I met Julia Quinn for the first time in a public restroom.
This was to be expected, because based on everything else in my life, it would make sense that I would meet my childhood hero in a place where people do their business.
I say childhood hero, because I started reading romance novels the summer between sixth and seventh grade. I was already a voracious reader by then, and to manage my habit, my dad brought me to yard sales and flea markets to find used books on the cheap or when in doubt, he simply bought an entire box of books for one dollar at an auction.
The books in these dollar boxes were never age appropriate, and I never bothered to tell anyone.
The summer between sixth and seventh grades was spent working at my family’s business, a store, restaurant, marina, and campground. In my Mickey Mouse ball cap and Clever Store t-shirt covered in soft serve custard and pizza sauce, I would take my breaks by sitting on the steps that led out of the kitchen. In this spot, no one coming in the door to the store and restaurant could see me.
Or what I was reading.
The first book I plucked that summer from the most recent dollar box was called Ambrosia, and that single word was emblazoned across the yellowed cover of the paperback with all the magenta and flair the 1980s had to offer.
Dear fellow romance reader, you can fill in the rest.
Subsequent summers were spent in similar fashion with some variances. First, I stopped hiding on the stairs. Anyone coming in the door would find me on a black stool at the orange formica counter top, nose firmly implanted in a book, my Clever Store apron forgotten around my neck with its blotch of chicken wing batter right in the center of it.
The books, too, changed somewhat.
My tastes in reading narrowed, and the dollar boxes at the auctions didn’t work anymore. So late at night after the store and restaurant finally closed, my dear mother would drive me twenty minutes into town to the nearest Wal-Mart and leave me in the book aisle while she went about her business.
Dear readers, do you know what the book aisle of a Wal-Mart is like to a romance novel-obsessed teenager?
There was Lisa Kleypas and Sabrina Jeffries and Stephanie Laurens. There were Harlequins and Avon.
And there was Julia Quinn.
With the premier of the show loosely based on Ms. Quinn’s Bridgerton series, I started thinking about my old friends the Bridgertons, and I found I can’t remember when they came into my life. They are just as much a part of me as my curly hair.
But when I watched the show and saw the characters in my head come alive, I felt an odd twisting in my heart.
Because the Bridgertons are why I write romance novels today.
When I left for college (extremely reluctantly and against my wishes), I had An Offer From a Gentleman in my hand. When I left that first college in the dust and transferred to a college entirely across the state from home and found myself in a sea of 30,000 strangers, I had Romancing Mr. Bridgerton in my backpack. When I landed in Glasgow on a rainy, cold night, all alone and with a suitcase too big for me to pick up, When He was Wicked was in my bag (along with Romancing Mr. Bridgerton). When I moved into my first big girl apartment in Portland, Maine, Romancing Mr. Bridgerton was the first book I unpacked.
You might have guessed that Colin and Penelope’s story is my favorite, and so I eagerly watched the show to see how they would be done. I was already disappointed, however, because in my head, Hugh Jackman was the only worthy actor to play Colin. This was, of course, nearly twenty years ago when I formed this idea. However, I will argue it still stands today.
I didn’t want to watch the show. I didn’t want to like it, in fact. Instead, I fell in love all over again. I will re-iterate that the show is only loosely based on the books, and I knew going in it wouldn’t do justice to the stories I hold so dear to me. But instead, I found a new Daphne and Simon, I found a new Colin and Penelope, and most of all, I would an entirely new Violet Bridgerton to mother me.
I emailed Julia Quinn when I first arrived at that awful college I didn’t want to attend. She emailed me back almost immediately, because she’s that kind of awesome person. I asked her how to get published, and she told me.
The summer after my first year of college the books were replaced with a laptop as I sat at that orange formica countertop. Instead of reading books, I started writing them in earnest.
I write historical romance because once upon a time Mr. Colin Bridgerton gave me an escape from a life that is sometimes stressful, sometimes scary, and sometimes just different. I write historical romance to give people the escape that Julia Quinn gave me.
It’s that simple, and it’s that important.
Go watch Bridgerton and remember what it’s like to fall in love again for the first time.