Old Habits

Since our perceptions about ‘old’ and growing older change, and we clue in to just how much bullshit is wrapped up in advertising ‘selling us a dream’ and telling us, women over the age of 40 in particular, that we ‘no longer matter,’ isn’t it time to challenge what we perceive as ‘old’ and how we depict age and ageing, to remove the stigma and fear? We, all of us, need to challenge, to change, to knockout negative depictions of aging in advertising, in films, television, fiction, all very powerful forces in shaping culture, that are utterly ageist because ageism is detrimental to us all, even more so if you are female.

Why is it so many of us fear getting older? Often, we treat antiques as items of great value and take care to look after them, yet rather than treat older people as valuable, we have come to ridicule and devalue them, older women in particular. Adding fire to fear is how we see ageing as a disease to combat. Girls and young women are bombarded by the message that getting older is a horrible road paved with ugliness and decline. As a result, we’re too afraid to face the skewed reality we’ve been told is true, when it’s nothing but a con.

If our primary goal in life is to, well, STAY ALIVE, seemingly as long as possible, why then do we see living a long life that changes our faces and bodies along the way as something shameful, ugly, and diseased?

Habit. Laziness. Because the stereotypes of age and ageism are so pervasive and accepted.

I often discuss stereotypes of women and age. I fully understand that stereotypes are a shorthand route to creating a character. I say dumb blonde Barbie or redneck and I bet it conjures up very specific images. The shorthand of stereotypes are a convenient way to contextualise accomplishments and standardise expectations, but the shorthand is reductive, usually faulty, and often comes with fixed meanings that people assign to it, which causes us to reduce people to labels like dumb blonde Barbie, redneck, or old coot. Age is a characteristic, not an attribute that defines a person. The depiction of older people as decrepit, pathetic, useless, as a crone, old coot, or geezer isn’t something that connects us with our future selves; it creates dread and denial of a natural process of life, it creates a multi-billion dollar industry that bombards us with reminders to fear and fight ageing, which in turn serves to devalue and dread our future selves.

When it comes to advertising, Cindy Gallop notes, “little nuance in the way age is portrayed,” there’s an either or with “beautiful blonde-haired, white-haired, blue-haired, gorgeous older people walking on the beach in the sunset…or ridiculously comical parodies and caricatures of older people.” There’s not a lot of ethnic or cultural diversity, not a great deal of products aimed directly at men the way anti-ageing products target women, nothing geared toward the older LGBTIQ community. Older people have the income, have the money to spend, but there is little to reflect this in advertising the products aimed at adults growing older. It’s about retirement communities, arthritis pain relief, funeral insurance, anti-ageing creams.

When it comes to films and television shows depicting older people, change is slow, particularly in romance fiction. I write about that often. I rant about it often. There have been some changes in Hollywood, even a little bit in romance fiction with the growing visibility of Seasoned Romance, and thank heaven for that. However, something I’ve noticed is that a number of films and TV shows with older leads, still treat being older as a joke, or treat ageing almost like another character present in the room. Invariably, someone points out that age is in the room with a well-timed, “really, at your age?” or there’s a scene with erectile dysfunction and Viagra, like in Book Club, where older women reading Fifty Shades of Grey is subversive and changes their lives. Age ceases to be a mere characteristic of a character as the focus shifts to stereotypes of decline and disease, on things older people ‘don’t do’ anymore, rather than keeping the spotlight on the story-telling of say, two older people finding love and sex again later in life, as in Our Souls At Night, which showed the romantic awkwardness and expectations of two people who just happened to be older—the awkwardness and expectations not really so different to younger people.

This could just be my bugbear, a thing that disappoints me, but it is something I’ve noticed and something that can spoil a story for me. I may even be guilty of it myself because I am so hellbent at making sure readers know my heroines are older, but I think, and I could be wrong here, that I don’t use a sledge hammer to do it, and I don’t make age a character in the room. I’ve written two books where I never specifically state the heroine’s age. Willa, in For Your Eyes Only and Mae the butler of my In Service series are both 50-ish—okay, Mae’s age is revealed—in one short statement that appears in Italian, but I chose to keep the exact ages of those heroines hidden. My characters get on with the story without bumping into those age stereotypes or jokes. Age is a characteristic of my leads, not an attribute that defines them.

