Vanessa Kelly – Romance and Happiness

Really, it’s okay to be happy!

My big sister was the first to put a romance novel in my hand.  It was Georgette Heyer’s Regency Buck, and to this day it’s my favorite GH novel.  It’s SECRETS, SEDUCING,BODYGUARDthe book that started my own love affair with the genre because I did fall in love—with the stories, the feisty heroines, and the super-cool heroes with their curricles, sexy leather boots, and fabulous estates.  For a small town girl from New Jersey, it was pretty heady stuff.

I’d been an avid reader since kindergarten, spending much of my free time as a kid haunting the stacks of the local library.  I read everything that my mother and the librarians would allow, including historical fiction, fantasy, and mystery.  But when I discovered romance a whole new world opened up and from then on it was my genre of choice.

Sadly, this state of affairs didn’t last.  As I got older I discovered something about reading romance—I was supposed to be embarrassed by it.  I’m not sure when or how it happened, but by the time I went to college I had absorbed the notion that reading romance was something you did in secret late at night, or with the romance stuck inside the pages of another book.  Cripes.  You would have thought that romance readers were drug-crazed sociopaths from Reefer Madness, running through the streets high on crack.

Check that—it was the mid-seventies, so in some quarters it was way more respectable to do drugs than read a romance novel.  Seriously.

So, I left the fold for a while—which is not to say I didn’t read lots of great books.  In fact, I became an English major, taking an M.A. and then heading off to a Ph.D. program in Canada.  I majored in female British writers of the Georgian and Regency period, and to this day I’m convinced that my love of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen set me on that path.

But something interesting happened in grad school.  It became cool to read romance again because students in women’s studies programs were Tall Dark Royal.ebookreading them.  Okay, the academic approach to romance in the late 80’s and early 90’s was still pretty snobby—academia’s approach to romance has come a long way since then—but it was great to be able to read romance again and not feel like I had to completely apologize for it.

Still, it was pretty clear that reading romances simply for pleasure was considered less than respectable.  Unlike reading mystery or fantasy novels, romance was a guilty pleasure, one waved away with an embarrassed laugh while slumming it on the beach or at the cottage.

And then I read a book that changed my view on the issue.  It was a meaty historical fiction novel, part mystery, love story, and family saga, and I glommed on to it.  Best thing I’d read in months.  I loved the heroine, who’d triumphed over much adversity and, by the end of the book, was poised on the brink of winning the good things she deserved.  But at the very end came a truly nasty plot twist, one that destroyed the heroine’s chance for happiness.  In word, is struck me as mean.

It’s the only book I’ve ever literally thrown against the wall.  As far as I was concerned the heroine had earned her happiness and snatching it away felt contrived and pointless.  I spent weeks afterwards rewriting the ending in my head, coming up with multiple ways the heroine could achieve her happiness in a way that fit the tone of the book.

It came down to this—I really hated the ending of that book because the good were punished, not rewarded.  It’s the opposite of what romance novels do.  Rewarding the good and punishing the bad, I realized, was at the heart of my enjoyment of the romance genre (along with the sexy heroes).  And that’s when I also realized that I wanted to write my own stories of good people overcoming adversity and sometimes their own stupidity and flaws to achieve their just rewards—love and happiness.   Because I believe that good people—and most people are good—truly deserve to be happy.

And in my book, happiness is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Recommendations: 

I’ve been re-reading the books of Linnea Sinclair, who writes the most fantastic futuristic romance.  The world building is unbelievably good and her characters are smart, strong, flawed, and very engaging.  (See Linnea’s RAR post here.)

I’m also going to recommend an up and coming author named Erica Monroe (ericamonroe.com), who writes suspenseful, emotional romance set in Victorian England.  Her Rookery Rogues and their heroines live in gritty, working-class London, and I appreciate and enjoy this different take on historical romance.  Her latest book is included in my giveaway.


Questions for the Author:

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

Probably the most inspiring thing I ever did was help to organize a strike of teaching assistants when I was in grad school.  It was the middle of February in Toronto.  The first morning of the strike was one of the coldest of the winter, and I more than half expected most of our members not to show up to the picket lines.  Lo and behold, there they were at 7 am, forming their lines and acting in the most respectful and professional manner possible. They spent several weeks showing up in brutal conditions and fighting for their rights—and eventually winning a better contract.  I was incredibly proud to be part of that event.

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’ve always been a writer—both in grad school and later when I worked for a public sector union.  But the idea to write fiction started to take root in grad school, when I was reading books like the one I mentioned in my essay.  I finally got serious about eight years ago, when I was struggling with health issues and needed something to engage my mind.  I spent about two years writing the book that eventually got me published.

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

Aside from the two books mentioned in my blog post, I’d have to go with Jane Eyre.  That book SO resonated with me.  Jane is a stellar model of the truly admirable, principled, plucky heroine, and I loved that Mr. Rochester was so screwed up and tormented.  And it’s just a corking good story.

