When I was thirteen years old I bought my first romance novel.
I remember it clearly, that moment when I wandered down a new aisle at Waldenbooks and came face to face with couples in risque clothes and even more risque positions. I saw a cover I liked, picked it up, and bought it
Under Gypsy Skies by Katherine Kramer (yep, that’s it right there, the very same book!) was a portal for me into a new world of happily ever afters and amazing possibilities. After that there was no going back. I bought up every historical romance I could at my local Goodwill with what little allowance I had, arranging them with care on my shelves, keeping track of them by make photo copies of their covers on my grandparents’ copier and filing them in a special binder. I collected everything, from western to medieval to pirates to early Americana.
When I was fourteen I began trying to write my own. Obsessed with Clark Gable and Gone With the Wind, I wrote a story set on the Old South. I used to read bits of it to my friends as we walked home from school. For several years I plugged away, dreaming of one day getting published. I met a wonderful author by the name of Gerry O’Hara, who encouraged me and never shrugged off the ramblings of my over-eager teenage self. Then I went to college, and took a creative writing course. And for the first time in my life I was shamed by what I read and wrote and loved.
My creative writing teacher in college put romances down the very first day of class, calling them “bodice rippers” with absolute disdain. Needless to say I never took another creative writing class again. But I continued to write what I loved. I married my high school sweetheart, who gave me an engraved Cross fountain pen for our first Christmas together. And I found Jane Austen (and most importantly Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy!), which started me on my love of Regencies that goes on to this day. I found a job in a grocery store, where I secretly wrote in the back warehouse. I found another job, finished a novel (I can still remember that moment when I wrote “The End”), and then…nothing.
Yes, I put that manuscript aside for years, and didn’t do a thing with it. In that time I had two children, became a stay-at-home mom, took up painting, and had new dreams of being an illustrator. My manuscript was always in the back of my mind. I would pull it out every now and then, look it over, sigh with longing, and then pack it up again, the thought of editing it or sending it out to have agents or publishers look at it too daunting a prospect. Then came the day when both kids would be in school. And I had to figure out what to do with my life.
During this time, I went going through some old papers when I found a letter my grandfather had written to me years before. He had passed away in 2000, before my kids were born. But he was the most amazing man, my kindred spirit. In the letter he told me he knew one day I would get published, and how proud he was of me. Right then and there I decided to dust off my pen and try again.
Now, three years later, I’m preparing for the debut of my first novel. Do I stop now that my dream is coming true? Heck no! On to the next!
Update: The day after I wrote this, Samhain Publishing, the publisher that was set to release my debut novel, announced that they were closing their doors. And so my journey has taken a detour. It’s been tough, but I’m hoping for good things ahead. ~CB