Jul 8 2014 4:30pm

Feels Like the First Time: My First Romance Novel—Diana Palmer’s Rogue Stallion

Rogue Stallion by Diana PalmerRomance has this thing about first times.

Everyone has their first time with a romance novel. Some of us remember them, and others don’t. Sometimes it’s something as simple as a plot trope or a particularly strange sex scene. Whenever people discuss romance together, particularly their first romance, I wonder how mine reflected the way that I read romance today—and how, invariably, reading romance ties me to those that read it before me in my life.

When I was thirteen, my mother still read a fair amount of Harlequin Intrigue novels (she’s since moved on to more suspense and single title romantic suspense), but Harlequin books were a big thing for her for years. I always got fascinated by the package that would come once a month with several books in the category line. Around this time, they also rereleased the Montana Mavericks collection, which my mother also ended up ordering on subscription. My mom would read some immediately and let others languish in her closet for weeks. This was before I realized that category authors wrote very different romances despite having a similar template, and that just reading one line could get very old, very fast.

I really wanted to read a romance. Something about the dude ranch yellows and the men in stetsons called to me. I loved the western setting, the dude ranches and flat grounds a far cry from the Pennsylvania dairy farms and forested mountains in which I grew up. So one day, I went down to the closet my mom stashed her books in and pulled out the book labeled number one in the line: Rogue Stallion by Diana Palmer.

Years later and I have not been able to return to Diana Palmer, though I will remember the description of the hero that should have put me off from the beginning. It was on the first page and included the word “Republican,” which did nothing for the liberal preparing-to-come-out queer kid that I was. But something about the hero’s extremely hairy chest made me look past his alpha hole aspects and made me go back to category romance. It was the drama, the intrigue, and the sex (though I would not recommend this book for a good example of consent.)

From there on, I borrowed Whitney, My Love and Gentle Rogue from my friend’s mom, which were traded off at school and hidden from a compartment in my backpack to the back of my double-stacked bookshelf. For those, I was a little smarter and read them with a flashlight after I went to bed. The few days I read each of those books were significantly lacking in sleep, but it was worth it. I officially loved romance.

The taboo of reading romance was doubled for me. Not only was I reading against what my mother deemed “age appropriate”, but it was “for girls.” That taboo made me determined to try out romance, and it gave me a special sort of thrill when I discovered a world that I enjoyed. A world that talked about sex between original characters intend of fan fiction, and a world where I could imagine finding a hero without anyone giving me hell for it. As bad as those taboos are, they gave me the courage to try something I thought I would love.

As a result, I always connect my first romance reading to my mother. Regardless of our myriad of differences, she made me curious and that curiosity became a new genre to love. Reading romance allowed me to feel comfortable and happy in my views of relationships. Reading it made me feel like I could have a happy ending, too. My mother still doesn’t like that I read romance novels, but I’ve long stopped hiding them. My collection is too large to stuff in the dark corner of a bookshelf. Now, I read them with pride, because romance is about finding love by being who you are, and the person I am is a romance reader.

It all makes me wonder—what were your first experiences with romance, and how did they make you the reader you are today? Were they approved of, or did you sneak the books when someone wasn’t looking? And what book was your “first”?


John is a student, reviewer, and editor with a taste for social justice.  He's queer/LGBTQ and has always loved a good romance novel.  A current student at Ithaca College, he is majoring in Integrated Marketing Communications and trying to pick up a creative writing minor on the side. If you observe him in the wild, you may see him reading—or find him watching reruns of The Golden Girls while sipping his first/second/third cup of coffee for the day.  You can find his reviews on his blog, Dreaming in Books, and listen to his random musings on Twitter @DreamingReviews.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Kareni
What a thoughtful and interesting post, John. I don't recall the title of my first romance, but it was almost certainly a historical and quite likely a Barbara Cartland novel or one by Georgette Heyer. None of my family members were romance readers, and I recall that my books were referred to teasingly as 'literary junk.'

