Evolution of a Romance Reader

Posted October 22, 2014 by Holly in Discussions, Promotions | 13 Comments

heart-book-2Holly: Back in the early 2000’s, my life was a mess. I had just gotten out of a bad marriage, moved to a new state and started over. I’m not going to lie, I was in a bad place. My head was a mess. I had no friends. I was starting a new career. I was raising two kids on my own. It wasn’t pretty.

A few months after I moved to California, my mom went on a roadtrip with my grandparents. They love audiobooks and always had one available for their trips, and this was no exception. The book they were listening to was Killjoy by Julie Garwood. My mom came back and had about 4 hours of tape (CD? I can’t remember now which it was) and she holed up in her room to finish it, snapping at any of us who interrupted her. When she was finished she handed it to me and said, “Listen. Now.” My mother, gotta love her.

While I listened to the audiobook, she went to the library and found as many novels by Garwood as she could – most of which were historicals. When I finished the audiobook, she handed me the stack of library books and my life was changed forever. Prior to that, I’d read a few romance novels; mainly Harlequin category romances my friends and I would snicker over in high school, or the occasional romantic suspense. The majority of my reading centered around suspense and horror. Romance was so different. The focus was on the individual relationships, rather than the external actions. Happy endings were guaranteed. Which, for the most part, there were in mystery and horror as well, but this was different. This left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

Once I finished glomming Garwood’s backlist, I went in search of other romance novels. I found Hannah Howell’s His Bonnie Bride at my local Target, which I later discovered was a reprint of Amber Flame. I loved that book. It remains one of my favorite Howell’s to this day, partly because it was the first romance novel I discovered on my own, but mainly because it featured the first strong, kickass heroine I’d read (but that’s a post for another day). After glomming Howell’s backlist, I went online to find recommendations for additional authors.

I discovered Simon and Schuster’s author message boards when I did a search for Julie Garwood.  There I found like-minded women who loved reading and romance just as much as I did. They played games, discussed their favorite scenes and characters, and talked about their lives. It wasn’t just a bunch of strangers in a chat room, it was an entire community of readers who looked after one another.

That’s where I met Rowena and Casee. I don’t remember how we first came to talk outside of those message boards, but I do remember feeling like they saved my life. Maybe that sounds a little dramatic, but it’s true. They may not have realized it, but they reminded me that life could be fun and silly, and that women could (and should) support one another. We bonded over Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught and Linda Howard. We swooned over the heroes and complained about the stupid things the heroines did. Then we talked about our lives; shared stories about our kids, our exes, our jobs. Reading romance reminded me that not all relationships were doomed and creating bonds with those women reminded me that I wasn’t alone.

Rowena: I read my first romance novel in January of 1999 and like Holly, my life was a mess. I just graduated from high school and nine months later, I was a mother. I was still a kid and yet I was a mother, too.

I grew up in a large Polynesian family with parents who were pretty religious. We went to Church every Sunday and we had family home evenings every week. I’m one of the youngest in the family bunch so I’m low man on the totem pole, but I looked up to my older siblings. I always wanted to please them. Same with my parents. I was the good girl. I wanted everyone to love me. When I graduated from high school and found out that I was pregnant, I freaked out. I thought my family, being the religious family they are, would disown me or that they’d kill me. I knew that they were disappointed in me, but they didn’t kill me and they didn’t disown me.  They rallied around me and they took care of me and my new baby. Because of that, I wanted to please them even more. I did whatever they told me to do and I kind of lost myself. I spent most of the time tending to my newborn and trying to earn their respect back.

I would later learn that I didn’t need to earn anything back because we were family. Like Lilo said, “Nobody gets left behind” and they all adored my baby. Almost as much as I did. But it was a long time before I learned that lesson.  While I was killing myself trying to please my family, I spent a lot of time at home being the family nanny. I had a lot of time on my hands when everyone was at work. My older sisters read romance novels and I’d see them around the house. I remember one day, I was so bored I picked up the first book that I came across and started reading.

It was Something Wonderful by Judith McNaught.

I started that book and a passion for reading was born. I had to read everything that I could get my hands on and then I had to talk about it with someone. Nobody in my real life shared my love for these books, not even my sisters whose books I was reading. I stumbled upon the Julie Garwood Bulletin Board at S&S and it was there that I met Holly and Casee. It was through that bulletin board and meeting my new book friends that I started to live not only for my family and my baby, but also for myself again.

Before I started reading, I was living my life to please other people but reading romance gave me something that was just for me. I’ve never looked back.


What about you? Do you remember the first romance novel you read? Where and when did you get your start with the online romance community? 

