It has been one year since I hung up my social worker “hat” to become a full-time writer, trading a day job filled with people for one where the primary interaction is with my laptop. People ask me if it has been difficult to cope with the lonely life of a writer.
People who lose themselves in books do not mind solitude, so it did not surprise me that writing a book had the same effect. My days are, after all, still filled with people, even though they are the fictional kind. But fictional people are not a true substitute for social connection, no matter what sorts of exciting journeys they take you on. Writers, like everyone else, need real people.
Ten years ago when I first decided to try to write a romance novel, I took a creative writing course at my local community college where I met my first writing friend, still one of my best friends. She and I and another dear friend joined Romance Writers of America (RWA) and Washington (DC) Romance Writers. I discovered there were lots of people like me who had stories running through their heads. I attended meetings, retreats, and conferences where everyone wanted to talk about their stories and the challenges of putting them down on paper. What is more, they were generous with their support and assistance.
Through Washington Romance Writers I joined yet another critique group that included published authors who not only taught me more of the publishing business but also became wonderful friends. When I decided to write my favorite kind of romance, Regency Historicals, I joined the Beau Monde, the RWA chapter for Regency writers. Through the Beau Monde I met writers with a similar passion for the regency time period, including a friend I traveled with on my first trip to England. Each year my list of friends connected to RWA grows. When my first Regency Historical won RWA’s 2003 Golden Heart contest it seemed like a room of 2000 friends cheered for me at the awards ceremony. It is difficult to feel lonely in such a community.
Meetings, conferences, and critique groups, however, cannot ease the quiet, solitary hours of a writing day. Luckily technology provides relief in the form of email, instant messaging, and loops. Through an online writers loop I met a friend in Australia, a soul-mate. Our lives had so many parallels we even shared a birthday (or 12 hours of a birthday). This friendship led to a special email group of twelve friends, half of whom live in Australia, the other half in the US, one in England. I feel as close to these ladies as if we’d grown up together—even though I’ve never seen most of them.
When working my “regular” job, I’d always felt too busy to get to know any neighbors off my little street, but thanks to the novelty of having a romance writer in their midst (and the determination of my next-door neighbor to promote me!) I’ve become friendly with more and more of them. If I had not been sitting on my rear end writing all day, I’d never have joined the neighborhood Curves®, where I sweat with friendly ladies three times a week, using the time as my midday writing break. I have not lost old friends either. I often return to my former place of employment to have lunch with old friends. Sometimes I even run into my former clients there, people I continue to care about. My family life is not lonely either. I am fortunate to have a husband, children, sisters, and in-laws who support my dream of a writer’s life.
During my writing day I can count on friends being only an email, a phone call, or a few blocks away. Four of us, including my first writing friend, email each other almost daily and make a point of getting together as frequently as possible, at least once a month for lunch or dinner or a whole day of conversation.
With the release of THE IMPROPER WIFE, my American debut novel, I am looking forward to widening my friendships to include readers. How could a writer feel lonely of hearing how much a reader enjoyed the book?
So how have I coped with the lonely life of a writer?
Because the life of a romance writer has brought me a world of friends.
One of the questions romance writers get asked repeatedly is, “When are you going to write a real novel?” Friends and relatives have asked me just such a question. Even some of my romance writing friends dream of someday branching out into women’s fiction or mystery/suspense.
Not me. I love writing romance.
Specifically, I love writing Regency Historical Romance like my American debut from Warner Forever, THE IMPROPER WIFE. The Regency period is a popular one for historical romance, taking place in England during the early 1800’s when George III went mad and his son was declared Regent (See my Author Author article, Why the Regency?). Jane Austen and Byron wrote during this time in history, and this is when Wellington vanquished Napoleon at Waterloo. I love nothing better than reading a Regency Historical, but I’m a fan of all romance fiction.
I’m not alone. Almost half of all mass market paperback books sold are romance novels; Romance sales account for one third of all fiction sales. A love story obviously holds wide appeal.
Romance novels are mainly character-driven fiction. What the characters think and feel, and how they interact with each other are the most important elements of the story, more important than the events taking place around them. The reader is able to become intimate with the characters, is able to see into their very souls. This sort of examination of the human character exists in other literary forms, but in romance its emphasis is on a central and powerful life event, falling in love and committing oneself to another human being.