Is it so hard to tell a tale without having arrows constantly pointing to the chronological age? No, it’s not. Stories unfold and develop with all kinds of characteristics becoming an unnecessary factor to the story-telling. When a story is well-written and executed, age, like a character’s eye color, fades into the background; we no longer notice the bright blue eyes, unless they are bright blue for some very important reason that impacts the story. What do you think?

Am I miles off base? Is age REALLY that important to tell a story?

 

 

 

Right Before Your Eyes Only

Know how it was just Easter and you just ate all those chocolate Easter eggs?

Perhaps you may still be hunting for chocolate Easter eggs, or maybe now you’re after calorie-free Easter eggs to make up for  all the chocolate you ate, and if you are, let me tell you the In Service series is chock-full of calorie-free Easter eggs. CHOCK FULL.

And by “Easter eggs,” I mean Easter eggs of the meta kind, and by meta I mean the inside jokes, little nods to spy fiction and film, to well-known characters, to familiar tropes and cliches that run across the spy and romance genre. If you look, you can find them. Some are obvious. Some aren’t. Some are buried. Some are very, very subtle. Some are a running wink to a good-natured battle I have with a shallow-reading librarian friend named Vassiliki. Some show a connection between characters in Forever in Your Service and one of my earlier books, another seasoned romance, one not many have read.

Yeah, I mean the one I wrote for part of my doctoral work, the one that has a 50-ish peanut-butter-loving nuclear physicist heroine who’s solving a mystery with a local hot detective, while carrying out work as an FBI mole, the one with the cover that makes me shudder, the one that, at my publisher’s request, I had to change the title of to something that’s, well,  um… well… kind of a joke in itself that, like eating too much chocolate, which proves not all Easter eggs are a smart choice.

But they sure are fun.

At Your Service is available as a paperback and ebook

Forever in Your Service is available as an ebook

The origin short story, Your Sterling Service, is available as an ebook

For Your Eyes Only (yes, I KNOW) is available in paperback and and as an ebook

 

 

Introduction to an Old Character

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

The Pink Heart Society’s May newsletter discusses romance fiction with older heroines, and asks, as I do, if the romance genre thinks love has an age limit. The newsletter features interviews with Dee Ernst, Amanda Ward, Liz Flaherty, Morgan Malone and the Pink Heart Society’s (PHS) editor, Trish Wylie—all romance authors who place women of certain age front and centre of romance. It’s exciting to know I am not alone in being passionate in my desire to stamp out ageism and sexism.

Why is it exciting?

An Introduction (for you newbies)

Hi, I’m Sandra Antonelli. I write older romance heroines—silver foxy women over 40 as the lead characters, not as secondary characters, and not as protagonists in Women’s Fiction, but as the romantic leads. I represent this demographic of women and demographic of romance readers who want female heroines with all my heart, and I am passionate about continuing to do so.

If this is your first time reading one of my posts, and you don’t know, mature-aged romance heroines are my soapbox. Check out the Mature Content Stockpile tab for just how much soapboxing I do. There are many reports in the media discussing sexism and ageism in Hollywood, but there’s very little media dialogue on ageism and sexism in romance fiction. Strange, because there is such a parallel in the way women of a certain age are pigeon-holed in stereotyped roles (cougar, granny, witch, crazy cat lady) or rendered nearly invisible in both forms of entertainment. This really chaps my hide.

Years ago, before Harlequin’s NEXT line, which touted stories about women with a little more life experience, I went looking for older romance heroines and found next to nothing. So, I decided to write my own, thinking the world would catch up. I kept writing older protagonists in romance, and, like Liz Flaherty mentions in the PHS newsletter, I got curious about why there were only a handful to be found. I did a master’s degree and then a PhD on the subject to try to get to the core. The masters uncovered the demographic of reader looking for older romance heroines, the PhD examined why the demographic is overlooked. And in the mix of all that academic stuff, I kept on writing romance with older heroines AND heroes because no way was I going to be like Hollywood and let the hero be an older Bruce Willis-type while the heroine was 25 to 35-something. My books were published by Escape, a division of Harlequin Enterprises in ebook format—because ebooks are a little more open to taking a chance on something with a niche market, or outside the norm.

