Two Series Authors Weigh In On A Hot Trend In Romance

In the September issue of RT BOOK REVIEWS, RT's Liz French went in-depth on the recent romance trend of featuring heroes and heroines with disabilities. Now Series authors Liz Fielding and Donna Alward chat about the characters with disabilities in their novels. Learn about how heroine Matty from The Marriage Miracle by Fielding and hero Noah from Her Lone Cowboy by Alward grabbed these authors' attentions and wouldn't let go until their stories were told ...  

Liz Fielding   Donna Alward

 

Liz Fielding: Donna, Her Lone Cowboy - Noah’s story - was the third in your Larch Valley series. Did you plan a wounded hero when you fleshed out the characters for this series of books? Or did the idea for it grow as you wrote his brother Andrew’s story, One Dance With the Cowboy

Donna Alward: There was always going to be a story about Andrew’s brother – my editor let me know they were looking for a duet. But I didn’t realize Noah was going to be disabled until I was writing One Dance With the Cowboy and the idea took hold. I got to thinking about the number of soldiers coming home with serious wounds that would never be completely healed. How would a career soldier handle that? I knew that Noah would not only have to adjust to civilian life but life as an amputee.

And you originally wrote The Marriage Miracle’s Matty as a secondary [character] – did you always know she’d have her own story or did she sort of demand it the more you went on?

LF: I knew, from the first moment that she wheeled herself across the page in A Wife On Paper that Matty Lang was going to give me trouble. She was a minor character but she flirted shamelessly with the hero, duffed up the bad guys and simply stole the scene. The only way I could get her to behave, stay in the background while I got on with her cousin’s story, was to promise her a story of her own. I’ll be honest. I had my fingers crossed behind my back. I did not want to write a wheelchair bound heroine — and I couldn’t change that, because it was a vital plot point for Fran’s story. I don’t write fairy stories, not the kind with magic wands, anyway and any happy ending would have to encompass that fact.

DA: Oh, I agree Liz! I didn’t want there to be a magic solution for Noah either. His injury was there to stay. 

You wrote The Marriage Miracle back in 2005 when there were fewer “wounded” hero/heroines characters being published. What kind of response did you get from your editor when you approached her with this idea? Was it positive, or did she have concerns about how readers would react to your hero?

LF: I’ll be honest. Much as I loved Matty, I put off writing her story for as long as I could. I wrote A Family of his Own, which won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romance Prize, was named Best Harlequin Romance of the Year by Romantic Times and was short-listed for a RITA [award].

Matty applauded politely, then said, ‘Okay, I’ve been patient, now it’s my turn.’

I wrote Her Wish-List Bridegroom about Juliet, single parents, cheating boy friends, a cat called Archie.

Matty hated Juliet. “The woman’s a wimp,” she said. “She didn’t have a father, her boyfriend stole her job. Big deal.”

I wrote A Nanny for Keeps, with a six-year old diva, chickens and a donkey…

Matty threw a pot of purple nail polish at my head and said, “Enough with the livestock. IT’S MY TURN!”

I made one last attempt to sidestep her story. I talked to my editor, certain that she’d rescue me so that I could go back to Matty with a clear conscience, say, “I’d do it in a heartbeat, honest. It’s her fault…”

No such luck. My editor thought for about thirty seconds and then said, “I don’t see why not.”

What about you, Donna? What feedback have you had?

DA: You know, one of my big worries was that Noah’s injury would overshadow his character. But my editor said go for it and the reader response has been great too. When my editor read the story and said that she thought Noah was “unbelievably sexy”, I got a real thrill. I thought so too!

What was the biggest challenge writing Matty’s character? Was it easier or harder than you expected?

LF: Matty was so fully formed in my head by the time I began she almost wrote herself. The toughest parts were the practicalities. An author who was, at the time, confined to a wheelchair helped me with some of the details. Her description of trying to get into a banqueting hall at the Savoy for the RNA’s annual awards lunch was not only hugely entertaining but provided an illuminating insight into the reality of life in a wheelchair before providing disabled access became more than an afterthought in public buildings. 

