Day 17 Lauren Willig – Everyone Deserves Love

Blame It on Eleanor

My romance novel habit is all Eleanor of Aquitaine’s fault.

The Passion of the Purple PlumeriaWhen I was six, I fell in love with Eleanor of Aquitaine. I wanted to be Eleanor of Aquitaine, to ride off on Crusade, to launch a thousand troubadour songs, to marry a king—and then jilt him, and marry another. But if I couldn’t be Eleanor of Aquitaine, I’d have to settle for reading about her. I went through all the younger grade biographies of her in the school library. Finally, in desperation, my father thrust Mary Lide’s Ann of Cambray at me, an action packed medieval romance in which Eleanor of Aquitaine had a cameo role.

And that was that. I was hooked. From Ann of Cambray, it was a short hop to Jude Deveraux and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and Johanna Lindsey and other mass market paperbacks on whose covers scantily clad women with too much blue eyeshadow and anachronistic outfits bent at an improbable angle over the arms of Fabio look-alikes. I read The Wolf and the Dove under the table during Middle School science class (which may account for my science grades) and brought in M.M. Kaye’s Trade Wind to sixth grade history class for our unit about the slave trade.

All of this is a very long way of saying that I’ve spent many years toting romance novels around with me—and just as many years defending them. Over the years, I’ve covered the gamut of arguments as to why romance novels are the best things since sliced bread and can cure the common cold. (Okay, maybe they can’t cure the common cold, but they do provide a more potent form of distraction than Sudafed.)

When I was in high school, filling my book bag with McNaught, Woodiwiss, and Victoria Holt, it was all about the academic angle. Forget test prep flashcards; everything my best friend and I needed to know to ace the verbal portion of the SAT we learned from Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. That tended to silence the mockers fairly quickly—especially if they were using said flashcards at the time.

Ashford AffairIn college, as I devoured Joan Wolf’s Regencies and Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s contemporaries, I had a pompous little set piece about the romance novelist being engaged in the same grand project as Plato or Shakespeare: the attempt to understand human nature. Because isn’t that what so much of the quest for knowledge is really about? And what better lens through which to view the intricacies of the human spirit than the heights—or depths—of romantic love, when people lay their inner selves most bare. (And their outer selves, too, if page 362 was anything to go by.) There was also the speech about the importance of romance novels as a valuable sociological artifact, but I saved that one for (a) social science types, (b) after a few drinks.

Sometimes I wince a little when I remember my college self.

In grad school? It was the era of Julia Quinn and Amanda Quick and I was all about the female empowerment angle. Romances are the most notable form of fiction by women, for women, featuring female protagonists who are more than foils for the main male lead. It’s all about the heroine’s journey, and the hero had better get in a good grovel at the end if he wants to wind up with her. Medieval, Regency, contemporary, it doesn’t matter: in the end, the hero tends to be humbled. The creaking of those greaves when the medieval hero grovels is a distinctly satisfying sound.

Ten years and ten books later, I have a new theory about the power and importance of romance. These books feature bluestockings and tomboys, adventuresses and ingénues, ugly ducklings and prom queens. I’ve read about heroes dealing with PTSD, heroes fighting alcoholism, scarred heroes, too good looking for their own good heroes, and some heroes with serious emotional baggage. In the end, though, the message is the same: no matter how scarred or wounded, no matter how quirky or unconventional (or no matter how staid and conventional), everyone deserves love. For every hero or heroine out there, there’s someone who will love them for their flaws and scars and will, through that love, help them be the best person they can be.

For me, that’s the wonder of romance novels, whether it’s the first you’ve read or the five hundredth: watching two people discover the best in each other and reaffirm that, yes, there really is something lovable in everyone.

What more important message could there be?

I’m sure even Eleanor of Aquitaine would agree.


You are reading this essay at ReadARomanceMonth.com. Be sure to visit the About Read-A-Romance Month to learn more, or the Authors & Contributors page to see a list of all the great romance writers who are participating in celebrating the romance genre during the month of August.  Also visit the Awesome Contests page to see how you can register each week to win “A Month of Romance” (31 books), e-readers, and even the Grand Central Grand Prize, an iPad mini. If you love romance, then this is the place to be!

Lauren is generously donating one autographed copy of The Passion of the Purple Plumeria to a U.S. reader and one autographed copy of The Passion of the Purple Plumeria to an International reader (International readers enter here). U.S. readers, to enter, either leave a comment here or enter the weekly drawing on the contest page. Or both.  (Only one entry per commenter per post, though – multiple comments on one essay does not give you more chances.)  Comment entries must be posted by 11:59pm EST Aug 17 to be eligible, though winners will be announced the following week.

