For romance readers, there’s nothing like the first time. No, not that first time. Well, not always that first time. First love scenes are important, whether the parties involved have that sort of experience or not, but as anyone who has been reading romance for more than one book can attest, love scenes are only one part of the romance experience. If romance reading were a video game (and I would totally want to play it, if it were) every first is a chance to level up. Firsts are eye openers, game changers, new horizons. Sometimes, they’re a confirmation that something isn’t for us after all, but, other times, they fling open the door to a whole new wonderful world of reading. There’s no way to tell until we try, and even our favorite author, subgenre, setting or series was a first time once, so what was it that first whetted our appetites? Let’s take a walk down memory lane.
Every romance reader was a non-romance reader at one point. For most of us, it wasn’t a true cold opening, as we’ve read, seen, and heard happily ever afters (HEAs) in fairy tales, cartoons, songs, TV and movies. Then, by some turn of events, we found our first romance novel. Some of us had it given to us by an older relative or friend, maybe even a teacher (hey, it happens!) and some of us took stealthier means. However it came about, there was that one thrilling moment when we were not romance readers, and then, miracle of miracles, we were. It happens in an instant. Maybe it’s the first tingle of the heartstrings when the lovers first meet and we know, even if we’re too young to know exactly what (eleven-year-old with her mother’s copy of The Kadin under the bed in the guest bedroom, I am looking at you. Okay, me. That was me. No regrets, and thank you, Mrs. Potter, for how you handled my book report on that enlightening volume. I’m sure that was a first for you, too, in sixth grade English.) but once it happens, we are forever changed, and it’s not possible to go back. Then again, who would want to?
After that, we’re only embarking on a world full of firsts. That eleven year old under her parents’ guest bedroom bed grew into the college student who accidentally found her first used bookstore (UBS) when exploring her new hometown, and walked up and down steep Vermont hills, her nose stuck in big, thick historical romances like Sea Star by Pamela Jekel, which started a lifelong squealing fangirl geekery over real life pirate queen, Anne Bonny. In that same era, she had a friend literally run across campus, to put Lovesong, by Valerie Sherwood in her hand and announce that would be her next favorite romance…and it was. That collegian later became a young adult who had dismissed inspirational romance as too sweet and placid, until she stood at a pay phone (long before the age of the cell phone) in freezing gusts of spring wind, to ascertain that her local UBS did indeed have a copy of Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers, in stock, and would indeed hold it for her until she could get there. She took a chance on her first multicultural romance and tried Yamilla, by Mildred E. Riley, then informed, not asked, her boss at the bookstore where she then worked, that she would be leaving early that day, because Mildred E. Riley would be signing books at the rival bookstore, and she was not missing the chance to meet the woman who wrote that book. (She got the permission and the autograph.)
After that, well, the firsts kept on coming. She read her first contemporary romance. Her first paranormal romance. Her first YA romance. Her first steampunk romance, first futuristic romance, first time travel romance, first romantic suspense, first gothic romance, first LGBTQ romance, first category romance, first novella, first erotic romance, first e-book, and, as sometimes happens, wrote her own first romance, a historical, and sold it. That led to more firsts, as she went on to write in different eras for each subsequent book. This past weekend, she finished co-writing her first contemporary romance, the first in her first planned series, but this isn’t about her.
This is about all of us. Whether we write or not, we are all readers, every one of us. That spark that flickered to life when we read our first romance, or, if we didn’t like that first one (that happens sometimes, too) the first one that resonated with us, the first one that made us want the second one, that made us want the third one, that made us want, well, most of us stopped counting long ago. Less counting, more reading. The numbers cease to matter, somewhere along the way (except for those of us who read linked books in order, no matter what; if we come into a series at book seventeen, we are stopping, going back for book one and the fifteen that follow it, then we’ll read seventeen.) Romance is wide, rich, and diverse, and becoming more so every day. Even so, it all comes down to the one thing that holds every romance novel ever written together; it’s all about the love. Most people don’t get to fall in love for the first time more than once (well, except for heroes or heroines in amnesia plotlines, but they’re another story, pun intended.) but we romance readers? We get that as many times as we want, and it never gets old.
Now, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Do you remember the first romance novel you ever read? How did you and it find each other? What was your first novel by your favorite author, or in your favorite subgenre? The first time you reread a romance novel or recommended one to a friend? Any other notable firsts? We want to hear them all. If you don’t see the big deal of romance reading firsts, or can’t remember yours, we want to hear about that, too. There’s room for everybody at this table.