Day 29 Michelle Willingham – Holding Out for the HEA

Romance Novels by the Bag

To-Sin-with-a-Viking-by-Michelle-WillinghamOne summer, when I was a teenager, my grandmother introduced me to romance novels. It was a rainy day, and we were vacationing in a house that had no television (and this was also in the Dark Ages, before the Internet). All of us picked out a good book to read, and we spent hours curled up in the house while the Florida thunderstorms pounded on the roof. My grandmother had given me a grocery sack full of Regency romance novels, and from the moment I delved into a literary world of handsome rakes paired with innocent misses, I was hooked.

I was twelve years old, and before that, my only experience with romantic fiction involved a few Sweet Valley High books. But these romance novels swept me away with dreams of happily ever after and Cinderella endings. I read my way through that grocery sack and then came to realize that my southern Steel Magnolia grandmother was secretly a true romantic. It brought us together in a way I never would have expected, and she continued to bring me Regencies over the years.

From there, I moved on to historical romances by Jude Deveraux, Lavyrle Spencer, Judith McNaught, and Julie Garwood. I spent my allowance on books, and my mother never batted an eye when I loaded up on romance novels. A year or so later, I told her that I planned to be a romance novelist when I grew up. I had never considered writing as a career, but once I started plotting and writing my own stories, there was no turning back. I filled up legal pads with the most cliché-ridden romance stories, handwritten in green ink (because it seemed more romantic than plain black or blue).

Some critics argue that romance novels teach young girls impossible ideas about love. And while I’ll admit that my nine-year-old daughter will not marry a Viking or a medieval warrior, there are other, more important messages that I hope she’ll gain from reading romances. First, that men who treat women badly are not heroes—they’re the villains. Second, although the path to love may be rocky, real love does exist, and sometimes it’s not with the person you expect. Last, my favorite books taught me to wait for the right man and to hold high standards. I’ve been married to my own romance hero for nearly fifteen years now, and he continues to surprise me by sending romantic text messages or by getting me flowers for no reason at all. I hope that one day my daughter will find her own happy ending with the perfect hero.

Recommendations: Lavyrle Spencer is my all-time favorite historical romance novelist. While many readers have heard of her, she’s been retired for many years and might be unfamiliar to others. Some of my favorite books by her include: Morning Glory, Vows, and The Endearment.

A newer author, published in e-book form, is my long-time friend Margery Scott. Margery and I began our journey toward publication together, and she writes both romantic suspense books and western historicals such as Emma’s Wish and “Trey.”


Questions for Michelle:

What is the craziest or ugliest object in your house, and why do you keep it?

I received a white ceramic, basket-shaped fruit bowl, rimmed in fake gold, for a wedding gift from a distant relative. For a long time it remained in the attic because it was so strange-looking. Then my husband and I decided to encourage the kids to eat healthier, and I brought down the fruit bowl. Now I keep it filled with fresh peaches, plums, grapes, and other fruits so that the kids will reach for those first when they come home from school and want an afternoon snack. It may not be the most attractive bowl, but it serves its purpose.

If there was a movie made about your life, what would it be called? (And just for fun, who would play you?)

Probably “The Sound of Music,” because I have three children under the age of twelve and my life involves constant juggling around their schedules, in the same manner Maria Von Trapp had to chase after the seven children. And I’ll confess a secret—I am a cantor in my local Catholic church, so I really do sing in public. Thankfully, however, I do not dress my children in drapes. And instead of Julie Andrews playing my role, it would likely be Tina Fey.

What is the best non-monetary gift you ever received?

My husband has given me many romantic gifts over the years, but one that particularly stands out was in December of 2007. Our son was four weeks old and wasn’t sleeping through the night yet, which meant I was sleep-deprived and extremely stressed. My husband brought the baby downstairs on Christmas Eve and told me that one of his gifts to me was a full night of rest. He stayed up all night with our son, and it was the longest stretch of sleep I’d had in a month. It was wonderful.

If you had to pick one romantic scene or couple to recommend to a first-time reader of YOUR books, which would it be? (Any picks for romance novels in general?)

That’s like asking me to choose among my children! But for variety’s sake—if you like Highlanders, I’d recommend Tempted by the Highland Warrior. For Regency lovers, try Undone by the Duke. Or if you prefer your heroes ultra-barbaric—To Sin with a Viking is out this month!


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 celebrating the romance genre during the month of August.

