Monday, December 8, 2008

The Benefits of Dreaming Big

Amazing. Just a couple of years ago, I would never have believed that I'd be in this picture. And yet there I was on Saturday, signing my books alongside the lovely Marie Force and Robin Kaye at the B&N in Baltimore's inner harbor (and by the way, Robin and Marie, you guys are SO much fun, and I'm so glad I got to hang out with you!). It was a little slow, since it was windy and freezing outside (and eventually, snowing), but I don't think I could ever be bored in company like that. If ever there were two women born to write witty contemporary romance, it's Marie and Robin. The laughter kept me warm. Which is good, since we were seated very near the front doors. That's me on the right, with the big smile and the frozen cleavage, shortly before I mooched Robin's scarf.

Casa Babes rock even more in person. DC is going to be a blast this year!

But anyway, as I sat there on Saturday, sampling our buffet of Hershey's kisses and dishing about everything from writer's block to the horrors of pubescent girls to hot Kiwis, I looked around at the shelves and stacks of books, and the beautiful pile of books in front of me. And I realized that this was a big event for me in a lot of ways. It was my very first booksigning, which was huge, of course. But it also marked what a very long way I've come. Today, I'm a published author. But it all started when I was just a sickly little girl, laid up in bed with her nose stuck in a book.

Everyone's romance with Romance started somewhere. With me, it was early, and no wonder. As a child, I was pretty well stuck with living in my imagination. I was a severe asthmatic even as a toddler, often dependent on medicine to breathe normally all the way through high school. Add to that substantial environmental allergies, life-threatening food allergies (nuts), and the simple fact that we lived in Northern New York (otherwise known as the mold and pollen capitol of the universe), and my health as a child was at best precarious, at worst frightening. In kindergarten, a lung nearly collapsed from pneumonia. I was on a first name basis with all of the nurses on the children's floor at the hospital. I'm still amazed that my parents (my mom, thankfully, also a nurse) had two more kids after me. Because I was, in a word, a mess.

But I dreamed big. I could only run in my imagination, but I was reading at a fourth grade level by the time I was four years old. In retrospect, it seems only fair that God gave me something I could do in my massive amounts of spare time. I actually remember the moment of discovery, when I was three, that I could read...and I do mean "discovery," because I never had to try. It was more just realizing the ability was there. Strange but true. Anyway, I remember picking up a book of Disney stories (which I, as a major packrat, still have), opening it to a random page, and realizing that the markings on the page all made sense. It was a story! And I could read it! It was as though a thousand doors were flung wide all at once, and the burst of wonder and joy I felt in that instant has resonated through my life to this day. I might not have been able to play in the snow or jump in piles of crisp Fall leaves without winding up gasping for air, but from then on, I had a way to have adventures that were even better. Is it any wonder I gravitated to fantasy and tales of the supernatural? If my mind was going to escape the confines of the house for a while, I loved it best when it was a grand and fantastic journey. Still do, in fact.

And so it went, until eventually, inevitably, I found Romance. My mom, a certified Romance junkie, had gone out and splurged on A Knight in Shining Armor by Judith McNaught, newly released in hardcover. I was a sixth grader, already a precocious reader and completely intrigued by the premise of the new book in the house. A modern-day heroine and a medieval knight? Time travel? Happily ever after? I had to read it. My mom, bless her, was happy to share. And that was it for me. Once you get to fill in the blanks of all your childhood fairy tales, I don't think you ever really look back. And even then, I remember thinking, "Maybe I could write a book like this someday."

That's where my writing comes from. Those little girls, the pale kid with an inhaler in one hand and Grimm's Fairy Tales in the other, and the shy, dorky pre-teen with a poodle perm and a copy of Julie Garwood's latest historical, have kept me writing from the heart...and they got me all the way to that booksigning on Saturday, healthy, less dorky (on the outside, at least), and surrounded by new journeys I had put to paper all on my own. It's been a long road, for sure, with hopefully a long way to go yet, but I can't help but think that given her druthers, the little girl I was would have been thrilled to end up right where I am.

Sometimes, it just hits you. And it's amazing.

Now it's your turn, readers and writers: when did the romance with Romance begin for you? have a wonderful week!



  1. What a lovely story Kendra I too have always been an avid reader I have always been a big girl so to speak and so stayed at home a lot and yes read although I didn't start reading romance till I was in high school and then only Mills & Boon which were a lot tamer than they are now until I was about 19 or 20 and my Mum gave me a copy of Rosemary Rogers Sweet Savage Love to read and I haven't stopped since, they totally take me to such wonderful places and I have such wonderful adventures.
    Thank You Ladies for the great times I have had I have your first two books on the TBR pile and am very much looking forward to reading them.

