Monday, May 23, 2011

To Virgin or not to Virgin



by Donna MacMeans

I have a secret. I have to admit I'm a little bit nervous about my August release.

You see in all my other books, the heroine has been
a virgin. This isn't a shocker as many, if not most, historicals utilize a virginal heroine. There's a reason for this. Sex was a lot riskier in the nineteenth century (and earlier). It came with consequences beyond that of the heart. This was a time when property passed from father to son - and if that son wasn't really his son - well that might prove problematic. While a means of birth control existed, it wasn't necessarily pleasant and reliablel - not like today - and we won't begin to talk about STPs. So a virginal heroine makes sense - but not always. In REDEEMING THE ROGUE, my heroine thought
she was engaged and offered her virtue as proof of her love. Too bad she gave it up to a slug. I can't call her a woman of experience - not after one unsatisfactory experience - but she's not a virgin either. So I'm a bit
nervous about that.

Now in contemporaries and paranormals, the heroines are often very experienced. I'm guessing that the virginal heroine in a contemporary is as unusual as a non-virginal heroine is in a historical. They're out there but their existence requires a little explanation. LOL - I just remembered
that my one and only contemporary romantic suspense, IN A HEARTBEAT, published under the name Donna Richards also had a virgin heroine...but there was a reason for that - and it helped play into a really hot love scene. Thus I've published three historicals and one contemporary - all with virginal heroines...can you see why I'm a little nervous about this new release?

So I'm curious about your preferences, virgin or non-virgin. Do you have a preference? Is it a preference tied to genre? What are your thoughts?

I'll let you in on a secret. I've had to type this blog pretty much one-handed due to our recent new addition, Shadow. We went to the animal shelter looking for a puppy, but didn't see one that would suit - so we brought a kitten home. I picked out a black kitten as Anna Sugden once told me that people tend not to adopt black cats. While there were some really cute striped kitties available - we decided to adopt one that had a strike against it through no fault of her own. I can pretty much guarantee, she's a virgin (grin).

67 comments:

Kim in Hawaii said...

Aloha!

Kim in Hawaii said...

Cute cat! We are currently fostering a kitten that wondered into our garage during a recent downpour.

Virgin or not, books by Donna MacMeans are autobuys for me!

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, he's going to be going to the Hawaii 5-0 taping, by the looks of it!

Donna, really cute cat! I love black cats. I remember Anna telling me that about black cats and being really sad too. I must say most of my heroines are the opposite of yours - definitely NOT virgins. I'm currently writing one, though. Interesting challenge, isn't it?

June M. said...

Congrats on the new kitty! I love black cats, they are so beautiful.

I have actually read quite a few historicals where the heroine was not a virgin. It really does not matter to me, as long as the story is well written and the lack of virginaty addressed/explained in the book.

MsHellion said...

Shadow is adorable! Good for you!!

I prefer virgin heroines, but a heroine who gave herself once to a slug--and I'm assuming not again--is pretty much a born-again virgin in my book.

I'm actually more annoyed by "promiscuous" virgin heroines. The ones who want to have sex because wouldn't it be wonderful!? And with the first able-bodied man they find. I mean, where are their Puritan Bible-thumping fathers? I mean, I'm only 36 myself and I had a Puritan Bible-thumping father, thanks! I would think someone 200 years older than me would have had someone much more strict!

I love your books, Donna! I would read anything you put out!

Jane said...

Congrats on the new addition to the family, Donna. I don't have a preference. I think it's refreshing to have a non virgin heroine in historicals and the same for virgins in contemporaries. I look forward your upcoming release.

Congrats on the GR, Kim.

marybelle said...

I kind of expect that in historicals (is that a word?) that the heroine will be a virgin. A 'near' virgin should make for very interesting reading.

Sheree said...

What a cute kitty!