Vanessa is generously a print copy of SECRETS FOR SEDUCING A ROYAL BODYGUARD, book one in her Renegade Royals Series, and a digital copy of SECRETS IN SCARLET by Erica Monroe to one North American reader. Entry below.


VanessaKelly2Vanessa Kelly writes award-winning historical romance for Kensington Zebra.  She also writes USA Today Bestselling contemporary romance with her husband under the pen name of V.K. Sykes.  You can find her on the web at www.vanessakellyauthor.com and www.vksykes.com.  She’s also a member of The Jaunty Quills, and can be found at www.jauntyquills.com.

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  • Sharlene Wegner

    HI Vanessa! I totally agree with the need for a happy ending! I have read a few books recently which had unexpected endings, and not in a good way. Never again! To me, there is no point in reading a book if I don’t end up happy!

    • Vanessa Kelly

      I’m so with with you, Sharlene! I getting sandbagged by an unexpected ending.

  • Sheryl N

    Huge fan of Vanessa’s books. Those Royals are one of my favorite series right now. Thanks for the recommendations, I have not read them before.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Thank you so much, Sheryl!!

  • Kathy Nye

    I recently discovered Erica Monroe so I second your recommendation.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      She’s really great, Kathy! I love historical romantic suspense.

  • Quinn Fforde

    Wow! What a great post! I enjoyed reading about your journey.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Thank you, Quinn!

  • Martha Lawton

    Happiness is nothing to be embarrassed about! Love that line!

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Thanks, Martha!

  • Barbara E.

    I too discovered romance through a book by Georgette Heyer. And I love romance for the same reason, no happy ending makes me very cranky, I want things to all work out in the end. I also love Linnea Sinclair’s books, so we think alike Vanessa. 😀

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Great minds, Barb!

  • Sandy Kelly

    I love all romances. I do tend to get mad when there isn’t a happy ending but that is because the whole reason I am reading it is for the happy ending! I want to see the characters go through their hard times and still be able to come through in the end!

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Seems like natural justice, doesn’t it, Sandy?

  • Cathy P

    Hi Vanessa! I loved hearing about your journey. Yay for the teachers strike! I also can remember when reading romance was looked down on. I used to hide the covers of my books as I was reading them. I also hate books that don’t have a happy ending.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Hi, Cathy! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Debbie Fuller

    Like you the books I read have to have a happy ending. Luckily I’ve only threw a few across the room.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Debbie, I’ll admit to checking the last pages of books just in case!

  • Gretchen

    Northern New Jersey or South Jersey?

    • Vanessa Kelly

      South, Gretchen, near Cherry Hill and Haddonfield.

      • Gretchen

        Ahh I grew up in Northern New Jersey. It’s like another state, they are so different!

  • Patty Wilcox

    I often skip to the end of a book I am considering to read (or buy) if it doesn’t have a happy ending, it isn’t a book I want to read. (I have read a few sad stories BUT I have to go read a happy one right after to fix my head.)

    • Vanessa Kelly

      I do the same, Patty!

  • Joan Varner

    The whole point for me reading romance (besides the hunky heroes) is that there is always fun, romance, maybe some smexy times and an HEA. I don’t do sad or dramatic romances because I can watch the news for depressing stories. Thank you for writing your stories with happy endings.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Joan, it is definitely my pleasure!!

  • Sharon Forbes

    I agree with you, romances should have an HEA, not an unhappy ending. When I read a romance novel, I read for the plot, maybe a twist or two, but also, love, laughter, maybe a sexy scene or two, but definetly an HEA!

    • Vanessa Kelly

      It’s the most important thing, Sharon!

  • Dawn Anderson

    I love to read, but I prefer to read a book with a happy ending. Anything that will keep me from throwing a book across the room. 🙂

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Yes, we don’t want to hurt those books unless necessary, Dawn!

  • catslady

    I’ve read the first in this series and loved it. Kathleen Woodiwiss is the one to really get me hooked although I started out with some of the new gothics. Historicals and suspense are two favorites.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      I’m so happy you enjoyed it, catslady! I love romantic suspense, too.

  • Julie

    I love to read and prefer HEA because there is just too much drama in real life. We all need a reason to smile at the end of a book.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Yes, Julie, I agree. Life can be tough enough without happy endings in our books!

  • Pamby50

    That was downright mean to deny the HEA. Never could understand an author that did that. Thank you for writing such wonderful books.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Ugh, it was so depressing, Pamby50. And thank you for your very kind compliment!

  • Martha B

    Oh, I HATE when that happens (robbing the reader) from a happy ending. No matter how tormented or tragic the past, romances pull me in because I’m guaranteed that the book ends happily. That’s the incentive (for me) to keep reading. I want to know how an impossible situation is resolved. The best authors keep the conflict realistic and make me guess a resolution throughout the story. Thanks for creating books that meet that criteria!

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Martha, that’s a fantastic explanation of why we read romance – thank you!

  • Krysten Mich

    If I ever come across something where I absolutely hated/couldn’t agree with the ending, I just make one up in my head that’s more acceptable to me 😀 Actually a few friends have also told me about books they’ve done that for also!

