The Long Line of Romance Reading: A Mother's Day Interviewby Elle Keck
Like so many, I started reading romance novels because of my mother. I would steal them from her nightstand when I thought she wasn’t looking and would read for hours about lords and ladies and witches and magic. Of course, she did know, because moms always know everything. For this Mother’s Day, I got the chance to interview my beautiful mom, Erin Jo, and dug into how she started reading romances, why she loves the power of unlimited imagination, and how romance novels are responsible for my very existence.
(This interview has been edited for clarity and length)
Elle: How long have you been reading romance?
Erin Jo: I think I started reading romance novels when I was around 13 years old. My mother and my Aunt Judy would have payday gifts. When they got paid, they would bring home gifts. It started when I was 5 years old and they would bring home toys. And when I got older, they would bring home books. They started bringing home Harlequin Romances. So that’s how I started getting addicted to Romance. I loved it.
Elle: Do you remember what that first one was about?
Erin Jo: Yes, it was set in Australia. He was her boss.
Elle: Oh sure (laughs).
Erin Jo: She was a secretary. And there was a lot of fighting going on, but at the end they got together (laughs). She thinks he’s in love with someone else because there’s this thing with another woman. But at the end, she realizes that he loves her.
Elle: And they lived happily ever after.
Erin Jo: Yeah, lived happily ever after. That was my first romance novel.
Elle: Do you remember when you started getting them yourself?
Erin Jo: I started work at 15. I worked at a library, so I had access to all kinds of romance novels. But even though I had access, I still bought romance novels. I read the ones at the library and also bought what I could. When I got paid every two weeks, that would usually include some kind of romance novel. I bought myself payday presents then!
Elle: Do you remember the last time you bought a payday romance?
Erin Jo: I think the last one would have to be any kind of Jude Deveraux. She’s the one I keep for special occasions. Anything she writes is my special treat.
Elle: Do you remember the first Jude Deveraux book you read?
Erin Jo: The Velvet books. It’s kind of funny because I discovered the Velvet books, but you were in my arms when I read them!
Elle: (laughs) That’s really funny!
Erin Jo: Isn’t that so cute? You as a baby, you liked to be held. I would do a little bit of housework and then it was like, okay I’m going to sit on this couch and I’m not going to do anything else but read a book and hold my baby. So we would spend hours!
Elle: So my first experience with romance novels, I was literally an infant.
Erin Jo: Yep (laughs) I would hold you and read my Jude Deveraux and drink my coffee. You must have realized that I was reading a romance novel because you were happy!
Elle: Can you pick a favorite of hers?
Erin Jo: I think it’s A Knight in Shining Armor. She goes back in time—that’s pretty special! I think my favorite scene is when she makes a chocolate cake. Food is just as important to [Deveraux] as anything else and that’s what I appreciate about her.
Elle: That was the first Jude Deveraux I ever read because you told me to read. And I loved it. What did you read before you read romance?
Erin Jo: Little Women—that’s one of my favorite books. My sister Lindie read that to me when I was 9 years old because that was part of our family tradition. We would read from a book every night. Of course, we didn’t have television. I remember when she read me Little Women, it was a special book. It took me a while, but I finally found the exact edition in an antique store. It was a pink book with pink and green and black pictures. I just loved that book.
Elle: Is there something you’ve learned from a romance that you’ve never forgotten?
Erin Jo: Sometimes people are amazed that I know these crazy facts about random things and most of it is through my reading. I used to love the Harlequin Romances because they would travel a lot. They would go to these different countries, they would go to Europe, they would go to Asia. They would go to the Middle East and places that I didn’t know about. Afterwards, I would try to look them up and learn about them. I used to love the places that I would go with those books.
Or different sports I have no clue about, I learned from a romance novel (laughs)! Or food and gardening—I don’t really know a whole lot about food or gardening, except for what I learned in my romances!
I think it’s important that people read. You can learn things from TV shows, but there’s something about reading that takes you into a world your imagination can create. When they describe different rooms or different foods—or what a garden looks like. Your imagination can come up with this garden that TV wouldn’t have the funds for.
Elle: Yeah, you can be kind of wild.
Erin Jo: Right or as elaborate as you want. That’s what I like about reading. You can make it what you want it to be. Sometimes with movies and TV, they have a budget. But with your imagination, you don’t have a budget. You can make it what you want.
Elle: Did a romance ever change your thinking about something? I feel I’ve become a more open-minded person because reading romance, you learn more about different experiences and cultures and people’s lives. I become more open when I read them.
Erin Jo: Yeah that definitely has had an impact on my life. Because you’re not so quick to judge. In a romance, they’d meet somebody, and they wouldn’t like them at first. Then as they got to know them, they realized that this person was truly special. And that’s kind of how it happened with your dad (laughs)! If it wasn’t for romance novels, you probably wouldn’t be here (laughs). Because I definitely did not like him. He doesn’t make a very good first impression.
Elle: (laughs) He’s terrible at first impressions!
Erin Jo: People think he’s arrogant.
Elle: And he’s the sweetest.
Erin Jo: He’s the sweetest! I thought he was arrogant and I didn’t want anything to do with him. He would come up and talk to me and I wouldn’t give him the time of day (laughs).
Elle: (laughs) he’s just very confident.
Erin Jo: Yeah. The romance novels, they always gave the hero I second chance, so I thought, I’ll do that. And I gave him a second chance and there you go!
Elle: There you go!
Erin Jo: 32 years later!
Elle: People say reading romance has helped them with their marriage, because you’re reading about forgiveness and compromise. Do you feel that has affected your relationship with Dad in any way?
Erin Jo: Um. Sometimes it created a conflict (laughs)!
Elle: (laughs) How?!
Erin: Well sometimes the gentlemen in the stories, he would know how to fix things. So I’d say, how come you can’t fix things?! This hero fixed the front porch, how come you can’t fix the front porch? (laughs) So I would have to say, that’s created some conflicts! The car broke down, why can’t you fix it?! What’s wrong with you? I just read a story where this guy fixed all these problems! So I’d have to say no!
Elle: Thanks for talking to me, Mom! I learned so much that I didn’t know. I love you.
Erin Jo: I love you.
I had a great time interviewing my mother and I really suggest if you have the ability, to do the same. We rarely have the opportunity to sit down and ask our parents questions, and really get them to answer them. I learned so much I didn’t know, a lot of which ended up on the cutting room floor. But perhaps someday we’ll do a Part 2!
Happy Mother’s Day to all the caregivers out there and all the readers who got us hooked on romance.