On Sunday, I attended an author talk held at Ridgefield CT library with best-selling historical romance authors for HarperCollins Publishers Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Sarah MacLean. All of whom, are Harvard graduates (take that literary snobs!).
People often find it contradictory that I majored in English Lit, yet like to read romance novels. I'm definitely not alone though - 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008 (source: RWA Reader Survey). Romance fiction was also the largest share of the U.S. consumer market.
I started reading romance my senior year of high-school and thankfully just in time to give me hope and the escapism that I needed after my father died that same year. The optimistic tales transported me to a different time, made me laugh and got me through college years too.
Still, people find it hard to grasp that there is a wide spectrum of romance books and are quick to roll their eyes over something they've never even tried.
During the talk, Julia Quinn summed up the misconception of the genre when she said: "Literary fiction is judged by the best of its kind, but genre fiction (romance) is judged by the worst of its kind." It's a shame too, since Quinn's books are so witty and delightful that people are definitely missing out when they assume the worst of romance. What I especially like about her stories is that although her voice and style are present in all of her work, her tales and plots are so different. Yes, they all have a happy ending, but how she has her characters go from point A to point B is always unique and fun. I find the best authors (like Judith McNaught) make the reader forget that there's going to be a happy ending, leaving you tied up in knots and turning the page as quickly as possible to see exactly how the conflict will be resolved.
What makes this panel of authors such great story tellers is that they are also avid romance readers themselves, said Sarah MacLean.
Eloisa James has written 18 novels so far and is also a Shakespeare professor. She told the audience that in order to write a good book, you have to write about what you enjoy, which is why she started to write romance books.
Overall, they all shared their love for reading and how it started at a young age at their local libraries. Hands kept getting raised as the waiting-room only crowd continued to shoot out questions.
After the panel ended, there was champagne, cookies and queues of fans waiting to get their books signed (I of course was among them). Several of the ladies that I chatted with in line said they had traveled all the way down from Hartford and Massachusetts just to see these authors. Luckily, I only had a half hour drive, but I'm sure I would have gone further if need be.
Further Reading: Back in 2003, I wrote another in defense of Romance Literature article for Greenwich Time newspaper called The Great Escape.