I never intended to write a romance. Never.
Romance simply wasn’t “me.” I was a high school and college English teacher who’d always read classics, women’s fiction, and bestsellers. I’d even teased my longtime department chair about her penchant for surrounding herself with candles and reading romance novels in her whirlpool each night, while her husband fielded phone calls from colleagues and parents. For her, 7 to 8 p.m. was as sacred as Wednesday night church services in the Bible Belt.
But how could she read romance novels when Wuthering Heights beckoned? Did it get any hotter than Heathcliff? As I eventually discovered, yes, it did indeed.
Flash forward ten years or so.
Today, my romantic comedy, Dog Nanny, is being released from The Wild Rose Press. Yes. I wrote a romance. Great Gertie, how did that happen?
By 2006 I’d retired from 30 years of teaching and had begun writing articles for a local magazine. I’d heard of a group of romance writers who belonged to an organization called Romance Writers of America® and thought their stories would make an interesting feature for a Valentine’s Day piece.
Little did I know how pivotal that encounter would be.
With three unpublished manuscripts of my own—all women’s fiction with a humorous bent—I set out to discover why anyone would write soppy romances.
That’s when my real education began.
My first lesson—romances always have happy endings. I had no problem with that. My unpublished novels all had happy endings, unless you count the fact they were unpublished. They even had a little romance.
The real eye-opener for me, however, was how much romances had changed since I’d last laid eyes on a cover graced with a Fabio look-alike clutching a heroine with flowing hair and full bosom. Seems while I’d been teaching Hamlet, the romance genre had undergone an amazing transformation.
For one thing, there were now more sub-genres than you could point a mouse at. Paranormal, inspirational, historical, fantasy, comedy, suspense, chick-lit, young adult—some women even wrote erotica! And I’d thought Cosmopolitan was racy.
Too, many of these books weren’t that far removed from the women’s fiction or bestsellers I’d been reading. What’s more, the romance writers I met could discuss everything from craft to publishing trends.
Further research revealed how popular the genre had become. In 2007 romance fiction was the biggest fiction category—and still is. In 2007 alone it generated 1.375 billion dollars. Publishers of romance wouldn’t be needing a government bailout anytime soon.
So how difficult could it be to write a romance? Surely I could do this.
All I needed was a “how-to” book, so I picked up a copy of Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies. Don’t laugh. I’d already made the faux pas of asking someone if Nora Roberts was a “big name” in romance fiction.
From my Dummies book, I learned there were certain rules that were non-negotiable, like the HEA (happy-ever-after ending). But I also learned that some of the rules—like not using multiple points of view or the need to introduce the hero on page five—could be, and often were, broken.
And in the end, I did write a romance. Was it as easy as I’d thought? No way.
In fact, the toughest parts for me were the, ahem, romantic scenes. I did fine as long as I was writing about dogs or bad guys or men I modeled after all the frogs I’d kissed once-upon-a-time. But when it came to emotion and intimacy, I choked.
Not only did I imagine my mother peering over my shoulder, with her were all my former students, friends, my husband, my mother-in-law, and some people I’d yet to meet. To write about love, I had to dredge up some rather personal feelings. You can’t just whip up a sex scene like a Western omelet.
So never let anyone tell you writing romance is easier than writing other kinds of fiction. In the end, we all open a vein and bleed.
As for Heathcliff, he’ll always be my first love, but sometimes a girl just has to move on.
I live in the heart of Texas with my journalist husband and two dogs—Jolie Blon, a spoiled Cajun poodle, and Mardi Gras, a retired pet therapy dog. A reformed high school and college English teacher, I’ve published poetry, non-fiction, and short fiction in newspapers, literary journals, and magazines. My fictional characters are often larger than life and sometimes find themselves in absurd situations.When not writing, I play mah jongg, read, sing, and play the guitar.
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press, Champagne Line (contemporary romantic comedy), 335 pages
Dog Nanny finaled in the 2008 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contest.
Love with a Texas Twang
Dog Nanny, The Wild Rose Press, June 12, 2009