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A Special “First” from Harlequin: Famous Firsts with Executive Editor Marsha...

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Ordinarily on Mondays, we host a first sale letter from an author but today we are hosting Marsha Zinberg, Executive Editor from Harlequin, as she tours the romance community sharing insights regarding Harlequins’ Famous Firsts. Long time and new readers alike might not have known that nearly all of favorite bestselling big book authors had their start writing categories: Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Debbie Macomber and her Cedar Cove series, Linda Lael Miller, Suzanne Brockmann, Lori Foster, Stella Cameron, Anne Stuart, Vicki Lewis Thompson, Lindsay McKenna, and the list goes on and on.

Marsha is here to share some of the Famous Firsts’ authors’ reflections on the changing romance community. She will stop by to answer questions and tell you more about the Famous Firsts program. We’ll be giving a totebag of 8 books from the Famous Firsts’ series. The pictures are below.

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marsah-photo-rev Our Famous First authors are divided in their opinions as to flux and constants in the romance industry. Are plots the same, or have they changed over the years? Have readers’ tastes and demands changed? Have the constituents of a good read transformed in the past twenty or thirty years?

Stella Cameron declares she is not producing the same type of plot she was writing at the beginning of her career. Now she doesn’t think about do’s and don’ts, as she did with her first book. Instead, she feels free to go wherever the plot takes her.

For Debbie Macomber, the romance genre itself has stretched and broadened, to the point that she makes a conscious effort now to create more multi-generational stories, and jokingly suggests she could probably make a vampire work in Cedar Cove! In other words, to her, the only limitations are in imagination.

Anne Stuart concurs. For her, the world has opened up and Harlequin has opened up along with it. She has felt the shackles of rigid rules falling away, and enjoys more creative freedom in her current writing. But good romance, she cautions, is always the same-.a "delicious sense of longing that characters have to be with each other, but something is standing in the way. An aching for a beautiful creature is essential and eternal for all effective romance."

Similar sentiments were expressed by Linda Lael Miller. "The emotional experience is absolutely central," she told me. "It hasn’t changed and I hope it never does." Vicki Lewis Thompson chimes in, "good writing is good writing. But the whole body of work out there is getting better."

There are more demands on the authors now, observes Vicki , because readers have grown to expect their favorite authors’ books, whether linked or not, to come out with greater frequency, and Joan Johnston attributes this phenomenon to Nora Roberts, who single-handedly changed the expectations of the publishing industry by proving that great authors can sell millions of books on a regular basis, and that they should therefore publish many times within a calendar year. Now, she says, publishers expect you to be prolific, and some authors can do that, she notes wryly, if they have "no life".

However, she, too, insists that the emotional component of a good romance has stayed the same. "Women still want to be carried away by a knight in shining armor. These stories are women’s escape from the real world. Books should lift you up out of your everyday grind. Men should be handsome and kind and wonderful." And both heroes and heroines should manage to make enough changes in themselves to sprout the seeds of happily-ever-after.

And what about the reader? Has she changed? A resounding yes from Linda Lael Miller. She’s become much more discerning and sophisticated, allowing the author to paint with a broader brush-even in category romance. Now readers are happy to entertain elements such as suspense, vampires, Western and fantasy in their romances, and so are editors and publishers! That willingness to be open to experimentation is very important to her.

Lori Foster looks at it from another angle. "Romance writers have always adjusted to what’s acceptable in society. They are timely: they keep up with what’s going on in life, in the world out there." So in holding the mirror up to nature, romance authors are giving readers what they want, and what they see around them. And that paradigm keeps changing.

Those changes-.or interesting fads, as Lindsay McKenna sees them, are partially the result of tremendous communication and cross-pollination between Harlequin and Silhouette-.which were two separate publishing houses in the early 80’s, but have for decades been successful sister publishing operations, with many authors writing for both divisions. She remembers a romance market featuring lots of racy, sexy stories with little or no plot in the early 90’s. Then plots and characters returned and with them, love stories, instead of raw sex. Currently, however, we’re noticing another spike with successful erotica. The pendulum has swung again.

The paranormal element, which she is proud to have introduced very early in her "Heart" trilogy, was quite a leap for the romance genre when it was first published, but now seems almost mainstream with the continued popularity of paranormal themes.

Conclusion: everything is the same but different-.and vive la difference!

I’ve been having a great time on this tour and please do feel to ask questions! Tomorrow you’ll find me at Cataromance. My previous "stops" include: Bookbinge (revising Harlequin), Plot Monkeys, the Blaze Authors blog (how writers tackle the creative process), Romance Junkies, and Romancing the blog (the real person behind the story).

As a special treat we have provided 1 nostalgia Harlequin tote bag and 8 Famous First novels to giveaway to a random commenter.

Don’t forget that you can enjoy 16 free Harlequin novels by downloading them at www.HarlequinCelebrates.com. And the Harlequin Cover Art Show in New York runs May 30 – June 12th at the Open House Gallery, New York City (201 Mulberry Street in Soho).

