That used to be the first column I read in Reader’s Digest, and I was almost invariably impressed with the person who had impacted the writer’s life so deeply. So who’s my most unforgettable character? Well…
I’ve read romantic fiction since before I really believed in romance, but even then I was a sucker for Happily Ever After, for empowered women, for a genre that said straight out, “Hey, you can be anything you want to be.” In that oh, many years’ worth of reading material, I’ve claimed a bunch of favorite heroines. Like these, in no particular order.
- Hattie Colfax in Pamela Morsi’s Courting Miss Hattie
- Sarah Merritt in LaVyrle Spencer’s Forgiving
- Curry James in Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s After All These Years
- Sayer Garth in Cheryl Reavis’s The Soldier’s Wife
- My own Grace Elliot in One More Summer
Well, my goodness, that certainly makes sense, doesn’t it. There’s almost certainly a pattern there. No, really, there is.
Curry’s my hands-down favorite heroine of all time. The tagline of the book begins like this: Curry James knew two things for certain: how to earn a living and how to cope with being left alone.
So? This is a romance. It’s not about her being alone or about her making a living owning the only paint store in Gleeson, South Dakota. It’s about her falling in love with Tom and living Happily Ever After.
Then there’s Hattie. Horseface Hattie. Her story’s not about a strong-willed, long-faced woman. It’s about Hattie falling in love with Reed and Living Happily Ever After.
Oh, Sarah Merritt. She published a newspaper in Deadwood and found out her beloved father was—oops, spoiler—and she was brave and strong and…. No? Her story’s not about that but about her falling in love with Noah and Living…never mind—you get my drift.
Sayer Garth has lost her husband, she has small children and just needs to survive. Grace Elliot has spent 33 years caring for everyone else and thinking she doesn’t deserve more than what she has. But the books are love stories, right?
This is romance—there are, thankfully, Happy Ever Afters all over the place. But the romance, even the HEA part, isn’t what makes my favorite characters my favorites. It’s that they all know those “two things for certain.” They can “earn a living”—no matter how far down life takes them, they take care of themselves and those they love. They can “cope with being left alone.” When the books ended, they were with with the men they loved, but they’d have been okay on their own.
I write and love romance, but I admit my reader’s heart is with women’s fiction. However, I think the best romances are women’s fiction in its truest and best form. I’m tickled to death that Hattie, Curry, Sarah, Sayer, and Grace got their happy endings and I really liked reading their love stories. But going along on the life’s journeys of women who earned their own way and were okay being alone—that was even better.