    Have Fun

  2. Wow, Kendra, I never would've suspected that you had a sickly past. Other than your mention of the nut allergy at lunch, you'd never know! Why are you not 300 pounds from being in bed half your life? LOL

    My love affair began with Danielle Steel as a child and graduated to Nora Roberts as an adult. Like you, it only took a few to set me off on this journey of wanting to do what Nora does!

    It was so great to meet you and to spend time with you and Robin, even if we were FREEZING!

  3. Hi Helen! I still have to read that RR book. Everyone seems to love her! Anything I read was a lot more interesting (and a lot less trouble) than my escapades in high school...I probably should have stayed home more often and read at that point;-) We're all so glad that you're one of us bookish girls!

    Hi Marie! I know, I had a great time too, even though it seriously took me the rest of the evening to warm up. I discovered the wonders of Nora a little later the beginning, I was all about Julie Garwood and Johanna Lindsey. I like my heroes in kilts and breeches, LOL.

    I had allergy shots for years, so by the time junior high rolled around I managed to be active as long as I had my inhaler, like, RIGHT there. Sheer determination to be normal, I think, though I puffed on that thing as often as Mikey in Goonies. I figure skated and was a cheerleader. But even before that, I'm pretty sure I didn't become Da Blob because man, that asthma medication WIRES you. I have to use it so rarely now that I forget what it was like, but my body isn't used to it anymore, so when I get a nasty cold that heads into my lungs or something and have to take it the albuterol jitters can keep me up for hours. Not the most pleasant thing, but it does stop the wheezing!

  4. I noticed the cleavage right away when I checked out Marie's blog last night, and have been intending to rag on you about it. What are you trying to look like? A sexy romance writer???? LOL!!! I know you all had a blast even if it was enough to freeze your toes off.

    Glad your allergies don't incapacitate you anymore, but suddenly discovering that you could read must have been quite an experience. Trust me, the rest of us didn't have it quite so easy!

    My romance with romance began in my head, interestingly enough. I found plenty of books I liked, but my fantasies were always better because they were so much more personalized.
    Now I write them down.

  5. LOL, Cheryl, I KNEW you would be the one to notice the cleavage, and I was waiting for it:-)

  6. LOL!!! You guys already know me too well, and we haven't even met fact to face! I'm really looking forward to DC this summer. We'll have a ball!

  7. Wow Kendra! You just wrote the story of my life!

    I had it all, the asthma, the allergies. I used to even give myself shots of adrenaline chloride (way back when) If I needed a 5th shot, it was time for a trip to the emergency room.

    I was so sick in 8th grade, I didn't even get to go to school! I learned two things that year, I learned that I was allegic to my allergy shots, and why my handwriting was so bad. It was terrible because the adrenaline had me shaking all the time, all my writing looked like I'd done it on a speeding bus.

    Now my Dr. gets mad because I refuse to go to the hospital. I'm always saying "Well, my lips aren't blue yet, so I'm good. When my lips start turning blue, I'll go to the ER."

    Who knew we had so much in common?

    I remember Jennifer Weiner saying that all agents and editors should hit the middle schools and find the kids who were either social outcasts or sickly ones with the inhalers and sign them. Those are the people who become fabulous authors. She was so right.

    Robin-> who has been reading since literally before she could remember; and grew up with her nose in a book and her mouth wrapped around an inhaler.

  8. Kendra, your story is amazing! Thank you for sharing something so personal and inspiring. Books truly are the greatest escape and joy. It is very interesting what you say about reading. My sister and I - both avid readers - have often discussed with bafflement how neither of us remember 'learning' to read! I suppose we must have at some point, but it is like we just opened books and went at it without ever struggling. I can remember reading really advanced stuff when I was very young. Weird.

    The book-signing sounds like a huge success. Selling books is terrific, obviously, but the comaraderie has got to be the best part! Hey Cindy, you still up for a joint signing in our neck of the woods?!

  9. Oh, the things I'm learning today!

    First of all, Kendra I think the story of discovering you could read is the most precious thing I ever heard. Touching and miraculous.

    Robin, I just finished Romeo, Romeo yesterday. It's wonderful, wonderful!--and as I read it, I thought to myself, this lady has experienced pneumonia.

    As for me, I was hooked on science fiction. The few romances I read I thought were stupid until, in my twenties, I read my first Georgette Heyer. I devoured her books and read them over and over and over. When they fell apart I bought new ones.

  10. great post and what a cute pic! I'm sure you all had a blast. So fun to get to know each other in person, too.