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13 responses to “Evolution of a Romance Reader

  1. Jen

    Aw, you guys are so awesome! What great stories, and great reminders that romance is awesome. 🙂

    Romance saved me too! I have always dipped in and out of romance, ever since high school when I used to read mostly Harlequin Regencies and Intrigues. Every few years I’d go on a binge and read a handful, but then I’d put them down again. Then about 5 years ago after my first son was born, I was a mess. I had some major health problems after the birth. I had no life, I was stuck at home with this baby that did nothing but cry, and I felt like crap. I had multiple surgeries and was in physical pain all the time, and there was some genuine worry that the problems wouldn’t be able to be fixed. I basically stumbled on a Victoria Dahl (Good Girls Don’t), and it was so different than the historicals and suspense I had read. I was hooked and started reading everything romance that I could get my hands on. And then I started reading romance blogs, smart ones that analyzed and discussed and picked apart books, which set my English geek heart all aflutter. It sounds dumb, but romances really reminded me that sex and love were fun, because at that point I was feeling like those things might never be a possibility for me again. Reading romance gave me more confidence in my body again and gave me a respite from the heavy load I felt like I was dragging around with me all day. I can honestly credit romance novels with helping me pull through that time.

    • Aww, Jen. Your story is wonderful and I’m so glad that we’re doing this blackout because it’s reminding me of the good that reading and romance brings into our lives. With all of the bad things that have been going around lately, I’d forgotten.

  2. I have very fond memories of Sandra Canfield/ Karen Keast – her harlequins were to die for. A favourite is One Lavender Evening which has a touch of paranormal before it became a staple line in Romancialand. And Voices On The Wind – le sigh! Brilliant!

    And Linda Howard back when she was published by S & S – I made a fantastic for-life-friend through the book boards over at S & S.Fifteen plus years we have been friends now and we stay in touch regularly! I adore LH’s Kell Sabin series and re-read often, in fact everything before she went hardcover.

    • I remember the LHBB. Kell Sabin was such a popular hero on there. What book is his again? I don’t even remember if I’ve read his book or not. I’m thinking no.

      I have those same boards to thank for introducing my crazy friend, Holly to me. We met on those boards and she’s good and stuck with me forever now. We may drive each other crazy from time to time but haha for her, I’m not going anywhere. 🙂

      Can you believe that the first time that I met Holly in person was when she picked me up from my house and we went on an 8 hour road trip together? Talk about crazy. Maybe I’m crazy too.

      • His book is Diamond Bay – well worth a read. The friend I met on the boards is crazy too – we are such a pair that we call ourselves the Pea Pod – cos we are so alike. I have never met her in person – we are seperated by the pond but we keep in regular touch – I get free phone calls to the States!

        • Go find a copy of Diamond Bay – the others in the Kell Sabin books are Midnight Rainbow, White Lies and HeartBreaker – he appears in all of them! 😀

          • I’m lucky that my crazy friend is just a couple of hours away from me. Still, it’s great to have someone that you can text about any and everything to, no matter how crazy and have them still want to be around you. lol.

            I have all of those books. I think I will get them read. Thanks!

  3. CelineB

    Growing up I read a lot including Sweet Valley High books and loved them. When I got to high school and college I was more into watching movies and hanging out with my friends than reading. In college, I read Pride and Predujice and loved it. I come from an intellectually snobby family so I looked down on ‘romance’ but Jane Austen. Was literature so that was okay. Reading that book got me back into reading in general but I stuck to literary classics.

    A few years later, I started a job where I could listen to audiobooks while working. I tried literary fiction but it was harder to follow than genre and, frankly, it depressed me. My workplace was a windowless, concrete, cubicle-filled block. I needed books to take me away from there and make me happy. I read a short review of Match Me if You Can by SEP in Entertainment Weekly and decided to try it on audio. I fell in love. I also tried the Stephanie Plum books based on recommendations of my coworkers. I realized that even when reading classic literature I grasped onto any aspect of romance in those books. At first I stuck to only listening to romance books but soon I realized there were so many that I wanted to read that weren’t on audio so I started reading them outside of work. Now I still read the occasional literary fiction book and several mysteries but the majority of what I read is romance.

    • Hi Celine! Thanks for stopping by. I remember reading those Sweet Valley High books in middle school. They were a big favorite of mine. I was the same way in high school, I was more into hanging out with my friends and watching 90210 to bother with books. I’m glad I wised up on reading because I love it so much.

      I’m probably one of the only readers that I know that still hasn’t tried audio books. Oh, well. I like SEP’s older books but I haven’t enjoyed one of her newer books in a while. Ahh.

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