Romance author Catherine Anderson shares why she doesn't shy away from serious subjects in her stories of love. Discover the topics she tackles in this month's Here to Stay and find out why she thinks readers relate to her heavier tales of contemporary love.
It is said by many that I tackle difficult subjects as a writer, including but not limited to rape, weight issues, child and spousal abuse, racism, and physical disabilities. Morgan Doremus, RT BOOK REVIEWS' web editor, feels that, despite the “not-very-uplifting” core themes in my work, readers look forward to the emotion they find in my books, and she has asked that I address this for RT readers.
That’s quite an assignment. I’ve often wondered, myself, what readers find in my work that has inspired such a huge and loyal following.
My latest release, Here to Stay, has performed phenomenally in the marketplace, hitting at #3 on the New York Times bestseller list after its first partial week out, and at this writing, it has remained in the top 15 for three weeks. This book deals with blindness, guilt, animal abuse, murder, and dysfunctional family relationships. Clearly, thousands of readers do yearn for something they find in my work. The question is, “What is that special something?”
I sat down and stared at the blank screen of my monitor. Where to begin? And how? I mean—well, why do readers love my work, and perhaps even more mysterious, why do I love writing it?
Well, first I had to decide that I couldn’t answer for my readers. But I now know why I love writing it, and maybe, just maybe, the answer to that question explains why my books strike a chord with so many people.
As human beings, caught up in this vagarious experience we call life, very few of us lead a perfect existence or are blessed with physical perfection. Even those of us who have almost flawless bodies harbor secret insecurities, certain our noses are hooked or too big, that our hips are as broad as an ax handle, that our breasts are too small/huge, our eyes are too close together, or that everyone notices that one slightly crooked tooth when we smile. Oh, and I mustn’t forget to mention that most women feel fat even if they aren’t. Yet in many pieces of women’s fiction, no matter how gifted the writer or how much readers love the story, readers often encounter a perfect woman featured as the female protagonist. She is lithe as a gazelle, overcomes obstacles with relative ease, never gets a pimple, and can usually slip into the small sample size evening gown to dazzle the hero.
When I finish a book like that, even as I sigh with contentment and silently congratulate the author on having done a fabulous job, I’m often left feeling inferior. That’s not much fun. I wish I were half as beautiful, smart, brave, or spunky as the fictional wonder woman I’ve just read about and rooted for. How lovely it would be to slip into a figure-hugging little black dress and spike heels, give my hair a careless flip with my fingers, dab on perfume, and meet a man at the door, knowing I looked so fabulous that I’d have him drooling down my cleavage.
Well, sorry, but that isn’t my reality and never has been. And I honestly doubt that it is the reality of most women. We are creatures with fragile self images, constantly comparing our less-than-perfect bodies with the Hollywood standard of what is considered “beautiful.” Our generation grew up with Barbie, remember, and we all remember what her figure was like.
Moving on from the physical, let’s consider life experiences. Do you know anyone—now really, really consider this question—that has had a blissfully perfect childhood and moved seamlessly into a blissfully perfect adulthood? If you meet someone who was fortunate enough to have had a great childhood, chances are that person has encountered some horrific situations as an adult—bad relationships, infidelity, divorce, broken hearts, or the loss of a beloved child. The list of misfortunes most people encounter in life is absolutely endless.
The conclusion: Life isn’t a walk in the park—unless, of course, it’s a park where a child molester, rapist, serial killer, or debilitating/deadly disease is lurking behind a tree. We see it on the news, we read about it in the papers, and even sadder, we witness it firsthand, either in our own lives or in the lives of dear friends. Equally often, the smiling and successful adult who had a dreadful childhood has shoved the pain into the dark recesses of memory, and tries to keep the damage from affecting his or her current life and relationships. What about a woman whose face is so lovely people stop in the street to stare at her, yet who rejects all relationships because of the hideous scars beneath her designer clothes?