It'd be more accurate to have a virgin heroine for a historical, but it's not totally necessary. I get that people do get carried away at times, due to hormones or pheromones, but given the taboo of pre-marital sex, I would think there'd be more reluctance to give into the urges. What I don't get is why the girls are kept ignorant about sex in so many historicals. How can they avoid what they don't know?

Helen said...

Well done Kim have fun with him

Donna

Love the kitty so cute maybe you should get Joanie's kittys over to to him a few tricks LOL

As for virginal or non virginal I don't mind either way as long as it works with the story and I would say your non virgin heroine has a very good reason for not being one, then why not I am looking forward to reading this one.

Have Fun
Helen

Donna MacMeans said...

Kim - How sweet! No wonder the GR loves to head for Hawaii! Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Donna MacMeans said...

Anna -

Well, of course I thought of you when I wrote that "not all" historicals have virginal heroines. You do that wonderfully. Interestingly enough, when I went looking for photos to accompany the blog - I googled "virginal heroines", clicked on images - and about five images of your cover popped up!

Donna MacMeans said...

June M - Isn't it interesting, though, that the lack of virginity needs to be explained in historicals, while the exact opposite has to be explained in contemporaries - why the girl didn't get busy during her earlier years? I find it interesting...of course, that could just be another indication that I need to get a life (grin).

Donna MacMeans said...

Ms Hellion - Thank you! You're sweet as well. Yes- it was just the once and it wasn't a pleasant experience so that plays into her character. The non-virgin was a bit different to write. No spoilers here - you discover this "secret" fairly early in the book. Hope you like it.

Donna MacMeans said...

Marybelle - Love your description of a "near" virgin. I think I'll use that rather than non-virgin.

Right now the kitten is perched on my shoulder like a parrot. I think she might be planning a leap to the keyboard. Just warning in case gibberish erupts. This
will be interesting when I work on my current WIP - which does involve a virginal heroine.

Donna MacMeans said...

Sheree - I don't think they're ignorant that sex exists - just ignorant of what it all involves. Many of the taboos in the Victorian time period included just being alone with a man in a private setting, so the poor girls never even got a chance to follow their hormones.

I remember when I was shopping my first historical which involved a heroine needing to find out about sex so she could tell her students about it, I got a rejection letter from an editor that dismissed my premise as "most women would have been told these things by their mother." I figure - my mother, bless her heart, never said anything to me. Were the mothers of a century ago any different?

Donna MacMeans said...

Jane - I think our own Anna Campbell blazed a wide trail for non-virgins. It had been done before, of course, but her books made them far more acceptable in today's market, I think.

Donna MacMeans said...

Thanks Helen - It is a fun story. Hope you like it!

Beth Andrews said...

Shadow is adorable, Donna! Congrats on your new addition to your family *g*

To me, it's more important that the heroine's virginity (or lack-of-virginity) makes sense to their situation and is in keeping with their character.

Redeeming the Rogue sounds so fantastic! I can't wait until August :-)

barb said...

Have a good day with him Kim

Enjoy your new friend Donna

I don't mind whether they are a virgin or not as long as there is a good story and a HEA ....I have read a few historicals where the heroine isn't a virgin.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

Your book is going to be lovely I know. Donna MacMeans is an auto buy.
I have read a few historicals that feature a "near virgin" and they worked quite well. If you want to get really down to it, I am surprised there aren't more near virgins in historicals. It doesn't take much time to achieve that status really and if a girl is ruined just from getting caught kissing a man........

How well written the explanations are for either the contemporary virgins or historical "near virgins" is the key.

Anna Sugden said...

Aww Shadow looks gorgeous, Donna. What a lucky kitty to have you adopting her. I'm so glad we're helping to crack the myth about black cats *g*.

As to virgins or not, if you write it, I'll read it, because you know I'm a huge fan!

I find it harder to believe a virgin in a contemporary than a non-virgin in a historical. Frankly, as long as the character's actions are well-justified and credible, it doesn't bother me at all.

