It seems I've been writing books forever. For a long time, I worked alone and tried to learn all I could on my own. In those days, there weren't any writer's groups in my area of the world.
Eventually, I found my long-time mentor, the late Jane Deringer, who taught me a million things about writing. However, Jane was not a romance writer, and somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to write romance.
When Silhouette Books, a very strong romance publisher at the time, sent several of their writers to Richmond, including Nora Roberts, to present talks at the Miller and Rhoads Tea Room, I was truly hooked on romance and the success of these authors. That day, my husband and I passed a pad around the room to gather the names of those interested in starting a romance writers group. And so Richmond Romance Writers, later renamed Virginia Romance Writers, was born.
The year was 1986, the year I also joined Romance Writers of America and attended my first ever RWA convention in Minneapolis MN. Being in a glamorous situation with so many published authors was an amazing experience. My husband and I even got upgraded to a lavish suite with window walls and electronic curtains. The workshops filled me with hope and promise for a rewarding and profitable career as a book author. I hung on every word, and when I returned home, I gobbled up every page of the monthly RWA magazine.
Trouble was, I probably am better suited to writing non-fiction. After all, I was a freelance writer for lots of years, covering public meetings, taking photos, writing feature stories, and more. I was given assignments; I followed the rules and loved seeing big newspaper and magazine stories with my byline on them.
But the fiction-writing bug had bitten me, and I kept on going, working on a novel along with my newspaper work.
"Get an agent," I was told. I did and was surprised to land one of the best on the RWA recommended list. I spoke with her at a conference and was impressed, but when I called I always spoke with her father. Then I discovered she was in lots of trouble and no longer on the acceptable list. My next agent went to jail for a couple of years. Another changed to a children's book publisher soon after I signed with her. The story goes on and on. I never found the right agent and eventually gave up.
Many of the writers I started out with are now successful authors on the New York Times Bestseller list. I applaud them. They had the "write" stuff and the tenacity to stick with it. I didn't. Rejection letters blew me away. I couldn't keep going. I couldn't rewrite my books to follow "the formula".
I kept on writing and have eight published novels, but they aren't romance. I recently found an article published 12 years ago by Pamela Regis in the RWR (Romance Writers Report) that defines a romance novel as "a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines." I'm uncertain if that is the definition of a romance novel today. It might be.
When trying to decide which contest category was the correct one into which to enter my latest book, Evening of the Dragonfly, I decided the best fit was "novel with strong romantic elements". All of my stories are like that. They never have and never could fit a formula. The stories form inside my head and the characters soon take over.
Over the years, they said that artists were not acceptable as heroines of romance novels. I never understood why. Farrah Ferand, the heroine of Evening of the Dragonfly is an artist. They also said, "Write what you know." I did, so maybe I got some of it right.
Have things changed for you in your writing life? How?