May 12 2012 12:00pm

Converting Your Mom to Romance: A Test Study

Mother and daughter readingI’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.

Diagnosis: Expecting Boss’s Baby by Jacqueline DiamondWhile 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. SThe Young and the Restlesshe’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?

Image of mother and child reading courtesy of theliterarycat via Flickr.


Wendy Crutcher, Fighting For Truth, Justice and the Right to Read What You Want.

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1. TracyS
My mom, like yours, encouraged reading from a young age. She likes mysteries and I followed in her footsteps until about 5th grade, when I found the Sweet Dreams romance line for young adults--do you remember those?! I still read mysteries, but did add romance to the mix. So, I do like romantic suspense--when it's done right.

My mom's take on romance is this: boy loves girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. The end. Boring. LOL I'm pretty sure I won't be able to win her over.

Thanks for sharing your story!!
2. rebeccaj
Funny thing is that while my mother encouraged us to read, I don't think I've ever seen my mother with a book in her hand...
Jennifer Denning
3. redheadedjen
My Mom loved reading but she was a huge Stephen King and mystery/horror fan. That she loved those novels totally did not fit with her but she read them. Now that she is gone, I may try Stephen just once.
4. StaceyIK
My mom is a big reader; both my parents are, in fact. When I visit overnight at my parents, you will find us all sitting around the house reading our books at bedtime. Now, for the longest time, my mom did not read historical romance. She loved category romances as long as they were contemporary, then she began branching out into romantic suspense. But she turned her nose up at historicals.

Then, several years ago, she and Dad retired and moved to be near me and see their grandson. While babysitting for me on their usual Tuesday night, mom began exploring my overflowing bookshelves, which are 90% historicals. Somewhere between Victoria Alexander and Julia Quinn, she became a fan of historicals. Now, we share books all the time and are even in a romance book club at the public library. Of course, I am on a paranormal romance kick, so our tastes are not exactly the same, but that's okay. We still love to swap books and authors and talk about them when we see each other.
Shauna Comes
5. djshauns
My mom was the one to originally get me started with category romance. I was probably around 12 or 13 and I had read pretty much everything in the YA section of the local library. My mom decided that as far as she remembered, Silhouette and Harlequin books were "pretty tame" and would be safe for me to read. (She was an avid reader of bodice rippers herself, and hadn't picked up a category romance in years.) So I happily began reading my new genre of books, until my mother finished her book and had to wait a few days to go to the library for some new ones. My mother read one of the books I had lying around the house to tide her over and was...surprised at some of the content. She found some of the content a bit too risque for her 12 year old, but in the end decided to let me keep reading them because she figured it was "too late" at that point because I had already read tons of them by then. The funny thing is that my grandmother was a subscriber to the readers service, so I got many of my books from her, and she never said a word about the supposedly questionable content.

I had moved beyond the category romances in my late teens, but recently I have started reading some of them again because my grandmother asked me to donate some books to a book sale for her and I ended up looking through the bags for some quick reads. There was even one point when I had to buy a few back because I didn't realize that they were part of a quartet. Having only kept the second book, I needed the other books in order to find out what the final outcome of the mystery arc was.
6. Marguerite Kaye
My mum taught me to read before I went to school and when I was in my teens shared her collection of Heyer and Agatha Christie. But despite the fact I now write for Harlequin, and despite her long-standing love of historical romances, she won't read category (except mine of course, and even then she skips the naughty bits). Like lots of people, she has a totally fixed view about category not being 'proper' books, and nothing I do or say will convert her. I think in the UK especially there's still an element of shame attached to M&B which is really sad because what you say about the punch they deliver is my view exactly. I love them. I love that you love them and I love even more that you and lots and lots more people are standing up for them. Yay for category.
Wendy the Super Librarian
7. SuperWendy
TracyS: Oh man, I haven't thought about the Sweet Dreams series in years! I never read themself (was a mystery reader as a teen) but I so remember my friends reading them, seeing them at the library.....

RebeccaJ: That's my mom exactly! She never read books - newspapers and magazines, yes - books, not so much.

RedheadedJen: My parents were really hands off with our reading choices, and while some parents got really bent out of shape over King? Not mine. My older sister was the BIG King reader in our house.

Stacey: I tried to get Mom to read a historical on her last visit - and yeah. No go. Not interested at all. I'm going to keep working on her though :)

DJ: LOL! I loved that your Mom was like, "Oh well, too late now." That's what I love about category romance actually - that it evolves.

Marguerite: Not only not "proper" - but that they are somehow not "real" books. There's this impression out there that the books are written fill-in-the-blank style. That writers just sit down with a template, insert a few words - and viola! Instant-Book! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! If only it were that easy, right?

(And I love that your Mum reads your books but skips "the naughty bits.")
8. Zoë Archer
My mother taught me to read and always encouraged me to read. She's seldom without a book. But she isn't and will never be a romance reader. She reads thrillers, mysteries and NYT-listing books that she picks up at Costco.

She tried to read mine, but wound up skipping the sex scenes (the idea that her daughter might know about and have participated in such acts may be disturbing to her!), and now I think just buys them to support me, without actually reading them any more. I'm fine with that, but I do know that my FIL reads all my books! (P.S., He's a writer and a reader, so it's not really that odd. But I do find it funny that he can read my stuff and my mom can't.)
9. Miss_D
My mom had several Rosemary Rogers' books so the first romance book I lifted off her shelf when I was like 8 or 9 was "Wicked Loving Lies", then I read some of her other titles my mother had. My mom also had a few Anne Rice books so I read "Exit To Eden" and "Cry To Heaven" but none of the vampire books (wasn't interested at that time) soon after I finished her Rosemary Rogers books. These books were all read without her knowledge but it's not like she hid them either. =P

She also had the first Sleeping Beauty book by AR and the rest I picked up from the library in high school... which I still regret cause those books were OY.
Wendy the Super Librarian
10. SuperWendy
Zoe: I'm not a writer, but if I was I would be more horrified by the prospect of my FIL reading my books than my Mom. LOL!

Miss D: Wowzers - I bet Rosemary Rogers was a real eye-opener at that age!
11. filkferengi
My mom was big on gothics, "novels of romantic suspense", with the occasional foray into mystery. Victoria Holt & Elizabeth Peters lived at our house. I read them, as well as lots of other genres. The irony was, my mom would read--and enjoy--the romances by Andre Norton & Anne McCaffrey, but I could never get her to read any of their science fiction. Yet, this was the woman who raised me on "Twilight Zone" and "Star Trek"!
Wendy the Super Librarian
12. SuperWendy
filkferengi: I loved gothics as a teen, mostly because I was a mystery junkie. Love the creepy atmosphere.

I'm just like your Mom! I can watch science fiction, but I have a hard time reading it. I enjoy the occasional scifi-set romance, but I have a hard time naturally gravitating towards it on my own. Usually someone has to twist my arm :)
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