I’ve always been a reader — my mother once told a group I was speaking to that she had trouble giving birth to me because I had a book in my hand at the time and refused to put it down.
And I started my career as a writer early, too — there’s poetry in my baby book dated when I was four. I couldn’t actually form the letters yet, so my sister took dictation. It’s an absolutely terrible four-line stanza that started, “My kitten’s name is Fluffy…” To the best of my recollection, I never had a kitten named Fluffy, so apparently I was writing fiction even then. (Some parents call that “lying.” I’m fortunate that mine were a little more understanding.)
I wrote my first romance novel when I was 14 and a freshman in high school. It was inspired by Pride and Prejudice (and really, don’t we all have to write about Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy, just to get it out of our heads?) Not only was my first book unoriginal and unexciting, but some important events in that book happened on June 31. I hadn’t yet learned the importance of research. Or, you know, just looking at a calendar.
Fortunately I maintained enough common sense to know that I didn’t want that manuscript to ever pop up and embarrass me, so I burned it. I went on to write and burn five more complete novels — including the romantic suspense where I could never figure out who committed the murder… that taught me to plan a little further ahead.
With each book, I learned more about my craft — how to create compelling characters, how to develop conflict that could last through an entire book, and how to spin a story in a way that kept readers turning pages.
I never have gotten very good at the planning-ahead stuff, though.
After I’d burned a quarter of a million words, the seventh book I wrote felt different. All those lessons came together, and though I wasn’t egotistical enough to think that book #7 was actually good, I knew I’d learned as much as I could on my own. So I got the manuscript ready to send off.
I opted to send it to Harlequin, which was the biggest and best-known publisher of romance at the time. I figured I could always work my way down. So I put together what I hoped was a compelling submissions package, and I dropped it in the mail.
On Friday the 13th.
I wasn’t delusional enough to think that the answer would be an enthusiastic YES! In fact, what I hoped for was a rejection letter that would explain why the book wasn’t good enough — so I could take those lessons on board in future work.
Instead, I was fortunate that the editorial director of the company was looking for something fun to read with her tea that day, and she happened upon my submissions package. Which, it turns out, was just about as badly constructed and amateur as anyone could possibly produce.
But Jackie was a woman of vision and she saw potential, so she sent me a two-page revision letter. I rewrote the book and sent it back. We did a further set of minor revisions, and the book — my first submission, which eventually was published as The Grand Hotel — went to contract.
I wrote 80 contemporary romances for Harlequin, and then got a little burned out. I thought about writing cozy mysteries — because, like romance, they too have happy endings with the good guys triumphing and the bad guys being punished. But I couldn’t hide the clues well enough to satisfy myself.
So I turned to writing historical romance, set in the British Regency period, and I’ve now written more than a dozen historical novels and novellas. I’ve always loved the period, and I’d been doing research on that time frame and society for decades, so I was fairly well prepared. Only “fairly,” however, because I find there’s always more to learn.
Books and libraries are a continuing theme of my life. I serve as a member of the Libraries Advancement Council for the University of Iowa Libraries and am a former chair of the council. I am also a member of the board of trustees of my local public library, the Ottumwa Public Library, and I am the president of the board of the Ottumwa Public Library Foundation.
I’m an award-winning author, a teacher, an editor, a mentor and writing coach, and a public speaker. I also write local history books as well as books on other (often offbeat) topics that interest me.