Lauren Willig – Romance, the Passport to Joy

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Romance, A Whole Lot of Joy

Back when I was in grad school, studying various things, including why Charles I got his head lopped off, it was a bone of contention as to whether one referred to the long conflict

willig moonflowerbetween Cavaliers and Roundheads as “the English Civil War” or “the English Civil Wars”.  More academic ink was spilled over that elusive “s” than Charles I’s generals had feathered hats.  And Charles I’s generals had a lot of feathered hats.

No, really, there’s a point to this!  I promise!

When I was asked to write about the Joy of Romance, I kept thinking about that missing “s”.  Because when I tried to capture the essence of the joy of my romance reading life, I was assaulted by a kaleidoscope of images:

Sitting on a bus in Ireland as a sixteen year old, snickering and snorting helplessly over a funny moment in Catherine Coulter’s The Heiress Bride as the other bus riders sidled as far away from me as possible;

An intense debate in a college common room with a friend over Joan Wolf’s The Deception about how it related to our love lives at the time (it didn’t really, but we wanted to think it did—because who doesn’t want to believe that that guy in the hockey frat could be Lord Greystoke given the opportunity and some knee breeches?);

Coming back from a grueling day of law school to collapse, bone-weary, with Judith McNaught’s Paradise;

Winding up at my very first Fresh Fiction conference in a circle of excited conversation about how much we’d all loved Gentle Rogue and just knowing that these people were my people.

To me, the joys of romance are all of these things.  It’s that spontaneous laughter as you stumble on a bit of witty banter or a scene of such sheer comic genius that you can’t help but disgrace yourself by snorting in public; it’s the tears you try to hide when hero and heroine hit their dark moments.  (I still cry every time at the scene where Meredith tells Matt about their lost daughter in Paradise.  Every.  Time.)  It’s cleverness and catharsis, all rolled together into one.

It’s also a port in a storm.  Or, rather, since I’m being other daughter willigpedantic about missing s’s here, ports in a storm.  When law firm life as a junior associate got too much for me, I would stop at Borders on the way home.  With a quick browse along the shelves and a stop by the cash register, I could seek solace in a hundred different worlds, joining those heroes and heroines on their journeys, cheering on Jo Beverley’s Meg in Forbidden Magic as she fought to protect her orphaned younger siblings or Susan Elizabeth Philips’ SugarBeth Carey as she made amends for the mistakes of her youth.  I could sail the high seas, visit the Wild West, or surf e-Commitment and drink red wine with Kristan Higgins’s heroines, all on a subway ride home.  What other passport provides such instant escape or so many different vistas?

Last but not least, the joy of romance is community.  Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches says there’s a noise that romance lovers make when they encounter someone who has read the same book.  I know that noise.  I’ve made that noise, usually accompanied by bouncing, hand-clapping, and excited, “Do you remember when…” or “Have you also read….”  A friend who reads what you do is a friend for life. 

Romance is humor, it’s restorative tears, it’s escape, it’s exploration, it’s community, it’s friendship.  Put those together and what have you got? 

A whole lot of joy.

Read a romance and share the joy(s)!

Lauren recommends:

Simone St. James ( ) can’t put out new books fast enough to me.  (Are you listening, Simone?  Nudge, nudge.)  Her books are a wonderful mix of ghost story, mystery, and romance, all set in 1920s England.

I also highly recommend Donna Thorland’s ( ) American Revolution-set swashbucklers, which all feature bold heroines and thoughtful heroes with conflicted loyalties (not to mention a way with an epee).  Who knew American history could be so much fun?

Questions for the Author:

Tell us about a moment in your life when you experienced sheer joy. 

It was 2005 and my very first book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, had just come out.  A grad school friend and I were innocently shopping at the Copley Mall in Boston when we passed the B&N.  My friend stopped short, making a muffled noise, followed by, “Ohmigod!  You’re a POSTER!”  There, right at the entrance, blown up to humongous size, was my book cover, dominating the whole doorway.  Within a moment, we were both jumping and squealing and clapping our hands and behaving like anything but dignified twenty-seven year old PhD candidates.  (It’s a good thing none of our students spotted us.  We’d have been laughed out of the classroom on Monday!)  I will never forget the sheer thrill of that moment, when I got to see the reality of a lifelong dream come true—on a poster!

Tell us about a place that brings you joy, or is attached to a memory of joy.

Whenever I smell the smoky scent of coffee being ground, it brings me right back to Peets’ Coffee in Harvard Square.  I spent a good chunk of my grad school life there and just smelling that coffee smell makes me think fondly of long gossips with good friends; sunny afternoons when you should be studying but find yourself resting your elbows on the table and staring dreamily out through the window panes; winter days hunched over my computer with a gingerbread latte warming my palm and a scene unrolling in front of me.

Tell us about a sound that brings you joy.

Whenever I hear the sound of bells on the wind, it brings with it a rush of anticipation and something very like elation.  In college, I lived beneath a carillon, which would play every evening at twilight, usually just as I was rushing off to some interesting extracurricular activity.  The bells make me think of crisp New England evenings and the golden glow of the setting sun against Gothic stone walls.  Even now, the sound of a carillon, any carillon, brings with it all the wild optimism and endless promise of those college years.