I'm reminded that my college friends (all of whom were fantasy fans) had fun with my reading choices. One friend picked up a book, read a few paragraphs, and saw mention of the 'muscled column of his thighs.' I heard that phrase a lot over the next few years!
Heather Waters
2. HeatherWaters
Lovely post. My mother and both of my grandmothers had been reading romance for as long as I could remember, but the first one I actually read was Mary Jo Putney's One Perfect Rose and only because I was complaining to my mother about being bored and book-less in a gift shop so she grabbed a book off a rack and said "Here, you can read this one." Thanks, Mom!

I was probably a bit too young for that book she randomly chose, but it kicked off my love affair with romance, and soon after I raided Mom's closet for more books. She was probably all, "I've created a monster!" but I think it worked out for the best. I mean, I run a romance website now. For work. It's the best.
3. lauralee1912
Great question. My first experience with romance novels was the bags of Harlequin romances my cousin's other grandmother brought to our mutual grandparents' farm each Summer for the "older" girls. The younger readers would try to get a peek, but were sent to Grandma's Readers Digest book collection, which had some books with adult themes for an avid reader back in the 70s. April Morning by Howard Fast comes to mind.

Anyhow, I read a few romances in college, mostly Medievals and books with Crusades themes because I was writing my senior thesis on Chaucer and if it was Early/Middle Ages, I was there. However, my love for other types of romance novels didn't grow until an elderly neighbor started lending me romance novels as a newlywed. We would eat cheese straws or cookies and discuss the books. I understood why Belva and her husband had been married 60 years - romance. My husband and I will be married 30 years this Fall.

John, you male romance readers are a rare find. Years ago, I was acquainted with an avid romance reader/bookseller who looked like one of the guys on a cover and knew all the authors. He was a hot property at the local bookstore, as you can imagine. Guy could pick out a book!
4. YvetteF
When I was growing up, my mother was a a police officer. She volunteered one summer (I was about 11 or 12) at the Police Boys and Girls Camp. I went with her and we had a fun couple of weeks. As we were leaving, one of her fellow officers (a big guy -- well, I was young, maybe he wasn't that big) stuck a book in my hand as we were leaving to go back home. What did he stick in my hand, you ask? Jackie Collins' Chances. I started reading it even before we left the parking lot. I remember all the sex, all the angst, all the very grown up story lines and I was HOOKED! Jackie Collins is definitely not for the young. But I was enthralled! I went on from Jackie Collins to Nora Roberts and have been hooked on romance -- all kinds of romance --every since. I think (outside of books mandated for reading by school) that Chances was the very first book that I ever read in its entirety. And I'm so glad he gave it to me!
Jennifer Proffitt
5. JenniferProffitt
Stuck on You by Patti Berg might not be the first romance I ever read, but it's the first one I remember reading. It featured a redheaded heroine who owned a mystery bookshop named A Study in Scarlet (her name was Scarlett), and I was utterly and completely hooked. From there I went on to Head Over Heels by Susan Anderson, and I pretty much never looked back. Thank god I worked at a library as a teen, I know I would have found romance novels eventually, but for all I know, I might not have!
6. Kaye J.
I somehow found The Flame and The Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss and I was hooked on romance. In retrospect, that book has non consensual sex that doesn't sit well with me now. The book got me hooked though!!!
Jessica Rice
7. Jessicle
I don't think this was the first romance I ever read but it is certainly the one that stuck in my head the most Warrior's Woman by Johanna Lindsey.
It was part of my mom's book shelves. She loved romance and proudly kept her books displayed so when I was about 12/13 and bored one summer I started ploughing my way through her book shelves and read this one. It definately stuck with me.
It had everything I loved in a story - strong beautiful female lead who (of course) falls for the just as gorgeous strong male lead who is actually quite gentle at heart. And of course taught me what I thought I knew about sex to be mostly wrong but also opened my eyes to the fact that sex could be used as a weapon. So a bit too adult for me at the time, but I think most of it went over my head and I just loved the story of them falling in love. All of this set to an epic SCI-FI background with my heroine fighting in an alien war, bringing the action into it too.
It was genius. Bringing the so called "future" woman to the primitive man, who was actually just a man from another planet less advanced.
I think that cemented my love for the time-travel romance novels and I will always enjoy those, namely Karen Marie Moning and her Highlander series being some of my faves!
Post a comment