Gateway to Romance

The very bad weather here last week, and even into this weekend, has kept me indoors, working on the WIP (rough draft almost done!), doing some research reading, and snarking about the gowns on the Golden Globes. Yesterday, desperate boredom even drove me to do some cleaning. I cleared out my office area, sending old magazines to the recycle bin, and dusting and vacuuming. My mother would be proud.

But it wasn’t all Cinderella-style drudgery! As I dusted my keeper shelves, I came across some old favorites. Some of them very old–the first romances I ever read, in fact. It made me wonder–what turns a person into a romance novel addict?

Hi, my name is Amanda and I’m a romance addict. Here is my confession.

It started out small, you know. A few Nancy Drew books here and there. I loved her great clothes and nifty roadster. Her boyfriend Ned seemed pretty useless, yet an essential accessory for any girl detective. A Laura Ingalls Wilder or two, just to be sociable. It was so sweet when Almanzo drove through the blizzard to rescue her from the crazy family she boarded with. Anne of Green Gables and that adorable Gilbert. Then things got a little harder–Sunfire YA historical romances.

I don’t know if you remember those Sunfire books. They always had a girl’s name as the title–Nicole (girl on the Titanic), Sabrina (girl in the American Revolution), Kathleen (Irish immigrant girl), etc. The covers depicted the eponymous heroine, usually in a poufy dress and very period-inappropriate hairdo (especially Elizabeth the Puritan girl and her perm), and the two men who vie for her affection. For some reason, there were always two, one a “suitable” boy approved by her parents, and one who offers her adventure and freedom. Which do you think she chooses in the end? But romance was not the only thing on the Sunfire girl’s mind. She was also a Patriot spy, a frontier schoolmarm, or a nurse (against the wishes of her rich Gilded Age parents).

I loved those books, couldn’t get enough of them. I read them when I was supposed to be doing homework, even traded them with my friends, thus involving them in my addiction and becoming a pusher. (Sadly, I lost most of my Sunfire collection in a move, but through the wonders of Ebay and some lucky library booksale finds, I’m rebuilding). Then things escalated. My grandmother became my unwitting supplier.

When we went to visit her one summer, she had a big box full of romances. Barbara Cartland mostly, plus a few Heyers, some Regencies by authors like Marion Chesney and Joan Smith. It was like a whole new world opened up. The Sunfires all had American settings, but these books were English. Regency. (A few of the Cartlands were purportedly Victorian or Elizabethan, but I couldn’t see any difference). I was totally hooked. I checked out non-fiction histories of the era from the library, and never looked back.

Now, this addiction did have a few side effects. When I started dating, I had quite unrealistic expectations. My first boyfriend, a sweet, 16 year old band geek, just couldn’t compete with those square-jawed, sardonic dukes with their high-perch phateons and perfectly tied cravats. But that’s another story…

I flipped through some of these old friends as I was cleaning. The Sunfire girls were as spunky as I remembered; the Cartland heroines just as asthmatic. It’s uncanny how much they resemble Madeline Bassett from the Jeeves and Wooster stories. I may have moved on to “harder” stuff, Laura Kinsale, Judith Ivory, Loretta Chase, and the like, but I’ll always have great fondness for these, my gateway drugs.

What were your favorite early romances? Do you remember what your “first” was? Did you ever read Sunfires? And whose gowns did you love and hate at the Golden Globes? (My favorites–Kate Winslet, Rachel Weisz, America Ferrera).

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Gateway to Romance

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hey, Amanda, perhaps I should join Romance Novels Anonymous too. Although I don’t think life would be nearly so much fun! My mother started my addiction when I was eight with a Mills & Boon called A Touch of Silk about an Australian nurse who goes to Hong Kong to work for the Portuguese hero (think he had a sick daughter). I was already a target for addiction as my favourite bits of the kids’ books I read were the bits that implied romance and I was a fairy story junkie. My grandmother was the real culprit, though, because she LOVED Barbara Cartland and there was a stage in my early teens where I devoured those books. Thank goodness she was so prolific! I started with a great adventure about a half-Spanish girl who disguised herself as a boy in the Peninsular War to get to her English family. Still think very fondly of those books – hey, history and romance together, what’s not to like? Read all the Heyers and then, as you said, moved on to the hard stuff! Give up my addiction? No way!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Well, I usually say I’ve only been reading romances for a few years, and that’s mostly correct. I actually picked up my very first one some years before that when I was browsing around the tiny college bookstore and picked up a Sandra Brown one, Breakfast in Bed. I think I did it more to see what it is they did. And I rather not elaborate on that. LOL πŸ™‚ Well, after that I got the other two SB’s they had, and that was it.

