One of the most important concepts in romance novels, I think, is that of home. It’s more than just a house, a dwelling, a place to hang a hat. Home is part of who we are. It’s family, it’s friends, it’s the life we’ve created for ourselves. Home is where we’re comfortable, where we feel best. It is where we can be ourselves.
At least, that’s how it should be.
Romance novels often show us the importance of home by throwing characters into situations that threaten it, challenge it, or question it in some way.
Many stories are built around the premise of leaving home. We read tales of young women who are forced out into the world and who must struggle to find their own way in life, to establish their own identity, and thereby create their own home.
Other stories center around home and family situations that don’t measure up to the ideal. Heroines in romance novels often have difficult relationships with parents or siblings. They’re subjected to violence and abuse, or perhaps they’ve been thrust into the role of caregiver and must devote themselves to an ailing parent or take on the responsibilities of raising younger brothers and sisters.
Another popular theme in romance novels is that of saving a home. We’ve probably all read stories of war, hardship, or political upheaval, stories in which the heroine faces financial ruin and the threat of losing the home she loves.
Of course, coming home again is also a familiar premise for romance readers. Sometimes characters have been away, perhaps for many years. As a story begins, they’ve come home again. But as Thomas Wolfe put it, “You can’t go home again.” It’s never the same, really, once we’ve gone away. Most likely it’s because we’ve changed. The question is whether the changes are good. Have we grown? Have we become better individuals? Or have we strayed from the values and principles by which we were raised? Many times characters in romance novels must answer these questions.
In looking back at my own writing, I can see how clearly the concept of home has worked in my stories.
- Irresistible, my first historical romance published with Secret Cravings Publishing, saw my heroine leaving home for the first time, being pushed from her narrow-minded — and somewhat pessimistic — attitudes and her simple way of life into a world of luxury, wealth, and unlimited possibilities. She was disoriented, of course. Stubborn, unsure of herself, and hurt by the realities of life, my heroine had much to learn. Falling in love helped her change her perspective. She learned to see herself in new ways, to re-define who she was, and to accept love.
- In Happily Ever After, my heroine was searching for a place to call home — figuratively, that is. She’d grown up in an unhappy home, and she’d found ways to cope with the doubts and fears she’d known as a child. As the story unfolds, she’s able to help others find comfort and peace of mind, yet childhood memories still color her own perceptions. Sometimes it’s hard to break free from the past.
- Summertime, set in rural Kansas, is very much a story of home. The heroine has been away for many years, has enjoyed a successful and glamorous career. She returns to Kansas not because she wants to go home, but because she must. For her, home represents everything she dislikes in life. Love helps her see herself — and the little town of Brookfield — with new eyes.
- My heroine in The Wrong Woman is setting off to find a new home for herself after making some big mistakes in her life. She’s ashamed of what she’s done. Going away and making a new start is the best course of action, she thinks. Yet she carries with her the same beliefs and values of her childhood. For her, home was a place of strength, a place of happiness. That strength and her own deeply-held appreciation for life, enable her to not only make a home for herself wherever she goes, but to help the struggling hero create a true home for himself.
- In my latest release, Not the Marrying Kind, the heroine truly loves her home at the Rocking P ranch. But life is throwing her a curve, and she’s about the lose everything she’s loved. Adding to her woes is the fact that, like so many of us, she’s defined by her home. If she loses the land she loves, who will she be? How can she become something she’s not? Her fight to save her home is really a fight for acceptance, a struggle to win the right to be herself.
In looking over these stories and the characters who’ve lived them out in the pages of my novels, I can clearly see the concept of home as a synonym for acceptance.
Rise Childers must learn to accept what others have to give. Anne Hopkins must accept love. Coming home to Brookfield, Kansas, forces Linn Sparks to accept truths she’s refused to see, and Abigail Rose must accept forgiveness for the sins she believes she’s committed. And Kat Phillips, above all, needs acceptance, not only from her friends and family, but most of all, from herself.
These heroines learn a lot from love. They learn to see themselves in new ways, to open themselves up to new possibilities, to understand that home is truly “where the heart is.” In learning to love themselves, they’re also able to help others gain a greater understanding of what home is all about.
What does home mean to you?