Recently, my mother had a dental emergency and called me to chauffeur her to my dentist's office and wait for her. She pressed a paperback romance into my hand to entertain me while I waited.
My mother has been a voracious reader of romances for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, she was a charter member of the Harlequin Book Club. Every month the wide, flat cardboard box would arrive and my mother would eagerly tear into it and consume the half-dozen or so books within. Over the last several decades she has purged her library many times over, yet still the paperback romances seem poised to take over the seldom-used rooms of her home that she’s lined with bookshelves and filled with the colorful bodice-rippers.
As a ‘tween, she indoctrinated me into her world by handing me the innocent romances of Georgette Heyer and Barbara Cartland. I learned about sex and relationships by reading Johanna Lindsey and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss novels. When I started writing, it was only natural that my first attempts be romances. I'll never forget the pride with which I brought home my membership card for the Romance Writers of America in 1990.
My first trip to London, I sought out the settings that are clichés of Regency Romances. Regencies still hold a special place in my heart. I still think warmly of my brazen ex-husband opening the door of White’s and walking in, trying to talk our way into the hallowed halls. Yes, I realize it probably set back Anglo-American relations by centuries and reinforced the mannerless American stereotype that Brits seem to find so snarkily amusing. I don’t really care. I stood in the vestibule of White’s! (I even have video of the event to prove it.)
My romance with Romance goes back decades. I am a romantic. I’ve written them. I’ve devoured them. I’ve had to purge my own library many times over to make room for new favorites. My fascination with the genre has earned me the outright scorn and derision of friends and acquaintances, but I don’t care. I have my favorite authors who are like old friends whom I visit when the mood strikes or I’m feeling nostalgic.
A failed marriage, and a divorce, followed by a string of bad relationships with plot lines straight out of any Danielle Steel novel colored my relationship with the genre. (I’m not a Danielle Steel fan, by the way. Quite the contrary, actually.) I clung to my favorite authors, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Julie Garwood, Debbie Macomber, and Jude Deveraux.
I expanded my literary diet to reflect my own changing attitude. I read Science Fiction, Men’s Adventure, Ian Fleming’s original James Bond series. I found snarky and clever mystery authors and put new favorites Charlotte Macleod and Susan Conant up on the shelf among the bodice rippers. Eventually popular fiction by authors like Rebecca Wells and Alice Hoffman fed my need to consume other writer’s words.
But as I stood there, holding the book my mother pressed into my hand, I smiled to myself. I didn’t have to open it to know that the hero was impossibly handsome, larger-than-life and sexy as hell. I knew without reading the blurb on the back that the heroine was feisty, beautiful, young and that she would be drawn to this dangerous man like a moth to flame against her better judgment. Yes, I knew that flame would burn her before it consumed her, tempering her and gentling him in the process.
That’s the formula of Romance Novels. The fun is in seeing how the author interprets the age-old intricacies of the mating dance between men and women. Regardless of the sub-genre, Romance Novels are optimistic tales of two people satisfying that most basic of human needs – the need to be loved.