To be a writer, you have to be a reader. What books did romance authors fall in love with when they were children? What started them on the road to reading, and then on to writing? Where did they stop along the way? Authors and readers recall their early reading lives.
Eloisa James: When the census guy came, he said, “How many TVs do you have and how many books do you have?” My mother was always very proud of this story and she was like, “We have no TVs and we have 80,000 books.”
What did you read as a kid?
Suzanne Brockmann: My parents were both English teachers, and so reading was just something that we always did.
James Buchanan: And there was this one long L-shaped hall that one side of it was just floor-to-ceiling bookcases and there were all sorts of novels.
Crystal Jordan: I got started reading really early with my aunt. She would read my brothers and I books every single night.
Caridad Piñeiro: Well, you know, I started off with the typical, you know, Dr. Seuss and all those things.
Susan Donavan: Dr. Seuss and Dick and Jane.
Crystal Jordan: We would get Where the Wild Things Are, because that was our favorite. We got one short story.
Susan Donavan: I had some problems with Dick and Jane when I was in first grade. I remember thinking that these books were so completely boring, that I did not care what Puff was doing—that was their cat. I could not figure out why we were having to read these books. I guess early on, I was a critic.
Crystal Jordan: And then we got a full chapter in a longer book. So, you know, we did the Chronicles of Narnia, Huck Finn. And so it was just sort of a thing that we always did, and it was always exciting. It was a reward.
Eloisa James: And my house was ruled by poetry and literature. My mother was a short story writer, my father was a poet.
Beverly Jenkins: She read me Countee Cullen, she read me Langston Hughes, and all the great African American Harlem Renaissance poets.
Kim Castillo: Nobody in my house read, and nobody could understand. My mom always thought I was sitting on the sofa so absorbed in this book just to ignore her.
Lexie O’Neill: There wasn’t an educational background, there wasn’t a big reading background.
Debbie Kaufman: You know, I don’t recall ever seeing my mother read a book.
Lexie O’Neill: My father, for instance, has, as far as I have seen, read a handful of books in his adult life.
Kim Castillo: She never understood that I was just that lost in a story. I needed to know where the golden owl was hidden, and how exactly Nancy Drew was going to find it.
What did reading mean to you?
Jill Shalvis: Well, I went to the library and was inhaling romances and was transfixed by fiction, you know, at that point. Up until that point, I wasn’t really aware of this whole other world, and it really drew me in.
Kim Castillo: I remember being, like, five years old and sitting in my room and having, like, one of those Little Golden Books—I think it was Little Red Riding Hood.
Nalini Singh: I went through a stage where I read comic books, so I was, like, hounding my mom for comic books.
Debbie Kaufman: Oh, I was a huge fairy tale reader.
Nalini Singh: My goal as a child was to move on from the little kids’ section to the big books with no pictures.
Jayne Ann Krentz: I grew up on the Gothics. I grew up on Nancy Drew. I grew up on Robert Heinlein.
Nalini Singh: Then I moved onto things like, you know, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and the Famous Five and, you know, all of those.
Kim Castillo: I would devour Nancy Drew and the Boxcar Children.
Cindy Gerard: Black Beauty or the Hardy Boys or anything. If it had to do with animals or mystery, I was into it.
Nalini Singh: For some reason, I decided I wanted to read Charles Dickens, and I read—and there was a section in the library, so I read that.
Susan Donovan: I read historical fiction, and I remember being overwhelmed by The Scarlet Letter.
James Buchanan: I got in trouble at school because I was reading a pulp science fiction novel called Venus on the Half Shell, which had one of those lurid pulp covers.
Nalini Singh: I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, growing up, as I got older.
James Buchanan: In the science fiction aisle, I started at Asimov and just read, all the way through, alphabetically, until Zelazny.
Jill Shalvis: I was kind of an unhappy kid, kind of a bookworm, nerd, wallflower, kind of an invisible type kid, and so fiction transformed my life, it took me to worlds that I wanted to live in and be a part of.
Kim Castillo: And it taught me that even though this is where I live, that there was all of this out there available to me, and I could do anything and I could be anything and I could go anywhere in a story, and it was magic to me.