Duran Duran, Judith McNaught, and Me

by Eva Leigh

I can’t remember the first romance novel I ever read. I wish I could say that it has been forever branded into my memory, and after reading its opening lines, I knew right then that I wanted to write romance. But the truth is that those first few titles are lost to me, part of a montage sequence set to 80s pop wherein my friend, Adrienne, starting lending me her mother’s romance novels in high school. The montage contains scenes of me reading romances under my desk in Physical Science class, or staying up late until my head spun from eye strain. That imagined film montage would also contain my early—and likely laughable—attempts to write my own romance novels.

Writing wasn’t new to me. I’d begun writing in elementary school: short stories, sketches, even novels. Some of my earliest efforts included writing fan fiction (before I ever knew there was such a thing as fan fiction) about the New Wave rock band Duran Duran.

So it wasn’t entirely out of character for me to try my hand at writing romance novels. But that’s one of the unique aspects of genre fiction—not only does it engage the reader’s imagination, it can also encourage the thought, “If this person can write and publish a book, why not me?” It’s much more interactive than canonical literature, which frequently demands study but not engagement.

Perhaps, arrogantly, I thought I could do better. Though I loved them, there were aspects of 80s romances by such authors as Johanna Lindsay, Iris Johansen, Jude Devereaux, and Judith McNaught that bothered me. The power dynamic between the hero and the heroine often struck me as unbalanced, with the hero controlling every aspect of the heroine’s life, including sexual knowledge of her own body.

I dreamt of adventures. Not ones where I was rescued by an extraordinary hero, but one where I was just as capable and extraordinary as a man. Rather than being fought for by the hero, I thought it was more romantic to fight side-by-side with the hero. Not only literally, but metaphorically. If genre fiction serves as wish fulfillment, mine was to be the kind of courageous woman who leaps from rooftop to rooftop, never doubting her agility. And I wanted my readers to gain that same sense of empowerment.

The very first romance I ever attempted to write, the incomplete The Pirate Princess, featured a woman captaining her own pirate ship and selling the hero into indentured servitude.

Currently, I’ve been published for ten years, with over twenty works of romance under two different pen names. My pseudonym Zoë Archer specializes in action and adventure-filled romances, where the heroines are clever, competent, and levelheaded in the most extreme circumstances. Recently, as Eva Leigh, I’ve written a series entitled The Wicked Quills of London, set during the Regency period. These heroines might not know their way around a pistol, but they do something equally remarkable: they make their livings from writing. They are given a voice.

And that’s what romance has come to signify for me—giving women the opportunity to fight and speak for themselves.

________________________________________________________________

Eva Leigh is the pen name of a RITA® Award-nominated romance author who writes novels chock-full of smart women and sexy men. She enjoys baking, Tweeting about boots, and listening to music from the 80s. Eva and her husband live in Southern California.You’ll find out more about Eva Leigh on her website.

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