Landra said...

Congrats on the Chook Kim!

Now Donna, as to virgins... well, I don't really care either way. The reason being is that I know the author is writing the character that way for a reason. The character spoke to you and told you who they were. Can you really change them into a virgin when they are not? I don't believe so.

I get the hesitation, but I can honestly say that I have read other historicals with non-virgin heroines and I did not like them any less. It's a must buy in IMO, and I am sure the rest of your fans will agree.

Dtchycat said...

For me, it really depends on the story - if the reasons are believable - then it doesn't faze me one way or the other - but I agree with MsHellion, the promiscuous virgins are annoying... considering that these girls were being told "its their duty" and look upon by most women as this horrendous chore.

Loving the kitten! Last year we adopted a black kitten (all black, not a speck of white) that had been sitting there for weeks after the rest of his littermates had been adopted from the shelter just because he was all black.

jo robertson said...

Great topic, Donna!

In addition to the reasons you've given, I think society at large has also dictated the virgin/not virgin status of our heroines. As the world has changed, so has our view of women and their "experience."

It's pretty difficult, as you say, to have a virginal heroine in a contemporary and make the story realistic.

I definitely prefer virgins in historicals, though, and that seems realistic to me.

jo robertson said...

Oh, and I meant to say, good for you on adopting Shadow. I'm a sucker for the underdog!

jo robertson said...

I wanted to add another comment, Donna, and that's about adolescent virgins. As a teacher of seniors, I knew that more than half of my students were experienced in some way (although technically virgins). I think writers of YA have a particular challenge in writing their heroines in a "romance" story. One of Stephanie Meyers' success is due to that very real sense of being "untouched" but passionate.

I think she's tapped into that very real (paradox, huh) fantasy of adolescent girls that someone will love them enough to stop. The reality, sadly enough, is that adolescent boys rarely think with their brains.

jo robertson said...

Congratulations on the upcoming release of REDEEMING THE ROGUE. I can't wait to read this one. When does it release?

Donna MacMeans said...

Barb - Do you have a preference with contemporaries?

BJ said...

Hmmm....I don't really think it matters if the story is written really well who cares :0) I mean unless her being a virgin is part of the "Big Picture".

Shadow is totally a cutie :-)

Donna MacMeans said...

Beth - Funny how this one event, having sex for the first time, changes a character. Do you think it has a similiar impact on men? I guess I've never given a lot of time to thinking about the hero's first time as he's always the more experienced one in my books. I know Anna has written at least one where this wasn't true. Funny how we focus so much attention to this one fact.

Donna MacMeans said...

Dianna - Good point about the near virgins. I wonder why there aren't more in historicals myself. I know that my editor once commented that she liked a virgin heroine. When I mentioned that for this book it would increase the conflict if she wasn't - my editor said "the heroine, then, would have to be a different sort of character. I'm just wondering if I achieved that. Of course, they did buy the book so I guess that's an answer in itself. Ahhh...I'm confident in most things in life, but not about my writing.

Donna MacMeans said...

Anna - I did mention that I put your name in this book, didn't I? I needed a British sounding name and I thought - I know one (grin).

I agree about the virgins in contemporaries. Says something about our culture, doesn't it?

Didn't get much sleep last night. Shadow is adapting to a life in a big house and not a cage full of brothers and sisters. She's also learning that - no - you can't walk across the laptop while I'm typing.

Donna MacMeans said...

Oh Landra - Thank you so much for that. It seems like forever since my last book came out so I'm sure that adds to the anxiety.

Interesting about the character telling us who they were. Which they'd do that before the book was half-finished, LOL. Generally, I discover these things about them in the writing and then have to go back and thread various attributes about the character back in the beginning of the book. I've discovered that writing a book is in a totally different order than what I thought when I very first began.

Donna MacMeans said...

