August is the annual Read-A-Romance Month and all through next month, Celebrate Romance will have essays by some of the greats of romance talking about how they got started and why they love the genre.

How did I get started? It took a village.  As part of this celebration, I wanted to honor those who helped me on my journey to becoming a writer.

I’ve met all but one of these woman  and all of them before I read any of their books. All were inspirations and all of them offered help and advice. I’m forever grateful.

And then I picked up their stories, terrified that I wouldn’t enjoy them. No worries. I’ve become a lifelong fan of these writers not only as people but as storytellers.

1. Dallas Schulze.

Dallas was the first romance novelist I interacted with online. We ‘met’ on the old Laurel K. Hamilton yahoo loop, an active and lively place in the early 2000s that also included a brand new novelist influenced by LKH: one Jim Butcher of Harry Dresden fame. (Yes, it was an awesome loop.)

Jim and Dallas often had good-natured debates about writing and about the merits of the various characters in LKH’s Anita Blake series. Those discussions were so much fun to read that, for the first time since reading Victoria Holt as a teenager, I was inspired to read a romance.

Dallas’ books hooked me. Her characters were so real, the stories so believable, and the emotions….Tumblr would now call them “the feels.” My favorite was Donovan’s Promise, the story of a married couple who had separated and were seemingly headed for divorce. It was told with a mix of flashbacks from the past and their interactions in the presence, and it stuck in my memory so much that when it came to write my own reunion romance, (the upcoming Phoenix Inheritance), I stole, er, borrowed her story structure.

2. Maureen O. Betita

One word: Pirates!

I call Maureen the pirate lady. Her stories have hunky pirates, heroines who are allowed to be over 30 and high seas adventures. All things fun. I met Maureen at a Romantic Times Booklover’s Convention one year and loved talking with her so much, and her take on romance so much, that I read her stories.  You should too. She’s recently hit the bestseller list with her self-published books and her audience is growing.

3. Karen Harbaugh

Karen is known as Yoda among my internet circle of friends. I had a long talk with her at the Romance Writers of America convention in 2004, where she was up for a Rita and I was up for a Golden Heart. She wanted to know why there weren’t more Asian-Americans in romance novels, a subject near and dear to her heart as she’s Japanese-American. I didn’t have a good answer, so when I wrote my first superhero romance, Phoenix Rising, I remembered the conversation, and that’s how my heroine became Japanese-American.

Why should you read Karen’s books? Because they’re richly layered, descriptive, full of intrigue and mystery, and set in one of my favorite periods, the Regency era. Dark Enchantment, set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, was my first Harbaugh, full of swordfights and court politics and it remains my favorite.

4. Jayne Ann Krentz.

I think they sprinkle JAK’s books with crack because I cannot put them down, whether she writes as Krentz, Amanda Quick or Jayne Castle. If pressed, I will admit to preferring her historicals, as I love the dark and dangerous streets of London and her independent heroines.

Ms. Krentz is the one writer I haven’t spoken to via the ‘net or in-person. I have, however, attended her Q&A sessions with Susan Elizabeth Phillips at ever RWA National conference I’ve attended. Not only because they were an entertaining act but because Ms. Krentz answered one of the questions with one of the best pieces of advice about writing I’d ever heard:

Know your core story.

She said if you know the core story you’re trying to tell, then you know what’s flexible and subject to change and what’s not. She started writing futuristics and couldn’t sell them but realized that they could be modified to historicals and still maintain their core story. As a writer who loves to jump genres, this was an invaluable way to look at my work.

5. Jennifer Crusie

When I think of smart, funny romance, I think of Jennifer Crusie. Tell Me Lies and Bet Me are my favorites but I recommend all her books because they’re always so sharply written and yet always have such a sentimental heart.

I know Jenny and I owe her a great deal for her mentorship and support . She was the first professional writer who ever critiqued a scene for me. It went as well as can be expected when your scene has characters but no plot and no conflict. Jenny was afraid I’d be horrified. Instead, I thought “whoa, wait, this is what’s wrong! But, wait, I can learn to fix it. There is someone who can teach me that stuff.”

And she did.

I can only hope to pay it forward and help someone in the same way she’s helped me.

And my recommendation has nothing to do with that Krispy Kreme donut sex scene in Bet Me. No, nothing at all. 🙂

As for those cherries on the cover? They’re partially in honor of the most wonderful group of women, the Cherries, who formed on Jenny’s yahoo loop all those years ago. Many of us have gone onto be published writers, and I’m proud to call some of them my close friends, like Christine Merrill, Katy Cooper, and Robin LaFevers.

It took a village to get me started and it still takes a village to keep me going.

Thank you, ladies.

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