What do you see as the biggest change in romance novels?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

79 Comments

  1. wendy
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 04:23:22

    The very first Mills & Boon (Harlequin) I read was That Boston Man by Janet Dailey. I was hooked. (Obviously, long before she plagiarised the work of Nora Roberts).
    I don’t care what these youngsters on the interwebs say, the 80′s stories were great. I loved Linda Howard, Rebecca Flanders, Jackie Black, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Beverly Sommers to name a few. I think I loved those authors because they wrote such disparate characters: a gigolo hero, a chain-smoking almost degenerate lawyer heroine and so on. Not a billionaire in sight.

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  2. Booklover1335
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 05:31:09

    Hi Marsha,
    I was first introduced to Harlequin by reading Lori Foster’s Buckhorn series. I quickly went back and read as many of her backlist I could find. She, Lucy Monroe, Maya Banks, Allison Kent, Janelle Denison and Jill Shalvis are my favs!!!!

    In your opinion what new Harlequin authors will be tomorrow’s fav firsts?

    cldivineATyahooDOTcom

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  3. Sarah Mayberry
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 05:43:09

    Hi Marsha! Fancy seeing you here! I read my grandmothers’ romance novels when I was young. The thing I remember the most was that the women were always treated mean and told they were golddiggers. I know there’s some of that around still these days, but I love that modern romance heroines kick ass and take names. They own their own sexual desire, they stand up for their rights, they do literally sometimes kick ass (and stake vamps and whatnot). Viva la romance!

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  4. S. W. Vaughn
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 05:47:47

    Hooray for the eternity of romance!

    I was cleaning out closets this weekend (ugh) and ran across one of my favorite Harlequin releases of all time – Found: One Wife by Judith Arnold. I haven’t read it in years, and now I’m looking forward to a re-read. So this somewhat nostalgic post, for me, has great timing!

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  5. ASable
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 06:31:04

    I remember being stuck at home with a sprained ankle when I was about thirteen or fourteen and complaining for days and days because I couldn’t DO anything. Finally, a family friend who was in her twenties at the time gave me a shopping bag full of her Harlequin and Silhouette books. It was a treasure trove! My God, I read and re-read them so much, they were practically in pieces by the time I left for college.

    The biggest difference for me between the romances of today and the ones of yesteryear is that a heroine now has permission to (a) want and have sex (b have a past and make mistakes and (d) be strong and independent. The heroines I remember from those old romances more innocent and inexperienced, and usually financially dependent on fathers, older brothers, guardians, etc. And, holy Jeez, they were barely jailbait! Remember all those just-turned-eighteen girls that ended up with the cowboy/war vet/multi-millionaire tyrant-with-the-heart-of-gold? (I’m thinking about more than a few Diana Palmer novels from way back when . . .!!!)

    Things have changed since I picked up my first Harlequin, but I’m with Sarah Mayberry–Viva la romance! (BTW, Ms. Mayberry–I LOVE your work!!!!!)

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  6. LauraB
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 07:51:05

    hmmmm….. biggest changes in romance? I’d say the greater agency and emancipation of the heroine.

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  7. Kim
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 08:02:43

    The first Silhouette/Harlequin novel I ever purchased was Nora Roberts. She could tell a wonderful story in a very short format. Thereafter, other firsts that went on to full-length novels were Heather Graham, Kim Cates, Judith McNaught, and recently, Jessica Bird.

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  8. Anne C
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 08:14:10

    I started with Harlequin’s “The Caged Tiger” by Penny Jordan..I got it from my aunt who had boxes of these books. I quickly devoured all of them and now I have the same addiction she had – buying books. Yes I can say that the industry has changed but we still want the escape and the happy endings – just how we get there is what is different.

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  9. anne
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 08:15:28

    What a great post today. I have been reading Harlequin romances forever and love the old covers. They may look laughable to today’s standard covers but I enjoy the artwork greatly.

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  10. Chris W
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 08:17:51

    The Nora Roberts ones are the ones that I remember. I remember trying to find all of the Entranced, Captivated and Charmed series for months. Then going back and finding many more of her books!

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  11. Patty L.
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 08:21:59

    I remember sneeking my first HQ from a bag of books that my mom had in her closet. It was a turning point in my life. I would never have said that I was a romantic until I was rooting for the hero and heroine to fall in love.

    I think the graphic nature in romance has changed the most. I remember my first books were so vague that I didn’t truly understand. LOL Now a days, we can get a whole education in the pages of some of my favorite lines.

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  12. Darlynne
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 08:40:16

    I used to help a friend rummage through used book sales, looking for the Harlequin Blaze line. She was embarrassed to admit that she liked them, but I know how much finding new titles meant to her: each was a small buried treasure.

    The change I’ve seen is female characters more wholly evolved and interesting in their own right. They’re not just a soft place for the male character to land.

