Classes at South Eugene High School start at 8:30 am, but history teacher Anna Grace wakes up four and a half hours before the bell rings. In the dark, in a little nook in her house, she begins her day writing — and she’s writing about love.
When not teaching at SEHS, Grace is a Harlequin romance novelist. She’s been a writer her whole life and tells Eugene Weekly that she wrote her first romance novel when she was 11 at a Girl Scout camp. She wrote throughout her childhood, constructing short stories where her friends would fall in love with famous band members.
When she got to her 20s, she originally told herself she needed to become a serious writer, writing about serious things.
“I would start to write things and they would just come out as romances. This is just what I write. It’s very much the story that I need to tell,” she says.
She got her first novel published in 2018 by a small press that has since gone out of business, and in 2021 she got her first contract with Harlequin. So far she has published two books, Send Me and A Rancher Worth Remembering. A two-book contract turned into a five-book contract, and Grace’s lifelong passion for romantic storytelling is now a legitimate, award-winning career. Her novella Send Me won Top Pick at the Book Buyers Awards, meaning it was not only the best in its category but best book overall in the competition.
Before getting her first book published, Grace had already written seven novels but had been hesitant to share her writing with others. Despite being the highest-grossing literary genre, with a Book Ad Report estimating 2021 sales at $1.44 billion, romance novels get a lot of judgment.
In Grace’s opinion, a lot of the judgment is based on sexist stereotypes and outdated societal views. “We are no longer into books where there’s no consenting sex,” Grace says. “That’s not something that we as a society will stand for anymore in our novels or in our real lives.”
And of course, there are books of all types that still contain story arcs and characters that might not be viewed as modern, but overall Grace argues that romance has adapted and kept up with progressing standards.
“If I was writing mysteries people wouldn’t stop to say, ‘Well, are you perpetuating stereotypes?’” Grace says.
For Grace, romance is the genre of hope. It’s the genre where people can find inspiration to overcome insecurities and faults to forge real connections. And while it’s easy to dismiss novels as just fiction and fantasy, Grace tells EW that she believes the same for real life.
“When you see two people who are in love with a great relationship, it makes them stronger,” she says. “They’re able to do more in the world and be better parents and community members.”
Grace’s husband, Jeff Hess, is one of her biggest supporters. She says that it’s no coincidence that the years after falling in love with Hess is when she started finally sharing her writing with him and the world, and it allowed her career to come together in a way she had always imagined it.
While it was her romantic partner who gave her the courage to take the next step in her work, Grace makes it clear that romance and love don’t just have to come from a traditional partner or in a traditional Hallmark Valentine’s Day type of way. Grace says she is also immensely thankful for her editing partners, Katie Frey and Kristine Lynn. The three women began peer-editing for each other a few years back, and within a year of working together, all three got contracts at Harlequin.
“Love happens in a great friendship. Love happens with people that you’re tight with at work. It comes in so many forms,” she says. “Love is powerful throughout the year and throughout our lives.”
You can find Anna Grace’s books locally at Tsunami Books and online at BarnesandNoble.com and Harlequin.com.