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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  • Deb Hinshaw

    Petra, thank you for posting today. (Ooh, love your name!) I can tell you have a sense of humor, and I chuckled at a few things in your post. My sister visited Prague on a sister-city exchange last fall, and loved it! She even talked about fried cheese.
    I like your quote about romance being a place where women’s voices are heard.

  • LisaVH

    I love that romance allows a woman to indulge or explore their interests and needs whatever they may be. I had no idea the genre was so varied and expansive until recently.

  • mariannewestrich

    So great to add you to my TBR list!

  • Kathy Nye

    Thank you for sharing. I too love the Glamourist series. It’s fun to find other fans.

  • Really interesting to view from the perspective of an editor. Thank you!

  • TrishJ

    I was a drama club wannabe. I was painfully shy. My children were either in the drama club or debate club. Romance books were my world as a shy teenager and even into my 20s. Romance books helped me see that I should be valued and thankfully I managed to overcome this somewhat .

  • Sue G.

    Thanks for the post. I love my romance stories too and don’t care who knows it!

  • Debbie Fuller

    Thank you for your post and contribution to my TBR list.

  • Quinn Fforde

    Great post, interesting recommendations, and a great city. I love Praha, too!

  • Quinn Fforde

    I just read Mary Robinette Kowal’s post from last year and loved it. I had not heard of her before, but I will be checking her out! I have always wanted married couple fiction like that but didn’t know where to find it.

  • Patty Vasquez

    Courtney Milan is one of my favorite authors, as well. Her smart, socially aware writing is a special treat to read. I envy you your ability to speed read. The older I get, the more I seem to poke along. I tell people I’m savoring the words. Perhaps there’s truth in that statement. However, I fear my ability to multi-task is waning. Where is that winning lottery ticket and retirement?

  • Anna

    Two authors that I love!! Hooray!!

    Also hands up for drama club kids!

  • Jayne Ann Krentz

    Great post, Petra! And thanks for the recommendation of the Glamourists. The series is now on my list. One of the many things I love about the romance genre is that there is so much creativity within it. New and inventive fiction happens all the time in this genre.

  • Judy Goodnight

    Thanks so much for the recommendation of The Glamourists. I enjoy romance mixed with some sci-fi/fantasy.

  • Denise Christensen Metcalf

    I love romance novels for many of the same reasons you posted about–a place where everything turns out for the heroine in the end. Important when your own life is in turmoil. Even when things are smooth sailing, there’s nothing quite like submerging yourself in another world for a romantic escape. Looking forward to checking out the Glamourists’ series.

  • Jane

    Great essay. I also love Courtney Milan and think her newest The Suffragette Scandal was great. Since you mention being a SF/Fantasy geek I want to put in a plug for the best fantasy novel I read this year, THE GOBLIN EMPEROR. This one is by Katherine Addison, who has previously published YA books as Sarah Monette. Love this book, though the romance element is very slow to build. What there is in incredible world-building and a wonderful exploration of what it means to learn how to wield power.

  • Laura Smith

    The Glamourist series sounds really interesting. I have to say that 1984 freaked me out quite a bit when I started reading it because my dad’s name is Winston Smith!

  • Patty Wilcox

    Thank you for giving me a new book to get and read. I love romances.

  • Grace Burrowes

    I think romance is also distinguished by the cooperative relationships among authors, and the connections between authors and readers. We (mostly) don’t deal from a sense of scarcity or competition, and the support from the readers is phenomenal. We’re not afraid to deal with the really scary stuff–heartache, true love, courage, determination, dreams, more true love… magnificent stories for magnificent readers!

  • This is lovely. Sharing. And thanks for all you do to celebrate our genre. Yours in drama-club-geekdom and Milan-fandom.

  • Molly Moody

    I can’t say how long I’ve been reading romance though I’m guessing since the early ’70’s. I love getting lost in one.

  • Emmel

    Ah, another label reader! Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone! 🙂

  • Janet Breton

    Thank you for a chance to win great books.

  • Cindy A

    A trip to Europe was one of my daring things to do – we “camped Europe by Train” – we had that book! And we did! Thanks for the Kowal recommendation. I will be looking it up.

  • Angie Frawley

    Been reading romance for 30 years..And I enjoy every minute of it!

  • catslady

    Romance is reading about relationships and characters and feelings – I do think that is more a woman thing but any males are welcome!

  • Betty Hamilton

    Grace : I and many other are so glad that you “write that stuff”!

