I don’t know. It was just a thing I did. Seriously, that’s the answer. Growing up, my mom had about thirty Danielle Steel hardbacks on the bookshelf in the living room of our house. They were on display for people to see. She read romance novels, and people would know that she read romance novels. I mean, who does that?
I worked at Borders Books in college. Yes, that Borders that no longer exists, but it’s not my fault. I was a great employee; I used my whole paycheck and employee discount to buy books, movies, and DVDs at very high prices to try to support them. At Borders, you rotated from the info desk to the cashier to the café, if you’d been trained, and to the music and movie section every shift. Sometimes, I’d have to reshelve books. Here’s what would happen.
I see a classic book like Pride & Prejudice needs to be reshelved. It’s one of my favorites; love me some Jane Austen. I proudly reshelve this book in the fiction section. I see another book needs to go to the kid’s section; something about a captain who wears underpants. I shove that thing wherever I think it could fit best because the kids are just going to mess it all up anyway. Then, I see a romance novel with a Fabio-looking dude on the cover, and I cringe. I visibly cringe. It’s cheesy. It’s gotta be bad writing. I wouldn’t know; I’ve never read one. Not even the Danielle Steel books I could have read for free. I’m an intellectual, after all; I was twenty-two years old. Anyway. I restock it with that visible cringe on my face, rush out of the romance section because I don’t want to be seen there, and quickly grab a book about history or finance to get my intellectual street cred back up.
You might laugh at that, but it’s true. Little did I know, huh? There’s such a stigma about romance novels and the people who write them. The first romance novel I read was something that was recommended to me. I was a trainer and teaching a class at the time. At lunch, I was talking to someone about how much I loved to read. Sci-Fi came up, and she suggested this series to me. I don’t remember the name of it, but I was flying home from that work trip and decided to get the first book on my Kindle. It was Sci-Fi/Fantasy, but it was really romance. I had no idea when that first sex scene started that it was actually going to be graphic. I was used to a fade-to-black kind of deal at that point in my life. I’m sitting at an airport restaurant, waiting for my flight, and I am blushing and worrying that people around me know what I’m reading and think I’m a sex addict or something. I finished the book, but I don’t recall finishing the rest. The plot just didn’t grab me, and I hadn’t gone there for a romance. That’s still the only straight romance I think I’ve ever read. It was written well, though. I remember thinking that.
Later, when I started writing fanfiction, that, too, was because someone recommended a story to me, and I fell down the rabbit hole, like we all do when we first start reading fanfiction. Most fanfiction is written about romantic pairings people want to see on shows, read about in books, see in movies, etc. And the only chance they might get to do that is to write the stories that do, or read the fanfiction that others write.
I wrote fanfiction about Quinn and Santana from Glee first because I was more Quinntana than Brittana. (Don’t @ me, Brittana shippers – you got your happy ending). Sidenote: Rest in peace, Naya.
When I was in college and wrote a novel that I would later essentially re-write and finish after college, it was a romance. It was a straight romance at first, but because of the specific plot, I felt like it needed more conflict for the characters. A straight romance wouldn’t cut it, so I turned it into a gay (lesbian) one. That made sense for that specific situation, and I think it made the story better as a result. I wrote romance primarily because it was what I’d started with my fanfiction. I wanted to get Quinn and Santana right. I also wanted to bring Lexa back to life, because her death was so senseless, and the show would’ve been so much better if she’d stuck around. (I could write a hundred blogs about The 100 and Clexa, specifically.)
When I thought of Fresh Start, my first published book, I actually wanted to write a story about a woman who was innocent of a crime but had been convicted in the eyes of the world. Alyssa was the focus, and I hadn’t included the romance part in my mind yet. Then, Hannah came into my thoughts, and the story evolved. Suddenly, I’m a romance writer.
When I tell you that I have always worried about not having enough ideas, that is a true fact. I didn’t think I could write a TV show because I wouldn’t have enough ideas for the episodes. When I wanted to write movies, I didn’t think I’d have enough ideas to make a living at that. When I wrote Navigating After, my first fanfiction story, that was the only idea I had. Then, someone asks me to write something where Quinn and Santana haven’t seen each other in a long time and get to reconnect, and I’m like, “Fuck, yes!” The idea was just there, and I wrote The Reunion in a weekend where I didn’t sleep, and hardly ate. Ideas came to me after that.
I never thought I’d have enough ideas to write for a living. Writing romance has given me all the ideas. My wife will tell you that when we started publishing, I was really worried that we’d have to just stop one day because I’d have nothing left to write. Now, we laugh because I can’t write the ideas I have fast enough, and just as I finish one, another idea appears.
I write romance because I like it. I love putting two people together in a book and helping them get their happy ending. I read romance now, too. I have for years. My first lesbian romance was on Audible, and I read/listened to that at the airport, too, eyes darting around wondering, “Do they know I’m listening to two women have sex right now?”
Romance allows me to explore different plots and stories and add love to them, which I think is pretty cool. When I tell people I’m a writer, besides asking if I’m published – as if that would make one a writer – the other question I usually get is, “What do you write?”
No matter how many times I get this question, I swear my shoulders shrug and I look down a little before saying something like, “Oh, it’s lesbian romance. Probably not your thing.” The stigma of romance not being “real” or “good” writing is so pervasive that even I feel it. My goal is to get to a point where when someone asks me that question, I say, “Lesbian romance. Check me out on Amazon. Tell your friends.”