I have four books that sit outside the romance heroine age norm: A Basic Renovation, For Your Eyes Only, Driving in Neutral, and Next to You, as well as short stories Your Sterling Service, and Niagara Falls at Café Nixin the anthology It All Happened at Café Nix. I have more on the way. You can find links to all my books here.

Knowing that there are other books outside the norm besides my own, that I’m not the only one writing older romance heroines, that Dee Ernst, Amanda Ward, Liz Flaherty, Morgan Malone, Karen Booth, Josie Kerr, Maggie Wells, Natasha Moore, and the Seasoned Romance Facebook page with over 600 members of authors (and readers) are also writing heroines with life experience and–gasp–wrinkles shows that older equals OH HELL YES!

Can You Predict the Future?

Yeah, you guessed it! I’ll write romance, blog, tweet, post on Facebook, and do academic-type stuff on women of a certain age in romance, and I’ll keep on championing  until we’re not a stereotype of age, a niche market, or a trend.

I applaud you ballsy authors who, like me, want to show the entire world, not just the romance world or Hollywood, that foxy doesn’t end at forty.

That’s My Job

book-2The other day, over coffee in a café with a writer friend who lives around the corner from me, the topic turned from our writing to the great mystery of promotion and the elusive magical unicorn that leads readers to your books. We discussed when your new book comes out strong, gets well-reviewed, and then…slips into something like a zombie-like state where sales shuffle along, taking an occasional bite here and there. My friend and I wondered how much promo can you do for yourself, how can you market your work and get it noticed, get it ‘discovered’ without being annoying or spending a fuckton of money by hiring a marketing & PR firm.

Fun fact: Did you know fuckton is a now a standard unit of measurement?

The two of us talked and talked — and didn’t come up with any answers, had no suggestions to make, and we went back to sitting side by side drinking coffee, wearing headphones and writing. Because that’s what we do. We meet,we write, and drink coffee.

book1Like my friend, I’ve followed the advice I’ve been given, done blog tours, sent my books out for reviews, peddled my publications on Facebook, Twitter, Wattpad, Pinterest, in newspapers and local magazines, and radio, on my website, on other’s websites. I’ve gone to conferences, presented workshops and papers, and my books continue shuffling along. What I can say is that, while we spent quite some time discussing what to do, I don’t worry about my books doing a zombie shuffle. I set my focus on writing books. I write because THAT’S MY JOB.

I will be totally honest. I don’t write to make money. You may call bullshit on this, but  I have a great life and I do not define myself as a human being by the amount of dough my books do or do not bring in. As a pragmatist, I know this business is a crapshoot, that there are a shit-ton (slightly smaller than a fuckton) of writers and books out there, and very, very, very few make any real sort of money from the work. Making lotsa money would be nice and I’ll admit that royalties are kinda awesome, mostly because they keep me able to sit in a café, drink coffee and write, but as pleased as hell as I am when someone reads my work and buys me another cup of coffee, I do not write my books FOR anyone other than myself. I’m my own audience. And I know what I like

I started writing because I couldn’t find what I wanted to read, which, by now, all of you probably know that’s stories with women over 40 as the lead. Some of you out there happen to like what I like, and like what I write, and that’s totally bitchin’! Thank you for buying me coffee!

While my next two books continue my placing a 40+ woman as the heroine, they are a sligantonellicoverssmallht departure from my usual romance snark, and I still wrote them for myself first. I also wrote them for my friend Elle because she shares my love of coffee and the Bond movie Quantum of Solace. Cult status, coffee money, and Elle aside, what I’m pondering again today is this:

  1. How soon is too soon to market and promote a new book? If I begin this Friday, as I had planned to last week, will it be overkill of the fuckton of promotion?
  2. Is it too early for promo, considering that one of the books has garnered a little interest, but no publishing deal—yet.
  3. Is it too early for promo if I indie publish it and become a hybrid author, and if so see question 1?
  4. Is it possible to overfeed the elusive unicorn and kill it before it has a chance to become a zombie book?