 


Willig LaurenLAUREN WILLIG is the author of the New York Times bestselling Pink Carnation series, as well as the recent bestseller, The Ashford Affair, and a RITA Award-winner for Best Regency Historical for The Mischief of Mistletoe. She graduated from Yale University, and has a graduate degree in English history from Harvard and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.  A former historian and a lapsed lawyer, she lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.

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  • Nancy Huddleston

    I love a good book that shows the hero or heroine has slightly flawed in the eyes of the “important people”. When.in reality they are much more.

    • Lauren Willig

      That’s my favorite kind, too, Nancy– it’s so much fun showing the hidden strengths of overlooked or misjudged characters.

  • Meredith Richardson

    You’re another new author for me and I can’t wait to check out your books.

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks, Meredith! I hope you enjoy the books!

  • Thank you for the international part of the contest! And, of course, for your post so amazing, interesting and rich in humor!

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks, Marinella!

  • MK

    We all wince at our college selves, dont’t we?!

    • Lauren Willig

      Not to mention the college wardrobe fashion faux pas…. It makes me glad that my college days were pre-Facebook!

  • Britney Adams

    I love reading about people finding the best in each other!

    • Lauren Willig

      Especially when they have a long journey to becoming their best selves…. Maybe that’s why stories about redeemed rakes are so compelling?

  • Deb Hinshaw

    Bwahahaha, covers where the heroines wear too much blue eyeshadow and are bent over the arm of a Fabio look-alike….True! Haven’t covers evolved beautifully since those days? Beautiful, rich colors and goodlooking heroes…..
    Thanks for your post today, Lauren. It made me smile. I love your wit here and in your books. I also like your message. Heroes and heroines are all different, but it all comes down to finding that one person that believes in them to have a HEA. Thank you!!

    • Lauren Willig

      And remember the Gothic covers where there was always a governess in a negligee about to fall over the edge of a cliff? I cherish my ancient copies of all of these books with the ridiculous covers. (Sadly, I lost my “fleeing governess” copy of Mary Stewart’s “Nine Coaches Waiting” and wound up replacing it with a new copy with a much more tasteful cover.) I’m curious to see where covers will go next, since these things seem to move in cycles.

      I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed both the post and the books, Deb! Thank you!

  • Kim Cornwell

    Thanks for stopping by. Love meeting new authors!

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks, Kim! It’s great being here and chatting with everyone.

  • Joyce Rajnyak Burkhardt

    I love fun finding new authors at events like this one. I can’t wait to read your books!

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks,Joyce! I hope you enjoy the books!

  • Mary Jo Burke

    Love Eleanor of Aquitaine! The Lion in Winter sealed it. What a life!

    • Lauren Willig

      For me it was “A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver”– such a wonderful book. And then, as you say, “Lion in Winter” sealed it. Although it means I will always picture Eleanor of Aquitaine as Katherine Hepburn.

  • Anne

    Thank you for the great essay. I have thoroughly enjoyed your Pink Carnation Series and look forward to reading the newest one.

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks so much, Anne! I hope you enjoy “Purple Plumeria”!

  • Cat C

    Yes! I love this. There are many reasons why I read romance novels; watching two people not only discover the best in each other but become better people for knowing each other is one of the most important.

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks, Cat!!

  • Carrie Marie

    brilliant sentiments there!

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks so much, Carrie!

  • Melanie Backus

    I would love to read this book. Thank you for the chance!

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks, Melanie!

  • MaryC

    My romance novel habit started with borrowing books from my older sister’s collection. Lovely post.

    • Lauren Willig

      My little sister did the same. Using the term “borrowed” very broadly, since some of them never found their way back…. : )

  • Cheryl C.

    I’m afraid I gave up on real life love years ago. So I live through books. Different genres, different authors, but my greatest love is romance. I especially love the Pink Carnation series whose women refuse to stay where men try to put them.

    • Deb Hinshaw

      Don’t give up, Cheryl. I found real love late….I was 35 when I got married. Mr. Someone is out there somewhere, some day.

      • Lauren Willig

        I second what Deb said! (As someone who also got married at thirty-five….) Everyone’s road to happily ever after is different, but I do believe we all do eventually find that strange and quirky someone. It just doesn’t always feel that way in the lead up to it. That’s when you wish your life was a novel, so you could just read the blurb on the back and be reassured that it’s all going to turn out all right in the end….

        Which leads to the side question of, if one’s life were a novel, what would the cover art be like?

