Everyone remembers their first! Their first romance novel, that is. Over the past two years, we've had the honor of hearing from some of the genre's most beloved writers in a special Author Spotlight exclusively in our Heroes and Heartbreakers weekly newsletter. One question we've put to authors regularly is what they remember about the first romance novel they ever read. Now, we hope you enjoy reading all their delightful answers in one place!
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What book introduced you to romance, and what do you remember about it?
Lauren Billings (a.k.a. one-half of Christina Lauren)
I grew up in the Bay Area, but nearly every weekend, my parents would take us north to a damp, drafty cabin on the Russian River. We’d build a fire and, away from social stress, homework, and sports routines, my sister and I would read for hours on end.
She would read John Steinbeck. I would read Danielle Steel.
I tore through them all. The first I read—Palomino—was a well-loved mass market paperback from a used book store. I bought it because I’d been away to summer camp, and had fallen in love with horses; I had no idea that it was a romance novel. But I was instantly smitten.
The family drama was All Kinds of Amazing, but let’s be real: I lived for the kissing parts. I liked Steinbeck all right, but from the moment I read Palomino, I knew that romance was my jam.
I don’t remember the first book, only that it was a Harlequin romance. It was seventh grade and my lab partner used to read them all the time—normally instead of helping me with our lab work! She started passing them on to me when she was done and I was hooked. But the first romance that I remember really hooking me and making me want more was Sandra Brown’s 22 Indigo Place. Oh. My. Goodness. To this day I still have the paperback and I will pull it out and read it. I can pretty much almost recite the whole thing but I just loved it!
The first romance I read was Fires of Winter by Roberta Gellis. A friend loaned it to me, telling me, “She handles the history really well.” Indeed she did. However, it was the romance that enthralled me. At its heart, it is a “conqueror's prize” medieval romance. The hero thinks he has been given a woman who is mentally deficient, because she is withdrawn due to the traumas suffered in war. After she “snaps out of it” (during the marriage's consummation!), the two of them have to negotiate an arranged marriage full of political implications. Great history, yes, but oh, the love scenes! They were the real revelation. I finished the book in two days and began binge-reading every historical romance I could find. How had I missed these before? Where had they been all my life? Two years and a couple hundred books later, I began writing my own historical romances.
My mom is an avid mystery reader, so I didn’t read my first romance until I was in college (late '80s). It was romantic suspense—Nora Roberts's Sacred Sins. I don’t remember much about the story, other than I loved the blend of mystery and romance. I sought out every romantic suspense I could find. I discovered Susan Andersen’s Exposure with the large, brooding Sheriff Elvis Donnelly—Elvis is still one of my all-time favorite heroes. (I’ll never forget the hot sex scene on the kitchen counter!)
Fast forward to 2001 and I was on maternity leave. While my son slept, I read 77 books in four months. Two books changed my life—The Third Victim by Lisa Gardner about a school shooting and The Search by Iris Johansen about a search and rescue dog and his handler. This was exactly what I wanted to write! Twisty, dark suspense novels with smart, independent but tortured heroines who weren’t waiting for the hero to save them...but realized by the final chapter that love made them whole.
Tara Sue Me
In AP English my senior year, we had to name our favorite genre to read. They were all listed except one. But that changed with a friend of mine, the girl who would become valedictorian.
“I read romance,” she said. “Five a week.”
You could almost hear the disbelief. When we talked later, I mentioned I’d never read romance. Not long after, she saw my latest read. “You know that’s a romance?”
“Are you sure?” I asked. I’d found it on the “Recommended” shelf. “Because I’m on page 175 and they haven’t had sex.”
She pointed to the spine and the words: Historical Romance. I was floored. I was reading romance. I was enjoying it. A lot.
Later, I learned Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander wasn’t considered a romance in the traditional sense. But it didn’t matter. I had found the romance section.
And I never looked back.
