Keli Gwyn
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Falling in Love with the Romance Genre

Can you remember when you discovered
the wonderful world of romance novels?

My love affair with romance novels began when I was in fourth grade. My mom took us to the library once a week that year. I spent many an afternoon on my bottom bunk transported to other times and places. Long before I knew romance was a genre all its own, I sought and savored stories about couples falling in love.

Like many young girls, I dreamed of having a clever and courageous boyfriend like Ned Nickerson, hero of the Nancy Drew series. I read and reread the Little House books and imagined being loved by a man as patient and as devoted to me as Almanzo Wilder was to Laura. And although he didn’t get the girl I wanted him to have, I had quite a crush on Laurie in Little Women.


During the long, hot California summers while our dad was off fighting forest fires, my sister Karla and I would spend countless hours with our noses buried in books. We discovered Barbara Cartland and read every copy of her books our local library had.

Call of the Heart by Barbara Cartland

One delightful summer during the mid-1970s, our mom would pile us in the station wagon for the short trip to the used bookstore in our tiny town. The Chicklets-sized cottage, crammed full of floor-to-ceiling shelves, had the musty smell of vintage books that made me feel right at home.

Vintage Harlequin Romances

We’d buy Harlequin romances by the armful. They were a bargain at ten for a dollar. Plus, we could trade them in on future purchases. Those squeaky clean stories, most of them written by British authors, were set in Europe and other exotic places. Little did I know then that I’d end up living in Germany years later, traveling throughout Europe, and seeing some of the very cities I’d read about as a teen.

In my twenties, I went browsing in used bookstores once again. I happened up a section of Grace Livingston Hill novels and thought I’d struck the Mother Lode. In one story, I had romance, history, and a Christian element. I blasted through as many of the books as I could find, eager to complete my set.

April Gold by Grace Livingston Hill

Fast forward to my mommy days in the 1990s. To my delight, I learned that Harlequin had started an inspirational line. When I read my first Love Inspired title, I felt like I’d come home. Motherhood kept me busy, but on rare occasions, I would treat myself to one of those books, stay up late, and read a story from cover to cover.

With Baby in Mind by Arlene James

Life moved on, our daughter got older, and my reading time increased. When I walked into our local Walmart in 2005, picked up Deeanne Gist’s debut novel, A Bride Most Begrudging, and devoured her excellent story, my love of romance novels intensified. I hadn’t realized the inspirational market had grown so much.

A Bride Most Begruding by Deeanne Gist

Reading Dee’s book rekindled my dream of writing. I knew just what I wanted to write: the very books I most love to read–inspirational historical romances. Although that’s what I’m privileged to do, I still read as many romances as I have time for, because I’m hopelessly smitten with the romance genre.


Are you a fan of the romance genre? If so, when did it capture your attention?

Did a certain book spark a desire to read more romances?

Keli Gwyn


  • Oh, Keli! I’m convinced we’re cut of the same cloth. 🙂 I, too, grew up on Barbara Cartland novels. At the time, they seemed thrilling and sigh-worthy to a starry-eyed teenager.

    And I really enjoy Deeanne Gist’s books, too. She knows how to keep us turning pages.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Cindy, my sister and I were reminiscing about those Barbara Cartland novels at our lunch date this week and remarking about how much stronger heroines are in stories today. No more totally helpless damsels in distress doing dopey things and always being rescued. Those heroines were the kind that might have inspired the modern saying: too stupid to live. Ah, progress. 🙂

  • Keli, I was a very melodramatic kid and probably fell in love with love every other day. I fueled that with books, fantasy, and tons of “mushy” movies. Once I created a soap opera and wrote episodes in my head as I traveled back and forth on the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

    And although my fav genre has always been mystery … I must admit that I love the damsel in distress who is rescued by the handsome detective … and got my fill of both through many Harlequin and MIRA writers.

    Thanks for a wonderful post and those amazing book covers 🙂

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Ah, Florence, you might say you’re a mystery fan, but I sense a die-hard romantic in you as well, my friend. The two do go together quite nicely, don’t they? 🙂

  • I discovered romance novels in the 9th grade. I thought I hit the mother lode, lol. While other kids were playing or giving the teacher a headache in study hall, I would devour fantasy, paranormal, and historical romances.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Brandi, it sounds like your longtime love of romance could well have led to your desire to write romance. I’m excited about your upcoming debut novel. How excited are you? Slightly giddy or over-the-moon thrilled?

  • Beth K. Vogt says:

    Ah, Keli, we are kindred-heart readers!
    We traveled the same book-strewn path … and I loved reading this blog post — and seeing all the photos!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      I love the term “kindred-heart readers,” Beth. Makes me think of Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe. Talk about another delightful romance. Sigh!

  • Melissa Tagg says:

    Oh Ned Nickerson… 🙂

    OH yes, I love a good inspirational romance…especially if it’s got spunky characters and a bit of sass. 🙂 I think the books that got me started were Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly series. Those were the first “adult” books I read as a kid.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Melissa, I have a hunch your debut novel, Made to Last, will have plenty of “spunky characters and a bit of sass.” I’m sooo looking forward to reading it.

  • I loved the Little House books and Nancy Drew. I also read A Bride Most Begrudging and LOVED it!
    But I think what turned me on to romance most as a teenager was Francine Pascal with her Sweet Valley High series. Seriously.

    And then later on in my twenties, I read everything Nora Roberts put out.

    I loved reading this romance novel journey, Keli! 🙂

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Jess, I can tell you’re not as, um, seasoned as I am, because the Sweet Valley High series came out after I’d bid my teen years farewell. I looked them up on Google. That series sure provided a lot of ghostwriters with work. 🙂

  • Reading your thoughts was like peering into mine – just identical! From mom dropping me off at the library (though I started with Nancy Drew), to the dime store “H” books, Love Inspired, DEEANNE GIST (I love her books). Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Melody, isn’t it fun to reflect on romance from time to time? I’m not surprised many of us traveled similar paths. We’re blessed to have so many wonderful books available, aren’t we?

  • Ohh! I love this glimpse into your writer’s heart, Keli! I can relate in so many ways. I fell in love with romance at a young age, as well. My mother was a ferocious reader when I was little and seeing her with a book in hand naturally made me want to read, too. I didn’t start with romances, but with the Babysitter’s Club Series, Sweet Valley High and many Judy Blume books. I remember the moment my aunt handed me Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly – I was forever smitten with historical romances. I soon discovered Gilbert Morris’ House of Winslow Series, his Cheney Duvall, M.D. series and then I moved on to Lauraine Snelling, Tracie Peterson, Lynn Austin, Francine Rivers and on and on and on! With each book I read, the desire to tell my own stories grew stronger and stronger. I not only fell in love with historical fiction, but also history in general and I spent time at our local historical society and then found a job there and another historic site where I worked as a tour guide (and manager) for ten years. I don’t know what drives me more – history or fiction! To be blessed to weave them together is a priceless gift. 🙂

    Thank you for this post – it’s so nice to remember when I first fell in love with writing.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Gabrielle, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and the opportunity to travel back in time and relive special memories. Sounds like you have many. Like you, I love romance and history and enjoy combining the two in my stories as you do. A blessing indeed.

  • ELIZA E says:

    Love them all but I remember how wonderful the Grace Livingston Hill books were…so small they could fit in my purse..who need a kindle?

  • Marji Laine says:

    Oh I started falling in love with romance in high school when I discovered Phyllis A Whitney mysteries. Each one had such a sweet romance. In college, my grandmother introduced me to Grace Livingston Hill. LOVE HER! I even have a couple of first editions!