Let’s talk Romance. No, I’m not asking you to send me flowers and chocolates and wine and dine me (though if you’d like to do so, I won’t object). I’m talking about a genre that accounted for approximately $1.08 billion in sales in 2013, or 13% of adult fiction sales. (See more facts and figures here.) I can feel you rolling your eyes at the mere mention of Romance fiction, but look at those numbers again.We Romance readers are a voracious lot and we’re loyal–to our authors and to our bookstores. And, here in the Northwest, we have a wealth of home-grown talent, including several names who are permanent fixtures on the New York Times best seller lists. This, then, is an appreciation of some of my favorite Romance authors from the Pacific Northwest, and a couple who live elsewhere but have set books here.
First, I would like to sing the praises of one Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle. When I first started reading Romance back in the 90s, Amanda Quick was one of my go-to authors. She still is. I’m not as devoted to Krentz (contemporary) or Castle (futuristic) because those aren’t really my Romance sub-genres of choice. However, on those occasions when I do pick up a Krentz or Castle, I’m not disappointed. Smart, independent heroines aren’t just a gimmick for this prolific author, they’re part of her core identity as a writer. I sometimes get a bit put-off by the paranormal elements, but the core love stories are always a satisfying meeting of equals on the rocky road to Happily Ever After.
I’m also a big fan of Lisa Kleypas, again, especially her historicals. But, if I’m honest, I came to Kleypas late, and my first experience with her was through Sugar Daddy, which is a contemporary set in Texas, so pretty much nothing that would usually appeal to me. I can’t even remember why I picked it up in the first place, but I did and I fell absolutely in love with it and anxiously awaited each of the other two books in the trilogy. While I waited, I gobbled up a bunch of her backlist. Plus, she had the Hathaway family historical series novels being published in-between the Texas novels, so bonus. Her most recent series is set in Friday Harbor. Local author + local setting = WIN!
The third in the list, but not the third in my affections (all these ladies are roughly equal in my heart) is Julia Quinn. I love the Bridgertons–all ninety bajillion of them–and am all squee-y that she decided to do a spin-off series featuring the decidedly non-musical Smythe-Smith clan. Seriously, y’all. The Smythe-Smiths and their annual musicale are enough reason to pick up a Julia Quinn novel. Dear gods, one must wonder why all these ton families keep subjecting themselves to something so magnificently awful. I must say, of the three authors here, Julia Quinn is the most funny, due in no small part to the Smythe-Smith musicales.
My favorite Northwest up-and-comer (she’s been writing for years, but hasn’t quite hit the sales heights of the others I’ve mentioned) is Meljean Brook whose Guardians and Iron Seas series both have places on my keeper shelves. Her characters and plots are rich and complex and oh, my gods, she can really, really make me feel all the feels. Just damn. I dare you not to be emotionally affected by her stories.
No discussion of Northwest Romance authors would be complete without mention of Debbie Macomber. Although her novels may more properly be classified as Women’s Fiction (another much-maligned and under-appreciated genre), she still and always believes in Happily Ever After, which qualifies them as Romance in my book.
I could go on and on for pages and pages and pages and still barely get to a fraction of the Romance authors living in our region: Elizabeth Boyle, Catherine Anderson, Linda Lael Miller, Elisabeth Naughton, Delilah Marvelle, Courtney Milan (who is OMG AMAZING and I could write a whole column just on her, but she’s pretty much e-books only now, which is sad for bookstores), and so, so many more.
It’s not just authors who live in the area who are inspired by the Northwest. Two of my personal favorite authors have both become so jealous of our region’s beauty that they had to set books here. Nora Roberts set The Search on Orcas Island and Chasing Fire and Montana Sky in Montana (duh!). Jill Shalvis has set her Lucky Harbor series in a fictional Puget Sound (I think–definitely somewhere on the Pacific coast of Washington) town. They occasionally get things a little wrong, but their appreciation of the region comes through clearly on the page.
You could build a really respectable Romance section (or book collection) just focusing on books with a Northwest connection. I, however, can’t build a Romance reading diet on just Northwest authors and/or settings, so one day (maybe soon), expect me to extol the virtues of some of my other favorite Romance authors. I’m a fan of the genre, and I’m going to do my damnedest to make all of you fans, too.
Billie Bloebaum believes that Romance novels are like chocolate–there are enough varieties for everyone to find something they like. If you don’t like chocolate or Romance, then you just haven’t had the good stuff. (Okay. It’s also possible that you’re allergic to chocolate, but you have no such excuse with Romance fiction.)