Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Confessions of a Reformed Lurker; Or, How I Finally Committed to Writing Romance

A few days ago, I actually attempted to clean out my book collection.  (I use the word “attempt” deliberately. I’m not sure I ended up culling much of anything!) I have books in way too many places, but one of the semi-organized spaces where I store them is in an unused hall closet. It has these amazing shelves…I love it! Anyway, as I stacked books and reached back further into the closet, praying that I wouldn’t grab a spider rather than a book, I drew out the first romance novel I ever read: Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower

THIS BOOK. Oh, my. So many people trace back their love of the genre to this book, and I still remember the experience of reading it. My mom’s beat up 1970s paperback of The Flame and the Flower changed my life. It is not only the catalyst that led me to writing romance, but it is also the source that opened the door to a community that has become one of the best I have ever known…even though it took me a while to join that community!

I was always writing stories, but The Flame and the Flower awakened the sleeping romance novelist inside of me. I first read it in 1993, but I wasn’t quite ready to write romance at this time. However, I was ready to devour any romance novel I could! After finishing every Woodiwiss book in my mom’s collection, I would sneak glances at romance novels in bookstores, drugstores, grocery aisles—anywhere I saw them. I was too shy to buy one with Fabio on the front, but I really wanted to. Soon I said to hell with it, though, and got over my shyness. I proudly marched myself up to the counter with all kinds of romances, and after a while, I could even name the cover models. :)

It wasn’t long before I had a small group of friends (roommates, booksellers, people I met browsing in the romance section) connected through my love of romance, and what I noticed most about this group was that we were tightly bound by something deeper than an appreciation for a new release by a favorite author. There was a built-in support network there. The enthusiasm was contagious, and we lived and breathed romance novels.

Even though I actively participated in a small community of romance readers, I found it harder to tell them that I wanted to write. I also had no clue where to find others like me, and I was terrified to let anyone know that I had already started writing my own novel. This was approximately 1994, and it wasn’t like I could just go to Google to look something up. (Yep. Wait for it: Google wasn’t launched until 1998. I officially feel old.) I didn’t even have an email account or dial-up internet service at this time. So, I went as old school as The Flame and the Flower and started researching in magazines and the library. I even remember going to the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature (yes, the old, huge print versions), and looking up every article I could find about the romance industry.

I don’t remember how, but I found out about and became a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA) in the late 1990s—but I went through years of allowing my membership to drop off. It was expensive, and I was way too shy to even think about joining a local chapter. The thought of actually publicly stating that I was trying to write a romance novel and then having someone actually want to read it? TERRIFYING.

So I was a silent on/off-again member. As years went by (and, yes, I had internet and knew what Google was by this time), I lurked on websites and chat rooms and forums, finding out what I could about authors, books, and the industry. I learned a lot, but I wasn’t really involved. I continued to write, but I wasn’t dedicated to it as a professional should be. Life got in the way—as it tends to do. Jobs, family stuff, graduate school: there was always something in the way. Still, always pulling me to the side, was the little angel (or devil) on my shoulder, saying, “Write! Write!” So write I would…for a little while, at least. But I knew that in my “day job” professional community that no one would really understand why I would want to write romance novels. So, as always, I hid that part of my life and let it get buried underneath all of the other daily concerns I had.

But in 2013, I decided to make a change. Why? Maybe I saw a part of my life coming to an end and it looked like a great time to make a new start. Graduate school was over and I did not have the stress of finding a job, because I was lucky enough to already have one. I committed myself to my “day job,” of course, but I also committed myself to making a change in terms of my writing life. I picked up those old issues of the Romance Writers Report (yes, I hoard those, too), and I started communicating online with other writers and romance novel enthusiasts. Soon, I felt energized and ready. I reinstated my RWA membership, went to my first national conference, and actually joined my local chapter. At nationals, I remember thinking, with a sigh of relief, “These are my people!” And they are.

Officially delurking! At RWA nationals, I met author Vicky Dreiling for the first time in person!
We had been chatting for a long time on Twitter, and it was a great experience to see her face-to-face.
Authors like Vicky are the reason I am proud to be a member of this community.
Recommitting myself to my writing career and getting involved in the community are the best things I ever did for myself as a writer. Sure, I have ups and downs (who doesn’t?), but at the end of the day, I know that I have a community behind me. Each month, I get to spend a few hours with people who love the same thing I love, who understand the passion behind the passion, and who form a diverse but inclusive village that helps in so many ways—on the page and off. Those few hours make all the difference. So, my advice? Stop being a lurker and get involved.

Susan Sierra is a historical and contemporary romance writer. She loves books and old letters, adores her dog and family, and has a deep and committed love affair with coffee. She spent time as an undergraduate studying (having fun) in Mexico, went on to work for a large regional magazine as a copyeditor, and then decided that she hadn’t tortured herself enough in she went to graduate school. After many years, she walked away with a PhD and an unhealthy relationship with Charles Dickens. She hopes to complete her first full-length novel in 2015. FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER!


Ali Hubbard said...

I really love this post. And writing romance is great because there are so many different paths! And that is fine. It's great hearing yours.

My maternal grandmother shared her romance books with me, and I was hooked from about 1982 to 1990. Julie Garwood started it all (although I must give Thorn Birds a shout out too)! Then, like you say, life and career-building and EVERYTHING. Eighteen years passed.

I didn't read another romance book until 2008, when I NEEDED something. Unimaginable now to think of going a month without a book! But I wasn't reading much of anything. I was a straight up workaholic for the day job.

And at no point did I consider writing romance. I thought about writing some other genres throughout the years. And I still have a thing for biographies.

But, it wasn't until Christmas 2012 that I wrote my first words. My husband had said something to the effect of, "you read so many, why don't you write one?" And the next day I read something from Hugh Howey that really inspired me to try as well.

I've got a long way to go but I'm not sure how people even do this without RWA. I would be lost. The education, the advice, and the fellowship. This community is amazing.

Susan said...

Agreed, Ali! And I love your story! In the original draft of this post I went on FOREVER, but I was one cares! LOL! But in the part I cut, I said that the first romance I actually bought was a Julie Garwood! I loved her stuff!! Thanks for reading!

Alicia Coleman said...

Susan, meet fellow lurker, Alicia.

I love this post, too! My first,what-I-call-naughty, romances were Kathleen Woodiwiss' The Flame and the Flower, The Wolf and the Dove, and Shanna. Then I discoveredJohanna Lindsay, Heather Graham and Julie Garwood. *sigh* Before that, it was the "good girl" Harlequin Presents.

All of these authors and their novels awoke in me the desire to consider writing as a career.

And of course, where would I be without RWA, our local chapter and you guys? Still lurking that's where...

Nancee Cain said...

As a former lurker, I relate to this post! I foresee great things for you! Great blog!

Carla Swafford said...

I was like you, Susan. I lurked for many years before getting up the guts to start coming regularly to the meetings. Best thing I ever did. Amazing to find out I wasn't crazy but had an imagination much like everyone else.

We're so glad you joined us. HUGS.

Susan said...

Thanks, Nancee!!!

Susan said...

Alicia, SHANNA!!! Oh, yes! I loved that one!! I remember my college roommate introducing me to Johanna Lindsey, and I was like, "MORE, PLEASE!" LOL! Thanks for reading!

Susan said...

Carla, I am so glad, I joined, too! You guys are the best! Hugs to you!