Monday, March 14, 2011


by Anna DePalo

Contemporary romances have reflected women's lives. A few decades ago, heroines had traditional female professions: nurse, teacher or secretary. Today, in contrast, the field is wide open. But as women's lives have become more complex, diverse and rapidly changing, it's also become more difficult to hold up a mirror to them in fiction. What to do?

I think many writers would say that they want to create a heroine with whom their readers can empathize, if not identify. On the flip side, they don’t want a heroine who will alienate readers. But with water cooler conversations ranging from “the mommy wars” to “I don’t know how she does it” to “the end of men” (the titles of a non-fiction book, fictional work and magazine article, respectively, in the past several years), it’s hard to find common ground.

I've dealt with this issue while writing short contemporary romances for Silhouette (now Harlequin) Desire by creating heroines who are entrepreneurs and small business owners. It's a path with which I'm familiar and comfortable, being a small business owner myself as a self-employed writer. By 2005, it has been estimated there were 10.1 million private firms in the U.S. that were majority-owned by women. For many women, it’s the ultimate (fantasy) in freedom and control. Not counting the hero, of course.  ;-p

For example, in my current release from Silhouette Desire, ONE NIGHT WITH PRINCE CHARMING, out this month, Pia Lumley is a self-employed wedding planner who organizes the nuptials of the Duke of Hawkshire’s younger sister.

In my previous “aristocratic grooms” book for Desire, HIS BLACK SHEEP BRIDE, Tamara Kincaid is a self-employed jewelry designer. And while my last book in the series (out in November) doesn’t have a small business owner, it does have a heroine who operates rather independently. Belinda Wentworth is an art specialist at a Sotheby’s-like auction house who regularly travels for business and deals one-on-one with her own clients.

I don’t need to look any further than Kate Middleton and Prince William to support my position. Reflecting our rapidly changing world, Kate is from relatively “humble” stock. A generation or two ago, she would not have been considered a suitable consort for the second in line to the throne (similar to Pia Lumley and the Duke of Hawkshire in ONE NIGHT WITH PRINCE CHARMING). But (stay with me here), Kate’s mother started a party supplies business and in the process became wealthy enough to send Kate to boarding school and then to the University of St. Andrews, where she met Prince William (ta-da!). (By the way, I’m grateful to Prince William and Kate Middleton for breathing new life into the concept of marrying prince charming when I’ve written a trio of books about aristocratic grooms. :-p)

What do you think? How would you create an empathetic heroine? What kind of woman do you like to read about?♥

Click here to read an excerpt.

Anna DePalo is a writer and small business owner, a mommy and wife, and a reader and a friend. Needless to say, she believes in cloning. A former practicing intellectual property attorney, she lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, son and daughter. Visit her at


  1. Yes, our lives--and our heroines' lives--are indeed more complex than they used to be! That's why I especially like to read about contemporary heroines who struggle with all the juggling they have to do while trying to "have it all"--but undergo the struggle while maintaining a great sense of humor that helps them keep it all in perspective.