Continuing our series on the books that inspired our authors, PHS columnist, Vanessa North, talks about two stories with roses in the titles, that changed her life forever...
I’ve got a confession to make: I started stealing romance novels off my Mom’s bookshelf as preteen, and barely remember some of the first ones. They were just something to read—and I hadn’t quite connected with them on the level I do now. I’d like to think because those old bodice rippers weren’t appropriate material for an eleven year old to be reading in the first place. It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I truly became indoctrinated into the community of romance readers, and the gateway drug, the book that started it all? Thunder & Roses by Mary Jo Putney.
My two best friends and I were absolutely obsessed with Putney’s Fallen Angels. These tortured tortured noblemen and the women who loved them. The high drama, the betrayals, the swoony romance. We swapped paperbacks with unrestrained glee between classes and analyzed their plots and characters during free period with the same earnest discussion we applied to the books we were reading for English class.
Eventually, I moved away—too far away to swap books between class, but not so far we couldn’t send them by mail, which we did on occasion. I fell hard for LaVyrle Spencer’s lyrical prose, and started collecting and sharing her books. Our libraries grew.
We all went to college, and I kept my romances on the bookshelf next to my text books. Visitors to my dorm room would smirk and ask “Do you actually read those?” And I would tell them smugly how LaVyrle Spencer’s books were life-changing, and how Putney’s books were devastatingly sexy, and that my books were old friends. Of course I actually read them.
We graduated and found jobs, and my romance reading took a back seat to my work, except for the occasional re-read. I forgot about romance, but romance didn’t forget about me.
After my children were born, some of my fellow stay at home moms and I would meet up to swim with our babies at the local lake. One day, my friend Amber handed me a book and said “If you love romance, you have to read this.”
Another book with Roses in the title—this one by Teresa Medeiros: A Whisper of Roses. I devoured it in one evening. Everything I loved about those romances I used to read came sweeping back. The adventure, the passion, the sweeping love stories. I loved it so much, I didn’t want to give it back—but I did. I’m not a monster.
A Whisper of Roses was the very first ebook I ever bought. The day I returned Amber’s paperback, I downloaded the ebook from Amazon for my iPad. And that’s when my romance obsession was reborn. I quickly worked through Medeiros’ colossal backlist. I started reading every romance blog I could find, and I joined Twitter to keep track of which books were coming out when. Oh yeah, I was hooked all over again. And the romance community on Twitter talked about romances the way my friends and I had talked about them all those years ago. I found community, and sisterhood, something that was hard as a new mom in a new city.
It wasn’t a giant leap from there to when I started thinking about writing my own stories. I had some false starts, but I attacked my new hobby with a passion. I tried contemporary, then paranormal, then contemporary retellings—finding my voice and my confidence as I went. I sold a book. Then three more. Then one on proposal. Suddenly, I was a working author with deadlines and release days. I was chatting on Twitter with my heroes and always, always, always reading. My TBR exploded as I made friends in the community and read their books too. I read hundreds, thousands of books.
And then I went to my first RT Convention, excited to be attending with my new colleagues and friends. And that year, Mary Jo Putney was there, signing books. I waited in line to speak to her, and told her about how my friends and I obsessed over her books back in high school, how we bonded over them over the last two decades, and how much they meant to us, then and now. I asked her to sign copies for all of us, which she did. That day, she signed a copy of The Rake for me, and it remains one of the prizes of my book collection.
I fell in love with romance—the community and the books—in the early nineties when I read Thunder & Roses. I had my first sense of the romance community back then with my friends, and those conversations established lifelong friendships. Decades later, A Whisper of Roses brought me back to the romance community and that community started me on my current career. Two books with “Roses” in the title started it all..
Vanessa's latest book, Summer Stock, is out now. For more information about her and her writing, check out her website, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.