Day 15 Petra Mayer – Romance, By and For Women

Why Yes, I Do Love Romance

Way back in high school, I was a member of the Drama Club (hands up, Drama Club kids! I know you’re out there). One year, our spring musical was Anything Goes, and as I recall, during the grand finale one character gets a telegram with surprising news. Since we were a bunch of snotty kids, we thought it would be funny as heck to try to make the actor crack up on stage by pasting weird stuff into the prop telegram – and we settled on passages from a romance romance

The novel was Brazen Whispers, by Jane Feather – and I know that not because I remember it all these years later, but because I snuck the book home when the show was over, read it until I’d pretty much memorized the adventures of Magdalen and Guy de Gervais, and more than 20 years later, I still have that beat-up paperback with the old-school lurid painted cover (I wish those were still a thing. I miss them). Brazen Whispers was my first romance novel, and the start of a life-long love affair (also, I think it’s where I learned what a “jupon” was – a long sleeveless tunic, worn over armor).

My mother looked down her cultured German nose at me, to be sure, but I wasn’t ashamed of my romance stash then, and I’m not ashamed now. Romance novels have been my friends and comforters, a steady source of delight and escape, and an assurance that somewhere, there’s a place where everything comes out all right in the end. They provide all the ups and downs of a really satisfying rollercoaster, without the inevitable whiplash-headache.

But beyond its personal appeal, romance is a vast and profitable industry by and for women, a place where our voices are heard and our tastes drive the market. In the realm of romance, we communicate, we learn, we discover, we argue and make up, we connect. And that’s something to celebrate.

I lurrrrve Courtney Milan! So many romance plots turn on the Big Misunderstanding (which I love too, don’t get me wrong) that it’s utterly delightful to read characters who hash things out like the mature, thoughtful grownups I wish (and so often fail) to be. (Courtney did a wonderful 2013 RARM post.)

And as a fantasy/science fiction geek I have to recommend Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourists series, which stars a husband and wife team of illusionists in Regency England. The first book, Shades of Milk and Honey, is about protagonists Jane and Vincent falling in love, but then we get to follow them after the happily-ever-after – the whole series is a wonderful portrait of a marriage.



Describe the most daring, adventurous or inspiring thing you ever did.

The most daring and adventurous thing I’ve done so far? When I was 23, I packed up and moved to Prague; I had the offer of an internship with Radio Free Europe, but otherwise I had bupkis: didn’t speak the language, didn’t know anyone there, nothing. And it was glorious! History you could put out your hand and touch, beauty in such unexpected places, hidden gardens and creaky old trams and, oddly, the loveliest cemetery I’d ever seen. Plus fried cheese! I stayed two years.

 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?)

I’m not quite a writer in the sense that other Read-a-Romance participants are – but I can tell you that my journey to becoming an editor started with reading. Reading constantly, compulsively – when I was little I’d even climb up on the sink and read medicine labels. Devouring those words and sentences and paragraphs helped me figure out what I want out of the writers I work with.

Tell us about The (or A) Book That Changed Your Life. (Why?)

This might be a little odd for a month celebrating romance, but the book that changed my life was 1984 (hey, it does have some romance in it, if doomed). In the summer of 1984 I was nine years old; my father handed me the book and said, “Here, I think you’re ready to read this.” Okay, that’s an odd choice for a fourth-grader, but when I think back on what made me the nerd I am today – it was that summer of discovering created worlds and the fascination of science fiction via 1984.

Bobbi here: Since NPR is pretty strict about giveaways, Petra wasn’t in a position to offer anything. However, I love The Glamourist series as well, and Mary Robinette Kowal did a lovely RARM post last year about marriage and fiction (read it here) and I asked her if she’d be willing to give a couple of books away. She very graciously said yes. So —

Mary Robinette Kowal is generously giving away one copy of Shades of Milk and Honey and one copy of Valour and Vanity (one book to two separate winners). Entry form below. Apologies to international friends. 

bookshelfiePetra Mayer is an editor and resident geek at NPR Books, focusing on science fiction, fantasy, YA, romance and Jane Austen fanfic (which she’s decided is its own genre). She brings to the job passion, speed-reading skills, and a truly impressive collection of Doctor Who doodads.


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