Filling Us Up When Nothing Else Can
When I was in my late twenties, I worked in advertising as the creative director of a large New York City ad agency. One of our clients was Harlequin Books.
I was in charge of creating television commercial for the brand for more than two years. As part of my job I read a lot of the lines I was doing ads and TV commercials for: “Super Romances” and “American Romances” (hard job right?). In addition I also traveled to five cites each year to attend focus groups with avid readers.
Every other month we agency folks sat behind a two way mirror, sipping burnt coffee and eating donuts while we watched a dozen women, also sipping burnt coffee and eating donuts while they talked about their reading habits.
Why did they read romances? What did they get out of them? How many books did they read a week? A month? How did they chose which ones to read? How did they feel about the books? Did it make them happier or more dissatisfied with real life?
What is on the page can obliterate reality. Offer an escape. Fill us up emotionally when we are barren or hurting. Satisfy us when nothing else can.
I had been an avid reader al my life and knew those things intuitively but it was different to hear other readers talk about how much books mattered to them, fulfilled them, entertained them and even taught them about life and love.
I realized that whatever we think we know about ourselves, we always learn more from books. And I came to understand in a very serious way how important books are for many people’s mental health. How a novel can block out the world and offer an escape. How disappearing and traveling to other worlds we’ve never been to before and experiencing other relationships can enhance and improve our own.
After listening to hundreds of women, I was inspired to try to write my first novel. I asked the Harlequin editors I’d met for their writing guidelines and over the next six months tried to write a novel for them.
When I was done, I submitted it. For weeks I waited anxiously to find out if it was going to be accepted. Finally I got a letter from the editor. She said I clearly had talent. That my characters had a lot of depth and personality. That my story showed creativity and was very original. But ultimately, I hadn’t written a romance. What I’d written was too erotic and had too much of a mystery at its heart. She encouraged me to try again.
And I did. Twice more. But it was the late 1980s and what I wrote was always too erotic and too suspenseful.
Romance has changed a lot since I was twenty eight. It’s opened up and is more embracing and the wonderful authors I read now explore so much the terrain that wasn’t kosher when I tried to visit it back then.
And as a reader I am so very very happy about that.
Lisa Renee Jones, Shayla Black, Lexi Blake and Lorelei James are some of the author’s I’d recommend for the kind of breathless reads that keep you turning pages, escaping, learning and just plain being entertained.
What is the craziest or ugliest object in your house, and why do you keep it?
A very worn 10 inch monkey stuffed animal, and tied around his neck is a white linen man’s handkerchief. My father gave me the monkey for my birthday when I was five – he called me monkey face when I was little. A year later he gave me the handkerchief because I was crying – I didn’t want him to leave on a biz trip. He said that I if I used it to stop the tears whenever I missed him, I wouldn’t miss him so much.
If there was a movie made about your life, what would it be called? (And just for fun, who would play you?)
La Vie en Rose and I wish I could say Audrey Hepburn would play me because I love how she looks but I am guessing it would be Bette Midler even though I don’t nearly have that great a sense of humor. But she can do misery and determination and Jewish great!
What is the best non-monetary gift you ever received?
Every day that is worry free.
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?
The kiss in the back of the cab in Lip Service (I didn’t even have to think about it). And it’s not a romance novel but the whole of Endless Love by Scott Spencer.
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 participating in celebrating the romance genre during the month of August. Also visit the Awesome Contests page to see how you can register each week to win “A Month of Romance” (31 books), e-readers, and even the Grand Central Grand Prize, an iPad mini. If you love romance, then this is the place to be!
MJ Rose is offering a replica of the necklace from the cover of Seduction as a prize for the drawing, made from jet beads. (U.S. only, apologies to international readers.). U.S. readers, to enter, 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 18 to be eligible, though winners will be announced the following week.
M.J. Rose is the internationally bestselling author of 13 novels. You can find out about her most recent, Seduction, a novel of suspense, at MJRose.com.