I Was Addicted to Romance Novels
Image: Elaina Burdo / Courtesy of Tyndale

I knew from the time I was a child that I would be a writer. I grew up in a Christian home in Pleasanton, a small town east of San Francisco. My mother, a nurse, kept a diary; my father, while recuperating from a heart attack, wrote two nonfiction books on police work. Unsure what I would write, I headed off to college and majored in English with an emphasis on creative writing and a minor in journalism.

Rick and I married soon after I finished college. My in-laws were voracious fiction readers. My parents read too, always nonfiction, anything from building a house to camping and vegetable gardening. Rick’s mom gave me mysteries, and gothic, historical, and contemporary romances. Soon after marrying Rick, I became hooked on romance.

We tend to frame addiction as substance abuse, but most anything that consumes our attention and energy or serves as an escape can be an addiction. Mine was to steamy historical romances. Though not as explicit as what’s on the market today, the romances of the 1970s and ’80s left me “high.” Who doesn’t want to experience falling in love over and over again? The publishing industry was experiencing a boom, and stores of all kinds had shelves full of romance novels.

When I miscarried, I dealt with the grief by reading.

While Rick completed his military service, I worked as a secretary and read. When he got an early-out to return to college, I worked and read while he went to classes and studied. When I miscarried, I dealt with the grief by reading. When I became pregnant again, the doctor and Rick encouraged me to stay home. Reading romances no longer filled the hunger, so I started plotting a combination of my favorite genres and wrote my own “Western gothic romance.” The market was still booming, so my first book quickly found a home.

Coming out of a fantasy world wasn’t easy. I remember days when Rick would come home and ask, “Am I the good guy or bad guy today?”

Reading and writing romance became a way to survive the inner turmoil I felt but didn’t understand. The early years of marriage weren’t easy for either of us; reading and writing romances kept me from analyzing why and dealing with problems. Something was missing, and I didn’t know where to start looking for whatever was lost.

When Rick was offered a job in Southern California, he suggested I become a stay-at-home mom and full-time writer. I gladly agreed. We had two more children—a daughter and another son—and moved again to a bigger house in an affluent neighborhood. Our children entered preschool, then kindergarten, which gave me even more time to read and write. Work became an obsession.

The seriousness of my problem hit when Rick said, “If you had a choice between me and the children or your writing, you’d choose writing.” That observation hurt—and was appallingly true. I thought, What is wrong with me that my priorities are so askew?

Rick and I had been going to a church, but Jesus had left the building. We didn’t hear the gospel preached. I had grown up in a Christian family and assumed that made me a Christian. Rick had never attended church, but soon found himself elected chairman of the board. What we both saw and heard during his board service was enough to send both of us running, not walking, from “church.”


Meanwhile, our marriage was falling apart. We thought being closer to family would help, but the only way to move to Northern California would be for Rick to start his own business. So we sold our home and gave away everything that wouldn’t fit in a small rental. Rick headed north and moved in with his parents while looking for an office. I stayed in Southern California until the children finished the school year. Only one rental was available, and Rick grabbed it. It didn’t take long to find out we had landed in between two Christian families.

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I Was Addicted to Romance Novels