August is Read-a-Romance month, and I am celebrating by thinking back on the many ways that reading romances has enriched my life over the past thirtysome years. Two of the authors with books on my to-be-read pile -- Katharine Ashe and Lauren Dane -- have already posted in celebration of Read-a-Romance month, as has my fellow WisRWA member PJ Fiala. To see if your favorite authors are participating, visit http://www.readaromancemonth.com/.
I started reading at an early age. I was a shy introvert, and I spent a great deal of time by myself, reading DC comic books and Nancy Drew mysteries (which gave me the impression that it was a good thing to be embarrassed by praise).
In my early teens, I started reading my mother's romance novels on the sly. Like many adolescents, I was drawn by prurient curiosity, which was more than satisfied by Judith Krantz (Scruples is the first romance novel that I remember reading).
My grandmother was also a reader of romance novels. She and my aunt would trade paper grocery bags full of paperbacks that they bought at garage sales. My grandmother was more permissive than my parents, and by the time I was 15 or 16, she included me in the circulation of the paperback paper bags.
I was not popular in high school, and my social life (and social skills) were negligible. I also come from a subculture (Upper Midwest Scandinavian-American) which is very stoic and discourages the discussion of feelings. Romance novels gave me a vicarious way to feel connected to other people. They also gave me a vocabulary for expressing emotions.
While I have read many contemporary romances over the years, I have always preferred historical romances, because they provide me with more of an escapist fantasy, without reminders of the stresses of real life (traffic, housework, job responsibilities).
If you are looking for recommended reads this month, consider starting with two of my current favorites, Miranda Neville (her Burgundy Club series is about Regency-era book collectors) and Courtney Milan (I have read only a couple by her so far, and I'm delighted that there are so many of her books still to read). A newer author with only a few novels already published (and a fourth coming in February) is Jennifer McQuiston. Her debut effort, What Happens in Scotland, has a delightful premise that drew me immediately.
If you enjoy heroes who are damaged and vulnerable (but oh-so-redeemable), get thee to a Laura Kinsale novel. My personal favorites are Flowers from the Storm and Seize the Fire. If you like your romance novels with an over-the-top premise and a dose of crazysauce, you may prefer The Shadow and the Star. Its hero is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who was rescued, raised in Hawaii and trained to be a ninja. Yes, he is a white Hawaiian ninja who ends up in Victorian London (having accompanied the Merrie Monarch, King David Kalakaua, to Queen Victoria's Jubilee celebration). I love that Laura Kinsale took an obscure bit of historical trivia (King Kalakaua and his sister, the future last Queen of Hawaii, Liliuokalani, really did go to London for the Jubilee) and used it to bring her hero and heroine together.
This year's Read-a-Romance Month format asks participating authors to answer the same three questions. Here are my responses:
1. Describe the most daring, adventurous, or inspiring thing you ever did. It's hard to choose just one adventure, but I think the most inspiring was exploring the ruins of ancient Ephesus with my husband several years ago. We both love history and share an interest in ancient civilization. My husband once dreamed of being an archaeologist. We both come from blue-collar backgrounds, and we did not have the opportunity to study abroad in our youth. During the recession that followed the tech crash of 2000, even domestic vacations were beyond our means. One of the ways we got through the lean years was by telling each other that, someday, we would cruise the Mediterranean and explore ancient ruins. We finally had the opportunity to keep that promise we made to each other, and it was a wonderful experience.
2. Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer. (How did you decide to get started? Did you always know or was there a specific moment when you knew?) It is perhaps unsurprising that I started writing my first romance novel while in my late teens. It was an Arthurian romance, set in the late 5th century. I had fallen in love with the Matter of Britain after reading Idylls of the King in 9th grade English class. I never finished that novel, and I burned the manuscript (handwritten in a spiral notebook) before I moved out of my parents' house. I started a medieval romance novel in the 1990s, which I still have saved somewhere on a 5-1/4 inch floppy disk. I have finally taken the bull by the horns and finished a manuscript (set in the early 19th century) and allowed other people to see it. We'll see where it takes me.
3. Tell us about The (or A) Book That Changed Your Life. (Why?) When I was 18, one of the paper bags from my grandmother contained The Windflower by Laura London (the pen name of Sharon & Tom Curtis). I cannot express how much I enjoyed that book without employing paragraphs of purple prose (which I will spare you). When I was 10, my family visited Disneyworld. My favorite part of the park by far was Adventureland, and my absolute favorite attraction was Pirates of the Caribbean. The Windflower is a classic romance that is basically set aboard a ship full of Disney pirates, with a heroine who reminds me of Princess Gisele from Enchanted. It is the best escapist fantasy ever. When I passed the paper bag of books along to my aunt, it no longer contained The Windflower. I saved it to read again and again, the first romance novel (but not the last) that I read more than once. There are many books (in many genres) that have had an impact on my life, but probably none greater than that one. I'll be re-reading it this month (for the first time a couple of decades) and seeing how different the experience is now that I know so much more about the structure and elements of romance novels (and have so much more life experience). I'll share my impressions on this blog throughout August.
While I would love to be a full-time author, I will be content if I can someday earn enough from writing to finance my travel habit. At the very least, I can justify spending money on UK travel by telling myself it is research that will make my future novels better (even if it isn't a tax-deductible business expense).