One of the many things I love about “romance” as a genre is how varied the definition of it is. For some readers who identify as “romance readers”, it’s all about billionaires, or motorcycle clubs, or Regency ballrooms, or small towns in Colorado. For some it’s a mixture of all, for some it’s an exclusive relationship. It’s so much fun for me to imagine readers in all corners of the world, interacting with the same characters I do or ones I will never know. I tend to interact with fellow romance readers exclusively online, with the exception of a few friends and my mother.
My mother is who gave me the gift of reading, the gift of knowing other people through words. She introduced me to Charlotte’s Web, teaching me about friendship and grief, to Anne of Green Gables, teaching me about dreams and community, and eventually to Nora Roberts’ vast backlist, teaching me myriads of other things, but most importantly in the power of love to conquer all.
Debbie Macomber classifies as one of her favorites over the past several years, with the Mrs. Miracle and Rose Harbor books amongst the favorites. When a local bookstore advertised on Facebook recently that Ms. Macomber was going to be doing a signing in our area, I immediately called my mother. She’d never been to an author event before, as they are scarce in our particular area for authors she follows, so she was eager to go. I’m not a massive fan of Ms. Macomber’s books, personally, but have read them and have enjoyed several. I was happy to play book buddy to my mom’s evening, so off we went.
We arrived, were greeted by the incredibly friendly and efficient staff of the local bookstore, and took our seats. The signing came with a copy of her newest book, Sweet Tomorrows, which is also the conclusion of the Rose Harbor series, so there was a lot of buzz around us as people flipped through their copies and talked about the characters.
The room was mostly women, for sure, with some men who were mostly likely husbands peppered throughout. The age range was dominantly over 50, but there were several younger women as well. I sat and listened (okay, eavesdropped) to several conversations around me, hearing snippets of some. A few people behind me spoke about how nice it was to read “nice books” where the drama was natural and between people, and how reading was a nice antidote to the news. Some women were saying they loved having a book series they could read with their granddaughters and daughters, some men were remarking on watching the Hallmark Channel adaptations of Ms. Macomber’s works.
I was struck by the fact that I was in a room with two hundred odd people who live with these stories. They know the characters, they follow them as friends, and they count Ms. Macomber as a trusted guide through her fictional worlds. For some, this was a way to say thank you to the woman who inspired them and brought them comfort, for some it was a way to find out some gossip about upcoming works, and for others it was simply a chance to expand their engagement with the stories.
And yet, research tells us that readers and writers of romance continue to face a stigma that their stories are lesser. The stories they create, the stories they enjoy; these works are somehow found wanting by the larger literary community. As I looked around that room that evening, none of those people thought what they were reading was lesser. Perhaps after reading Ms. Macomber’s newest, they’d pick up a Booker Prize winner, but maybe not and why should anyone care?
This piggybacked to me when Ms. Macomber came out to speak and talked about how she was a storyteller who had to learn how to be a writer. She shared the trials of her early career, some anecdotes about sacrifice, faith, dreams, and hope, and thanked her readers for sharing the stories with her. She knows her place in the universe; to tell stories that entertain people and bring them joy.
I left the event with a similar feeling as when I finish a good book. I was uplifted by being in a room with fellow readers, even if they read differently than I do. I was touched by Ms. Macomber’s candor and the mutual respect I could feel between her and her readers. As I said before, I’m not an avid reader of her works, but meeting her and meeting all those people who loved the stories has given me pause to consider dipping back in. After all, if her stories weave book magic for these folks, maybe they will for me.