When I was on maternity leave with my second child, I got the bright idea to read all the classic literature I'd missed in school. Don't get me wrong. I had an excellent education. But I went through high school during the '60s, which meant that instead of Silas Marner, I read Animal Farm. Instead of Dickens, Ralph Ellison. I managed to avoid most English Victorian authors, as well as all the French and Russians. College was no better. For some reason, the administrators at nursing school didn't think I needed classic literature to give shots and read EKGs. So there I was at 30, with two children and a bachelor of science, and I'd never read Hardy or Dostoyevski or Maugham. I had six weeks before having to return to work. I would do it now. I would be enlightened and uplifted.
My first mistake was to start with Proust. I did choose Swann in Love, which is the length of your average sweet Harlequin. The problem was, Proust didn't consider a sentence worth its while unless it had at least eight commas, and I only had 15-minute windows in the bathroom to get any reading done before my three-year-old started pounding on the door.
So much for Proust. I never got farther than the first page. Then one night as I was feeding my baby, Anna Karenina came on TV. Great, I thought. Cliffs Notes. I can wet my feet with the movie and then dive into the book. By the end of the two hours, I crossed Russians off my list, too. Hardy and Maugham joined them within the week.
I mean, come on. These were all stories of people who were miserable, made everybody else miserable, and then died. Really? I was a trauma nurse. I was a mother of two children. I was matriarch of a large Irish family. Why did I need to read about Anna Karenina's emotional turmoils? I had enough of my own. Why would I want to spend all that time with these people? They acted just like my family members, who were always calling with problems. And as for Mr. Hardy, don't even get me started on his view of women. By the time I got through that first book, I wanted to dig him up and kick him.
I've since decided that classics are made to be read in college, when you're not in the real world yet, and all that angst is still romantic. Believe me. By the time you're juggling children, work, bills, and spouses, it no longer seems poetic to suffer. What you're looking for is relief.
Which was how I came to write romance. It's not so much that it's an escape from my real life, although it is. There were days when writing romance was the only way I could make good things happen to good people.
It isn't that I envy my characters or unfavorably compare my husband to my heroes (he was kind of amazed that they tended to resemble him). It is that in these books, no matter what my characters go through, things always work out in the end. There is always hope that things will get better.
And when you spend your days battling drunks and holding dying children, you really need that. Heck, you need it if you spend your day battling utility companies and holding crying children. We all need something that will lift us from the drudgery, to make us feel better about ourselves and our lives. Romance does that. And that is why I write it.
New York Times bestselling author Eileen Dreyer published her first romance in 1986. Since then she's gone on to publish 35 more romance novels; her first historical romance, Barely a Lady, is coming from Grand Central Publishing.