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  13. Alisha Rai
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 08:44:14

    The first romances I read were single title, and for a long time I had some sort of weird snottiness about categories. Oddly enough, I was introduced to them in India: I was living with my aunt and uncle there, the weather outside was approaching monsoon levels, and my cousin and I were bored out of our skulls. She handed me a stack of Mills and Boon she kept hidden from her parents. Holy cow, they were so bad with the punishing kisses and the virgin heroines and the amnesiac babies, they were good. I fell in love :).

    The Blaze and Temptation lines hold a special place in my heart. Though they seem sort of tame now in comparison to all of the ER out there, at the time I remember being stunned at the level of heat and the independant (even non-virgin!) heroines.

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  14. roslynholcomb
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 08:52:48

    I read my first Harlequin when I was 9 or 10 years old (Yeah, 36 years ago!) My mother read them voraciously, and her favorite authors were Anne Mather and Violet Winspear, so I’m sure my first book was by one of them. I quickly came to love Carole Mortimer.

    The biggest change in romance to me is the understanding that No means no. Looking back, there were a lot a stories that were little more than rapes. Also, all those stories with very young girls and significantly older men. Ick.

    But my favorite change is the transition to hero POV. The first book I read that did that was Nora Roberts and it blew my tiny little mind. I still love it today.

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  15. Jane A
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 08:57:29

    Though I’ve been reading romance for many years it wasn’t until recently that I started picking up Harl/Sil titles, with the exception of such classics as the McKenzie series by Linda Howard. To my surprise I’ve found that there are many excellent authors writing for these lines and I’d been missing out all this time. I still cringe over the virgin/sheik/baby titles but I’m trying to be open minded now. :)

    My favorites are the historicals and I love the HH line with the broad range of eras that Harlequin allows. I’d also like to compliment Harlequin for it’s very progressive ebook policies, which must be amongst the best in the industry. All in all the company gets quite a bit of my business these days.

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  16. Jeanette
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 09:00:43

    Catergories got me through the first years of motherhood. I didn’t have time for single titles but the shorter books were something I could read after the kids were down for the night and I could finish in time to get some much needed sleep. Fortunately the current categories (back in the day) were Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Jayne Ann Krentz. Debbie McComber…. really great writers

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  17. ms bookjunkie
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 09:01:49

    I remember being about twelve and sneak-reading a Harlequin from my older cousin’s bookshelf during a summer visit… and being caught at it by my dad and having the first of many (many!) “discussions” about age-appropriate reading material…

    Alas, poor Dad, he never had a chance! I’d solemnly listen to his lectures and go right on reading romance. Though to this day, when my parents enter the room, my first reaction is to hide the book/cover.*

    *I’m fine reading clinch and man titty covers in public** these days, but still not comfortable doing so around my parents, which is why, before a holiday visit, I select reads from my TBR pile by cover. *eye roll*

    **Okay, there are those two bus stops where all those schoolchildren get on where I do hide my book covers. Let them be children for a few more years… although I *know* they’re watching reruns of Sex and the City at home. Lol!

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  18. Louisa Edwards
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 09:12:06

    I read and reread ALL THAT GLITTERS by Linda Howard, RAWHIDE MAN by Diana Palmer, and Elizabeth Lowell’s Blackthorn Brothers series. To this day, I could probably quote you whole passages. If they hadn’t fallen apart long ago, I’d probably still be reading them over every couple of years!

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  19. Carolyn Jewel
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 09:31:20

    I’ve always been such a voracious reader that it’s quite possible I read Harlequin’s very early on, but I don’t recall many of the publishers of the books I read as a young girl. My first official foray into Harlequin was actually as a part of this anniversary celebration. I’m glad for the introduction, too. I’ll be reading more. Unquestionably.

    As for what’s changed about romances — so many of those horrible stereotypes about women (and men) are gone and in their place are real women dealing with life.

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  20. Lori
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 09:40:21

    Oh, my first Harlequin exerience was 20 years ago through the Harlequin book club (I got 6 titles a month I think). Most of the authors were British (I know Betty Neels was among them) and truth be told, I loved them but wanted to bang my head against the wall at the innocence of the heroines.

    The Love and Laughter line re-piqued my interest in Harlequin and now with so many brilliant writers, my TBR pile now sprouts so many new to me authors in the Harlequin line.

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  21. Wendy
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 09:41:17

    I would say the biggest change is the writing. This was made all the more apparent recently when I read an old Loveswept from the 1980s and marveled at how much purple prose the author was able to cram into 180 pages. Authors are allowed to be….ummm…more frank with the writing these days, which I, for one, appreciate. Too much purple prose makes may head hurt.

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  22. Heather Brewer
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 09:55:41

    I have always loved Harlequin Romance books. They are some of my favorite reads growing up. My grandmother had a subscription and would get the books and read them and then give them to me.

    My favorite is the new Nocturne line. I have all of them so far. I also have noticed several of those author’s have some mainstream books out too.