    A few years passed and I browsed the new college bookstore they built and they still didn’t have any new SB’s, but I picked up a Lisa Kleypas one, Lady Sophia’s Lover. Then picked up the only other one they had. Then I got an anthology, Dodd/Brockway’s Once Upon a Pillow, and said to myself at the end, you know, I liked the historical stories better.

    Then I finally actually went to the bookstore and started getting all of Sandra Brown’s and Lisa Kleypas books. I have no idea how I went from there, but once I got on the internet looking around and I read more, I learned about this thing called Regency and saw I was getting more of those than others. I always had a thing for England, although when I was younger my experience was Victorian, not earlier, but something just got me with the time period, but I still get plenty of later ones.

    And I’m not giving up my addiction at all! πŸ™‚

    Lois, who always needs more books other than her science ones πŸ™‚

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sunfires! I adored those books as a teen, and I blame them for a big part of my longing for more variety in romance–I mean, a girl can have adventures and fall in love in all kinds of times and places, after all. πŸ™‚ I read almost all of them, but have particularly fond memories of AMANDA (Oregon Trail), MARILEE (Jamestown), NICOLE (Titanic), and SUSANNAH (Civil War).

  4. My first romances were those Reader’s Digest Condensed Books gothics — Mistress of Mellyn, is one title that comes to mind. My mother had been a subscriber and kept all of her books, through our different moves. I devoured them and loved to go to the library and find other books by the authors I discovered there.

    When I was a young teen, we went to the Cayman Islands to teach Bible School. I not only had my own room for the first time, the bookcase was filled with romance novels from England. Georgette Heyer, Barbara Cartland, others whose names have just left me and I thought I would never forget! (Ah! Too much inside time with big piles of snow outside.) I read at least a book a day while we were there, sitting on the patio listening to the ocean lap against the sand.

    I loved those books. I started collecting Georgette Heyer, had a friend introduce me to Marion Chesney when I was pregnant, and then looked for Regencies whenever I was in the bookstore. I like contemporaries (and write contemporaries right now) but my true love has always been the Regency.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing, everyone! I love hearing about people get started on the romance habit and how it grows. I don’t think I’ll ever give up my addiction, either! I may, however, have to give up the “keeper” aspect of it before my shelves collapse. πŸ™‚

    Susan, yay, another Sunfire reader!!! I have all those titles you mentioned except Marilee, which seems to be hard to find. I liked Nicole, Victoria (the Alamo), Emily (the Gilded Age nurse), and Merrie (a Pilgrim, though on the cover she looks more like a shampoo commercial!), and too many others to remember.

    Anna, I think I read that Peninsula-set book, too! My first Cartland was another chick in pants book, an Elizabethan girl who disguises herself as a boy and sneaks onto her sister’s fiance’s ship headed for the West Indies. I can’t remember why, though I do remember the sister wanted to be a nun. And there was another Cartland where the heroine disguised herself as an actress and was shocked (shocked!) that the villain wanted to make her his mistress. πŸ™‚

    Terry, I forgot about Victoria Holt! Those were also some books my grandmother had, and I loved those old Gothics.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I cut my teeth on Barbara Cartland. They’re like M&Ms- you can’t stop at one. After that I was hooked by a book called Courtly Love by Lynn Bartlett (a medieval). Never came across the Sunfires and I’ve not yet read Heyer, but I’ve read everything else you mentioned. I love Madeline Bassett. SHe manages to drive both Gussie and Bertie around the bend barely lifting a finger.

  7. Lady Jane says:

    I loved the Sunfire novels, but I usually thought the girl picked the wrong guy!

    I always wanted to be Nancy Drew and used to play it with my sister for hours. She was Bess. I always wanted to date Ned and I thought that 18 would be the perfect age.

    I love Georgette Heyer novels and Marion Chesney books. My mother read us the Little House books when we were little.

    I don’t remember my favorite Sunfire or Nancy Drew, but I have a number of favorite Heyers: Frederica, These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, The Corinthian, Regency Buck. Such fabulous novels.

  8. Barbara Cartlands–loved ’em. An d Heyer, although Carltand was the favorite, much to my post-9 year old chagrin.

    Some day, I will find the Penniless Peer again, and wonder just what I saw in it.

  9. Oh, wait, for the Golden Globes: I hated Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Love Hewitt and Cate Blanchett and Salma Hayek; I liked Jennifer Lopez and Helen Mirren and hm, can’t think whose I loved. Maybe Kate Winslet, ’cause she’s so cool, I wish I looked like her (and so does my husband), and Radchel Weisz (ditto).

  10. Santa says:

    Victoria Holt was my first. I loved all her books and read everyone in my local library.

