Today marks the release of my eighth book, Speak of the Devil, into the wild. When I look at where I am now compared to where I was a few years ago–namely, unpublished, frustrated, and sure I would never sell a book–it’s hard to believe how much has changed. I can point to a lot of factors that helped make the difference between my 16 years of being unable to sell a book and now, but the one I want to talk about today is discovering romance novels.
I didn’t read my first romance novel until I was well into my thirties. Experiences in my youth had made me into a bona fide cynic about romance, and I was sure that I would find romance novels too sappy and sentimental for my tastes. I was an avid reader of speculative fiction of all sorts, but it never occurred to me to step into the romance section. All I really knew about romances was that they had these overwrought clinch covers featuring men like Fabio.
I didn’t change my opinion about romance novels until I went to a fantastic writer’s workshop out in Oregon, where everything I believed about the craft and the business of being a writer was challenged. Specifically for me, the teachers challenged my belief that the only thing I was capable of writing was science fiction and fantasy. (Don’t ask me where I came by that belief, but I felt it pretty strongly.) One of our assignments during the workshop was to write a mystery short story–which, of course, I was sure I couldn’t do. But then somehow, I did it. And you know what, it wasn’t a bad story.
I came home from that workshop with a new level of determination, and a new understanding of just how much I was limiting myself by refusing to write anything but straight science fiction and fantasy. I dipped my toe in the romance novel pool by reading Utterly Charming, by Kristine Grayson, who was one of the teachers at the workshop that had so challenged my assumptions. I’m pretty sure I was utterly hooked from that moment, although I had to go on a serious romance reading binge before I could fully convince myself of the astonishing truth: I absolutely loved romance novels. They were not what I expected them to be. They were not sappy, and they did not make me roll my eyes in cynical disdain. After reading tons of them, I decided to be brave, take a chance, and see if I could write one.
I wrote a contemporary romantic suspense, a couple of regency historicals, a couple of paranormals, and even a couple of category books. I forced myself to try writing things that made me uncomfortable, because I now realized that–duh!–writing in my comfort zone hadn’t landed me a book deal in 16 years of trying. I learned a lot from writing these books, and each one I completed made me more confident that I had found my niche. When I finally did make my first sale, it was a paranormal romance–Watchers in the Night, the first book in my Guardians of the Night series.
Learning to write romance was one of the major turning points of my career. Not only did I stop limiting myself to only writing what I was most familiar and comfortable with, I also discovered the RWA–Romance Writers of America–which is in my opinion one of the best writer’s organizations anywhere. As those of you who read the series know, the Morgan Kingsley books are not romances. However, I could never have written them if I hadn’t written those romances first.
I still read and love romance novels, especially paranormals. I wish I had discovered them earlier in my life. But once I did discover them, it was love at first sight.
What was the first romance novel you read? To celebrate the release of Speak of the Devil, I’ll give away a signed copy to one commenter drawn at random. You’ll have until midnight Eastern Friday to enter, and I will announce the winner over the weekend. And if you haven’t read a romance novel yet, then get out to the bookstore or library and get a few. You might just surprise yourself by loving them, like I did!