The appeal of romance fiction for me lies in its focus on the romantic relationship, that heady, scary, joyous experience of falling in love. The first meeting, the initial attraction, the first kiss, first love scene—all of these create an irresistible thrill. It is a delight how romance authors recreate such moments with originality, diversity, and freshness, giving the reader that vicarious experience of falling in love over and over again.
In today’s romance novel, the heroine of the story is a strong woman, an equal match for an equally strong hero (see Toni Blake’s Author article, Romance as Feminist Fiction). Just as a football game is at its most edge-of-your-seat exciting when played by two teams of equal skill, so is the love story between a man and a woman of equal strength of character. That two people can remain strong and true to themselves and still commit to another person provides a compelling read.
I love the hopefulness inherent in the romance novel. No love story would be complete without forces threatening to drive the lovers apart, some conflict that seems to make it impossible for them to wind up together in the end. When the hero and heroine overcome these obstacles it helps me believe that obstacles in my life and my relationships might also be overcome.
I love the message in romance that Love Transforms. In a good romance, the hero and heroine are not the same at that end of their journey together as they were in the beginning. The love they give to the other alters them, changes them for the better, makes them grow as human beings. That is a powerful message of hope--To love makes us better people.
I adore a happy ending. My respectful apologies to Nicholas Sparks and others, but a love story that ends tragically always disappoints me. I’d like to kick Shakespeare for allowing Romeo and Juliet to die in the end when he might have saved them in the nick of time. The play might have ended with a wedding celebration and the unification of the feuding families. That would have been uplifting. The tragic ending is depressing. I don’t want to feel depressed at the end of a story. I want that happy ending. I want those characters I’ve begun to care about to win in the end. To win what we all want to win: love and happiness.
Our world is full of depressing events, of man’s hatred and greed, of death and destruction. When I read a book I want to escape those realities for a bit. I want to be reminded that there is another side of life. A loving side. A hopeful side.
My American debut novel, THE IMPROPER WIFE, is a historical romance set in England during the Regency Period. The English Regency period has always been an extremely popular setting for historical fiction, especially historical romance. Patrick O’Brian and Bernard Cornwell set much of their respective historical series during the Regency, with their wonderful characters, Aubrey and Maturin; Sharpe and Harper. The unsurpassed Georgette Heyer did more than anyone to bring the Regency to life. Heyer spawned an entire romance genre, the Traditional Regency, from which wonderful romance authors such as Mary Balogh and Mary Jo Putney have risen and many others continue in Heyer’s footsteps. Warner authors Pamela Britton, Kasey Michaels, Kathryn Caskie, and Julie Ann Long are writing superb Regency set historical romances, and I am proud to add my name to such a list. But, why, you might ask? Why the Regency period?
The Regency Period lasted from 1811 to 1820, beginning when King George III went mad, causing his son the Prince of Wales to be declared “Regent,” and ending with the King’s death. As a social period, however, some would date it from as early as 1790 to as late as 1837, when Queen Victoria took the throne. Either way this is a relatively short period of time in history. Why has it sparked so much wonderful fiction and so many faithful readers?
I am not a historian, merely a novelist in love with the time period, but I have my own opinion of why the Regency era is a mainstay of fiction.
First of all, it was a beautiful time period. The lovely Classical architecture and decor of the Georgian age became more varied and colorful, but avoided the excesses of the Victorians. The Regency was a time of great wealth, of beautiful Country houses and gardens, of lovely, elegant fashions. Gone were powdered hair, white wigs, and heavy make-up of the Georgian age. Regency women wore beautifully draping empire-waist silks and muslins, dresses that would still be considered lovely today. Men’s clothing also became more like our modern clothing, the bright-colored brocades and laces of the 1700s giving way to the simplicity, cleanliness, and perfect tailoring Beau Brummell insisted upon. Men and women rode though Hyde Park in fine carriages drawn by perfectly matched horses. The titled elite gathered in exclusive places like Almack’s and White’s. Men sported at Gentleman Jackson’s Boxing Saloon or Tattersal’s. Ladies made “morning calls” in the afternoon, and made their curtsey to the Queen in opulent gowns.
