Jen Gilroy: The top 5 challenges of writing small town romantic women’s fiction
August 18, 2017
I write in the area between romance and women’s fiction. I’ve been a romance
reader since my teens, and most of my favorite stories are set in small
communities or rural areas like those from where I draw my roots.
When I hit my thirties, though, I also began reading uplifting women’s
fiction—stories that focus on women’s life experiences and relationships that
often include, but extend beyond, a central romance.
Now as an author, I’ve found my happy place writing the kind of feel-good books
I like to read—about women’s lives, loves and family and community
relationships, all set in a heartwarming small-town world much like the one I
However, and as with any writing, there are challenges (and sometimes surprises)
in writing this type of fiction. Here are my top five.
- A balancing act
Between creating a believable small-town world, developing a central (and
sometimes secondary) romance with related character growth, and then mixing in
relationships with children, friends and extended family across generations, one
of the biggest challenges in writing this type of fiction is keeping all the
strands balanced and going in the right direction, at the right time.
One strand can’t overwhelm the other or exist in isolation. Rather, they must
intertwine to create a coherent whole—a bit like an orchestra with musicians
playing different instruments.
- Writing what you know “where everybody knows your name”
I live in a small town much like the fictional Firefly Lake, Vermont, the
setting for my trilogy of small-town contemporaries from Grand Central, Forever.
While writing what you know is good advice, when you write what I do and live in
a small community, there are also potential pitfalls.
If you’re writing a series (as I am), you may be approached when doing the
grocery shopping by readers who are keen to find out what happens in your next book.
Others will happily engage you in conversation about the “spicy bits” in your
books before Sunday service at your parish church.
And not least, you have to be extra careful to avoid using names or situations
that could even remotely be construed as having an association with your local
community, or a passing acquaintance with you or a member of your family. While
you’re certain you drew inspiration elsewhere, others in your community may not
be as convinced.
- Not enough romance…or too much
If you’re writing romance, it’s all about the growth of the central romantic
relationship between the two main characters. Everything else is secondary to
those character arcs. There is also always a happy ending.
Women’s fiction is broader and, although there may be a happy ending, the story
focus is more on the female protagonist’s experience.
In writing romantic women’s fiction, the challenge is giving romance readers
enough romance, while exploring aspects of women’s lives and relationships in
sufficient depth to appeal to those who read more in the women’s fiction genre.
- When the small town is a character too
At a time when news headlines are often grim, one of the reasons I love writing
about small towns is because they give me the opportunity to create a cozy world
where community and inter-connectedness are key.
If I didn’t have contracted deadlines, I could spend many happy hours drawing
maps of my fictional small town world, itemizing the different businesses (right
down to the ruffled café curtains at the local diner), and sketching family trees.
In this kind of fiction, the small-town setting can become like another
character, but the challenge is keeping it in the background and not letting it
take over the stories of the people who live there.
- A journey
When you’re writing fiction and, in particular romance and women’s fiction,
you’re writing about journeys, either in terms of a romantic relationship, a
woman’s life or both.
As a writer, and as in life, there will always be bumps along the way. In each
book I write, characters surprise and challenge me and, on occasion, frustrate
And as someone who writes romantic women’s fiction, I’m writing about women and,
primarily, for women. My readers are women like me who have faced some of the
challenges I’ve faced. They’re also women who aren’t anything like me and whose
challenges I can only imagine.
However, the most rewarding part of writing what I do is seeking to capture bits
of women’s lives—the happy, sad and everything in between—in ways that are
hopeful and, ultimately, uplifting. I believe in happy endings, as well as the
potential for individuals to grow and change. I also believe in the power of
women to drive growth and change in their lives and find whatever a happy ending
means to them.
Irrespective of genre (or how genres are defined), I’m writing from my heart to
tell stories I hope will touch readers’ hearts. And that personal emotional
journey is perhaps the biggest and most surprising challenge of all.
Sometimes love is better the second time around . . .
Mia Gibbs spent her marriage putting her husband's needs before her own. And
now, after a painful divorce, she's building a new life for herself and her two
daughters back home at Firefly Lake. The last thing she needs is a man to
complicate things. But former bad boy turned friend Nick McGuire-and the one
kiss they've shared-has turned everything upside down . . .
Attorney Nick McGuire wasn't meant to be a family man. His career has always
been his focus and after taking time out to help his mother, he's ready to get
back to the city . . . until Mia and her daughters arrive at Firefly Lake. Mia
is beautiful and intriguing, and it doesn't take long to realize being "just
friends" will never be enough. As the summer nights turn colder, Nick will have
to choose between the life he's always wanted . . . and the woman he can't live
[Forever, On Sale: July 25, 2017, Mass Market
Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781455569601 / eISBN: 9781455540358]
Jen Gilroy lives in a small town in eastern Ontario, Canada where her Irish
ancestors settled in the nineteenth century. She's worked in higher education
and international marketing but, after spending too much time in airports and
away from her family, traded the 9-5 to write romantic women’s fiction to bring
readers' hearts home.
Jen likes ice cream, diners, vintage style and all things country. Her husband
is her real-life romance hero, and her teen daughter teaches her to cherish the
blessings in the everyday.
The Cottage at Firefly Lake, the first book in her Firefly Lake series,
was a finalist for Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® award in 2015. It
was also shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award
Some mistakes can never be fixed and some secrets never forgiven . .
but some loves can never be forgotten.
Charlotte Gibbs wants nothing more than to put the past behind her, once and
for all. But now that she's back at Firefly Lake to sell her mother's cottage,
the overwhelming flood of memories reminds her of what she's been missing.
Sun-drenched days. Late-night kisses that still shake her to the core. The
gentle breeze off the lake, the scent of pine in the air, and the promise of
Sean's touch on her skin . . . True, she got her dream job traveling the world.
But at what cost?
Sean Carmichael still doesn't know why Charlie disappeared that summer, but
after eighteen years, a divorce, and a teenage son he loves more than anything
in the world, he's still not over her. All this time and her body still fits
against his like a glove. She walked away once when he needed her the most. How
can he convince her to stay now?
[Forever, On Sale: January 31, 2017, Paperback /
e-Book, ISBN: 9781455569595 / eISBN: 9781455540334]
1 comment posted.
Re: Jen Gilroy: The top 5 challenges of writing small town romantic women’s fiction
I can only imagine how hard it is to not accidentally hit
too close to home, when you live in a small town. Thanks for
(Kathleen Bylsma 1:03pm August 19, 2017)
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