All I Used to Need Was Love

Read this inspiring essay from bestselling romance novelist Debbie Macomber, who finds her writing needs aging gracefully as she does.
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I started writing and selling romance fiction in the early years of the genre. The plots involved a relationship between a man and a woman who fell in love and overcame obstacles on the road to happily ever after. Most of the stories had either a single point of view (the heroine’s) or maybe two (hers and the hero’s), and there was very little in the way of subplots. In those days, all I, like my readers, needed was love.

Oh, how times have changed.

In the 25 years since my first romance novel was published, the boundaries of the genre have expanded greatly. These stories began to include multiple viewpoints, subplots, mystery, suspense and all realms of the paranormal, from angels to vampires to shape-shifters. Of course, love remains the core element in these stories and always will.

My career as a writer started with category romances, which I wrote for both Harlequin and Silhouette. In my first connected series, I retold three classic fairy tales: “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Snow White.”

Later, in another of my series, came the tale of three sisters falling in love, but in addition to the romance I focused on their relationships with each other. From letters and other feedback, I discovered readers liked linked characters from book to book and elements beyond romance. The readers, like me, wanted more than love.

My first six-book series took place in Alaska and was published by Harlequin. It was so successful that I went on to write another one, this time a stand-alone series, The Heart of Texas. There was a mystery subplot that ran through all six books. A follow-up book, Promise, Texas, was my first New York Times bestseller.

As I grew older, my interests were changing. My children became adults, and I started meeting with other women my age, forging strong friendships in a weekly breakfast club. Then, as a first-time grandmother, I picked up knitting needles.

Those two factors influenced subsequent books, because, as so often happens, real life inspired fiction. I wrote the novel Thursdays at Eight about a group of women who meet weekly. The story concerned four women of different ages, because age isn’t a barrier to becoming friends and because friendship is just as important as romantic love.

After I’d written the Alaska and Texas series, plus a trilogy about a town in North Dakota, reader mail poured in. It didn’t take much to convince me to tackle another series about a town in Washington called Cedar Cove. But this time, I’ve left the series open-ended. I’ll write Cedar Cove stories as long as I have stories to tell. I’ve added characters ranging in age from adolescence to retirement.

Each story in the Cedar Cove series has romance but also features other relationships, subjects and themes. The stories involve long-time friendships, troubled children, the loss of a child, a husband who disappears, aging parents. My readers tell me they feel as if the characters are their friends; they say there’s something comfortable about opening a book and finding people they know and a place they’ve visited.

Cedar Cove was meant to be a series from the start, but my Blossom Street series was one I didn’t plan. The first title, The Shop on Blossom Street, centers on a knitting class in which each member has a specific reason to make a baby blanket—a first-time grandmother, a woman struggling with infertility and a troubled street kid looking to fulfill her community service project. I wrote a sequel, and A Good Yarn was my first book to make The New York Times hardcover bestseller list.

Some people call these books women’s fiction. Others call them fiction with elements of romance. However you look at it, these stories reflect the growth of the genre and the expanding preferences of the women who read them. We all want romance, but we crave more, just as we do in life.

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