by Mary Jo
March 21st, 1986
Not a date that will live in infamy, exactly, but that is the day I started writing my first romance. Twenty-five years ago.
It was the first full day of spring, so the symbolism was good. No deadlines for my freelance graphic design business, so I had the time to start the contrarian traditional Regency I’d been toying with in the weeks since I acquired my Leading Edge computer. The Mayhem Consultant showed me how to use the word processing program, and Eureka! I’d found the writing tool that could turn daydreams into books.
Not that I had any expectation of actually selling a book, but what the heck, why not give it a try? So I wrote “RR” for Regency Romance on a 5 ¼” floppy disc (yes, it’s been that long <G>) because I couldn’t admit even to myself that I was writing a book, and I started to work on the rather unimaginatively titled A Musical Lady.
And my life changed forever with less thought than I had invested in researching a new electric hand mixer. For me, the biggest life changes tend to be the ones I don’t even notice until everything has been turned upside down. Not that this is necessarily bad, but it is often surprising. <G>
So my fingers tripped lightly over the keys as a very Heyer-derivative story flowed out. My brother-in-law, a fine pianist, read the first chunk and suggested calling it A Lady of Note, which was better and touched on the musical abilities of the heroine.
Divine intervention stepped in, I found an agent in six weeks, sold the book on a partial in three months. As soon as money was offered, the smooth flow of words diminished, never to be as easy again. (Someone actually wanted to pay money for my stories? Good but scary!)
I turned in the book, my market savvy editor renamed it The Diabolical Baron, and I was off and running, like a lemming over a cliff. On this, my 25th anniversary of starting that first book, I’m still diving off cliffs. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m not literary, I’m a storyteller because I love great stories, and what we love is mostly likely what we’ll write. I like to read adventure, history, romance, fantasy, and happy endings. Guess what I write. <G>
I’ve had my share of ups and downs, though more ups. I’ve been overpaid and underpaid. Treated wonderfully, and manipulated into a corner where I had to chew my paw off to escape the steel trap. (Because they thought I couldn't escape. They shouldn’t try to coerce stubborn authors. <G>)
I have pretty much always been able to write what I want, though some stories had to wait years for the time to be right. I’ve had the fun of researching wonderful settings and events by setting stories in the middle of them.
I’ve told stories about good guys and bad girls and reformed bad guys. And if none of my characters, tortured and otherwise, are really me, they all have some traits that echo in me.
The people are never real people (except for the occasional historic figure), but the cats are always based on real cats. <G> (That's Lacey.)
At the beginning, I didn’t even know how to format dialogue because I’d never written it before. (Despite being an honors English major.) Didn’t know how to do a kiss. Luckily I didn’t have to figure out to write a sex scene in those early books!
Since my traditional Regencies tended to be too complicated and too long, not to mention paying too little to support me and my cat, I moved into historical romance. That is my enduring genre even though I’ve made side journeys into contemporary romance, fantasy, paranormal romance, and now young adult. There is just about always history, always romance, and most certainly a Happily Ever After!
I’ve mostly had good editors, with a couple of exceptions. I remember the day a friend called cross country to say that the editor who had been making us both insane WAS LEAVING!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Joy abounding! The editor is gone, but the friend and I are both still standing.
I’ve had two amazing agents because I am lucky, not because I was businesslike or professional in agent hunting. (Though I still haven’t quite forgiven the first for retiring a mere 19 years into our relationship. Most inconsiderate of her!)
I’ve made terrific friends who share my particular forms of madness, and we celebrate and commiserate each other’s ups and downs. At conferences, we get together and tell the tales of our kind. Of covers good (“it’s gorgeous!”) and bad. (“It looks like he’s giving her a field pap test!”)
Of the infamous three armed heroine who helped launch Christina Dodds’ admirable career. Of copyeditors. (“This CE couldn’t have had English as his first language!”) Of the legendary editor who changed a teenage secondary character into a raccoon because she didn’t want there to be the least possible hint of impropriety on the part of the hero. (Yes, a raccoon. Really.)
Writing may be easy for some authors, but for me, it’s the hardest work I’ve ever done. The hardest, and the most satisfying. I can’t imagine doing anything else—I’m now unemployable in any real trade.
Yesterday a friend called from New Mexico and we chatted. She asked what I had coming out this year (Three new books! No wonder I’m behind on everything. <G>)
She asked if I’d ever run out of story ideas. An instant no from me. Ideas are easy, it’s execution that’s hard. The ideas are always there when I need them. Apparently my brain is wired for stories.
So here I am, a battered old story wolf, prowling the wild hills of Storyland while more sensible folk stay within their pastures and work at jobs that have regular income and benefits and paid vacations. In all of these years, I’ve never once had the desire to join the flock of the sensible.
What about you? Have you merrily started new projects that took you to places you never dreamed of? Have you stayed with something—a career, a relationship, a hobby, longer than you ever imagined? What interesting and totally unexpected turns in the road have you experienced?
Mary Jo, still standing after 25 years.