Michelle is generously donating three copies of To Sin with a Viking, and three copies
of Undone by the Duke to US readers (apologies to International readers)
.  To enter the domestic contest, 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 28 to be eligible, though winners will be announced at a later date.

Also visit the Awesome Contests page to register this week to win a Kindle Paperwhite and “A Month of Romance” (31 books) from Amazon Montlake, or  the Grand Central Grand Prize, an iPad mini. If you love romance, then this is the place to be!

If you love Read-A-Romance Month and decide to buy, please consider using the books links from the site. Every bit helps and I do get a tiny percentage of sales. Thank you for considering it!


Amazon bestselling author and Rita® Award Finalist Michelle Willingham has published over twenty books and novellas. Currently, she lives in southeastern Virginia with her husband and children and is working on more historical romance novels. When she’s not writing, Michelle enjoys baking, playing the piano, and avoiding exercise at all costs. Visit her website at www.michellewillingham.com.

  • Nancy Huddleston

    Thank you for your romances. I love Vikings and knights.

    • Michelle Willingham

      Thanks, Nancy! Me, too.

  • Allison Siegel

    Always looking for a good historical romance and a HEA. Will have to try one of your books. Love finding new authors.

    • Michelle Willingham

      Thanks, Allison!

  • Michelle Willingham

    Thanks for letting me stop by, all! If you have any questions, feel free to post in the comments, and I’ll answer them when I get a chance. 🙂

    • Thanks so much for being here, and loved your entry! xoxo

      • Michelle Willingham

        You’re quite welcome!

  • Angie Frawley

    I started romance novels at 13..I have been hooked ever since,and like you,I found out what to look for in my White Knight!! He’s a great guy,we have been married for 22 years and the one thing he knows for certain,a book will always make me smile!! Thanks for all the great HEA’s!!!!

    • Michelle Willingham

      Congratulations on 22 years! That’s wonderful. 🙂

  • Cherish Y

    I ADORED your blog entry. It really put a smile on my face. I thought that it was really awesome to find out how you got into romance novels, as well as the reasons why romance novels are important. You’re books are awesome Michelle!

    • Michelle Willingham

      Thank you, Cherish!

  • Laurie W G

    One of the first romance books I read was LaVyrle Spencers’ FORGIVING
    (western historical). I ‘m especially fond of her books.

    Relationships require commitment, trust and compromise. Romance books showcase numerous ways to achieve this balance. I love knowing that no mater what difficulties they face there will be a HEA.

    • Michelle Willingham

      LaVyrle’s books are amazing. Was that the book about the school teacher? I’m trying to remember. I have them all…

      • Laurie W G

        She went West to take over her dad’s newspaper printing business. The hero was the sheriff. There was a lot of friction between the town’s gamblers and the Ladies Temperance Society.

  • mariannewestrich

    Thanks so much for your thoughts on romance. I must say, I have a soft spot for Vikings!!! 😎

    • Michelle Willingham

      They are fun, aren’t they?

  • Margery Scott

    Thanks so much for the shout-out, Michelle. As well as being such a good friend, you are an incredibly talented author. You know I’m your biggest fan!

    • :o)

    • Michelle Willingham

      Thanks, Margery! It was great to see you a few months ago!

  • Mary McCoy

    Any new mom would agree that your husband gave you a great Christmas present! LaVyrle and Margery are both good company to keep.

    • Michelle Willingham

      He certainly did!

  • Kim Cornwell

    I use to loan my 83 yr. old grandma my romance books. She would tell me ” don’t give me anything to mushy, it might give me a heart attack! She was so funny! I miss those days. Thanks for stopping by and sharing.

    • Michelle Willingham

      Too cute! I read one of my books aloud to my other grandmother, who was going blind, and tried to skip the love scenes. She told me not to, claiming, “I’m not dead yet! Those are the good parts.” 🙂

  • Kathy Nye

    You had me at “Holding out for a HEA”. Totally agree.

    • Michelle Willingham

      Me, too, Kathy!

  • Britney Adams

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your happily ever afters!

    • Michelle Willingham

      You’re quite welcome!

  • Anne

    Thank you for your great essay. I live my own HEA and hope I have taught my daughters how to look for their own HEAs.

    • Michelle Willingham

      That’s wonderful, Anne!

  • Melanie Backus

    Thank you so much for your lovely thoughts. Love is the universal language!

    • Michelle Willingham

      It sure is!

  • Melissa Sullivan

    Great post. ^^ I discovered romances on my own. I later learned though that two of my aunts were die hard romance readers. i still have a book exchange with the one that is still living.

