Debra Mullins

Day 11 of the 31 Days of Books Giveaway: Historical Heroines–How Experienced Can/Should They Be?

Congratulations to Yati Hadi, who won yesterday’s drawing! I’ll be emailing Yati to arrange delivery of her choice of book. Yati has won twice now, which puts her into the Hall of Fame with Raonaid and Kitty!

Well, you all had definite opinions as to whether or not a couple needed to talk marriage in order to reach Happily Ever After status in a romance novel. The next topic I’d like to bring up is Historical Heroines—How Experienced Can/Should They Be?

I’ve written thirteen historical romances. My first book, ONCE A MISTRESS, has your standard virginal heroine who’s fairly ignorant about sex. She’s the eighteen year old daughter of a wealthy businessman in 17th century Jamaica. With all the pirate types running around the island in 1680, naturally her father would keep her closely guarded at all times. This fits with the story. But I was thirty years old and married with two kids when I wrote the book, and I quickly realized it was going to be hard for me to write from that innocent perspective all the time. So I started looking for ways to make my heroines more experienced, but still believable for the time period.

My next book was a Western called DONOVAN’S BED. Sarah Calhoun had a scandal in her past. She had actually fallen in love and given herself to the wrong man (which later cost her more than she could ever imagine). So this heroine is a little sexually experienced, and the scandal is an integral part of the plot. It changes how people in her small, Wyoming town see her.

Then I wrote THE LAWMAN’S SURRENDER, the follow-up to DONOVAN’S BED. The heroine in this book is Sarah’s sister Susannah, the gorgeous singer who travels around the west performing for a living. Because of the places where Susannah hangs out, she’s no dummy when it comes to men and what they want, but she has never slept with one. So here we have a virginal heroine with knowledge but no firsthand experience.

I then switched to Regency England with A NECESSARY HUSBAND. I got around the experience/sexual knowledge thing by making the heroine a widow. Problem solved. Yet in the follow-up to that book, A NECESSARY BRIDE, my heroine was once more an inexperienced woman, but she was an American with a sailor for a brother, so she had some idea of how things worked.

I stuck in Regency England for a while. In THREE NIGHTS…, the book opens where the virginal heroine ends up trading her innocence to the hero for her father’s life. She’s another one who has seen the darker side of life (her father is a compulsive gambler), but has never experienced anything intimate—until she makes this bargain with our hero.

In JUST ONE TOUCH, I had the daughter of a duke who had been kidnapped and terrorized at age fifteen and had since lived her life cloistered away at her father’s estate, away from the world. While she was not raped, the men who took her made her very much aware of the baser side of their natures. When her father realizes he’s dying, he has to find a husband for our heroine to watch over her.

In TWO WEEKS WITH A STRANGER, my heroine is married to the hero, but it is a marriage of convenience, and she soon realizes she needs to seduce her husband to make him fall in love with her in order to have the relationship she craves.

As you can see, I’ve found different ways to give historical heroines different levels of sexual knowledge or experience to make them more realistic for me to write. But what do you think? Do you believe historical heroines should be ignorant/inexperienced when it comes to men? Or is it more fun when the heroine has some firsthand experience? Or maybe somewhere in the middle, like Susannah from THE LAWMAN’S SURRENDER?

Tell me what you think. Those who comment get entered in today’s drawing for a free paperback title from my backlist!