The book that introduced me to romance is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. What I remember most about the book (and it’s easy to remember since I re-read it almost every year!) is the great back-and-forth dialogue between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. My favorite trope—as people who’ve read my books have probably guessed—is a heroine and hero who really, really don’t want to fall for each other, but there’s a spark between them that they just can’t deny. Throw in a fancy, Regency-era ball, a botched proposal, and a hero who realizes when he’s been a jerk and goes the extra mile to change and prove himself worthy of the heroine, and I’m pretty much sighing the entire way.
The first book I remember reading that set my little heart aflutter was Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage. I was about ten years old and got the book from the library. There were two things that immediately stole my untried heart, and they were a hero who was willing to die for the brand and for the woman he loved. Zane Grey always wrote about cowboys who were a bit larger than life and as I read I imagined myself on the horse, experiencing the heat and the dust storms, or the bitter cold and blinding snow. I always empathized with the young girl of Grey's stories because she was always in need of being rescued from danger or from the big bad boss of a big ranch trying to steal her daddy's land, or something of that nature.
I think Grey was instrumental in why geography is so important to me as I tell my stories, because I realized early on that it could and should be just as important a character as any of the people in the story. All of his stories were fraught with action/adventure — yet another inspiration to why I need more than a relationship happening to tell my stories. Grey wrote about ordinary people surviving extraordinary events, as I often do. I have read every Zane Grey book ever written. When I was younger, I had my favorites and read them numerous times.
I picked up one of his titles a few years back and as I read through the pages, I realized how very far I'd come from the innocent little girl I'd been who devoured the story, just waiting for that one little moment when the hero kissed the girl. Yes, I'm older and I hope wiser, but one thing in romance never gets old. We all read the genre for that moment — waiting for the scene where the hero finally takes the girl in his arms — that scene where we learn if he is going to love her forever or if he's going to break her heart.
I have always been an avid reader. I grew up reading about the Wakefield sisters and devouring every single release in Sweet Valley High. It was reading those books that I realized the most exciting parts usually were those when one of the Wakefield twins had a love interest. It made me crave more. That craving eventually led me into the romance section of a bookstore. I scanned the titles and was especially caught by a thick historical by Judith McNaught titled Whitney, My Love. I devoured it in twenty-four hours.
I still remember the characters' names, how they met, how much I felt for them. I specifically remember the hellion Whitney was, and how Clayton Westmoreland once, after a particularly reckless act on Whitney's part, spread her over his lap and spanked her. It was very taboo and the way Judith McNaught handled the scene was so very sexy and emotional too. By that point in the book, I was already deeply in love with both characters and I was just dying for them to realize what they were magically finding in the other: passionate raw love. It's still the best kind of love, and Whitney, My Love is still my favorite book to this day
I never used to read romance. I thought it was quite beneath my dignity (such little did I know!). Then one day back in the '70s I pulled a sample Harlequin romance out of a Corn Flakes box, looked at it in some aversion, held it over the garbage can, and then, before I could drop it in, thought, perhaps I would read it just for laughs. I was enchanted, and then I was hooked! The book was Anne Mather's No Gentle Possession. I don't remember much about it, not surprising at my age, but I have always kept that book. And by a marvelous twist of fate, I had a letter of appreciation for my books from Anne a few years ago. I emailed her back and asked if she was the Anne Mather and then, when I had recovered from my fan moment, told her the story of my introduction to romance.
Julie Anne Long
My first romance was Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love. My sister and I sneaked it out of my mom's nightstand drawer when we were pretty young, fascinated by the title (who knew love could be sweet AND savage?) and the heroine's unfettered, billowing hair and the hero's giant pecs. We knew it had to be juicy if Mom was hiding it. “Juicy“ was understatement. We were thunderstruck. Instant addicts. We sneakily read our way throughWicked Loving Lies and Laurie McBain'sTears of Gold in this fashion before we got busted when my sister asked, “Mommy, what's a manhood?”
Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades provided my introduction to romance. I found the characters fascinating (the Duke of Avon is the perfect dark hero), the plot intriguing, and the action rapid-fire. I’ve read it three or four times. I’ve read hundreds of romances over the years, and no author other than Jane Austen has come close to Mrs. Heyer.