What recent book have you read that brought you joy. (Or a book you read in your life that brought you so much joy you’ve never forgotten it.) Why?

Recently?  Iona Grey’s Letters to the Lost, a debut novel that goes back and forth between a romance between a clergyman’s wife and an American soldier during World War II and their modern counterparts, a young man and woman who are struggling to find themselves—and a story from the past—in difficult circumstances.  I adored this book.  And you know you really, really adore a book when it makes you not mind an eight hour delay in a small, regional airport!

And for fun, the joy of choice ~

Pick your Chris! Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine, Chris Pratt, Chris Rock, Chris Evans or Christopher Plummer (circ. 1964 aka Capt. Von Trapp?) – trying for a little diversity! ;o)

Up until two months ago, I would have, without hesitation, picked Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp.  (I love him so much that I wrote a governess book a few years back.)  But then my toddler decided she liked The Sound of Music.  As in watches it five times a day likes it.  So… I’m going to have to go with Chris Hemsworth here.  (Unless he decides to do a remake of Sound of Music, in which case I’m afraid it’s all over.)

Lauren is generously offering a copy of either The Other Daughter or The Lure of the Moonflower (winners’ choice) to one US reader and one international reader. Entries below.

Willig_Lauren_00198_final _ creditLauren Willig is the New York Times bestselling author of the Pink Carnation series and four stand alone novels. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. After graduating from Yale University, she embarked on a PhD in English History at Harvard before leaving academia to acquire a JD at Harvard Law while authoring her “Pink Carnation” series of Napoleonic-set novels. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time. 

Buy Lauren’s books:

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(Please note that the Amazon button and most cover images link to an affiliate page that supports Read-A-Romance Month. Thanks so much for your help!)

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  • Marissa Yip-Young

    Nothing like the aroma of freshly ground coffee,

  • Diana Michelle Tidlund

    I agree on the humor, tears and escape

  • “Romance is humor, it’s restorative tears, it’s escape, it’s exploration, it’s community, it’s friendship. Put those together and what have you got? A whole lot of joy.” I totally agree! Beautiful words!

  • Make Kay

    I’ll read every Willig book ever published- they’re that good! I’m so glad you find your joy in writing and reading romance, Lauren!

  • sj1384

    So much of what you said resonates with me. I was working a job I hated but needed and there were nights I would leave work and go to Borders and browse. Sometimes finding more than I could possibly read but it was like meeting up with new friends. I would then go home, make a pot of tea and read so that I could love life again. I love the phrase “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are” (Mason Cooley)

  • Susan Craig

    Your story about Christopher Plummer made me laugh. My daughter ruined more than one movie for me in just the same way.

  • Sue Gorman

    I have a friend at work who reads historical novels. We have great conversations about authors, characters and storylines. We finish each other’s sentences.

    Your books are fabulous. Am looking forward to reading Pink XII on my vacation next month. I have set aside a few days to enjoy every word!

  • Anna

    Ahhh, Harvard Square and Peets coffee. I know it well!! It was a frequent meeting place with friends when I was living there.

  • Aleen D

    I have scooped up every book that you have released. When I saw your
    book back in 2005, the cover lured me in and when I read the synopsis, I
    was sold. It was love from that point forward! lol

  • Julie Nieves

    I just finished reading The Secret History of the Pink Carnation – and a good friend of mine gave me the rest of the books in the entire collection! Seems I have lots of reading ahead of me. Love, love, love your books!

  • Melissa Cowling Terry

    It is a fantastic feeling when you find someone who loves the same book as you do.

  • Karen Mikusak

    I love finding new (to me) authors! Thanks for the giveaway.

  • Patty Vasquez

    My on-line community is the group with whom I share my passion for romance novels since my friends in my “real life” aren’t romance readers. The exception is my wonderful husband who never fails to ask me about the book I’m currently reading: who are the heroine and hero, what’s their story, and do you like the book? He even asks me about my rather lengthy book list and any new authors I might want to try- which is also getting rather lengthy!

  • Lisa Hutson

    The romance genre does bring copious amounts of joy, doesn’t it? Endlessly.

  • Molly

    i love your books

  • Jennifer Huelsebusch

    Looking forward to reading The Other Daughter!

  • catslady

    Sounds like something I would enjoy very much – thanks!

  • Christyna

    “A port in the storm.” That pretty much sums it up perfectly, Lauren!

  • mariannewestrich

    Romance has been and continues to be my escape from the day-to-day. It’s a wonderful way to travel and experience new things without ever leaving your living room!

  • Katherine Cummins

    Romance has similar affiliations for me (as, I suspect, they do for most fans) — especially college when my best friend got me back into the genre. Really loved the pink carnation series and am very much looking forward to The Other Daughter!

  • Jennifer C

    Lauren, just dropping by to say I loved your essay, and I love your books!

  • Quinn Fforde

    I definitely agree that the joy should be plural!

  • LSUReader

    One of your latest recs is one of mine, too. I just discovered Simone St. James and now I get to go back and read her back-list. Yay. Thanks for a lovely post.

