The way I moved through sections of the bookstores and libraries I frequented seemed like a natural progression at the time, but looking back on it, I can see how my younger self was heavily influenced by the tastes and actions of the people around me.My dad was a fan of mysteries and sci-fi/fantasy, and when I first got bored with the children’s section of the library, it was his books I borrowed. My mom didn’t have a lot of time to read, and when she did she preferred non-fiction that didn’t tend to interest me, so I stuck to dad’s shelves and piles. When school friends brought in romance novels stolen from their mom’s bookshelves, those stories were treated like something lurid and forbidden, and they only ever read aloud the most explicit of the sex scenes they found. To baby me, there was no appeal in a book revolving solely around sex. Since I didn’t have any romance readers in my life to correct my misconceptions, I didn’t pick up a romance novel until after I graduated college when I began working at Borders.
Over the two and a half years I worked at Borders, I held a lot of positions—bookseller, training supervisor, merchandising supervisor, and inventory supervisor. By necessity, I had to put my hands on almost every book in the store and recommending titles and authors in the romance section. I had to read the backs of the books so I knew what was available and what authors to start with if someone was looking for contemporary vs. shapeshifter paranormal. It was only a matter of time before something caught my eye strongly enough to intrigue me to buy a copy and take it home. The first to hit that mark was What I Did For Love by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
The story was captivating, the writing was great, and the characters were full of wonderful depth. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it became my gateway into romance. It also became the comfort I needed when my own romantic life took a kamikaze nosedive. When my marriage collapsed and my life irrevocably changed, I needed something that would give me optimism. I needed a book the was full of belief in love and happily ever afters. Did I love every book I read? Of course not, but more often than not, romance gave me what I needed to cope with a period of serious emotional upheaval, and I’ve been a devotee of the genre ever since.
As an author, I have included a romantic plot or subplot in every book I’ve written so far. The push and pull of two people figuring out who they are as a “we” instead of as singular “me’s” is fascinating, and weaving that through a wider, more global plot makes it even more intense. Romance is far from necessary for a story to be compelling or endearing, but I like the intimacy it can add to a story. I also make an attempt to show all of the different ways romance can develop—and the different people it can happen to.
Nothing creates more empathy than love. Romance as a genre has the potential to create incredible change in hearts and minds by showing people the hearts and souls of those they consider different from themselves. This is why it’s so important to expanding the genre and make it more inclusive. Although strides have been made toward this end, many of the books telling the stories of queer couples or other minority groups are still considered too niche and kept to the outskirts of the genre and the publishing world. Myself and others are making an effort to tell those stories and include them in our worldview, but discoverability for those books is hard. Convincing readers to cross outside of what they consider “relatable” is even harder sometimes.
Romance was a balm for me in a time I truly needed it. It can be the same for so many others, but first we need to let writers not only tell currently marginalized stories but find a way to bring those into the spotlight and make them accessible to more people.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Erica Cameron is the author of books for young adults including the Ryogan Chronicles, the Assassins duology, and The Dream War Saga. She also co-authored the Laguna Tides novels with Lani Woodland. An advocate for asexuality and emotional abuse awareness, Erica has also worked with teens at a residential rehabilitation facility in her hometown of Fort Lauderdale.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Know your enemy if you want to survive…
The only way for Khya to get her brother back alive is to kill Varan—the immortal ruler who can’t be killed. But not even Varan knew what he was doing when he perverted magic and humanity to become immortal.
Khya’s leading her group of friends and rebels into the mountains that hold Varan’s secrets, but if risking all their lives is going to be worth it, she has to give up everything else—breaking the spell that holds her brother captive and jeopardizing her deepening relationship with Tessen, the boy who has been by turns her rival and refuge since her brother disappeared. Immortality itself might be her only answer, but if that’s where Khya has to go, she can’t ask Tessen or her friends to follow.