I met my American prince long ago. He’d traveled across the ocean to my native Holland and we romanced in Amsterdam. Later he proposed on a moonlit piazza in Rome, and the year after we were married in Kenya in a bizarre wedding ceremony.
Fully inspired by love and adventure, I began a career writing romance novels while traveling the world with my man. And here we are, many years, books and countries later.
In honor of Valentine’s Day I offer you a tale I wrote while we lived in Ghana, West Africa, while I was fully occupied writing Harlequin Romances.
ROMANCE, THE REAL DEAL
When I tell people I’m a writer, they look at me in awe. I like that. I know that by awe alone one cannot live, but I’ll take what I can get.
“Wow,” many of them will say. “I’ve never met a Real Writer! What kind of stuff do you write?”
Here is where it gets tricky.
“Fiction,” I say. This sounds good, and it’s the truth. And then I tell them a little more of the truth: “I write Harlequin Romances.”
The reactions to this will vary. In some people’s eyes the awe just slips away in a fast hurry.
“Oh,” they say, “I don’t read that kind of books.”
Maybe I’m imagining it, but I hear just the slightest bit of condescension in their voices. Of course, I might be wrong.
Then there’s the type of person whose eyes will light up. “Really? I love romance novels! I read them all the time!”
Now this is good news. I smile nicely.
“I love Nora Roberts,” the woman will elaborate. Okay, I have to admit here that I’d be happier if she’d said she loved Karen van der Zee, since that is my nom de plume for Harlequin, but the truth is that I’m not nearly as famous as Nora Roberts. As a matter of fact, I am not famous at all.
Fortunately, I do have fans of my own. Some of them even write me letters. My staunchest fan is a young woman who started emailing me from Morocco where she was a Peace Corps volunteer. She calls my novels ‘brain candy’. Now she’s in medical school in the States and she says she loves reading my romantic tales after she’s spent the day cutting up cadavers.
I can understand this, truly.
My mother-in-law enjoys my novels too, but admits skipping over the love scenes. I can understand that, too.
I have other fans. We live in Ghana, West Africa, as I write this, and the Ghanaian secretaries and receptionist at my prince’s office cannot get enough of my stories. The books make the rounds, even traveling to the company next door, and they all complain because so and so hasn’t passed on this or that title yet and do I have any more? It does my soul good, really.
Even Kofi, the hunky office driver is interested. “I have not seen any of your scripts for sale,” he tells me solemnly. I wonder if he has scoured the town for them. And why he uses the word ‘scripts.’
“Well,” I say, picturing him reading the love scenes (tasteful as they might be) “they’re not for sale everywhere.”
This is almost a lie. Many Harlequin novels are translated in over twenty languages, all the major ones including Japanese, and many minor ones such as Turkish, Icelandic, Czech. I kid you not. They are available in English here in Ghana, but I am not so sure I’m ready to have the office driver read the romantic stories written by the wife of the big boss. I can’t say why, after all the secretaries are reading them. I’m a bit shy perhaps.
All this interest and attention can go to one’s head, of course. Still, at the end of the day, where are all these fans? Not in my living room.
My husband is the one who’s there and has been for years. He just keeps coming home to me. This is a good thing, because without him I’d be pretty lonely, no matter how many fans I have.
Luckily, my prince is a good sport and jokes about being the inspiration for the sexy, handsome heroes in the thirty plus romances I’ve written. Am I going to deny it?
Not in this life time.
To tell you the truth, he’s a bigger hero than any of the ones I’ve made up. Here’s what happened just the other night:
We’re watching an American talk show, David Letterman, on television (his reach is far and wide). Dave’s next guest is a famous supermodel. You can well imagine: Tall, skinny, ravishing.
My man yawns. “One thing about supermodels,” says he, “is that I feel no desire, interest or compunction to stay up and watch them being interviewed.”
I look at him in surprise. “You mean you don’t want to watch a gorgeous, sexy woman in a skimpy dress?”
“Nope.” A short pause. “I’ve already got one. And I can see her naked.”
Wow. And this after thirty years of marriage, two pregnancies, three kids, one brain surgery and a broken leg (I’m still limping). It’s better than roses.
Is he a hero or what?
So there you have it, dear reader. Note that this was written some time ago, and I don’t live in Ghana anymore. I’m now in the US waiting for further adventures with my Valentine. Living abroad suits me well, so I’m looking forward to it. I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day and may you be well loved and adored.
Note: If you’re interested in reading the above title, click on the book cover and it will take you to Amazon.
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What does your real-deal romance look like? Do you have a funny story? Do entertain me!
After studying tons of literature at university, I did not want to see one serious, dark tale. I dug into romance like it was a box of chocolates. Up to now, I love a good romance book…it’s great escape, it makes me feel good, I smile when I tackle daily chores. You won’t believe this, your name, on a book, was in my home, a few years back. I thought, what a strange name for a Harlequin writer…usually they’re *English*, if you know what I mean. I was going to dig into it when someone borrowed it – permanently. Now… Read more »
Yes, the Internet is wonderful! How fun for you to have “known” me before!
(I’m pretty sure I’ve fixed my poor old semi-abandoned blog. If I haven’t, I’ll just have to wait for a kid or two to show me.)
My ‘real deal’ once did all of the dishes after driving home from work after a ten-hour day. He took an injured stray cat to the vet at midnight once when we were living in Cyprus because two little girls (and a sobbing woman) begged him to, and he occasionally rubs feet without being asked.
In Japan, some women have what they call ‘Harlequin chuudoku’, or ‘Harlequin poisoning’. I had a doctor friend who had this: she read three Harlequins a day. I haven’t read one in ages, but I’m betting I’d really enjoy yours.
While it’s true I haven’t read harlequin since high school, I am nonetheless in AWE of all your books 🙂 writing is writing, but you’re managed to get published. And I love the story of all the secretaries reading your books 🙂
So, basically I knew your books before I knew your blog? I always loved seeing a Dutch name on the cover of those books and would pick it out especially.
Congratulations on all your books and love story. I too have been married to a wonderful prince for 32 years. We met at our part-time workplace when I was 19 and he 20 and we got married a year later.
I loved reading this! And enjoyed how you wove the story of you and your valentine with the stories about your books. Now I’m off to order a book…! I love ALL genres 🙂
Karen, I married my French Valentine and what an adventure! Loved the line from the lady in med school and how she called your romance novels “brain candy.” Think I will order a few of those and send to my daughter in residency to lighten her day after her rotation in oncology in the children’s hospital!
I’m in awe of all your books. What an achievement. And translations into more than twenty different languages – awesome! One of my children’s books was translated into Irish and also into Scots Gaelic, sadly not for a massive audience! Another has been translated into French – that will published here in a couple of months. Only another seventeen languages and I’ll catch you up! Romance wise, I’ve got me a prince too. We got engaged within six weeks of meeting – my poor mother! – but we’re into our 27th year of marriage now. We’re both a bit battered… Read more »
Good for you! I think your writing career, and personal romance, sounds spectacular! And don’t feel bad – whenever I tell someone’s favorite writer is Stephen King I get the same condescending look.
My romance is probably more of an expat romance. Husband and I met and dated as young teenagers – he was my first ‘real’ boyfriend – right before he moved to Manila and I moved to Germany. Years later (6 or so) we were both back at University in the US, at different ends of the country, and he had a part-time night job as a security guard that included access to a WATTS line (free calls anywhere in the world – before the days when everyone had free long distance.) He would while away the long evenings thumbing through… Read more »
What a story! After all that work getting yourselves together in the same place, you must have known each other pretty well by the time you tied the knot.