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Love is in the air. At least that’s what they say when all the retail shelves turn red and pink, and we pause for a minute among the frozen days of winter to spread love, turn shoeboxes into glitter unicorns, plan flirty date nights and find another reason to use that sugar cookie recipe from Christmas.
Last fall, as I was preparing for Chillers and Thrillers by Arkansas Authors, I found several romance novels written by Arkansans. And a few more well-known authors with Arkansas as the setting of their love story, which seems fitting since we are home to an illustrious town called Romance.
Thirty-nine million romance novels were sold in 2023, an increase of 52% over the previous year. Romance novels comprise the largest fiction writing section and made over $1.4 billion last year, including titles that tell a story of love, quick Harlequin novels or second-chance mysteries.
Let’s talk about romantic books with Arkansas flair.
Image used with permission from the author.
Arkansas author Delilah Dewey shares some insight into developing small town, cozy romances that are clean and introduce readers to more of Arkansas.
Authors must find the sweet spot between what they love to write and what their readers love to read, then pleasantly surprise everyone. Creating and sharing relatable romances inspires me to follow through with these promises.”
“I struggled with the location of my first series for years and ended up with three books that needed something, perhaps a miracle—maybe a shredder. Then it came to me. The river inspires me; thus, my most important character was born, Riverbend Falls. I rewrote my novels with the wonders of the Ozarks surrounding my characters. I dropped them right into the new setting, the places that filled my days with delight, and my series came to life as if I planned it all along.”
“With all the rich traditions and histories in Arkansas, it’s a guarantee any author can find grist for their creative mills. I love describing the scenery in my stories because some readers will never know the peace of an Arkansas sunrise or sunset unless a creative author introduces it. And I want to share the love that’s easy to develop among Arkansas scenery.”
“I’m a hopeless romantic. I believe love should be butterflies and tingles. Beautiful and messy. Worth every second. I work hard to create characters so nuanced and sensual that their wholesome values are natural and feel true. I want my readers to feel loved and respected and still get to the love story they are looking for.”
Jenny B Jones writes mysteries and young adult fiction. Many know her books that fall into the small-town romantic comedy category, including There You’ll Find Me, the story behind the 2021 movie Finding You. It’s a perfect rom-com for a Galentine’s gathering.
Courting Miss Hattie by Pamela Morsi uses Arkansas rice farming as its backdrop for a steamy romance. Readers host a love/hate relationship with the characters, and those unfamiliar with Arkansas get an agricultural education. While the book received a RITA award, it comes with a little “steamy” warning! Simple Jess will also capture Arkansas readers as Ozark vocabulary paints a beautiful narrative.
And when a great man says something smart like that, a smart woman just shuts up.”
― Laura Castoro, Icing on the Cake
Laura Castoro is renowned for encouraging new writers and compelling workshop presentations, but her romantic stories are award-winning and captivating. While her K-9 Rescue series under the pen name D.D. Ayers is her most famous work, the book Icing on the Cake, is a light-hearted exploration of love through grief and still trying to chase what’s in your heart.
Barbara Youree is an Arkansas-based author using her retirement years to continue to bring us compelling love stories and historical fiction. Sometimes, the two meld together in a captivating, page-turner like Reaching for Independence. Her Renaissance Brides series first captured readers as 17th-century Italy came alive through four European families during one of the most complex parts of their history.
Sandra D. Bricker is the author of a handful of books that are so easy to climb through that you could read one every weekend in February. But her Love Finds You Series makes its way to create love around a campfire in Snowball, Arkansas. A city girl signs up for a camping trip with her church singles group, where the new “mountain man” plans the weekend. While captivated, she is curious if he could love her as is.
Heart 2 Heart is a collection of short stories from steamy romance novelist Carol Burnside. While most of her stories take place in Sweetwater Springs, a fictional town that could resemble most cities in Arkansas, this collection of flash fiction is works she used in research and fleshing out characters we may meet again.
Sometimes, we must lower the walls of our hearts to find what we are looking for. And that’s precisely what Dorothy Garlock weaves us into On Tall Pine Lake, a mystery, crime-solving novel with a bit of love along the banks of the river. While the location is a fictional town called Home, it sure does make us think of the Buffalo or Caddo Rivers; something about it resembles a fishing resort in Cotter on the banks of the White River.
Image used with permission from the author.
If you avoid romantic relationships or you’ve served your time, you might like the Cardboard Cottage series by Jane Elzey, where a husband always dies! Get lost with four friends on their adventures in Arkansas and overseas, where they somehow find themselves mixed up in mischief, but it’s never their fault!
Northwest Arkansas author Talya Boerner considers her second story, Gene Everywhere, a love letter to her late father-in-law. It tells his life story, his struggles with dementia, their journey of living together, and how the heart can endure the hard stuff when you shift your perspective.
I Love You as Big as Arkansas is a heart-warming board book that uses landmarks around the state to measure Mama’s Bears love whenever her cubs are around for adventures.
Love is always worth celebrating with children, spouses, friends and neighbors. And Arkansas’ winter season provides plenty of days to curl up with a good book with a background tapestry of romance in the Natural State.
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