Today I am pleased to welcome Irene Vartanoff, author of women’s fiction series The Selkirk Family Ranch and Temporary Superheroine. Irene is here to discuss her writing, and how she shows that there’s more to the life of a woman than just finding her Happily Ever After. Thanks for being here, Irene!
I’ve been a romance fan since I was a teenager, and when I started writing novels I fully expected romances were what I would write. Imagine my surprise when I found myself also writing stories about middle-aged women. No beating around the bush and making them thirty-nine years old, either; these are frankly mature women in their fifties who are widowed, or happily never married, or—heavens!—still married, who do experience romance, but at a time in their lives when love isn’t the first thing on their minds. My women’s fiction characters have plenty of serious issues to occupy the forefront of their thoughts, such as job loss, long-held secrets, adultery, family estrangement, cancer, dementia, hoarding, alcoholism—the list goes on.
Women’s fiction as a subgenre is a catchall for any kind of story that doesn’t hew to the narrow definitions of a contemporary romance—specifically, that the story must concentrate on exactly two youngish people who are looking for a life mate. The kind of women’s fiction I write has lots of main characters. Some of them do not get a Happy Ever After ending. There are old people, and teenagers, and neighbors, and more. Friends and relatives may take up a lot of space in the story or even have their own point-of-view thread throughout. The main thrust of the story is a woman’s rediscovery of herself at a juncture in life when she has already done a lot of living. I like to show more than one take on it by having multiple characters that choose different paths. It makes for an interesting stew.
In my women’s fiction stories, the most urgently pressing problems get solved, and at the very least, my characters gain more self-knowledge, find some balance, and learn to cope better than they have in the past. But often, the underlying issues can’t be solved. Why write about these kinds of problems? Because the rich texture of adult life includes loss and failure as well as joy. I love the sheer ecstasy of romance, but I also love the happiness my older heroines achieve despite the curves life throws at them—or even because they rise to the challenge of those unexpected issues.
In my latest women’s fiction release, A Daughter’s a Daughter, I have multiple characters, both female and male, and in three generations. My main character is the sandwiched middle-aged daughter and mother, who is trying to cope with her job loss, her estrangement from her daughter, and her sudden realization that old age is making her mother vulnerable as never before. Her mother, the oldest character, is in her high eighties. During the story it becomes apparent that she is losing her mental grasp on her affairs. Rather than relegate her condition to a minor character, I’ve made this redoubtable elderly woman a point-of-view character. That enriches the story with her memories of her family life during and after World War II, and with the mystery of a key event that happened shortly after of which only she knows the truth. It also shows just a little bit how the brain of a person with dementia can work. Since there’s no cure for dementia yet, her happy ending is at best going to be some arrangement that allows her to live out her remaining few years in the most comfortable manner possible. Her forthright attitude toward being elderly and toward the possibility of dying soon is also something seldom expressed in a romance by a major character. In a women’s fiction story, I can let main characters say more of their truths, even if those truths may be sad.
I also have fun with these stories. Usually, a young and attractive point-of-view character has pleasing personality traits. In a romance, she’s often a goody-two-shoes. My third heroine in A Daughter’s a Daughter is a young, selfish, self-centered bitch. She’s awful to her mother. She’s ambitious, she’s a user of people, and she also madly in love with her hottie coworker and desperately trying to keep a lid on her desire for him. She has a lot to learn, a ton of maturing to do, and the longer page count of a women’s fiction novel gives her a chance to make big mistakes and also to grow. Does she get a Happy Ever After ending? Does she deserve one? In a women’s fiction novel, the answer doesn’t have to be definitive. I can show how she grows and changes, and suggest what her next challenge may be.
You can see the appeal of writing—and reading—a women’s fiction novel. The arc of the main plot ends with a satisfying conclusion that shows a hopeful, upward path, and the very wide range of personalities, life choices, and serious issues creates a wonderful mix and a full writing and reading experience.
Here are two short excerpts from A Daughter’s a Daughter, showing some of the important threads of this women’s fiction tale:
Pam and Dorothy:
Dorothy held a framed photo, which she looked at searchingly in the strong light of the sunroom. She stared at the photo, sometimes touching the glass as if to caress the face of the woman in the picture.
Pam asked, “Who’s that?”
“My oldest friend, Greta. We volunteered at the same USO canteen.”
“The USO? That was the organization that entertained servicemen during the war, right? Wasn’t it kind of creepy, dancing with all those men you didn’t know?”
Dorothy smiled, remembering. “It was considered a bit fast of a girl to dance with strangers, but also patriotic. I enjoyed it. They were flattering, eager. I even kissed my share.”
“That was nothing. We got marriage proposals. Back then, most boys would have been ashamed to ask a decent girl for relations unless there was marriage involved. Some of them would soon die in combat and this was their last chance to touch or kiss a girl. We all knew it could happen to this boy or that boy. Would happen. Some girls married soldiers they hardly knew.”
“Marrying a boy you’d merely danced with a couple of times? Did you know anyone who did that?”
“Greta. She married Roger Dietrich after they met at a USO dance early in the war. He was shipped overseas and didn’t come back until after the war was over.”
“Did their marriage break up once they got to know each other?”
“She had a baby right away, and I know she was happy about it. I’m not sure Roger cared about the child, although back then most men weren’t interested in their babies until they learned to talk. Your father wasn’t, either.”
Reacting to Pam’s shocked expression, Dorothy laughed. “Oh, don’t give me that look. I’m not criticizing your father. Times were different then. Women did all the nurturing while the men supported the family.”
“Jeff was always interested in our babies,” Pam said.
“Decades later, when being a touchy-feely dad became fashionable. Caring for infants was not the manly thing to do in the 1940s and 1950s. Your father never changed a diaper. I was pregnant a lot then, too. I could have used his help.”
Linley and Jason:
She shifted in her seat. She could feel the heat of his body next to her. Sitting next to each other on the Amtrak train, they were physically closer than they had been in months. At no other time had they been this near to touching beyond the formal handshake that had almost slain her when she’d been hired.
Their bodies were within mere inches, from head to toe, for the first time in a year. They had always maintained a careful distance between them at production meetings, and of course her spot on the panel was separated from his by a couple of feet, for the camera’s convenience. Not today.
She could save herself a lot of angst if she simply turned in his direction right now and put the moves on him. Then they’d miss their broadcast for sure. They might even be thrown off the train, because if she started something, she wasn’t sure if she could stop. No, it was better to build up the anticipation. Let him suffer as long as possible. She shifted again in the seat, trying to dispel some of her sexual frustration. Who was suffering here?
Jason spoke quietly, so he wouldn’t be overheard by the other passengers. “If you don’t stop squirming, I’m going to march you into the restroom and we can renew our acquaintance there.”
That brought her head up in wonder. Jason’s desire was plain on his face. He nodded, acknowledging the pulse between them. “First we work, then we play.”
A Daughter’s a Daughter is available now from Amazon.
Award-winning author Irene Vartanoff combined her love of romances and comic books by working for Harlequin, Bantam, Berkley, My RomanceStory.com as well as Marvel Comics and DC Comics. The Selkirk Family Ranch series of sweet contemporary romances starts with Captive of the Cattle Baron, followed by Saving the Soldier. Tess’s story is in the works. Irene’s first superhero adventure novel, Temporary Superheroine, was quickly followed by a sequel, Crisis at Comicon. A third superhero adventure for Chloe is on its way. Irene’s women’s fiction novels to date are Summer in the City and A Daughter’s a Daughter, with more soon to be published.