Dtychcat - Isn't it amazing? There was one sweet tiny little striped kitten that I loved, but you could see there was preponderence of black cats. The lady at the shelter said they were glad the litter of black kitties came in before the others so they had more of chance of getting adopted. Then the striped kitties arrived.

Actually, my husband was surprised I'd only brought one home. He thought we'd adopt the two sisters - and I did think about it. But he's never had a cat for a pet before, and I haven't given up the idea of a new puppy - so I figured one kitty was enough for now.

Must admit your comment about "promiscuous virgins" has my creative juices flowing. I can see a book about a virgin who was saddled with a misrepresentation about her background that she know nutures as it gives her some form of freedom. That might be fun.

Donna MacMeans said...

Jo - I often get comments at booksignings from young women that they don't read historicals but their mothers do. Somehow I always got the impression that it had to do with their own sense of realism - that they couldn't really concieve or believe a society that placed so much emphasis on a woman's virtue. While I certainly wasn't around during the Victorian or even Edwardian time periods (grin), I can still remember when this was a big issue with women. I wonder if that's why so many young women prefer contemporaries or paranormals with a more experienced heroine - because it reflects their own experience.

Donna MacMeans said...

Jo - Good point about YA. There's a fine line those authors tread. I imagine girls - especially very young girls - would love such a book, untouched but passionate, because it gives them a sense of power. Sadly, I'm afraid you're correct about reality versus fiction - and doesn't that lead to character issues!

Thanks Jo. You know more about this book than anyone else! It releases on August 2nd. We'll be partying in the lair!

Donna MacMeans said...

BBJ - Then I take it you don't really have a preference, some people do. BUt I think you're right. I suppose it's all about the believability of the character.

catslady said...

awww what a cutie. We had a black dog named Shadow for 17 years - rescue and a sweetheart of a dog. Of course I have cats too lol. As to virgin or not - whatever seems to fit the story is fine with me. Not being one can have it's good points - why should the man have all the fun lol.

Donna MacMeans said...

catslady - she's a lover, this Shadow. I do wish she'd stop considering my necklace a cat toy, though.

Isn't it funny that a big to-do isn't made over the man's previous sexual experiences. It's just a given. The woman's has to be explained - one way or the other. Sort of a double standard that, yet one we endorse in our romances.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) said...

Donna, I don't really care one way or the other as far as virginal heroines, just as long as their status in that department makes sense in the context of the story.

Aww, cute kitty!

Pat Cochran said...

Donna,

Cute kitty! Enjoy the company!

In the historicals I have read which
do not have virginal heroines, most
of those ladies are widowed young women.
Or they are Anna Campbell heroines with
a "tinge" of darkness to their lives!
The state of a heroine's virginity
seems not to matter much to me!

p226 said...

I wonder why my brain zeroed in on this simple question...

So I'm curious about your preferences, virgin or non-virgin. Do you have a preference?

... and completely scrubbed the preceding contextual information.

Regardless of the reason, due to the fact that my brain completely scrubbed the contextual info, I'm going to politely decline to answer. :D

TerriOsburn said...

I agree with most of what's been mentioned. I can handle a non-virgin in historicals provided why she isn't a virgin is well explained. Not a fan of the any historical miss jumping into bed with a man without having some kind of realization of the consequences - not just pregnancy or disease but her place in society and her future.

For some reason, I have a hard time with virgins in contemporaries. The author has to really make me believe it for me to buy it. And it also depends on the age/background of the heroine.

I'm sure you've pulled it off beautifully, Donna, you always do.

Donna MacMeans said...

Trish - Yours seems to be the consensus of the group. I recall a long article last year in the RWR. Not sure what it said, but I remeber it wsa several pages. Now I'm wondering how they filled several pages!

Susanna Fraser said...

To me, it's more important that the heroine's virginity (or lack-of-virginity) makes sense to their situation and is in keeping with their character.

Yes, this.

