not spend what precious little time I have available on if there was such a rule. It IS a romance and I WILL write that book when I have time.

Give them a story they can't put down and prove that judge wrong.

TerriOsburn said...

Geez, I'll be 38 in a few months. That's too old? Really? And I'm single too. Damn, I'm doomed.

I recently read an older Crusie book with a 40 yr old heroine. She fell for a 30 yr old hero. I loved it. Today, our pirate blog is hosting Hank Phillippi Ryan whose series heroine is in her mid-40s. Seems to be working for her.

Another reason so many contest comments should be ignored. Gah!

Tami Brothers said...

I love it!!! I can totally see you ladies standing there burning your bras!!! I, of course, would be off to the side taking the photo...grin... (my momma told me never to go braless in public, so I'd better listen to one rule she tried to teach me...)

Great post, Cici! And great comments. As someone looming awefully close to the 4 - 0 mark, I've hunted for stories about the over 40 heroine. Thanks, Terri, for mentioning these authors and stories. I'm definitely going to hunt them down and read them. Maybe learn a thing or two...

Have a good one!


EC Spurlock said...

Let's all get up on the soapbox with CiCi! I know the romance didn't go out of my marriage just because we hit the half-century mark (God, that DOES make me sound old!) And I too married a younger man, but only by about 18 months.

Jude Deveraux writes some wonderful "mature" heroines. So did Georgette Heyer, especially when she became "mature" herself. My personal favorite of her novels, "The Talisman Ring", has two sets of lovers, one a young couple thrown together in intrigue and the other their thirty-something chaperones. It's a wonderful contrast watching the young ones' overblown romantic drama while the chaperones roll their eyes and quietly, romantically bond while saving their charges from themselves.

My current WIP has both a mature hero and a mature heroine. They have both been through some hard times but find redemption and a revival of their youthful hopeful outlooks in each other. My son's teenage girlfriends still are able to relate to and root for the heroine, and they still think the hero is hot, just because of his snarky sense of humor and unexpected gallantry. I think a well-written character is relatable at any age. Although I'm marketing this as adventure/fantasy rather than romance; don't know whether that will affect its reception.

CiCi Barnes said...

Yea! It sounds pretty unanimous so far, adding Maxine, J, Dianna, Terri, Tami, and EC to the soapbox. I think we're going to need a larger platform.

I do have to agree with you, Dianna. I'm not paying any attention to that judge. I liked my 38-year-old heroine just fine and didn't turn back the clock for her even one day. Thanks for the encouragement.

And thanks to one and all for standing up for the mature heroine in your reading and writing.

Love is everywhere, and aren't we lucky that it is.


Cyrano said...

Bravo Cici!!!!!
I agree with you whole heartedly. There's absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing wrong with an older heroine.
And are you kidding me? 38 too old?
I'm 38 dog gone it and I feel young and vivacious and...yes, I'll say it, SEXY.
I know I'm pushing forty and guess what, I don't care. In fact, I embrace my age. I wouldn't go back to 30...or even 20 for that matter. I had a great younger life, a great upbringing, but I love being me right now. I love being 38.
So I say, Poo to that judge.
One more time with a little more umph, Poooo Poooo to that judge!!!!
Re-submit that manuscript Cici, because I just know there are smarter people out there who embrace the more mature heroine with as much gusto as we do.
Great post!
Have a lovely, over 30 evening,

Anna Steffl said...

Man, 38 too old. Crazy.

The age thing in romance (and I think the romance genre might be the worst about age discrimination), is going to have to change. It already is in other media.The most compelling characters on series like Boston Legal were the older ones. Lots of women in their 40's still hanging on as actresses. I want to see that creep up higher and higher!

Great post as always, Cici.

Barbara Monajem said...

I'll read a heroine of any age. There's a short story by Georgette Heyer where the heroine (a widow in her late thirties) thinks the hero wants to marry her daughter, and she's unaccountably depressed about it... because (she realizes) she's actually in love with him herself. Lovely story, and one of my favorites. I was probably in my teens when I read it, and I was rooting for a heroine who (at the age I was then) seemed really old... but it never occurred to me that she was too old to find love.

Cyrano said...

Hey Barbara,
I'm gonna look that story up and read it.
I'm glad you mentioned it.

Jill Sorenson said...

One of my favorite Linda Howard books (Kiss Me While I Sleep) has a late 30s heroine. Very sexy. Hero same age.

I guess my preference is for under 35. Maybe because I'm that age? I also like the possibility for babies in the HEA. : )

Nicki Salcedo said...

I haven't read a book recently when the heroine was under 30. This is for any genre and especially romance. 38 is not too old.

I can remember reading a Julie Garwood in high school and the heroine was just 1 or 2 years older than me and it grossed me out. Either the heroine was too mature for her age or I was too immature! Thanks, Cici!