The (Reading) Road To Romance
Ever wondered how authors end up writing in one genre instead of another? Kristina Knight tells us about the reading path which led her to our favorite genre.
As much as I loved adventure books when I was a kid (and I did love them. I think I read every Choose Your Own Adventure, Beverly Cleary, and Louis L’Amour book available at least twice), the books that made me a voracious reader were from Judy Bloom, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Victoria Holt, and every author who ever contributed to the Teen/YA angst-filled romances that were the Sweet Dreams and Sunfire series of books back in the day.
They are books I probably started reading too early, but the librarian at my school was so tired of me checking out the same 10 books all the time I think she let me take out that first Blume book out of exasperation. That first Blume was Tiger Eyes and as a fifth grader I didn’t really understand allll the things going on in that book. But I had ideas. And I couldn’t stop reading. I didn’t check it out because Tiger Eyes had been put on a banned/challenged list. I checked it out because the librarian finally let me go into the high school section of the library.
I started reading it on my way back to math class. I read it through the rest of math class—we were testing that day, it’s not like I was a total rebel—put it behind my Social Studies book so I could keep reading, and missed my bus stop because I needed to know if Davey was going to be okay, what would happen with Wolf, and if Jane was going to keep drinking. I needed to know when her mom would come out of the bubble she’d been in since the death of Davey’s father, if her aunt and uncle were ever going to let up.
I’d finished the book by the next day and took it back, wanting more Blume. I read Forever, Blubber, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in quick succession. Those books led me to Victoria Holt—The Captive, y’all, OMG, The Captive!—and I made a quick detour into Louis L’Amour-land; and I know his books weren’t all love-story-focused but I will stomp my foot and insist that he wrote romances—before finding the Sweet Dreams line of YA romances from Bantam in about the sixth grade. The books were well-worn and dog-eared by the time I found them—which was my first inclination that they were good reads.
P.S. I Love You wasn’t the first Sweet Dreams that I read, but it remains the one I think about often. The one I refer to as “my first romance”. Oh, how I wanted to be Mariah, falling in love with an artsy guy who liked her back and was so very smart and funny. And, oh, how my heart broke when Paul started to get sick. That book led into other Sweet Dream titles which led to the Sunfire series. Veronica by Jane Claypool Miner was my first historical romance and, once again, I was smitten. I liked that the books dealt with history in a real way and what teenage girl doesn’t like a love triangle with two handsome, funny, smart guys? Sure, one was always just a little too nice or too controlling, but that just made the books even more fun.
It was around the time I discovered the nearly-worn-out copies of the Sunfire books in the library that I dared to check out my grandmother’s bookshelf... And I was off on a whole new tangent. Because her books weren’t about unrequited, angsty-YA love… Her books were full-on romance. With sex, even. One of my first? Of course from the amaze-balls, Nora Roberts. The book hadn’t even been cracked open yet, but it had a smiley-face sticker that I knew meant it was by one of Grandma’s favorite writers. Naturally, I had to read it. I mean the back-cover copy was everything—a female PI? And a handsome psychic? Be still my heart, Entranced was everything my ninth-grade heart could have hoped for! I went on a deep-dive of Harlequin books at that point, my favorites were Presents and Superromances—and when I landed my first contract to write for Superromance it was one of the best moments in my life—but I read across all the lines. Intrigue and Romantic Suspense and Romance and American and Historical… I read a little bit of everything and it began my life-long love affair with Nora Roberts books.
It wasn’t until about 2002, though, that I thought about writing books of my own. I mean, technically I thought about it but was certain that writers had to have Big Lives and live in Big Cities and Travel The World. I was working in a little town in Nebraska, taking vacations to truly exotic locations like… Branson, Missouri and Mt. Rushmore and Denver, Colorado. What did I know about writing about anything? That’s what I told myself.
Then, I picked up Texas Cooking by Lisa Wingate, and I’m not sure why but I thought, this I know. I’d read other small town romances—at least a thousand by that time—but there was something about Wingate’s book that was so relate-able. I could see the characters on her pages. I’d met the characters on her pages—I knew a freelance writer in Nebraska who was like Colleen, and I was around cowboys (of the rodeo and non-rodeo kinds) all the time. Heck, I’d even interviewed a handful of PBR types on a junket through our town. I knew these people. I could write these people. So, I started to write. I wrote a couple of truly horrible contemporary romances, and a couple of romantic suspenses, and with every failed manuscript I learned something new about the books I wanted to write, so I kept writing. It took a few years, but I published my first romance, What a Texas Girl Wants, a few years later, and it remains one of my favorite books… Even though I’ve learned even more about writing and storytelling since that book came out and sometimes wish I could change a thing or two.
What about you? Did you start out reading Judy Blume and Victoria Holt? Who are your romance ancestors? Comment below and hit social media with the hashtag #romanceancestry to join the conversation.