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There was a time when I would not ever admit that I’d even read a romance novel.

I tried, really I did. Friends who loved Austen and Bronte would visit favorite characters and passages again and again. They would relate the stories to their own lives. They truly loved them. Me? I detested anything so steeped in gentile convention. Austen’s humor was lost on me. I jokingly called it Sense and Stupidity. I wasn’t even interested in Pride, Prejudice and Zombies…and I LOVE Zombies!

As a stay-at-home mom in the 90’s, I tried again. Fabio dominated the racks. It was all about knights and pirates and everyone was royalty. The snarky term was “bodice rippers.” So many variations on damsels in distress, lost fortunes, fake and real dukes. I wanted to escape of course, but I craved relatable, too! Would a character with a professional job be too much of a stretch? I’d had one!

Things change, thankfully. Romance is no exception. Harlequin Romance has an LGBT division and is part of HarperCollins. Fabio has been an Old Spice Guy. The self-publishing industry has given authors from many cultures the opportunity to write about love through the lens of their own experience. Their work gets to bypass “the slush pile” completely. It allows for niche writing and facilitates the rise of the break-out writer. There are conventions–complete with cosplay, podcasts, premium content, online and VR experiences. Social Media gives readers and writers an opportunity to connect on a deeply personal level.

For me, the books are just better. The characters are more fully drawn; with interesting careers and complicated personal lives. They are smart! The object of affection is destined to be a part of a life; not the pinnacle. There is life beyond love in today’s romance novels! The plot lines are believable and, finally, relatable. Historical fiction is getting it’s facts straight! I feel like Romance has grown up. It inspires, like literature inspires.

Sonali Dev hosts Lit with Love, our show dedicated to Romance and Relationships. She’s the curator of my romance reading. The author of several Romance novels, she brings a writer’s insight to her program. Her writing style is lush and magical. When it all becomes as chaotic as a Bollywood movie, Sonali’s background in architecture reveals itself. The structure is supporting a palace of drama and emotion!

Take a look at Sonali’s web site sometime. Not only will you get to know her better, you could learn some Hindi! The site had a wonderful glossary. It’s been an indispensable resource to me while wandering Chicago’s Little Mumbai neighborhood. It would be really embarrassing to confuse kurti and chapati!

Not that I ever did that:).

–M. Sylvia Castle

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