The point of all this is that I am a writer. I am not schooled in marketing or promotion—I don’t even know if there’s a difference between marketing and promo. I am a writer and a coffee drinker.

Maybe one of you could mull this over and get back to me while I’ll carry on writing to please myself, drinking coffee, because contemplating the path to ultimate promomojo sure does get in the way of my job.

The Soundtrack of A Fictional Life

William Murphy never sees It comingA mix tape, a playlist, a soundtrack whatever you call it, why can’t books have soundtracks for sale like movies? 

Because kids,  compiling a soundtrack for a movie is something of a copyright, A&R big money nightmare. For books to have a companion soundtrack would be a copyright, A&R ginormous money acid trip hallucination beyond the comprehension of mortals.

Despite that, from the very first book I ever wrote (the one that will never see the light of day) to A Basic Renovation, For Your Eyes Only (originally titled And She Was–a title I think was better–but marketing didn’t think so and what do I know about marketing?) and Driving in Neutral, every book I write has a soundtrack. Most authors I know listen to music when they write. Music can be inspiring or set the mood for a scene. Characters might have their own theme song. Some characters might even have an entire theme soundtrack, which is the case with Next to You, my upcoming July release.

The music for Next to You is so vital to the story, to the character of William Murphy. Music, Bubblegum pop and Super Sounds of the Seventies is what makes Will Will, –just like movies are what makes his new next door neighbour Caroline Jones Caroline Jones, but more about Caroline in future posts.

In the words of Barry Manilow (yes, I am quoting Barry Manilow), I am music and I write the sooooooongs, but really I am writer and I write the characters who listen to the sooooooongs, and the character I wrote listens to the songs (although he doesn’t listen to Barry Manilow) that make him the man he is.

Here then is some of what William Murphy listens to.   Next to You3coverAnd seeing as all of these songs (and many more) are in my  music library, you can be assured these are also songs I listen to. You can listen to the Next to You Soundtrack here on William Murphy’s YouTube Channel

Tell me, would you buy a book’s soundtrack the same way you’d buy a film soundtrack?

A Little Help From My Romance Reading Friends

Antonelli coverThe current buzzword is diversity. There’s been discussion about the diversity of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender and age discrimination in Hollywood. There’s been discussion regarding diversity in romance fiction as well. In an open letter to its members, the Romance Writers of America has addressed the importance of the romance industry being diverse and inclusive of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities.

Kudos to the RWA and thanks for coming to the party. Just one thing with your diverse list. You forgot to be inclusive of age. 

Are you over 40 and feeling invisible in romance? Don’t. Someone’s thinking about you.****

You all know how I have books and short stories published and out there.

You know how all my books and short stories all feature heroines and heroes over 40.

You know how I blog regularly about grown ups in romance and run something I call the ‘Mature Content Stockpile‘ on this website. I need to add to that stockpile, and I’m looking to YOU THE READER for help because AGE DIVERSITY MATTERS! 

I have been wanting to collect a list of romance novels that feature ‘mature’ ROMANCE Heroines and Heroes, specifically Heroines and Heroes over 40 in CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE. This is because of how contemporary society views older women, places them in stereotypes roles, or renders them invisible

Let me be clear: I am not interested in couples under 40. I am not interested in couples who are secondary characters. I want characters who are IN their forties, fifties, or beyond, characters who are the LEADS! Nix I am not interested in ‘women’s fiction’ or ‘romantic elements.’ I am looking for romance, where the love story is the focus of the novel, rather than a mere piece of the tale. I want HEA or HFN.