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  23. GrowlyCub
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 10:13:25

    The biggest changes I see are male POV, which I love and wish we would see even more of and the level of heat, which has significantly increased, which I also like.

    The other day I read a historical that I felt wasn’t hot enough and that made me realize how much things have changed over the last 5-10 years with regard to explicit descriptions.

    On the ‘do not like’ side of things are the rapidly dropping word counts that often lead to unsatisfactory, rushed endings and a more pronounced going with ‘fads’ to the exclusion of everything else.

    While certain subgenres dominated in years past there was still variety out there. Lately it seems, if it doesn’t have paranormal elements in it, it doesn’t get published, which really sucks for readers like me who as a rule do not read paranormal at all.

    For a while I read a lot of category, but since I’m childless by choice, over the last few months my Super Romance and Special Edition reading has completely dropped off because I don’t want to see another ‘only a burgeoning belly makes for a good woman’ story.

    Erotic romance has helped with that, although here lately I was dismayed to get a ‘I want to have a baby so badly’ erotic romance. That was a real mood killer for me.

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  24. GrowlyCub
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 10:25:16

    Oh and I forgot to add that I own original copies of 6 of the books that are being re-released:

    Krentz, Miller, Lowell, Howard, Graham and Foster.

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  25. Marsha Zinberg
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 10:34:53

    @Sarah Mayberry:

    Hi Sara!
    yes, fancy meeting you here too! How are you?
    I agree, it’s great that women are so much their own person now. I must admit that I could never see the attraction in a romance in which the women were subjugated and treately poorly. My response was always….”so get out, lady!”
    But lots of readers still really enjoy those kinds of stories. Feeds some sort of fantasy, perhaps???

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  26. Marsha Zinberg
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 10:37:01

    @Booklover1335:

    wow! There are so many new and talented authors out there now, I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess! Also, I think it would be extremely undiplomatic of me and possibly dangerous to my health!
    I”ll ponder it a while, and see if I can narrow a list down to a couple of hundred!

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  27. Eva S
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 10:38:24

    I read my first Harlequins more than 30 years ago, and I loved Anne Mather, Violet Winspear, Sara Craven and many more. Still I love many of them.
    As for changes, back then you could only imagine what happened behind the bedroom door, nowadays it’s rather different….

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  28. Christine
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 10:54:16

    Whenever I want to just relax with a good book that I know will have a happy ending, I still grab a Harlequin. I used to read my grandmother’s books when I was (much) younger. Now I have my own collection. They have changed over the years, but the romance is still there. I may read a lot of different types of books, but one staple to my library is Harlequin. It’s like your favorite blanket and a cup of cocoa on a cold afternoon.

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  29. Moth
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 10:57:27

    My first category was Crusie’s What the Lady Wants as a re-issue, but my first official category was Chef’s Choice, which was so adorable and which I heard about here.

    That’s one of the things I love about Dear Author: they get the word out on some great category releases. :)

    And the giveaways, of course. ;P (Definitely put my name in the hat for this one!)

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  30. Tessa
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 10:58:21

    I started on the Harlequin Presents books that they were always giving away in the front of my hometown library – I remember a lot of Australia. I quickly moved on to add historicals to my repertoire, and the rest, as they say, is history…

    The books have changed – what goes on in the bedroom, what the women are like, what the men are like – but I think one of the biggest things that has changed in romance is the readers, who are now far less intimidated by what people think of their reading choices.

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  31. Heather
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:03:41

    I love to read! When I start a book, I have to finish it. That is why I love the Harlequin categories. Great stories, and I do not have to stay up all night to finish the story.

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  32. Susan/DC
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:12:08

    I remember reading my first Linda Howard, “An Independent Woman”, with a heroine who was anything but. I’d heard such good buzz about Howard that I went on line to ask if AIW was typical or an aberration. Happily I adored the second Howard novel I read: “Son of the Morning”. The two heroines could not be more different, a sign of changing times and an evolving writer.

    What keeps me from reading more categories are the titles and the fact that the [insert foreign nationality here] billionaire stories just don’t appeal to me. I too read for the fantasy and the romance, and while I’m happy to suspend disbelief when the governess marries the earl in an historical, I can’t do it in a contemporary. Maybe it’s because I have an MBA and know too much about what it takes to become a billionaire and the kind of people do so (not me, unfortunately, nowhere close). While new categories are an improvement over the old in many ways (less purple prose, fewer punishing kisses), there’s been definite tycoon inflation. I kind of liked the older ones who simply owned a newspaper or factory or two (or three). In an odd way, because I could believe in them and found them more realistic, they allowed me to believe more in the fantasy while still sweeping the heroine off her feet and removing all her worries about those pesky rent and utility bills.

