Discovering the Gift of Romance
I fell in love with reading romance in an unlikely place. Living in a suburb of Chicago and newly married, I volunteered to work in a resale shop that depended 100% on donations. The proceeds from the sales of the shop went to the local animal shelter and being an animal lover, I felt this was the perfect way to support my community. I worked one evening a week and on every other Saturday, I worked an eight-hour shift. Many times we were busy, but often there were stretches of time when I sat in the store alone. I could only straighten merchandise and dust shelves for so long. The store had a book section and being an avid reader, I paid attention to what books were for sale.
I love all types of books. I began my love-affair with reading as a child and adored the Nancy Drew series. As a teen I jumped to Agatha Christie, devouring every book—and of course, in the order written. In college, the only genre I thought I didn’t like was Science Fiction, so I took a course called Science Fiction as the Great American Literature and added that to my list of loves. I’m now proud to say I have earned full-fledged geek status.
So back all those years ago, when someone came into the resale shop and donated an entire bag of romance novels, my curiosity arose. I’m not sure why, but I hadn’t read many romances. As I took each book out, I lined them up by author, and found several were series books. Thanks to Nancy Drew and Agatha, it felt good in a nostalgic way. I picked up the first book of one of the series. The book drew me in and I began reading. I was hooked! I ended up buying the entire bag myself and finished every book. Wow, did I have fun reading through that bag!
I found some important messages in the pages of those books. I continue to love and read romance to this day. Romance matters? Absolutely. Here’s what I’ve learned, and why I love nothing more than sinking into a romance:
People—good people—can have flaws, and that doesn’t make them bad. For someone who is a perfectionist (me!) and who mentally beats herself up if not careful (me!) it was life-changing to read about characters who weren’t perfect. Yet, I adored and rooted for them just the same. Who knew? It’s okay to not be perfect.
People can grow and learn. In fact, if a person does learn a lesson and evolve from mistakes, then they aren’t really mistakes. Characters in romances—unlike many people in real life—don’t always have to be “right.” They listen. Sure, some remain stubborn, but at least they contemplate. They find hope and work toward love.
Redemption is possible. There is always hope. I believe we can’t hear those two messages enough in today’s world. After I finish a romance, some of the challenges of the day or week are erased from my heart. Reading romance is good for the soul.
Women can have cool careers. From smoke jumpers to doctors, entrepreneurs who are passionate about their businesses, sculptors, artists, photographers, journalists, architects, and moms (and the list goes on)—these women make their own decisions and find fulfillment in many ways, including believing they will end up with the love of their life. These women don’t settle for second best in anything. Including love.
Women have the power to be happy and make their own decisions. Women can call the shots. Women can walk away and say no. Women can say yes! Women can forgive (including themselves!) and find the love they know they deserve.
As far as romance picks, Study in Seduction (Nina Rowan’s debut novel) is one of my favorites. Nina’s writing is just gorgeous! I am about to treat myself and dig into her second novel. I also enjoy Christine Merrill‘s historical series (I warned you, I love series) and the sense of humor that comes through in Chris’s writing is such fun. And both Nina and Chris are here, part of Read-A-Romance Month! (Read Nina’s R-A-R M essay here and Christine’s essay here.)
Questions for Kathy:
What is the craziest or ugliest object in your house, and why do you keep it?
She’s far from ugly, but she’s not what you’d expect to find on a working desk…my Wonder Woman Barbie Doll. I got her as a visual for a talk I gave on my Muse and she did a great job and continues to do so. She kicks my butt if I don’t write. A heroine who fights for justice, love, peace and sexual equality…what’s not to love?
If there was a movie made about your life, what would it be called? (And just for fun, who would play you?)
Stranger than Fiction (which is definitely my life, and part of a quote from a great author and insightful human being—Mark Twain) and Sigourney Weaver would be my choice to play me. She has been one of my favorite actors since she kicked alien butt in the movie series.
What is the best non-monetary gift you ever received?
On our wedding anniversary my husband gave me champagne roses, one for each year of our marriage. I was so touched he remembered what flowers I carried down the aisle all those years ago. No gift has ever been more romantic or perfect.
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 scene in First, There is a River where the heroine, Emma, sees Gage’s scarred body for the first time. Gage doesn’t want her to see any more of the scarring (it runs from his face down the length of his body) due to a riverboat explosion and fire where he was injured as a young man. To Emma, his scarring represents all he’s come through and triumphed over in his hard life. She tells him he’s the most beautiful man she’s ever seen. I actually cried when I wrote that scene.
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.
Kathy is generously donating one copy of each of her books (FIRST, THERE IS A RIVER; JASPER MOUNTAIN; and THEATER OF ILLISION) 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 30 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!
Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the Spirit of the River Series: First, There is a River, Jasper Mountain, and Theater of Illusion, available online and in bookstores everywhere. Additionally, Kathy is published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, Between the Lines, and blogs monthly on writing at www.howtowriteshop.com. She writes from a log home in the woods of southwestern Wisconsin that she shares with her husband and three cats, and is currently working on a TREEbook for Medallion Press that branches story lines off of her award-winning book, First, There is a River. Keep an eye out for it in 2014.