Yesterday, several people asked in the comments about how I came to be a romance writer. Before you forget that you even asked and wonder why I’m droning on about this boring nonsense, I shall reply!
I’ve known I was going to be a writer as far back as I can remember. I have a vivid memory of being five and reading Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter and wishing I had written it. I’ve always been a big reader and I was one of those children who started early–I started reading when I was four. I loved Beatrix Potter. And, hmmmm. She wrote stories about animals who talk….. I write stories about animals who talk! Writing this post is the first time it has occurred to me that Beatrix Potter has no doubt been a subconscious influence on my writing about our farm. Not that I fancy myself on the same planet with Beatrix Potter. (Just making that clear.) I wrote all sorts of stories and poetry and stuff while I was growing up.
My mother is a longtime romance reader and I read my first romance novel (a Harlequin Romance) when I was 12. I felt like a shaft of light hit me from the sky–this was what I wanted to write! Romance novels! I got a degree in English, concentrating on literature and creative writing, and I minored in History, concentrating on medieval history–a sort of self-styled “Medieval Romance Writer” degree. During my early 20s, I jotted around on book ideas, in particular a medieval romance, but about all I accomplished was scribbling incredibly detailed character and plot notes in a huge notebook. I couldn’t figure out how to put it all together.
My first job was writing for a newspaper. I quit to stay home when my first child was born. I wanted, very much, to start writing books, but I’d just had a baby and was planning to have more. One day I was standing at my kitchen sink washing dishes during naptime, thinking about how I wanted to have three babies, in short order, and figuring up how many years it would be until the last one went to kindergarten, which was when I thought I would have time to start writing books (when they were all away at school during the day). Of course, my first one–Ross (aka 17)–was only five months old, so the day when the third one would go to kindergarten was quite far away seeing as how she wasn’t even born yet. And I thought to myself–a dream delayed might be a dream lost forever because there will always be a reason I can’t do this. That day, I stopped doing housework during naptime and started writing a book. (My housekeeping went downhill accordingly.) I decided to start with writing a contemporary romance because writing historicals seemed too hard at the time–I knew I had to learn to construct a novel to begin with, so writing one that required a lot of research on top of that seemed, for me, not the best idea. I wrote a “sweet” romance (“sweet” in romance novel language means no love scenes) that was based on a short story I’d written in creative writing class in college. (The “short” story was about 20 pages, and was sort of a mini-romance novel. Upon reviewing the story, my English professor gave me a begrudging A and wrote on the paper, “This is very commercial. You’re a good writer and you’re wasting your talent.”)
And, I have to say, when I dragged it out into a book, it was an awful book. Only I had no idea it was awful so I printed it out, packed it up, mailed it to Harlequin, and started a second book.
The second book was only slightly less awful, and I was still completely unaware of its awfulness so I printed it out, packed it up, mailed it to Harlequin, and started a third book.
The third book was possibly slightly less awful than the second, and by then I was becoming aware of it as Harlequin was sending me little rejection letters in the mail. I discovered there were other publishers in the world and kept sending the books out, papering New York with my dribble. Around this time, I discovered other romance writers, who explained that I wasn’t supposed to just mail manuscripts out like that! I was supposed to send little letters describing the book and ask permission to send the entire manuscript. I found this notion baffling, and since I had not been struck dead from sending books out without permission, I kept doing it. (I’m such a bad girl!)
An editor at a small publishing house called Meteor rejected Book #3, but for the first time, instead of a letter simply telling me, No, thanks, it came with a letter telling me, in detail, what was wrong with the book and how to fix it. I rewrote the book, scrapping the first version entirely, starting back on page one with a blank screen using the same characters and story concept. (That’s how much was wrong with it–not a paragraph was worth saving, only the characters and major plot points.) Five weeks later (I had sooo much energy!!!! LOL) I had a new manuscript. I popped it in the mail back to that same editor at Meteor, and 13 months after the day I stood at my kitchen sink and determined not to let my dream slip away, I got a phone call from that editor in which she offered to buy my book for their Kismet Romance line. I was 28. While I was on the phone with the editor, Ross (who was then 18 months old) unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper and ran up and down the hallway of our house with it. And I didn’t care.
Never Say Goodbye was published in May 1993. I got my author copies in the mail the day I came home from the hospital with my second baby. Three months later, the publishing house folded.