  • Rebecca Whaley

    This was an awesome post! Makes me try to remember what first got me reading romance novels. Keep up the great posts. Love it!

  • vickied

    this has been a fun series learned lots of stuff and found some new authors – thanks Petra

  • Gretchen

    I’d love to spend a summer exploring Europe. I visited Germany for 3 weeks with a high school exchange group, and it was a great taste, but not enough!

  • Belinda Brown Payne

    Thanks for letting me read your posting. I agree about women being heard through books. I’ve never been to Prague, but sounds like a nice place to see.

  • Peggy Zeissler

    Awesome!! Had not heard of this before!!!

  • Eileen Aberman-Wells

    Thank you for your post. I love reading romance books and like your description of what reading romance does for women and how it becomes a place where women’s voices are heard.

  • Courtney Cogswell

    I love that the romance industry is pretty much powered by women and seems to be growing at a crazy fast pace. I’ve never had so many choices of sub genres in my life! I’m definitely loving romance more and more everyday. They are a comfort and the very best form of escapism….so many chores go undone in my house when I get caught up in a good book 🙂 Love your post and I must confess that I also have quite a collection of Doctor Who doodads.

  • M Kuxhaus

    Thank you for writing an essay, Petra! And thanks Mary for sharing your books!

  • Stephanie M.

    You had me at Drama Club! I didn’t read 1984 until high school. We even went as far as creating a 1984 universe for a few weeks. It was a mini drama club for the entire class. It was crazy. Courtney Milan is one of my favs, too. 🙂

  • Eloisa James

    Hi there! I’m chasing this down right now — Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourists series — sounds wonderful! cheers ~ Eloisa

  • Geraldine Pierson

    Thank you for the chance to win great books. I have been reading Romance Novels for about 42 years.

  • Martha B

    Side bar: I totally concur with (Deb,) the person who commented below me. Your name is distinctive, strong and memorable.Very cool.

    Thank you for adding your voice to the romance community besides Science Fiction, YA, Fantasy, etc.

  • Suzanne Brockmann

    Terrific blog! Thanks for being a proud supporter of the romance genre!

  • Jana Williams

    I think it’s Great how Petra First Discovered Romance & the Journey she Took in Order to Get to Be Such a Great Writer! I love how Adventurous She is, like Moving to Prague when She Was 23 Even though She Didn’t Know a Soul There! I Love that She has a Broad Range of Interests, maybe that’s Why She Writes Books for Different Genres! I Think it’s Awesome that We Share a Great Big Love of Jane Austen; She is an Amazing Author that Should be Celebrated & So is Petra Mayer! Thank You for this Opportunity, as I am the Biggest Book Worm! I Read to Calm Down after a Long Hard Day; it Seems to Always Calm My Nerves! My Life is Far from Interesting or Exciting, So I Read to Live Out All my Dreams & Fantasies! Thanks Again & Hope you Have a Blessed Day! Jana Williams

  • Joyce Rajnyak Burkhardt

    Thank you for your post. I had not heard of Mary Robinette Kowal before but I think I need to read her books. Great recommendation.

  • rebecca moe

    I was too chicken to be in drama club in high school, but I directed it for seven years as a junior high teacher. Can I still raise my hand? 😉

    (I love Courtney Milan too! I’ll have to add Mary Robinette Kowal to my TBR. Good thing so much of it is digital now, so there’s less chance that it will crush me to death some day…)

    Thanks for posting!

  • Janie McGaugh

    Yes, I was in drama club, too, though I had already fallen in love with romance a couple of years earlier.

  • Sheila M

    Thanks for contributing your thoughts.

  • Joan Varner

    Thank you for your post and your recommendation. I have never heard of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourists series but I will be looking them up.

  • Glenda

    Great post, Petra! You’re not the only one who’s mother looked down on romances. Interestingly enough, when we were going through mom’s massive book collection after her death, we found a ton of romance novels mixed in with her SciFi/Fantasy, Mysteries and ‘intellectual’ novels.

  • Petra Mayer

    Thanks, everyone, for all the lovely comments! I’ve often been told I should write romance myself, since I have the name for it — but it only reflects my mom’s German heritage, not any actual talent for creative writing. I’ll stick to editing — and reading!

  • Marcy Cordova

    I love that you tried to make the actor laugh with romance book passages! Too bad I’m a long ways from high school plays, or I’d say thanks for the idea. 😉

  • Mike

    Dad heard you on NPR today. He was excited for you ^_^ Glad things are going well!