BOSQUE FARMS — As the song goes, a hero has gotta be strong and fast, and he’s definitely gotta be larger than life.
Romance novel heroes have always hit all those high points, as well as being devastatingly handsome, which for modern readers might seem a bit too much.
Bosque Farms romance novelist Barb Simmons has recently published a book that gives the typical hero a bit of a twist.
Having already published a paranormal romance called “The Guardian,” Simmons decided for her next book she would focus more on reality and what she knew form her life experience.
A “military brat” as a child and a social worker as an adult, she has a strong empathy for men who have served. Watching the casualty reports as a child, she was very aware while many soldiers came home alive, they weren’t necessarily uninjured.
“I decided I’m going to do this series of wounded warrior romances,” she said.
The first in the series, “The War Within,” is available on Amazon.
The hero of the story, Mike, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Marines, is a double amputee.
“We need to have heroes out there like that, who have disabilities, because there are a ton of them,” she said. “No one pays attention to those. They’re all looking at the guys standing by the flag, you know?”
The series also includes Simmons’ first foray into an older heroin.
“She’s independent and doesn’t put up with any crap. The men in these stories, they all are fully-functioning men who enjoy their life just like any other man,” she said. “And they win the day like they are supposed to. I think a lot of people think someone who has a disability, their life is less somehow, and that’s just not true.”
As she was finishing her journalism degree at the University of Oklahoma, Simmons was pulled towards social work after doing volunteer work in the community. After she completed her bachelor’s degree, she entered the university’s program for a master’s degree in social work.
“One of the beauties of social work is you can do a lot of different stuff,” Simmons said.
As a social worker, she has worked in health care, education, even in corrections facilities.
Simmons began exploring romance writing in the 1990s, when her first computer had five megabytes and her desk was a re-purposed office door.
“I found a local writing group, the Land of Enchantment Romance Authors, which was great,” she said. “Then I started having babies; there was a bit of a hiatus, but I kept writing for the most part. Then I think I was burnt out.”
About three years ago, as Simmons was getting ready to retire, she picked up the keyboard again.
“I thought, ‘you know, I’m about to retire. I have skills I’ve worked on for 20 years, so I’ll use them,’” she said.
Self-publishing can be challenging, since an author has to foot the bill for pretty much everything — from a cover design to copy editing. Despite that, Simmons says she has received an amazing amount of help from different people on the book projects.
Her next door neighbor, a Purple Heart Marine Vietnam veteran has become her “technical advisor” for the novels and she’s even gotten real-world advice from local law enforcement officers.
“With these books, there have been a bunch of people in the background and I always appreciate that,” she said.
When Simmons began writing romance novels, she said the genre spoke to her because she was struggling in her life.
“Every time I read one of those, they would just make things better, lighter,” she said. “I like the idea of a couple; it doesn’t matter who it’s made up of, but usually there’s one that pushes the other to face the crap they’re not facing.
“So you get to watch these two people get tortured, jump through a lot of hurdles, but in the end, I do believe in true love.
“I’ve been married to the best thing that ever happened to me for 30 years. (My husband, Charlie) is my biggest fan.”
Simmons says she maps out her story plots on a whiteboard with a grid to show key plot developments and dates in the characters timeline.
“I put a picture of what I am imagining them to look like on the side. And then sometimes just reminders like ‘oh they’re gonna do this for Christmas so remember to go here,’” she said.
Because romance is considered such an unrealistic endeavor, Simmons strives to make as many things as real as she can based on her experience.
“In the first novel, he has pretty bad PTSD. It’s not realistic to have it all fixed by the end,” she said. “But I wanted him to realize that by working with somebody he is seeing benefits, it is helping.
“I just want people with disabilities to have a place. A full-fledged heroin and hero who have earned their spot.”
“The War Within,” part of Simmons’ wounded warrior series, is available on Amazon.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.