  11. OMG, Robin, between the Catholic school experience, the health issues, and the new fixation with Ben Taylor you've just given me (that picture...*drools*), we were apparently separated at birth! I LOVE what Jennifer Weiner said, thanks for sharing that:-) I think she's right. The law that goes, "And the uncool shall become cool" was one I wish I'd known about when I was younger.

    I avoid the doctor as much as possible too! I feel like I had my fill growing up, I guess, so I usually have to be dragged. Ugh on the jitters...I remember when things got really bad I'd have to go on theophilin (I think that's what it was called), and I HATED it, because I would get so twitchy I'd want to crawl out of my own skin, and the heart would race for hours. I look at druggies and am dumbfounded that anyone does that to themselves on purpose.

  12. Sharon, isn't it funny how there are a number of us who came to reading that way? I guess some things are just meant to be! It was a very valuable gift to have, and I've never stopped being grateful for it.

    The booksigning was lots of fun. I wouldn't do one by myself, but I highly recommend doing it with a buddy or two!

  13. I am now officially concerned--ROBIN is MINE. WE were conjoined twins separated at birth! LOL, Kendra, hands off! (And if you start moving in on my second husband Stephen the domestic god, I might have to hide your inhaler.)

  14. MM, I'm glad you liked the story. That moment is one that has always stayed with me, and I absolutely refuse to get rid of the book that started it all, though it's a little ragged anymore! Like most packrats, I am ridiculously sentimental:-)

    I used to read Ray Bradbury, and really enjoyed him. I think I am one of the only romance writers on Earth who hasn't read Georgette Heyer...I really have to remedy that!

  15. Thanks, Malena! Meeting Robin and Marie was the thing I most looked forward to, and as I'd suspected, it was far and away the best part!

  16. Same here on asthma inhalers and allergy meds. Never minded asthma attacks as an adult because the ER we went to had some totally hot male nurses. :}

    You all look like you had a blast!

    I knew I always wanted to write and did from the time I could hold a pencil.

    Thank goodness for parents and teachers who encouraged my imagination. And even then my books had a HEA, so I guess it's been forever.


  17. I was always a reader, and started reading romance probably in junior high with the YA variety--Sweet Valley High, and the Silhouette Young Love, and all those... A high school classmate introduced me to grown-up romances and I've been reading them ever since ;)

  18. LOL, actually, Marie, if you guys just wanna pretend I'm an irritating, non-conjoined sibling and let me hang out, occasionally smacking me around to let me know I'm loved, I'll abandon my plans to start stalking Stephen:-)

  19. Wow, Linda, another one for the young 'n' wheezy casa babes! Apparently, asthma sufferers have advanced brains. Gotta be the steroids:-)

    I still remember my first attempt at romance writing. I was probably in 5th grade, and there was a vampire in it. And a waterpark. And, uh, it was absolutely terrible. *shakes head*

  20. Congrats on the booksigning. It sounds like you had a great time and thanks for the picture.

    My first real brush with Romance was definitely Georgette Heyer. Otherwise I read mostly action adventure. She was an eye opener to me.

  21. flchen1, OMG, Sweet Valley High!, everyone had those. Of course, at that point I had already graduated to the, um, "uncensored" romances, and thought they were too tame. I actually remember skimming through one, like, "well, what kind of love scenes do they do in these?" *snerk* I was destined for disappointment. I used to love Christopher Pike, but I was always left feeling like everything could have been seriously enhanced with a good love scene or two. Which was probably an indication of my future career path:-)

  22. Hi Michele! Thanks! And AGH, another reminder on the Georgette Heyer! I need to go to the bookstore.

  23. Hey Kendra--

    What a cute picture! You guys look like you are have so much fun!

    I think my romance love affair (and it was a very secret affair, the most covert op I've ever embarked on) began when I was 12 or so, sneaking my mom's romance book. Not sure which one it was, but whenever I see her bookshelf, more than likely it was Jane Feather or Nora Roberts. I was far too young to be reading them, but they always made for funny stories at sleepovers, hahaha.

  24. Hi Danielle!

    We DID have fun:-) I hear you on your "secret op"...I snuck peeks at mom's books for a little while before finally just being like, "okay, I'm going to read the whole thing." And luckily, she didn't beat my butt for it, probably figuring that imaginary romance was better than a lot of things I could be interested in. plus, it was a shared love, so we could talk about the books. We still do.

  25. Great tale, Kendra! I can totally relate to that little girl and her love of books. Amazing things happen when we least expect them. I also loved A Knight in Shining Armor, by the way.