Five Reasons Why My New Release ‘At Your Service’ Is Important

Here are 5 reasons why my latest release At Your Service is important for women:

1. At Your Service breaks down ageist and sexist barriers that have allowed men to age, be adventurous, foxy, and paired with women 15-20 years younger while dismissing women over 40.

2. Portrays a strong, middle-aged female lead who is not an ageist stereotype or is typecast as a mother, wife, grandma, harpy, or crazy woman who lives in a van.

3. Portrays a middle-aged woman as intelligent, capable, attractive, sensual, and sexual.

4. Ageism is often overlooked as an issue of diversity. Young women will one day be older women. Positive, realistic representations of intelligent, capable, attractive, sensual, and sexual women over 40 create positive role models for younger women.

5. Sexism has rendered older women nearly invisible in all forms of media. The women over 40 in At Your Service get noticed.

Okay, so At Your Service is a romantic suspense cosy spy mystery thriller and how realistic is it to have a female butler join up with a British spy… Ah. Yes. You get it. Fiction. Content here creates the culture, the positive role model of a female butler, which is unusual role for a woman, AND the fact she’s middle-aged, intelligent, capable, attractive, sensual, and sexual IS the spin on the content and culture we’re SO used to seeing. Breaking down the barriers of sexism, ageism, stereotypes, and the sidelining of older women we’ve come to accept as the norm is not reality and it’s not fiction either.

The reality is, women over 40 are not invisible, but they have been miscast and have, for far too long, been left off screen and out of fiction. It’s my mission, so to speak, to challenge this, to change this, to give the world a positive portrayal of women over 40 and a role model for younger women AND men, one book at a time.

Seeking Role Models for Women Over 40 in TV and Romance Fiction

In the Hollywood Reporter, Inkoo Kang’s Critic’s Notebook: For Women Over 40, TV’s Feminism Is Flawed has interesting things to say on TV and the meaty roles for women over 40, but questions, like I do, why these women of a certain age remain bizarrely flawed and dysfunctional, why these women, more often than not, remain morally ambiguous, less-than-positive role models of older women. In other words, why women of a certain age are still cast as something wicked.

Kang, praises the inclusion of older women (as do I), yet points out that ‘Moral ambiguity is the currency of today’s prestige and middlebrow small-screen projects, and ethical transgressions can indeed make for a more compelling protagonist.” Kang also notes out how “There’s not a powerful and pure-hearted Buffy Summers, Dana Scully or Jane Villanueva among them,” and cautions “let’s not make the mistake of confusing goodness for a lack of complexity.” This confusion is where the danger lies because it relies on continuing to present older women as stereotyped cranky old ladies, kooks, and harpies.

On one hand, we have to applaud television’s inclusion of the older woman, since old broads have been invisible for so long. On the other hand, and yes there are a few TV series that offer positive, complex, moral-hearted representations and role models of women over 40 (Grace & Frankie, Madame Secretary, The Fall, The Night Manager), yet too many still rely on the stereotypes and assumptions about older women.

Which brings me to my usual plug for the older romance heroine. The 40+ romance heroine is perfectly placed to combat the confusion, the moral ambiguity, the stereotyping. Yes, it’s time for 40+ romance heroines to step in and BE models of strength and poise, to BE valued for their potential, to BE powerful, ‘powerful, pure-hearted,’ and complex, not merely bizarrely flawed and dysfunctional. After all, Romance fiction has been at the forefront of social change for women for decades–but romance publishers have been a little…intractable with seeing women 40+ as viable romantic leads (because falling in love only happens to young women and sex over 40 is icky), or as a valuable money-making audience. Romance publishers are beginning, slowly, to come around. Like television has.

The key to changing the biases we have, and changing the stereotypes fiction and Hollywood clings to is, as Kang suggests (and I shout), offering NEW tales featuring women of a certain age, and presenting these women as something to aspire to be. We need to re-train our brains to accept a new status quo.

One last note. It may be my imagination, but I think the UK is frequently better at NOT relying on and challenging the portrayal of older women as kooky, dysfunctional stereotypes in TV and film roles.

Kang, I. (2017, June 13). Critic’s Notebook: For Women Over 40, TV’s Feminism Is Flawed. The Hollywood Reporter.  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/critic-s-notebook-women-40-tv-s-feminism-is-flawed-1012782 

Loving the Beast: Or What I Learned From Loving the Villain

Luke Evans as Gaston. I approve.im-such-a-bad-boy

Everyone thinks the story Beauty and the Beast is about Belle and the Beast, a cursed prince, but really it’s about Gaston’s ability to expectorate, decorate with antlers, and his slide into hell.