If you’ve been a frequent visitor to my website or done any reading about me as a writer, you know that I am a people watcher. I find human beings endlessly fascinating. When I park outside a store, I watch the passersby. When I walk along a street, I study the people I meet. Have you ever done that? And, if so, exactly what have you seen?
If you’ve seen any truly perfect people, you’ve not only done better than I ever have, you’ve also never spent time in any of the places I have lived. Ninety-nine percent of us humans are far from perfect, and I’d be willing to bet, if interviewed, that an even higher percentage of those individuals have a heartbreaking story to tell. In addition to watching people, I also listen to them, and even those who seem the happiest and most successful have experienced sadness or great hardships. A surprising number of the women I know are on Prozac or a sister drug to keep them on an even keel because of some sort of trauma for which they can never attain any sense of closure.
End conclusion: I have yet to meet anyone who has had a perfect life or possesses a perfect body. But does that mean they don’t deserve to find true love? Does that mean they should forget about lasting happiness? Is a man or woman in a wheelchair excluded from the “love club?” If you were once in an abusive relationship and still carry the emotional baggage, does that mean you must always walk alone, never meeting that great guy who introduces you to an entirely new way of looking at life? If you’ve always been the family screw-up, making bad decisions and horrible mistakes, does that mean you can’t change? If you were born with crippling arthritis, does that mean you’re doomed to a life alone? No—a million times, no!
I believe that every person on earth has a right to be loved, and I also believe every one of us has a soul mate somewhere that is just marking time, waiting to meet “that special someone.”
I didn’t set out deliberately to write books that deal with sensitive issues. It just happened that way. I get a huge charge out of seeing a beloved character deal with a problem so that it, and they, can blossom during the telling of the story to create a miraculous, intangible thing called hope. I’m rooting for that character with everything in me. And I believe that message speaks to readers and gives them an uplifting read with an ending that leaves them not only feeling good about themselves, but about life and the world in general. There really is a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow…and see? That cloud really does have a silver lining. For me, as a writer, telling a story about Miss Perfect meeting Mr. Perfect is—well, for me, it just doesn’t work because I can’t make myself believe in it.
As a writer, I need to put brushstrokes of harsh reality into my books and then envelope them in a beautiful romance. Not an easy romance, but a magical love story that overcomes a tragic reality. And I believe that is what speaks to readers. They meet characters with flaws, characters that don’t always make the right choices, and characters who not only evolve into better people but also get a second chance. Sometimes a third – or even a fourth.
In my latest release, Here to Stay, Zach Harrigan has always been the family hell raiser until, while sitting in jail after a barroom brawl, he decides to try to do something worthwhile with his life. Instead of dividing his attentions between piling up money and decorating a barstool while selecting the evening’s conquest, he decides to use his skills as a horse trainer to train a mini-guide horse for the blind. It isn’t an easy transition for Zach, but his reward is meeting the lovely and emotionally scarred Miranda, whose brother Luke was permanently blinded as a child in an accident Miranda feels responsible for. She has dedicated her life to her brother’s service, something Luke encourages for his own selfish reasons.
Here to Stay is a story threaded with grim realities, but those threads, interwoven with true and lasting love, created a magical tapestry of romance, personal growth, and family. You’ll laugh. You may cry. If you like animals, you are sure to fall in love with Rosebud, the little guide horse, and with Tornado, a stallion Zach recently purchased, but whose vicious disposition may force Zach to have him put down before he kills somebody. No one knows of the prior hideous abuse that turned a gentle horse into a potential killer. When Miranda, whose knowledge of horses is limited to knowing that one end bites and the other one kicks, encounters Tornado, she somehow senses Tornado’s paralyzing fear of being hurt again.
I hope you’ll join me in the pages of Here to Stay, a story about three less-than-perfect people who face seemingly insurmountable challenges and yet manage to forge bonds that enable them to soar above them to become a warm and loving family. Love truly can move mountains. I hope reading Here to Stay will help you to believe that. I certainly do!
All the best,
- Catherine Anderson
You can pick up your own copy of Here to Stay in stores now.