I've just started a historical manuscript where the heroine isn't a virgin because she's a widow...but the poor thing is widowed pnly a fortnight into her first marriage, just after she and her first husband got past the awkward newbie fumbling stage to really having fun in bed (she'd been a virgin, he a near-virgin).

Donna MacMeans said...

Pat - Love that tinge of darkness that Anna does so well. Not sure I could handle women with a past half so well. My heroine will be pleased that this isn't an area of concern. (grin)

Anna Campbell said...

Donna, how funny! Mind you, Charis in COS was a virgin, so I've done one. Hmm, doing a virgin doesn't sound quite right, does it?

Donna MacMeans said...

P226 - Not see, I thought the title would pull you out of hiding, but I didn't plan on spewing Diet Coke on my laptop at your response (big grin). Quite the diplomat, you are.

Anna Campbell said...

Pat, just a tinge? LOL! I'm having fun with my virgin right now. Actually that doesn't sound right either! Donna, what are you getting us into? You naughty wench!

Anna Campbell said...

Interesting, Donna. I'm not quite sure I'm quite the trailblazer you say but it's lovely of you to think that! Even way back when the books weren't explicit, I can remember reading quite a lot of widows. Girls with QUITE as much experience as Olivia maybe not! ;-)

Donna MacMeans said...

Aww...Thank you Terri ! I tend to agree with you about contemporaries, although there was a time that wasn't necessarily true. I wonder when it changed? I remember even in the 80s the heroines of all the various genres were virgins. Of course, paranormals weren't as big then as they are now...and paranormal heroines may have a whole different set of values relating to sexual activity based on their world. I wonder if that had something to do with the shift, or if it is all reflection of today's values. I suspect the latter but I wonder exactly when it switched.

Donna MacMeans said...

Susanna - So now she's a near virgin as well. Poor dear, how frustrating! It should be interesting to see how the author handles the consequences. Does she now become promiscuous as her widowed status might allow? Or does she fall back on her virgin upbringing and shy away from sex? That could be an interesting read!

Donna MacMeans said...

Anna - LOL on doing a virgin. Heck your heroine has done one of those as well (grin). Yes - I was surprised by your cover so predominately on google images. They weren't all your covers, just Midnight's Passion. But it was there something like five times. I think I saw maybe two covers from others - but they weren't nearly as distinctive as the gorgeous purple and red. Not sure how that happens - appearing on google images. I was expecting to see pictures of Snow White (grin).

Donna MacMeans said...

Anna - Well - I admit discovering romances fairly late in life. But once I'd discovered them and thought I might try my hand at one, I took the suggested reading list that appeared in the back of Kathryn Falk's how-to essays and went to a used book store and bought as many as I could find - historicals, categories, contemporaries, a little magic and a few light weight suspenses - seems serious "edge of your seat" suspense romances didn't come along till later. Of all those older romances that I read, I don't think any of the historicals had experienced heroines - so yeah - you're a trail blazer to me (grin).

Susanna Fraser said...

It should be interesting to see how the author handles the consequences. Does she now become promiscuous as her widowed status might allow? Or does she fall back on her virgin upbringing and shy away from sex? That could be an interesting read!

Well, the author is me, in this case. :-) She's going to end up quickly in a marriage of convenience to a friend of her late husband's, who marries her partly at his dying friend's request (so she won't be left destitute) and partly to have a reliable live-in caretaker for his aging, ailing mother while he's off having an adventurous military career spanning three continents. By the time he finally comes home, she's righteously frustrated and annoyed with him.

Christina Brooke said...

Hi Donna, ooh, I'm looking forward to another Donna Macmeans historical!

Interesting question. I prefer to write non-virgin heroines myself and have no trouble at all reading them. Did you find it a little liberating to write a non-virgin this time?

Anna Campbell said...

Donna, the funny thing about MWP featuring in that is that she ISN'T a virgin and it's a major part of the plot that she isn't (although my hero spends quite a bit of time assuming she is!).