On Christmas Eve of 1986, I read a fantasy romance called The White Pipes by Nancy Kress, which opened my mind to the idea of romance in a book. Afterwards, I took it upstairs and told my mom I wanted to write a book just like it some day. Over the years, Kress became a well-respected writing teacher and her how-to books have been instrumental to my career. In August, I finally met her in person. I brought my original, well-worn paperback, and I told her how much she’d inspired me. She offered a rueful smile and said she’d never considered The White Pipes to be one of her finer works. Then she asked how my writing career was going. I told her I’d written several bestsellers, thanks in part to her books. Her eyes widened, then she signed my book: “Joanna—glad this was of use to you. Nancy Kress.”
I was ten or eleven when I happened upon The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart.
I always read the last chapter of a book before I started it. I attribute this habit to Old Yeller. I am not fond of tragic endings still: I find them manipulative and, mostly, the wrong place to end a story. The Ivy Tree had a horse, instead of a dead dog, in the last chapter—so I was good to go.
Had someone told me that it wasn’t a book about horses, I probably wouldn’t have started it. But after the first few pages I was caught up in the story of Mary Grey, who agreed to pretend to be a young woman who had disappeared years before. Stewart was a wonderful writer, lyrical, and brutal by turns. Her women (especially by the standards of the day) were capable and smart. Her men were largely mysterious—and at that age I found all men mysterious—until the last few chapters. The Ivy Tree is still my favorite of all Stewart’s books.
I grew up in the seventies, and my middle school library had a great selection of the old ”malt shop" romances that were written in the fifties. These YA romances were my first taste of romance in the sixth grade, and I devoured them. My favorite malt shop author was Rosamond du Jardin. About fifteen years ago I found all of her old books on eBay. They're in my prized collection! After I read through all the libraries had to offer, a classmate of mine introduced me to Harlequin romances. Back then, they only had the Romance and Presents lines. I loved them. A few years later, I read Forever by Judy Blume. My love for romance hasn't stopped since. I started writing my first YA romance in eighth grade. I did eventually finish it, but it will never see the light of day!
The book that introduced me to romance was Desert Hostage by Diane Dunaway. I remember the beautiful cover, the old school hero, and the rich desert setting.
I don’t recall “the first,” but I can say one of the firsts was and still is an all-time favorite. It’s called Blame It on the Blackout by Heidi Betts.
She works for him and secretly loves him. They go to a fancy dinner together for business. Then they get trapped in an elevator where he promptly has a panic attack and she kisses him to calm him down… Things kinda get out of hand from there.
It’s still awesome. Lucy and Peter forever!
You never forget your first trapped-in-an-elevator-together book. Especially when it’s penned by the incomparable Heidi Betts. (And mine is an autographed copy.)
I fondly remember the crack-tastic soapiness of Sweet Valley High, but the pivotal moment came in seventh grade when I discovered the secret stash of category romances under my mom’s bed. *Cue the choir*
I devoured them one at a time under my covers late at night with a flashlight. Those early books ran together until I happened upon Linda Howard’s Midnight Rainbow. Oh. My. God. It was sexy and adventurous and very Romancing the Stone.
The hero is hired to rescue the kidnapped heroine from a jungle compound. The suspense, the romance, the s-e-x! I distinctly remember the heroine was not a virgin *gasping pearl clutch* which at the time shocked my teenaged sensibilities. But, looking back, my worldview and my definitions of what it meant to be a woman began expanding with that book. I feel so lucky to have discovered romances when I did!
Okay, don’t laugh at my answer. It was the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back. I was eight. My family was going on a two-week camping trip, and my mom told me she’d buy me one book at the store. I picked the biggest book I could find, and it was this one. Of course, I read the whole thing within the first two days, but then I went back and re-read. In fact, I re-read certain scenes again and again and again…and wouldn’t you know, those just happened to be all the Han and Leia scenes. I think that book made me a romance reader, and it taught me three important lessons:
1) Scoundrels are sexy.
2) It’s all about the banter. (Not the bantha. Banthas are very unromantic.)
3) Kissing scenes are the absolute best.
What do you remember about reading your first romance novel?