    • Michelle Willingham

      That’s wonderful! One of my aunts loved Harlequin romances as well. 🙂

  • Elaine Moreau

    I fell in love with romance when a co-worker loaned me a copy of “A Knight in Shining Armor” by Lavyrel Spencer. Hundreds, maybe thousands of books later, my favorite genre is time-travel historicals.

    • Michelle Willingham

      Time travels are fun, aren’t they? I think you meant Jude Deveraux for the author, but I so agree! I LOVED “A Knight in Shining Armor.” It’s definitely a favorite, even with the “different” ending. 🙂

  • Tawnya Bentley

    Amazing husband! Both my sister’s had babies that wouldn’t sleep through the night. After my second and she slept through the night from the day I brought her home, I was too scared to risk having another. Well that and the divorce that took place 8 weeks after her birth became “awesome” birth control.

    • Michelle Willingham

      Tawnya–she must have known that you needed an “easy” baby, with what you were going through! Glad your daughter was so good for you.

      • Tawnya Bentley

        Thank you, and not to sound ungrateful, she’s 14 now and I think she is beyond making up for it. However I do have to say, when I see other teens, I do still have the best kids out there, even as teens go. Both, well mainly my daughter keep any mouthing off for the house, you only embarrass mom once in public.

  • Tonda Galloway Hargett

    I’ve always loved reading, just about anything, but there has to be romance and a HEA!

    • Michelle Willingham

      Same here! I don’t really like tragic stories–I read to escape and to feel uplifted.

  • Emily Wesley Wheeler

    I love the story about your grandma starting you on romance, the bond born of the love of romance novels can be pretty amazing; I’ve been known to hand off books I have a special love for to my mom. Lavryle Spencer is an amazing timeless treasure in romance, any fan of hers is someone I consider to have good taste in books 😉

    • Michelle Willingham

      Thanks, Emily. LaVyrle is such a great author. Love her.

  • christinejensen

    There is nothing wrong with holding out for a modern day hero 🙂

    • Michelle Willingham

      I agree!

  • someproseandcon

    yay for good grannies who recommend good books!

    • Michelle Willingham

      Definitely!

  • PJ Ausdenmore

    What a lovely, romantic gift from your husband. A full night’s sleep for a new mom should never be underrated!

    • Michelle Willingham

      I absolutely agree! And it was a great gift. 🙂

  • Evelyn S

    Wonderful essay! Thanks for sharing!!

    • Michelle Willingham

      You’re welcome!

  • Kareni

    Thanks for the fun essay. LaVyrle Spencer was a great favorite of mine; I was sorry (for my sake, not hers!) when she retired. When our child was four weeks old, my husband gifted me with a copy of Baby Blues. We were sleep deprived zombies at that point and laughed until we cried. I’ll now be on the lookout for one of your books, Ms. Willingham.

    • Michelle Willingham

      I always thought it wasn’t the first week that was bad–it was when you’ve been sleep deprived for four months that you start to lose it. 🙂

  • Lisa Glidewell

    Great post! What a wonderful gift that husband of yours gave you! My hubby wouldn’t have been brave enough to do such a amazing thing! But maybe it was because we had a set of twin girls who scared the living daylights out of him! Lol!

    • Michelle Willingham

      Bless you both! Twins can be both a handful and wonderful.

  • Stephanie M.

    Who doesn’t want the HEA? Although the H takes lots of work, it’s worth it if you get the EA to go with it. 🙂

    • Michelle Willingham

      Very true! And even after you’ve been married a while (we’re coming up on our 15th wedding anniversary), you still have to work at it.

  • Sue G.

    One of my daughters likes to write and she write in different color inks depending on her mood. It’s either pink, orange, aqua, purple or green!

    What an awesome Christmas gift from your hubby. I remember those days and am glad they are long over!

    • Michelle Willingham

      I absolutely remember the first “book” I wrote in green ink. I thought it was so amazing (and it was SO BAD). But the green ink was fun. 🙂 And like you, I don’t miss the baby days either!

  • Valerie

    My grandmother introduced me to romance novels as well… love it!

    • Michelle Willingham

      It’s fun to share books with family members, isn’t it? 😉

      • Valerie

        It really is, especially when they help bring you closer together 🙂

  • Lori Torres

    I am fortunate to have copies of these books by Michelle but wanted to say that this is a great blog spot and look forward to many more fabulous books to devour.

    • Michelle Willingham

      Thanks, Lori!