Donna MacMeans said...

Suzanna - Well then it sounds like an especially good read! Yes - I'd think she would be annoyed with him when he returns and now he'll have to woo his way back into her bed. Very nice!

Donna MacMeans said...

Christina - Hmmm... I wouldn't say liberating. It might have been if her limited experience was a good one - but as it wasn't, so the hero had to work doubly hard to coax her into giving it another shot. Hadn't thought of it till now, but in two of my books, the hero assumed my heroine wasn't a virgin because of her actions, but she was. Maybe it's time to try a bawdy widow book - that might be fun!

Nancy said...

Kim, congrats on the bird!

Donna, what a cute kittie. I bet you're having a lot of fun with her.

Interesting question about heroines. I don't really care what the heroine's history is. I care more about how (and whether) that history affects her.

I'm so looking forward to this book!

Donna MacMeans said...

Nancy - Teehee, you would. This book actually has boom in it...and coffins - lots of coffins.

Okay - back to virgins, non-virgins - you've written both historical and contemporary. Did you differentiate based on genre?

While my current WIP involves a virgin, I think I'm going to have to write that bawdy widow book because I'm thinking I may be getting in a rut.

Nancy said...

Donna, you asked whether I made choices about the heroine's virginity based on genre. I had to think about it for a minute. I've written both regular and paranormal historicals. They produce a tie between experienced and not, two of each.

Of my three contemporary heroines, none is a virgin.

I think a virgin heroine in her mid-twenties, in a contemporary, non-Inspirational, needs some explanation while her more experienced cousins do not. In historicals, the explanation is on the other foot because there was an expectation of virginity with any never-married woman.

Donna MacMeans said...

Nancy -

I find it so interesting that things have shifted 180 degrees in 100 years. There's reasons for it of course, but makes you wonder how things will look in the next 100 years.

Louisa Cornell said...

The GR is back in Hawaii! He is no dummy!


Donna, Shadow is gorgeous! What a lucky girl she is to have such a great new home!


I think I am with everyone else. If the virginity makes sense in context and is keeping with the heroine's character great. If her not being a virgin is what it takes to make her more real I have no problem with that either. There are so many possibilities when writing a virginal heroine and just as many when one is writing an experienced one.

LilMissMolly said...

I love being asked this question! For the most part, I like more grown up women and those who might have lost a husband early in life or was in a loveless marriage until his untimely demise (I will rarely read a story that has an extra-marital affair).

I can see why many historical fiction stories have virgins as the heroines tend to be young. Thrillers tend to have older more mature women and fewer virgins.

Regardless of genre, I truly despise virgins having the big "O" as that is so unrealistic. I really liked how Catherine Coulter dealt with it in Ryder Sherbrooke's story, where it was painful for the first few times but Sophie grew to appreciate it. :)

Donna MacMeans said...

Hi Louisa -

Sorry for the late response - we lost power last night in the storms. Though it was part of the storm front that spun off that awful tornado in Missouri, we just got the high wind and some brief rain .

I'm pleased and surprised that most respondants are so flexible. Basically, if the story is good and the character works - go with it.

Donna MacMeans said...

LilMissMolly - as I mentioned to Louisa, my apologies for the late response. We lost power last night (but at least it meant I got to go to bed early...what else can you do?) I've been resetting all the clocks this morning.

Interesting observation about the difference in heroine age between romance and thrillers. This must be a function of the market. I remember hearing a well known editor speaking at a convention who said that most readers of romance know how it feels to be 20. Not all readers know how it feels to be 40. Therefore, to reach the biggest share of the market in an industry where the reader identifies with the heroine - they want a younger heroine.

That said - as an older woman myself - I'd prefer to read a book with an older more experienced heroine. Thrillers or the mystery market might be something to pursue. I'll have to keep that in mind if Berkley decides they've had enough of me (grin) - Hope that doesn't happen any time soon, though.