    Unlike GrowlyCub, I have children by choice, but like her, I avoid any book with a pregnant woman on the cover. I don’t mind the epilogues with an expanding waistline and family, but I generally don’t read books where children are central characters or the plot revolves around marrying the baby-daddy or finding a mommy/daddy for pre-existing munchkins. One more reason I’m not the target reader for categories.

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  33. Liz Fielding
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:17:59

    My first Mills & Boon was a Penny Jordan sheikh story. Once I’d read that I wanted to play, too!

    I agree a lot has changed. The women are stronger, the men less distant and beyond reach somehow — they never seemed quite human until that last scene when they unravelled and revealed themselves back then. But I’ve always found a great deal of freedom within the series I write for and I’ve never been hidebound by rules.

    Long may it continue!

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  34. Anthea Lawson
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:18:26

    When I was in Junior High, my best friend’s mother had shelves and shelves of Harlequins. I remember smuggling copies home and reading them after I was supposed to be asleep. I imprinted on ‘Sweet Not Always”, a 1979 Harlequin by Karen Van Der Zee. Vivid, evocative writing, set in Ghana–I think from then on I expected wonderful exotic settings with my romances (maybe it’s why I’m compelled to write them now!)

    Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt (The Pride of the Peacock, ooh) were mainstays.

    Hooray for romance, such an ever-evolving, life-affirming genre. I can hardly wait to see what we’re reading in another 60 years!

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  35. Sunita
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:19:10

    I don’t remember when I read my first Harlequin, but I’m pretty sure my first glom was of M&Bs through private lending libraries in India. They would have walls and walls of them that you could check out for a very reasonable fee. I used to get a dozen at a time. And like Alisha, I read way more during monsoon.

    I stopped reading all but Burchell, Neels, and Seale for years, but then I came back to them because Harlequin put out ebooks and I could read them on my Palm. I had some hit and miss experiences, but I’ve found wonderful authors, and thanks to DA’s reviews I keep finding more.

    The only problem is that when your TBR pile is in ebook form, you forget how tall it really is.

    And many thanks for the freebies this year!

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  36. Kat
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:21:25

    I first got turned on to romance by the Harlequin Book Club when I was 11 and then went on to read other publishers. Thinking back to books that I read over and over, I think I’d be shocked if I read some of them today. The biggest change is the strength of female characters today. Many of the older (early 1990s) books were filled with rape/coercive sex and abusive/controlling relationships. Women characters today have equal (or nearly equal) power in relationships. I think one of the best ways authors show this is by showing male POV, where they’re clearly a bit insecure or unsure of the woman’s love for him.

    In the past, some authors seemed to think that a rape scene was the best way to show that a man was crazy with desire for a woman. Today it’s much more likely that a man will be so carried away that he’ll finish up quickly and without giving a woman an orgasm (which she doesn’t generally mind because it’s obvious she’s going to have a big one later). That seems like a huge improvement to me!

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  37. Saranna DeWylde
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:28:23

    I remember when I first started reading romance. I was 11 or 12. My mother would paperclip the parts that I wasn’t ready for, also referred to as, “the good parts”. The first time I dared peek past the paperclip, I wondered how people could do those things and look at each other afterword. But I always knew I wanted to write. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I was confident enough to write a story and not be concerned that my mother would read it and want to know how I knew how unpleasant sex on the beach could be with no blanket and sand up your… But, I knew even when I read my first one that it wasn’t about that. I love character driven stories where the smut furthers the plot and their growth as characters.

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  38. Sunita
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:29:09

    @Liz Fielding:
    OMG, I have to have a major fangirl moment here. Ms. Fielding, I absolutely love your books and you are a total autobuy for me. I’ve even bought them in multiple formats because of evil DRM; I tried not having Reunited: Marriage in a Million and The Secret Life of Lady Gabriella on my Sony Reader and I couldn’t do it.

    Whenever someone asks for recommendations for category romances yours is one of the first names I think of and suggest. Thanks so much for your wonderful books.

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  39. Jody F.
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:29:55

    It’s amazing how long this book line has been around and how you’ve evolved through the years. Alot of super authors have gotten their start with you.

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  40. NancyB
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:31:19

    The first series romance I ever read was one by Janet Dailey, after a friend told me she had started with series books. And I still treasure my worn copy of Nora Roberts’ Irish Thoroughbred, purchased new way back when and placed immediately on my keeper shelf.

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  41. Sara
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:37:38

    What a great post and exciting contest. I love the comments almost as much as I love the original. Thanks for sharing everyone!

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  42. FD
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:38:03

    Lord, I read some of these when they first came out. Wow.

    In particular I remember Lori Foster because her books quick gained a rep for being particularly zingy… and now they’re pretty standard for the line.

    One thing I don’t think has changed for the better in categories is the titles – I dug out some old Emma Darcy and Violet Winspear books the other week – no Billionaire’s Secretary’s Unwilling Nuptials titles there.
    I do love how reading through M&B or Harlequins from beginning to present day gives you a snapshot of changing mores.