Exciting people lived during the Regency. My favorite is the truly great but imperfect Duke of Wellington, the man who defeated the Emperor Napoleon. The Prince Regent, “Prinny,” a man of great excesses, fostered the creation of the incredible Pavilion, with décor as eccentric and beautiful as one could ever imagine. Spectacular figures like Byron and Brummell shot into the public eye, only to fall as far as they had risen. Jane Austen wrote some of history’s finest fiction during this period, giving us characters who still live in our imaginations today. Shelly, Keats, Sir Walter Scott, and Byron also wrote during the Regency. Other colorful figures include Caroline Lamb, who threw herself at Byron and later wrote Glenarvon for revenge, and Harriette Wilson, a celebrated courtesan, who in her later years raised money by publishing her memoirs and blackmailing gentleman who did not wish to appear in its pages. She was the target of Wellington’s famous line, “Publish and be damned.”
The Regency time period echoes our World War II era in my mind, a time of great courage, honor, and drama, and one that eventually led into great social change. Trafalgar and the death of Nelson in 1805. The long war with Napoleon, with all its heroics, danger, and adventure, left an indelible mark on the period. Napoleon’s escape from Elba and his march to ultimate defeat at Waterloo was a hallmark historical event, still discussed, written about and fictionalized today. Also occurring at this time was the War of 1812, less victorious for the British, a presence in India, and the humming of impending social change. The Regency marked the beginning of the decline of the upper classes and the growth of wealth from industry and trade. Social unrest nipped at the heels of the class system. Luddites rioted when their livelihoods were taken over by machine. Workers assembled to demand parliamentary reform and were massacred in St. Peter’s Field.
But Regency fiction clings mostly to the fantasy of wealth and privilege, rather the exploration of the poor and downtrodden, a wealth so vast it is hard to imagine. Still, the Regency is a transitional period between the decadence of the 18th century and the repression of the Victorian Age. As such there are elements of both, providing rich opportunities for dramatic conflict. For example, it is an age when the idea of marrying for love came to the fore, and yet, marriages of convenience still took place. Women--married women, that is--were still allowed to enjoy a sexual relationship, although more discreetly than did their Georgian mothers. Their poor Victorian daughters were not so lucky. Roles and behavior were more fluid in the Regency, less defined than the eras before or after, allowing the novelist great license to explore.
The Regency is an accessible period for readers, I believe: Distant enough to give the reader a feeling of escape into another world, a world of beauty and conflict, but familiar enough to be comfortable. It is easy to imagine living in such an era, and the more times the reader has escaped to the Regency in a book, the more familiar it becomes.
I love going into the world of Regency England every time I sit down to write. I aspire to bring the time period alive so vividly that readers might love it as much as I do. I hope you decide to travel with me into the pages of THE IMPROPER WIFE and all of Warner’s Regency-set fiction. Enjoy! It is a great place to visit.
This quotation by Sir Winston Churchill is sewn into a small needlepoint pillow sitting on my bookshelf surrounded by all sorts of Regency England reference books. The pillow was given to me by an author friend, Mary Blayney, who had received it from another friend at a time of particular discouragement. I had just experienced another manuscript rejection, a particularly low period in my nine year journey to publication. From that moment, however, Churchill’s words became my motto.
Never never never give up. Though I have repeated the phrase to myself many times, I never seriously considered giving up my dream of seeing my stories in print. I came to this dream late, already well into a career as a mental health social worker, but once I decided to write down the stories in my head, there was no turning back for me. The challenge came in figuring out how to realize the dream, not if I would.
Once my dream came true it thundered in like Sir Winston’s deep gravely voice. In rapid succession I sold my first book to UK publisher Mill & Boon, won the 2003 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart for that book, and sold my Regency Historical Romance, THE IMPROPER WIFE, to Warner Forever.
The heroine in THE IMPROPER WIFE does not give up either. Life deals her as heavy a blow as any Regency heroine could receive. She starts out the book in the throes of childbirth, penniless, friendless, and fearing murder charges. Though the hero helps her, she must eventually betray his good will by masquerading as his wife while he is at war. It is the only way to protect her baby. Even when the hero returns to expose her, she refuses to give up the home for which she’s always yearned and has toiled to make happy.
If you desire something strongly enough, giving up is not an option. Like my Regency heroine, you may have to make compromises, or, like me, you may have to work at it a very long time, but the only guarantee of failing is to stop trying.
One day I am certain I will find another person who needs my little needlework pillow. I am waiting for the right person and the right moment and then I will pass it on. I am certain life will bring me more challenges, but I don’t need the pillow anymore. Sir Winston’s words always remain with me.