I grew up on a tobacco farm near Winston-Salem, North Carolina, before smoking was politically incorrect. Priming tobacco is the dirtiest, most thankless labor in the world. August morning dews leave the tobacco--and you--soaking wet. Then after the leaves dry off, a gummy tar covers your hands. But the work gave me a don't-stop-till-you-drop work ethic that carries over into everything I do.
In the evenings on the farm, my chore was driving the cows home. I rode my black-and-white pinto bareback with only a halter and baling twine for reins. When I told him stories he listened attentively, one ear toward the cows and one tuned back on me.
School and more school
The desire to tell stories never left me. But in college and graduate school, I gleefully buried myself in one great novel after another... and grew too intimidated to write my own. As a college professor, I taught composition, feminist theory, and the great women writers. I also edited the 400 letters of Charlotte Smith, a very popular romance novelist in the 1790s.
Annotating three volumes of Smith's correspondence took me all over the U.S. and Canada and, better yet, to England. There I learned that scones with clotted cream and jam are sinfully delicious. That trains do run on time. That a single footnote can represent three days of legwork. That archivists and librarians are my friends.
A turning point
A few years ago I left the University so that my husband and I could quit commuting between states. I honestly did not know what to do next. I had been a medical editor, so for a time I edited computer software manuals and an environmental textbook for the cleaning industry. Arrgh! Just because you can do something well doesn't mean you should keep on doing it! I thought about studying therapeutic massage. I even looked into setting up a fancy boarding kennel for cats, who along with horses are my life-long passion.
Then a friend suggested I write a historical novel based on Charlotte Smith's life--which I knew upside down and inside out. Meanwhile another friend put two romances in my hands, the first two contemporary romances I had ever read. I discovered that Jude Devereux and Julie Garwood were writing the kind of story I wanted to tell-where men are strong and women have great adventures. I couldn't put those two books down. I was hooked...and inspired to start my first historical romance.
My road to publication
I always wrote. There was the embarrassing experience in ninth grade of being the ONLY student in English asked to stand up and read her short story to the class. In twelfth grade, I won a national essay-writing contest. In college, I wrote features for the newspaper. As a professor, I just wrote all the time--syllabi, tests, assignments, scholarly articles. On the side, for me, myself and I, I wrote poetry, some of it not half bad, and refined my love of language.
When the romance bug bit, I wrote one romance all on my own. I learned a lot but had lots more to learn. Since then, I have written Wild Indigo and His Stolen Bride while working closely with my critique partner, Virginia Kantra. Early on, I entered Wild Indigo in contests and it attracted the interest of editors and agents. I am fortunate to be represented by Pamela Ahearn of The Ahearn Agency. She is savvy, supportive, and her confidence in my stuff saves me lots of sleepless nights.
Virginia and I were each thrilled to sell our first two novels within six months of each other--four novels in all. We may seem an unlikely match: a feminist university professor who writes historicals and a children's storyteller and soccer mom who writes contemporary category romances.
How do we bridge the gap? It's not that wide. Good writing is good writing anywhere, any time. We admire each other's writing and make sure to read in the other's field. We also do a no-holds-barred critiquing, pushing the other to do the very best that she can. I cheered Virginia's Golden Heart win in Anaheim last summer, and she cheered me when two different publishing houses were bidding for Wild Indigo.
My family's response to having a romance author in their midst
My husband, bless him, believes I can do anything! He's been patient with a house in disarray, books all over everywhere, and late meals--even desperation Hamburger Helper. He also keeps my computer up and running and pushed me to do this web site.
When I asked him to read my novel in manuscript, he confidently refused. "Not yet. I'll read it when it's in print."
I'm still waiting to see if he'll recognize the line he contributed!
My parents were always great talkers, and my father had a local reputation for telling quirky stories of farm life. So their influence on my writing was great. After my novel sold, Mother says she was on cloud nine for weeks. Sadly, we lost my father to cancer recently, but he lived long enough to know that my novel would be published. He was very proud of the way I used bits of our family's history in it.
My only brother is just plain proud.
His Stolen Bride, the sequel to Wild Indigo, will be out this year in time for Christmas. I'm very excited about it, and am already planning Sister Anna's Outlaw, in which Anna Johanna, the younger sister in Wild Indigo, meets an irresistible outsider whose passion lures her from the safety of Salem's Brethren...
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