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  43. CherylHC
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:40:36

    I think the core emotions of a good romance have stayed the same. The differences are the external societal changes, and that is to be expected.

    I really like this idea of re-introducing authors’ first books. Many times we start reading an author after she/he has a few books “under their belt” It can be a delightful surprise to read the first book and see the talent that is already there.

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  44. Keira Soleore
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:44:13

    Romance novels have always kept up with what’s current in societal and cultural mores since the first Mills & Boons were published. To study popular culture through the ages, you just have to pick up romances by the greats from different years. I love it that even when we’re reading historicals or paranormals, social issues are at the core of the stories as are hope and the empowering nature of love. Underlying all the changes that romances have gone through there are some enduring themes that make me a lifelong fan.

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  45. Crystal
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 11:47:06

    My first Harlequin/Silhouette was one of the ones in the teenage line (I can’t remember the name) in the late 80s. I loved those. Then I read some of my grandmother’s titles, but don’t know exactly which ones. I think one of the obvious changes since the 80s and now is the racier books being more mainstream, but it’s just a reflection of the times. I love that Harlequin/Silhouette has so many different lines that appeal to different types of people. I actually like most of the lines and love the fact that even though the ending is the same, there are lots of ways to get there!

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  46. Ruth
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 12:01:37

    I remember my 4th grade summer and telling my Mom “I was bored”. She first offered chores and then she suggested finding a book to read. I lived in a very small town of under 1,000 and going to the small mom and pop grocery store. The store carried the Harlequin books and I bought a story by Violet Winspear. I have been hooked on romances since.

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  47. Kimberly Van Meter
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 12:01:40

    The first Harlequin I ever read was by Bethany Campbell and I still have it, tucked away in a drawer, and I still enjoy revisiting the characters. It was the first book that made me laugh hysterically. It’s such a great story. Now that I write for Harlequin, it’s like a dream that has come full circle! And I’m sooo loving it!

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  48. Susanna Kearsley
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 12:02:07

    Like a lot of the other posters here, I got hooked on Harlequins around the age of 12, and spent hours in my local used book store hunting down the backlists of my favourite authors: Anne Mather, Violet Winspear, and Sara Craven. Happy days!

    Earlier this year I was in London and was taken out for lunch by some of the amazing writers from the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and sitting on my left was this really great woman whose name I didn’t catch when we were introduced. We chatted all through lunch and it turned out that our tastes in books and movies were identical, but I was too embarrassed to admit I hadn’t caught her name, so afterwards I asked someone…

    Turns out that I’d been talking all that time to Sara Craven!

    One of those times when it was probably just as well I didn’t know who I was talking to, because if I HAD known I likely would have been too tongue-tied to say anything at all :-)

    Anyhow, as moments go, it was Pretty Cool.

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  49. Elyane
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 12:13:41

    The first harlequin book I read was in high school. My friend borrowed the books from her sister and we would read it in class instead of paying attention. that was more than 20 years ago.

    Like Sarah Mayberry mention in your comments : “The thing I remember the most was that the women were always treated mean and told they were golddiggers.” It was one of the reasons I stopped reading them. I rediscovered harlequin when I was given a book by Sarah Mayberry. It showed me alot happened in the years that I stopped reading romance. And all of it in a good way.

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  50. Tina Christopher
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 12:19:08

    I started my love affair with Harlequin with Nora Roberts and was majorly excited when I found that same book re-issued years later.
    I agree, the biggest change is the female lead and the way she is now able to express herself and be kick-ass! I love a strong female lead who knows what she wants and goes after it.

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  51. Bev Stephans
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 12:24:14

    It’s all Nora Roberts fault! I was reading a series of hers (not published by Harlequin) and wanted more. I started buying her backlist from Harlequin. From there, I turned to other authors. I now have so many Harlequins in my TBR pile, that I don’t know which one to read first. LOL!

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  52. MaryK
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 12:37:32

    I only discovered Romance about 10 years ago so didn’t read any of the famous category authors when they first came out. I’ve caught up a good deal since then though, and I’m building a collection of old Harlequins, Violet Winspear and Anne Weale in particular.

    I really, really like the inclusion of the hero’s POV. But, I also like the older books where the authors dropped clues to the heroes’ feelings so the reader could tell what was going on with them without explicit POVs. I love to re-read for foreshadowing.

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  53. Aymless
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 13:55:40

    I really don’t remember what my first HQ book. I probably checked it out of the library! *g* And I still enjoy them from time to time. I was especially happy with HQ came out with the Nocturnes line. *happy dance*

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  54. KarenT
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 13:58:59

    I only started reading romance about 6 years ago. We were at the beach and I finished the book I brought with me, so I picked up “Mr. Perfect” by Linda Howard off the shelf at the beach house. I read it in a day and been reading romance ever since.

    I still don’t read a lot of catagories, mostly on recomendations from romance web sites. But I do enjoy them.

