Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Real Life, Real Love
Megan Long, Assistant Editor
Today is my grandma’s 86th birthday. She’s a remarkable woman. Things haven’t always been easy for her, but she always manages to come out on top. She and I have a special relationship, perhaps in part because I was her only grandchild for thirteen years, but mostly because she’s awesome. I’ve grown up hearing her stories about life in Northern Ontario, how she met my grandpa and the adventures they had together. One of the most amazing stories she has spans many decades and includes secrets, heartbreak and an inspiring conclusion. I hope you’ll indulge me as I share it with you.
Grandma was raised as the youngest child and only daughter with four older brothers. Her mother died when she was nine and as a result, Grandma was very close to her father. As a teenager, she found a birth certificate in a drawer for a baby born on her birthday, but with a different name and a different mother. When she asked, her father told her she’d been adopted because her mother had always wanted a girl. Grandma was devastated to learn that her entire family had been keeping this secret from her. Her father passed away when Grandma was in her late teens, so she never got the chance to ask him any more questions. It wasn’t until decades later that she learned the truth.
When my grandma was in her sixties, she discovered that her father was her biological father. He’d had an affair that went on for many years and my grandmother was the result of this relationship. She lived with her birth mother for two years, only to be taken by the children’s aid society and placed with her father and his wife. (This was back in the 1920s when unwed mothers were considered unfit almost by default. Her mother then moved to another town and I believe the CAS lost track of her.) For simplicity’s sake—and to preserve her family’s reputation—the truth about Grandma’s parentage was concealed.
At the same time, she learned that her birth mother had had other children—Grandma’s half siblings. One brother is older than my grandma but wasn’t home when the CAS came that day. He and the siblings that were born later were all raised by their birth mother, knowing that they had another sister out there somewhere, but not knowing where she was.
Grandma learned about her half-siblings, but didn’t know how to find them. Eventually, though, my aunt managed to track them down. A little over twenty years ago, Grandma was reunited with the two brothers and one sister she’d never met. A new chapter in her life had begun.
So, why am I telling you all this? What does this have to do with Superromance? Well, it’s an example of what we try to achieve with our books.
Some of you might find this story familiar—it was the inspiration for our Diamond Legacy continuity back in 2009. That continuity looked at the possible repercussions of this discovery on subsequent generations. While there weren’t any consequences like that for my family, the situation was intriguing enough for the Superromance editors to ask, “what if?”
As many of you will know, the Superromance tag line is “Real Life, Real Love.” Balancing these two elements can prove challenging, so I thought I’d focus on that today. What do we mean by “real life” and how can it be made interesting?
To us, “real life” means situations that, while they may not be ones readers face every day, are relatable and feel like something that could happen. Even in the more outlandish ones—perhaps like my grandma’s—the human emotion needs to be there and needs to feel authentic. We have stories about rock stars, professional athletes and families with deep, dark secrets, but what they all have in common is that thread of humanity. Our stories look beyond the larger-than-life situations to the real-life people within them. The Diamond Legacy series started with a complex situation with secret families and a contested inheritance, but ultimately focused on the struggles of the individuals involved.
To accomplish this, a judicious eye for what’s included is crucial. What we want is to see the bigger picture of real life—the dilemmas and the challenges that people struggle through, not just the mundane details of everyday existence. We know that everyone (even rock stars and athletes) needs to do laundry and grocery shop, but we don’t need to see them doing it. If there are scenes of characters doing chores, these need to relate to and expand on the larger themes/conflicts. Let’s say I was to dramatize my grandma’s story. The only time I would show her doing housework would be the scene in which she discovered her birth certificate. Now, as the only daughter in a house full of men, she would have done housework all her life—but none of it is relevant until this discovery. If you want to show your characters doing ordinary things like dishes and dusting, see if you can layer the emotion and the other events happening around them to create a meaningful scene.
Okay, I’ll stop here before this gets any longer. But I’ll be popping by throughout the day in case there are any things you’d like to discuss in the comments. I’ll be very interested in hearing what all of you think of this balance. If you’re an aspiring (or published!) author, what elements do you like to include in your characters’ lives? How do you use them to enrich the plot and conflict? If you’re a reader, what “real life” touches do you like to see? Which ones turn you off?
And a final message before I go—Happy Birthday, Grandma!
Posted by Rogenna Brewer at 6:00 AM