You can keep your pure-hearted heroines and heroes. I’ve always liked fairy tale villains best. Villains give a better example of what it means to be truly human. Villains face or ignore their own shortcomings. Villains illustrate the concept of free will. Villains demonstrate human frailty, human morality. Villains illuminate how to and how not to behave if one wants to be loved, accepted, and admired. We learn more about ourselves from the villain’s actions than we do from the heroine’s or hero’s actions.

Heroines and heroes can be kind of boring, particularly if they are all goody-goody, principled types. Why I think Cinderella is boring as dry grass is that I never learned anything from her, and I never learned anything from Sleeping Beauty, from The Little Mermaid, or Snow White either—other than if you’re pretty people hate you. But I learned plenty from the evil stepmother, nasty stepsisters, and The Evil Queens: If you do something mean it will, eventually, bite you on the ass and lead to your downfall.

Best to avoid being mean.

I love a well-fleshed out villain, but what I love even more is a character who has villainous traits. For me, what makes Mr Rochester far more interesting than Mr High Morals Darcy is that Rochester has a secret, a screaming wraith of a secret that makes him deceitful. The secret is in the attic and it very nearly ruins him. What do we learn from Rochester’s villainous behavior?

Polygamy is bad and don’t keep secrets from the woman you love.

queen2Naturally, my love for a bit o’ badness points to the usual discussion about ‘niceness,’ as in how the leads, particularly the female lead in a romance novel, must be ‘nice,’ never nasty or bitchy, which points to the double standard discussion about how women ‘ought to behave,’ and how older women have been maligned for centuries, which points to a discussion on social mores blah, blah…

I want more female leads in romance fiction to be villainous, to have villainous traits the way Scarlett O’Hara and Rochester do. While Scarlett’s behavior in Gone With The Wind would never be questioned if she had been a man, she is, like Rochester, a perfect example of how good people, men and women, do bad things to protect what they love.

Yes, that is what I learned from Scarlett O’Hara and Mr Rochester.

What I learned from fairy tales wasn’t be pretty, be tidy, kiss frogs because they may be princes. My education came from the villains. I learned to never pretend to be something I wasn’t because that would get me shut up in a cask stuck with nails and dragged through the streets. I leaned to never be wicked to others because that would get me shut up in a vat with poisonous snake and then boiled in oil. I learned to be happy and grateful for what I have because, like the materialistic fisherman’s wife, I could lose it all in a flash, and its only ‘stuff.’

In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston’s utter ruin teaches us how to be human far better than the Beast does when he is transformed by love. Gaston’s transformation from man into a real hellish beast shows us that the villains are the true teachers in fairy tales and in life.

Older Broads Are The New Box-Office Powerhouses. Are You Listening Romance Publishers?

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

As part of the ongoing expansion of The “Mature” Content Stockpile of articles regarding women and age on this website, I keep track of news and other items I can add to the stockpile. When I came across this fab piece by Mark Harris from NY Mag over at Vulture you know I fist bumped myself, and OH YEAH MAMA-ed while I jumped all my about my kitchen. I was so loud, so exuberant, the builder installing insulation in my garage called out to to make sure I hadn’t hurt myself.

The article is titled Actresses Over 60 Are the New Box-Office Powerhouses.  As I read, the line that first stood out is pretty much what I soapbox about on a regular basis. Harris mentions “society’s tendency to write off older women as dear little “characters” without passions or aspirations of their own.” Then Harris goes on to discuss a 1968 study in Hollywood that examined the age demographics of film-goers.  It’s that paragraph that truly hits home; it’s what I say about a certain overlooked demographic of romance readers with an appetite for a certain overlooked subgenre of romance fiction–the Older Romance, Mature Romance, Mid-Adult Romance, Seasoned Romance, Contemporary Adult Romance. 

The audience is real, and so is its appetite. And those who get it — who don’t simply view this particular group of movie lovers as the “about to die” demographic — may, a few years hence, look like very smart early adapters. In 1968, well before demographics were a subject of serious discussion at the studios, Variety reported the results of a study that showed 48 percent of American moviegoers were 24 or younger. For the middle-aged men who then ran Hollywood and thought they were making movies for themselves, the news was revelatory. Baby-boomers — the pig in the python — were coming of age, and over the next 15 years, the way movies were conceived, made, and marketed would undergo a revolution as a result. Now, almost 50 years later, that demographic is coming of old age, and making itself heard again. And if anyone wants it, they’ve still got money to spend. —(Harris, 1 Aug 2016)

Did you notice that first line Early adapters are smart?