    • Vanessa Kelly

      I totally do that, Kyrsten, and to movies and TV shows, too!

  • Glenda

    I’ve NEVER understood the mindset that the books that end with an Unhappily Ever After are more meaningful, intelligent, and/or realistic. Many of us do have our own personal HEA, but we still want to read about others attaining theirs – and most romances provide us with these wonderful books.

    I had to laugh at the drug use being more acceptable than reading romances. I lived in Southern California in the early 70s and even as a child I was aware of a lot of that ‘respectable’ drug use.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Yep, the 70’s were a “special” time, Glenda!

  • Eileen Aberman-Wells

    Like you, I do not understand how a book can be written where the good get punished. That is not right!! Your early reading habits sound very similar to mine. I devoured the books at the library. I could never understand how romance novels fell out of favor, but then motherhood took over my reading habits in the 80’s & early 90’s so maybe I missed it. Thank you for your wonferful post.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Eileen, I think romance novels were never really in favour with the literati, although people generally don’t seem to be as snobby today.

  • Brenda Philpot

    Love to read regency romance with history mixed in.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Me too, Brenda!

  • PJ Ausdenmore

    Great post, Vanessa! I wandered away from romance for awhile when, as a young professional, reading “trash” was frowned upon. Thankfully, I found my way back to the land of happy endings and never strayed again! Counting down the days until the release of TALL, DARK AND ROYAL. I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for Dominic and Chloe’s story! 🙂

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Hi, PJ! Thanks for stopping by! I’m so happy that you’re excited for Dominic & Chloe’s story. Just finishing up the 4th book in the series today!

  • rebecca moe

    The distinct lack of HEAs is why I quit the book club I was in–that and the looks on their faces when I answered their “Well, what books have you read lately?” question (it was always a romance, and as a English major, I was perfectly okay with that!). I’d rather not get to the end of a book and want to throw it against a wall, thank you!

    Great post–thanks for writing it!

    • Vanessa Kelly

      LOL! Rebecca, I would never survive a book club.

      • rebecca moe

        I tried, I really did! Never again, though–ugh.

  • Sue G.

    I agree 100%! I love my romances and my happy endings. I don’t care! Nice write up!

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Thank you, Sue!

  • Ruth

    The HEA is a great aspect of the romance novel. However, it is never an easy one. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Yes, my characters always have to fight for their HEA, Ruth.

  • Erin F

    I totally agree 🙂 and Jane Eyre!!! Best gothic romance evah! Thanks for sharing!

    • Vanessa Kelly

      The best, Erin!!

  • Geraldine Pierson

    I started reading books by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and Barbara Cartland. I have to have my happy endings. I have not read any books by Linnea Sinclair but I have read a book by Erica Monroe about a month ago and I enjoyed it very much. I love your books and I cannot wait to read the next one to come out.

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Thank you so much for your support, Geraldine!

  • Sherry Hoernig

    I loved the post, & could completely empathixe w/Vanessa. I started reading at the age of 3yrs, & couldn’t get enough. Never mind that I always had books from the school & the public libraries, it wasn’t enough. I have to admit though that I never let anyone or anything prevent me for reading romance novels once I had discovered them. I’m now in my 50’s & am still an avid reader…….

    • Vanessa Kelly

      You go, Sherry – we don’t need to be embarrassed!

  • Courtney Cogswell

    I am not ashamed to say that I exclusively read for the HEA, with a few exceptions here and there. I adore romance because it makes me happy and I am pretty much always happy 🙂 I’m sure my book a day habit has a little something to do with this… Great post and I’ve just recently started digging back into historical romance so I’ll be sure to check out your books!

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Courtney, you are awesome – thank you!

  • Meredith Richeson Hillenbrand

    I, too, have been an avid reader since kindergarten. I used to buy books all the time through the Scholastic Book Services and check out library books as well. As for Jane Eyre, I used to sneak a flashlight into bed at night to read it as a teen! I loved your post and HEAs too. Very important in a romance no matter how you get there! Thanks for the chance to win these books, would love to read them. 🙂

    • Vanessa Kelly

      Thank you, Meredith!

  • Stephanie M.

    Thanks for your great post. You had me laughing, and I soooooooo needed that today. I’m with you about the HEA, when take us readers through all the ups and downs just to end on the down? Even if the main characters don’t get the HEA I wanted them to have, the minor characters should and I’d be okay with that.
    I will be adding your books to my TBR list, which has grown thanks to RARM. 🙂

  • Gretchen Miller

    I feel the same about books that end lousy or just plain blah. Love your post

  • Julie Nieves

    I’m looking forward to reading your books!

  • Judy Goodnight

    I’d really like to know exactly what book got thrown against the wall! Thank you for starting to write romances. I don’t remember what prompted me to pick up one of your books but I loved it and have been reading yours ever since. I will admit, though, that I’ve had a super busy year and have fallen behind on reading your Renegade Royals series, but I’ll get caught up!