In the days of the westward movement women were second class citizens. It’s important to remember that when writing historical stories, whether they be romances or westerns. With few exceptions women weren’t much more than slaves. So a heroine would probably be trapped in this sort of situation. The man, her master, may be her father or an elder brother who’s now the head of the family or even someone her family sold her to. He might be the man she works for, as in cooking, cleaning, washing. Or she could be an innocent girl caught up in the life of a “soiled dove,” or a widow battling being alone again.
Consider the set-up of a few of my books to see how these poor ladies are situated: In IMAGES IN SCARLET, my heroine, Allison Caine, lives in Missouri. It’s 1866. Her family died during the Civil War, and her father, a photographer of famous people during the war, has died. Trained by him to be a photographer, she sets out alone with her camera equipment in what was known as a “what’s it” wagon to go to Santa Fe where she wants to set up a photography business. But she knows she can’t travel the trail alone, so she plans to join up with a wagon train. Oh, I forgot to tell you, she’s armed with a Navy Colt, just in case.
In MONTANA PROMISES, seventeen-year-old Tressie buries her mother and a stillborn child and is left alone on the prairie. She is obsessed with getting revenge on her father who deserted them to go hunt for gold. The only way she can do this is with some help from a man. And in rides Reed Bannon, badly wounded and slightly flawed, but the answer to her needs. Except he doesn’t want to take her with him. She must figure out a way to change his mind. Women could not travel alone without dire consequences.
And so the stories go. If they are to be a tad realistic, then the women’s lives should be depicted much as they were. I prefer to write more realistic romances than many writers do, but leaving out the bedbugs and lice is probably a good idea. Hard to write a convincing love scene between two people who haven’t bathed in weeks, maybe months, and are infested with bugs. I get around this by having a lot of heroine-and-hero in-the-water scenes just to get them cleaned off a bit before they crawl into bed together.
So there, now you know what Sexy, Dark, and Gritty really means.