The All About Romance website has a list of Older Couples books that needs updating.  I modified the AAR list and included it my PhD research. The AAR list got me started, and includes novels where characters over 40 appear as secondary characters, which I include on my booklist because those secondary romance (and short stories that feature an older couple), form a foundation where older has been ‘acceptable’ as a side tale, however, I will not include secondary romance from this point on. There is a list on Goodreads Best older hero AND older heroine romance books (the main couple has to be over 40!)  and it is FAB, but it does include books some consider Romance as there is no happy resolution or Happily For Now, e.g. Kazuo Ishiguru’s Remains of the Day (a book I love SO HARD).

Allow me to reiterate. For the purposes of continuing my book list, I am only interested in Contemporary romance novels where the leads are over 40.  I include my list at the bottom of this post.

If ANYONE can give me more examples of ROMANCE FICTION that feature heroines and heroes over 40, please let me know by leaving a comment on this post! 

****EXCITING NOTE! As of May 4 2017, Entangled has put out a call for romance fiction WITH LEADS WHO ARE OLDER!

Contemporary romance Older Couples (AAR Original is here)

Forty-Something

A Basic Renovation (2013) by Sandra Antonelli

For Your Eyes Only (2013) by Sandra Antonelli

Driving in Neutral (2014) by Sandra Antonelli

Next to You (2016) by Sandra Antonelli

Dissident (2015) by Cecilia London  (Book 1 the Bellator Saga; characters age to mid 50s)

Conscience (2015) by Cecilia London (Bellator Saga 2)

Sojourn (2015) by Cecilia London (Bellator 3)

Phoenix (2016) by Cecilia London (Bellator 4)

Rhapsody (201) by Cecilia London (Bellator 5)

Triumph (2017) By Cecilia London (Bellator 6)

Out of Control (2002) by Suzanne Brockmann (secondary romance)

Breaking Point (2005) by Suzanne Brockmann (secondary romance)

Hot Dish (2006) by Connie Brockway

For Auld Lang Syne (1991) by Pamela Browning

Eve’s Wedding Knight (1999) by Kathleen Creighton

I’m Your Man (2007) by Susan Crosby

Anyone But You (1996) by Jennifer Crusie

Fast Women (2001) by Jennifer Crusie

Full Bloom (1994) by Stacey Dennis

Fanning the Flames (2015)  byVictoria Dahl (short story in Flirting with Disaster)

Talk Me Down ( 2011) by Victoria Dahl

There Is a Season (1999) by Margot Early

Comfort and Joy in Santa’s Little Helpers (1995) by Patricia Gardner Evans

Luring Lucy in Hot and Bothered (2001) by Lori Foster

Fall from Grace (2007) by Kristi Gold

The Star King (2000) by Susan Grant

Hot Wheels and High Heels (2007) by Jane Graves

Contracted: Corporate Wife (2005) by Jessica Hart

Marriage Reunited (2006) by Jessica Hart

Love for the Matron (1962) by Elizabeth Houghton

Only Yesterday (1989) by Syrell Rogovin Leahy

Cold Tea on a Hot Day (2001) by Curtiss Ann Matlock

Love in a Small Town (1997) by Curtiss Ann Matlock

Stitch in Snow (1984) by Anne McCaffrey

Suburban Renewal (2004) by Pamela Morsi

The Fourth Wall (1979) by Barbara Paul

Down in New Orleans (1996) by Heather Graham Pozzessere

No More Wasted Time (2014) by Beverly Preston

Black Rose (2005) by Nora Roberts

A Piece of Heaven (2003) by Barbara Samuel

Count on Me (2001) by Kathryn Shay

Promises to Keep (2002) by Kathryn Shay

Sweet Hush (2003) by Deborah Smith

Bygones (1992) by LaVyrle Spencer

The Hellion (1989) by LaVyrle Spencer

Home Song (1995) by LaVyrle Spencer

Nerd in Shining Armor (2003) by Vicki Lewis Thompson (secondary romance)

One Fine Day (1994) by Theresa Weir

Snowfall at Willow Creek (2010) by Susan Wiggs

 

