Author Carolyn Hector Hall traces her Romance Ancestry roots from Sweet Valley High to the fabulous Beverly Jenkins, through series, drama, sagas, heat, and historicals...
For as long as I can remember I’ve loved romantic couples—no, I didn’t start off with the classics like Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett. Let’s try Barbie and GI Joe, Gomez and Morticia, Dylan and Brenda, and Xena and Gabrielle. Perhaps I was born with the romance gene. I had that adoptee syndrome where I just knew my birth parents were star crossed lovers pulled apart by their families. The not knowing always fueled my desire to write their story. Growing up, no one around me read romance. I was just drawn to it. So, let’s trace my romance roots...
Picture it! Fall, 1985. A week or so before Thanksgiving. Hurricane Kate’s winds whip through my neighborhood and scare the living daylights out of my dad. Upon his command to “stay put”, I curled up in my overstuffed papasan chair with a book about a set of identical blonde, blue-eyed twins. I was so engrossed in the Sweet Valley High book, Say Goodbye, that I read throughout the hurricane. We lost power for several days, but the streets were open, mainly... The streets to the mall, and that’s where I discovered there were Sweet Valley High books I hadn’t read. So began my love for series books!
Let me go back a year prior to the discovery of the series. The most daring books I had read by the time I hit thirteen were: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Deenie by Judy Blume and Fifteen by Beverly Cleary (I envied Marcy Stokes just as Jane Purdy did.) With any Judy Blume book, I felt the angst. It was nice knowing other people were self-conscious about themselves. The anticipation of that first kiss! Oh my! With Fifteen, I wanted to be Marcy—the cashmere sweater type. But then I realized I was never going to be blonde (well, er, um...not naturally) and I live in humid @#$! Florida—there’s no way or time I’d ever wear a cashmere sweater—but anyway—thus my love for drama.
The books I read so far in the ‘80s were made up of blonde, blue-eyed girls. When I wrote, I created characters with dark curly hair, braids, and asymmetrical cuts (it was the 80s… I drew my line at the Jheri Curl) who also experienced the same butterflies in their belly when their crush leaned in for a kiss at a school dance just like the girls in the books I’d read. I’d even get a little risqué and have my hero’s hand dropped to my heroine’s butt while they slow danced. The scandal! What? That was middle school/high school days. Only my close, double-promise-not-to-say-a-word gal pals enjoyed them.
My college years started off with Fantasies by Beverly Sassoon. The story was my first hot book. A Mexican bullfighter and an American model—*gasp* —thus my love for the heat!
So I knew I liked a bit of steam to my romance and I liked connecting books. Enter, Jackie Collins. American Star pulled me in and the Lucky Santangelo series whisked me away. Thus my love for epic sagas spanning a family’s life!
Something was missing for me, which struck a cord while I read those books. A character who was mixed/biracial had coffee colored skin. Which led me to realize onyx and coffee were words used to describe the few POC characters. Still, I kept reading on.
By the mid ‘90’s, after reading Judith McNaught’s excerpt of Paradise, my sister-in-law, Susan, had introduced me to historical romance. Judith McNaught’s historical romances and Jude Devereaux. So began my love for Historical Romance!
After I had my daughter in the mid 90’s I noticed POC on the covers of romance books; Bobbi Smith and her Native American heroes with words like Half-breed in the title (being mixed, I at least felt these books might’a sorta coulda been okay to read). I now know these are un-PC, but I was desperate! Michelle Reid gave me brown heroes with Latin and Middle Eastern backgrounds. Those books were the closest thing to diversity for me. But then! Brenda Jackson, Rochelle Alers, and the late Francis Ray, sprouted on the shelves at my bookstores. These three ladies became my auto-buy. The cashiers at Waldenbooks hooked me on to Romantic Times Magazine (RT) and let me circle the books I found interesting and they’d put in an order for me (caveman way of pre-ordering on Amazon).
These authors—*Le Sigh*—they gave me series, sagas, heat, and a variety of diverse characters. I was in heaven. Seeing their books made me realize I too could be a part of this world. Y’all don’t get me started when I found a historical romance with an African American couple on the cover… You know who I’m talking about! The Beverly Jenkins.
All these scripts I had scurried away… Every notebook filled with a half-written story that was forgotten about, began to have life. I too might be on the bookshelves next to these fabulous ladies. Of course, it took me a while to get published and now, though I might not be on all the brick and mortar shelves, you might just find me in the “you may also like…" when you’re checking out Brenda Jackson. Who knows, one day I’ll be in the same digital breath as Beverly Jenkins. #amwritinghistoricalromance
By the way, I did meet my birth mother, a perky blonde with wide blue eyes, and a passion for romance novels.
Carolyn is the author of the anticipated romance Her Mistletoe Bachelor, and her latest, Tempting the Beauty Queen is out now. For more information about her and her writing, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, and Twitter.
What great books are the ancestors of your favorite romance novel? We'd love to hear from you here or on social media using #RomanceAncestry.