By then, I had completely rewritten Book #1 (the one originally based on a short story from college). I mailed it back to Harlequin and Make Room for Mommy was published (in November 1996) as a Silhouette Romance (an imprint of Harlequin). Between my first and second published books, I received (understatement alert) a lot of rejections on numerous other manuscripts, but I kept writing more of them, and they were getting better. I also continued to submit to other publishers. I sold three books to Silhouette Romance, but I got tired of writing the sweet romances. I have a short attention span as a writer. I wanted to try new things. I sold about half a dozen books or so to Kensington that were published in their Zebra Precious Gems line (most of these were very sexy romantic comedies), then the line folded. I sold one book to Bantam’s Loveswept line, then it folded. (Are we seeing a pattern here? Publishing is not a business for the faint of heart.) Kensington started a new line in their Zebra imprint called Bouquet and I seized the opportunity to write my first romantic suspense novel. I wrote two books for Bouquet before that line folded.
By then, Kensington had started a historical romance line and I took that opportunity to write what I had started out wanting to write–medieval romance. I dug out my big, fat notebook with all my scribblings about this historical novel I had fantasized writing for years–and I wrote it. It turned into a three-book series for Zebra Ballad Romance. Of everything I’ve ever written, I’m most proud of those historical romances. They were LONG. Four-hundred page manuscripts each. And complicated, involving a ton of research. Then, of course (!!!), the Ballad line folded. I’d enjoyed writing romantic suspense novels and didn’t feel done with that yet, so I went back to Harlequin and wrote more romantic suspense novels for them. Then, of course (!!!), I got bored writing romantic suspense and started writing paranormal romances (my PAX League series and my Haven series), under the Silhouette Intimate Moments/Silhouette Romantic Suspense imprint.
It’s probably no surprise that, after 26 books, my attention has now wandered away from romance completely due to my writer attention deficit disorder. Or maybe I’m simply fulfilling my five-year-old heart’s dream by writing stories about talking animals?
I just know I’m having a lot of fun. And as I tell people when I give workshops on writing–“If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.” I believe in loving what you write, and writing what you love. If you do that, your passion will leap off the page and people will respond to it. Don’t ever write what you think is marketable and try to force yourself to love it. Write what you love and figure out how to make it marketable. You could write a book about a Martian with an addiction to QVC who is in love with a mad cow, and if it’s written with passion, there’s somebody out there who will buy it. Not that I’m suggesting anyone should write a book about a Martian with an addiction to QVC who is in love with a mad cow. Unless you really have a passion for it. Then I say go for it, and be prepared for a lot of rejection before you find that one editor who will love that story as much as you do. She’s out there–you just have to find her. And that’s the same with any type of book, Martian and mad cow or not. All you need is one editor to love your book, so when the other editors start rejecting you, don’t get down–just recognize that they aren’t the one and keep looking until you find her. And write more books. That’s the be-all end-all of my writing advice, though I do want to add this one thing: In the process of getting 26 books published, I have received HUNDREDS of rejections. I still get rejected. If you want to be a writer, rejection is just part of the process.
I love the challenge of writing in new and different directions. I love the sheer versatility of writing, the ability to re-invent myself as many times as I like, learning new things and setting new goals. There are always new mountains to climb and new dreams to dream. I have a lot of passion these days for writing about my farm, my animals, old-fashioned cooking, and country life, and, as always, I believe in following your passion. It is my single criteria for everything I write, whether it is my blog or my books. I owe passion to myself, and I owe passion to my readers who either plunk down their dollars for my books or open that bookmark in their browser to come to my blog. I write because I’m driven to share my passion with other people and affect them in a positive way, and so without that passion, there is no impact and there is no purpose for me.
I am a writer, and I am still writing. Where can you find my work now? I write a country living column for the Charleston Daily Mail. You can read my recent columns here. I also write every day here at Chickens in the Road. The best is yet to be.
If you are a sucker for punishment and actually want to know more about my writing after this longest blog post in the history of blog posts, you can find out more about my books here. You can also read my post about cover art or check out my post about stalking Nora Roberts.
If anyone wants to ask any questions about my writing or writing in general on this post, I’d be happy to answer. (As you may know, I rarely talk about writing on my blog.) Some common questions:
Are your children impressed that you are a published author? No. I’ve been doing this all of their lives and they aren’t impressed. (Or embarrassed. Or anything else. Unless, occasionally, when one of their friends mentions it or they see something in the media about me. Then they might be impressed for like one second. Then they’re over it.) It’s normal to them. What, is your mother not a writer???
Do you have a literary agent? No. I don’t like literary agents. I would explain why, but that would be a whole ‘nother post.
P.S. Someone mentioned yesterday that the model on the cover of my new book is Nathan King. I know nada about cover models. However, I know that there are people who do, so I want to mention that I have had at least one cover with the famous John deSalvo. It was It Only Takes a Moment, one of my Zebra Bouquets. I think I have another deSalvo cover that someone told me about, but I can’t remember which one it is. (I think it’s one of my Precious Gems.)