Today we welcome author Julia London to Heroes and Heartbreakers. Julia's most recent release, Homecoming Ranch, is the story of a woman who, after being raised as an only child by an irresponsible single mom, suddenly discovers she actually has a family. Julia is here to talk about the meaning of home to romance readers. Thanks, Julia!
Readers like grand adventures. Faraway places and strangers who beckon us. We like to peek into other people’s lives and see where they live, what they do, who they know, what tragedies and triumphs have shaped them. We may read to escape the routine of our lives, but generally we do it safely socked away in our homes, right smack dab in the middle of what shapes us.
Everyone has a concept of “home,” whether it is our mansion, a cramped studio apartment, a tent, or our mother’s house. We all share that point of reference, the understanding of what that place is where we can shake off the outside world and be ourselves and let our imaginations wander down the path the author has treated us to.
I remember as a kid being fascinated by the stories of where everyone came from. Perhaps because my personal story begins with tales of how my family came to live on a ranch in West Texas. At the age of fourteen, my great-great-grandmother, who was accustomed to a plantation life in the deep south, married a man considerably older than she. He was a doctor. Maybe he had a desire for a new practice, or to make a difference in the world. Maybe he just wanted a big patch of land (that’s me, the reader, filling in the blanks). Whatever the reason, he brought her west, and she never saw her mother’s home again.
They settled in the panhandle and lived in a dugout, a home literally dug into the ground, with dirt floors and walls. She gave birth to her children in that dugout with a ranch hand sitting outside in case she needed help. They lived in harsh conditions, with violent weather, skirmishes with Indians, and devastating droughts in that dugout hole in the dirt. But that was her home, and she made it a home for her family. Her children grew up and settled the little town where we lived. And their children grew up and sent more of us into the world. Our sensibilities were born in that dugout. Obviously, I never knew her, but Carrie is a courageous character who looms large in my mind.
Once I began to read, the first thing I wanted to know about the characters on the page was where had they come from? I was disappointed if I didn’t get to see where they called home. How could I understand what their adventure would mean to them if I never saw what they were leaving behind? Was their home constant? Was it warm? Was it a prison or sterile? Cold or nurturing? Once I had that, I felt I had a handle on the character and how they interacted in every situation.
When I began writing, I better understood the significance of being inside a character’s home. Just as in the real world, you think you know someone you see on a daily basis, but until you walk through their living space and take note of who and what they surround themselves with, or see how they interact with those they hold dear, you can’t really know them.
I remember falling in love with Longbourn, Lizzy Bennet’s home in Pride and Prejudice. I loved peeking in at the secrets whispered between sisters sharing a bed at night, the bickering and sniping of siblings wanting attention and, of course, the love of a father who doted on his clever daughter. I wanted to live there. It scared the hell out of Mr. Darcy, but in the end, his cold and proper relatives in their gilded homes held little appeal and he could not imagine living his life without Elizabeth by his side. And once Elizabeth saw Pemberley, well…she couldn’t imagine making a home with Darcy in any other place.
There’s not a single romance reader I know who doesn’t remember reading the incomparable Jude Deveraux’s The Black Lyon. When the book opens, we see the heroine, Lyonene, in the heart of her doting family. We see her tough but fair mother and her unyielding father. We learn Lyonene is used to being cherished, but that it is not without a price. She must look after those under her parent’s guardianship in order to be treated with care by others.
It is telling at the beginning of her marriage to Ranulf that when Lyonene asks several questions about the earl’s home, he becomes distant. He speaks in general terms of his homeland, but when questioned once more by Lyonene: “You live alone there with just your men? No family? He answers about his home with a simple: “My parents died when I was very young.”
With just that short passage, the reader understands that his home, where he lays his head and where he feels safest, is empty and bereft. We understand a little better his distrust and callous treatment of his sweet bride. Lyonene also realizes what he is missing, what she can change for him, and what that change can bring about for their marriage. Make his home a safe haven. A place of warmth and trust where their love can flourish. By managing his household and gaining the respect and admiration of Ranulf’s people she eventually wins Ranulf over as well.
To a reader, home is more than where her heart is. Home is where she begins her journey into fantastic realms of fiction. Home is where characters unfold, where their lines are colored in. From our homes, we see their homes, and from that shared reference, we know who these characters are, what they are missing, what is at stake, and what they need to be made whole.
And may I say that the journey is made that much more delicious when one can take it in their pajamas with their favorite snack at hand. Now, that’s home.
Learn more or order a copy of Homecoming Ranch by Julia London, out now:
Julia London is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of numerous romantic novels, including most recently her new Georgian series—The Secrets of Hadley Green—which includes The Year of Living Scandalously, The Revenge of Lord Eberlin, The Seduction of Lady X, and a novella available exclusively as an eBook, “The Christmas Secret.” She is also the author of the Scandalous series, the Desperate Debutantes trilogy, and the RITA Award–nominated Lockhart family trilogy, as well as the contemporary romantic novels Summer of Two Wishes, One Season of Sunshine, and A Light at Winter’s End. A native Texan, Julia lives in Austin. To keep up with the latest news or to contact Julia, visit www.julialondon.com.