  • Kelly

    I didn’t like history much in school, but historical romance is one of my favorite genres to read. I should have studied history this way!

  • Kareni

    Many thanks for a fun discussion. (I think I may have been in the wrong field for my PhD — hours spent in the lab don’t seem as joyful as hours spent in a coffee shop!) Happy reading AND writing!

  • Carol Luciano

    I ejoyed your post. Love reading your books Lauren. I’m so happy I saw your comment about LettersTo The Lost. I’ve had it on my TRL.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

  • Calli Fox

    It’s always nice to find out more about one of your favorite authors. I love that you recommended Donna Thorland. I recently found one of her books and fell in love and so I went out and bought the other two she has out. Miss my Borders. I found your books there and instantly became attached to Amy, Eloise, Hen, Jane and the rest!

  • Karen

    Love your post! I’m looking forward to reading The Other Daughter. I also like Simone st. James and I’ll have to try Donna Thorland.

  • It was lovely seeing you at RWA this summer. I’m looking forward to reading The Other Daughter and I enthusiastically second your recommendation of Donna Thorland. Love her books!

  • Dawn Anderson

    I have not read any of your books yet, but I have you in my queue. Your Pink Carnation series sounds great.

  • Rhi

    I agree.. there is nothing so nice as to read a nice romance after working at a law firm all day! or going to law school.

  • Elizabeth ‘Liza’ Schroedle

    There is nothing I enjoy more than putting my feet up and reading one of my many romance novels. At the end of the work day, opening the book to the page that I am on, brings a smile to my face.

  • Michele Hayes

    I love finding authors that are new to me. Thanks for the chance
    to win.

  • Erin F

    I so totally agree!!! I’ve lol’d in public over a book I’ve been reading and I’ve stopped trying to explain to people over the why (most of the time, they think I’m nuts 🙂 ). and finding another person who reads the same books and just gets it, is just as good as finding a great new book! Thanks for sharing!

  • Debbie Fuller

    Thank you for sharing and posting.
    Great post.

  • Eileen Aberman-Wells

    I really enjoyed reading your post and your description on how you felt reading certain books. I love how books take me away from my daily grind and I find myself inside the book. You are a new to me author although I will be checking out your books. Thank you for your post.

  • Joan Varner

    Books were my reward for completing a day at work. Now that I am retired, they are my reward for just being me. Thanks for the post.

  • Alyn Yang

    I make that noise romance readers make when I meet other romance readers online!

  • Diane Blaser

    Thank you so much for sharing! It was nice to meet you!

  • Pamby50

    I could picture you and your friend jumping and squealing at the poster of you in the bookstore. Thank you for sharing all your reasons for joy.

  • marypreston

    Jumping into a book is the ultimate in escapism.

  • Linda Henderson

    My sister and I both love reading romance and we’ve been known to sit and discuss the characters like they are real. Actually to us they kind of are.

  • Kim

    Paradise is a favorite book of mine. Judith McNaught was able to combine angst and humor in her stories.

  • Diane Sallans

    I love to learn about history while reading romance stories!

  • Marcy Shuler

    I love the sound of a carillon! I also used to play in a hand bell group and that sound brings me joy.

  • Jerry Marlatt Pierson

    I love all Romance stories but my favorite is Historical Romance. Thank you for your giveaway and a chance to win.

  • Kai W.

    I love reading your books. There is romance, mystery, and historical …what more can I ask for.

  • K Davis

    Before I purchased my Kindle, I read all your books available at the local library. I’ve enjoyed everything that I’ve read, and recommended them to friends.

  • Glenda

    Lauren, I love your reasoning behind your Chris choice! I’ve got a few movies – including Mary Poppins – that I will do anything to avoid watching and it’s been almost 15 years since I was last tortured with some of them. 😀

  • Texas Book Lover

    I am not a big TV or movie watcher and must admit that the few things I watch are due to my daughters so I totally get your Chris choice. Except with two girls we usually watch things with very nice looking guys in them.

  • Mary McCoy

    I hope Simone is reading your post, I love her books too!

  • kirsten west

    I enjoyed your story about the carillon. It’s easy to imagine what you described.

  • Bernadette Long

    I really enjoyed reading The Other Daughter.

  • Joanna Moreno

    About a year ago I walked into the library store and they had the first 3 books of the Pink Carnation series on sale! Score for me! Ever since then I’ve hooked on the series and now I’m sad to see that the series is ending but happy to have been part of such an amazing series.
    And isn’t amazing how a smell can bring such sweet (or bad) memories? When you mentioned coffee my first thought was my mom. We’ve shared so much over a good cup of coffee that I know she’s the first thing I’m ever going to think of every time I smell of it 🙂

  • Melisa Safchinsky

    I remember reading Catherine Coulter’s The Heiress Bride at summer camp when I was 16 too!

  • Sheila M

    I added you to my TBR pile. Can’t wait to try one of your books.

  • Chanpreet

    I’m sorry to hear The Sound of Music has been ruined for you. I sincerely hope Chris Helmsworth does not do a remake to spare you and I. I just can’t see him as Captain Von Trapp!