One summer, when I was about sixteen and out of books to read, I happened across a heavy brown paper bag full of books. I knew they were my mom’s romance novels and that she sat on the sofa reading them every night while the family watched television. Once, when I asked her if they were any good, she told me they were, but that I was too young to read them. With a sigh I’d gone back to reading the teen paperback novels that I constantly swapped with my friends.
The problem was, I had read all the books my friends had given me that summer. I’d also read through every one of the books my grandma had on her little shelf, and to make matters worse, the school library was closed, and our small rural town didn’t have a public one at that time. I was out of luck, or so it seemed.
This was how the school break always went for me, but when I ran out of books that sixteenth summer, I thought of my mom’s bag of romance novels. I decided for myself that I was old enough to read them. Of course, I wasn’t brave enough to ask her permission. What would I do if she said no? I would be left with nothing to read, and we all know that would have been a teenage tragedy. Instead of taking that risk, I started sneaking those romance novels out of the bag one at a time. I only read the ones I’d already seen mom read and I was always careful to put them back before she noticed they were gone.
About four years later when I found myself living overseas and again in need of good books to read, I found a friend who, just like my mom, had bags and bags of romance novels. The best part was, she loaned them out freely. We did have a tiny library there with a very small selection, but I found it was easier to “check out” books from this friend who literally had bags and bags of them. Plus, she was a writer like me and hoped to write a book herself someday, so we always had lots to talk about as we traded books back and forth. Sadly, I’ve lost touch with my book-loving friend over the years and I don’t know if she ever got around to writing that book, but I did.
It was these memories of book-addicted women and their bags of romance novels, and me sneaking them away from my mom as a teenager, that inspired me to give Joy Talley, my main character in Waking Up Joy, a romance novel addiction. When Joy finds out that her niece, Ruthie, also has an affinity for sneaking off to read romance novels, it only makes Joy smile. I got the same reaction from my mom when I finally confessed my book-snatching problem to her not long ago. She didn’t mind, and in fact she loved that my summer of snatching her romance novels helped inspired parts of Waking Up Joy.
(This post originally appeared on FreshFiction.)
Tina Ann Forkner is the author of five novels, including Waking Up Joy, Rose House, and The Real Thing. When she isn’t writing or traveling with her husband, she is a substitute teacher in Cheyenne, Wyoming where she has lived for twenty years. Tina is the mom/stepmom of three children, all in college, and the author of The Real Thing.