        Anyway, end of stream of consciousness rambling from me! Thanks so much for your kind words about the Pink books!

  • ki pha

    Wow, you started reading romance at a young age. Nothing wrong with that but I’m just amaze at how dedicated you are and praise you for being an author writing in the genre now.

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks, Ki Pha!

  • Glenda

    I like how you write about your evolution as a reader (and eventually into an excellent writer) and your journey reflects the evolution of the genre especially the novel covers. 😀 Romances really do reflect our times as well as the time period about which they are written.

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks so much, Glenda! I’m deeply fascinated by the way the genre has evolved over the past thirty years (and very curious to see where it’s going to go next).

  • Karin Anderson

    I’m afraid I didn’t start reading romance until after college. I was really into fantasy and picked up Goddess of the Sea by P.C. Cast because I love mythology. I’ve never looked back. 😀

    • Lauren Willig

      A friend gave me that book a while back and it’s still sitting on a shelf somewhere. I’ll have to go and dig it up and read it!

  • Kareni

    I suspect that my SAT scores were also high due to being a voracious reader as a teen (and my reading of choice was of romances). I’m also unfazed when encountering words like phaeton and pelisse.

    • Lauren Willig

      It does make for some interesting specialized vocabulary…. When I was a teen, I read a bunch of Barbara Cartland romances in French to try to improve my French. It didn’t do much for my colloquial use of the language, but I did discover a dozen specialized words for nineteenth century horse-drawn conveyances!

  • Patty Vasquez

    “….everything my best friend and I needed to know to ace the verbal portion of the SAT we learned from Kathleen E. Woodiwiss.” A wonderful by-product of reading, I tell my class every year, is that it increases one’s vocabulary, an important life skill. And because I share about my own reading, I can’t wait for school to start so I can tell the kids I discovered an author- Lauren Willig- this summer whose writing challenges my word knowledge (hah! knowledge, in general) on a daily basis. I’m currently reading the 4th in your Pink Carnation series, the story of Vaughn and Mary. Vaughn, I believe, is going to fall hard. Isn’t it the cynical, jaded rakes who are most overwhelmed by love?

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks so much, Patty! I’m so happy you’re enjoying the Pink books. And say hi to your class for me!

      As for Lord, Vaughn, indeed– the more cynical they are, the harder they fall. (Okay, repressing a slap-happy urge to write something about one rake quipping in the forest and no one hearing him.)

      • Patty Vasquez

        My husband thinks I’m insane when I laugh out loud at the computer. I think I read half of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation out loud to him.

        • Lauren Willig

          I’ve gotten a few strange looks for chortling over books on buses and subways…. Airplanes, too, come to think of it.

          I’ve been reading bits of Georgette Heyer aloud to my infant these past few days. Fortunately, she’s too young to complain. (And it has to be good for her, right?)

  • Kim

    Great post! Reading is a great way to enhance your vocabulary!

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks, Kim! Agreed– especially when it came to those purple prose bodice rippers of the 80s! There were so many of what my English teacher called “twenty-five dollar words”. Very useful for vocab building.

  • Melissa Cowling Terry

    I love your post. It goes to show that reading romance can help you in lots of ways. :0)

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks, Melissa!

  • Vonda M. Reid

    Lauren,

    What a beautifully written story detailing your romance reading development.

    Your closing statement said it all:

    “For me, that’s the wonder of romance novels, whether it’s the first you’ve read or the five hundredth: watching two people discover the best in each other and reaffirm that, yes, there really is something lovable in everyone.

    What more important message could there be?”

    Thank you for sharing your story and your books.

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks, Vonda!

  • M Kuxhaus

    I just read Kathleen Woodwiss’ Shanna and loved it! I’ll have to try The Wolf and the Dove next.

    • Lauren Willig

      It’s very over the top, but so much fun!

      • Kiersten Hallie Krum

        Those are my 2 favorite Woodwiss novels. I used to be able to quote portions of W&D… 😉

  • Ann

    Thank you!!

  • Kim

    If you picked 10 people, everyone would probably have a different list. There are so many good books and writers out there. Some of the authors that you list, used to produce 400 to 500 page books.

    • Lauren Willig

      So true! But I’m also always fascinated by how much those lists overlap. I was at a conference a few years ago and mentioned Lindsey’s “Gentle Rogue” and about ten people immediately jumped in to share their memories of reading that book.

  • Jen C

    Aw, what a great piece. 🙂

    • Lauren Willig

      Thanks, Jen!

  • Barbara E.