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  55. blodeuedd
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 14:00:47

    I rememeber my first Harlequin, the cover oh yes. The name not so much since i read it in Swedish.
    A sheik meets this blonde in the desert, and I was hooked. Never looked back.

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  56. Penny
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 15:05:08

    This is a great post that brought back so many treasured memories! I started reading Harlequins in my early teens. My favorite authors were Carole Mortimer, Charlotte Lamb and Penny Jordan. If I saw any of their names on a book, I’d buy it without even checking to see what the book was about!

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  57. Carin
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 15:13:52

    I actually was pretty snobbish about Harlequins for quite a while… I read my first after reading a good review here! I was missing out! It’s like there was a flavor of chocolate I was refusing to try. :) Silly! Actually review sites like this one have really encouraged me to expand my horizons, book-wise, and now I have a whole box of chocolates to pick from!

    As far as how romance has changed… I started reading in the 90′s. I remember confused heroines who had no idea what a penis was and the whole marital/pre-marital rape thing. I’m very glad to be rid of both of those!

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  58. SonomaLass
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 15:48:03

    I’m another romance reader who started with big paper bags of Harlequins (from my aunt) in my early teens (the 1970s). She always gave me the Presents line, and back then there wasn’t anything more racy than kissing between hero and heroine, and often not until the very end of the book. Unsure if that was the whole line, or if she just picked carefully what to include in my bag.

    As an adult I read mostly science fiction, fantasy, mystery and historical fiction for years — I always preferred the books with strong romantic elements, but I didn’t read romance novels. When I did get into reading romance, I stayed away from category — I still had the idea that they wouldn’t be good, being too short. My tastes run to epic novels, and I really need to see the h/h working out their relationship to believe that it’s going to last. My experience with those 1970s books was that attraction was instant (even if you fought it for a hundred pages or so), the gender roles very stereotypical, and the HEA really taken on faith.

    I have since learned that there are authors who can tell me a great story and show me a believable romantic relationship in shorter form — not just category length, but even novellas and short stories. I love how the genre has come to encompass so much variety.

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  59. Chris Roberts
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 16:35:23

    In my opinion, the biggest change is that there is much more variety in the type of romance books available. When I first started reading romance, there were sweet romances and the bodice rippers and around Halloween you got a ghost added to the plot. Now you don’t have to wait for Halloween to read a paranormal book and the hero might be a paranormal creature.

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  60. AB
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 17:04:51

    My first HQ was a Betty Neels “Roses have Thorns”.

    You know what? I don’t care that her plots are pretty formula….I still go to them for comfort reads!

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  61. Angie G
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 17:16:27

    What a great post. I love all the responses too! My very first romance was Linda Howard’s Sarah’s Child. It was the original and darn…I wish I still had it. I loved that book. I’ve got a reprinted copy that I reread from time to time, but it’s just not the same. :)

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  62. TrustMe_2_Forget
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 17:51:03

    like many here, I started my love of romance with the many Harlequin and Sillouette lines, HPs are still my favortites!

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  63. Jessica G.
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 18:06:53

    I’m not sure which was my first Harlequin romance. My friend’s got me to read “Romancing Mr. Bridgerton” by Julia Quinn and I’ve been hooked ever since! The past year or so I’ve been expanding to read other things than historicals. I actually just wrapped up “Match Play” by Merline Lovelace, who I got hooked on after I read the freebie “Stranded with a Spy” from the anniversary promo.

    And Harelquin, if you’re reading this, please please PLEASE consider making a coffee table book of covers! I would love to have that!

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  64. Pam S
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 18:32:30

    Great Post!

    My first Harlequins were actually some I snuck out of my grandmothers collection when I was little lol.

    Since then I have found many wonderful books by Harelquins and have enjoyed some from almost every line available.

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  65. Throwmearope
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 19:54:29

    After Georgette Heyer died, my favorite hobby was gone. I had to resort to sci fi and mystery, eeked out by a few well written gothics–Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, a few others.

    I started reading Harlequins way back in the 70′s. Carol Mortimer’s The Passionate Winter was her first (and my first) HP. It featured a 19 year old heroine and a 45 year old hero. He kept grousing about the heroine’s immaturity. I remember thinking, then date somebody your own age, you twit. Didn’t matter, I was in love. My first Diana Palmer was the Lady and the Cowboy, loved her, too.

    But I didn’t really start buying a lot of HP and SSE until I read JAK, Nora Roberts, Linda Howard in mainstream and discovered huge backlists of HP/SSE. I still have autobuys in the HP/Sil lines.

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  66. Tae
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 20:38:50

    I love telling people that authors like Linda Howard, Tami Toag and Tess Gerritson started out writing romance and that many people are reading romance authors, whether they know it or not

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  67. Sally
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 21:18:07

    Jessica G., there already is a coffee table book with Harlequin/Mills & Boon covers, though with more M&B than Harlequin, but it’s a great book. I love it!

