- Addicted to heroines: Gwyn Cready
"Romances for the most part are written for women by women. That in itself is enough to make them the red-haired stepchild of the literary world. Worse, though, romances dare to suggest that a woman's physical and emotional needs are important -- in fact, important enough to be the core of a story. That makes them very outré."
Gwyn Cready, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is talking about just how far the American romance novel has come since those days of dime-store bodice-rippers.
And Cready should know: The author of five romance novels has also won the romance-writing community's equivalent of an Academy Award, the RITA, for her Seducing Mr. Darcy.
Even seated as she is in a Downtown Starbucks, the dazzle of Cready's easy smile is rivaled only by the huge rocks on her fingers. She notes that romance novels continue selling extraordinarily well even as the genre is finally breaking free of its bad reputation.
"[They're] the ultimate story of female empowerment," she says. "The heroine always triumphs. A number of scholars have suggested that romance novels helped ignite the sexual revolution for women, and, anecdotally, I have heard many women say they learned a lot about sex from romances."
One such scholar, literature professor Pamela Regis, even wrote a book called A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Meanwhile, this year Yale University offered a seminar called "Reading the Historical Romance." And let's not forget those numbers: Some 74.8 million Americans read a romance in 2008, and romance sales topped $1.36 billion in 2009, according to the group Romance Writers of America.
But Cready has never been driven by money. "I always loved writing, and I'm a huge reader," says the Mount Lebanon High graduate. "But it took my sister's unexpected death at 31 for me to realize that one doesn't get forever to chase one's dreams, and if there was something I wanted to do, I should do it."
Cready responded as pluckily as one of her heroines. "Within a month of her death, I'd begun [my first book], booked a trip for my family to England and Scotland, and asked for a better job at work."
Though it took six years more to actually get published, Cready boasts four critically acclaimed novels, with two more in the works. Meanwhile, her newest, Aching for Always (Pocket), continues her pursuit of the fantasy and time-travel themes lately prevalent on romance shelves. The story concerns a modern-day map-maker named Josephine "Joss" O'Malley and Hugh Hawksmoor, an 18th-century English navy captain who has time-traveled to contemporary Pittsburgh.
It's not the first time Cready has used her hometown as a main setting. Reading any of her books is practically a where's-where of Pittsburgh locations, from Mount Washington to Mount Lebanon; it's as if the Chamber of Commerce paid this woman to name-drop. But not so, Cready says.
"Romance can be found where you look for it," she says. "I just happen to be someone who views Pittsburgh through the lens of a great admirer."
Then there are her sex scenes.
"Yes," she laughs, "everyone teases me about them. I don't think of sex scenes as embarrassing. I think of them as empowering, so I don't mind the teasing at all.
"My husband is my first reader. He's very helpful. He reads my stuff on the bus on the way to work, putting question marks next to confusing parts, smiley faces next to where he laughed and usually something like 'You whore!' next to the sexy bits. But, of course, that only means I nailed it."
Aching for Always launch party with Gwyn Cready 7 p.m. Tue., Oct. 12. Mount Lebanon Public Library, 16 Castle Shannon Blvd., Mount Lebanon. Free. 412-531-1912