    That’s just why I love reading romance, there is such a depth of variety in every sub-genre and I enjoy so many of them. I never get in a rut, because I can change it up so easily, and that’s what I do. I’m usually reading two books at a time, one in print and one ebook on my iPhone, and they’re always two different genres such as historical romance and paranormal romance. 😀

    • Lauren Willig

      I agree! It’s also fascinating seeing the ways the various sub-genres grow and develop over time….

  • Author Jeanne Adams

    Hi Lauren! Great post! I’m loving sharing the day with you here on Read A Romance Month! :> Had to LOL about the creaking greaves. Grins.

  • Michelle

    Hi Lauren! I love your post. I also am so fired up that my local librarian turned me on to The Pink Carnation series! She told me about the series just before you visited our library (Gurnee, IL), so I came, met you, and got an autographed copy of The Ashford Affair! Loved it! Love the PC series…I still have more to read and I am so so happy that I have not reached the end…gives me so much to continue to look forward to on the reading front of my life! Thanks for sharing your gift of story telling with us! Michelle H

  • Wonderful post, Lauren! So happy to have you sharing that with us. 🙂

  • Marcy Shuler

    I love this post, Lauren! Though I have learned many things from romances, I read them for this simple lesson: Everyone deserves love. 🙂

  • rebecca moe

    I just finished listening to Purple Plumeria this week–loved it! When I first heard it was Miss Gwen’s book (scary Miss Gwen!) I wasn’t at all sure, but it was wonderful, as usual!

  • Pamby50

    I remember reading Shana by Kathleen Woodiwiss as my first romance novel. I have read everything by her. I am looking forward to reading one of your books.

  • Flora Segura-Buchler

    Hi Lauren, first, Mazal Tov on your latest “release. ” I do hope that all is going well and that you are getting some rest.
    I loved your blogpost today because it mirrored my own history of reading and love of books. I laughed out loud at your comment about vocabulary and the SAT. It was the same for me, and got me into UCLA! I also think that I have learned more about history from reading historicals than I ever did in school.

  • Becky Rabalais

    I devored Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart throughout high school. Historical romances are the way to learn history.

  • MooMoo Cake

    I was nodding along as I read your post and even fistpumped. I read romance for exactly the reasons you mentioned. Thanks for our post and the chance to win a copy of your book.

  • brhill2010

    Hi Lauren I am glad that you are defending Romance and that you have a definitive love for this genre!! Thanks for being a romance author!! Adding you to my TBR list!!!

  • Bernadette Long

    What a wonderful defense of romance!

  • BookLady

    I have enjoyed reading romance ever since middle school. Historical and paranormal are my favorites. I love your Pink Carnation series and look forward to reading the next new book in the series. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on romance.

  • Courtney Cogswell

    I completely credit romance novels for my vocabulary, historical knowledge and many other tidbits that come in handy during Trivia nights 🙂 I’ve been reading romance for so long but I never tire of the genre with so many different subgenres readily available. I’ll look forward to checking out your books!

  • Pam P

    I agree, everyone is capable of love to some degree with the right person, even certain villains if the right person finds that bit of goodness and want buried deep down.

  • leah g

    I love your note that everyone deserves love. I spent a lot of my life not knowing this. And now I am so thankful to have discovered books to help remind me.

  • Larena Hubble

    I agree I love seeing the hero and heroine in romance find their way to each other and love each other despite everything.

  • Janie McGaugh

    I’ve always believed that there is someone for everyone. Romances help to reaffirm that belief.

  • Marcia Berbeza

    Oh my. YOU were certainly precocious! WOW! I have been reading romance voraciously for longer than I want to admit, but you certainly beat me by starting in grade school! And by the way, as a school librarian, I would have celebrated your reading but I might have been frustrated by my inability to meet your needs!

  • Mary McCoy

    My grandmother always used to say (in translation from the German), “Every pot has its lid”, and the romances I have read always back this up, showing that there is someone for everyone.

  • WinnieP

    Thank you for all your wonderful books.

  • jeffrey

    Why read just one a month when you can read one a week (or more?) C’mon guys, get in the game and read a romance…..it is what makes the world go ’round!

  • Beverly DeeAnjello

    I still remember picking up The Pink Carnation and being hooked on the series. I made my husband run out when I was sick and get me the hardback of The Mischief of the Mistletoe. He did it and didn’t complain.

  • Amber Kaltz

    I got hooked on Lauren Willig with The Masque of the Black Tulip. Love her mix of history and romance.

  • Amy Livesay Hart

    Thank you for being the awesome author you are!