100% Happy to be a Romance Reader – and Writer
I first started reading romances in my mid-twenties. I found the books almost by accident—I was visiting a friend whose mother had a big shelf of romance novels, there was a snowstorm, and I started reading them.
I was instantly hooked. I didn’t want to examine it too much, and so when anyone asked what I thought about them, I gave excuses, not reasons. Romance novels were “mindless,” I told people. They were a good way to turn off my brain for a few hours and just have fun. They were just campy entertainment, and I read them to see why other people would read them.
In other words, I was embarrassed. I practiced all the usual tricks to hide my romance novels. When I bought romances, I would always pick up another book, too–one I could use to cover up the romances on the way to the register.
I don’t know what I was thinking—“Yes,” I might have imagined myself saying, “I definitely want to reread MOBY DICK. Oh, these books underneath? Er, they’re part of a…sociological study.”
Sure. A sociological study where I read the romances faster than the other books—and went back to reread my favorites over and over—while my pile of other books languished. They were “mindless” books, but I’d finish some of them and find myself thinking about them—not the characters, but what the book was saying about family and a woman’s role and what that meant. I thought about why I really loved one book but hated another one. They were “mindless” books, but they quoted Catullus and delved into science.
They were “just for fun,” but during one really, really hard year, they were the only thing that kept me from completely losing my ability to function as a human being. They reminded me that there were good people and normal human interaction was something to be prized—that what I was experiencing was abnormal and that it would get better.
In short, it was a sociological study, but it was one of myself, not some “other women” who read romance novels. I stopped asking, “Why do some women read romances?” and started asking, “Why do I care what the guy at the register thinks?”
Maybe he would think that I’m not that smart because I read romances…but I don’t know him, and I don’t really care what he thinks. And even if I did, buying a bunch of books I didn’t want to read was a really stupid way to prove that I was smart. Once I accepted that about myself—that I loved romance novels and that wasn’t going to change—I was 100% happier. I stopped coming up with excuses for reading the books I did, and started coming up with reasons for loving them.
I love romance novels because they are about big things and small things: about politics and life and cancer and war, and about home and hearth and making a perfect cookie, sometimes in the same book. They’re a reminder that not everything important is frontpage news—and, in fact, some of the most important things are details. They’re about the importance of building community.
And—yes—in a weird, meta way, romances taught me to be okay with reading romances. They’re about learning to be honest with yourself, and loving the person you are, not the person other people want you to be.
Questions for Courtney:
What is the craziest or ugliest object in your house, and why do you keep it?
This is definitely my stuffed dog that I got when I was ten. She’s been through some really rough times, but we have a lot of history together, and sometimes, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, it helps to just put my arms around her and breathe.
But don’t call her ugly. She’s not ugly. She’s very dignified.
If there was a movie made about your life, what would it be called? (And just for fun, who would play you?)
I would call it “Lucky” because I think I’ve been the beneficiary of some extreme luck.
I don’t know who they would get to play me. I am seriously pop culture deficient and can really only name a few actresses off the top of my head–and none of them will work. I’m not a fan of whitewashing in movies, so if someone has to play me, I hope they get someone who is half-Chinese.
What is the best non-monetary gift you ever received?
My stuffed dog that I got when I was ten. See above.
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?)
There’s a scene in THE GOVERNESS AFFAIR in which my hero and heroine trade hairpins back and forth, and that’s all I’m going to say on the matter.
For romance novels in general, in Tessa Dare’s ANY DUCHESS WILL DO there’s a scene at the very end of the novel that just took my breath away. I don’t want to say too much, because I’d spoil it for you, but up until that point I hadn’t known how she would solve the problems she’d made, and she fixed it so beautifully.
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.
Courtney is generously donating one copy of THE DUCHESS WAR to a US reader and one to an International reader (International readers enter here). Winners’ choice of either print or digital. 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 31 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 recommended books, please consider using the links from the site. Every bit helps and I do get a tiny percentage of sales. Thank you for considering it!
Courtney Milan’s debut novel was published in 2010. Since then, she’s been a New York Times and a USA Today bestseller, and her books have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist. She’s been a RITA finalist and an RT Reviewer’s Choice nominee for Best First Historical Romance. Her second book was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2010. You can find Courtney online at CourtneyMilan.com
Courtney lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, a medium-sized dog, and an attack cat. Before she started writing historical romance, she experimented with various occupations: computer programming, dog-training, scientificating…. But her favorite job is the one she’s now doing full time–writing romance.