  • Michelle Fidler

    Hi, Michelle, from Michelle. I’ve heard of Lavyrle Spencer. I think some of her books are in my Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. I’m not into Viking books but if the one about the Duke is a Regency, I might like that.

    • Michelle Willingham

      Hi Michelle! Yes, Undone by the Duke is a Regency romance set in Scotland. I write a little bit of everything, from barbarians to Regency lords. 🙂

  • glittergirl54

    Good for you sticking to your values and finding your own romantic hero. Heroes today look somewhat different than in the past but the always have hearts of gold and take care of their woman. Thanks for the giveaway!

    • Michelle Willingham

      So true! A good man is worth his weight in gold–especially if he stays up all night with a baby.

  • Laura

    My mom read romance! No grandma to introduce me. Lovely post.

    • Michelle Willingham

      My mother and I still exchange books. 🙂

  • Pamby50

    Yes our HEA is out there. It comes when we don’t expect it. It will be 32 yrs next month. He keeps trying to tell me he is not romantic. I disagree. It’s not the big things but the little things. Our daughters have found their HEA but my son is still searching. Loved Lyverle Spencer. Looking forward to reading one of your books.

    • Michelle Willingham

      I so agree! The little things matter so much more. My husband used to scrape the ice off my car before I went to work. So romantic!

  • Marcy Shuler

    My grandmother had a stash of Harlequin Presents books that I found and that’s what got me reading romance. I also loved the authors you named.

    • Michelle Willingham

      It’s fun to share a love of reading with a grandparent. I absolutely devoured those Regency romances. 🙂

  • Brenda E

    Great post. Gotta love a happy ending.

    • Michelle Willingham

      Me, too!

  • Meredith Richardson

    Oh I love your books 😉 I seem to have a bit of an obsession with Vikings 0:)

    • Michelle Willingham

      Thanks Meredith! Don’t we all love a good Viking?

  • Patty Vasquez

    It’s important for young women to learn that men who treat women badly are villains. That can’t be emphasized enough! I love Lavyrle Spencer, too. I would add That Camden Summer to the list of her excellent historical stories.

    • Michelle Willingham

      I agree! And LaVyrle is my all time favorite author. If she ever returns to writing, I would be thrilled.

  • Karin Anderson

    Tina Fey in the Sound of Music would certainly be entertaining. 😀

    • Michelle Willingham

      Sometimes it feels like I’m herding cats! 🙂

  • Beth Re

    Thank you for sharing

    • Michelle Willingham

      You’re welcome!

  • gamistress66

    agree, nothing wrong with believing in love & the characteristics of a hero

    • Michelle Willingham

      Same here!

  • rebecca moe

    That was an awesome gift! What a guy 🙂

  • I love that your grandmother was able to share regencies with you. <3

  • Ann

    Love the idea of finding romance during a Florida thunderstorm!

  • Nancy

    Thanks for the Lavyrle Spencer recs. I hadn’t heard of her, but I’ll be sure to add her to my TBR list of authors to try.

  • ki pha

    Beautifully said. “Impossible ideas about love…” a girl can dream and sometimes they do come true, threw customs and stuff. But yes the things we learn from them are priceless.

  • QuenKne M

    I can’t wait to check out your books and pass your name onto my sister who loves historical romance novels!

  • Glenda

    The 3 lessons are the perfect lessons I want my daughter and son to take to heart! Very well said Love your entire post.

  • Larena Hubble

    I enjoyed reading about the messages and I think you are right. they can teach important lessons.

  • Janie McGaugh

    I love your lessons for your daughter. I would love to see all our children and grandchildren learn those lessons.

  • BookLady

    What a wonderful post! Romance novels really can teach important lessons about love. Thanks for sharing.

  • Joan Varner

    I hope your daughter learns the important lessons from romance novels – real love, hope and patience till Mr. Right comes along.

  • Flora Segura-Buchler

    Michelle, your post today really took me back. I inherited the reading gene from my dad. He never was without something to read in his hands at free moments and always took something with him to read if he was away from home. I think he would have been one of the first people in line to buy an e-reader! You had a very special grandmother in that same way and she instilled in you a wonderful gift. My son continues the family tradition of reading; he could read third grade books by the time he started first grade! Thanks for a terrific post today.

  • Jen C

    It’s nice that you talk about the connection with your grandma and then end with recommending LaVyrle Spencer. I remember my grandma reading her books all the time. Now that I’ve become a romance reader (in my 30s), my grandma gave me several of her LS books, and I recommended some of my favs to her. It’s comforting to have yet another connection with my wonderful grandma.