I’ll admit I’ve always been a little envious of those romance readers who admit they got hooked on the genre because they found that ubiquitous “grocery bag full of Harlequins” sitting by Mom’s side of the bed. My parents did encourage all three of their daughters to read, first by reading to us as toddlers, and then making frequent library trips when we were older. But my own mother was not the type to steer her children towards specific books or genres. She was more of the type to just turn us loose. Once we got past the children’s book phase, trips through the adult section were largely unsupervised. We freely read everything from Barbara Michaels to Stephen King—a style of parenting that would likely horrify the helicopter generation.
While I was always encouraged, my Mom was not the type of mother I shared books with. Frankly, she didn’t have the time. A registered nurse by trade, she worked nights and would routinely pick up extra shifts because the overtime pay was so good. It’s a wonder she had time to read the daily newspaper, which she has done without fail for as long as I’ve known the woman. However, books? Not really.
Despite the fact that we never shared books while I was growing up, my mother is nothing if not unwaveringly supportive of all three of her children. Which is probably why when I finally did get her to try a romance novel, I was able to do so with category romance. When most romance readers talk about converting others to the genre, it’s always with single titles—whether they are contemporary, historical, romantic suspense or paranormal. Converting someone with category romance is just a trickier business. Say the name “Harlequin” to your average person on the street, and you’re just as likely to be met with sneering disdain as someone who will admit to reading them.
While it didn’t hurt that I am her daughter, I did have some help in the form of author Jacqueline Diamond, who is primarily working within the Harlequin American universe these days, and has over 90 books under her belt. I had agreed to speak at a local RWA chapter meeting while my parents were out on one of their yearly visits. The fine ladies at OCCRWA said it was alright for me to bring Mom along, and Ms. Diamond gave her one of her older releases, the spectacularly titled Diagnosis: Expecting Boss’s Baby. Mom inhaled it within a day.
That was pretty much it until the next time Mom came for a visit, and she read through all the magazines and newspapers she brought for the plane ride. She took one look at the mountains of books I have stashed around my apartment and asked if I had anything to read. She then proceeded to read four category romances, including three more by Diamond, in two days. Then when I told her about Harlequin’s Reader Service, where she could have the books delivered right to her mailbox every month? A romance reader was born.
Certainly converting someone with category romance isn’t always going to work, but it worked with my Mom for a couple of reasons. Besides the fact that I’m her daughter and she’s supportive of my interests, category romance scratches some very particular itches for her. She’s a long-time soap opera fan, having watched The Young And The Restless from the day it first came on the air in 1973. There are definite trope similarities between the two worlds. You can easily see things like amnesia, secret babies, boss/secretary romances, and the fabulously wealthy tycoon blackmailing the heroine on both soaps and in category romance. The important difference is that with romance, the stories eventually come to a close on a happy ending. Soap operas are never-ending, with writers needing to ratchet up the drama to keep audiences tuned in. Which means that couple that gets married one week? Probably getting divorced in another month. Soaps are all about the continuing drama, while romance is all about that drama getting to the happy finish line.
There is also the fact that category romances deliver that happy ending in an intense, fast-moving format with a strong focus on characterization. Mom still works full-time, and while all of her children are now grown and have left the nest, she’s still got a husband, has young grandchildren, and a house to take care of. She’s still a busy lady. But any category romance writer who is good at what they do can easily have Mom zipping through a book in a couple of hours.
Converting with category romance isn’t easy, but it can be done. I’m not sure my Mom is necessarily the perfect test subject, with me being her daughter as a bit of a bias, but for readers with an open mind, I do think it’s do-able.
Do you have any reading memories that you share with your mother? Have you ever been able to successfully convert someone, whether they already read romance or not, over to the dark side of category romance?
Wendy Crutcher, Fighting For Truth, Justice and the Right to Read What You Want.