The road to romance reading is different for many readers, but, fortunately, all roads lead in the same direction. Usually, this means to the bookstore or library, which is exactly where we readers would like to be. No matter the time r the place, or the subgenre of the first romance novel that found its way into our possession, every reader has a tale worth the telling. How does yours begin?
For this reader, the propensity for romance started long before the actual reading of romance fiction. Both of my parents were readers long before I entered their lives, so it was only natural that I grew up around lots and lots of books. My father was of a more intellectual bent, but my mother was the one who read novels, and who did most of the reading to me. From very early on, I had a natural affinity for fairy tales, especially those with love stories in them. If the Once Upon a Time ended with a Happily Ever After, that was a good book by my standards.
My father did try to instill a love of the classics, and, to an extent, he succeeded. I have distinct memories of playing out the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet with my then new cowboy and cowgirl action figures. Before anyone asks, no, I did not know how the play ended at that tender age, and it is probably for the best, because I would have had issues. More issues. Moving on. I filched the copy of an Arabian Nights adaptation from the intimidating set of leather-look-bound selections that were a bit much for the average toddler. I may not have completely understood exactly why the heroine was so intent on telling her new husband those bedtime stories, but I have to admire her resourcefulness, and, as I did grow up to be a writer, myself, one may draw conclusions where one will.
In time, the children’s librarian gently but firmly cut me off from the kiddy room and pointed me toward the adult section. I was salty at first, but that did mean that I was now able to look at the big, thick novels like my mother brought home, so it maybe wasn’t all that bad. Fast forward a couple of years, and we had moved to a new house. One of my mother’s sisters (we will call her Aunt L) lived a few hours’ drive away, and made the trip a couple of times a year. Each time, she brought big paper grocery bags (dating myself here, but that’s fine) filled to the brim with –you guessed it– historical romance novels. Looking back, I am surprised that the oh so proper Aunt L A) had these novels, B) was willing to pass them on to her baby sister (Mom was the youngest) but am absolutely sure that she had no idea what role she would play in the path my reading and writing life would eventually take.
As Aunt and Uncle L always came bearing gifts, it was my job to bring said gifts to the places they belonged. In the case of the books, that meant taking them to the bookshelf in the laundry room, at the other end of the house, and removing book after book, with glorious painted covers, and titles and author names in flowing, often raised and/or metallic script. I was, at the time, strictly forbidden to actually look inside said volumes, and, being a good girl (at the time) I strictly obeyed, but Mom had said nothing about the back cover copy, or the artwork on said covers. Loophole. I spent ages putting together words and images in my head, into some semblance of order, and imagining what it would be like when I was finally allowed to crack the covers and read.
That day came sooner than any of us expected.Aunt L had no part in the book that finally cracked my resolve, as I was with my mother when she bought it from the book section of Caldor, its covers the rich autumn hues of reds and golds, the lush artwork depicting a couple in dress and surroundings that could have come straight out of Arabian Nights, and the back cover copy said nothing about threats of death, but pricked my imagination all the same. My mother started reading it immediately, and I honed in on that sucker like a scent hound on the trail. I badgered her with incessant questions about the plot, to which she finally gave in and muttered something about a girl being kidnapped, spent forty years in a harem, and then went home to Scotland because her daughter in law didn’t like her. I think she was trying to make it sound boring, but, to this day, I remember the exact thought that raced through my head: SOLD.
My reading at the time, mostly Young Adult novels, and a mixture of Archie and horror comics, was all well and good, but this book…this book…I knew, then and there, within the first five pages, that I had found what I wanted to read and write for the rest of my life. Mom found me, and confiscated it, and I stole it again, and there was a back and forth, until she finally relented and got me my own copy. So it began. I still remember my first used bookstore, and combing the flea market my father took me to, every weekend. I remember, in college, visiting the rooms of my fellow students, and noting who had those thick, colorful volumes stashed on their own shelves. Hello, instant friends. I remember, as well, as a young adult, when a next-door neighbor’s daughter fell madly in love with men in kilts, and her mother asked if I could lend the young heroine-in-the-making books I had already read and felt she could handle, and perhaps have a few discussions with the eager young reader. I gladly agreed.
Fast forward to now. I can’t count the amount of romance novels I have read, from pretty much every subgenre, and romance’s kissing cousins as well. I expect there would be a lot of zeroes in that number. I expect there will be a lot more, before I am done. Now, I write the books, as well as read them, and I do know for a fact that some of my books have been the first ever romance for a few readers. I consider that a great honor. It’s an honor, as well, when another reader, romance veteran, or newcomer, alike, ask me what’s good. What is good? Oh, so very, very, very much.
So, my dear readers, I turn it now over to you. What path did you take on your way to becoming a romance reader? Was it a straight shoot or a long and winding road? Have you helped others along their own journeys? Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.