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How Old Were You When You Read Your First Romance Novel?

I was 13 years old, in the 7th grade, when a classmate offered me one of her mom's romances to read. It was a Harlequin Presents. Back then, Harlequin had a monthly subscription (and maybe still do?). Subscribers received 6 books monthly, a month before they showed up on the shelves in the store. I don't remember her name now, but my classmate said her mom didn't mind her reading her books.

My mom was another story. I remember she saw me reading one in my room and asked what I was reading. I told her what I thought was the book's name. It was actually the author's, but I didn't correct myself when I realized my error. Her suspicious tone told me what she thought of "those sex books," which is how she still refers to them today. LOL!

In truth, she was right to be concerned. This was in the early 80s. While romances back then didn't have the sex scenes you find today, they were full of angst and drama. The heroes were rich and powerful: CEOs, Greek billionaires, Arab Sheikhs, and the like. The power imbalance between women and men was incredible. The stories were all written from the heroine's point of view, and frankly, the hero treated the heroine like crap. There were forced marriages and all other kinds of crazy situations.

There was a black moment in each book--that part of the plot where happily ever after seems like a lost cause. Suddenly, information would come to light, or the hero would do this amazing about-face, and you'd learn that he actually did love the heroine. Once he said those 3 little words, all would be forgiven, and the couple would ride off into the sunset (figuratively speaking).

This is why I never should have read those books at such an impressionable age. As I look back at all the relationship crap I've gone through in my early years, I can't help but wonder how much was the result of those romance novels? If I could speak to my younger self, I'd say, "Girl, the books are fun and all but no more real than Bugs Bunny. You wouldn't expect to find a walking, talking rabbit. Don't expect men to behave like the heroes in those books, and if they do, run far, far away as fast as you can."

Fortunately, romances today are different. Unless you read YA (Young Adult) romances, the power balance between the couples is more level. Most romances give both the hero's and heroine's point of view, so even if the hero is behaving like a jerk, the reader understands what he's thinking and feeling.

I am happy to be a romance writer now. Whereas previously, the heroines in those books were all white, I have the privilege of writing women of different colors and ethnicities. My heroines are professionals and older than the traditionally published heroines in their mid-20s. Most of my heroines aren't looking for a relationship and are chased by the hero. Which, in my opinion, is the way it's supposed to be. I don't like needy heroines or ones who do the chasing. (Perhaps that's my religious beliefs rearing its head?)

I write about women who respect themselves and command respect from others. They're nice and may give you the shirt off their back, but if you push too hard, as the saying goes, you'll "f*ck around and find out" exactly what they're made of. They are women in their 30s and 40s, who like me, have lived, loved, and learned from their life experiences.

Because I love a strong man (and what red-blooded female doesn't?), my heroes are all alphas. They're strong without being a-holes. They're not perfect, because perfect is boring, but they are a perfect match for the heroine. I don't write stupid misunderstandings that can be cleared with a simple, honest conversation, and I rarely do the "we almost broke up" moment in books. My tension and conflict come from other plot devices.

One of my favorite things to write about is married couples. Perhaps because my marriage didn't last. I like taking the couple past "happily ever after" and throwing conflict their way to see how they handle it. Did they mean their vows? Do they put the same energy into staying together that they did in getting together?

I'm working on one such story now. Grant and Sasha are empty nesters. Grant's focus is on rebuilding the connection between him and his wife when he accidentally overhears Sasha on the phone confessing that she's never had an orgasm. You can imagine the havoc it causes with him and their marriage.

The research for this book has been interesting. To get the details right, I've been reading books by sex therapists and listening to podcasts by industry professionals. It's amazing how many couples have problems with their sex lives. Astounding, really. I've been struggling with this story for a few years, occasionally pulling it out to play with and then sticking it back in its corner. This time, I'm determined to complete it.

My writing life has been unpredictable, so I don't want to promise a release date. What I can say is I hope to have this book published this year, if my creative mind and schedule cooperate. If this sounds familiar, I had it up in Kindle Vella for a time before snatching it down.

If you'd like to read a sample, here's the link:

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