I used the web to research spinal injuries, too, but unlike Noah, Matty had been injured for some time and had learned to live with her disability. Her major problems were psychological; her sense of guilt was her real handicap. Opening up to Sebastian, not falling in love, which she was helpless to prevent, as much as allowing herself to be loved, was the breakthrough.

I was impressed by the frustration Noah experienced and how you wrote about it. While Matty had had time to come to terms with her disability, at least physically, you actually showed your character learning to live with it. That must have involved considerable research. Did you try coping one-handed yourself?

DA: Try? I’ve had to cope one-handed, but thankfully only temporarily. I broke my right arm quite badly when I was 12 and went through several months of therapy – and trying to manage with a hand that didn’t work at all. Then a few years ago I broke my right wrist and was in a cast. When that happens everything you take for granted shifts. Some of Noah’s challenges – like tying his shoes and cutting his meat – are things that I specifically remember working my way through. For other research I talked to a doctor and used the web to research amputee and military resources.

Liz, you wrote a disabled heroine, I wrote a hero. How do you think crafting a heroine differs from a physically challenged hero?

LF: I think it was easier writing a heroine. The wheelchair is, after all just that, a chair – admittedly one that she can’t get out of and walk away. Matty had three years to develop her own particular style of verbal fencing, giving as good as she got, putting on a bit of a show, especially with anyone who was being patronizing. As a hero, your Noah had to be strong, in control, which drove him to hide his vulnerabilities. You did a wonderful job showing the reader his struggles with the simplest of tasks, made our hearts ache for him even while we were cheering him on. 

DA: Aw, thanks. You’re right about men asking for help! There’s a total pride thing. I knew that as a hero he still had to lead, so I made him one stubborn mule! He had to at least try – and it was okay if he failed. Eventually he’d get it. I think the trick was making him vulnerable where Lily was concerned. Noah got frustrated when faced with tasks, but it’s a whole other thing when you want to hold a woman dancing, or when you’re falling for someone and you feel they deserve someone whole. As far as Lily and Sebastian are concerned, Noah and Matty are already whole. And that’s really what it’s about – looking beyond the disability to the person inside. To me, Noah felt larger than life all along, even though his scars were impossible to ignore.

The Marriage Miracle went on to win a prestigious RITA award. Why do you think the book resonated so well with readers?

LF: Both Matty and Sebastian had deep emotional scars, but they were strong characters. She might be in a wheelchair, but she is a true match for him. It’s not beauty, or elegance, or style that brings him back, again and again. It’s her character. The fact that she makes him laugh, with her, at himself. He’s never had to work so hard, for so little reward with a woman. Readers enjoy that, I think. The emotion is well deep, but there’s plenty of humour, too. 

Both your heroine and my hero make mistakes, Donna, misjudgments as they begin to see the reality of the situation for someone whose life has changed forever. That learning curve gives them a new insight in their own situation, allowing them to see their own problems through fresh eyes. 

In order to win through to a happy ending, to believe that they have a future together involves the kind of whole-hearted trust that lifts a relationship above the ordinary. That, I believe, is the challenge, the extra dimension that disability brings to a story

Matty's Story: Noah's Story:
The Marriage Miracle Her Lone Cowboy
By Liz Fielding By Donna Alward
   

Want to learn more about romances featuring heroes and heroines with disabilities? You can check out RT's September article "Unconditional Love: How Heroes and Heroines With Disabilities are Winning Readers' Hearts" and get a reading list for more novels featuring this trend. You can also get more information about series authors Liz Fielding and Donna Alward below:   

Liz Fielding’s The Marriage Miracle has just been released in Kindle format along with much of her backlist. If you haven’t yet read this award-winning story, you can pick it up here. Visit Liz’s website at www.lizfielding.com.

Donna Alward’s Her Lone Cowboy was released in March 2010 and is still available at online retailers in print and e-book including Amazon. Visit Donna’s website at www.donnaalward.com.

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