Did you notice the last line? That last line means I have to rewrite a small part of an academic paper I am presenting at the upcoming University of Love conference in Adelaide, Australia. My paper is titled The (Saggy) Bottom Line: Women of a Certain Age and Romance Fiction. I have to include what Harris says alongside what a few other studies and authors note. That last line is a big fat flag I wave when I’m on my soapbox, a big fat signpost that is being overlooked by the publishers of romance fiction.

In case you missed it, because romance publishers miss it, so it must be easy to miss, that big fat signpost is MONEY.

I’ve said it before, I say it in my paper presentation, and I’ll say it here again, There is a demographic of romance fiction readers  who MATCH this demographic of film-goers, and this demographic wants romance fiction that reflects the reality of their lives, not some hackneyed stereotyped bullshit about how a woman over 40 is dead below the waist, or, as Harris mentions, are people who buy “adult diapers and medic-alert systems and sit in their adjustable beds leaning forward with ear horns to make sure they hear the list of dangerous side effects in the commercials.”

This demographic wants romance fiction with heroes and HEROINES who are whole, intelligent, vibrant, active, sexual human beings, not diaper-wearing crazy, cat-loving, dried-up-old grannies with walkers. This demographic of romance reader wants a romance heroine who is like any romance heroine, only she just happens to be older. This demographic of romance reader is trying to make itself heard, and they have money to spend.

This Demographic HAS MONEY TO SPEND! What are you romance publishers waiting for? Early adapters WIN! Romance has been the Early Adapter of so many social changes regarding women– until now, and the industry is missing this goldmine right in front of them.

Thanks to Mark Harris for making me have to rewrite a small section my paper. I have to include this article because he’s given me more evidence that the romance publishing industry is overlooking a goldmine.

Next to You and An Introvert on Book Release Day

NextToYou_V1_FINAL Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022It’s BOOK RELEASE DAY for Next to You

This is the point where there are a choice of ways for me to react. Let’s examine them and break them down.

I could have a Book Launch Brunch, except… As much as I LOVE the breakfast-lunch amalgam that allows others to imbibe and relax with alcohol whilst I get hyped-up on caffeine, I’m an introvert who hates parties where there are more than six people, and no one, except me, would get up and boogie to the Partridge Family’s I Woke Up In Love This Morning from William Murphy’s Bubblegum pop classics playlist if there’s hollandaise, coffee, and booze.

I could be obsessive and check my sales rank on Amazon, today and tomorrow because it’s July 25th here in Australia, but not yet in the UK or North America. However, Amazon boggles my mind and means nothing much at all to me, except for the fact that I’ll eventually get a royalty statement showing that I made enough money from selling a few copies of Next to You to allow me to buy three to ten cups of coffee.Antonellicoffe

Those three-to ten cups of coffee—OH WHAT JOY!!

It’s a proud moment and I’d like to burst into my favourite local café and shout COFFEE FOR EVERYONE, which, for me is the equivalent of popping a cork on something, tossing confetti and SQUEEEING and stuff…except that introvert, more-than-six people thing again, and I SQUEE better on paper. So I’m gonna go to my favourite local café and continue writing my new book at my favourite table in the corner, and have 2 cups of coffee that, thanks to my readers, my royalties have allowed me to buy. And coffee OH WHAT JOY!

I’m really, really incredibly happy to have William Murphy and Caroline finally meet and have you meet them. Thank you for sharing this moment with me and, well, if you happen to stop by and see me at my favourite café, know that I am truly enjoying the coffee you bought me when you bought my book. 

Pop Goes the Culture Breakfast At Tiffany’s Club

writingSometimes I get together with my writerly-type friends and we talk about writing advice we’ve been given. You non-writerly types have probably heard the cliché “write what you know.” There’s also the gem “write the book you want to read.”

I admit there are times adhere to one or both of those little pearls of ‘wisdom’ without noticing–until someone points it out to me. For instance, pop culture, I’m full of it, and so are my books. My novels are chock full of pop culture references to songs, TV shows, movies, books, public and fictional figures.  The characters I write, William Murphy from Next to You in particular, are all jam-packed and bursting wiNextToYou_V1_FINAL Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022th pop culture goodness. I write books that way because that’s what I know.

Of course I didn’t realise this was what I did until my publisher said I was “The smart-talking, quip-cracking, pop-culture addicted author” that I really noticed my books are chock-full of pop culture references.

