I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you, but most writers are also avid readers. This week on the Romance Writers Weekly Blog, Leslie Hachtel asks:
What was the first romance novel you ever read and how did it inspire you?
To be honest, I can’t remember the title or plot of the first specifically romance novel I ever read. When I was about sixteen, the wife of our next-door neighbour passed away, and I was given a large cardboard box of her Harlequin Presents. As I have always been a voracious reader - I’d read the labels on cereal boxes if there was nothing else available - I whipped through that box pretty quickly.
I do remember the plot of the first Harlequin I read that made me sit up and and take notice. It was set in Australia, and the heroine was a seamstress. She was the first I can recall that didn't sit around waiting to be saved. She worked hard, often late into the night, to support herself and her child (chances are, the child was her niece or nephew - this was the mid-Eighties and virgin heroines were much more prevalent). I have no memory of the hero - that’s how impressed I was with the heroine. The story must have ended with the expected happily-ever-after, but I’ve always had the feeling that she would have been okay even without him.
After that, I searched out books where the heroine took an active role in her success. While I am fairly certain the passive heroine is a thing of the past, she has on occasion been replaced by the Too Stupid To Live heroine. You know the one - she's a civilian with no knowledge of military operations, but refuses to take the soldier's advice? Or the one being stalked by a lunatic that goes in the basement without a weapon when she hears a noise?
Reading passive and TSTL heroines made me determined to never write such a woman. While there's been some slips along the way, I think I've been successful at this for the most part. And for that I can trace my inspiration back to the first memorable plot.
The seamstress story was also the first book that got me thinking about why I enjoyed certain others. Before that box of Harlequins, I read mostly mysteries and classics. Anne of Green Gables and Lord of the Rings are treasured favourites – but it is Anne’s relationship with Gilbert and Arwen and Aragorn’s romance that stand out for me in both of these. Dick Francis was my main go-to mystery writer, and my favourite of his is High Stakes, which has a well-developed romantic subplot. In fact, many of his books do, and those that don’t still have a strong relationship arc of some sort (Proof involves a widower coming to terms with his wife’s death that is wonderfully done). Robert B. Parker is another favourite, but the stories where Susan is either not present or has a minor role are the ones I re-read the least.
Of course, there’s always the romance to end all romances, Pride and Prejudice. This is my desert island book, and it is a rare year that goes by when I don’t re-read it. I can’t remember when I first read it – I think I bought it with money from a prize I’d won in high school – but if the question had been what is your favourite romance, this would be it.
How about you? What was the first romance you read? Do you still have a copy? I’d love to hear from you. Then hop on over to Leslie Hachtel to see what the first romance novel she read was. Maybe she can remember the title, unlike me!
Reserved for You goes live tomorrow! You can still get it for 99 cents here.