Many authors' stories start the same way, with some variation of "I've been telling stories since I was a little girl." I'm not any different, although I don't remember telling love stories when I was a little girl. Instead, my first "book" (which was one page long) was a mystery. Both my parents are avid readers, and my Mum has what sometimes feels like an encyclopedic knowledge of mystery and crime fiction. Between that and hearing the woman wailing as she faints during the wonderfully macabre Edward Gory's Mystery! opening credits from my bedroom every Thursday night as a child, I was pretty much destined to start off there.
I've talked before about reading my first romance novel. It was a sweet, wonderfully zany Zebra Regency Romance that I took home with about a half dozen others from a deep discount book store on Lake Avenue in Pasadena. While I'd always read voraciously as a child, I truly gobbled these books up, soon moving on to more complex plots with more intense romances (ie the hero and heroine started doing more than just kissing on the last page). The only natural step after that was to write one.
I started tinkering with an idea for a book the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. My family had just gotten a new computer, so I commandeered a desk that my sister was just using to store junk and parked the huge desktop on it. Then, I got to work.
The book, which I never finished, was called Charlotte's Choice and it was a second chance at love romance. I wrote by the seat of my pants — something I would later learn through several long, painful lessons isn't suitable for me — and finished about 25,000 words by the end of the summer. That alone felt like an incredible achievement. I'd never written that many words before!
This is where, unfortunately, I stalled out. I worked on that book on and off for the next three years, hauling a paper manuscript around with me from home to college and back again. Then, I graduated, and my focus became grad school.
I attended Columbia's University's School of Journalism in the broadcast program. I mention that only to say that the program compresses what most schools take two years to teach into 10 months long. They were the hardest 10 months of my life. I had two exacting introductory reporting professors who held marathon days of class on Mondays and Tuesday. Then there were radio broadcast and editing classes, TV broadcast and editing classes, workshops, law, ethics. If I wasn't in the classroom or desperately trying to grab some sleep after late-night editing sessions in the Avid lab, I was probably out reporting in South Brooklyn (or with friends at a bar if it was Friday or Saturday night because I was still a grad student and let's be realistic). It was a seven-day-a-week job getting that MS.
Somewhere in the middle of that mess of a year, I was laying on my futon late-night and watching Dancing With the Stars in an desperate attempt to turn off the analytical, journalism side of my brain. That was when I realized I wasn't enjoying my life. Everything was so focused on getting this degree, I felt completely drained. I've since heard Sylvia Day talk about needing to top up the well, as though creatives — or anyone really — have a finite amount of creative energy and inspiration. We keep the levels high by consuming things that stimulate us. Books, movies, media. We need a mental break from whatever it is that we're making in order to then go and do our job in a healthy way. Even though I didn't know to call it that, I'd drained the well as a journalist and was running on dry.
That was the night that I decided I needed to exercise my long-neglected creative side. I turned the TV off, pulled my laptop out, and started writing. It was a historical romance about a poor relation who resorts to writing and the earl courting her cousin who falls for her hard. By the end of the night, I had the first chapter of To Woo a Writer.
Writing it, however, wouldn't be quite so easy as that first chapter. For about three years I picked up and put down the book. In the meantime, I wrote a novella and shopped it to a now-defunct Harlequin line. I still have the slip of paper my rejection was printed on. I doubled down on my efforts to finish the draft of To Woo a Writer only to be distracted by other things because writing is hard and it's easy to set aside things that are hard and get to them later.
Finally, in 2012, I decided that it was time to — for lack of a better phrase — put up or shut up. I'd been talking about wanting to get published for a long, long time and I still didn't have a completed, full-length novel to show for it. I made the decision to finish the book and started saying no to some social engagements that would take me away from writing and leaving others early so I could go home and write. In two months I typed The End.
The book was a mess (first drafts are always a mess), but it was done. Done! I called Mum, told her I was revising it and I'd need her to read it if she was up for it, and began hacking away at book. After a couple rounds of revisions, I pulled out my copy of Writer's Digest Guide to Literary Agents (bought and flagged with Post-In notes in an optimistic moment), and drew up a list of agents that accepted romance. I ranked the agencies, and began sending out queries for representation. By October, I'd signed with Emily Sylvan Kim at Prospect Agency who is still my agent.
The story of getting from representation to contract is another long one. To Woo a Writer is still bubbling away on the back burner of my hard drive. I love it, but with so much distance and growth since writing it, I can see its flaws. Before the Governess series was picked up by Pocket Books, I wrote two contemporary romances (one of which will be published this August and the other of which is so bad it will never see the light of day), and self-published two contemporary romance anthologies. Getting that first contract took a long time. Then again, so did writing that first book.