Like Mystery? Love Mom? Look to the Romance Novel’s Hate-Love Relationship with
As Mother’s Day approaches, Romance writers celebrate our actual mothers—biological
or surrogate. We laud them for their wisdom and patience, and thank them for the
endless ways they’ve encouraged or corrected us as we find our way in the world. Our
mothers made us readers and became our first readers when we began to write.
Without my mother I wouldn’t be writing these words, but in romance fiction mothers
play a different role, most often by being absent, and some times, if the writer is lucky
or clever, by being a mystery.
As romance writers, it’s our job to separate our heroines from their mothers as quickly,
and often as brutally, as we can. “First, whack the parents” is an established rule of
writing popular fiction. The heroine may have a dog, a horse, or a friend, but never a
wise and loving mother. To be a heroine, she has to find her way to lasting love by
The writer’s method of separating a heroine from her mother can be cruel or comic.
Contrast Fontine’s separation from Cosette in Les Miserables with Jane Austen’s
separation of Elizabeth from Mrs. Bennet in P & P. Or consider Naledi Smith’s
motherless upbringing in foster care in Alyssa Cole’s A Princess in Theory, which makes
Naledi the perfect spunky, I’ve-got-to-do-it-all-by-myself heroine. As writers, we’ve
done our first job when we get the mother out of the way and set up our independent
heroine to stumble or stride alone along the path to love.
Nevertheless, our heroine can’t actually reach her happy ending unless she comes to
terms with her absent or problematic mother. She must solve the “mystery” of her
mother. She has to know her mother to know herself, and only with that self-
knowledge, that recognition of herself as her mother’s daughter, will she choose wisely
in the matter of love.
The heroine’s need to understand her mother hands the writer a great opportunity to
make of the missing mom a mystery. Who was she? Why did she leave, or die? How is
the heroine like or unlike her? A writer can answer those questions in a single sentence
as Austen does about Mrs. Bennet and Lady Elliot. Or the writer can make the absent
mother haunt the story.
The “mystery” mother, in whatever century she’s from, is pure gold for the romance
writer. Over the past year my sisters and I have been going through thousands of family
photos and slides our mother kept, discovering things we didn’t know as children. One
of the slides shows Mom (in a gorgeous dress worthy of Lady Felicia in the Father Brown
mysteries) with Dad and the then youngest child. We lived in Honolulu at the time, and the three of them had returned to the mainland. “Oh,” said my sisters, “Don’t you
remember? That’s when Mom was thinking of divorcing Dad.” The mystery of mom hit
me squarely. Who was she? The young woman who’d meant to be a journalist and
travel the world covering international news? Or the wife of a rising executive managing
a gracious home and growing family? Why did she want to leave? Why did she decide to
A powerful novel haunted by an absent mother is Joy Kagawa’s Obasan. It’s the story of
a Japanese-Canadian family broken apart by internment during and after WWII, but it’s
really a detective novel in which the heroine must solve the mystery of her mother’s
failure to return to Canada after the war. Clues abound in every chapter. The answer,
when it comes, is stunning, heartbreaking, and liberating all at once.
In a more modest way the dead mother in A Lady’s Guide to Passion and Property, one
of my Husband Hunter books, is the source of the novel’s mystery subplot. Raised by a
loving innkeeper father, Lucy Holbrook accepts the story that her mother died in
childbirth. Her innkeeper father’s insistence that she become a lady puzzles her. It is
only as Lucy is drawn into fashionable society that she begins to suspect a secret in her
past. The secret is concealed in the troubled mind of her childhood companion, simple-
minded old Adam. When Adam’s heartbreaking secret is finally revealed, Lucy’s
understanding of her identity and her mother’s frees her to become the lady she’s
meant to be.
In A Princess in Theory, Cole’s heroine Naledi also meets someone who insists that she
has an identity far from her grad-student, waitressing, foster-child circumstances. She,
too, discovers that there is a mystery surrounding her dead parents that must be solved
before she can find lasting love.
That’s it, the two-part, hate-love relationship of the Romance Novel and mothers. First
whack the mom; second, let her haunt the heroine.
Just for fun see if you know the titles of these stories with absent moms who haunt their children--
1. A mom who played Dusty Springfield songs and died in a car crash.
2. Three dead moms who left orphans in the small English village of Highbury.
3. An English Quaker mom who died leaving her daughter to care for her blind
4. A mom who ran away with her lover leaving her son at the mercy of his aristocratic
mates in an English boys’ school.
5. A mom who died protecting her infant son from a powerful enemy he would one day
Find the answers at www.facebook.com/KateMooreAuthor
A Spy's Guide to Seduction
March 12, 2019
Historical ~ Regency ~ Romantic Comedy
An independent lady is accidentally betrothed to a spy with a mysterious past in this Regency gem from beloved, award-winning author Kate Moore. A volume of tips for the marriage-minded brought them together, but their sweeping adventure will change all the rules of engagement . . .
When her desperate mother sends her The Husband Hunter’s Guide to London, outspoken Emily Radstock rails against the slim book of manners, boldly declaring that she should wed the first “imbecile” she meets and be done with the matter. Too bad Sir Ajax Lynley overhears her outrageous proposal and holds her to it. But he’s no dullard—he’s a wily government agent who needs the cover of a beautiful fiancé to pursue a deadly enemy. To resist his charms, Emily turns to the guide she disdains—and does exactly the opposite. Dress fashionably? She enshrouds herself in black crepe. Be demure? She steps into danger and faces down criminals alongside her “intended” . . . whose thrilling seduction may be anything but a charade.
Praise for Kate Moore’s previous novels
“Moore writes with a lyrical beauty that will leave no heart untouched.” —RT Book Reviews
“Fans will hope for more of Moore’s sinful delights to come.” --Library Journal (starred review)
“Moore skillfully whets readers’ appetites . . .” --Booklist
A native Californian, Kate taught English to generations of high school students, who are now her Facebook friends, while she not-so-secretly penned Romances. In Kate’s stories honorable, edgy loners meet warm, practical women who draw them into a circle of love whether in Regency London or contemporary California. A Golden Heart, Golden Crown, and Book Buyers Best winner and three-time RITA finalist, Kate lives north of San Francisco with her surfer husband, their yellow Lab, a Pack ‘n Play for visiting grand babies, and miles of crowded bookshelves.