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Jane Porter: On the Joy of Writing Mature Characters

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jane Porter discusses celebrating the nature of getting older in her new romance novel, Flirting With Fifty.

Jane Porter, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 75 romances, holds an MA in writing from the University of San Francisco and has been a finalist for the RITA award six times, winning in 2014 for Take Me, Cowboy. In 2008, Jane’s popular novel Flirting With Forty was made into a Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear, and in 2021 two of her novels were turned into holiday movies for the new GAC Family channel.

Jane founded Tule Publishing in 2013 to give writers more opportunities and makes her home in San Clemente, California with her surfer husband, sons, and dogs. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Jane Porter: On the Joy of Writing Mature Characters

Jane Porter

In this post, Jane discusses celebrating the nature of getting older in her new romance novel, Flirting With Fifty, what she hopes readers get from the experience, and more!

Name: Jane Porter
Literary agent: Holly Root at Root Literary
Book title: Flirting With Fifty
Publisher: Berkley/Penguin Random House
Release date: May 24, 2022
Genre/category: Romance
Previous titles: The Frog Prince, Flirting with Forty, Odd Mom Out, Mrs. Perfect, Easy on the Eyes, She’s Gone Country, The Good Woman, The Good Daughter, The Good Wife, It’s You
Elevator pitch for the book: A sexy and sparkling later-in-life contemporary romance about a romance-adverse woman who leaps out of her comfort zone and takes a chance on love.

Jane Porter: On the Joy of Writing Mature Characters

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What prompted you to write this book?

I have a very close friend—a smart, funny, loving, youthful 50-something-year-old friend—who decided years ago, after her divorce, that she would never remarry. Nor would she date. And yet whenever we went somewhere socially, men were intrigued by her, and would ask me or my husband to introduce him to her, but I'd have to say that my friend wasn't dating “yet” and leave it at that. In truth, my friend has sworn off men.

Over the years I've had conversations with her asking, “What would it take for you to want to date again?” She never had an answer I liked and this became a mystery to me, and being a romance writer, I'd create scenarios—and heroes—in my head where she'd get swept off her feet. And that's how Flirting with Fifty was born.

I created a hero that I knew my friend would fall for—a hero equally smart, equally outgoing, interesting, adventurous, loving, as well as loyal, and a great single parent to his adult children. And that's how Dr. Jack King came to exist. He was the perfect man, and probably only man, for Paige.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

The finished, published Flirting with Fifty is a different book than the book I started with. Several years ago I wrote a Flirting with Fifty that was a continuation of my bestselling novel, Flirting with Forty, but the publishing world didn't want it.

Sequels written 10-plus years apart aren't necessarily successful, and I was challenged by my agent to write something new with the title Flirting with Fifty. It took a few failed starts, before I realized I had my Paige, and then my Jack, and the story came together. I'm very glad I wrote a fresh story, too.

I come from a family of academics—my dad was a professor, my brother is a professor, my mother's grandfather was a professor, and my East Coast cousins are science professors just like Jack—so tapping that academic background, and pairing Professor Paige Newsome, my math whiz, with Dr. Jack King, my science whiz, was fun, especially as they are such opposites, and I do think opposites attract!

Once I had the setting and conflict down, it was a relatively quick sell to Cindy Hwang at Berkley and here we are, launching the first story in a trilogy about modern, mature heroines, who are smart, interesting, and appealing women in their 50s and 60s!

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

I have a fantastic agent, Holly Root, and an equally brilliant editor in Cindy Hwang, and both really embraced my vision for this series. Cindy saw a need in the marketplace for romances featuring women who weren't merely "feisty, silver-haired seniors,” but strong, successful women who have raised children and are still engaged with their parents, women who are working and enjoying close female friendships, even as they try to live as fully as possible. She's been wonderful in encouraging me to write the stories of my heart, and it's been an absolute joy.

This series featuring Paige, Andi, and Margot are perhaps my favorite books I've ever written, and that's saying something as I've written 75 books now!

Jane Porter: On the Joy of Writing Mature Characters

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

The writing surprise for me was the difficulty in creating a self-contained, emotionally reserved heroine as the protagonist for a romance novel. A reserved heroine works in women's fiction, but getting her to open up on the page fast enough for the romance reader isn't easy. I always forget how frustrated romance readers can get with this kind of heroine. Romance readers read to be immersed with emotion, not have a cerebral heroine pushing men away.

So, why write an emotionally reserved heroine? Good question! (And I've written several of these “contained” women over the years, women who've been burned, or women who don't trust men, or women who think they are fine as an island.) Maybe I like these heroines because it is a challenge as a writer, and it forces me to dig deeper and work harder.

I certainly wrestled with Paige throughout the first draft of the story. I'd write and revise, get input from close author friends, and then write some more. The thing is, a 50-year-old woman isn't the same as a 25-year-old woman. I wanted to respect Paige as a mature woman, and not minimize her experiences, or her wounds from an emotionally exhausting marriage.

Conversely, there is so much pleasure then, in having this contained heroine fall in love and open to new experiences, as well as excitement about the future. Love, in my mind, is about hope and faith; it’s the best, bravest part of ourselves, and I truly prefer writing about characters who aren't perfect, characters who are a bit scarred and mistrustful, because when they get their happy ending, it’s so well earned and well deserved.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I would like to remind my readers that they're never too old to love, to fall in love, or to feel cherished and valuable. I worry that mature women in our Western society aren't treated with as much respect and appreciation as they should be. America, particularly, is a very commercial, consumer society that elevates youth and beauty over wisdom and maturity.

But truthfully, a mature woman is incredibly inspiring, interesting, and exciting. I want my books to empower women and validate them, whether they're single or married, dating or grieving. I don’t want to sound preachy, but women deserve entertainment that makes them feel good.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Commercial fiction is about marrying creativity to commerce—pairing our own stories with what readers want to read. I would encourage writers, then, to study the market and see where you as a storyteller fit in. You don't have to fit in to succeed, though.

There are a hundred paths to publishing these days, and millions of readers out there waiting for a great story, so have clear goals, know what it is you want to write and why you want to write those stories, and then don't give up. Write, submit, or write and publish.

You don't have to be everything to everyone. Just find your niche, find your readers, and give them the stories they love ... and the stories you love to tell. (I guess that’s more than one piece of advice ... but I’m passionate about the topic!)

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