  11. Fun topic.
    I devoured Nancy Drew, but I was always more interested in Ned than in Nancy–remember when he saved her from quicksand? My other favorite was Cherry Ames. She had a different love interest each book and she was a nurse.

    I believe my mother and my aunt were the culprits who initiated me into this special club (it is not an addiction–that sounds bad. It is a lovely obsession)
    Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers, Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney, all were wonderful.

    Oddly enough I did not discover Georgette Heyer and traditional Regencies until after I started writing and my friend Helen introduced me to them. Luckily there was a used bookstore near me and I could get as many Regencies as I wanted–the new ones were not enough! I also read Mary Jo Putney, Laura Kinsale, and Mary Balogh. I am embarrassed to mention how many best-selling Regency authors I have not read…so I won’t!


  12. Hi. My name is Janet and …
    Little did I realize my Aunt Phyl led a double life as a romance dealer. She gave me a copy of Heyer’s “Regency Buck” for my 17th birthday. It wasn’t long before I was lurking in the shady areas of the library fiction stacks for my next fix.
    When I’d read them all I went cold turkey but then relapsed later with the discovery of creepy gothics.
    Now I’m a casual user. Occasionally I have a binge but more likely I’m in the dodgier parts of the library looking for other sorts of fiction to feed my cravings.

  13. Kay Webb Harrison says:

    Nancy Drew ruled! Then I discovered Mary Stewart and Emilie Loring. Then came Georgette Heyer and Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel. I never heard of the Sunfire books before, but I’m certain I would like them. I could never get into Barbara Cartland.

  14. Megan, I agree with all those worst-dressed choices–what was Cate Blanchett thinking?? And add me to the I Wanna Look Like Kate Winslet club. πŸ™‚

  15. Todd says:

    I was forced to read romances. It wasn’t my fault. And I think very few 16-year-olds can compete with even a relatively lame romance hero. πŸ™‚

    About the Golden Globes: I liked Rachel Weisz’s gown very much. OK, I don’t remember the gown at all, but I always think she’s totally…er, elegant and refined. Yeah, that’s it, that’s the ticket.


  16. Anonymous says:

    I started with one of my mom’s – she loved them so much that when I saw one laying around I picked it up to try it.

    I can’t remember the title, but it was a Signet. The cover had a woman in a lovely dress and holding a parasol. She was on the left side of the cover. There was an inn on the right side. I don’t remember a lot of the story, but a lot of it moved around the hero meeting the heroine in the inn.

    I did of course have my gateways – the Nancy Drews, Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables. Also the Sweet Valley Highs, which I loved.

    Once I got in to romance I spent hours at the library reading all sorts of romances.

  17. Emily Loring, that was another author in my stash at the Cayman house we borrowed! And Mary Stewart. I don’t remember much about Airs Above the Ground but when I heard the Lippizaner horses were coming to our town, I listened to the radio for hours to win tickets to the show. I did win! and my sons were as fascinated with the horses as I was.

    That’s how I wanted to write: to bring worlds alive for my readers.

    Oh, I have a few of my Cherry Ames still in the bookcase — couldn’t get rid of them ever. They’re my childhood and dreams.

  18. Cara King says:

    You know, I think I was first lured into romance by Louisa May Alcott. Little Women, Jo’s Boys, An Old-Fashioned Girl, and Rose in Bloom were all very romantic, in parts! And so were some of her short stories. (I was a BIG Alcott fan, and read everything I could get my hands on.)

    Then there was Jane Austen, and Jane Eyre.

    Then in college, my roommate (Romance Pusher Heather) forced me to read Joan Smith and Georgette Heyer and such, and soon I was truly hooked. Heather remained my pusher for years — she had worked in a used bookstore for a long time and had lots of stash, er, stashed away, to tempt me with, and hook me further…

    She also introduced me to a lot of my favorite romance authors, including Jennifer Crusie and Kathleen Gilles Seidel…

    (I think, though, I discovered Jo Beverley on my own!)


  19. Cara King says:

    Oh yeah, Golden Globe gowns!

    I thought Emily Blunt and America Ferrera looked fab, but I thought Cameron Diaz’s hair and makeup were a grave miscalculation.


  20. Anonymous says:

    I was secretly inducted into the neighborhood Romance Club with Georgette Heyers, Barbara Cartlands, and a host of Mills & Boons. I continued my addiction in secret (from the matriarch) all through my teen years. My secrets were shared with close friends in college. My husband was privy to it after marriage. I burst out into the open only in 2006, sharing my love and addiction with like-minded people. (The matriarch still doesn’t know.)

    The list of authors I “discovered” last year is way too embarassingly long to reveal. (Some secrets are meant to be kept.)

Comments are closed.