Monday, September 27, 2010

Feel the Romance

On Saturday, the Maryland Romance Writers had a booth at the Baltimore Book Festival. A lot of the writers from the group—including me—read excerpts from their latest books. We also answered questions about everything from writing to character arc to works in progress.

When I was finished with my reading, one of the visitors mentioned that she was a writer of women’s fiction. She hastily added that she wasn’t sure what the difference between women’s fiction and romance was. Then she said that she had only been reading romantic fiction for two years and that was the source of her confusion. After we all reassured her that none of us knew the difference either, we started to talk about when we had first discovered romance novels.

I grew up in a book-loving family, but I don’t remember my mother reading romance when I was young. My first encounter with the genre was in my early teens, when I visited my grandmother in upstate New York. She was an avid reader of Barbara Cartland. I must admit, I still have a soft spot for those naïve, breathless heroines and their masterful, older heroes. After that, perhaps the same year, a neighbor passed on a pile of Harlequin romances. Through them, I saw a world outside small-town Idaho. Those slim volumes broadened my horizons and made me wonder about the lives of other people in other lands. They were also the genesis of my urge to travel. I still remember the name of the heroine—Lavinia, Vinnie for sort—who took me to the Alhambra for the first time. When I saw it for myself, years later, I couldn’t help but think of her.

But there was more to romance than those sweetly formulaic offerings. When I was a bored babysitter looking for something to read, I found The Flame and The Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss on a bedside table and picked it up. I was thrilled to find out there was more to romantic fiction than masterful men who sat a horse well or who ran corporations with the help of spunky heroines who tamed them. There was sex. Before marriage! On ships and in carriages and outside under the wide blue sky. The heroines were still spunky and heroes masterful, but the stories were deeper, richer and far more complicated emotionally. In short, there were good romances and then there were good books.

From there, I was hooked. All these years later, I still am.

Who got you started reading romance? Any author whose name can still make you sigh and say: “remember when?”

3 comments:

Sharon Buchbinder said...

Hi Lisa--Great to see you on Saturday at the BBF. I wasn’t aware that I was reading romantic suspense until I joined the MRW. I kept picking up MIRA books, unaware they were an imprint of HQN. Stealth marketing? Perhaps, but now I know I have the entire array of romance to sample and savor.

Lisa Ruff said...

It was great seeing you, too! Robin Kaye said she never read romance until she picked up a Jennie Cruisie book--one that had a "normal" cover--and loved it. Look where that's led, lol.

Estella said...

My first experience with a romance novel was also Barbara Cartland----many, many years and books ago.