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The first romance novel I ever bought

Asking me to pick a favorite romance novel is like asking me to pick which of my dogs I love the most. Im-fricking-possible. So here’s the story of the first romance novel I ever bought.

When I was about eleven years old, it was an odd thing for me to have money. I’m not sure where I’d come up with the few dollars that I was going to use to buy my mother’s birthday present, but I was excited about it.

I went into the tiny bookstore in our tiny mall. B. Dalton Booksellers. I was a little embarrassed when I walked into the Romance novel section. After all, I was eleven. I blushed when I saw people kissing. But I’d read several of my mother’s collection of them, and I knew that she’d love whatever book I could find for her. And also, that eventually, I might be able to read it too. (She kept the spicy ones on a bookshelf that my big sister and I weren’t supposed to read.)

There were several thicker books that I wouldn’t have money for. I looked for her favorite authors, but they all had the thick books. I’d only have enough for one of the skinnier ones.

I picked up a slim volume with a purple spine. The cover, edged in the same purple, had a swarthy, tanned, shirtless man standing behind a pale blonde woman with short curls. She was dressed only in a white towel. A massive ship stood behind them both.

SCARLET BUTTERFLY by Sandra Chastain.

With burning cheeks and a sweaty palm gripping my wad of dollars, I went up to the counter. I put the book face-down, and looked at my feet while the woman rang it up. She drew me out in conversation, and when she found out it was my mother’s birthday, she let me select from a pile of free books too. I got my mother two books with my few meager dollars. I was over the moon.

Me and my first romance purchase.

Mom was delighted with the gift, both the free book and SCARLET BUTTERFLY. As time went on, and I plowed through my mother’s entire collection of Romance novels, I finally read that very first Romance I’d purchased. It became one of my favorites, and I re-read it several times. When I moved out of the house, and my sisters, mother’s, and my reading collections had become muddled and mixed, SCARLET BUTTERFLY came with me.

In October of 2011 I had the pleasure of attending my first writer’s conference. I met several very interesting women, made some life-long friends, and learned so much. One of the coolest people I spoke to just in passing, was a white-haired, elderly lady with a walker. She wasn’t physically strong, but she was sharp and clever. I laughed with her a couple of times over the weekend. I don’t think she wore a nametag, so I didn’t catch who she was.

At the Maggie Ceremony, the GRW chapter presented their awards. They gave several to their chapter members. I clapped, smiled, and tweeted the winners. But then they got to the Nancy Knight Mentorship award. They described the winner’s willingness to help other writers, how sweet, caring, and wonderful this person was, and then they announced her name.

I looked up as my heart skipped a beat. Across the giant white screen at the front of the room was printed the name:

SANDRA CHASTAIN

It took a long time for her to reach the stage. After all, a lady with a walker can only move so quickly. But it was her. The person who’d written the very first romance that I’d ever bought.

I wanted so badly another chance to speak with her. To tell her how much I’d enjoyed SCARLET BUTTERFLY. To get her autograph, to tell her how inspiring it was to me to meet her. But I didn’t see her again after that. We had to leave the awards ceremony before it was over, and she wasn’t at the workshop on the following morning.

I may never get to meet her, but I saw her. I put a face to the name on the cover of my dog-eared, read-to-shreds copy of SCARLET BUTTERFLY.

The world may be small, but sometimes it’s freaking incredible.

Sassenachs and Ruddadills

Yummy KiltFor all my MANhandlers, today’s picture is a .gif taken from Google images. Given my penchant for men in kilts, particularly with Doc Marten’s (or, in this case, work boots), I thought this was totally appropriate. I want under his man-skirt in a bad way. LOL

Today’s blog topic is about favorite literary classics, past or present. I have to admit that my mind immediately went to Diana Gabaldon. There is no other book that moves me quite like Outlander. That this is the novel’s 20th anniversary only makes this blog post sweeter from me. I love all of the books that follow Outlander, provided they have Jamie Fraser in them, though Outlander will always be the first thing to cross my mind when someone asks me to name my favorite book. It was like losing my literary virginity in so many ways — thrilling, poignant, slightly painful, something worth doing sober and definitely worth the wait.

Diana’s tale covers Claire Randall, a Sassenach (foreigner) and nurse who served in World War II, who has just reunited with her husband in Scotland after (essentially) a seven year separation. Through an innocent turn of events, she passes through Craigh na Dun, a small standing stone circle and ends up in 1743. She’s subjected to a series of events that result in her marrying Jamie Fraser out of necessity despite the fact she’s still married to Frank Randall in 1947. She struggles with the morality of it, but she and Jamie ultimately fall in love. Real love. That kind of love that transcends time, space, distance, separation and the worst mankind can do to one another. Their love is rich and bitter and sweet, so real that I still get swept up in the tale every time I read it.

What is it about Diana Gabaldon that makes her writing so off-the-chain crazy good? It’s her ability to deal in human emotions, wrapping the story with actual significant historical events (i.e. the Scottish Uprising with the Bonnie Prince Charlie). There’s intrigue, family dynamics, politics, murder and more. I’m getting pulled into the memory of the story just writing this. I can see a re-read coming on. They’re going to make a mini-series out of the novel. The cable channel, Starz, has purchased the rights. I hope like mad they don’t screw it up. I haven’t decided if I’ll watch it or not. I don’t want it to ruin the images I have in my head of what the characters look like, Jamie Fraser in particular. Sometimes the classics should just be left alone.

My other favorite story is Watership Down. I first read this story in 5th grade. Yes, 5th grade. I had an amazingly gifted English teacher. While I didn’t understand the political position of the novel for years, this novel cemented my desire to write, particularly in worlds that parallel our own. The story covers a warren of rabbits who are driven from their home and forced to relocate to a safer place. There are dangers at every turn. “Ruddadills” (sp?) were cars. I remember the terror of having to cross the highway with the rabbits. I remember the emotions evoked in this tale of resettlement and the struggle to survive. That such a novel would stick with me for thirty years, that it would be one I can re-read even now and pick up new nuances, still amazes me. Ironically, this novel was made into a movie. It can’t hold a candle to the book.

Both books are classics, though very different. It strikes me now, as I write, that both deal in love and loss and political unrest. Strange that they both appeal to me so much and for such disparate and similar reasons. I’m off to ponder this, take a deeper look at meanings and messages and such.

Drop me a line and let me know what your favorite novel(s) is/are. I’m always on the lookout to find “new” classics. And what better place to get a recommended read than from a reader?

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