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Heckler Criticizes Author J.K. O'Hanlon for 'Just' Writing Romance; Her Answer: “Hell, Yeah, and Proud of It!”

When a heckler at a book panel discussion chastised romance writer newbie, J.K. O'Hanlon for "just writing romance," the author's first instinct was to convert back to her life as an attorney and put the man under cross-examination.

But instead, she says, she understands all too well the man's comment, and admits that, at first, writing romance novels did seem as though it would be easy.

O'Hanlon is author of "Objection Overruled," debuting from Loose Id and winning this year's best Contemporary Single Title for the Romance Writers of America's 2013 Golden Heart.

"When I decided to take down my lawyer shingle and write, one of the reasons I chose romance was that I thought it would be easy. After all, there's a formula: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, they live happily ever after," O'Hanlon says. "Two books later, and well into my third book, I've learned my lesson. Writing romance isn't formulaic or easy. For those who've never tried it, though, that phrase 'it's just a romance' sometimes tumbles too easily from their lips."

With no delusions now that it's easy, she writes romance, O'Hanlon says, because a great love story is transforming. "Maybe not everyOne Dreams of finding a soul mate, but most people do," she says. "A romance raises our spirits and reminds us of love's transforming power over men and women, as individuals and as a couple. It brings happiness to many people's lives."

The genre has certainly pique an interest with millions. Romance fiction sales are estimated at $1.350 billion for 2013 and 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008, according to the Romance Writers of America. That's more than three times the sales in literary fiction, says O'Hanlon.

But there's no need for any writer in any genre to feel threatened, O'Hanlon believes. "There is not a finite amount of reading that can occur in the universe. A romance lover can also buy a classic or a mystery or a high fantasy. Many do, including me," she says.

O'Hanlon's Midwest upbringing had her surrounded by all kinds of books, including romance. "My mother read every single Harlequin romance written for probably a 30-year time span, until her deteriorating vision moved her to audio books. Whether she was reading the latest romance or Moby Dick didn't matter squat to a 5-year old girl. My mom read and loved it with an unquenchable passion. She turned that book addiction over to both my sister and me, both of us becoming avid readers and writers of romance," O'Hanlon says.

"So when someone accuses me of writing 'just romance,' I tell them, 'Hell, yeah, and proud of it!'" O'Hanlon says.

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