Growing up, I watched my mother read romantic suspense novels. Namely, the good old Gothic romances in the style of Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and Phyllis A. Whitney, where a virginal young woman becomes a governess, secretary, housekeeper (your pick) to a brooding master of some giant, castle-like mansion on the cliffs in England, or in New England. The troubled hero fights his attraction to the young woman, nearly loses her to some menacing person or force, and then saves her to live happily ever after.
As my mother and I both aged, she switched to mysteries, cozy or otherwise, and I moved into straight romance, or romantic suspense (without all the brooding). Being very close, we agreed to disagree on our choices of reading material. She thought all romances were the same, and an insult to a woman’s intelligence. I thought that mysteries were great, but wouldn’t they be better with a little bit of sex and mutual attraction?
She died nearly seven years ago, before I even started thinking about trying my hand at writing. It was her sudden death that helped me get started with romance writing. I’d lost my best female friend, and was floundering. Reading wasn’t enough to transport me from the grief of a surprise death. So I turned to writing.
I wrote a couple nice, little romances that only my eyes saw. Living in a household of men, I soon found that none of them wanted to read about a housekeeper to a lonely millionaire, or a pirate with a soft heart. But then I discovered an online writing site, where people uploaded their writing and readers got to read what was submitted. After months of hemming and hawing, I uploaded the housekeeper story. To a favorable response. Well, I was hooked.
I wrote story after story, enjoying my newfound, online audience, until, with a united cry of “Foul!” my male family complained that I spent more time in my make-believe world than the real one. They told me if I wasn’t going to make money off my writing, I was wasting my time.
Harsh words, really. Besides, I was too afraid to send one of my babies to a publisher. What if one was rejected? How awful I would feel! I mean, I knew I was good. All I had to do was read all the reviews from my online readers to know so. I didn’t need to make money to feel validated as a writer. Did I?
But the familial complaints continued. So, in a “Fine, take that!” sort of mindset, I took the housekeeper story and sent it to a major publisher. No response for over a year. In the meantime, I kept writing, and my family kept complaining. Finally the publisher wrote back, saying the book had promise, but needed more of a conflict. Okay. Not such a bad rejection.
By that time I had written a contemporary romantic suspense that was getting hundreds of thousands of hits on the online reading site. I took that book and electronically submitted it to another publisher. No response for the required wait period of six months. I was bummed.
The writing site staged a contest that would actually give out a monetary prize to the winner. I submitted a historical novel of mine, and, surprisingly, I won. My family sat up and took notice for the first time. Especially when the check came in.
In the meantime, I submitted the romantic suspense to Entangled Publishers, and within a month they had accepted my book, Prisoner of Love. I received my advance, and paraded that check around in front of everyone living with me. But pretty soon reality set in.
While my book had “great bones,” according to my editor, it disregarded many writing rules, and especially those inherent to romantic suspense. I was tasked with writing and rewriting whole scenes, making events realistic, cutting out “head hopping” (the act of switching character pov’s in the middle of a scene), and adding the “suspense” to my romantic suspense novel. Writing was becoming a job, not an escape. And it was a job I loved. Still love.
At last my book is slated for an August release. It has been a long journey, not without its ups and downs. I have found that while you can just sit down and put words to paper (or screen), there is so much more to the writing experience. If you want readers, then you must heed the rules. They know how a book should be written better than anyone, actually.
I have started to write with a definite Romance formula as my template. It doesn’t mean I sacrifice my writing style. Not at all. I can still write with humor and I can still have flawed characters. I just know how to mix it all together in order to come up with a winning romance novel now.
So now I have come full circle. I have a book coming out in August, another one sitting at a publisher’s awaiting the dreaded yes or no outcome, and I’m writing a third. I have gotten over the fear of rejection (after all, there are tons of publishers out there), my family actually respects what I do, and I’m doing what I love. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Thanks, Mom, for setting the groundwork for your daughter so many years ago. Though I regret you never got to see me get published, I know you’d be proud of me. This first one’s for you.