    My first romance novel was a Presents book by Penny Jordan. I read it two years ago and since then, I’ve been devouring Harlequins during all my free time. I actually got into them through Harlequin’s short-lived Ginger Blossom manga line. :)

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  68. Caffey
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 22:34:55

    I don’t remember the first Harlequin I read but I remember reading them as a teen. Rebecca Winters, Anne Stuart, Margaret St. James, and more! Each night I would visit my mom’s room and she’s share with me some books that she read and I would pick out one of them to read! Then the next night I would be back for another one of the series books to read! Too when I got older, I love to get the books as gifts to her. I would go and get them as soon as they came out before she went and got them! We would laugh and then when she finished them, I would read them. I often gave to the nursing homes after. They loved the length of these books and more. Even when my mom was sick I was reading the Super Romance books to her that came out. I loved that she introduced me to the Harlequins!

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  69. Lori
    Jun 08, 2009 @ 23:16:22

    I don’t remember the first Harlequin I read, but they were definitely my first romances. I was an advanced reader so I had gone through all the interesting kids books & YA in our town’s public library by the time I hit 6th grade or so. That’s when I started in on the Harlequin’s and I never looked back. The library’s selection was huge and we moved long before I had a chance to exhaust their supply.

    There are some books that I remember with fondness. At least I sort of remember them. I can recall plots and some details, but no titles and only a couple authors. This is a real handicap in locating copies to reread. There are a few that I do wish I could find again, but overall I think current books are more interesting to me and possibly a bit better written.

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  70. Kaetrin
    Jun 09, 2009 @ 00:54:07

    I love Harlequin!

    You guys gave a start to so many wonderful authors and you’re still doing it. You are embracing digital technology and making scads of money – in this financial climate, you clearly must be doing something right. I think it has something to do with listening to your readers. Thanks for that.

    Please count me in for the prize draw.

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  71. Margaret
    Jun 09, 2009 @ 01:11:34

    With the exception of the brief time when romances did seem to be all about the sex, I’d have to agree that the heart has stayed the same even while the content has been shifting. Lindsay McKenna’s comment about the paranormal made me laugh though. It’s getting a lot harder to tell the difference between outright fantasy and paranormal romance, but I remember when the presence of an elderly aunt who sometimes seemed to predict the future was raw paranormal.

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  72. Venus Vaughn
    Jun 09, 2009 @ 03:20:23

    I’ve been unwittingly following this book tour, as she seems to hit all the places I already have listed in my Google Reader. But hey, double my chances, double my fun.

    Plus, I appreciate that she is giving different snippets of famous firsts with each blog she hits. I watch the romance genre develop with awe – you never quite know where it’s going, but you always know it’s going to be somewhat better over there.

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  73. Fun Facts from the Harlequin Firsts
    Jun 09, 2009 @ 08:29:54

    [...] stops include Dear Author, Romancing the Blog, BookBinge, Plot Monkeys, Romance Junkies and the Blaze Authors [...]

  74. Hydecat
    Jun 09, 2009 @ 09:38:04

    I think the biggest change in romance novels is the breadth of subjects — plots and characters — that we see today. Pick any topic and type of character, and you can probably find a romance novel about them. I’m not saying that romance is the most diverse genre out there, but it has been making great strides forward, and I love that. After all, everyone deserves a little romance.

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  75. cursingmama
    Jun 09, 2009 @ 10:54:42

    I couldn’t begin to imagine what my first Harlequin read was – or even when it took place…but I have fond memories of my grandmothers bookcase devoted to Harlequin; that thing was packed!

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  76. Kay Cary
    Jun 09, 2009 @ 20:34:57

    I think romance has a genre has stayed the same but the story lines reflect the current norms of our society.
    Characters use todays’ technology gadgets–internet, I-phones, GPS, ect.. The underlying themes that play thru out most story lines still reflect the passion and commitment most authors portray in their stories.
    I remember reading a title from the youth section of the library but for the life a me I can’t remember the title or author..I do remember reading Harlequin Presents during my teen years.

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  77. Guest Post: You Never Forget Your First Time : The Good, The Bad and The Unread
    Jun 15, 2009 @ 09:00:47

    [...] stops include: Bookbinge, Plot Monkeys, Blaze authors blog, Romance Junkies, Romancing the Blog, Dear Author, Cataromance, and Teach Me Tonight – a different Harlequin Famous First story at every [...]

  78. Firsts: Is it Better to Have Your First Book the Worst or Best | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 04:01:48

    [...] week, we hosted Harlequin’s Executive Editor, Marsha Zinberg, as she toured blogland talking about various writing insights from the authors of their Famous [...]

  79. WINNER: Famous Firsts by Harlequin Giveaway | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Jul 03, 2009 @ 07:26:12

    [...] belatedly, I am announcing the winner of the Famous Firsts giveaway from Harlequin: As a special treat we have provided 1 nostalgia Harlequin tote bag and 8 Famous First novels to [...]

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