Fifty-Something

At Your Service (2018) by Sandra Antonelli

Forever In Your Service (2019) by Sandra Antonelli

For Your Eyes Only (2014) by Sandra Antonelli

Next to You (2016) By Sandra Antonelli

The Long Way Home (2010) by Jean Brashear

A New Lu (2005) by Laura Castoro

Bachelor’s Puzzle (1992) by Ginger Chambers

French Twist (1998) by Margot Dalton

Remember Love (1992) by Stacey Dennis

Return to Love (1993) by Martha Gross

Hot Blood (1996) by Charlotte Lamb

Heaven, Texas (1995) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (secondary romance)

This Heart of Mine (2001) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (secondary romance)

Natural Born Charmer (2007) By Susan Elizabeth Phillips (secondary romance)

Familiar Stranger (2001) by Sharon Sala

The Best Medicine (1993) by Janet Lane Walters

Tomorrow’s Promise (1992) by Clara Wimberly

The Vow (2008) by Rebecca Winters

The Duke of Olympia Meets (2016) His Match by Juliana Gray (he’s 74 she’s 50+)

Sixty-Something

Julie and Romeo (2000) by Jeanne Ray

Eleanor and Abel (2003) by Annette Sanford

Trust Me on This (1997) by Jennifer Crusie (secondary romance)

Seventy-something

Late Fall (2016) by Noelle Adams

The Duke of Olympia Meets (2016) His Match by Juliana Gray

Expecting Your Expectations to Meet Your Expectations

 Sterin via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo: Sterin via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Is there another time of year that sets the bar so high for how things “should” be?

Holidays are weighted with expectations, as are birthdays, and certain books and movies — you know, like the latest in the James Bond film or Star Wars franchise.

We, as in a lot of people, approach these events with preconceived notions of what we want them to be, who we want there, how we want to be treated, the kind of pie there’s going to be, and if SPECTRE is going to be better than Skyfall, Quantum of Solace, or Casino Royale.

Some of you might get cranky and snippy if no one in your family helped you to decorate the Christmas tree, like you expected. Some of you might feel all losery and friendless because no one sent you a birthday card by actual snail mail, like you expected. Some of you, like me, might get all ornery because Monica Bellucci only got a few minutes (7 min, 14. 73 seconds according to my stopwatch) of screen time in SPECTRE when she should have had more time, she should have swapped roles with Lea Seydoux and given James Bond an age appropriate and more believable ending… like I expected.

See what I mean? I got all wrapped up in expectations. I had to see SPECTRE two more times to realise I enjoyed it–once I stopped picking it apart. I sat back and enjoyed the ride.

We love something so much, like James Bond movies and Star Wars and Christmas and birthdays and books by Jo Goodman because they give us a warm, rosy glow. We love these things because they feel familiar and, for some reason we cover the things, the events, movies and books, and people we adore with a cloak of expectation.tree2015

We make comparisons.

We forget there is no such thing as perfection.

We forget that life’s what we make it.

Preconceived expectations have a way of elfin’ up (see what I did there?) the fact that decorating the Christmas tree alone meant the tree looked exactly the way I wanted it to. Preconceived expectations have a way of elfin’ up a book that was different to the author’s previous book — which was exactly what I wanted because I dislike reading something that’s the same as before. Preconceived expectations have a way of elfin’ up the warm rosy glow of familiar and full of the feels.

Yesterday, when I went to see Star Wars The Force Awakens, I tried to avoid the Bah-Humbuggery of shoulds. I reminded myself that this was a different movie. I reminded myself this was not Episode IV and prayed there would be no Ewoks. I reminded myself I wanted something different, yet familiar and full of feels. I reminded myself I was there for the fun.

I made the 2 hours and 14 minutes what I wanted it to be. I ate a crap-ton of popcorn, sat back, and had fun.

Yes, kids. It’s Advice Time! When you next head off to a holiday event you really don’t want to attend, before you pick up a new book by an author you like, or go to see a sequel or movie in a franchise, before you start reading, or watching, set those expectations aside, forget thinking this ‘should be like so.” Life’s what you make it. If you go in with expectations, then you may just miss the fun.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep drinking coffee, because I know that’s what you expect of me. I’ll also keep writing familiar, yet different smartassed books where the leads are over 40.

Sandrabooks1