Romance Novels by the Bag
One summer, when I was a teenager, my grandmother introduced me to romance novels. It was a rainy day, and we were vacationing in a house that had no television (and this was also in the Dark Ages, before the Internet). All of us picked out a good book to read, and we spent hours curled up in the house while the Florida thunderstorms pounded on the roof. My grandmother had given me a grocery sack full of Regency romance novels, and from the moment I delved into a literary world of handsome rakes paired with innocent misses, I was hooked.
I was twelve years old, and before that, my only experience with romantic fiction involved a few Sweet Valley High books. But these romance novels swept me away with dreams of happily ever after and Cinderella endings. I read my way through that grocery sack and then came to realize that my southern Steel Magnolia grandmother was secretly a true romantic. It brought us together in a way I never would have expected, and she continued to bring me Regencies over the years.
From there, I moved on to historical romances by Jude Deveraux, Lavyrle Spencer, Judith McNaught, and Julie Garwood. I spent my allowance on books, and my mother never batted an eye when I loaded up on romance novels. A year or so later, I told her that I planned to be a romance novelist when I grew up. I had never considered writing as a career, but once I started plotting and writing my own stories, there was no turning back. I filled up legal pads with the most cliché-ridden romance stories, handwritten in green ink (because it seemed more romantic than plain black or blue).
Some critics argue that romance novels teach young girls impossible ideas about love. And while I’ll admit that my nine-year-old daughter will not marry a Viking or a medieval warrior, there are other, more important messages that I hope she’ll gain from reading romances. First, that men who treat women badly are not heroes—they’re the villains. Second, although the path to love may be rocky, real love does exist, and sometimes it’s not with the person you expect. Last, my favorite books taught me to wait for the right man and to hold high standards. I’ve been married to my own romance hero for nearly fifteen years now, and he continues to surprise me by sending romantic text messages or by getting me flowers for no reason at all. I hope that one day my daughter will find her own happy ending with the perfect hero.
Recommendations: Lavyrle Spencer is my all-time favorite historical romance novelist. While many readers have heard of her, she’s been retired for many years and might be unfamiliar to others. Some of my favorite books by her include: Morning Glory, Vows, and The Endearment.
A newer author, published in e-book form, is my long-time friend Margery Scott. Margery and I began our journey toward publication together, and she writes both romantic suspense books and western historicals such as Emma’s Wish and “Trey.”
Questions for Michelle:
What is the craziest or ugliest object in your house, and why do you keep it?
I received a white ceramic, basket-shaped fruit bowl, rimmed in fake gold, for a wedding gift from a distant relative. For a long time it remained in the attic because it was so strange-looking. Then my husband and I decided to encourage the kids to eat healthier, and I brought down the fruit bowl. Now I keep it filled with fresh peaches, plums, grapes, and other fruits so that the kids will reach for those first when they come home from school and want an afternoon snack. It may not be the most attractive bowl, but it serves its purpose.
If there was a movie made about your life, what would it be called? (And just for fun, who would play you?)
Probably “The Sound of Music,” because I have three children under the age of twelve and my life involves constant juggling around their schedules, in the same manner Maria Von Trapp had to chase after the seven children. And I’ll confess a secret—I am a cantor in my local Catholic church, so I really do sing in public. Thankfully, however, I do not dress my children in drapes. And instead of Julie Andrews playing my role, it would likely be Tina Fey.
What is the best non-monetary gift you ever received?
My husband has given me many romantic gifts over the years, but one that particularly stands out was in December of 2007. Our son was four weeks old and wasn’t sleeping through the night yet, which meant I was sleep-deprived and extremely stressed. My husband brought the baby downstairs on Christmas Eve and told me that one of his gifts to me was a full night of rest. He stayed up all night with our son, and it was the longest stretch of sleep I’d had in a month. It was wonderful.
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?)
That’s like asking me to choose among my children! But for variety’s sake—if you like Highlanders, I’d recommend Tempted by the Highland Warrior. For Regency lovers, try Undone by the Duke. Or if you prefer your heroes ultra-barbaric—To Sin with a Viking is out this month!
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 celebrating the romance genre during the month of August.
Michelle is generously donating three copies of To Sin with a Viking, and three copies
of Undone by the Duke to US readers (apologies to International readers). To enter the domestic contest, 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 28 to be eligible, though winners will be announced at a later date.
Also visit the Awesome Contests page to register this week to win a Kindle Paperwhite and “A Month of Romance” (31 books) from Amazon Montlake, or the Grand Central Grand Prize, an iPad mini. If you love romance, then this is the place to be!
If you love Read-A-Romance Month and decide to buy, please consider using the books links from the site. Every bit helps and I do get a tiny percentage of sales. Thank you for considering it!
Amazon bestselling author and Rita® Award Finalist Michelle Willingham has published over twenty books and novellas. Currently, she lives in southeastern Virginia with her husband and children and is working on more historical romance novels. When she’s not writing, Michelle enjoys baking, playing the piano, and avoiding exercise at all costs. Visit her website at www.michellewillingham.com.