It seems I can’t help myself. I cram pop culture into my books because pop culture is sorta ingrained in my life.  I bet it’s ingrained in your life too. Pop culture is familiar, everyday. Some see it as superficial, consumerist, and silly, but it’s the mainstream and has been since the last part of the 20th century. Pop culture has an impact, whether you want it to or not.

The interesting thing about pop culture is how it crosses generations. Things that were hot and popular in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s–from rock and roll, Elvis, Leave it to Beaver, The Beatles, John Lennon, Hippies, Woodstock, Vietnam, I Dream of Jeannie, Watergate, The Brady Bunch, Charlie’s Angles, Punk, Disco, “Greed is Good,” Thatcherism, The Simpsons, Reaganism, Grunge, multiculturalism, Tiananmen Square and on and on, have had a cultural impact. Those people, moments, movements, TV shows and music have become part of western culture daily life, instantly recognisable, even if one wasn’t alive when those things came into being.

I’m from a generation sliver between Baby Boomers and GenX, a generation that someone, way back in 2004, referred to as ‘Cuspers.’ I don’t quite identify with either generation (See here and here for more on Cuspers), but being in between two generations means I am privy the pop cultural influences of both, and perhaps this is why William Murphy enjoys TV shows Baby Boomers watched AND has such an unshakable love for 60s and 70s Bubblegum pop music. This is what I know.

TigerbeatThe sad thing of it is, that no matter how I wrote about what I knew, no matter that I wrote a book I wanted to read, I couldn’t figure out a way to make Will a fan of reading Tiger Beat magazine.

Next to You is available for pre-order now and hits stores on 25 July!

I Can See Clearly Now: Next to You and How Come You Did That?

Here’s the question I’ve been asked the most about my upcoming release Next to You:

“Why an a hero with albinism, Sandra?”LittleWill

My answer? Contact lenses and an old friend.

I wear hard contact lenses and I have a very fair-skinned dear friend who wore an eye patch when he was a kid. That’s him over there.

Yeah, yeah, how cute and all, but what’s that kid got to do with a hero with albinism?

Know how what you see isn’t always what you get, and how looks are deceiving, and that love is blind? I’m myopic (near sighted or shortsighted if you prefer). I also have astigmatism plus, being middle aged, presbyopia. Soft contacts won’t correct my crappy vision. A soft lens won’t sit properly because my astigmatism is too severe. Glasses don’t even give me great distance acuity. Rigid contacts, however, correct my vision quite nicely. Fortunately, rigid gas permeable contacts are a special order item that last a long time, Unfortunately they’re not cheap. The thing is, NextToYou_V1_Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022twelve years ago, when I wrote Next to You, which was then titled A Simple Overexposure (if you read the book you’ll pick where I got that title), I needed new contacts, and it was getting difficult to find an optometrist to fit them and keep the cost under $400.

Being such a tightwad back then, I went online to find companies that manufactured hard contacts, so I could purchase them directly—cheaper than I could from my $400 a pair optometrist. What happened during my search for cheaper is that I came across an article discussing hard contact lenses and vision correction in people with albinism. The article mentioned the use of an eye patch for amblyopia and strabismic amblyopia. Immediately, I thought of that fair-skinned, eye-patch-wearing kid up there, my dear friend, whose name happens to be Will—or The Dread Pirate Will, as he asked to be called in return for letting me use his photo in this post.

lens

maikel_nai via StoolsFair / CC BY

After some fond memories of Will, ones that involved us fake sumo wrestling and going to Monty Python film festivals, I found myself nerding out, reading more about vision conditions like strabismus and nystagmus–eye conditions people with albinism often have.

Then, I nerded out even more and began reading more and more about albinism, about the myths, the stigmatisation, and the stereotypes so often associated with the condition. In a bizarre way the stigmatisation and stereotypes reminded me of the way women of a certain age are stigmatised and stereotyped. I thought how stereotypes are, at their very root, a vision problem that can’t be corrected with contacts or an eye patch.

Suddenly, I had this image of middle-aged man with albinism; it was William Murphy, the suit-wearing, bubble-gum pop-loving hero of Next to You, and I knew there was more to this Will than meets the eye.

Five minutes after seeing Will’s image, I saw Caroline, a middle-aged, introverted, movie-loving  heroine who isn’t exactly what she seems—because what you see isn’t always what you get, looks are deceiving, and love is blind.

Kind of like me without my contacts or glasses.

 

Next to You is out 25 July. You can preorder it now, from all the usual places:

Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay All Romance