Writing About New Adults: When the Romance Novelist is a Perpetual Student

I feel like I have been a perpetual student all my life. With the exception of about three years of working in the “real world” of a government agency, I spent all of my adult life in university settings, as a student, or as an employee. Even my most recent training to become a minster had its own elements of school, retreats taking place one weekend per month over the course of three academic years.


So when I began writing romance novels, new adults appealed to me the most. Young adults embarking on their grown up life, there was always something about it. The excitement of being in one’s twenties and in school appealed to me, the whole process of learning in all kinds of ways, with new people to meet each semester.


Yet, at the same time, I think there is room to challenge the age groups by which we typically define “new adult.” I sense the convention is that these are young adults who are in their early twenties. Yet, there are plenty of young adults in their mid twenties and even older who are dealing with these major milestones.


I modeled the heroes of my first series of novels upon my husband. He is ex-military and got out of the service when he was twenty-six. That is when he began training for his “real world” career. Rick was the first of his friends to leave active duty service for the Coast Guard Reserves. He returned to college when he was in his late twenties. Roger did as well, except that he remained on active duty until he retired years later. Their third friend, Don (The Wedding Bet: Lauren, work in progress) took a path similar to Roger in order to change career tracks within the service.


Do we expect our heroes and heroines to be young adults of the same age? I remember seeing a Facebook group for readers of new adult books. One rule was that both the hero and heroine were supposed to be new adults, and so a book with a hero or heroine older than twenty-five could not qualify. That seemed odd to me. As long as one main character was in the traditional age range, the book should fit, especially if the novel traced the path of the character’s development into adulthood.


Without question, Annelise (Starting Over: Rick) and Denise (Going Home: Roger) fit the new adult category. They were young women navigating very serious relationships on the road to their happily ever after. By the time they graduated college in their early twenties, they were already wearing their wedding rings.

Copyright Barbara James. I submitted an earlier version of this essay for publication in the newsletter published by my local Romance Writers of America chapter.